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Thursday, 29 September 2005
Call for solidarity
Topic: antiwar
A public servant in the best sense, Harry Murray stepped up to the plate a few years back when County Executive Jack Doyle, along with lickspittles and superiors, imposed "finger imaging" identity technology on welfare recipients. Specifically, Harry and a colleague from the Rochester Catholic Worker did a form of moral performance art, dabbing their own fingerprints on the walls of the Westfall Road welfare office. I was there as a journalist, and I objectively took down information for a City Newspaper report, though I wanted to shout Hallelujah and take up my own ink pad.

Now Harry and Sister Grace Miller, another local hero (I don't use the term lightly), face prosecution for bearing witness against George Bush's war and for freedom of expression. Below are selections from Harry's court filings, in his own voice; they give some context to his most recent challenge to violence and illegitimate power. They also argue for the whole community to stand with him and Sr. Grace:

"On May 24, 2005, I attempted to enlarge the Zone of Free Speech in America by a couple of feet. President George Bush’s motorcade had just arrived at Greece Athena High School. Sister Grace Miller and I walked across Long Pond Road from the area to which protestors had been directed to the side of the road closest to the high school (about a football field distance from where the motorcade stopped). I held a sign which stated “The Occupation of Iraq is a Sin” and was trying to walk across the exit road from the high school, which had been blocked off by police barricades, to the sidewalk. I was stopped by an officer and told to go back across the street. I replied that I felt that all of America should be a free speech zone and I felt called to be here. I knelt down, displaying my sign. After further discussion, my arms were seized by two officers and I was dragged toward Long Pond Road. After being dragged several feet, my sign was taken away and I was dropped on the pavement by the police. I heard someone say “You want to lie down, lie down.” I was then handcuffed and made aware that I was under arrest. I got to my feet and walked with an officer to a police car. I would estimate that I was outside the zone of free speech for perhaps five minutes...

"No one was prevented from leaving the high school by our presence since the exit was already blocked off by police. We had no intention of blocking the exit – since the police already had it barricaded, that would have been pointless – and, in fact, no traffic was impeded by our presence...

"I have a history of arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience dating back to the early 1980’s, including arrests at the Pentagon, Griffiss Air Force Base, Seneca Army Depot, the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, and the Monroe County Department of Social Services as well as an apprehension at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. I have served a fifteen day sentence in Albany County Jail for protesting aid to the Contras in Nicaragua in the mid-1980’s and ninety days in the Salvation Army Community Correction Center in Rochester for protesting the preparation for the First Gulf War. In terms of character, I try to live a nonviolent lifestyle according to the principles of Jesus, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day. I wish I could say I was successful in that attempt – I often fail; however, that is the ideal for which I strive...

"A dismissal of the charges would enhance the welfare of the community because it would send a signal to the Bush Administration and to the American people that the courts are concerned about the erosion of free speech by policies of this administration. Freedom of speech is not just an individual right – it is necessary for the proper functioning of a democratic society and, hence, necessary for the welfare of the community." ?

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 17:56 EDT
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Tuesday, 27 September 2005
Walk, don't run (out of gas)
Topic: environment
Gas prices may have focused the collective mind - for a heartbeat, in historical terms - but the transportation picture is as blurred as ever. If ever a nation seemed intent on driving itself crazy, it’s the US.

And Rochester is doing its patriotic part.

I thought of this the other morning as I coasted down the S. Clinton Ave. sidewalk at the edge of downtown, on my way to teach at MCC Damon.

Yes, I feel the need to use this one short stretch of sidewalk, between the I-490 overpass and the intersection of Woodbury Blvd. Normally I won’t bike on any sidewalk; doing so is technically illegal in the downtown business district, and only kids should use the walks elsewhere. But Clinton Ave. is murder during rush hour. Drivers exiting I-490 West hit the gas as they try to make the light at Woodbury, and again at Court, Main, and intersections to the north.

So, like so many others of its kind in the twilight of the Machine Age, Clinton is no longer a thoroughfare open to the full range of traffic (walkers, bikers, horses, skaters, etc.). It serves a specialized group: fuel-injected commuters and truckers trying to beat the time clock. You're well advised to keep out of their path.

The praiseworthy Rochesterians who are fighting the construction of “Renaissance Square” have shown how the terminal will exacerbate bus traffic on Clinton south and north of Main Street. But few people have commented on how bad the avenue is already.

Here experience is a demanding teacher.

The first thing that hits a biker while navigating Clinton through midtown - from Woodbury north to the Amtrak station - is the lack of a decent shoulder. As you keep tabs on overtaking traffic, you pay close attention to your right pedal, which could easily jam on the curb and send you who knows where. You have manage with a slim margin of safety.

Then just before Court St., in the shadow of the Universalist Church, you find yourself - assuming you’ve virtuously kept to the right - in a classic squeeze play. The traffic engineers have facilitated traffic flow by creating a right-turn-only lane onto Court. If you want to go straight, you have to occupy the turning lane to keep traffic from crossing your path. So if you simply exercise your vehicular right to proceed north on Clinton, you get a line of impatient, hard-charging behemoths all but up your wazoo. Fun.

But the fun’s just starting. When you pass Broad Street, you have to contend with curbside bump-outs that limit your maneuvering room significantly. This makes the 45-mph traffic at your left elbow more, well, noticeable. When you arrive safely at the East Main stoplight, you pause and consider kissing the earth. Only the ground here is asphalt contorted by the combination of heat and heavy vehicles - and topped off with a appetizing coat of petro-slime. It’s enough to make you long for the good old days of literal horseshit in the streets.

Renaissance Square will suck down a quarter billion dollars that could have boosted the bus system and provided decently for bicyclists and pedestrians. Amtrak, routinely starved by the feds, won’t get the benefit of an intermodal makeover in downtown. The fast ferry schedule will diminish to the vanishing point.

Even with the best intentions, we'll need decades to nurture a sustainable transportation system. And politically speaking, we're not close to giving our best.

How about stepping back a little? Instead of RenSquare, we need Square One: a comprehensive regional transportation plan that puts people and human-powered vehicles first.

For now, though, I'd settle for implementation of an old proposal: change all of downtown's one-way race courses back to two-way, human-scale urban streets.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:35 EDT
Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005 16:52 EDT
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Sunday, 11 September 2005
A small offering for all the lost
Topic: poetry
Prose fails me today, the 4th anniversary of 9/11. So here's something to commemorate that and also a relevant 60th anniversary.

The war’s over!

August 9, 1945.
My mom’s got the worst
birthday present: her first miscarriage.
If I existed I’d see a faraway look and hear
a dish drop from her soapy hand.

Dad’s begun a childless law practice
in two mother tongues. Some clients
call him Janek, some mister.
There are too many calls.
Past the kitchen door, his office ticks
with deeds and wills rolling
off the typewriter, sings
with Polish over the phone.

My parents, so, so young in wartime,
recent graduates
of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works
and Bell Aircraft, are in no mood
for chestbeating.
Let the nation declare Japan is dead,
long live the rest of us.

Let glasses clink elsewhere,
let others cheer the dancing
downtown, let a hundred million
bowling balls
clean up the last pins.

But today in this house,
show respect.
Mom is getting
that faraway look
down to a science.
Hiroshima is smoke,
Nagasaki a new sister cloud.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:51 EDT
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Monday, 29 August 2005
History of Cattaraugus County
Topic: poetry
Another poem on the farming/working class, this one revived by my recent biking trips in the North Country and Southern Tier:

History of Cattaraugus County

Down the gully lies the cage
of a Plymouth towed there in the Fifties

by some farm kid on a tractor.
And while I’m dreaming I’ll guess

he lived in that house with the roofline
still clipping the horizon.

Don’t knock. The house dropped its guard
when lumber was honest, and now the weather

comes and goes, no questions asked,
through walls reduced to an invitation.

Even the road signs at the corner,
weathered with a soft brush,

hide something under their laurels
of creeper. All visible speaks of a living

or the lack of it. No new pastures
for this kid, he'd had his fill.

He had the wind and rain
from Lake Erie to answer to

and a future anywhere
but under his boots.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:37 EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005 06:08 EDT
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Sunday, 21 August 2005
Future in peril?
Topic: economy
The Bush domestic battlefield is littered with burned-out WMDs. Administration officials and assorted flunkies have hurled their most potent ordnance against Social Security, and thankfully most of the stuff fizzled or was defused by sound public opinion. But Social Security continues to suffer oblique attacks, especially from ‘independent” mass media. Fewer and fewer WMDs here - but lots of crapola-filled paintballs.

Look at what Democrat and Chronicle reporter Ben Rand fired off recently in a piece on Americans’ retirement prospects. Economic and demographic changes, said Rand, “are financially straining programs such as Social Security and Medicare.” This, he said, citing “experts,” will eventually “force profound social changes.” In passing, Rand let the business world off the hook, saying that an aging population, etc., will “make it harder for many companies to continue affording traditional pensions, health care, and other retiree benefits.”

Rand went on to cite an analyst at the Washington-based National Center on Policy Analysis, to the effect that “Social Security is clearly on a trajectory for insolvency.” This despite the conclusions from both the Social Security Administration and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the program will be able to pay all scheduled benefits over the full 75-year planning horizon, i.e. longer than the program has been in existence, with only tiny adjustments – maybe a tax increase of 1-2 percent. Many of you remember when the combined employer-employer contribution was around 15 percent of payroll, compared to around 12 percent today. I’m not proposing we go back to that – there are more progressive ways of doing things; I’m merely showing that any necessary change would be neither unimaginable nor unprecedented.

But Rand didn’t stop with underscoring this fib. He quoted an expert who maintained, “If we don’t do anything, Social Security and Medicare together will be taking a third of everything people earn in a few years. By the time today’s college kids retire, it will be taking half of earnings.” The expert added that any solution will “involve some pain in the form of reduced benefits.” But as the Center for Economic and Policy Research says, any “shortfall” in the future will require compensatory funding smaller than what we’re losing through the Bush tax cuts. So to translate from the expertise: we can’t afford history’s most successful and efficient social-welfare program and simultaneously let the rich keep getting endlessly richer at the majority’s expense.

By the way, Rand didn’t bother to inform us that the neutral-sounding National Center on Policy Analysis is a conservative thinktank headed by the ineffable Pete du Pont, hereditary foe of economic fairness. (Remember Grinning Pete's flat-earth, er, flat-tax nonsense from the 1988 presidential race?) A sample of the NCPA’s current offerings: a health policy heads-up from the Wall Street Journal with the redbaiting insinuation that “Canada is the only country other than Cuba and North Korea to ban private insurance and private care.” Why didn’t Rand go to CEPR or some other delightfully progressive source for another view? I wouldn’t even have minded seeing a standard tag, like “a foundation-supported liberal thinktank.”

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:56 EDT
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