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December 13, 2014 / sadhbhanu

WORKER’S JUSTICE PROJECT STATEMENT ON PRESIDENT OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ACTION ON IMMIGRATION

Worker's Justice Project

longform-29296-1416697112-3The Worker’s Justice Project (WJP) applauds President Obama’s administrative relief that will allow five million immigrant families to live and work together without fear.  While this is a historic moment, we must acknowledge that it is an incomplete victory.  Millions of other immigrant workers and families are being left out of the executive action.

Listening to Obama’s announcement was a bittersweet moment for many immigrant workers and families who felt that their dream has not been fully realized. Yesenia Bucio, a mother to adreamer and two US-born children felt some relief by the President’s statement which reduces the possibility that she will be separated from her family.  Overall though, she still feels her future is uncertain. “I am happy to know that I won’t be separated from my children and can temporarily work without fear, but I still wonder if I will be able to see my children go to college to fully realize…

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December 14, 2012 / sadhbhanu

Somerville: the city where policies are based on how happy they make people

The mayor of the Massachusetts city is collecting data on how happy residents are and using it to shape his policymaking

What is this elusive thing called happiness? Can it be quantified? Can money buy it? Does tree density improve it, and, most importantly, can local government do anything to enhance it? These are questions that Joe Curtatone, the mayor of Somerville, a mid-sized city in Massachusetts, decided were worth investigating. And so, last year with the local census, he sent out the first ever US citywide happiness survey.

In many ways, Somerville was the perfect place to conduct such a survey. With more than 75,000 residents living in less than 4.2 square miles, it is the most densely populated city in New England. Surrounded by some of the most prestigious universities in the country, including Harvard and Tufts, it boasts a highly educated and intellectually curious citizenry.

“Fifty five per cent of our residents have a college or advanced degree,” says Curtatone. “They are a very cerebral and engaged constituency who demand results.”

Since his election in 2003, Curtatone has strived to deliver results with a scientific, data driven approach. As mayor-elect, he signed up for anewly elected mayor’s conference led by Professor Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School at Harvard. He subsequently recruited more than two-thirds of her students to implement many of the policy ideas generated at that conference and beyond. As a result he has been widely credited with transforming the city from a place you look to for how not to do things to one that is considered one of the best run municipalities in America.

Still, it was important for Curtatone to be able to measure the fruits of those efforts and to see if they were furthering his goal of making Somerville a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. “There is no point planting trees and installing bike lanes, if people don’t want more trees or bike lanes,” he told me. Inspired by David Cameron’s nationwide wellbeing survey in the UK, measuring the happiness of Somerville’s residents and correlating the results with their satisfaction with the city seemed like the logical next step.

The 10 questions in the survey were compiled partly by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert and taken partly from the UK survey.

Participants were asked to rate on a scale of one to ten, both their momentary happiness (“How happy do you feel right now?”) and their overall happiness (“How satisfied are you with your life in general?”). As testimony to our human inclination towards optimism, the latter question tended to yield a higher result.

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November 2, 2012 / sadhbhanu

Wreckage Left in Sandy’s Wake tests New Yorker’s famous Resilience

 

Sandy

THE SUN was shining yesterday and the memories of howling wind and rain that brought New York to a standstill on Monday night are fading.

But although this city is no stranger to catastrophe, both natural and man-made, the wreckage left in Sandy’s wake is testing the city’s resilience. What could have been described on Wednesday as a “spirit of the blitz” mood turned to frayed nerves yesterday as the ongoing power outages have driven many people out of their apartments, forced businesses in half of the city to close and left millions of people without viable means of getting to and from their jobs.

As of yesterday afternoon, lower Manhattan was still without power, creating a surreal situation reminiscent of cold war Berlin where half of the city was overloading on business as usual, while the other, by force of circumstances, was taking a break from it all in the dark. On the east side, 40th street is separating those with power and those without. On the west side 25th street is the demarcation line.

January 29, 2012 / sadhbhanu

Inside Story: the US Prison System

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The Guardian Newspaper has begun a new series that examines what life is like inside American prisons.  If you have ever been in prison, have a  family member in prison or are currently in prison and would like to share your experience, please write to:

Sadhbh Walshe

PO Box 1466

New York, NY 10150

 

Or send an email to: sadhbh@ymail.com

January 12, 2012 / sadhbhanu

Why California’s prisoners are starving for solitary change

Californian prisoners have repeatedly gone on hunger strike over the solitary confinement in which some spend decades

Corcoran

On 19 December 2011, three prisoners at Corcoran State Prison wrote a letter to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) threatening to go on hunger strike if improvements were not made to their living conditions. Evidently, they received no response from the CDCR: the hunger strike began on 28 December.

This latest hunger strike, the third in less than six months, is small potatoes compared to the previous two, which were state-wide and involved thousands of inmates. According to Terry Thornton, a CDCR spokeswoman, it may already be over. But the fact that Californian prisoners have once again resorted to starving themselves to protest the conditions of their confinement does suggest that something is rotten in the Golden State’s penal system. 

The first hunger strike began on 1 July 2011, and ended three weeks later when the CDCR agreed, in theory at least, to address the participants’ five core demands, which amounted to better living conditions, adequate food and clothing, an end to group punishments and most importantly, an end to the gang validation policy that sentences inmates to endless terms in solitary confinement cells, known as SHUs.

One of my correspondents, Anthony, who has an indeterminate SHU sentence (meaning, there’s no end in sight), described to me in a letter what it is about the SHU environment he and his fellow inmates find hard to tolerate.

“We’re entitled to receive 10 hours of ‘outdoor exercise’ a week, but lucky if we get half that. At times, we’re cooped up an entire week in our cells before the opportunity of expanding our lungs with fresh air. ‘Outdoor exercise’ consists of being placed in a dog kennel-like cage, no bigger than our cells. We’re prohibited from all recreational and exercise equipment, compelling most to pace idly back and forth.

“Blinding bright lights remain on 24 hours a day within our (windowless 8ft x 10ft) cells as we have been denied control over them. Our lavatories are electronically installed, allotting each cell two flushes every 15 minutes.”

 

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January 4, 2012 / sadhbhanu

Welcome to Incarceration America

Prison_bars

Sadhbh Walshe

The US locks up a greater proportion of its population than any other country in the world. This fact bears closer examination

We like locking people up in America. If incarceration were an Olympic sport, the United States would come away with every gold medal available and break a few world records in the process. On average, Americans are locked up at a rate (pdf) four times higher than any other nationality, and we have the world’s largest female prison population by a considerable margin.

Before the “get tough” policies adopted in the 1970s, less than 200,000 on average were behind bars. Now that number is closer to 2 million. That may make you feel more safe, or less, if you consider that all of our chances of ending up in prison someday have increased exponentially. With that in mind, we kind of owe it to ourselves to at least know what goes on behind prison walls.

With this new series, we hope to shed some light on what life is like inside our prisons by hearing directly from inmates, their families, correction officers and anyone else whose life is impacted by the practice of incarceration. So far, my correspondence with inmates has revealed a fascinating world of endurance, resourcefulness, terrible choices, terrible cruelty and a lot of pain and suffering.

The most disturbing aspect of the corrections model, as it currently stands, however, is how much it has failed to either rehabilitate offenders or deter them from re-offending. No matter how harsh the prison stay, at least four in ten inmates will end up back inside (pdf), soon after their release – usually on a more serious charge and for a longer, and more expensive, stay.

One of my correspondents, who is 20 years into a life sentence he earned for a crime he committed while serving time for a lesser offense, gave me his take on why prisons are often better at turning small-time crooks into full-on felons rather than model citizens.

“We do not live in a civilised society here. It could be, but rather than separate repeat violent offenders and have programs/services designed to show young, confused, antisocial people how to become productive members of society once released, or just allow them to learn enough in a safe enough environment to be able to draw on later when they run out of piss and vinegar, they throw us all together with a pile of bones to fight over like hungry dogs.”

 

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October 27, 2011 / sadhbhanu

Interview with Tensie Whelan: ‘we meet resistance every step of the way’

The President of the Rainforest Alliance tells Sadhbh Walshe about her determination to bring sustainable products into the mainstream

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Spend an hour or so in the company of Tensie Whelan, the President of the Rainforest Alliance, and you may find yourself wanting to rush out to plant a tree, such is her enthusiasm for the cause to which she has dedicated her life; changing how we do business with the environment.

Whelan learned early on in her career while working as a journalist and environmental consultant in Costa Rica, that business and the environment are mutually dependent rather than mutually exclusive entities, and they must sustain each other in order to prosper.

Understanding this fundamental principal is the key to mainstreaming sustainability and changing how we produce and consume on a grand scale.

The Rainforest Alliance has managed to certify 63.6 million hectares of forestland and helped over 80,000 farms adopt sustainable practices in just two decades of operation, but Whelan is the first to acknowledge that they meet with resistance every step of the way – from the farm level where producers don’t want to change their ways up to the big buyers who don’t want to pay more for something they say consumers don’t care about anyway. Whelan does not accept such excuses.

“So I come back to them and say ‘Well, did the consumer wake up in the morning and decide they wanted a ruffled potato chip? No! You marketed it to them, until they had to have it. And you can do the same thing with sustainability.’ “