Saturday, March 21, 2015

Verona’s Magical Old Town: The Northern Italy diaries, Part II

Piazza dei Signori
Gothic spires of the Scaliger Tombs

We now try to do no more than 2 hours driving per day, so we took several days to drive from Venice to Fiesole where we had rented an apartment. Our first stop was Verona.

We were there in the 1980’s and it was one of my all time favorite travel experiences. On a gorgeous summer night we heard La Gioconda in the open air theater in the old Roman amphitheater. It’s not my favorite opera but it was my all time favorite opera experience. The audience was so totally involved in the performance, shouting their approval when they liked what they heard and really shouting their disapproval when they did not. I had never seen such an engaged audience in my life.

This trip there was no time for the opera, but Verona was even more beautiful than I remembered. However, it has turned into a nightmare for drivers. Each time we have gone to Italy we’ve found that the traffic gets worse and worse. The number of cars on the road keeps increasing at a frightening pace and the infrastructure hasn’t kept up. The consequence is horrendous traffic gridlock and practically no parking spaces.

Also, GPS systems are not programmed for the narrow little lanes in the medieval warren of Verona’s old town. Finding our hotel literally took an entire afternoon. It was a charming small hotel but I wouldn’t recommend it as it is on a tiny, well-hidden street and there were no parking spaces within a ten block radius.

If we ever return to Verona, we now know how to do it--get a hotel that has parking on the periphery of old town, park the car for the duration of the stay and do everything on foot.

Verona has one of the most magical old towns in Italy and it was worth all the aggravation. I would love to go back and spend several days there just walking around the old town and hanging out on the many beautiful piazzas.

Friday, March 6, 2015

So happy to be back in Venice: The Northern Italy diaries, Part I

When we returned from our trip to Italy in October, I had so much garden work and election work to do that I decided to postpone posting my notes and photos, figuring that I’d really enjoy reliving this trip in the cold, miserable days of winter.

My husband and I both want to spend our last travel years in Europe; however, we're drawn to different parts of Europe. For Rick, it’s central and eastern Europe; for me it’s southern Europe. For his 70th birthday, we went to Krakow, Warsaw and Berlin. For mine this year, there was no question—it had to be Italy. This was our 8th trip to Italy together, including a six week trip during our magical, never to be forgotten 1999 sabbatical. But I’ll never get enough of Italy, never enough of Tuscany. This was our 4th trip to Tuscany and the plan initially was to fly into Milan, see some parts of Northern Italy we’ve never been to and then drive to Tuscany.

To our surprise we found out we could no longer get a direct flight from Philly to Milan. The only direct flight was to Venice. We had been to Venice 3 times before and I had reluctantly agreed that we had “done” Venice. I thought I was reconciled to never going to Venice again—after all we don’t have that many traveling years left and maybe 3 trips to Venice is enough.

But as soon as I learned the only way to fly direct to northern Italy was to go to Venice, I was ecstatically happy. I wasn’t as reconciled to never seeing Venice again as I had thought.

During our previous trips to Venice the weather was either hellishly hot and overcast or cold, gray and damp. This time in late September/ early October we had glorious weather. Venice has to be seen with brilliant sunshine—all those narrow dark streets opening up to sunlit squares, all that water reflecting dazzling bright blue skies.

We booked a hotel, Pensione Academia we had stayed in in the 90’s and really liked. Like the small once affordable—-but now crazily expensive-- hotels we used to book in Paris, the Academia was far more expensive than it had been in the 90’s--an increase way above the rate of inflation. But it was a birthday celebration, so we decided to splurge. Because we get tired more readily than we did in our early years traveling together, we make sure we get a hotel that‘s a good place for hanging out. The Academia with it’s lovely gardens is certainly a good hang-out place and both it and Venice is more magical than I remember.

Just like our first trip to Venice, my fondest memories are of having dinner at one of the cafes with outdoor tables along the Giudecca and taking an after dinner stroll on the banks of the canal.

Venice is an open air architectural museum and although I had some museums on my list, all I really wanted to do was walk around and take in the astonishing beauty.

I’m now hoping for one more trip to Venice.

photos by my friend Fran Gilmore who was also in Venice in October 2014

Saturday, February 28, 2015

After this miserable cold winter, I so enjoyed the Philadelphia Flower Show

After this miserable cold winter, I so enjoyed the Philadelphia Flower Show. I went to Friday afternoon’s Members’ Preview which was surprisingly uncrowded. (I have been to Members’ Previews that were more crowded than the regular Flower Show.)

My husband who has accompanied me to the Flower Show for many years, this year refused to go. He has always complained about the artificiality of the show—all those plants forced into bloom before their time, the exhibits with plants that never bloom at the same time in nature, now in bloom together at the Flower Show. For me, the artificiality is the point of it all and I love the idea that I can enjoy all these gorgeous flowers in the dead of winter.

I was a little worried when I heard that the theme this year was going to be “Celebrating the Movies," especially Disney movies, but to my relief the movie references were generally discreet and the focus was on the flowers.

There was a gorgeous display of scarlet tuberous begonias at the entrance to the show that made me rethink my decision to give up on tuberous begonias. I’ve never been able to keep them alive throughout the summer. But there’s nothing like a spectacular floral display to keep hope alive and I bought two tubers which just maybe will sprout pale salmon colored tuberous begonias.
tuberous begonias at entrance to the flower show

One of the great delights of the flower show is the shopping—-so many temptations for gardeners. When I passed a vendor selling spring bulbs, she reached out to me with an incredibly fragrant tuberose. I love the intoxicating fragrance of tuberose but have not had any success with them and had decided no more futile attempts to grow them. But this particular tuberose was so magical that I bought a large tuber and decided to give it one more try.

This is what I love about gardening, there’s always another season, another opportunity to try to get it right. It’s kind of like teaching—-always another semester, another shot—-until it’s over. Teaching is over for me, but I sure hope I have a few more gardening years left.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Democracy is Alive and well—in many Democratic Party County Committees in PA

I recently learned that in many (perhaps most) counties in Pennsylvania committeepeople vote on all endorsements in Democratic Primaries at regularly held county conventions open to the public. This is in sharp contrast to the Phila Democratic Party's down model where decisions are made by a small group, the Party Executive Committee, and ward leaders are expected to rubber stamp the decisions.

The Counties that hold nominating conventions include:

Montgomery County, held on Feb. 19, 2015.

Delaware County, to be held on Feb 22, 2015.

Bucks County, to be held on Feb. 28, 2015. According to a Bucks County committeeperson, a candidate must achieve 60% of the vote to get the endorsement. I don’t know if this is 60% of committeepeople present or if a quorum is required and then 60% of that number.

Chester County, held on Feb. 19, 2015. According to Chester County by laws, a candidate must achieve 55% of the vote to get the endorsement. I don’t know if this is 55% of committeepeople present or if a quorum is required and then 55% of that number.

Lancaster County, held on Feb. 19, 2015. Several committeepeople have reported that “The process is very tightly controlled from the top down.”

Westmoreland County. A member of the Westmoreland County Executive team: reports: “We have scrapped top down and at our Convention will first throw the decision for an open or closed vote to the entirety of the Committee. …Since taking office last June we have dedicated ourselves to opening up the Committee and have had some success. We are the Democratic Committee and we choose to adhere by the democratic definition. Is everything perfect? Of course not! Just means we have more work to do.”

In rural counties where Democrats are not strong, there are democratic endorsement processes other than a nominating convention(which might be difficult to pull off in a rural county).

Franklin County. The County Chair reports: “The County Committee votes to endorse local county candidates in the primary as a normal part of committee work… Our members endorse whomever they want for whatever races they want...and they are encouraged to say they are members of the County Committee, since they are elected and voters may want to know where they stand. Frankly, most local candidates do not want to be endorsed”

Monroe County. A committeeperson reports: We are lucky if we have any candidates for county row offices. In the past when the county committee did endorse someone in the primary it lead to bad feelings and people dropping out of the party, even at least one person becoming a Republican. We go through the motions of asking if committee members want to endorse but usually just endorse uncontested primary candidates.

What is an advantage is we have our Monroe County Progressive Democratic Club which can vote to endorse separate from the county committee. We can endorse the candidates with progressive ideals and it doesn't piss off other candidates or other committee persons.

There are counties which as a matter of policy do not endorse in primaries:

Adams County. The County Chair reports: We hold open primaries in our county with no endorsements. My understanding is many, many "red" counties do open primaries because, frankly, we don't want to alienate any of our members. It's already hard to recruit! Honestly, I credit this with our ability to keep peace in our family by letting all have their say and allowing all to support who they wish. I endorse, as does my vice-chair. Invariably we support different candidates (me: Obama, Sestak, McCord/ she Clinton, Spector, Wolf) and we get along perfectly. No "power" fighting.

Berks County: A committeeperson reports: “ In Berks, thankfully, we do not endorse, period. We have enough to fight about.”

There is considerable variation here but the common thread is a commitment to democracy: County Democratic Committees throughout Pennsylvania give a voice and a vote to committeepeople.

Lancaster County (like Philadelphia) may be an exception but at least in Lancaster County there is a convention; if enough people organize to change a top down process, the convention provides them with a vehicle for doing so.

Why do Philadelphia committeepeople put up with the current top down model? Possibly because many people (and that includes progressives) have learned to work within this system and may have a vested interest in perpetuating it.

I also sometimes detect a fear of democracy—-even from progressives—such as the comment made recently by a Philly progressive on the Philadelphia Democratic Committee Facebook page: “Democracy with a small d is not always better. If it undermines the effectiveness of a party organization, then it's definitely not better.” With a 36% turnout in the last general election, the Philadelphia Democratic Party is far from an effective organization! Our challenge is to reinvigorate a moribund organization, not to maintain our “effectiveness.”

The Philadelphia Democratic Party needs more people like the Westmoreland County Chair who describes her dedication to opening up the county committee: “We are the Democratic Committee and we choose to adhere by the democratic definition. Is everything perfect? Of course not! Just means we have more work to do.”

Granted, Philadelphia faces logistical obstacles that smaller counties do not—-both because of its size and because in so many wards committeepeople are place holders, rather than actively engaged committeepeople. But surely we can develop a model that more closely approximates the democratic policies and procedures of so many other PA counties.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Democracy is Alive and well—in the Montgomery County Democratic Party!

The Montgomery County Democratic Committee will hold its 2015 MCDC Nominating Convention on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 7:30 PM.

Montgomery County committeepeople have a vote on endorsements--unlike the Philadelphia Democratic Party where the Party Chair and other members of the executive committtee decide endorsements and expect ward leaders and committeepeople to rubber stamp their decisions.

Also the Montgomery County Nominating Convention is open to the public—unlike the Philadelphia Democratic Party where decisions are made behind closed doors.

In the Philadelphia Democratic Party rules, both the old rules and the 2014 rules posted at Philadelphia Democratic Committee Facebook group provide for a County Convention:
ARTICLE 4 County Convention
The County Convention shall consist of the officers of the County Committee, and County Committeemen from the various wards in the City and County of Philadelphia.
In my almost 3 decades as a Democratic committeeperson, I have no recollection of such a convention ever being held. But the rules provide for it, and I believe there is growing interest in holding one.

Recently more democratic activists have been questioning the lack of transparency and democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party. The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus has the potential to become a real force in the Democratic Party and Joe Driscoll’s recent efforts to organize committeepeople through Philadelphia Democratic Committee Facebook group is another potential game changer.

And to paraphrase se the Social Forum folks, the Montgomery County Democrats have shown us-—another ward model is possible.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jim Kenney for Mayor

The field for the Democratic nomination for mayor appears settled and for me the choice is clear—former councilman Jim Kenney. I’ve always liked Jim Kenney, an intelligent guy with good policy positions, who cares about ordinary Philadelphians, and who would probably be a very good mayor. He is the candidate mostly likely to build the broad based, cross-racial coalition necessary to win and to govern.

Jim Kenney has been out front on a range of progressive issues, a champion of LGBT rights before it was politically safe to do so. According to Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal”Kenney has been a friend of the LGBT community and its struggle for equality for over 25 years, and has sponsored, co-sponsored or supported every LGBT equality measure in Council for the last 23 years.” His recent achievements include the groundbreaking 2013 LGBT Equality Bill and the 2014 LGBT-specific hate crimes legislation.

Jim Kenney was among the first to envision Philadelphia as a global city and to see Philadelphia’s immigrant population as an asset. From Will Bunch’s recollections of Kenney over the years: "‘We as a city government must do everything we can to address our population loss, and increasing immigration is a critical step in the right direction,’ Kenney told an October 2000 City Council hearing that he'd called on the topic.” More recently Kenney has been commended by immigrant rights groups for his work to end immigrant detentions known as ICE holds.

Jim Kenney led the fight for the decriminalization of marijuana focusing on the racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws and the tragic consequences of a criminal record for so many young people.

He has pledged to maintain and build upon Mayor Nutter's ethics reforms and he has advocated innovative ideas on planning/ land use issues.

Kenney acknowledges that he does not have a detailed plan for improving public education but he knows that adequate funding is a major part of the problem and rejects using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools as a solution. This is a critical time for public education with one of the leading candidates Anthony Williams on record in favor of a voucher system which would lead to further dismantling of our system of public education.

Working class Philly will have a powerful advocate in Mayor Kenney: From District 1199C President Henry Nicholas : "Jim Kenney has been a lifelong advocate for Philadelphia's working families. He comes from a union home as the son of firefighter and he's earned his own union card at age 17. Jim has worked to protect bargaining rights and has always been a straight talker and in his approach with labor."

Kenney is strong on progressive issues, but particularly for executive positions, it’s not just a matter having the right policies. Leadership ability matters and character matters. Kenney’s legislative successes demonstrate his leaderhship skills and everyone I know who knows Jim Kenney thinks he is a very decent human being. (Yes, the famous Kenney temper can be a cause for concern, and maybe some of his tweets are over the top.)

I got an insight into Jim Kenney’s character when my son was a student and assigned to interview a local elected official. My son reached out to just about every local official but none replied with the exception of Kenney. He spent over an hour with my son answering his questions. Kenney told him that he always tried to honor requests from students; he felt a responsibility to share what he knew about government with a younger generation. My son who is a real Kenney fan reminded me of this recently and it’s consistent with so much of what I have heard from those who have worked with him.

However, there’s no such thing as a candidate perfect in every way and I have some reservations about his candidacy based primarily on his political alliances. But as a good friend reminded me, Kenney is nobody’s puppet; his financial supporters are not likely to control him.

I had hoped to see a mayoral candidate concerned about the current state of the Philadelphia Democratic Party. The mayor could use the bully pulpit to argue it’s in the city’s interest to have a cleaner, more open Democratic party—both in terms of increased turnout and in terms of getting talented young people involved in the party. The Democratic Party must change if it is ever to attract young people who expect to have a vote and a voice at the ward level. Maybe it takes a “Nixon goes to China” leader to do this and maybe Jim Kenney might be that leader but I have seen nothing yet to suggest that he’s interested in reforming the Philadelphia Democratic party.

However, I do know Jim Kenney has the capacity to listen to those with different perspectives and that he is capable of questioning the status quo and open to new approaches.

I intend to do whatever I can to ensure he becomes mayor and encourage my friends and neighbors to support him.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The first flower of 2015!

When I trudged out to the garage today to get birdseed and a bag of icemelt, I got a wonderful surprise—-my witch hazel was in bloom! This really lifted my spirits—the start of the first serious snowfall of the year and first flower of the year on the same day.

Witch Hazel can start blooming any time from mid-January to mid February. It forces very quickly. The flowers of branches I broke today were barely in bloom, but after an hour or so indoors the shaggy yellow flowers had unfurled and I could indulge in that wonderfully astringent witch hazel fragrance. It helped a lot.

For lovers of witch hazel, Morris Arboretum has an extensive witchhazel collection with guided tours on the second Saturday of February and March. If only I had room in my garden for another witch hazel!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The theme of today’s Reclaim MLK Canpaign really resonated with me.

The theme of today’s Reclaim MLK Canpaign really resonated with me. The Martin Luther King “Day of Service” always struck me as a distortion of King’s legacy. I don’t mean to denigrate traditional service oriented volunteerism—it plays an important role in our society, but King’s legacy was primarily about social change, not individual charity.

I wanted to support a march that sought to reclaim King’s true legacy but I had that coming down with a cold feeling and wasn’t sure I wanted to drag my 70 year old body out into the cold. I thought with all the marches and demonstrations I’ve been to in my lifetime, maybe I deserve a break. Fortunately, my son encouraged me to go with him and I’m very glad I got it together to take a few aspirin and go.

It was a very diverse group of people – young and old, representative of Philly’s racial and ethnic mix. The young were the dominant group; there does appear to be a social movement developing among young people and it may have more staying power than the evanescent Occupy movement. Yes, Occupty did put income inequality on the front burner but it seems to have disappeared without much of a trace. Starting a conversation just isn’t enough.

I wish there had been more NOW signs at the event, but I'm afraid NOW doesn't resonate all that much with young folks.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Florence Cohen, Social Justice Activist and Committed Feminist

We lost Florence Cohen on January 10, 2014. Her obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer described her as a life-long civil rights and community activist. I would have added “and committed feminist.” Although the obituary cited her work as project director of the Pennsylvania Program for Women and Girl Offenders, her passionate commitment to women’s rights was not mentioned. (Granted, when a woman has had such a long and illustrious career as Florence Cohen’s, it’s difficult to include everything.)

I became aware of the role Florence Cohen played in the Philadelphia feminist movement when doing research for Feminism in Philadelphia, The Glory Years: Philadelphia NOW 1968-1982

A member of the National Organization for Women and the Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus(PWPC), in the early 1970’s she was the organizational genius behind an effort spearheaded by PWPC to get more women invoved in local politics. This was an exciting time to be involved in grasrootos politics, as electoral politics and social movement politics were closely intertwined in Philadelphia in the '70’s. African-Americans (many of whom had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement)and feminists (usually under the banner of the Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus) organized against the Democratic machine, fighting for inclusion and fair representation as elected officials and as Democratic Party ward leaders and committee persons.

Florence Cohen organized a series of political education workshops sponsored by PWPC which dealt with the basics of the political structure in preparation for the 1972 primary election. According to Cohen, “We have to get a new type of woman--an independent woman--involved in politics.” In a handout she prepared on the political structure, she defined what she meant by an “independent,” someone motivated by issues rather than by political allegiances and loyalties.

Florence was well aware of the distaste many feminists had for partisan politics; she challenged the attendees at a December 1971 political workshop to overcome their reluctance to get involved: “Politics is dirty but we MUST have a part of it. The machine will control parties to the extent that there is apathy, to the extent that we are disorganized. We must use our collective strength--women are 52% of the electorate.” She noted that in 1971 only 7 out of 66 Democratic ward leaders were women, but according to Cohen “none whom you’d call independent women.”

When Philadelphia NOW in 1998 and again in 2002 organized a series of workshops to encourage women to run for committeeperson, we thought we were doing something new and different. But unknown to us, Florence Cohen had spearheaded a much more successful effort 3 decades earlier.

I saw Florence for the last time in December 2013 when I spoke to a group of residents of the Watermark Retirement Community where Florence resided at that time. Although she was experiencing physical disabilities, her mind was as sharp as ever and her commitment to gender equity as strong as ever. The feminist community has lost a powerful advocate for women’s rights.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The not so democratic Philadelphia Democratic Party

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that young progressive Democrats are organizing. The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus has the potential to become a real force in the Democratic Party and Joe Driscoll’s recent efforts to organize committeepeople is another potential game changer. He has begun with a Facebook group which he describes as:
This is a group for committee people of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee. Members may invite elected or appointed Democratic committee people only. It's a forum for committee people throughout Philadelphia to communicate and share ideas.
Historically committeepeople in Philadelphia have never communicated much with committeepeople in other wards. The idea was to communicate through the ward leader, who communicates to the Party Chair. Most ward leaders have viewed each ward as a little island; communication has generally been top-down, vertical—not the horizontal communication Joe envisions. This is the first effort I’m aware of in my almost 3 decades as a committeeperson to bring together committeepeople across the city and to amplify the voice of committeepeople.

Now the bad news. The Democratic Party apparently continues to engage in undemocratic practices. Joe discovered that—unknown to most committeepeople--the party rules had been revised and a copy dated March 31, 2014 was signed by Bob Brady and submitted to the Board of Elections. According to the Party bylaws, the following should have occurred in order to revise the rules:
Should the County Committee at the time of its organization or at any subsequent regular meeting decide that the rules of the party should be revised or amended, the County Committee shall direct the County Chairman to appoint a committee on the revision of rules for the purpose of revising or amending the rules and direct the committee to make a report in writing to the County Committee at a later meeting. The date shall be fixed by the Chairman of the meeting and notices shall be sent to all members of the County Committee advising them of the date of the meeting called to receive and act upon the report of the committee on the revision of the rules and stating that at this time the committee will make its report to the County Committee and that the County Committee will act on the report.

The rules may have been revised without any of the above procedures followed—-thus no discussion of the rationale for the rules, no opportunity for ward leaders and committeepeople to raise objections.

Joe Driscoll highlighted the key changes in the March 2014 document. One of these changes is a real victory for democratic forces. From Joe’s summary:

Rule VII, Article 1, Section E was amended to include a provision which provides that when a ward committee is considering the removal of a committee person, actions conducted by a ward committee member prior to their election shall not be the basis of a removal. (Thanks to Irv Ackelsberg and Tracey Gordon).
Another erodes the power of committeepeople
Change 2
Rule X, Article 1 was amended to change the method in which State Representatives are chosen for nomination in Special Elections. It transfers the power of choosing State Representative nominees from committee people to ward leaders. In the prior version State Representatives would be chosen by a special meeting of the ward (if the district is comprised of one ward) or a joint ward meeting (where the district is comprised of more than one ward). The newly amended version provides that the nominee shall be chosen by ward leader(s) in which the district is comprised (corresponding changes in Rule X, Article 3, Section C).
But none of these changes can take effect if proper procedures for changing the rules did not take place. Over the years the Brady machine has gotten used to doing whatever it wants to do with very little scrutiny. Well, more folks are taking a close look at the Party's modus operandi.

Also, some party operatives have claimed that the rules were changed again after the May 2014 primary. Citypaper’s Jim Saksa reported that several ward leaders ( including Alan Butkovitz and Gary Williams) who do not live in their wards claimed that the rules had been changed after the May 2014 primary to remove the residency requirement that ward leaders must live in their wards. According to the Citypaper article, these ward leaders are mistaken:
The rules on file at the Board of Elections are unambiguous: Ward leaders must be registered to vote in the wards they represent. And the rules can't just be changed offhand — Pennsylvania Election Code states that party rules are not "effective until a certified copy ... has been filed in the office of the county Board of Elections."
But if Butkovitz thinks that "the rules set forth by the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee" are different from those filed at the Board of Elections, he isn't alone.
Williams said that the rules had been modified to remove the residency requirement after the last primary...

So we checked with City Committee chairman Bob Brady. Brady's staffers and Deputy City Commissioner Fred Voigt confirmed the Board of Elections had the official rules — the ones with the residency requirement — and that no others exist.

Saksa updated his article on December 31, 2014:

The rules were time-stamped March 31, 2014, but they weren't on file in the city Board of Elections, as required. Instead, they were in Commissioner Chair Anthony Clark's office in City Hall…. Kevin Kelly at the Board of Elections said the new rules were delivered to that office on Oct. 22, 2014.
Why would Brady revise the rules and then bury them in Anthony Clark’s office?

And were these rules revised according to procedures stipulated in the bylaws? In the past party leaders got away with a cavalier attitude towards the rules. Committteepeople for the most part have not had access to the rules and did not know what rights they had. That may be changing as a younger generation of progressives are paying attention and asking questions.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The last flower of 2014

The last flower of 2014

THE last flower in my garden this year is an early Fall blooming camellia that decided to put forth just one more bloom. Sometimes the last flower is a rose and I did have a few roses in early December. But a flower in late December is special.

I try really hard to have something blooming all year but that period between the last chrysanthemums in late November and the first snow drops in early January is a challenge.

Anybody out there whose garden has been graced by one last flower?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thank you Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren!

Thank you Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren for fighting the good fight and for alerting us to the poison pills in the $1.1 trillion spending bill dubbed the cromnibus bill.

Maybe it is the best bill possible, and as many Democrats claim, anything passed by the new Republican Congress would be far worse.

Yes, it contains funding for the Affordable Care Act in what will be a critical year for the future of Obamacare. This could be the year when ACA becomes an integral part of the safety net with a growing constituency who will fight to expand it. If it unravels now, it could be a long time before we have another shot at universal health care. Yes, the Affordable Care Act falls short of universal coverage but it is working much better than expected and if we get a Democratic President and Congress in 2016, there is the opportunity strengthen and expand ACA.

The bill also contains some good news on immigration. Although the Department of Homeland Security, the agency administering most immigration policy, is funded only until February 27, the bill contains new funding for immigration programs at other agencies. For more details, see break down of bill here.

But the price we’re paying is weakening of financial regulation and campaign finance laws. I suppose one could argue that there’s so much money in the political system now, how could it get worse? We’re about to find out.

And one could argue that it will be easier to reinstitute laws regulating derivatives and restricting contributions to political parties than it would be to resuscitate a defunded Obamacare.

We can undo this mess if we can ever convince those Americans–woefully under represented in the 2014 midterms elections-- to vote in 2016 and in 2018!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I finally saw Fruitvale Station

I finally saw Fruitvale Station, a documentary about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer in Oakland early on New Year’s Day, 2009.

The film came out around the time of the killing of Trayvon Martin and I felt I just could not take it. Since then we’ve had the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Akai Gurley.

I don’t think I would have watched Fruitvale Station if my son, who doesn’t have a Netflix subscription, hadn’t asked me to order it for him. There it was lying on the dining room table waiting for him to pick it up, so I decided to give it a try.

The film’s director, Ryan Coogler told the New York Times: “I wanted the audience to get to know this guy, to get attached, so that when the situation that happens to him happens, it’s not just like you read it in the paper, you know what I mean? When you know somebody as a human being, you know that life means something." Coogler succeeded. If we ever get beyond racial hatred and fears, we will owe a great deal to artists who help us get outside of ourselves and see the world from another’s perspective.

Coogler worked closely with Grant’s family to create an accurate portrait of Oscar's life, and with the exception of a little poetic license here and there, apparently did so. Grant was struggling to get his life back on track; the tragedy of his death and its impact of his mother, girlfriend, and young daughter is powerfully conveyed.

I think in some ways I was blocking my emotional response to the killings and Fruitvale Station broke through my defenses. If I were still teaching, this is a film I would definitely use in the classroom. For over three decades, I was always looking at books, articles, and films with an eye to their classroom potential. Old habits die hard. Although I have no intention of returning to teaching, I find myself still thinking about how a book or film would work in the classroom.

Just as we owe a great deal to artists like Coogler in helping us understand the costs of racism, we also owe a great deal to what we call the millennial generation, the most diverse generation in American history and more liberal on racial and social issues than previous generations. Barack Obama would not be president without them. Now they are in the forefront of the demonstrations against the recent killings.

Police involvement in racially motivated killing is nothing new in American history. But the killings have never before generated such broad-based outrage. Many Americans—-particularly young Americans--are in agreement with President Obama; "When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem..It's incumbent on all of us as Americans ...that we recognize that this is an American problem and not just a black problem. It is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law."

If I were to use Fruitvale Station in the classroom, I would pair it with footage of the recent multi-racial demonstrations and with a film clip of President Obama’s response. Just can’t get out of the habit of making lesson plans!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My bulbs are still not in the ground!

My garden on November 30, 2014.

My bulbs are still not in the ground! Wednesday’s snowfall really set me back. While the snow has disappeared in most of the city, it is still hanging on in my Mt. Airy garden. An insurance adjuster once told us that we were over 400 feet above sea level. In the heat of summer, this has its advantages--when I get off the train at Mt. Airy station, it feels at least ten degrees cooler than in the lowlands of center city. But the downside is that the snow melts much more slowly up here.

I sure hope the snow is gone tomorrow so I can finish the job. I used to have no problem getting hundreds, sometimes thousands of bulbs in the ground in the period between late-October and late November, prime bulb planting season. But I have to face the fact that I no longer have the stamina for this and stop ordering far more bulbs than I can easily plant. One more adjustment to old-age gardening.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November is the cruelest month

What a difference a week makes! All my beautiful leaves are on the ground and my trees are "bare ruined choirs.”

The poet was wrong—November is the cruelest month. Winter is getting harder for me with each passing year. I still love seasonal change-—and a little bit of winter can be fun--but it’s not even December, and I’m already so tired of cold weather.

Winter is supposed to be a time for curling up with seed catalogues and fantasizing about gardens to come. During my working years that was enough—-now I’m not so sure. As soon as I finish the book I’m working on, I plan to reward myself with a little greenhouse, but that reward will probably not come this winter.

I plan to set up a Facebook page for other gardeners who are having trouble facing the winding down of their gardens and wondering how they are going to get through until April. Maybe that will help.