IN THIS ISSUE:
Anti-War Demonstration to be Held in Mid. October
What Do You know about the Cuban Five?
From the Editor
Letters to the Editor
Progressive News Briefs
Outrage of the Month
Time for Lunch
Promoting the Peace Agenda
Helping Hands: Access to Food
Barsamian Returns to Fresno
Fresno Area ACLU Chapter Celebrates
Progressive Religion…Is Not an Oxymoron
Intelligent Pest Control
Elections: The Crumbling Pillar of Our Representative Democracy
Time Is Up for Darling International!
Music and Arts Calendar
Peace and Social Justice Calendar
Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots
Antiwar Protest set for October 17
By Camille Russell
Peace Fresno will hold a major street demonstration at River Park on Saturday, Oct. 17, from 10:30 a.m. until noon and needs 400 people to make a powerful antiwar statement. The election of a new president and a more Democratic Congress has not stopped the war machine. Including the cost of “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military spending almost equals that of all other countries combined!
Eight years ago, on Oct. 7, 2001, the United States first attacked Afghanistan. Demonstrators will mark the anniversary of this horrific act by calling for an end to U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq and for the immediate removal of our troops. Other cities holding demonstrations on this day include San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C. The Fresno action is part of the peace movement’s Autumn Campaign Against Policies on Afghanistan, which runs Oct. 7-Oct. 18.
|Eight years of war! We say “U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan; bring the troops home now.”|
What is a street demonstration? Participants hold signs and banners and line the sidewalk beside the street-not in it, not blocking foot traffic.
Why is a street demonstration worthwhile? Imagine yourself driving down the street. You see a large gathering of people in an unexpected place. Isn’t your first reaction to ask “what’s going on?” We are all curious. A street demonstration engages passersby. It is a billboard, an ad and a personal statement.
The peace movement must continue its visibility and its political involvement in every community in the United States. A large, well-publicized street demonstration attracts people. For newcomers, participation in a demonstration is an introduction to the peace community and often is the first step toward greater involvement.
Why hold the demonstration at River Park? Traffic. River Park is a busy, busy place on Saturday mornings. People from all over central California and the mountain communities shop at River Park.
Peace Fresno plans to silk screen posters with the image of a large peace sign to use on Oct. 17 and is looking for groups to aid in the production of the posters. We would love to bring our materials to your meeting and put everyone to work. Do you know a youth group that might be interested?
We who reject the casual acceptance of war and violence in our culture must make time to oppose it and stand up for peace. A Saturday morning peace demonstration is not going to end war, but it will affect all who participate and all who see it. Peace Fresno will supply signs, banners and a petition to our Congress and President Barack Obama.
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Camille Russell is a retired teacher, president of Peace Fresno and a member of the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee. Contact her at email@example.com or 559-276-2592.
|Rally for Peace!|
Saturday, October 17 10:30 a.m.-Noon Peace Demonstration: Fresno joins cities around the United States in marking
eight years of war and mourning the loss of human life by standing against war.
We will call for an end to U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq and for the
immediate removal of our troops. Participants will hold signs and banners and line
the sidewalk on both sides of N. Blackstone Avenue at River Park stretching north
and south from the intersection of N. Blackstone and El Paso Aves. Peace Fresno
will supply signs, banners and a petition to our Congress and President Obama.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 559-276-2592.
What Do You Know about the Cuban Five?
By Gerry Bill
How much do you know about the Cuban Five? If you are like most Fresnans, including those on the left, probably not very much. If you are like most humans and have any sense of decency at all, you will likely be outraged by what you are about to read.
Who Are the Cuban Five?
Here is something that I suspect many of you do know: Ever since the U.S.-sponsored invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, there have been Cuban exile groups in Miami carrying out acts of sabotage, even terrorism, against the people of Cuba. You probably do not know all the details of those hostile acts. These acts have included the deliberate spreading of toxic chemical, and biological agents on Cuban crops, the introduction of hemorrhagic dengue fever to the island, assassinations of Cuban leaders inside and outside of Cuba, the 1976 blowing up of a civilian Cuban airliner in flight killing 73 people, the bombing of a tourist hotel in Havana and much more. Nearly 3,500 Cubans and other innocent victims have died as a result of these acts of international terrorism, most of which were orchestrated out of Miami.
The U.S. government has continually refused to do anything to rein in these Miami-based terrorist groups even though they are obligated to do so under international law. Therefore, in the 1990s, the Cuban government sent five Cubans to Miami to infiltrate and monitor the actions of these groups and forward relevant information to the Cuban authorities.
The Cuban Five were successful, passing along some valuable information that did thwart some terrorist attacks and save Cuban lives.
Then, in 1998, Cuban officials in Havana met with representatives of the FBI, providing the FBI with information on the Miami-based terrorist groups in the hope that the FBI would take corrective action. However, instead of going after the terrorists in Miami, the FBI went after the Cuban Five. By using the information provided to them by the Cuban government, the FBI was able to figure out who the informants were, and the Five were arrested. That happened on Sept. 12, 1998, just over 11 years ago. The Cuban Five have been political prisoners in the United States ever since then.
What about the Trial?
For the first 17 months of their incarceration, the Cuban Five were held in solitary confinement-a violation of all sorts of standards of due process. The solitary confinement severely limited their access to their attorneys and greatly impaired their ability to prepare any sort of meaningful defense. On national security grounds, they were denied access to much of the evidence against them. They were being treated like they were the terrorists, even though they had harmed no one. Indeed, they were working against terrorism and had saved lives, not taken lives. But our government does not seem to think of things in that way.
The trial had multiple problems besides those already mentioned. Probably the biggest of those problems was the location of the trial. The defense lawyers had requested a change of venue, arguing that anybody who supported the government of Fidel Castro could not be expected to receive a fair trial in Miami, which is probably the most anti-Castro city in the entire United States. Their motion for a change of venue was turned down, almost guaranteeing the conviction of the Five despite the weak evidence against them.
|Five Cubans are in U.S. prisons because they were trying to stop terrorist attacks against their country. Why is our country persecuting these men and protecting the real terrorists?|
The U.S. government was not able to show that the Five had harmed anyone. They were not able to show that the Five had spied on the U.S. government-only on the Cuban exile groups. The government could and did make a case that the Five were unregistered agents of a foreign government, but that was not enough for our government. They wanted to convict them of a bigger crime so they charged them with conspiracy to commit espionage, meaning that the prosecutors thought that the Five were planning to spy on the U.S. government at some unspecified time in the future, even though they had done nothing of the sort to date. One wonders: Was this some kind of a thought crime?
The Cuban Five were not sent to the United States to spy on the U.S. government, but somehow the prosecution was able to convince the jury otherwise. In June 2001, the Five were convicted in federal court in Miami and were sentenced, collectively, to four life terms plus 75 years-unbelievably harsh, considering the nature of the crime.
Widespread Criticism of the Trial
The trial of the Five has UNFAIR written all over it. I am not the only one who thinks that. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions and ordered that a new trial be held outside of Miami. However, that decision was later reversed by the full appeals court.
Who else thinks the trial was unfair? Internationally, there has been widespread criticism of the trial. It is the only trial in U.S. history to be condemned by the UNCommission on Human Rights. Specifically, a sub-unit of the UN Commission called the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the detention of the Five was indeed arbitrary under international standards. The working group stated that the whole matter was “in contravention of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The UN Working Group formally requested that the U.S. government “adopt the necessary steps to remedy the situation, in conformity with the principles stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Our government has refused either to take corrective actions or to respond to the charges, even though they are required to do so under UN conventions.
Eight international Nobel Prize winners have intervened on behalf of the Five and have called for their release. Numerous parliaments in Europe and Latin America have done the same, some of them citing the report of the UN Working Group as evidence that the Five should be
released. Other parliaments did not urge the release of the Five but urged that the U.S. give them a fair trial instead.
Within the United States, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has called on the U.S. government to honor the finding of the UN Working Group and take steps to remedy the situation. In 2007, the NLG adopted a resolution titled “Endorsing the Call for an International Investigation into the Failure of the United States Government to Address and Remedy the Denial of Justice in the Case of The Cuban Five.”
The trial was a pretty obvious miscarriage of justice, right down to the sentencing phase. In fact, the incredibly long sentences have become one basis for appeal. Just last year, a federal appeals court ordered that three of the defendants be resentenced, which is supposed to happen October 13. Keep your eyes and ears open, and we may soon see if the U.S. legal system is able to deliver justice this time.
Adding Insult to Injury
Another aspect of this case that has caused widespread international criticism has to do with the treatment of the prisoners and their families since the sentencing. The U.S. government has made it hard for some prisoners to receive visits from their family members who live in Cuba. Wives and children of several of the Five have been denied visits by one means or another. For example, in one case, the daughter of Ramon
Labanino managed to get into the United States to visit her father. She waited a month for the prison to let her in and then had to return to Cuba without seeing him because the prison was in lockdown.
The most extreme denial of visits has occurred in the cases of the wives of Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez. Both of their wives have been repeatedly denied visas to enter the United States to visit their husbands; since 2002, each of them has been turned down eight times, and they have not been able to see their husbands at all.
One organization that has spoken out against this practice is Amnesty International, which has called the denial of visits “unnecessarily punitive and contrary to standards for humane treatment of prisoners and states’ obligations to protect family life.”
Amnesty has called upon the United States to grant the women temporary visitation visas so that they can visit their husbands. Amnesty has pointed out that the various reasons given by the United States for the denial of visas do not stand up to scrutiny. The organization also cited the findings of the UN Working Group that the United States had failed to provide the Five with a fair trial.
Many of the international parliaments that have criticized the United States for the handling of this case, including leaders of the European Parliament, have brought up the issue of the denial of visits. It seems that much of the world has trouble understanding why men who were trying to stop acts of terrorism, and who were not even accused of being terrorists themselves, are being treated so unfairly.
It makes no sense to much of the rest of the world. Does it make sense to you? It doesn’t make sense to me, and I am outraged. I hope you are outraged as well.
The News Blackout
The above information is not well known in the United States. Our media have given it scant coverage, and such coverage has not been favorable to the Cuban Five. It is up to us to change that. Please help us spread the word about the Five Heroes (as they are called in Cuba) and help us raise awareness about this travesty of justice that is occurring. The six caravanistas from the Fresno area who traveled to Cuba last summer with Pastors for Peace were able to meet with some of the family members of the Five. The caravanistas will be presenting what they learned about Cuba and about the Cuban Five at an event this month. It will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, 2672 E. Alluvial Ave., Sunday, Oct. 11, at noon. The event is free, but feel free to bring some food to share.
For more information about the event or the Cuban Five, contact email@example.com.
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Gerry Bill is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and American Studies at Fresno City College and is on the boards of the Fresno Free College Foundation and the Fresno Center for Nonviolence. He is co-chair of the Central California Criminal Justice Committee and a long time activist in Fresno.
From the Editor
I found myself in Federal court last month (Sept. 10) testifying on behalf of Boston Woodard, one of our writers who was put into solitary confinement. The warden and some of the staff at Solano State Prison did not like what Boston wrote for our paper and thought they could shut him up by taking away his typewriter and torturing him. Solitary confinement has been described by many people who have endured it as torture. Presidential candidate John McCain, for example, wrote about his experience in solitary as a POW: “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” This was said by a man who was denied basic medical treatment for two broken arms and a broken leg, and was tortured to the point of having an arm broken again.
I told the court that Boston’s articles are an invaluable resource for our readers to understand what is happening in the state prisons, that we receive 5-10 letters a month about his articles and that his courage inspires others to tell their stories. Without Boston we really wouldn’t know about what is going on in the prisons because they do not allow journalists in to interview inmates, take photos or find out first hand what is being done with our tax dollars. The defense attorney suggested we were using the articles to get subscribers and somehow enrich ourselves. The judge pointed out that the Community Alliance is a free publication.
Boston was removed from solitary confinement right after a lawsuit was filed and he is now in Susanville State Prison, a remote facility in the northeastern part of the state. We are trying to get Boston returned to Solano, closer to where his friends and attorney live, and get his typewriter returned. We will keep you informed about this important Free Speech struggle that we are proud to be a part of.
I also went to the Fresno County Superior Court a couple of times in August and September following the City of Fresno’s legal action against medical marijuana dispensaries. Fresno has filed a lawsuit to close the dispensaries claiming the city will “suffer irreparable harm and injury by the maintenance of conditions with the city that violate the FMC (Fresno Municipal Code).”
I’ve gotten to know William Logan, one of the attorneys defending the medical marijuana providers. Logan, as he likes to be called, asked me who at City Hall is behind this assault on the dispensaries. I had already been asking around trying to figure out this question myself. I got nowhere with the attorney for the police department. She referred me to the city attorney who would not answer my requests for an interview. The mayor’s communication director said it was a simple zoning enforcement issue and there was no controversy there. But, even though I did not get the answer I was looking for through the normal channels, it was obvious to me that someone at City Hall was driving this effort to promote the drug war in Fresno.
Departments at Fresno City Hall make decisions on project priorities based on available resources and the direction they get from their leadership. Some cities have chosen a more “enlightened” approach on the medical marijuana issue. Even Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (also known as the Drug Czar), when he was chief of police in Seattle, made the enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest possible priority for his department. The federal government has said that it will not interfere with individual states’ marijuana laws, and Oakland has even decided to tax medical marijuana, which will bring in millions of dollars in new tax revenue. On the other hand, Fresno is pouring resources into fighting the dispensaries, forcing medical marijuana patients to go to Oakland to purchase their medicine or buy from one of the bulldog street gangs.
I finally found someone inside City Hall who is not afraid to tell us the truth. According to my “deep throat,” this local drug war is being carried out at the direction of Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who is being backed up by Mayor Ashley Swearengin. From what I was told, this is being done as a part of his right-wing, conservative religious ideology. It also fits in well with law enforcement’s use of the drug war to bring in financial resources to their department.
How dangerous is marijuana? Here are a few well documented facts:
Cause of Death Annual Deaths
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity……..365,000
Motor Vehicle Crashes………………….26,347
Incidents involving Firearms……………29,000
This information for the year 2000 in the United States is from www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/node/30.
The drug war is just one more reason why we need to end the reign of right-wing Republicans at Fresno City Hall. If you agree, I encourage you to become actively involved in electing a progressive majority on both the Fresno City Council and the Board of Supervisors. A good place to get involved is with the Central Valley Progressive PAC. Go to www.cvppac.org for more information. Their next meeting will be Saturday, Oct. 10 at 3:30 p.m. at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence.
What the CVPPAC would like to do is unite the left to develop a common strategy that will elect progressives to local office. Having a progressive majority on the City Council and the Board of Supervisors would affect every issue we care about-peace, social, economic and environmental justice. The challenge for those of us on the left is to work together for our common goals. Join me on Oct. 10, and we can talk more about it.
Progressive News Briefs
Public Access TV Coming to Fresno/Clovis
If you live in Fresno or Clovis and subscribe to Comcast Cable, you will soon be able to switch on your TV and watch the all-new and long-awaited Public Access channel. The Fresno/Clovis Joint Powers Authority (JPA) has designated the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC) as the group that will oversee the Public, Education and Government (PEG) channels in this area.
The Education and Government channels (95, 96 and 97) have been on cable for some time now. The Education channel has been broadcasting nationally distributed educational programming lately, but it is expected to produce more local programs as resources become available for production. The Government channel puts a spotlight on local government; it has been broadcasting Fresno City Council and Fresno County Board of Supervisors meetings.
The Public Access channel will give community groups and individuals the opportunity to put local programming on Comcast Cable. The production equipment (e.g., cameras, digital editing computers and the studio) is available at no charge for your use. There will even be training for those interested in producing their own programs.
It is anticipated that there will be at least two Public Access studios-one at Fresno State and the other at the Dickey Community Center. PEG availability in Fresno/Clovis will be a huge boost for free speech, giving the progressive community an important new tool to reach out to everyone in television land.
|Jerry Lee and Ray Arthur sign the agreement that authorizes the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC) to operate the Public, Education and Government (PEG) channels in Fresno and Clovis. Jerry Lee is CMAC’s vice president and Ray Arthur represents the Fresno/Clovis Joint Powers Authority.|
City Film Policy Needs to Be Updated
The following language is still on the Fresno Film and Entertainment Commission Web site:
The COF will review all types of commercial film and video production applications. It is, however, the intent of the COF to not consider requests that may reflect poorly on the City.
According to Bill Simon, chairperson of the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Film and Entertainment Commission proposed the above language in October 2007. Several community groups had concerns about “free speech” and other sections of the proposed policy that were vague and intimidating. For example, as originally written, it was unclear if it would have been legal for an individual to go to the park and film his/her family with a video recorder.
Changes were made to the document, which the ACLU and other groups were happy with, but before it could be approved by the City Council, the item was removed from the council’s agenda. It has yet to be considered by the City Council, and the language on the official Film and Entertainment Commission Web site still says the City of Fresno will not consider approval of films that are critical of the city.
Ray Arthur, Film and Entertainment commissioner, explained the ongoing presence of the language on the Web site in an e-mail: “So, while the phrase you mentioned temporarily remains on the Web site, again pending (CAO) concurrence, it has never been considered or used and is for all intents and purposes moot.”
The Community Alliance, taking Commissioner Arthur’s statement into account, would still like to know why the City of Fresno would knowingly post false and misleading information on its Web site, even after it has been pointed out to them. In addition, it would be nice to know when this issue will return to the City Council, so that it can approve a revised policy that protects our civil liberties.
GQ and Fresno’s Homeless
An article in the September 2009 men’s magazine GQ targeted Fresno’s homeless. It might be more accurate to say that the article was a “hit piece” focusing the nation’s attention on how all homeless people, at least in Fresno, are lying, drug-dealing scoundrels.
George Saunders, who wrote the article, must have left his moral compass at home when he came to Fresno to “study” the homeless. He drove out to the H Street encampment (just south of Ventura) in his new rental car, took out his new tent and set up his observation post.
Cynthia Greene, a Fresno homeless woman not victimized by Saunders’ exploitive style of journalism, called the article “pornographic and mean spirited.” Greene said she could only imagine what the people he wrote about will think.
Another group of homeless people meeting at the downtown library wondered how he could have only found horrible examples of homeless people to write about. “We’re not all like that,” Lisa said. “Most of us just need a helping hand to get us off the street.”
A Helping Hand for the Homeless
Fresno Homelessness Prevention manager Gregory Barfield has good news for the homeless. Starting Oct. 1, through a contractor selected by the City Council, the processing of applications from homeless people for vouchers that will put them directly into housing will start. The $3.1 million the city has for this program is coming from the Federal Stimulus Package. The County of Fresno will contribute another $1.6 million of its Stimulus Package money to the effort.
Barfield says he cannot tell us how many homeless will be helped in this project because it will depend on what resources they have. For example, if some of the homeless are eligible for other government programs (e.g., Veterans Benefits, Social Security), the money the city has will go further, and everyone’s needs are different. But, for example, if the city has to pay first and last month’s rent and the full rental cost for each apartment for all of the homeless, the money will run out sooner.
This housing voucher program is a part of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, and the project is roughly modeled on the Housing First program. Housing First has shown that it is less expensive to provide homeless people with housing linked to social services than to continue the existing system of shelters and food lines. Studies have shown that it costs about $100,000 per homeless person to maintain the existing system. Housing First will cost $25,000-$30,000 a year per person and has proven to be more successful at ending homelessness.
Homeless people wanting to get a voucher for housing need to fill out a new application (the applications turned in during the closing of the H Street encampment are not valid) when they are available, probably on Oct. 1. At press time, exact details on the intake and application were not available, but you can call 559-621-7788 for more information after Oct. 1.
Pam Kincaid Neighborhood Center
|Pam Kincaid stood up for homeless people’s rights. Her spirit lives on at the Pam Kincaid Neighborhood Center.|
Many homeless people and their allies say they can do better than the social service agencies that are receiving millions of dollars in government funding to help the homeless. Some even call the heads of agencies like the Rescue Mission “poverty pimps.”
The Pam Kincaid Neighborhood Center was established to serve as an alternative to the traditional approach to dealing with homelessness. One difference is that the center is being set up and will largely be directed by homeless people themselves. Two of the founders are formerly homeless people who were named plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the City of Fresno. The city provided money to the homeless as compensation for bulldozing their tents and destroying property.
The Pam Kincaid Neighborhood Center is located at 1026 Mariposa St. (on the southwest corner of Mariposa and B Sts.). Now, the house is being repaired, an organic garden is being planted and volunteers are welcome. A good time for volunteers to come is any Sunday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
The project is named in honor of Pam Kincaid, who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the City of Fresno. She died under suspicious and disturbing circumstances before the settlement with the city was reached.
The homeless man who Fresno Police officers beat up in February (the video was shown around the world) is still in the Fresno County Jail and has never been charged with a crime in the incident. The police claimed that Beaty attacked them, even though there is no video evidence to suggest such an attack took place.
Beaty is in a small cell with 10-12 other inmates where he stays seven days a week, 24 hours a day. He is even served meals in the cell. Beaty does not take advantage of the one hour a week he is offered to get out and walk/exercise on the roof of the jail. He may be too depressed.
The court has ordered Beaty to the Atascadero State Mental Hospital for observation, but while he waits for a bed in Atascadero (nobody seems to know when space will be available) he remains in jail. To summarize: The police beat up a homeless man, he is put in jail (indefinitely) and his next step is a mental hospital. It is enough to make a warden at a Russian gulag blush.
Medical Marijuana Dispensaries under Attack
The City of Fresno has filed lawsuits against nine medical marijuana dispensaries operating in this community. City attorneys have also filed lawsuits against the landlords housing the dispensaries, trying to pressure them to shut down the businesses.
Fresno has an ordinance that allows medical marijuana dispensaries if they are “consistent with state and federal law.” The catch is that marijuana is illegal under federal law. But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in February of this year that states should be allowed to make their own rules on medical marijuana and that the federal government would end raids on pot dispensaries in California. Proposition 215, passed in 1996, decriminalized the medical use of marijuana in California.
Judge Alan Simpson will hold a hearing on Oct. 8 in Fresno County Superior Court on this issue. What Simpson is expected to decide at this hearing is whether the court will issue an injunction closing the dispensaries. Whatever the outcome of that hearing, the city’s lawsuit will proceed and further court battles will unfold.
If the Fresno dispensaries are forced to close, medical marijuana patients will be forced to travel out of town to communities such as Oakland, which recently passed Measure F. Measure F authorizes a 1.8% tax on the gross receipts of the “cannabis business” located in that city. While Oakland brings in more taxes from the sale of marijuana to improveits schools and fire department, Fresno is spending tax dollars to try and prevent cancer patients from getting medication to ease their pain.
City Hall insiders point to Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Police Chief Jerry Dyer as the driving forces behind the current drug wars.
Outrage of the Month
By Mike Rhodes
Last month, we announced our interest in creating a new monthly section in the Community Alliance: the Outrage of the Month. Our first article for this section was in September and was about two friends who were ticketed by a Fresno Police Department (FPD) officer for trespassing. The interesting twist is that the friends were talking to each other outside of a store on Olive Avenue (west of Highway 99), not bothering anyone, when the officer demanded that they move on. They moved themselves next to a bus stop and were saying goodbye when the officer returned and gave them a ticket. A court hearing was to be held on Sept. 25 (after our deadline) regarding this incident. We will let you know the outcome.
When we started this section, we were not sure what the response would be, but there has been plenty of grist for the mill. We received a submission from Wesley, a senior citizen, complaining that the police were targeting seniors for jaywalking. He wrote that “9 people of Blue Sky (Blue Sky Wellness center on Saginaw off Blackstone) have gotten J-walking tickets, me included, that are ridiculously high priced. Mine was $167.00, plus $12.95 more to pay with AARP Chase Bank Visa Card over the phone being $179.95 total cost. Another Blue Sky person named Violet could not pay like this, getting less than $400 per month, had to pay in 4 months of payments and was charged $37.00 extra for timed payments. Most people at Blue Sky are in Violet’s income bracket. This is something that should not be done. A $35 to $50 [ticket] would be more appropriate.”
We received a report that homeless people at Roeding Park were being told not to lay on the grass. Al Williams, who is on the Community Alliance editorial board, said FPD officer Kurt Smith “has given out numerous citations to homeless people in the park and is there every day to harass them. Things like a homeless person cannot sleep in the park during open hours, 6 a.m. ’til 10 p.m.”
|This is the ticket Randy Johnson crumpled up and threw on the ground. Johnson says that the police used that as an excuse to charge him with assaulting a police officer.|
|Randy Johnson tried to run when the police came after him for throwing his ticket on the ground. They told him to stop. Johnson said he stopped running and was then Tasered, which knocked him to the ground where he flopped around like a fish on a boat deck. A complaint has been filed with the police alleging that excessive force was used.|
One report we received, which I really hope is not true, is that FPD officers have keys to the apartments of the homeless who received vouchers through the City of Fresno. I have been told by several sources in the homeless community that three people were arrested recently under disturbing circumstances. I was told that those arrested had received vouchers from the city when the H Street encampment was closed. The troubling part of the story is that they say the police had keys to their apartments. One witness said she was sitting in her friend’s apartment when the police let themselves in and arrested him for a drug-related offense. My source said that the police did not knock, they did not have a search warrant and they told this person they had the key because he received his apartment through the voucher program. The Community Alliance has been working to confirm this report, and we will keep you informed.
This month’s “official” Outrage of the Month is another incident involving a homeless person and an FPD officer. Randy Johnson, who is a homeless man and lives on the sidewalk on F Street between Santa Clara and Ventura, called me. He says he woke up Thursday morning, August 27, at about 5 a.m. and saw that a police officer had put a ticket on his car. “I walked up to the patrol car and asked them why am I getting a ticket. I told them I had permission to park there at night and that my wife and I were using the cars for safety because people ride by here and throw eggs and sometimes bricks.”
Johnson took the ticket off his car, crumbled it up and threw it on the ground. Johnson said the officer “opened the patrol car door and came at me. I started to walk away and then run. I ran back to my house where my wife and I are staying because I was afraid they were going to rough me up and hurt me.”
According to Johnson, the officer told him to stop. Randy stopped. “I stopped, but the officer Tasered me in my shoulder and lower back. I was knocked out.” Johnson said he hit the sidewalk very hard and had visible scrapes and bruises from the incident.
“They handcuffed me and took me to the hospital. They arrested me but they didn’t read me my rights, until I got to the hospital, then they said they were going to charge me with assault on a police officer.” Johnson explained that the officer said he threw the crumpled ticket at the officer.
Johnson said none of the other cars on F Street received tickets that night, and he is convinced that this is retaliation because he was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the City of Fresno. The homeless received a $2.3 million settlement, and the city agreed to stop bulldozing their homes. There have been constant rumors and comments from officers saying that they are going to get the city’s money back.
The Fresno Police Department did not respond to our request for the police report in this incident before our deadline for the October issue.
If you have an incident you would like to tell us about or a comment about this section, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to Community Alliance, P.O. Box 5077, Fresno, CA 93755.
Time for Lunch: Child Nutrition and Eating Locally in Schools
By Vic Bedoian
Educators, farmers and hunger prevention advocates came together in Fresno over Labor Day weekend to promote healthy nutrition for schoolchildren at a gathering aptly named “Time for Lunch: A National Day of Action.” The idea is to connect locally grown food sources with the nutritional needs of students.
For too many children in the San Joaquin Valley, the meals provided by schools are the most nutritious ones of their day. In the Fresno Unified School District, some 85% of students qualify for the free breakfast and lunch programs aimed at low-income families and funded by the federal government. Even so, almost 30% of low-income children who are eligible for free meals do not participate in the program. All this in a state where one out of five children lives in poverty. Add up the numbers, and you have a health and education problem of catastrophic proportions right here in one of the world’s most productive food growing regions.
Not all food is created equal. Too often, children from low-income families are not getting the kind of food that builds healthy brains and bodies. Because industrialized food has become so dominant in the American marketplace, processed food products fill the store shelves. So what many families have readily available is food with more sugar, carbohydrates and calories, as well as a variety of additives and chemicals. If you do not believe that, go to a neighborhood convenience store sometime and take an inventory of the offerings. Most such stores are simply fat and sugar dispensaries selling snacks and sodas. You will not find fresh vegetables, fresh fruit or even fresh meat. Those are the nutrient-dense foods that contain the biological building blocks that human beings need to function properly.
Here is where local farmers come into play. Tom Willey has been growing a wide variety of organic vegetables for many years on his family farm in Madera County. Beyond growing food, Willey is a vigorous advocate, a crusader really, of those traditional values of eating local and fresh food. His philosophy is that everyone who eats is a farmer.
As a member of Slow Food USA, Willey promotes a more direct connection between farmers and consumers. This means that locally grown foods should play a far more important role in the food chain, just as they have throughout most of our history. Willey warns that the industrial food system of highly processed foods delivered from far away does not serve schoolchildren well.
“Slow Food USA is holding 300 events around the country this Labor Day weekend,” says Willey, “to try to focus on providing school lunch programs, raise a little more money so that they can source local, fresh, real foods from their own communities supporting farmers and put the blue-haired ladies back in the school cafeterias where they can prepare real foods that can enhance children’s behavior and cognitive abilities in the classroom.”
Another dimension of the problem is the connection between the fast-food nation diet and obesity. With child obesity a national epidemic, nutrition experts are now looking at the double whammy of obesity and malnutrition as a major health threat to our kids. In Fresno County, the childhood obesity rate is an alarming 35%, which is four percentage points above the statewide figure.
Reyna Villalobos is on a mission to change that. She works for the Fresno Metro Ministry in trying to improve this crisis situation by collaborating with the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP). This effort is a holistic approach to building community environments that support healthy eating and a physically active life. The CCROPP works on the policy front and at the street level.
Much of this phenomenon is under the radar, but looking at it up close Villalobos thinks the problem is both medically serious and widespread. “We are seeing a high rise not only in obesity but also in the health detrimental effects that come with that. We’re seeing a lot of children with Type 2 diabetes and other serious chronic conditions that we’ve never seen before. So it’s really, really important for us to put more emphasis on healthy eating early on and that’s why we’re focusing on schools, and the pre-schools as well, not only elementary and high schools. Starting at a young age is really key.”
These concerns are spurring action plans by schools and advocates. Edie Jessup has for years been working tirelessly on local hunger and poverty issues. She thinks Time for Lunch could be a turning point in making the connection between schoolchildren and local farmers.
“This particular event is exciting. It’s historic because what you have is the Food Service Director from Fresno Unified School District, Jose Alvarado, with a huge resource that is untapped. They’re just beginning to learn how to use it and it has great potential for the farmers here to be able to vend locally and serve our Fresno kids with fresh Fresno food.”
According to Alvarado, Fresno Unified has already taken out the sodas and unhealthier snack foods from campuses and is offering a wider variety of healthy foods. He agreed that purchasing from local food sources is a good idea worth exploring but cautioned that there would be contractual and bureaucratic obstacles to changing the district’s food purchasing practices.
A small but important step along the way is to get the kids involved. That is just what is happening at McLane High School in Fresno. Students have not only built a garden but also are continually working it and preparing meals with the produce.
One of those enterprising workers is Jennifer Martinez. With no prior gardening experience, she has made that primal connection between seed, soil and stomach. Martinez was enthusiastic in her appraisal of the program, “It’s really important to learn the techniques and ways of gardening. I had fun learning new things. I didn’t even know how to plant a plant, so it’s really important for me, and for everybody else, to learn about gardening.”
These forward-looking McLane students have made a personal transformation toward eating healthy and local. The participants at the Labor Day weekend event asserted that it is indeed “Time for Lunch” and have taken the first step. Now it will be the task of government, social institutions and local farmers to begin transforming our institutions and the community at large.
For more information about CCROPP community programs, contact Reyna Villalobos at the Fresno Metro Ministry at 559-485-1416.
To learn about Slow Food USA, e-mail Tom Willey of TD Willey Farms at email@example.com.
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Vic Bedoian is an independent journalist interested in people and places in the San Joaquin Valley. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Richard Stone
What do Latinos, indigenous Mexicans, California Native Americans and Southeast Asian refugees have in common? Back in 1998, nobody could say beyond “second class citizenship.” But the Pan Valley Institute (PVI) was founded that year to facilitate meetings among these groups so that they could learn from each other and draw up common strategies for social change.
From its inception as a project of the American Friends Service Committee (funded by the Irvine Foundation), the PVI has had as its program director Myrna Martinez Nateras. Myrna still seems a little surprised at where life has led her, and how she has, in effect, become one of the immigrants her institute is designed to assist.
At the age of 30, Myrna was a resident of Mexico, an academician working at the University of Sinaloa. An interesting research question arose: What happens to Mexicans who immigrate to the United States? All that was known at the time were secondhand or apocryphal tales. Myrna enlisted into a joint project with researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana, and came to the United States with her husband Eduardo Stanley (now known to many of us for his journalism).
When Mexican funding for her position dried up in the wake of a national economic crisis, Myrna and Eduardo were forced to relocate. They found positions in our Central Valley, she with Fresno State and he with Channel 21. Myrna says she still thought of herself as a resident of Mexico and went back and forth on collaborations between her university bases in Fresno and Sinaloa. But her job with the PVI has rooted her here-and turned her into an immigrant.
The PVI has a challenging mission, not only (as its name expresses) for its charge to serve the whole Valley from Stockton to Bakersfield but also in its intention to facilitate learning rather than provide direct services. The problem was to create an environment and a continuum of programs that would fruitfully bring together members of the disparate target groups.
The basic tool has been “education residential gatherings” for subsets of those populations. Thus there have been, for instance, groups just for women or groups for second-generation youth. Out of these groups-close to 40 of them now-projects have been born, especially aimed at recording cultural history. The youth have produced DVDs chronicling their stories, there has been a women’s calendar and memory book, and a DVD documented the 2007 immigration raids in Madera.
Also, and perhaps best known to greater Fresno, the PVI has sponsored several large-scale Tamejavi festivals, featuring intercultural events and showcases for the individual cultures of immigrant and refugee groups. (Symbolically, Tamejavi is an invented word, using parts of words from three languages.)
This kind of activity was inspired by the well-known Highlander Center in Tennessee, which brought together people of different cultures, religions and philosophies with the goal of trust-building, leadership training and finding commonality. The Highlander Center is widely cited as an important source of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It is obvious that we are again in need of a movement to create cohesion, community values and ethical purpose to replace the failed ethos of corporate capitalism and the monoculture of right-wing “regressives.” Myrna and the PVI are placed similarly to be a key part in addressing the absence of a sustaining sustainable economy and a multiethnic model of citizenry.
Myrna has a litany of thanks to those whose outstanding contributions gave birth to and fostered the growth of the PVI. Just a few are Juan Felipe Herrera, Francine Oputa, Vida Samiian and Robin DeLugan from Fresno State; Tomas Gonzalez of Colegio Popular; Chris Schneider of Central California Legal Services; Mike Rhodes and Polly Victor; and Kamal Shamshieh of the Islamic Cultural Center.
In addition to the ever-present need for financial support, Myrna says the PVI has a need for volunteers for office work, research and media outreach. If you are interested in this endeavor so crucial to building a new society and so experimental in its nature, contact Myrna at 559-222-7678 or email@example.com.
|Identity Box Name:……Myrna Martinez Nateras|
Place of birth:……Tuxpan, Michoacan, Mexico
Ethnic identity:……Mexican, of mixed blood
Fresno hangouts:……Fulton Mall and the Tower District
Inspirations:……Parents (for their work ethic and openness to innovation), brother (for his political activity)
Recreational activity:……Travel around the Valley, reading (Latin American literature, social analysis)
Unexpected pleasure:……Watching novelas
Promoting the Peace Agenda
By Camille Russell
Peace Fresno’s new year began on Oct. 1, and I am the current president. Our slogan is “Action for Social Justice and Alternatives to War.” I am especially motivated by the words “alternatives to war” and “action.” The first major event in my term will be a demonstration at River Park calling for the end of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Manifesting alternatives to war is challenging in a society that treats militarism as if it were sacrosanct. Militarism has become so much a part of our national identity that many people do not even recognize the extent to which it affects us.
How do we change our national priorities and become a nation that solves problems without resorting to military action? Can a small local group really influence national policy? Yes, we can!
The only way to change policy is to be a part of a group. The larger the group, the better its chance of success. Each of the 200 Peace Fresno members amplifies his/her voice by being part of the group. Peace Fresno is a part of a larger group-the local progressive community. The local progressive community is a connected to national and international organizations, organizers, elected officials and thinkers.
Our local peace organizations are well connected so we are way ahead of many communities in that regard. But once we move out of the local community that connectivity breaks down. Several years ago, there were annual meetings of northern and central California peace centers/peace groups, but there have been no meetings for five years due to a lack of leadership.
There is a national peace movement. Members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom are connected to it; they attend conferences, conventions and even send representatives to international conventions. To be effective, Peace Fresno must make national connections.
There is a real opportunity to promote the peace agenda within the Democratic Party. After several years of work in Peace Fresno, I concluded that working outside the political process is not enough. I was frustrated by the unresponsiveness of our local Congressional delegation and, of course, with President George W. Bush. The Democratic Party has power and infrastructure, so I became a delegate to the California Democratic Party’s annual convention in 2007 and in January of this year I was seated to serve a two-year term on the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee, the official county branch of the state party. My goal is to learn more about the party and move it to the left.
At my first state convention, I was cheered to see people holding a large “Out of Iraq” banner continuously throughout the two-day event. The same group, Progressive Democrats of America, was handing out “Impeach Bush/Cheney” stickers to all who would wear them. At each convention, the 19 special interest caucuses are given 90 minutes to conduct business. I attended the Progressive Caucus and was energized.
I encourage those of you who are not on the Peace Fresno e-mail list to sign up at www.peacefresno.org. Also, check out the home page of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party at www.progressivecaucuscdp.org.
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Camille Russell is a retired teacher, president of Peace Fresno and a member of the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 559-276-2592.
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Helping Hands: Access to Food
Compiled by Richard Stone
What follows is a partial list of resources for accessing emergency food, including (where relevant) a bit about eligibility for services and the philosophy of the provider.
Three free meals a day are available at the Fresno Rescue Mission, 310 G St. The target group includes homeless individuals, alcoholics and drug addicts.
The Poverello House, 412 F St., also has free meals: breakfast M-F, 8:30 a.m., weekends, 9 a.m.; lunch every day at noon; dinner M-F 5 p.m. “All you need to bring is your appetite.”
Hot meals for seniors (55 and older) are offered at various Fresno sites. Call 559-621-2900 to find the nearest. Donations are requested ($1.50 for those 59 and older, $3.00 for those younger) but are not required.
Food Not Bombs serves free meals to all comers on Saturdays 1 p.m.-2 p.m. near the Olive St. entrance to Roeding Park and Sundays 3 p.m.-5:30 p.m. at Courthouse Park. The meals are vegetarian and healthful. FNB’s mission is to provide nutrition and camaraderie to those in need and to demonstrate that the way to peace in the world is through generosity and kindness, not warfare. Volunteers are welcome; call559- 485-3937.
St. Benedict Catholic Workers serves dinner three times weekly (Monday and Friday 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m.-4 p.m.) outside the M Street Jail downtown. Families of prisoners, jail employees, lawyers, judges and by-passers are all welcome.
Foodstuffs for families are distributed throughout the county at local food pantries through the Commodity Food Distribution Program. Call 559-237-3663 or 1-800-870-FOOD (3663) to find the nearest location within your zip code. For your first visit, you need to take proof of address and a photo ID. You will be given a card good for 12 months, that can be used once a month at any pantry within your zip code.
The food stamp program now provides EBT cards (like debit cards) that can be used at food markets to pay for approved foods only.
1) U.S. citizenship or Permanent Residence status;
2) low income as determined by the County.
Those who may qualify include
a) homeless people, or those in temporary living
b) enrolled college students who work at least 20
hours a week;
c) adults in CALWORKS;
d) elderly or disabled adults; and
e) adults caring for a dependent child under 12.
People on SSI or on strike from a job do not qualify.
Establishing eligibility is complex, and you must meet both low-income and low-asset requirements. You can call 1-800-870-3663 for assistance in judging eligibility, gathering all the documents needed and in making appointments for formal eligibility determination. To fulfill the requirements, you may need to be inventive and persistent.
There is a waiting period after eligibility is established. If you have a food emergency and are eligible, you may be able to get “emergency expedited food stamps” within three days, ask about it.
Under the new rules, in some cases low-income families that do not meet the low-asset requirements can receive foods stamps just for the children, without asset tests. However, parents will be asked to demonstrate legal immigration status.
It is now possible to use EBT cards at certain farmers’ markets, where fresh produce is available directly from the growers. Participating markets are
Orosi Flea Market, 41286 Rd. 124, Sunday evenings
Selma Flea Market, Mt. View at Highway 41, all day Sunday
Cherry Auction, 4640 S. Cherry and Highway 41, Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday
Farmers Market on the Mall, 1900 Mariposa Mall (Fresno) Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Farm Stand at Jane Addams School, 2117 W. McKinley (Fresno) Thursday 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
WIC (Women, Infant & Children Nutrition Program)
WIC can provide supplemental food for pregnant, breast-feeding and post-partum mothers, and for at risk children up to age 5. Call 559-263-1150 for information or go to FCEOC, 1920 Mariposa Mall, Suite 120, or to 3636 First St., Suite 130 (between Dakota and Shields).
Next Month: Jobs and income
Gangbanger Arrested in Tower District Hate Crime;
Catholic Group Goes after Queer Charity
By Dan Waterhouse
There has been an uptick in hate crimes targeting the local LGBT community. But a police spokesperson says he does not feel that it is entirely due to the controversy over same-sex marriage. Since the beginning of May, four anti-gay incidents have been reported to the Fresno police.
One incident occurred outside the weekly “Integration” dance party in the Tower District on July 15. One man was arrested in that incident and charged with three felonies and three misdemeanors.
Fresno Police Public Information Officer Jeff Cardinale said the victim was standing in front of the Starline on Fern Avenue when a carload of what he described as Bulldog gang members pulled up. He said one gang member started calling the victim a “faggot” and when the victim tried to leave, chased him and tried to punch him. Cardinale said an off-duty Fresno police officer intervened, showed her badge and gun, and detained Brian Edward Gamino and his companions until other officers arrived.
Officers arrested Gamino, age 30. Cardinale said Gamino is a Bulldog gang member. “He was charged with committing crimes in furtherance of a criminal street gang, felony – making terrorist threats, and felony civil rights violations,” Cardinale said. Gamino was also charged with resisting an officer, public drunkenness and misdemeanor battery. The others with Gamino were not arrested.
Sixteen days later, another man suffered head injuries during an assault in southeast Fresno. That victim told police he was at a pay phone near Fresno and Washington streets around 2:30 p.m. on July 31 when he was attacked. Cardinale said three men called that victim a “faggot,” and one of them then struck him with a section of a mop handle. The victim told police he believed he was targeted because he is friends with a transsexual. The suspect wielding the mop handle was described to police as a black male, 18 to 25 years old, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 9 inches tall, 150 to 160 pounds, with a thin build and wearing dreadlocks.
The other incidents involved threatening or harassing phone calls targeting coordinators of the Courage Campaign’s local “Repeal Proposition 8” campaign. One incident occurred in early May; the other a few days after the Meet in the Middle 4 Equality rally at Fresno City Hall.
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After nearly 30 years, the Catholic Knights of Malta (the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta) took aim at the queer Knights of Malta, Yosemite Chapter, suing the group for trademark infringement in federal court.
The Catholic Knights came into being during the Crusades. The queer group was founded in 1972 in Seattle and its Fresno chapter was founded as the Central Valley Motorcycle Club of the Knights of Malta in 1981. Just like the Hospitallers, the queer Knights focus on doing charitable works.
I have to wonder why it took so long. Could it have something to do with the Catholic Church’s stance on Proposition 8 and queers in general?
Sources tell me the Hospitallers sent demand letters to the bars, instead of to the address available on the club’s Web site (and their Los Angeles attorney knew about the Web site). As a result, the first inkling the queer Knights had that there existed a problem was when one of the former officers was served with court papers.
The case settled with an agreement to change the club’s name to Yosemite Knights, KOM Fresno. The club also has to destroy “all documents, brochures, memorabilia, medallions, patches, banners, flags and other tangible materials bearing or displaying any of the forbidden trademarks, which include ‘Knights of Malta,’ the Maltese Cross on shield, the `Order of Malta,’ and the `Sovereign Order of Malta.’
Barsamian Returns to Fresno
By Dan Yaseen
David Barsamian, host and producer of Alternative Radio, will be in Fresno to participate in three activities in early November. Barsamian will speak at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Fresno and at Fresno State University. In addition, he will be the discussant for the CineCulture screening of The Battle of Algiers.
The media in the United States continuously speaks of the Taliban as only a fundamentalist religious sect intent on reestablishing an anachronistic, misogynist feudal regime in Afghanistan. They are said to be evading U.S. military efforts to crush them by seeking sanctuary on the Pakistan side of the mountainous border that divides the two countries. This is the Obama administration’s rationale to legitimize the drone planes that are bombing Pakistan and the U.S.-engineered Pakistani army’s attack on the Swat valley that has driven 3 million people from their homes.
|As a writer, David Barsamian is best known for his series of interviews with Noam Chomsky, which have been published in book form and translated into many languages, selling hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. His interviews and articles also appear regularly in The Progressive, The Nation, and Z Magazine.|
Barsamian, however, describes quite a different reality. And one almost never mentioned in the U.S. media.
The area in contention is the traditional territory of the Pashtun people, whose population of close to 50 million makes it one of the largest ethnic groupings in the world without its own state. He describes the British division of the Pashtun territories in 1893, the infamous Durand Line, part in Afghanistan and part in British India. When the British were forced to abandon their Indian colony in 1947, after more than 200 years of exploitation, they divided this vast region into the modern states of India and Pakistan. The Durand Line was made a permanent border separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. Again, a current conflict has its roots in the machinations of British imperialism.
The support and the sanctuary the Taliban enjoys on both sides of the border have much to do with the fact that they are operating among their own people. Pashtuns live in both countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but their presence is mainly concentrated in the border areas of the two countries.
Barsamian is the award-winning founder and director of Alternative Radio (AR), the independent weekly series based in Boulder, Colo. AR presents information and perspectives that are ignored or distorted in the corporate-controlled media. The one-hour program is broadcast on public radio stations in the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries. His interviews and articles have appeared in The Progressive, The Nation, Z and other journals and magazines.
He is winner of the Media Education Award, the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Award and the Cultural Freedom Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. The Institute for Alternative Journalism named him one of its Top Ten Media Heroes.
He is the author of numerous books with co-authors including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Eqbal Ahmad, Tariq Ali and Edward Said. His series of books with Chomsky, arguably America’s leading dissident, have sold in the hundreds of thousands and have been translated into many languages. His latest books are What We Say Goes with Noam Chomsky and Targeting Iran. He lectures all over the world and just returned from a trip to Lebanon and Syria.
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Dan Yaseen is a local peace and justice activist. He is on the editorial board of the Community Alliance. E-mail him at email@example.com.
|David Barsamian’s Fresno Schedule Unitarian Universalist Church|
Topic: “Obama’s Expanding Wars: Afghanistan & Pakistan,”
Thursday, Nov. 5, 6:30 p.m., Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, 2672 E. Alluvial Ave., Clovis.
Fresno State University
Topic: “Obama’s Expanding Wars: Afghanistan & Pakistan,”
Friday, Nov. 6, 2 p.m., CSUF, Electrical Engineering Building 191.
CineCulture at Fresno State University
Discussant at the screening of The Battle of Algiers,
Friday, Nov. 6, 5:30 p.m., CSUF, McLane Hall 121.
Fresno Area ACLU Chapter Celebrates
By Bill Simon
On Sept. 14, the Greater Fresno Area Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) celebrated the end of the second full year since its inception with its annual membership meeting including dinner at the Golden Restaurant for about 75 members and potential members. The number of participants reflected the fact that 2009 is the 75th anniversary of the ACLU-NC. The Fresno Chapter serves Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings counties and has about 865 members.
The meeting included the election of board members for the coming year. The new board includes Russ Barker, Catherine Campbell, Phil Connelly, Donna Hardina, Rev. Floyd Harris, Jean Hays, Chuck Krugman, Steve Malm, Abbas Mehdi, M.D., Pedro Ramirez, Mike Rhodes, Bill Simon, Georgia Williams, Heidi Saunier, Dan Yaseen and Anthony Yrigollen. The new board will meet on Oct. 11 to elect its officers. The next regular board meeting, to which members and nonmembers are invited, will be on Saturday, Oct. 24, at 3 p.m. at the downtown library.
During the membership meeting, Simon, chair for the past year, recounted the year’s activities. Besides a lot of work by a lot of people, that included the honor of receiving the Dick Criley Activism Award from the Affiliate, marking Fresno as the outstanding chapter of the 18 chapters in northern California. Ashley Morris, from the San Francisco Organizing Department, talked about current affiliate campaigns including the need for truth and accountability in the wake of official torture, the drive to end the death penalty and the campaign for marriage equality. The latter will include a door-to-door canvass in Fresno on Sunday, Oct. 25, in partnership with Equality California’s Win Marriage Back Campaign. If you would like to participate or want information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Members of the Fresno Area Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union elected a new board of directors in September. Pictured in the photo above are most of the board members plus ACLU organizer Ashley Morris (front left) and Abdi Soltani, executive director of the Northern California ACLU (front right). Bill Simon, the chairperson of the local chapter is front and center. Photo by Howard Watkins.|
The main speaker for the night was Abdi Soltani, recently appointed as the new director of the ACLU-NC. He spoke about the structure and mission of the ACLU and traced the 75-year history of the ACLU of Northern California. He also looked forward to what is to come. In an effort to establish ties with Fresno organizations and explore possibilities for collaboration, Soltani and Morris and a few board members met with leaders of nine local groups. These included the California Endowment, Death Penalty Focus, Barrios Unidos, Fresno Metro Ministries, the Central California Criminal Justice Committee, Californians for Justice, Planned Parenthood, California Legal Assistance and National Network in Action.
There is much work to be done in Fresno, and you are invited to join in. You are welcome to join us at the next regular board meeting on Oct. 24, 3 p.m., at the downtown library to learn more.
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Bill Simon is the 2008 – 2009 Chair of the Fresno Area
Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Progressive Religion…Is Not an Oxymoron
Might not becoming a part of a larger, more significant whole relieve life of its triviality? That question announces the birth of religion..[T]rue religion begins with the quest for meaning and value beyond self-centeredness.
– Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (p. 19)
Unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that can keep abreast of our technological genius, it is unlikely that we will save our planet. .[In the last 100 years, we have witnessed many] dark epiphanies that revealed what can happen when the sense of the sacred inviolability of every single human being has been lost. Religion, which is supposed to help us to cultivate this attitude, often seems to reflect the violence and desperation of our times. Almost every day we see examples of religiously motivated terrorism, hatred, and intolerance. An increasing number of people find traditional religious doctrines and practices irrelevant and incredible..[Yet we] all look for moments of ecstasy and rapture, when we inhabit our humanity more fully than usual and feel deeply touched within and lifted momentarily beyond ourselves.
– Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation (p. i)
Having said what my concern is – the world’s religions at their best – let me say what I take the best to be, beginning with what it is not. Lincoln Steffens has a fable of a man who climbed to the top of a mountain and, standing on tiptoe, seized hold of the Truth. Satan, suspecting mischief from this upstart, had directed one of his underlings to tail him; but when the demon reported with alarm the man’s success – that he had seized hold of the Truth-Satan was unperturbed. “Don’t worry,” he yawned. “I’ll tempt him to institutionalize it.”
– Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (p. 5)
Intelligent Pest Control
By Ingrid Carmean
The take-home lesson of our two articles on cockroaches (the first appeared in the August 2009 Community Alliance) is to identify a “problem” species before attempting any control program. For example, if you attempt to control field cockroaches by a “bug bomb,” you may find dead cockroaches afterward; however, you will not have done anything to slow the entrance of these cockroaches into your home. Better door sweeps (which reduce pests by 85%) or adjusting your own attitude toward field cockroaches might solve the “problem” instead.
The Fresno area has three common species of large cockroaches: American, Oriental and Turkestan.
The American cockroach is mostly in the downtown area (it had heavily infested the downtown YMCA), but I have occasionally seen it in other areas. The American cockroach adult is 1« to 2 inches long and a dark tan color.
The Oriental cockroach (1 to 1¬ inches long) is commonly called a water bug. It is a large black (dark mahogany for those who are more sensitive to color) cockroach. In the Fresno area, it is common outside, and occasionally it will wander inside.
The Turkestan cockroach is new to this area. It is a successful invader and may out compete the Oriental cockroach and become the predominant large cockroach in the Fresno area. The female Turkestan looks similar to the Oriental, the male is a honey blonde color with wings and the nymphs are about half black and half red. Not too much is known about this particular cockroach, but from what I have observed it lives outside and may also live inside drains. It will also wander inside and be bothersome.
It may not be necessary to do any treatment for these three larger cockroaches depending on where they are located, your tolerance and the probability of their carrying diseases (they can live in sewer-type areas).
If you feel it is necessary to reduce the number of these cockroaches in your area, first, remove the habitat (e.g., turn compost piles, remove cardboard boxes) and replace or upgrade your door sweeps if cockroaches are getting into your home. Second, if necessary, use cockroach baits. They are the preferred chemical treatment. I use a granular boric acid bait called Niban, which can be purchased online; Combat cockroach gel bait can also be used.
Never expect to totally eradicate all outdoor cockroaches. Any attempt to achieve this will kill off many other types of insects and spiders that are mostly innocuous or beneficial.
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Ingrid Carmean is a peace activist and an entomologist with Carmean Pest Management.
ELECTIONS: The Crumbling Pillar of Our Representative Democracy
By Philip Erro
In case you thought the recent resignations of Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Mel Martinez were anomalies, just recall the Nixon era. After President John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1967 by the required number of states, authorized the resignation of U.S. presidents and vice presidents and the nomination of vice presidents by presidents and their confirmation by Congress. Involved in a high-profile scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency in 1973. President Nixon then named Gerald Ford to succeed Agnew, and Congress obliged. In this manner, the 25th Amendment delivered to the American electorate an unelected vice president and set the stage for many succeeding resignations and a disregard for elections.
Having been impeached by the House of Representatives and about to be removed from office by the U.S. Senate, President Nixon exercised his right under the 25th Amendment to resign from the presidency in 1974; he appointed vice president Ford and he became our first unelected president. When Ford became president, he left the vice presidency vacant, but he remedied that problem by nominating Nelson Rockefeller, whom the Congress dutifully confirmed to give us a second unelected vice president in two years. We Americans know, of course, that the cornerstone of a representative democracy is the free and fair election of its political authorities. But in 1974 the United States had a commander-in-chief with the power to initiate a nuclear war whom we had not elected and an unelected vice president to back him up. When we had an opportunity to vote for Gerald Ford for president in 1976, we elected Jimmy Carter instead.
In 2000, American voters received their second unelected president when candidate George W. Bush, his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris confounded the Florida presidential election results sufficiently to force the failure of our Electoral College, the final authority in presidential elections. Just as segregationist poll taxes had prevented African-Americans from voting in the South before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Bush campaign successfully challenged the right of more than 90,000 African-American Floridians to vote for president in 2000. The elimination of 90,000 votes for Bush’s Democratic opponent Al Gore made the Florida presidential race look like a virtual tie. This apparent Florida deadlock rendered the Electoral College incapable of deciding the 2000 presidential election, despite the nationwide majority popular vote for Democrat Al Gore. With the presidential election process stalled, Democratic Gore and Republican Bush asked the nonpolitical (i.e., unelected) branch of government to decide who would be president. Thus five Supreme Court justices, not millions of voters, selected our president in 2000. Despite the casting of millions of votes to the contrary, George W. Bush was elevated to the presidency by the judicial branch.
In November 2002, Californians re elected incumbent governor Gray Davis. One would have thought that a re elected governor would have a contract to work for the voters for four more years. But only 90 days after his re election, U. S. Congressman Darrel Issa launched a campaign to recall Gov. Davis. One of more than 20 gubernatorial aspirants, action movie macho decider Arnold Schwarzenegger won a plurality of the vote by winning Los Angeles and Orange counties, enough to become governor according to the early 20th century California reform law that legalized recall elections. Hence, a minority vote in a particular region of our state sufficed to put a never-before-elected actor in charge of water, clean air and the education for all Californians. Encouraged by his easy rise to the governorship, Schwarzenegger crafted Proposition 57 to sell state bonds to finance California’s budget deficit and Proposition 58 to cap state spending. Unable to reach agreement with state senators and assembly members on these budgetary matters, the governor used these propositions to override the state legislature. The voters validated his position, and Gov. Schwarzenegger concluded that all he had to do to trump the legislature on big issues was to organize initiatives. By herding voters to his side of referendums he designed, he could make his executive power invincible, or so he thought. Californians have subsequently voted down his demagogic brand of the unitary executive branch power.
Unlike California, where citizens can register and vote relatively easily, 25 other states, including South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee and some mid western states, have adopted voter identification or proof-of-citizenship requirements that make it difficult for the elderly, minorities, the disabled and low-income Americans to register and vote. This is similar to pre-1964 civil rights law practices to exclude Negro votes in the South. But now the assault on voting rights is nationwide, involving half of our states and many more citizens than just Southern African-Americans. This concerted effort to eliminate votes by the poor for benefits they need undercuts representative democracy. The aim of state voter identification and proof-of-citizenship requirements is to end representation for these classes of Americans. If privileged Americans can reduce public outlays for people who have many needs, they can reduce their taxes and have more money for themselves.
Elections are a nuisance for the wealthy and their lapdogs in governorships and legislatures. Why put up with scrutiny as a governor when you can resign with impunity and get funded by Big Pharma and other well-heeled industries to run for higher office? After all, being held accountable to serve your complete elected term is a quaint, old-fashioned notion.
How can we reverse this erosion of our elections? In Fresno, we can join the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union and Peace Fresno and work through these organizations to publicize these assaults on our elections. We can organize a Move-On style campaign to amend California’s recall law and repeal exclusionary voter registration and voting laws in other states. Movement politics is needed to coalesce mandates and exact accountability from the people we elect.
Source: An August 2009 mailer from the League of Women Voters of the United States.
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Philip Erro is a native of Fresno, an almond grower and a vigilant citizen.
Time Is Up for Darling International!
By Floyd D. Harris Jr.
I am sure that by now most of you are aware of the continuing struggle our community has endured in trying to overcome the oppressive presence of Darling International’s rendering plant that is located in southwest Fresno. This struggle has gone on for decades. However, the most recent chapter in this plight was written about two weeks ago. It began on Aug. 24, when the Fresno Bee ran a story about southwest Fresno’s plight with Darling International. In that article, City of Fresno Planning Director Keith Bergthold was asked about a letter the city had sent to Darling’s attorney and former City Manager Jeff Reid, informing him that Darling International did not have a valid conditional use permit (CUP) and was therefore operating illegally. The letter informed Darling International that it needed to file for a CUP for its current rendering plant use. In addition, the letter stated that Darling would need to file an amended CUP for the proposed output expansion. Bergthold was asked by the Fresno Bee why Fresno was no longer requiring a CUP and an amended CUP. Bergthold stated he could not respond to the question but added that he had received his marching orders from the city attorney and the City Council.
|Rev. Floyd D. Harris says a plant that processes dead animals would never be located by River Park or the Bluffs. Why then is it OK for this facility to be located in West Fresno, which consists primarily of poor African Americans, Latinos, and Southeast Asians?|
The next evening, a community meeting regarding Darling was held at the Hinton Center. The first question asked of city officials was why the city changed its stance regarding the CUP requirements. A city official responded by stating that the only reason the city had told Darling that a CUP was required was because Darling had applied for a permit to expand the output at its facility. The city official stated that Darling was no longer seeking to expand its operations, and therefore an amended CUP was no longer required. There were hundreds of community members, including the mayor, the city manager, Council member Cynthia Sterling and various other city officials present when the statement was made. It would be an understatement to say that the explanation was bold and shocking, given the importance of the issues at stake. A Dec. 21, 2007, letter from City of Fresno Planning Department Director Nick Yovino to Jeff Reid speaks loudly for itself. That letter stated that Darling did not have a valid CUP, period. This means it is not legally allowed to operate a rendering plant. The letter also stated that if Darling wanted to expand, it would need both a valid CUP and an amended CUP. So there were two permit requirements stated in the letter, not just one.
So what did the city officials tell our community? They said that no CUP is required at all. Nobody explained why Darling is so above the law that it does not have to obtain a valid CUP, when thousands of other businesses in the city have to go through the CUP process.
I have to wonder: How do the mayor and the other city officials look at the people in our community? Is our community looked upon as a collection of na‹ve or even ignorant people?
The city has stated that the amended CUP is no longer required because Darling no longer seeks to expand. However, the city still has not answered the question as to why the city no longer considers Darling to be currently operating without a valid CUP.
It seems that the City of Fresno is not being honest with our community. The way we understand how things unfolded was that a couple of years ago Darling went to the city Planning Department seeking permission to expand its operations and output. The city recognized that Darling did not have a valid CUP. To avoid the potential controversy associated with imposing a CUP requirement that would involve public notice and an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, the city deferred the matter to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (APCD), claiming that Darling was merely seeking to upgrade equipment that required no review by the city. The city was fully aware that Darling did not have a valid CUP to operate a rendering plant. The city was also aware that Darling was actually seeking to expand its operations and not merely upgrade its equipment. Therefore the city should have retained its lead agency status on the matter. The courageous grassroots community leadership in southwest Fresno stood up and complained about this action. This is the only reason why the whole issue of Darling and its operations came back to the City of Fresno Planning Department for consideration. It is apparent that at every turn the city is trying its absolute best to avoid requiring Darling to abide by state law and local ordinances.
Rendering plants are only allowed in Fresno if they have a valid conditional-use permit. Darling does not have a valid CUP. The processing of a CUP requires an environmental review and the community has the right to be heard in a public hearing on whether they oppose granting a CUP. Citizens who are potentially impacted by the granting of a CUP allowing a rendering plant have a right to appeal the approval of a CUP and can voice their disapproval before the Planning Commission, and even to the City Council. The city has actively and deliberately sought to thwart and deny the people of our community our right to be heard on the issue of whether Darling should be allowed to operate a rendering plant in our community.
|Community activists are organizing to move Darling International, a rendering plant in west Fresno, to a more appropriate location. They are tired of the stench.|
We have carefully examined the public records, and it is absolutely clear that no stand-alone rendering plant was ever approved where Darling operates today. If the City Council were to ask the Planning Director to show them the conditions under which Darling was authorized either by the County of Fresno or the City of Fresno to operate a stand-alone rendering plant, he could not do it. No such authorization or CUP exists. This is perhaps why the city attorney’s office so carefully maneuvered this matter into a position where it would seek an abatement agreement in lieu of a CUP. The city attorney is clever, but he is not looking out for us. An abatement agreement in lieu of a CUP means the city can avoid environmental review and deny the citizens their right to a public hearing before the Planning Commission. It also eliminates the possibility that the City Council would have to hold a public hearing to determine whether to actually deny Darling the authority to operate.
So you might ask, why did the city have a community meeting on Aug. 25, at the Hinton Center? It was a dog-and-pony show. They wanted to flash a report the city paid for that says Darling is doing the best it can to operate a smell-free rendering plant. They also wanted to tell the community that they were going to require Darling to sign an abatement agreement in lieu of a CUP. An abatement agreement is no substitute for a CUP. A CUP includes the right to a public hearing where the use can either be approved or denied. The fact that the city is seeking an abatement agreement instead of requiring a CUP means that the city is postured to certify the approval of the use without requiring Darling to submit to the legal processes every other citizen would have to follow. If Darling had a valid CUP, the city would not need an abatement agreement. The city would simply use the conditions attached to the CUP and enforce those conditions. The fact is that there is no valid CUP authorizing Darling to operate its rendering plant in southwest Fresno. Darling does not care about our community. Despite the fact that the public has put Darling on notice that its lack of responsibility will not be tolerated any longer by our community, it continues to show lack of respect for our people.
On Sept. 9, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., I was driving down Highway 180 West and exited onto Marks Avenue. I proceeded with my left turn going south on Marks Avenue and I noticed a strong foul odor. I noticed a truck that had cow heads and legs hanging over the trailer bed. The side of the truck had the name Darling International. The truck had no cover on the animal carcasses. I reported this to the city officials. I also took pictures and video of what I saw. It is obvious that Darling is irresponsible and cares nothing about our community or about our City.
We want to know why the city is so willing to jeopardize its overall integrity for Darling’s sake. Our new mayor is an intelligent person. She promised to bring real change to Fresno. No fancy slogans, but real quality of life changes to set Fresno apart as a leader in the Central Valley. How can we lead the Central Valley in setting quality of life standards, if we let companies like Darling interrupt and diminish our quality of life by polluting our air and our streets. I hope our mayor does not decide to throw away her promises to our community. I hope she listened to her father who stated during her inauguration ceremony in the City Council chamber some eight months ago when he said: Let us consider how our actions will be viewed 100 years from now, 200 years from now. Let us act with our combined wisdom so that 100 years from now, 200 years from now, it will be said of us that we employed our best efforts and did what was right for our City. These words are meaningful to all of us, not just the mayor and the City Council. We as a community must consider what will be said of us 100 years from now, 200 years from now. Did we rise to the occasion? Did we do what was right? My grandmother fought against this rendering plant for more than 50 years. Our community has been vigilant and we have never let up in our efforts to make things right. Now is the time for us to increase our efforts and to come together and use all our resources and make sure that the truth comes out. We have to engage the attorney general and the court system. We have to attend public meetings and protest marches and show everyone that we care about our community. Let this be the last generation that endures this blatant injustice. Let us get the truth out about how our City officials have tried to sell us out. Let us put an end to this and all other types of corruption. The buck must stop right here, right now.
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Floyd D. Harris, Jr., is the national president of the National Network In Action, a civil and human rights
organization. For more information, see www.nationalnetworkinaction.org or www.westfresno.org.
Edited by Richard Stone
A newcomer to our corner but long-time acquaintance Linda Corrales has submitted a poem that relates to our stories on homelessness and to the self-reflection the stories impel us to.
How Does One Say No to a Poor Person?
I’m sitting in my car
Waiting for Belinda to finish her laundry.
A weird-looking black guy walks by,
He stands a few feet away from my car.
He lights his cigarette.
He works up the nerve to approach me
And the poor man asks me for money.
He begins to tell me how he just got out of the hospital
But he reads the “yeah, right” look on my face.
Then he blurts out, “I want to buy a beer.”
I begin to hear the familiar voices in my head,
The ones that say,
“Don’t give him any money, he only wants it for alcohol.”
My own ugly thoughts say,
“Tell him to get out of here!”
My heart takes pity and since I have no paper on me, only plastic,
I tell him to go ask my daughter inside.
As he walks out of the Laundromat he gives me a smile and a thumbs up.
I smile back at him and begin to think to myself…
How can I tell a poor man “No”?
So what if he wants to buy a beer?
I mean, if I had to live in the streets I sure would appreciate it if
Somebody gave ME money for alcohol.
I too would want to have a constant buzz going
If I had to live in the cold-hearted stinking dungeon of the streets.
Either that or I’d want to kill myself…
Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots
Bias through “Balance”
By “Uncle Bill” Warner
The ultimate hypocrisy in America is the ideal of balance. We all want to know “both sides” of something. Sounds good, right? Well, on closer scrutiny, this hallowed maxim is based on the assumption that each issue or event has two sides, each worthy of equal time and scrutiny.
This binary thinking may work pretty well when you are talking about the on/off switch for your living room lights, but what if there is a dimmer switch involved. Instead of the lights being all the way on, there might be just a faint glow, hardly a balance for the blackness. In reporting on the light in the room, should we give equal time to the glow of my watch dial? What is the sense of the room-light or dark? If it is mainly dark, why should we give equal time to the light? Or the other way around.
Having taught history at the high school level for most of my adult life, I know how people want “balance” in the classroom. Still, there are many cases where people are willing to admit that there is more to it than that. Imagine a health class where each hour of an anti-drug message has to be balanced with an hour of pro-drug teaching. You know, have a happy addict come in and tell his side of the experience. I hesitate to call it propaganda (which originated in the church, with the devil never really getting equal time), but we sure can be hypocrites on this principle of “two-sides-to-everything” balance.
When I used to teach about slavery, did people really want to hear about its joys? If I could find one happy slave and give his testimony of happiness equal time with the misery of thousands, would this be balance or bias? Two sides to every issue, right? What would have happened to any teacher during the Vietnam War who taught that we were there not to bring them democracy but rather to stop them from having it? In fact, if they had had democracy, they would have elected Ho Chi Minh, whom we did not like.
The news media pays lip service to the “balance” ideal, but their idea of balance is to give what they call “fairness” by missing the sense of the event they are covering. If someone showed up in a duck suit, they would probably swing their cameras away from the meeting and give the “duck” equal time. Balance?
I’m sorry, but shameful hypocrisies hiding behind the guise of “fairness” and “balanced” reporting smell to high heaven (q.v. Fox News). I recently attended a gathering of more than 100 people assembled to hear speakers talking about the need of healthcare for all. They included doctors, a former hospital CEO and people with personal horror stories arising from not being covered by health insurance. Across the street was a small group of “contras” with signs containing patently false statements. Lies evidently gleaned from the unabashed hate purveyors on the extreme right got more time on a TV station’s coverage of the event than those who organized and attended the meeting. And the contras were not even locals, having been imported from Fresno, an hour’s drive away. I’m sorry, but this does not seem to fit my view of “balance.” Maybe truth and the sense of the event should enter into the equation.
One newspaper in my area is an interesting study. It consistently prints right-wing editorials (possibly at the behest of its right-wing owners). Pity the reporter who actually tries to report the truth of an event without toeing the line. A reporter who covered George W. Bush’s appearance at the Ruiz Food Co. in Dinuba and was not allowed to speak to any of the audience members (who had been given time off their jobs to attend) mysteriously lost her job after pointing out the truth-that the whole thing was a staged, totally unbalanced propaganda event. Another local paper gave a peace march in San Francisco four column inches on the second page of the “B” section. (The college football team usually gets a whole page.)
In any case, be aware of how you think of “balance.” There are usually more than two sides to an issue, and you should expect the media to give each side coverage proportionate to the numbers involved and the truth of what is happening. I was in a 7,000-strong peace march during the Vietnam War that I thought was totally peaceful. The evening news showed a group of Hells Angels attacking a few people at the end of the procession and ignored the truth of the event. I was appalled to see a handful of bullies getting more coverage than the march. This was not even close to being the event in which I participated.
If you do not believe that this is how the media often operate, just watch the TV coverage the next time the Pope visits Sacramento. I will be there in my duck suit vying for the media’s attention. If I really want attention, I will quack and bite a few bishops.
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Uncle Bill Warner is a retired history teacher living in Porterville and vice president of the South Valley Peace Center in Visalia. He can be contacted at UNCX@sbcglobal.net. He is also a contributing member at www.progressivewritersbloc.com.
When the Levees Break. . .
By Jeremy Weir Alderson
This year, I had the unsettling experience of finding out that I did not actually know much about something I thought I knew a lot about. I was in rural Mississippi, talking to survivors of Katrina, near the Ground Zero where the hurricane came ashore. I thought I knew a lot about their plight because Katrina was surely one of the most covered stories of the last century. What I discovered was that those iconic scenes of hungry, thirsty survivors right after the storm just marked the beginning of the malign neglect that marred the recovery process. One survivor warned me that what happened to them was like a “premonition” of what could happen to the rest of the country if a disaster strikes.
Yes, government on all levels did respond to Katrina, but the response was woefully deficient. Here, for example, are three things that should have been done right away that were never done at all.
First, there was no assistance with IDs. Except at the local soup kitchen and similar ad hoc efforts, one could not get aid without an ID. That is perfectly reasonable in terms of preventing fraud, but unfortunately, losing everything means losing everything, including your ID.
One survivor told me he was required to get four documents, including his birth certificate and Social Security card, before he would be issued a new photo ID. To get the process rolling, he was supposed to go to places he had done business with to see if they had an old bill or something that had his name and now nonexistent address on it, but of course, many of the places where he might have gone were not there anymore. There should have been ID help desks set up immediately after the storm. Instead, desperate survivors were sent on a paper chase that took some of them months to complete.
Second, no one set up a temporary transportation system. Survivors, who might have applied for a job, volunteered or sought aid, often had no way to get from Point A to Point B. Think what it would be like to get around Los Angeles or Chicago or New York if there were no public transportation; the cars had all been destroyed and most of the streets were choked with rubble. That is what it was like in Mississippi, with the added problem that the street signs and landmarks had been washed away.
Third, no extra money was allocated to local governments for the paperwork involved with the recovery process. In the best of times, the Gulf Coast consists mostly of small towns and municipalities that have to gear up just to file the forms for a new highway bypass. After Katrina, they found themselves having to file papers for everything, but with no help to do it. On top of these examples of government doing nothing, there is one example of government doing something so ugly that it must not be overlooked. After Katrina, thousands of people were put in the now infamous FEMA trailers, and those warnings about deadly formaldehyde fumes were not the only ones FEMA ignored.
FEMA had every reason to know that, even though the trailers were supposed to be temporary, some people were never going to be able to move out without help. These included elderly and disabled people living on Social Security. In the good old days, when they had places to live, their meager incomes were enough to survive on, but once their homes were destroyed, there was simply no way they could ever afford to rebuild or move into the new, pricier, rental housing that was slowly being built.
The Bush administration arbitrarily set March 1 of this year as a deadline for everybody to be out of the FEMA trailers (and FEMA-funded motel rooms too). They said that everyone would have had long enough to make other plans, which was true, actually, but only if for some people the “other plans” involved living in a refrigerator box.
The Obama administration extended the deadline by two months, and FEMA promised that whatever happened after that would not involve evictions. I, personally, had a conference call with several FEMA officials who told me the agency did not even have an eviction procedure, but they must have found one in a closet, because when the sixty days were up, eviction notices started going out.
After an outcry, FEMA reversed itself and said it would not evict any more people until they had already been helped to find an alternative place to go; but that does not change the fact that the Obama administration was also prepared to throw impoverished elderly and
disabled Katrina survivors out onto the streets.
Mississippi is no longer the pariah state it was during the years of the Civil Rights Movement. Its people, along with the storm-ravaged residents of Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, need help from all of us, and all of us should learn from what they went through: If disaster strikes, in too many ways we’ll be on our own.
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Jeremy Weir Alderson is the director of the national Homelessness Marathon radio show.
Rethinking Government. Not Destroying It
By Michael D. Evans
There is little question but that the public perceives government as no longer working, indeed, as needing to be fixed. As with most such perceptions, there is some truth to this. Government, at all levels, has developed some bad habits over the years, and in many ways it lacks sufficient oversight and transparency. In addition, given the enormous size of their current constituencies and the constant pressure to advocate for corporate interests, our elected officials often do not effectively represent us. Furthermore, some sectors within government have become larger and more significant to the process (particularly the funding process) than their contribution to society would justify.
In California, these concerns are exacerbated by structural impediments and, recently, the budgetary process and the bad economy.
That we need to improve government is a given. Persons of all political persuasions can agree on that. But there is a tendency in times of crisis to be reactionary and short-sighted in our proposed solutions.
In recent months, we have seen a variety of reforms promoted in the mainstream media that are ostensibly designed to fix what ails the legislative process in Sacramento. Unfortunately, these reforms offer window dressing rather than substance. Such reforms include 1) an independent commission to determine redistricting, 2) a part-time legislature, 3) an open primary, 4) a unicameral legislature, 5) term limits (already enacted) and 6) nonpartisan elections.
Redistricting. An independent commission for redistricting could eventually be a positive development. However, it is premature to address redistricting before evaluating representation. In California, we have fewer state senators (40) than U.S. House members (53). A state senator has an average constituency of about 920,000 people, a U.S. representative roughly 700,000 people and an Assembly member about 460,000 people. Does anyone really believe that one person can adequately represent almost one million people? We must expand the number of legislators so that the people’s voice can be heard and democracy can be enabled.
Part-time legislature. The proposal for a part-time legislature is an oh-so-obvious overreaction to the budget crisis. California is the most populous state in the country with a third more people than the second largest state. By itself, it is one of the 10 largest economies in the world. Furthermore, it is one of the most diverse economies in the country, if not the world. To suggest that legislators can serve our citizenry effectively in a part-time capacity is, frankly, laughable. A part-time legislature would also greatly limit the persons who could serve to retirees, the independently wealthy and those few individuals with considerably flexible occupations.
Open primary. As with term limits, this proposal insults the voters and restricts democracy. The implication is that voters are incapable of choosing the candidate who could best represent them (thus the need for an open primary) or of removing an elected official when he/she fails to represent them (thereby necessitating term limits). Moreover, an open primary would in many cases eliminate competition because your choice could be two candidates from the same party.
Unicameral legislature. A unicameral legislature, or a single house of government rather than two, minimizes the opportunity for careful deliberation and increases the likelihood of legislation that is flawed or emotionally driven being rushed through prematurely. Perhaps most significant, a single body with a smaller number of legislators makes it even easier for lobbyists to dominate the process.
Term limits. Term limits are basically a concession that we do not believe democracy can work. And we are not ready to concede that. Our existing term limits have greatly contributed to the current legislative morass. Because of term limits, qualified leadership does not have sufficient time to develop and there is minimal institutional memory. The most critical, and obvious, concern is that term limits make our legislators job seekers. Because of their pending unemployment, they have one eye on the next opportunity. Take, for example, the case of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who moved from the legislature to a cushy position with Zenith Insurance Co. after championing legislation favorable to that industry. It would be hard to identify a single benefit from this “reform.”
Nonpartisan elections. Some pundits have called for all elections at the state level to be nonpartisan. In reducing the influence of the parties, well-financed special interests would step in to exhibit greater control over elections. Real choices would be minimized. Locally, nonpartisan elections have effectively eliminated competitive races. Of the current members of the Fresno City Council and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, only one was elected in a general election as opposed to a primary.
These measures will drastically change how campaigns are run. The influence of money will further accelerate. Political parties will play a diminishing role. That void will be filled by entities with large sums of liquid cash to dump into individual political campaigns, thereby resulting in more quid pro quos between legislators and those contributors and more corruption from the influence of money. That would be particularly true with a part-time legislature, in which many of those serving might be hard-pressed to make ends meet.
The net effect is unlikely to be any improvement in government. Indeed, greater dysfunction is virtually ensured. An oft-stated goal of these measures is to elect more moderates. However, moderate as defined by the mainstream media refers to those persons who follow the corporate line rather than support constituent concerns.
Having said all the above, that entire discussion is off base; in fact, it is nitpicky and incremental. We must focus on longer-term, bigger-picture solutions.
We need to rethink government for the realities of the 21st century. At a minimum, we must address the following questions:
What is it that we, as a society, want our government to accomplish?
What should be public-sector functions and what should be private-sector functions?
What form will the management, implementation and oversight of those functions take?
What is the appropriate size, both geographically and population-wise, for a legislative district to ensure that the elected representative can sufficiently address the needs of his/her constituents?
How will we finance what we deem the appropriate role of government to be?
How do we make this happen? Who would drive this discussion? And what form would such a reassessment take? One methodology that has been proposed to address such concerns is a constitutional convention (more on this option is forthcoming in the November issue of the Community Alliance). We can say with certainty that any effort at real change will have to derive from citizen groups; change will not be initiated by the business community, the lobbyists, the legislature or even the political parties.
Such a discussion is essential and should not take place under the wearied conventions of a bygone era. We need out-of-the-box solutions that look to a brighter future. We cannot continue to operate government on a selfish short-term mind-set. Government is not the enemy, and we allow it to fail at our own collective peril.
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Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More a Blessing than a Curse
By Ruth Gadebusch
If you think healthcare reform is contentious, just wait for immigration to take its place on the agenda. This nation of immigrants is downright paranoid about more recent immigrants, or undocumented workers.
I wonder what the American Indians think of all the protests about today’s immigrants. Their protests did them little good and in one sense the same is true today, which is fortunate because it is the contributions of these diverse groups that make this nation so powerful. Each group that integrates seems to think that the nation has enough now that they are here. It is amazing how little compassion there is for others who come for the same reason: seeking a better life in this nation than the one they leave behind.
Although it would be nice if a neat plan existed that took care of all the needs of those who are here and those who wish to be, it simply is not-and will not be-reality. We had best make our peace with that fact and set about finding an accommodation. The late Marcus Foster, the assassinated Oakland Superintendent of Schools, encouraged us to embrace inevitable change and direct it, lest we be overrun by it.
Our nation has changed and will continue to do so. We would be well advised to follow that admonition. We currently have millions of non-citizens in this nation-documented and otherwise. (For the record, they are not all Mexican though the geographical proximity and poverty of Mexico does have its effect on the immigrant population.) No one but a fool would think that we are going to send them all “home.” It is economically impossible. It is identifiably impossible. More important, if they suddenly disappeared, our nation would suffer at least as much devastation as the disappeared, dislocated individuals. We, the United States of America, would probably be the greater loser.
In fact, for many, this nation is home. They have been here from an early age, mostly living as good citizens. Many have children born in this country, which according to our rules makes them citizens. These young citizens have little or no connection to the motherland. It amazes me that so many who cry to send the parents and others back to their native lands also spout “family values” with nary a thought to what breaking up such families does to family values.
We are ever so willing to accept their contributions, but we would deny them the ability to legitimize their lives. For years, we have exploited their labor, at the same time making it difficult to perform that labor. Substandard housing has all too often been their shelter. Denied driver’s licenses, they pay exorbitant amounts to get to work riding rickety accident-prone vehicles or just plain drive illegally. Wouldn’t it be better to license them so we are assured of at least a modicum of driving responsibility?
There are those who resent that education is available to immigrants. We withhold taxes/fees with little benefit to the worker. Dishonest employers paying substandard wages may ignore all laws. Then there were the so-called savings we sent to Mexico on behalf of the legitimate guest workers who answered our call when our laborers went off to war in World War II. Little of it reached the intended recipients.
Now a group of Congresspersons makes a huge fuss that undocumented workers should not be included in healthcare. Folks, they are handling our food, cleaning our houses and interacting with us in all manner of ways. Do we think that their illnesses cannot be transmitted to us? Don’t we have any compassion for them as humans?
It is all too easy to focus on crime committed by undocumented workers, but who can prove that they comprise a greater percentage of criminals than our homegrown ones? Nor is it only other undocumented workers enjoying the ill-gained profits of the crime. Just who do we think is the market for the deplored drugs?
Of course, it would be wonderful if all immigrants held legal standing, but that is far from the real world. We had best deal with reality, even if it means amnesty, not some warped idea of paradise without the contaminating “Okies.” No offense to those Depression refugees. I use the term to remind us all that those economic refugees were no more welcome than today’s, even though they were citizens within our national boundaries.
Let’s face it, economics is largely the driving force more often than freedom from dastardly governments. Economics is the key. Fairer wages for our own laborers would eliminate the argument that “our people” will not do the jobs. Better economic conditions in their own lands would eliminate the necessity-yes, necessity (They like to eat!)-for leaving one’s home and suffering the travails of crossing the border.
It is understandable why those at the lower end of our economy fear immigrants, but the attitude of those at the upper end who benefit from the cheap labor is inexcusable. Yet, we welcome the elite, highly educated immigrants who are desperately needed in their homelands if these economic disparities are ever to change.
This column cannot address the solutions to these conditions, but we can be assured that the millions of undocumented will be with us for the foreseeable future. They are not a curse. We need to recognize them for the blessings they bring. It would serve both groups well to bring the undocumented out of the shadows and integrate them.
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Ruth Gadebusch is a former naval officer, a Fresno Unified School District Trustee for 13 years, Vice-President of the Center for Civic Education and a community activist.
From the Greenhouse:
Is Global Warming for Real?
By Franz Weinschenk
It is kind of pathetic that there are still people out there who think that global warming is a fraud and climate change a fiction. Last June during the House debate on the cap-and-trade energy bill, Rep. Paul Brown (R-Ga.) declared that climate change was nothing more than a “hoax…perpetrated by the scientific community.” Believe it or not, many of his Republican colleagues actually applauded!
Rep. Brown and all the climate change deniers need to read the latest report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration because it just might shock them out of their lethargy. It is a nonpartisan document-commissioned under a Republican administration and completed under a Democratic administration-worked on by a consortium of experts from 13 science agencies, major universities and research institutions.
Reading the report makes it clear that global warming has already advanced more than we thought. For example, the glaciers are shrinking. The North Pole will probably be ice free much sooner than we believed-around 2021. There will be so much new water from all that melting ice that sea levels will rise higher than previously predicted. Those rising sea levels will threaten homes and the coastal infrastructure.
With the ice caps that reflect light gone, much of the soon-to-be-dark ocean will turn into heat sinks that absorb the sun’s rays rather than reflect them, and that will cause ocean currents to change. While rising ocean temperatures will foreshadow stronger hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, some land masses will be subject to severe droughts and wild fires. We can expect these sweeping climate changes to significantly affect America’s transportation, agriculture, health, water and energy availability. No doubt about it: We are in for some big changes.
The report details how and in what ways climate changes are already affecting our lives. It asserts that unless we take immediate and strong action, things will only get worse.
Heat waves will become more frequent and intense thereby affecting ecosystems. For example, because of rising temperatures, there is already an explosion of bark beetles in two vast forest areas: a region from Colorado to Canada and in Alaska. Because rising temperatures have made it easier for the beetle larvae to survive and complete their two-year life cycle, these pests are currently demolishing millions of pine and spruce trees leaving them vulnerable to extensive forest fires.
The report predicts that the eastern part of our country will get substantially more rain. There will be more flooding, more waterborne diseases and more negative effects on agriculture.
As for us out here in the West, the report predicts 10% less water for California and Nevada and 20% less for Arizona and New Mexico.
If we think that we are already in a life-and-death struggle for water, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The fact that there will be smaller summer runoff from the Sierras means even less water than we have now.
There are two responses: The first is to reduce our releases of greenhouse gases thus allowing nature to slowly dissipate them. The second calls on us to adapt and try to cope with the harmful impact of climate change. In other words, learn to live with less water in a much harsher climate.
And speaking of adapting to water shortages. Here we are in Fresno, in the middle of a two-year drought with a report just out that says “California’s San Joaquin Valley has lost 60 million acre-feet of ground water since 1961…enough water to fill 60 Folsom reservoirs” (Fresno Bee, July 14, 2009). Yet that just does not seem to register with the average Fresnan. From city government to the business community to the schools to homeowners, hardly anyone does anything to conserve water. In Fresno, when it comes to water, it is “business as usual.”
Every morning, I do a five-mile jog/walk in and around Fresno State, and daily I see water from numerous homes draining off into block-long sludgy, algae-filled, weed-growing curbside water channels, some as long as a quarter mile. The other day, I saw one home with a two-inch lake on top of a large Bermuda lawn with a half-dozen sprinklers still geyser-ing away. When I get to Fresno State, there are numerous mudslides from overwatering still oozing over the sidewalk and into the gutter on Cedar Avenue. Doing laps on the track is a problem because of the puddles you have to slosh through.
I return home and get ready for a meeting at City Hall. When I get there, all kinds of water is running off the grassy knoll in front of the building, just streaming over the sidewalk and into the gutter.
So you can imagine how happy I was to see workers from the city installing water meters in our neighborhood. I believe those who use more water should pay more for it, and those who waste water should pay a hell of a lot more! The city plans to activate all the meters that are in place by Jan. 1 of next year charging homeowners 61 cents monthly for every 100 cubic feet (748 gallons) used. Let us hope that comes to pass.
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Franz Weinschenk has been a teacher and school administrator in Fresno for more than 50 years. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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