Monthly Archives: October, 2011

A Person Unknown

It’s strange to see the leaves still green or just turning and snow on the ground. Gloomy too. That suits my mood– don’t have to keep a smiley face on Halloween.

In honor of Samhain, an excerpt from story I wrote for Newport Review… The central character was my roommate for a time, until she moved on.

A Person Unknown

I sit by my window as darkness falls this Samhain season and I shuffle the cards, scanning the horizon for storm clouds. My only company is the person unknown. She is frighteningly beautiful, more than an ordinary possession. She wears a face of power and dignity, the face of the goddess Durga, the face of truth. Her jaw is sharp and classic. She is S-curves from head to toe–one of god’s perfect designs. A bare tree, a dragonfly, a river delta–what is left when all is lost. A person not in time, but in eternity.

She was imported and sold in the bone trade. I know nothing about her, except that she was female, small, and poor, and the poor have to sell their labor, their hair, their bodies. I often wonder who she was, but her inscrutable grin reveals nothing.

For the rest of the story of the Person Unknown, go to Newport Review, here.

Statement from Mayor Taveras on Occupy Providence

This statement clarifies that the Mayor is not planning to go forward with any kind of police action to remove the Occupy movement from Burnside Park. Here is the statement in full:

All citizens have a right to have their voices heard, and I, like the Occupy movement, am concerned about the causes and impacts of the most serious economic downturn in decades. This movement is important because our city, our state, our nation need to do much more to address the jobs and foreclosure crises which are crushing hope and opportunity for the 99% of us.

Here in Providence, the protesters who have camped in Burnside Park since October 15 have conducted themselves peacefully, and the city has had ongoing and respectful dialogue with the group. I commend Occupy Providence for its commitment to nonviolence, and I thank Occupy Providence for publicly recognizing the city’s efforts to ensure their right to assemble and demonstrate.

Unlike many other American cities, Providence is taking a nonviolent approach to the occupation of Burnside Park that has resulted in no arrests and the continued freedom to protest with the full support and cooperation of public safety.

The Commissioner has regularly met with protest organizers and sought open and honest communication about all public safety issues. He has waived multiple requirements and accommodated every public protest and march to date.

However, permanent occupation of the park is unsafe and unwise for compelling reasons both practical and legal. Emergency medical personnel have responded to instances involving drug overdose and fighting. Public safety officials have identified Level 3 sex offenders among those occupying the park. As the weather gets colder, Occupy protesters in other cities have been taken to the hospital with hypothermia.

Yet, Commissioner Pare and I have not taken police action. Instead, in the near future, we will petition the Courts for a ruling on the viability and constitutionality of this encampment. This will allow the protesters to have their day in Court and for a full public, legal vetting of the issues.

Accordingly, we have issued a notice asking the protestors to vacate Burnside Park by Sunday, October 30. We have made clear that protestors are welcome to return to the park everyday during park hours of 7 am to 9 pm. If protestors do not vacate Burnside Park on Sunday, the City will NOT follow the actions of other cities like Atlanta, Chicago or Oakland that have resulted in arrests and violence. Instead, the Courts will consider the merits of this issue over the next few weeks.

The City agrees with the ACLU, which has said that United States Supreme Court precedent “significantly limits” the right to camp out indefinitely in Burnside Park without a permit. In addition, like the ACLU, the city “fully supports the right of Occupy Providence to engage in other forms of peaceful protest at the park or elsewhere in the city.”

I appreciate and share many of the global concerns that the Occupy movement seeks to address. And it is for this reason that I have used civil, nonviolent means to address the future of the encampment.

Together, as one Providence, we can make real progress towards our shared vision for a more just and equitable society: strengthening our schools, creating good jobs, developing safe and affordable housing and leading an open and transparent government.

Talking this morning with some folks, someone talked about a possible strategy of moving the Occupy Movement to Roger Williams Park, as then the legal issues would be in the jurisdiction of the federal courts rather than the state courts, and this could yield a different decision for the occupiers.

This is What Unregulated Capitalism Looks Like

The Feds have ruined the lucrative business of an enterprising man who persuaded ‘hurting’ people to sell their organs to rich buyers.

“One of the reasons it’s so expensive is because you have to shmear all the time,” [organ trafficker] Rosenbaum said on the transcripts, referring to money paid under the table to everyone involved in the deal. “I take care of (the donor) after; after the surgery also… I place him somewhere. You have to babysit him like a baby because he may have a language problem; maybe not.”

He said the donors, all of whom came from Israel, got $10,000 for giving up one of their kidneys. “There are people over there hurting,” Rosenbaum explained.

Maybe Halloween is the time for grue stories. I find this much more scary than people in tents in the park. If you really want some chills, consider that there is a Libertarian brand of Capitalism that has support in high places, and according to their logic there’s nothing wrong with using the poor as organ farms for the rich. In fact, turning the screws on the poor and removing other recourse could improve the quantity and quality of potential donors. The system works automatically, like a giant robot.

In honor of the season, I’m reprinting an essay from the New York Times Magazine, December 2007, where scholar Sally Satel makes a case for opening up the kidney market to free enterprise and profit…

It was a strange experience reading Sally Satel’s essay, Desperately Seeking a Kidney in last Sunday’s New York Times. The writer, a resident scholar at the conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, needed a kidney transplant. She offers her personal narrative, and then some proposals for inducing the poor to sell their bodies in a free market.

Ms. Satel begins with her experience as a woman suddenly faced with a life-threatening illness…

Three days a week, for four debilitating hours at a time, I would be tethered to a blood-cleansing machine. Even simple things like traveling to see friends or to give talks would be limited. This would very likely continue for at least five years until my name crawled to the top of the national list of people waiting for kidneys from the newly deceased. On average, 12 names, the death toll from the ever-growing organ shortage, would be scratched off the list each day.

She is a psychiatrist, working in a methadone clinic, and she knew from her medical training what dialysis involves. She dreaded it so much that she chose not to wait on the transplant list, opting instead to search for a live donor. She writes honestly and unsparingly of her failed negotiations with two friends, then with a man she met online. Finally she received an offer from an acquaintance, Virginia Postrel, a fellow conservative writer, and the transplant was successful.

While Ms. Satel calls the gift she received, ‘altruism’ she has a different definition when applied to people outside her circle.

We must be bold and experiment with offering prospective donors other incentives for giving, not necessarily payment but material reward of some kind– perhaps something as simple as offering donors lifelong Medicare coverage. Or maybe Congress should grant waivers so that states can implement their own creative ways of giving something to donors: tax credits, tuition vouchers or a contribution to a giver’s retirement account.

This is the kinder, gentler version. She is not ignorant of how desperate things can get for the poor in this world…

I flirted with the idea of becoming a ‘transplant tourist’ in Turkey or the Philippines, where I could buy a kidney. Or going to China, where I would have to face the frightful knowledge that my kidney would probably come from an executed prisoner. Grim choices, but I was afraid I could die on dialysis if I didn’t do something to save myself.

In all of this long essay Ms. Satel never wonders what would have happened if she were poor and uninsured. She seems to live in a bubble where the only problem is a lack of donated organs. And she downplays, almost callously, the risk to the donor.

The operation is done by laparoscope, leaving only a modest three-inch scar. She would have been out of the hospital after two or three nights. Most important, the chance of death is tiny–2 in every 10,000 transplants– and the long-term health risks are generally negligible.

This kind of reasoning explains a lot about why conservatives can be persuaded that whatever works for them is just peachy. There is a reason nature gave us two kidneys, a woman with chronic renal failure should be able to figure that out. If you lose one, as did my aunt, to a tumor, or my friend, to a motorcycle accident, you have a spare. And I’m not so casual about the long-term health risks — we haven’t been doing these transplants for all that long. Not to mention the risk of post-surgical infection as antibiotic resistant germs increase. Myself, I would gladly take this risk for love, but god grant I never have to for money.

But back to the kinder, gentler. The mother who sells a kidney so her son can go to college ( no pressure, Sonny), or the eighteen year old who needs cash and feels invincible. Or the man who needs insurance and can’t get accepted on an affordable plan. David Holcberg, of the Ayn Rand Institute puts it a little more frankly. This was printed on the Journal’s editorial page –

A person may reasonably decide, after considering all the relevant facts (including the pain, risk and inconvenience of surgery), that selling an organ is actually in his own best interest. A father, for example, may decide that one of his kidneys is worth selling to pay for the best medical treatment available for his child…

Opponents of a free market in organs argue as well that it would benefit only those who could afford to pay–not necessarily those in most desperate need. This objection should also be rejected. Need does not give anyone the right to damage the lives of other people, by prohibiting a seller from getting the best price for his organ, or a buyer from purchasing an organ to further his life. Those who can afford to buy organs would benefit at no one’s expense but their own. Those unable to pay would still be able to rely on charity, as they do today. And a free market would enhance the ability of charitable organizations to procure organs for them.

Just think, all those deadbeats sitting in the waiting room at Hasbro with their sick kids, they could be persuaded to put out if they want ‘the best medical treatment for their sick child’.

But don’t consider giving free medical care to needy children, or scholarships to hardworking poor students. That would be immoral.

We are really on the edge of a class disparity that is not only about money but blood. We already pay lip service to ‘serving our country’ while dangling cash and scholarships in front of the kids at Central and Hope High. The recruiters know where to go.

No matter how well written, and no matter how much natural sympathy one feels for anyone who goes through a dangerous illness, Sally Satel’s essay is horrible. In countries where desperate people sell their kidneys, you can be sure there will be many who die prematurely when their remaining kidney gives out, and there will be no help for them. I wonder where in the Libertarian scheme of things you put the person who sold a kidney, and now needs one. Do you chalk it up to ‘bad choices’ ? We will be going down a very dark road if we give up the principle of taking care of our own, rich or poor, and instead let the rich use the poor for spare parts.

For another, less temperate, take on this, check out Daily Kos. And yes, I’ve signed a donor card, but they’re not getting them until I’m dead.

I happen to know three people who lost one of their kidneys and are fine because nature gives us two. Two of them are in my family, and none of them could have anticipated the health crisis they went through. I’d encourage everyone to sign a donor card so that some good may come of their passing and the shortage of transplant organs will become less urgent. Let’s put in a word for preventive health care also– the life you save may be your own.

Occupy Providence to Be Evicted Sunday Evening, October 30, 2011

A notice has been given to Occupy Providence members and has been posted around Burnside Park: they have 72 hours to vacate or they will be evicted. Given that so many other groups have expressed solidarity with the Occupy movement, it is unclear how this is going to play out. My hope is that it plays out non-violently, and also that the movement is not diminished in its importance. There is so little space for people to rally around an important cause at this point, and corporate pressure is increasingly squeezing out the voices of the 99%. We need to keep our ears and eyes open to what the opposition is saying or we will be increasingly dominated by corporations and their single-minded goal of increasing profits.

Provocateurs Already

No surprise. Check this out and keep the faith with a drug-free, alcohol-free and violence-free occupation. If someone seems provocative, they may be there to provoke, and cameras are everywhere.

The Occupation has power, and there are plenty trying to harness it for their own ends or cash in, but we’ve been there before and we know what to do. Remember Dr. Martin Luther King– he walked this road before us.

Today’s Movie

Citizen’s United, the cartoon version. Click here to see.

Thomas Dorr’s Rebellion

Justin Elliot at Salon asks historian Michael Kazin, Where Does Occupy Go From Here?

Many a protest campaign begins this way. The sit-ins at Woolworth lunch counters beginning in February 1960 had an end — desegregation of public facilities — but they weren’t quite sure of where it was going after that. They just thought, “This is a neat tactic that will draw attention.” And it did. That began with four students in Greensboro, N.C. But it soon blossomed, and now their lunch counter is in the Smithsonian. The movement against the Vietnam War also began with very small protests in 1964, and then grew into ones with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. So protests can grow and become catalysts for larger and more diverse movements.

Civil rights, of course, is one bright victory in American history, and follows many failed attempts to gain justice for disenfranchised people in our society.

Enfranchisement is at the heart of this action. When corporations are very big people who put big money into campaigns– easier since Citizens United, when voting machines can be hacked, when obstacles are put in the way of qualified voters in the off years when few are watching– we have to come out and defend the vote.

The Occupiers are treading in the footsteps of Thomas Dorr, who campaigned for universal manhood suffrage in 1841. He thought that non-landowners, even Irish immigrants, had a right to vote. Dorr’s electoral win not being recognized, his followers took to the streets. Their rebellion did not last long and Dorr faced exile and imprisonment. Along the way, he gave way to expedience, abandoning the rights of free black men to favor the Irish who saw justice as a limited commodity with not enough to go around.

Despite the apparent failure of direct action, the reform that Thomas Dorr sought was advanced…

The Charterites, finally convinced of the strength of the suffrage cause, called another convention. In September 1842, a session of the Rhode Island General Assembly met at Newport, Rhode Island, and framed a new state constitution, which was ratified by the old, limited electorate, was proclaimed by Governor King on January 23, 1843, and took effect in May. The new constitution greatly liberalized voting requirements by extending suffrage to any free man, regardless of race,[1] who could pay a poll tax of $1, and was accepted by both parties. Though Dorr originally supported granting voting rights to blacks, he changed his position in 1840 because of pressure from white immigrants. Therefore, the Law and Order Party supported black suffrage, gaining the allegiance of blacks, who initially had supported Dorr.[2]

Some interesting history for the Occupiers, with some cautionary notes. Imagine if Dorr had brought all the disenfranchised men together and led them to see their common interests.

One aspect of today’s Occupation is the lack of leaders and the presence of diverse people and groups coming together for economic justice. The concentration of power and wealth is so extreme that the 99% include almost all of us.

Social change for the better feels so natural and reasonable that we soon forget it was not always this way. We forget that it often starts with people who put themselves on the line, are not afraid to be mocked and labeled, and are not afraid to reach across class lines to find a common cause for justice.

Philip Allen Hodge 1930-2011

Two days before my Dad died a guy called up looking for him to do some freelance jewelry design. “Phil’s sick? I’m so sorry to hear that. He was the best.”

He grew up in Claremont, New Hampshire, in the Depression, the middle of three brothers. Their mother had gone to school to become a nutritionist, their father was on the cutting edge of communications technology– the radio. All three boys loved science, and my father could build or fix anything.

His little town school did not prepare him to succeed at MIT, so as a second choice he went to RISD. His parents had broken up, and even at this age he helped support his mother. Some of his classmates were creating the beatnik scene, but this wasn’t his thing. His artistic style of care and precision was not in sync with the times. He liked Norman Rockwell more than Jackson Pollock.

After school he was drafted into the army, but was able to serve in the US due to my arrival. He and my mother spent two years in Tacoma, Washington.

When they came back to Rhode Island he got a job as a jewelry designer for Anson, Incorporated. He worked late, he worked Saturdays, he supported seven rowdy children and we never lacked for anything. I had a job at TD Brown photo, and one of the women I worked with had been a factory worker at Anson. “Your father was so nice, everyone liked him”, she told me.

In his final months there was nothing left but that kindness. The doctors and nurses at the VA called just to see how he was doing. The nurses went beyond professional concern and just plain liked him. I had some good time with him, for which I’ll always be grateful.

He will be remembered every day. He raised us well.

Occupy Providence on Sunday Afternoon

Facilitation Meeting at Occupy Providence

We finally made it to Occupy Providence today, to provide some pictures and a report from the heart of the movement. Ninjanurse has been doing us proud with daily posts all week, despite lots of other forces in her life that would normally take over and render a person incapable of blogging. But Nancy, like the Occupy Providence movement itself, is undaunted by it all, and keeps bringing us back home to the essential messages that make the Occupy movement worth joining.

While we were there, the Episcopal church provided a service of prayer in support of the movement. There were probably 50-75 of us, amidst another hundred to two hundred people occupying the park. The tents are plentiful and colorful, and General Burnside has also been decorated.

WPRO was there interviewing one of the Occupy members. The group did a “Mic check” to get everyone’s attention and then announced about when and where to gather to go the action at Sheldon Whitehouse’s community dinner. This action was leaving at 5 pm to bring a group of members to show the presence of the movement outside the Senator’s community dinner, and also to have a member of the movement ask the Senator his views on the Occupy Providence movement when he takes questions after the dinner.

A friend had dropped off some food for us to bring — a 10 pound bag of potatoes, 10 pounds of rice, some big cans of beans, some fruit. We handed them in at the food tent, where it appears they are making food and providing food for free all day long.

The feeling there, on this splendid Fall afternoon, was one of peace and hope. People were meeting and talking in earnest about what the next moves would be. People were praying together, looking up at the beautiful clear sky, and around at the other like-minded people in their presence. There were many dogs being walked, and petitions being signed, and regular Americans wandering around and wondering at where we are and how we got here.

Barbara Ehrenreich– Homeless and the Occupation

Author Barbara Ehrenreich spent a year working minimum-wage jobs for her book, ‘Nickeled and Dimed’ where she uncovered the truth– workers are not getting by in America.

She has a post on Common Dreams today, ‘Throw Them Out With the Trash: Why Homelessness Is Becoming an Occupy Wall Street Issue’.

The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible “financial products,” leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Wal-Mart.

As it turned out, the captains of the new “casino economy” — the stock brokers and investment bankers — were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed “broken windows” or “quality of life” ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look “indigent,” in public spaces.

Click here for the whole post.

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