Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Iraq - Wash Post - Biden: A plan

Published in the Courier News, Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Plan to Hold Iraq Together

By Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Four months ago, in an opinion piece with Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, I laid out a detailed plan to keep Iraq together, protect America's interests and bring our troops home. Many experts here and in Iraq embraced our ideas. Since then, circumstances in Iraq have made the plan even more on target -- and urgent -- than when we first proposed it.

The new, central reality in Iraq is that violence between Shiites and Sunnis has surpassed the insurgency and foreign terrorists as the main security threat. Our leading civilian and military experts on Iraq -- Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gens. George Casey, Peter Pace and John Abizaid -- have all acknowledged that fact.

In December's elections, 90 percent of the votes went to sectarian lists. Ethnic militias increasingly are the law in Iraq. They have infiltrated the official security forces. Sectarian cleansing has begun in mixed areas, with 200,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes in recent months for fear of sectarian reprisals. Massive unemployment feeds the ranks of sectarian militias and criminal gangs.

No number of troops can solve this problem. The only way to hold Iraq together and create the conditions for our armed forces to responsibly withdraw is to give Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their interests peacefully and to forge a sustainable political settlement. Unfortunately, this administration does not have a coherent plan or any discernible strategy for success in Iraq. Its strategy is to prevent defeat and hand the problem off when it leaves office.

Meanwhile, more and more Americans, understandably frustrated, support an immediate withdrawal, even at the risk of trading a dictator for chaos and a civil war that could become a regional war.

Both are bad alternatives. The five-point plan Les Gelb and I laid out offers a better way.
  • First, the plan calls for maintaining a unified Iraq by decentralizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own regions. The central government would be left in charge of common interests, such as border security and the distribution of oil revenue.

  • Second, it would bind the Sunnis to the deal by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of oil revenue. Each group would have an incentive to maximize oil production, making oil the glue that binds the country together.

  • Third, the plan would create a massive jobs program while increasing reconstruction aid -- especially from the oil-rich Gulf states -- but tying it to the protection of minority rights.

  • Fourth, it would convene an international conference that would produce a regional nonaggression pact and create a Contact Group to enforce regional commitments.

  • Fifth, it would begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces this year and withdraw most of them by the end of 2007, while maintaining a small follow-on force to keep the neighbors honest and to strike any concentration of terrorists.
This plan is consistent with Iraq's constitution, which already provides for the country's 18 provinces to join together in regions, with their own security forces and control over most day-to-day issues. This plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the militias, which are likely to retreat to their respective regions instead of engaging in acts of violence. This plan is consistent with a strong central government that has clearly defined responsibilities. Indeed, it provides an agenda for that government, whose mere existence will not end sectarian violence. This plan is not partition -- in fact, it may be the only way to prevent violent partition and preserve a unified Iraq.

To be sure, this plan presents real challenges, especially with regard to large cities with mixed populations. We would maintain Baghdad as a federal city, belonging to no one region. And we would require international peacekeepers for other mixed cities to support local security forces and further protect minorities. The example of Bosnia is illustrative, if not totally analogous. Ten years ago, Bosnia was being torn apart by ethnic cleansing. The United States stepped in decisively with the Dayton Accords to keep the country whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations. We even allowed Muslims, Croats and Serbs to retain separate armies. With the help of U.S. troops and others, Bosnians have lived a decade in peace. Now they are strengthening their central government and disbanding their separate armies.

At best, the course we're on has no end in sight. At worst, it leads to a terrible civil war and possibly a regional war. This plan offers a way to bring our troops home, protect our security interests and preserve Iraq as a unified country. Those who reject this plan out of hand must answer one simple question: What is your alternative?

The writer is a senator from Delaware and the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Thursday, August 24, 2006; A21

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Negotiating - Ledger - How to haggle: Power negotiating

Published in the Star-Ledger, Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How to haggle
Getting the best deal isn't a matter of luck
-- it's about skill and effort


Fishing has been defined as a jerk on one end of a line waiting for a jerk on the other end.

Selling big-ticket items such as houses, cars, appliances and jewelry is a lot like fishing. Salespeople, including savvy home sellers, hook you and reel you in by using a variety of negotiation strategies. They use those time-tested tactics on you, whether you want them to or not.

Since you can't avoid the salesperson's negotiating ploys, your only defense is to recognize what he's doing. You then have the chance to use some of those tactics yourself -- becoming the fisherman instead of the fish.

It's called haggling. How well you do it could be the key factor in determining the price you agree to pay for a new home or car.

When consumers make major purchases, the most common mistake they make is to assume negotiating is not an option, says Steven Cohen, who dispenses advice online and in seminars as founder of Negotiation Skills.

In fact, he says, there is room for negotiation in virtually every purchase.

The second most common mistake: lack of preparation. "That can be disastrous," Cohen says. "If you negotiate without preparing properly, you can actually make your position worse."

A seller aware that you are guessing or bluffing won't likely give an inch. Haggling isn't unseemly, seat-of-the-pants horse-trading. It's more a freewheeling form of negotiation.

You prepare in three key steps, by:
  • Determining exactly what you want.

  • Researching to find out what constitutes a fair price for what you want to buy.

  • Figuring out what's most important to you and to the seller.
The most important thing is to determine what constitutes a fair price. For things such as appliances and jewelry, you can get a good idea by visiting several stores.

For houses, find out prices paid recently for comparable houses in similar neighborhoods. Many real-estate salespeople willingly share the information about homes they've recently sold. Also, an increasing number of local property authorities let you search their databases of property sales via the Web.

For automobiles, find how much the dealer paid for the vehicle, then negotiate a price that includes a fair profit. is a fine place to find out the invoice price of a car as well as how much the manufacturer has provided the dealer in holdback. Don't know what holdback is and why it's important? The site tells you.

Intellichoice is another option for automobile pricing information.

"People need to think in broader terms and think of negotiation as discovery," says Roger Volkema, a management professor at American University and author of "The Negotiation Toolkit: How to Get Exactly What You Want in Any Business or Personal Situation" (American Management Association, 1999). "I think it's a good idea, when you're making major purchases, to go to several places, shop around not only to make comparisons but to get some confidence."

But what if you discover that you and the seller share the same priority: You both want to get the best price possible? Then it's time for "power negotiating," says Roger Dawson, author of "Secrets of Power Negotiating" (Career Press, 2000).

You are a power negotiator, he says, if you get the deal that you want and the other person thinks he or she has won the negotiation.


Roger Dawson, author of "Secrets of Power Negotiating," recommends tactics smart buyers and sellers can use when haggling for big-ticket items. You might not feel comfortable using these tactics, but, experts say, they'll be used on you.

  • INVOKE HIGHER AUTHORITY: This is when the buyer and seller arrive at a tentative agreement, then one party has to get someone to okay the deal. Anyone who has haggled w ith a car salesperson is familiar with this: You arrive at a price, then the salesperson has to get the sales manager's approval.

    But buyers can use this tactic, too. The wife can say she loves the house, but apologetically explains to the real estate agent that her husband won't budge unless the price is reduced. Later, they agree to buy the house if an inspector (a higher authority) finds no serious defects and a bank (a higher authority) will lend the money.

  • MAKE SURE TO FLINCH: The most common tactical mistake thata consumers make is to remain calm in the face of a proposal, Dawson says. It's better to flinch -- to appear shocked and surprised by an "outrageous" offer, even if it's not really unreasonable. You might think a stoic demeanor looks professional, but in the haggling business it will cost you.

  • SQUEEZE YOUR OPPONENT: Dawson calls "the vise" one of the most effective tactics: "You say, 'I'm sorry, but you'll have to do better than that.' Then you shut up." Chances are that you'll get a more reasonable offer. Too many people, says Dawson, just can't stay quiet, they blink and fill in the silence with words that drain all the power out of their rejection.

  • NEVER OFFER TO SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE IN PRICE: Always wait for the other side to split the difference: it gives your opponent a feeling of winning and, if you split the difference again, it'll be in your favor.

  • MAKE A CONCESSION: Save a small concession that you're willing to give up at the end, so the other side can feel the satisfaction of winning something.

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Police Escorts - Courier - Editorial: Mayoral bodyguards unnecessary

Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mayoral bodyguards unnecessary in Plainfield

City officials had long suggested to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs that bodyguards should accompany her on public appearances. When rumors of a death threat against her were posted on a local blog in early July, the mayor relented, and since that time, two officers have spent most of their work weeks on bodyguard duty.

This might be a sad commentary on our times, except that officials seem to have created their own perceived security problem demanding a "response." It isn't clear that there's any credible reason for the enhanced protection.

Robinson-Briggs, by all accounts, has received no actual death threats. The rumor -- a gossip item posted online by Dan Damon, Plainfield's former public information director -- was quickly discounted by Damon himself. The origin of the rumor is unclear, although Assemblyman Jerry Green suggested that it resulted from a conversation he had with Councilman Cory Storch regarding a possible news conference on crime prevention that made its way to Damon.

Yet the desire for bodyguards predates the death threat rumor, the product, officials say, of concerns about Robinson-Briggs' hands-on governing style and her tough-on-crime stance.

Well, no knock on the mayor, but it's not as if she's walking the gritty city streets at 2 a.m. or sending out SWAT teams to round up hordes of drug dealers. New patrol officers have been added under Robinson-Briggs' administration after crime had been a focal point of her mayoral campaign last year. Murders are down over 2005. Those are some welcome signs.

But -- despite the claims of her own supporters -- there's nothing markedly different going on now that wasn't in the works under former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. It would be silly to portray Robinson-Briggs as some sort of aggressive anti-crime crusader generating resentment and thoughts of retaliation among the bad guys. That doesn't reflect her style or actions.

This isn't a criticism of Robinson-Briggs, who we believe is serious about trying to bring crime under control. But in that regard, she is saying and doing the same things that her predecessors and other city officials have been saying and doing for many years.

So, what we have here instead is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. First, officials decide there's a potential security threat because of how Robinson-Briggs does her job. That thought process works its way around in conversation to Damon and appears in his blog as the rumored death threat. It then bounces back to those same city officials who now see the rumor as justification for their original concerns, even though they essentially generated the rumor.

There might be some public appearances for which a police escort for Robinson-Briggs would be prudent. But they should be the exception and not the rule. The mayor said the bodyguards wouldn't cost extra money "the way it was presented to me." She should make it a point to know for herself. And while there may be no additional pay involved, the on-call security detail does regularly take officers earning a combined salary of more than $150,000 away from patrols, although officials won't comment on the extent of those diversions. That's not exactly what the City Council had in mind for such dollars when approving additional police officers.

Absent any threat against Robinson-Briggs, we see little reason for the regular bodyguard assignments.

Link to online story.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Dems - NCR - Seek to revive 'common good' as new strategy

Published in the National Catholic Reporter Online, Friday, August 25, 2006

Left seeks to revive 'common good' as new strategy


Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, James Madison, John Courtney Murray, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI. And ... Ned Lamont?

Yes, Ned Lamont.

The 52-year-old Connecticut telecommunications executive turned political insurgent is among the left-of-center office seekers and policy advocates who are attempting to repackage an ancient concept -- the “common good” -- for the 21st-century electorate.

“Let’s send some leaders to Washington, D.C., to start fighting for the common interest, and start fighting for the common good,” bellowed Lamont from the Four Points Sheraton ballroom podium as he addressed cheering supporters the night of his Aug. 9 primary victory against three-term incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman.

While not a uniquely Catholic notion, the idea of the common good is the centerpiece of the church’s social teaching, a topic treated by saints and popes repeatedly over the centuries, and with particulate emphasis in recent decades. “The common good comprises the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily,” according to Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World promulgated by Paul VI in 1965. And Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, his December 2005 encyclical: “The promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the church deeply.”

Democrats seeking “values voters” and liberal Catholic activists, concerned that the church’s social teaching has been reduced in the public mind to outlawing abortion and banning gay marriage, are attempting to expand what it means to promote justice. They are pushing for universal health care, opposition to Republican-backed tax cuts, support for a higher minimum wage, wariness of war as a foreign policy strategy, and environmental action.

If Democratic charges of Republican corruption, incompetence and selfishness are the political low road, the common good represents the rhetorical high road.
  • “No political party ‘owns’ America’s morality or values -- a fact some in Congress and the White House still have to learn,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told a July 31 gathering at the Center for American Progress, the liberal Washington think tank that has emerged as the leading proponent of the “common good” as a resonating political theme. Reid’s topic was abortion. Prevention of unwanted pregnancies, he said, is the “common ground” for pro-lifers and supporters of legal abortion. “It’s time to unite, and move forward with an agenda that works for our common good,” Reid said.

  • “Our new direction will advance a common agenda, seek common ground, and apply common sense in the service of the common good,” declared House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi as she announced the party’s “New Direction for America” June 16. The agenda “to put the common good first for a change” includes health care, energy independence, education, deficit reduction and protection of Social Security.

  • At its mid-June “Take Back America” conference, the left-wing Campaign for America’s Future unveiled its “Agenda for the Common Good.” Among the speakers: Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill.; Russ Feingold, D-Wis.; John Kerry, D-Mass.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. “The Common Good Agenda charts a new direction of politics guided by the sense that we’re all in this together,” said Robert Borosage, codirector of the campaign. Kerry told the crowd, “Our one biggest idea, the one that makes us Democrats, is not to stand for selfishness but to stand for the common good.”
Meanwhile, some conservatives see the common good push as both disingenuous and a misuse of a philosophy designed to inform but not instruct.

“It’s the buzzword of the liberal Democrats who are trying to counter the great advances made by the religious right,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Washington-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. “Political liberals in the Catholic church are disappointed that the issues of marriage, abortion and embryonic stem cell research have been appropriated by the religious right.”

Conservative Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum took the argument a step further in his bestselling 2005 book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. Liberal policy prescriptions, wrote Santorum, are designed to subvert the common good. “They think of society as fundamentally made up of individuals guided by elite and ‘expert’ organizations like government, not the antiquated, perhaps uneducated, independent family,” wrote Santorum. Liberal policy makers “want society to be individualistic, because a society composed only of individuals responds better to ‘expert’ command and control.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Further, said Catholic conservative Michael Novak, author of Free Persons and the Common Good, while the notion of the common good provides a framework for thinking about the role of government, it does not translate easily into specific legislative remedies. He pointed to the welfare reform proposals pushed by conservatives and opposed by liberals in the 1990s that, he argued, alleviated poverty to a greater extent than otherwise would have been the case.

Novak took issue with those who argued that the proposed reduction in the estate tax, recently rejected by the Senate, amounted to an obvious violation of common good philosophy. Asked Novak: Who is to say that the government is more likely to use the revenue generated by the estate tax for good purposes than would the beneficiaries of the inherited wealth?

It is true, said Alexia Kelley, executive director of the newly formed Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, that people of goodwill can come down on different sides of controversial issues. But that doesn’t mean, she quickly added, that the concept of the common good is so elastic as to be useless.

Kelley -- a 10-year veteran of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, author of Living the Catholic Social Tradition: Cases and Commentary and, for five weeks in late 2004, religion adviser to John Kerry’s presidential campaign -- points to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, released by the Vatican less than two years ago.

“There is a very clear articulation of the role of government in society, which is to uphold the common good and to make sure that the basic conditions are met for people to participate with dignity,” said Kelley.

She continued, “The common good is eroded when basic social and economic conditions are not met. That’s pretty clear -- there’s not a lot of ambiguity in Catholic social teaching.”

With an initial annual budget of $500,000-plus, a membership that includes 15 Catholic partner organizations (including the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and the Franciscan Federation), five full-time staff members in Washington, Boston, and Columbus, Ohio, the alliance plans to have an impact when issues related to the church’s social teaching are debated in the public square. Two key components of that effort: a speaker’s bureau of prominent Catholics prepared to give “rapid response” to television producers and journalists looking for a Catholic perspective, and an outreach effort to parishes and church social justice networks.

Initially, the alliance is focused on five areas: “economic burdens on the American family, a war that seems to have no end, children who live in poverty within our own borders, lack of effective policies to build a culture of life, and the increasing threat of global climate change.”

On a practical level that meant opposing the recent Senate Republican initiative that linked an increase in the minimum wage with reductions in the estate tax. “Legislation currently before our lawmakers fails a basic moral test of fairness and honesty,” the alliance declared in a statement released Aug. 2. “Using a modest increase in the minimum wage as political cover, this bill offers massive handouts to multimillionaires. Worse yet, this bill will inevitably shift more of the nation’s tax burden and national debt onto the already strained shoulders of the middle class.”

But what of those like Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute who quotes John Paul II to say that legal abortion is the greatest civil rights challenge facing the United States? The alliance’s Web site notes, “Life does not end at birth; nor should our work to protect and preserve it.”

“To me and to the church, the No. 1 issue is abortion, and they just give it the back of their hand,” said Ruse. An individual’s decision about how best to achieve economic justice, for example, is open to the prudential judgment of individual Catholics, he said, while abortion, traditional marriage, and embryonic stem cell research are not debatable.

“Catholic doctrine is not all about abortion,” said Kelley. “There are issues that are at different levels, but our faith is broad and deep.”

The alliance’s Web site notes, “The Catholic church believes that every human life -- whether young or old, guilty or innocent, born or unborn -- is both precious and sacred, thus making the preservation of human dignity of the utmost importance. It remains as the fundamental foundation for all principles and elements of social teaching.”

Debates about what constitutes the common good will no doubt continue. But there are more immediate questions: Is the common good a winning theme? Will it change minds and votes?

Supporters of the idea of equating the common good with liberal policy prescriptions take heart in a poll released in early June by the Center for American Progress. Seventy-one percent of voters strongly agree that “Americans are becoming too materialistic,” 68 percent agree “that government should be committed to the common good and put the public’s interest above the privileges of the few,” while a like number believe that “government should uphold the basic decency and dignity of all and take greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America,” according to the data.

Similar findings were recently touted by the Campaign for America’s Future, which hired Democratic pollster Stanley Greenburg to assess the appeal of the common good. Borosage, the campaign’s codirector, offered a cautionary note in the book accompanying the poll’s release.

“A common good strategy cannot simply be a rhetorical posture -- it must be grounded in bold alternatives to our current policies,” he wrote.

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is

August 25, 2006, National Catholic Reporter

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Obituary - NCR - Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, took part in Vatican II

Published in the National Catholic Reporter Online, Friday, August 25, 2006

Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, visionary leader, dies
Loretto sister helped shape today's Catholic church

By Patricia Lefevere
NCR contributor

Loretto Sr. Mary Luke Tobin

Mary Luke Tobin loved the image of the door. In Jesus' declaration: "I am the door," Tobin found both mystery and invitation. After a lifetime of leadership in religious life and of activism on behalf of women, the poor and those afflicted by war and violence, the door of Tobin's own earthly life closed Aug. 24 in her room in the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky.

One of only 15 women auditors invited to Vatican Council II, Tobin watched church fathers open the windows to vent fresh air through the ancient institution. Although cautioned to listen, but not speak while in Rome, she later became one of only three women - representing half the Catholic world's faithful - allowed on the planning commissions for documents on the church in the modern world and on the laity.

In 1959, the doors between the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx and the Trappist Abbey in Gethsemani - 13 miles away - opened. Gethsemani's most famous monk, Thomas Merton, gave a few lectures to novices and visited the infirmary. The visits took place when Tobin, known then as Mother Mary Luke, led the Loretto community.

"Luke brought in wise, forward-thinking women and men who were luminaries in their own way," and who continued the renewal begun by Pope John XXIII, said former Loretto president Sr. Mary Ann Coyle, who knew Tobin since the 1960s. Besides Merton, Tobin asked Mercy Sr. Theresa Kane, Dominican Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, Redemptorist Fr. Bernard Häring and many others to lecture at Loretto. In 2004 she encouraged her community to invite Sacred Heart Fr. Diarmuid O'Murchu for dialogues on cosmology. It was all part of her lifelong habit of learning, Coyle said.

Tobin called her occasional meetings with Merton and their frequent correspondence "the door of prophetic friendship." Merton was eager to hear from her each time she returned from Rome. He also shared with her works he was not allowed to publish.

It was Merton's writings on racism, Vietnam and especially against the specter of a nuclear holocaust that opened yet more doors through which Tobin would pass as an antiwar activist; an international lecturer against rising militarism; an advocate for justice, peace and human rights around the world and frequently as a disgruntled shareholder.

The diminutive nun took on the Blue Diamond Coal Company, attempting to use Loretto's shares to challenge the firm's environmental, health, safety and labor practices. Tobin once walked into a Honeywell annual meeting carrying a plowshare.

She took part in nonviolent actions at Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, the U.S. Air Force Academy and Martin-Marietta in Colorado. She stood her ground at Nevada's nuclear test site, the U.S. Capitol and the nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. She was arrested at the Air Force Academy and in the Capitol Rotunda. Tobin joined picket lines in support of the United Farm Workers.

In 1979 Tobin founded the Thomas Merton Center for Creative Exchange in Denver, where Merton's spirituality and writings came to be known by many. She gave Merton retreats and cofounded a Buddhist-Christian dialogue/meditation group in Denver.

Following her years as president of Loretto (1958-70), the door toward ecumenical understanding beckoned. From 1972-78 she directed Citizen Action for Church Women United, an organization of mainly Protestant women who work ecumenically on justice, peace and human rights issues affecting women. Tobin represented the group on trips to Belfast and Asia during the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Vietnam.

Loretto Sr. Ann Patrick Ware, who roomed with her in New York much of this time, recalled the joy with which Tobin awoke at dawn, frequently singing a chorus of "Morning Has Broken."

Tobin often greeted Ware "with a burning question: 'You know I was just lying in bed thinking: If all the men on the planet suddenly got a virus that attacked only men, could women run the world? Would we be able to manage the subway system, for instance?"

The two nuns shared a love of good liturgy, but found the city a "liturgical desert," Ware said. "We would bravely attack the recitation of endless psalms by trying to change the overwhelmingly male language to something more suitable for a congregation of aging women. We would listen dutifully to the daily homilies - timeless gems that would as easily have fitted the 13th century as our own - and make up limericks about them on our way home from Mass," Ware said.

For many years Tobin was an adviser to the Women's Ordination Conference and a mentor to its president Ruth Fitzpatrick. When Fitzpatrick was in a quandary over an invitation to be ordained a priest in a secret ceremony in Czechoslovakia in 1963, she consulted Tobin. The nun did not tell her what to do, but assured her she'd know what to do at the proper time. Indeed when Fitzpatrick telephoned her Czech contact, she knew at once that "this was idolatry of ordination, not the renewed priestly ministry," she and the conference had long sought.

The trust Tobin put in lay leaders, such as Fitzpatrick, she also placed in religious women. Upon her return from Rome, "it was almost impossible for her not to let her thoughts flow directly from deep mediation on the Gospels to their message of hope and action for us women religious," said Coyle.

At the time nuns were so used to being obedient to the voice of God as expressed via church officials and superiors that "we'd lost track of the gifts and talents God had given us individually to make the world a more just one for all," Coyle said.

Tobin began the renewal of Loretto both in the classroom and at chapter sessions. The community's current president, Sr. Mary Catherine Rabbitt, was a novice when Tobin was attending the council. Rabbitt remembered Tobin's homecomings as full of hope for a renewed church.

"She took risks, accepted challenges, encouraged others to develop their own talents and always, always, kept current with the latest thinking in theology, ecclesiology, and all that was happening in her many peace and justice circles," Rabbitt said.

Sr. Maureen McCormack, a former Loretto president, had Tobin as a high school teacher and an instructor in the novitiate. McCormack remembered a marginal note Tobin had jotted on a paper the student was assigned on St. Paul's epistles. "How about making up for what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ?" Tobin asked the novice.

"She was always stretching us farther than we wanted or thought to go," McCormick said. "We who followed her in leadership positions were so fortunate to have access to her energy, her wisdom, boldness, encouragement and her laughter." She cited Tobin's ability to place things in a larger perspective with such questions as: "Is this the hill we want to die on? We knew she believed we were capable of handling any situation."

What few in the outside world knew or saw was Tobin's lifelong love and practice of dance. The daughter of a Kentucky couple who moved to Denver early in their marriage to be near the Nevada goldmine owned by her father, Tobin was born May 16, 1908, and christened Ruth Marie. She attended public schools in Denver and traveled to Nevada and California with her parents and older brother.

Since her father's work kept him far from home for long periods, he would indulge his only daughter with trips to the theater upon his return. It was these early experiences that drove her love for dance and her study of classical ballet. She managed a dance school while attending Loretto Heights College in Denver.

"I think the grace, freedom and lithe spirit of the dance infused everything she did," said Loretto Sr. Maureen Fiedler, whose community residence in Hyattsville, Md., is named the "Mary Luke Tobin House."

Fiedler, who divides her time between the Women's Ordination Conference and the Quixote Center, recalled a card Tobin sent her a few years ago when Fiedler was involved in an "uncertain venture." It read: "Go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is."

The greeting epitomized Tobin, Fiedler said. "She went out on the limb again and again for peace, for social justice, women's rights, church reform and for the freedom of all women religious." Up until recent years she danced after Sunday liturgies at Nerinx.

Loretto Sr. Cecily Jones, a friend of Tobin's for 57 years, frequently typed her texts, drove her to and from airports and celebrated "happy hour" with her each evening during their years in Denver. Jones, who has written a biography of Tobin, said she has often met sisters who reminded her how much Tobin did for the renewal of their congregations.

Notre Dame Sr. Mary Daniel Turner, who like Tobin, led the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said that Tobin's ability to lead rose from "a deep trust of herself and others and a belief that all things are possible."

She credited Tobin with "profound common sense and an exquisite sense of timing."

She was a mentor to many because she invested herself in "the signs of the times." Filled with hope, Tobin "saw frustrations, tensions, conflicts and obstacles as the raw material for creativity and action," Turner said.

Because she was a lifelong learner, she welcomed companions on the way, Turner added. Tobin often asserted that the Loretto community welcomed "co-members," preferring that term to "lay associates."

Not only did Tobin inspire renewal in countless communities of women, she also honed in on the leadership qualities she saw in others. Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister recalled the first conversation she had with Tobin - in an elevator at a meeting.

"She launched into the purpose of my life and the direction of my future, which she was not shy about defining. She never forgot that elevator ride, nor did I," Chittister said.

"I had the idea that she watched me all my life. I know for sure that I watched her."

In Tobin, Chittister saw passion and vision as the core of commitment. "You must see what must be done and care about what you're doing," Chittister said. Tobin became a light for other sisters, "because she carried her light inside herself." It was the light of a true disciple, the Benedictine said. "It wasn't external events that fired her; it was the unremitting conviction that the Gospel was now."

Only last month at the 50th anniversary of Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Atlanta, Chittister - in her keynote address - cited Tobin as a "bearer of the vision" and a leader who spoke for women in a woman's voice.

Although Tobin heard the applause of thousands in her lifetime, won regard for her 1981 book, Hope is an Open Door, and was awarded seven honorary degrees, she always deflected praise with lines like: "I didn't do it by myself," Jones recalled.

The Rev. Paul Crow penned Tobin a farewell letter in September 2004 when she was hospitalized and in danger of death. In it, he refuted her frequent claim: "Oh, I have done nothing important." The retired president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who knew Tobin 40 years, wrote: "Luke, for countless people of faith you have been a prophet of Christian hope in the midst of a divided, self-serving world. You have taught us that unity, justice and peace will eventually reign among God's people."

Tobin willed her body to the University of Louisville. Arrangements for a memorial liturgy at Nerinx are pending.

[Patricia Lefevere is a longtime contributor to NCR.]

Sr. Tobin Remembered

Loretto Sr. Mary Luke Tobin was among a handful of standout personalities who shaped the American Catholic church over the last 60 years, according to author and religion journalist Ken Briggs, who recently completed a book on the history of Catholic women religious in America.

Briggs described Tobin’s role as a leader among American nuns in a podcast prepared for NCR and posted to the Web site today.

In an interview recorded a week before Tobin’s death, Briggs describes the Loretto sister as “a remarkable person … dignified, highly intelligent and persistent.”

In the second episode of the podcast, Briggs talks about Tobin’s presence at the Second Vatican Council in Rome in 1965 and how she served on one of the committees that helped write Gaudium et Spes, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.”

Tobin’s contribution almost didn’t happen, because there were no women at the council deliberations. “None of these people [religious women] who had carried the church on their backs for a long time in this country and every other country was there as a voting member or a participating member,” Briggs said in the podcast.

In 1965, Tobin was president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious when the conference members decided they needed someone present at the council deliberations, so they booked passage for Tobin on the U.S.S. Constitution and Tobin set sail for Rome.

“When somebody found out that [Tobin] was already coming, they went ahead and issued her an invitation,” Briggs said. “She actually received the invitation while she was on her way across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Briggs book is Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns, published by Doubleday. Briggs discusses his book in a series of interviews now available on Click on the podcast link.

--NCR staff

August 25, 2006, National Catholic Reporter

Link to online story.

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(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Mayor Robinson-Briggs - Courier - Gets police escort after gossip on blog

Published in the Courier News, Monday, August 28, 2006

After gossip on blog, Plainfield mayor gets police escort

Staff Writer

PLAINFIELD -- Since early July, two of the city's police officers have been given on-call assignments escorting Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to, from and during public appearances -- a measure city officials said is necessary to ensure the mayor's safety.

The mayor has these police escorts even though no threats have been made against her since she took office this year, and she herself said she feels safe.

City Administrator Carlton McGee said the idea to provide the mayor with police escorts was made as a general suggestion earlier this year by city Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig.

But officials said it took an online blog that referenced rumors of death threats against Robinson-Briggs for the suggestion to become reality.

"No one wants to admit that there might be a need for a permanent security presence around the mayor," McGee said. "But then again, this is the first documented time that references to threats against a city mayor's life have been made."

The blog

Robinson-Briggs said she was initially opposed to the idea of having police escorts until she saw a July 7 online blog posted by Dan Damon, former Plainfield public information officer, that included gossip that threats had been made against her life.

"After the blog, I was again confronted by the public safety director, who emphatically told me he was going to assign a security detail for me, and for the first time I agreed to it," Robinson-Briggs said. "The way it was presented to me is that it wouldn't cost any additional money to do it."

Hellwig, who took over the position of public safety director this year, declined to comment on the decision and referred all questions about the security detail to McGee.

Damon said the blog was nothing but gossip and that he put the issue to rest in subsequent blogs, in which he posted confirmation from Plainfield police Chief Edward Santiago that no threats had been made against Robinson-Briggs' life.

Santiago declined to comment on the issue, but McGee confirmed that no death threats have been made against Robinson-Briggs since she took office.

Assemblyman Jerry Green, D-Plainfield, said the contents of the July 7 blog were the result of a conversation he had with City Councilman Cory Storch, in which he told Storch he felt Robinson-Briggs should not hold a news conference on what the city is doing to combat crime for fear she would become a target for retaliation.

Green said Storch told Damon about that conversation, and the information was posted on Damon's blog as a "Heard in the Street" item, in which Damon said rumors were circulating that death threats had been made against Robinson-Briggs.

Storch denied ever telling Damon that Robinson-Briggs' life had been threatened, but said he did have a conversation with Green about the administration's reluctance to publicly comment on its plans to fight crime.

Robinson-Briggs said she was unnerved when she saw the contents of Damon's July 7 blog.

"Even if it was gossip, we're not taking anything lightly," Robinson-Briggs said. "That report, which was pretty startling -- it was equally surprising that this adult would write something like that without first reporting it to the authorities."

Damon said the intent of the blog was not to place the mayor's life in danger but rather to "needle" the city administration for what he described as its failure to address a daytime shooting that took place on the steps of the Plainfield library in May, as well as other violent crimes that took place earlier in the year.

"The mayor, who ran on an anti-crime platform, then after taking office, didn't really address the murders that were going on and never spoke publicly about the daytime shooting on the library steps," Damon said. "Then there were rumors going around that supposedly, the administration was not interested in saying anything about it because supposedly there had been death threats made again the mayor. It was a rumor, and it was proven false."

McGee said that even if the blog hadn't been posted, city officials already were considering additional security measures for Robinson-Briggs because of her governing style.

"She wants to be the one to answer her phone, to see everybody, to go knock on peoples' doors to respond to letters they've sent, and she'll do it all by herself, " McGee said of Robinson-Briggs. "She's just that kind of person, but if she's going to be like that, we felt there should be more security."

The officers

The two officers assigned by Hellwig to on-call duties escorting Robinson-Briggs are Sgt. Kenneth Reid and Officer Richard Brown of the Plainfield Police Department.

The officers are two of approximately 150 police officers on the Plainfield police force.

McGee said Reid and Brown, who earn $82,112 and $72,505 a year respectively, were among the approximately 88 officers working patrol duties for the city before taking on their new assignments. Reid has been with the Plainfield Police Department since July 1984, and Brown has been with the department since January 1986.

Although both police officers maintain some of their previous responsibilities with the police department, McGee said the officers are on-call to escort the mayor for all public appearances and spend most of their work-weeks in that capacity.

"They still have some other duties with the police department, but most of the things they are doing are related to her (Robinson-Briggs) security," McGee said.

McGee declined to provide specific details of the security arrangements made for Robinson-Briggs or whether Reid and Brown still patrol, citing safety reasons.

McGee said that while he can't recall another instance in the city's history where a mayor received an assigned security detail, he said that as far as he knows, there has been no other documented instance in which threats, or rumors of threats, have been made against a former Plainfield mayor.

"Our options in terms of responding to that blog were limited, but regardless, how do you compromise the mayor's safety?" McGee said.

The reaction

Since taking office, Robinson-Briggs said she can't recall any specific time in which she felt unsafe in her capacity as the city's mayor.

"I've never felt unsafe -- I know the police department is working very diligently to protect our residents," Robinson-Briggs said. "But the same way that my administration said we wanted to return safety and security to the streets of Plainfield, now they're asking me to give myself the same benefit."

Since acquiring an official security detail in July, Robinson-Briggs said neither police officer assigned to her has had to physically protect her during a public appearance.

But even if the service has yet to show its immediate purpose, some officials, including Green, are in favor of police escorts for the mayor, especially if Robinson-Briggs is going to take the position of being tough on crime.

"She (Robinson-Briggs) hasn't personally been threatened, but the mere fact that this administration, under her, has basically put 18 more police officers on the street, and has taken many individuals off the street that commit crimes -- when you put a criminal in jail or out of business, you never know what might be on their minds," Green said.

Compelled to pull officers from patrol duties and into escort assignments, some in the city's administration see the arrangement as a necessary -- but sad -- sign of the times.

"No one is trying to throw anybody in jail for that blog, and I think the reaction to it was reasonable, but now we've got two patrol officers that have to spend a great deal of time escorting the mayor," McGee said. "I guess that's the price we pay for living in a free society."

Christa Segalini can be reached at (908) 707-3142 or

Link to online story.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

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Real Estate - NY Times - Chart, 1890 - 2005


Published in the New York Times, Sunday, August 27, 2006
Ideas & Trends

Read Between All Those For-Sale Signs


[See story, History of Prices, 1890-2005]

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Real Estate - NY Times - Overview 1890-2005

Published in the New York Times, Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ideas & Trends
Read Between All Those For-Sale Signs


[See chart, History of Prices, 1890-2005]

REAL bubbles pop. They are fully formed one moment and gone the next. Financial bubbles rarely meet with such a definitive end, which has always been the biggest problem with the metaphor. They let out their air in unpredictable bursts, and it’s usually impossible to figure out whether they have finished deflating or are just starting to.

Still, the latest housing numbers seem like they could be a turning point. A real estate crash might not be the most likely outcome, but it certainly seems legitimate to think about what one would look like.

The number of building permits being issued is falling at a rate usually seen only in recessions. In July, 11 percent fewer existing homes were sold than were sold a year earlier; 22 percent fewer new houses were sold. After the new-house data was released last week, Capital Economics, a consulting firm, wrote an e-mail message to its clients that began, “New day, same depressing housing market story.”

The fate of the housing market will influence whether the economy will merely slow over the next year, as the Federal Reserve forecasts, or fall into a recession for the first time since early 2001. Lehman Brothers, the investment bank, said Friday that “for-sale” signs had replaced gas-price signs as the most important indicator of potential trouble.

The collapse of most bubbles does not have a single obvious starting point, like a bad corporate earnings report or an interest-rate rise. Instead, the psychology of buyers and sellers shifts, slowly at first and then sometimes in a cascade.

“It’s always mystified people about why these things turn,” said Robert J. Shiller, a Yale economist and author of “Irrational Exuberance,” a history of speculation. “People want something concrete.”

There seem to be three major paths that housing could follow over the next year: a soft landing, the start of a long slump, or a crash. A soft landing is the one predicted — and preferred — by most economists on Wall Street and at the Fed. A long slump is what many past real estate booms turned into. A crash is the outcome that a small group of analysts say is the only possible ending for the biggest housing boom of all.

Their prediction looks better than it did a few weeks ago, but even they aren’t sure whether this is the beginning of the end or another false turning point. “The funny thing about bubbles,” Mr. Shiller said, “is that you never know when they’re over.”

For a crash to happen, prices would have to decline significantly in some once-hot markets. So far, as sales have slowed and the number of houses on the market has soared, many owners have chosen to sit tight. If they were instead to decide that selling later would be even worse than selling now, this could change quickly.

The doomsayers’ strongest argument may be that too few families can afford prices in some metropolitan areas. In Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Miami, prices have almost doubled since 2003, and they have risen about 50 percent in New York and San Francisco, the National Association of Realtors says.

Jumps of this magnitude have little precedent. To afford homes, some buyers, especially in California, have resorted to aggressive mortgages, like those that allow artificially low payments in the early years. In effect, families seem to be buying houses they cannot afford, in the hope that their incomes or property values will rise significantly. “Prices just shot up too much,” said Robert T. McGee, chief economist at U.S. Trust, an investment firm based in New York. The firm has forecast a soft landing for housing, he said, but “as time goes by that starts to look like wishful thinking.”

If prices do decline, some of the first victims would be families in a financial bind that are unable to rescue themselves by refinancing their mortgage. Foreclosures would then rise, damaging banks and increasing the number of homes for sale.

Even homeowners not in danger of losing their home — an overwhelming majority, certainly — might respond to falling prices by cutting spending, particularly if they had been counting on their home’s value to serve as a retirement account. That could force job cuts in a wide range of industries.

Already, the housing slowdown has begun damaging the job market. Builders, mortgage lenders and real estate agencies have stopped adding to payrolls. Defined broadly, the real estate sector has accounted for 44 percent of jobs created since 2000 and employs more than one in 10 American workers, according to Moody’s

Perhaps the biggest reason to be skeptical about a real estate crash is that the country has not really suffered through one before. Not since the Depression has the combined value of residential real estate fallen over the course of a full year. Homes seem to be much less vulnerable to crashes than other assets, because people rarely sell them in a panic.

But earlier booms have been followed by modest price declines in some cities that turned into long periods in which increases trailed inflation. After peaking in much of California and the Northeast in the late 1980’s, house values fell during the recession of 1990-91 and then drifted for years, often rising more slowly than the price of milk.

In inflation-adjusted terms, prices in the New York and Washington areas did not return to their late-80’s peak until 2002. In Boston, it didn’t happen until 2000, and in San Francisco, 1999.

It isn’t hard to imagine a similar chain of events over the next decade. Based on futures contracts traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, investors expect the median house price in Los Angeles, New York and some other regions to fall about 5 percent in the next year, which would be similar to the decline that started the 90’s slump.

From there, prices might start rising again, but at a slow enough pace that incomes would eventually catch up. Families that now need an exotic mortgage to buy a house in Los Angeles could eventually afford one the old-fashioned way.

Interest rates could play a role in a long slump, too. They have been falling for much of the last decade, helping push house prices higher by allowing buyers to afford bigger mortgages. Most economists expect rates to remain lower than they were a generation ago but not to return to the extremely low levels of a few years ago, making big swings in house prices, in either direction, unlikely.

Christopher J. Mayer, director of the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate at Columbia University, argues that the recent drop in sales does not suggest that a larger bust is coming. “So far we have only seen people asking pie-in-the-sky asking prices and not getting them,” said Mr. Mayer, who expects housing to continue slowing but not enough to create a recession.

He believes that the boom in house prices was largely a result of the appeal of “superstar cities” like New York and San Francisco that are unlikely to lose their allure. In much of the rest of the country, prices are not unusually high, considering the relatively low interest rates.

Moreover, few borrowers are falling behind on their mortgage payments, and the economy looks fairly healthy outside of housing. So if prices start falling, new buyers may jump into the market and prevent any extended slump. “The fundamentals of real estate are solid, still,” said James Gillespie, chief executive of Coldwell Banker, the real estate company.

Which is it, then — a brief pause, or a big correction?

“Either argument is very compelling. I can debate myself on it,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s “That’s why there’s a great deal of uncertainty.”

Link to online story.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Illegal Immigrants - Herald News - Ordinance divides a town

Published in the Herald News, Sunday, August 13, 2006

A town divided


RIVERSIDE -- Everybody needs a haircut, Weder Mendes likes to point out, whether they are a legal or illegal immigrant, American-born, or a new arrival.

But the chairs at the Touch From Brazil salon where Mendes works were empty on a recent day; the appointment book was full of crossed-out names.

"My clients call and ask: 'Weder, can I come over there?' And I tell them: 'Yes you can, nothing is going to happen to you,'" he said in his native Portuguese. "But they are afraid to even leave their homes."

On July 26, the township council unanimously passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, a local ordinance that makes it a crime to help illegal immigrants in any way.

The ordinance has triggered a seismic upheaval in this tiny Burlington County hamlet of 8,000 by the Delaware River, and attracted nationwide attention. Advocacy groups vowed to make the township and its ordinance a line in the sand in the battle over immigration.

"Riverside is America, and we cannot let this happen, even if it's a small town in America," said the Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders. Rivera's group plans to file suit against the township in federal court on Monday. A spokesman for New Jersey's Office of the Attorney General said the Division on Civil Rights is also reviewing the ordinance.

The township's 3,500 undocumented immigrants are mostly from Brazil. Both legal and undocumented immigrants have been fleeing in droves since the ordinance passed. Those who remain say they are terrified of what might happen next.

"We Brazilians don't know why this has happened," said Mendes, 22. "The Americans scream at us in the streets: 'Illegals go home!' It's pure racism."

Neither Riverside Mayor Charles Hilton nor township solicitor Doug Heinold responded to interview requests.

Supporters say it's time

Riverside's ordinance was passed just weeks after a similar anti-illegal immigrant ordinance was enacted in Hazelton, Pa. Riverside's ordinance makes it a punishable offense -- subject to fines up to $2,000 and jail time -- to either employ or rent property to anyone who cannot prove they are in the United States legally. The ordinance's stated aim is to "abate the nuisance of illegal immigration." Writing in the ordinance blames the town's undocumented population for stretching schools and public services thin, increasing crime and negatively affecting the quality of life for legal residents.

Supporters of the ordinance said it's the pace of the recent influx -- Brazilian migration to the town started accelerating after the year 2000 -- that has alarmed many old-time residents.

"It's just the way they took over, you know what I mean?" said Anthony D'Agostino, 69, who has owned Tony's Barbershop for 41 years. "They want to change everything. They opened their own bank, their own Laundromat, their own supermarket. I can't understand how they got to pick Riverside, I mean, what's here?"

D'Agostino cited apartment overcrowding, congregating in groups, driving cars with out-of-state plates and a perception that most illegal immigrants don't pay taxes or strive to learn English as some of the reasons for supporting the ordinance.

Like many aging New Jersey towns, Riverside's once-plentiful mills gave way to nearby strip malls that dragged local businesses under. After years of blight, residents said, Brazilians starting arriving in the mid-1990s in the footsteps of a small Portuguese immigrant community that had emigrated from Europe in the 1960s.

Now, the main street through the town is dominated by Brazilian- and Portuguese-owned shops and ethnic restaurants.

Nevertheless, anti-immigrant sentiments are rife in Riverside, and on blatant display, emboldened by an ordinance that faults undocumented aliens directly for most of the town's ills.

"They smell, they don't take showers. I sit next to one of them in biology," said Don Strain, a 16-year-old sophomore at Riverside High School. "I'll be in class and the teacher will have to go 20 lessons back to explain every word in the dictionary to new kids from other countries."

Strain said he thought the ordinance was a good first step. "There should be an immigration station in Riverside," he said.

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that the agency had conducted a recent raid in Riverside in search of an immigrant fugitive, but instead arrested 13 undocumented immigrants they found at the targeted address.

Opponents say it's racism

Word of the ICE raids and fear of backlash from the ordinance has sent many immigrants, both legal and illegal, into hiding.

A recent beautiful summer evening found front porches empty, children's scooters leaning against houses, and piles of furniture and belongings on front sidewalks -- evidence, neighbors said, of the families who had fled in the middle of the night, leaving everything behind.

One family from Ecuador was found sitting on a bench along the town's main street, enjoying the evening air and chatting quietly in Spanish, as a group of white teenagers circled them slowly on their bicycles.

David Verduin, who was raised in Paterson but now lives in Riverside and represents the Riverside Coalition of Businessmen and Landlords, said the meeting at which the ordinance was passed was a low point in the town's history.

"I haven't seen the hatred in faces like I did at that meeting of the small group that was pushing for this," Verduin said. "The last time I saw that was the hatred on the faces of those on the sidelines when people marched in Selma, Alabama. I saw that same kind of hatred that shows there are racial connotations to this situation."

Verduin said his group has also contacted a lawyer to fight the ordinance, and was dismayed that their offers of working with the town to address some of the concerns about the immigrant community through dialogue and outreach had been rebuffed.

"I honestly think they didn't think there was going to be a fight," Verduin said of the council and the mayor. "They made this ordinance thinking they wouldn't enforce it, they'd just do this and all the immigrants would run and it would be over. I think they thought it would just go away."

Immigrant business owners say they have transformed what was a bankrupt former mill town full of "for rent" signs into a vibrant downtown corridor that fuels the local economy.

"Four years ago, I came to see the town with my brother. We were looking for a place, and it was all empty," said Franco Ordo񥺬 who emigrated from Ecuador to the U.S. 17 years ago. Ordo񥺠is the owner of King Chicken Churrascaria, a restaurant along the main shopping street in town. "Everyone in Riverside knows we revitalized this place." Ordonez said even legal immigrants like himself are deeply offended by the ordinance and worried that it will destroy the local economy. He said his business, like many on his street, is off by more than 60 percent since the ordinance passed.

"It's a dangerous situation; we're playing with democracy, we're playing with peace," he said. "We're bringing the roots of racism back again. We need to live in peace and take care of our neighbors."

Locally, church leaders in the town, including a priest who conducts Portuguese-language Masses, have been trying to calm people's fears and answer questions from all sides. Undocumented immigrants want to know if they can bring their children back to school. Legal residents wonder if they are obliged to turn people in.

"Riverside is a small town, and because it's a small town, the people who are the most afraid always make the most noise," said the Rev. Daniel Fink of St. Casimir R.C. Church in Riverside. Fink was a priest at St. John Kanty R.C. Church in Clifton. "Fear causes rumors; it can become almost like a witch hunt. The tensions are rising and it could almost become a mob -- it easily could derail if cooler heads don't prevail."

A nation watches

Congress suspended its debate over illegal immigration for the summer without passing any legislation. That has led several communities like Riverside to consider passing their own anti-illegal immigrant measures.

Riverside is the first township in New Jersey to pass such an ordinance. Besides Hazelton, anti-illegal immigrant ordinances have been introduced in towns in Florida and California, but are being challenged in court.

Riverside's ordinance has even made the national news in Brazil.

The organization of Hispanic clergy, CONLAMIC, is trying to mobilize support for a march on Riverside for Aug. 20. The group hopes to draw thousands to the tiny town to send a clear message that such ordinances should not be allowed to stand. Organizers complain the township has not responded to several requests for a permit for the protest.

CONLAMIC is also building an argument it plans to unveil in federal court that municipalities cannot legislate on issues under federal jurisdiction.

"I'm hoping it will be a test case for New Jersey, and if we're victorious, hopefully it could be applied to other parts of the country," said William Sanchez, CONLAMIC's lawyer. "We cannot allow in the United States for cities and municipalities to establish immigration policies, which is clearly in the hands of the federal government. Cities and states are frustrated and trying to take things into their own hands, but they cannot."But supporters of the ordinance continue to say they are happy their town stepped up where the federal government has failed to act.

"I think it's about time they did something about it," said D'Agostino, the barber. "The Brazilians are gonna take it court to try and stop it, but as far as stopping the illegals, that's (the ordinance) got to be passed." Those opposed to it recognize their small town's ordinance could have major implications for the nationwide immigration debate.

"I will work to get rid of this ordinance for the sake of this town, and the sake of God's people, because it's an injustice taking place here in Riverside," business owner Ordo񥺠said. "If the judges don't take care of this, this will happen all over the United States. We don't need a civil war in America."

Excerpts from Riverside, NJ's Illegal Immigration Relief Act

Under Section 2 - Findings and Declaration of Purpose
"That illegal immigration contributes to negative impacts on our streets and housing, negatively impacts our neighborhoods, subjects our classrooms to overcrowding and puts distend demands on our schools edging our schools to fiscal hardships, leads to higher crime rates, adds demands on all aspects of pubic safety jeopardizing the pubic safety of legal residents and diminishes our overall quality of life.

That the Township of Riverside is empowered and mandated by the people of the Township of Riverside to abate the nuisance of illegal immigration by aggressively prohibiting and punishing the acts, policies and people and businesses that aid and abet illegal immigrants."
Under Section 4 - Business Permits, Contracts or Grants
"Any for-profit entity ... that aids or abets illegal immigration shall be denied approval of a business permit, the renewal of a business permit, township contracts or grants for a period not less than five years from its last offense.

"Aiding and abetting shall include ... the hiring or attempted hiring of illegal aliens, renting or leasing to illegal aliens, or funding or aiding in the establishment of a day laborer center that does not verify legal work status."
Under Section 5 - Renting to Illegal Aliens
"Illegal aliens are prohibited from leasing or renting property.

"Any person or entity that violates this section shall be subject to a fine of not less than $1,000."

Reach Samantha Henry at 973-569-7172 or

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Language competence- Wash Post - Skube: "Writing off reading"

Published in the Washington Post, Sunday, August 20, 2006

Writing Off Reading

By Michael Skube

We were talking informally in class not long ago, 17 college sophomores and I, and on a whim I asked who some of their favorite writers are. The question hung in uneasy silence. At length, a voice in the rear hesitantly volunteered the name of . . . Dan Brown.

No other names were offered.

The author of "The DaVinci Code" was not just the best writer they could think of; he was the only writer they could think of.

In our better private universities and flagship state schools today, it's hard to find a student who graduated from high school with much lower than a 3.5 GPA, and not uncommon to find students whose GPAs were 4.0 or higher. They somehow got these suspect grades without having read much. Or if they did read, they've given it up. And it shows -- in their writing and even in their conversation.

A few years ago, I began keeping a list of everyday words that may as well have been potholes in exchanges with college students. It began with a fellow who was two months away from graduating from a well-respected Midwestern university.

"And what was the impetus for that?" I asked as he finished a presentation.

At the word "impetus" his head snapped sideways, as if by reflex. "The what?" he asked.

"The impetus. What gave rise to it? What prompted it?"

I wouldn't have guessed that impetus was a 25-cent word. But I also wouldn't have guessed that "ramshackle" and "lucid" were exactly recondite, either. I've had to explain both. You can be dead certain that today's college students carry a weekly planner. But they may or may not own a dictionary, and if they do own one, it doesn't get much use. ("Why do you need a dictionary when you can just go online?" more than one student has asked me.)

You may be surprised -- and dismayed -- by some of the words on my list.

"Advocate," for example. Neither the verb nor the noun was immediately clear to students who had graduated from high school with GPAs above 3.5. A few others:

"Derelict," as in neglectful.

"Satire," as in a literary form.

"Pith," as in the heart of the matter.

"Brevity," as in the quality of being succinct.

And my favorite: "Novel," as in new and as a literary form. College students nowadays call any book, fact or fiction, a novel. I have no idea why this is, but I first became acquainted with the peculiarity when a senior at one of the country's better state universities wrote a paper in which she referred to "The Prince" as "Machiavelli's novel."

As freshmen start showing up for classes this month, colleges will have a new influx of high school graduates with gilded GPAs, and it won't be long before one professor whispers to another: Did no one teach these kids basic English? The unhappy truth is that many students are hard-pressed to string together coherent sentences, to tell a pronoun from a preposition, even to distinguish between "then" and "than." Yet they got A's.

How does one explain the inability of college students to read or write at even a high school level? One explanation, which owes as much to the culture as to the schools, is that kids don't read for pleasure. And because they don't read, they are less able to navigate the language. If words are the coin of their thought, they're working with little more than pocket change.

Say this -- but no more -- for the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act: It at least recognizes the problem. What we're graduating from our high schools isn't college material. Sometimes it isn't even good high school material.

When students with A averages can't write simple English, it shouldn't be surprising that people ask what a high school diploma is really worth. In California this year, hundreds of high school students, many with good grades, faced the prospect of not graduating because they could not pass a state-mandated exit exam. Although a judge overturned the effort, legislators (not always so literate themselves) in other states have also called for exit exams. It's hardly unreasonable to ask that students demonstrate a minimum competency in basic subjects, especially English.

Exit exams have become almost a necessity because the GPA is not to be trusted. In my experience, a high SAT score is far more reliable than a high GPA -- more indicative of quickness and acuity, and more reflective of familiarity with language and ideas. College admissions specialists are of a different view and are apt to label the student with high SAT scores but mediocre grades unmotivated, even lazy.

I'll take that student any day. I've known such students. They may have been bored in high school but they read widely and without prodding from a parent. And they could have nominated a few favorite writers besides Dan Brown -- even if they thoroughly enjoyed "The DaVinci Code."

I suspect they would have understood the point I tried unsuccessfully to make once when I quoted Joseph Pulitzer to my students. It is journalism's job, he said, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Too obvious, you think? I might have thought so myself -- if the words "afflicted" and "afflict" hadn't stumped the whole class.

Michael Skube teaches journalism at Elon University in Elon, N.C.

Link to online story.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Computers - Chicago Tribune - Hiding stuff in plain sight

Published in the Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Here's a neat trick for hiding computer programs in plain sight


Q. I am an elementary school teacher and often take my laptop to school, where it is occasionally used by my students.

I have files on it that I do not want them to have access to. Isn't there a way to make some files inaccessible by users other than myself? I have set up user accounts, but, frankly, I prefer to be signed in on my account when I am using my computer.

There is always the chance I will be occupied doing something when a student or teacher sits down to check something on my computer.

A. There are a great many ways to encrypt files so that they can be opened only by somebody who knows the password, so I'll tell you about one of the least costly encryption programs. I'll also suggest a way to solve your particular problem, Mr. L., using mere strategy, instead of powerful software.

Cypherix, based in Mumbai, India, gives away a simplified version of its widely used Cryptainer software for businesses as an advertising gimmick. The software is quite good for home use and is very easy to acquire at

Once set up, Cryptainer creates a distinctive triangular icon anywhere you want on the computer. You set it up with a password of eight to 100 characters, and when you drag files into the special folder, they are encrypted with 128-bit technology, which may be cracked by the Pentagon's supercomputers in a month or two but ought to be rock solid against elementary school pupils.

Now my hide-in-plain sight solution: I keep the prying eyes away simply by creating a folder named in Windows-like gibberish and tucking it away on the C: drive.

To do that, you can click on My Computer and then open the C: icon and then right-click and select New from the pop-up menu. Now select Folder and call it something like "0E4569215." When you close that folder, it will be as good as invisible to others yet easy for you to find.

Link to online story.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

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About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.