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Archive for September, 2011


In response to a last-ditch by a small group of community activists in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, Whole Foods’ Northeast Region issued this statement to us this morning:

Whole Foods Market has a long history as responsible community partners, not only through our deeply rooted involvement with local programs and committees, but also through our extensive give-back programs.  We are committed to having a dedicated community market liaison at each store location whose job is to work with local community groups and non-profit organizations.  Since January, 2011, Whole Foods Market has donated or promised more than $36,000 in monetary and food donations to JP community groups, schools and non-profit organizations, and this is just the beginning of our efforts as we are open to supporting any 501c3 that supports the causes that are important to Jamaica Plain’s residents. The JPNC recently requested that Whole Foods Market create a fund for use by JP community groups, which is a request that has never been made to any other retailer joining JP. Creating a fund for a specific community is not how we do business, nor have we ever found it necessary given our history of community involvement. Our outlook at this time has not changed, and we are now focusing 100% of our energy on opening our new store in Jamaica Plain.

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Even though it is already a done deal, anti-Whole Foods voices in Jamaica Plain —a small, yet vocal minority— issued a public statement today that makes some very unique demands of a private business. We have published it here:

Open Statement: Whole Foods Must Sign a Community Benefits Agreement with Jamaica Plain

The Whose Foods? Coalition is deeply disappointed in Whole Foods’ dismissal of the Good Neighbor Agreement put forward by the JP Neighborhood Council last Wednesday.  We were hopeful that a Good Neighbor Agreement would enable Whole Foods to benefit all of JP, the residents who want to shop there and the residents who cannot, those who would benefit from having their property values rise and those who would be pushed out by rent increases.

Whole Foods says it’s unwilling to enter into a Good Neighbor Agreement.  The Whose Foods? Coalition is unwilling to let Whole Foods walk into our neighborhood without a real commitment to keeping JP affordable and diverse.  Demanding that Whole Foods enter an agreement to counteract the negative effects of its opening is common sense.  It’s asking for a fair shake from a good neighbor who is willing to pull their own weight.

“Good Neighbor” or “Community Benefits” Agreements are not new, or crazy, or outlandish.  The Stop & Shop development in Jackson Square involved a Community Benefits Agreement, as did the IKEA in Somerville.  A Community Benefits Agreement is based on the principle that companies benefit substantially from the resources built by neighbors in a community. Companies, therefore, should share a part of the wealth they gain from the community.

Even 1% of the annual revenue from Whole Foods’ Jamaica Plain store would help prevent the displacement of our neighbors.  It would help organizers work towards better policies and against destructive rent-hikes.  It would help ensure that there are affordable housing options in our neighborhood.  It would help low-income people, many of whom are Latino or African American, be able to stay and enjoy the neighborhood that that is home — and that many people with longstanding roots have fought hard to improve, only to be threatened with displacement.

We demand this 1% for the funding of local anti-displacement organizing, especially in Hyde Square, and the creation and/or preservation of local affordable housing, annually for the duration of the store’s 20-year lease.  We demand a small slice of the pie that our neighborhood makes possible.  Being a good neighbor means mutuality.

The Whose Foods? Coalition also supports other demands that came out of JP’s Neighborhood Council’s months-long research on the corporation:

1) a living wage (at minimum) for all employees in JP

2) a published traffic study prior to opening

3) funding for youth programs, food assistance and local business assistance

Whole Foods told Boston.com that “Definitely a large percentage of the items are things Whole Foods already does.”  Where’s the concrete evidence of the corporation’s commitment to a living wage, its published traffic study, and funding for youth, food access, and local business?

More urgently, where’s evidence that Whole Foods is taking seriously the outcry over its impact on property values and displacement, its undeniable role in the negative aspects of urban gentrification, and demands for contributions toward housing accessibility in JP?  The corporation came secretly into Hyde Square, the “Latin Quarter”, of our neighborhood last winter, leased a grocery space that was a staple of Latino community. Refusing to offer meaningful contributions that will control the threat of displacement, it simply runs local ads in Spanish.  Whole Foods, face the issue of displacement, the issue of gentrification — enter a formal community benefits agreement and give 1%.

Whole Foods can absolutely afford to pay its fair share.  Whole Foods paid a corporate tax rate of under 10% last year, and generated a windfall profit for its shareholders.  It generated over 9 billion dollars last year via its 300+ stores (touting itself as the “world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods.”).  The bottom line is this: Whole Foods makes additional profit by passing off the cost of their impact on neighborhoods. This impact includes losing money that would have circulated in local businesses; losing families who get pushed out by rent increases; and losing economic and cultural diversity.

Progressive-minded residents of Jamaica Plain, now is our time to represent, to act.  Start by calling Whole Foods Market’s regional headquarters, and encourage them to sign a meaningful agreement.  Call your elected officials; tell them to support an agreement between Whole Foods and Jamaica Plain.  Email the JP non-profits you support, recommending their solidarity.  And email the JP Neighborhood Council with support and encouragement for their efforts.

As progressives, as neighbors, and as a community we must demand loudly a binding agreement and 1% for affordable housing in our neighborhood.  We must demand a living wage, a public traffic study, and funding for youth, food access and local business.  A binding agreement can set an important national precedent for urban communities struggling to maintain affordability and diversity in the face of large corporations shifting their sights from suburbs to cities.  We must claim our power as a community, because the future of this story is in our hands.

The following people have added their names in support of this statement.  If you’d like, you can add your own name here: http://whosefoods.org/cba-today

Benjamin Day

Santiago Cárdenas

Brian Squadrille

Travis Reed Miller

Michelle Sedaca

Maia Laperle

Tiffany Dumont

Helen Matthews

Martha Rodriguez

akunna eneh

Ben Mauer

Aisha Shillingford

Terrence Wells

Stephanie Bird

Erin Dwyer

Robbie Samuels

Alison Brill

Giovanna Tapia

Monica Rey

Benjamin Rey

Andrew Murray

Marta Perrupato

Claire Passey

Matt Garber

Stephen Swift

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Last week, the United States Department of Justice released a scathing report accusing the Puerto Rican police —the nation’s second largest police force— of serious abuse and civil rights violations. Now, the island’s federal woes continue, as The Wall Street Journal reported today about serious fraud charges and Social Security disability claims. As the article states:

[SSDI]© United Press International Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll

The inspector general, Patrick O’Carroll, told an audience at an Aug. 30 disability-examiners conference that the investigation was tied to a pharmaceutical plant that recently closed in Puerto Rico, with 300 employees losing their jobs.

Shortly after the layoff, 290 of the 300 former employees applied for Social Security disability benefits and they all used the same doctor, who lived far from the plant, Mr. O’Carroll told the audience. Mr. O’Carroll didn’t identify the doctor, whose identity couldn’t be learned.

Jonathan Lasher, an assistant inspector general at the agency, wouldn’t comment on the case, but said, “The office of the inspector general is continuing to pursue any number of fraud allegations in Puerto Rico related to the Social Security disability program.”

The investigation comes as part of a stepped-up presence in the U.S. commonwealth by the inspector general’s office following a March article in The Wall Street Journal that showed how much easier it is to win Social Security disability benefits on the Caribbean island compared with any of the 50 U.S. states.

In 2010, the Social Security Administration awarded benefits in 63.4% of its initial decisions in Puerto Rico, compared with much lower rates elsewhere. In Arizona, for example, benefits were awarded in initial applications in 35.6% of the cases. Nine of the 10 top U.S. zip codes for workers collecting Social Security disability benefits are in Puerto Rico, according to government data.

A spokesman for the Social Security Administration said in light of “statistical trends” in Puerto Rico it has asked the inspector general’s office to “make sure that these trends do not reflect an increase in fraud.”

The article continues:

Even though SSDI is a federal program funded by payroll taxes, initial decisions about whether someone qualifies are made by state officials because of the way the program is designed. Officials in the Puerto Rican government promised full cooperation with the probe.

“We strongly support the effort to investigate this case and any incident of abuse, and will partner with federal officials to eliminate fraud in not only the disability program, but in other federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid,” Lorenzo Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s secretary of health, said in a written statement. “As with any other federal investigation involving fraud with a federal program, if a physician is found to be performing unlawfully, we will move swiftly at the local level through the state licensing board to take whatever action is needed to halt the abuse.”

Mr. Gonzalez said these incidents “are not unique to Puerto Rico” and show the need for “standardized, clear cut guidelines” in determining how benefits are awarded.

Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate was 15.5% in July, higher than the 9.1% national average.

For those who have lived and worked on the island for decades, Puerto Rico has had an anecdotal history of abusing federal handouts and claims. The recent actions by the federal government confirm that the island’s economic relationship with the United States is being challenged and questioned, in light of the economic problems the federal government is facing.

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Latinos in Social Media (LATISM), the gold standard of what a vibrant and thriving social media community should be, opened the nomination process for the BEST OF LATISM 2011.

The process is fairly simple. Click here, and nominate your favorites of 2011 in all the categories listed.

Also, will you be at LATISM 2011 in Chicago? We will and we can’t wait to see so many friends and family there!

NOMINATE THE BEST OF LATISM 2011 HERE!

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The former governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, wrote an essay last month in Spanish called “La fiebre no está en la sábana,” which literally means “The Fever is Not on the Bed Sheet,” a saying that speaks to the superficiality of the island’s dysfunctional political problems. For Puerto Rico to truly be a better political society, we must dig deeper, go beyond the “bed sheet,” and truly reform a political system that has been egocentric, self-serving, and quite frankly, has kept the island passive for decades. We have published a loose English translation of Vilá’s essay, which calls for electoral reform that actually follows the process of the world’s top democracies.

It’s no secret that over the last thirty years the discontent and dissatisfaction [Puerto Ricans] have with the Legislature has resulted into a lengthy and gradual crescendo of complaints and “reform” legislated to have resolved nothing.

Our reasons for these reforms are numerous: because legislators do not work hard enough and had no time to legislate their projects, because we need to create the second ordinary session of the Legislature and also adopted the principle of full-time legislator. Because they spend too much so we gave them a “stipend” (as if it were not the same) and had them pay taxes on that income. Because they legislated late at night, we a strict schedule and so they are not seen as being too close with the candidate for Governor, we created the third ballot.

Because there are way too many legislators and because they spend too much, we the people of Puerto Rico voted for the one-chamber system, but then the PNP [pro-statehood party] ignored the people’s mandate and now there are way too many legislators, who spend too much and annoy the people. I would venture to say that if a solution to have the people vote for no chamber or no legislators, it would be pass.

And last but not least, the scandal and the resignation of Sen. Roberto Arango of the PNP have added to this debate.

All these proposals, as legislated and proposed now, are all symptoms, but not the root of the problem. Our biggest problem is the intellectual quality, diligence, and ethics of our legislators. Nothing proposed will address that issues, which is the real problem. The proposal is being discussed now so that we have a Legislature with fewer legislators, what it means is that instead of having Chuchin and Arango in the same chamber, we will have either Arango or Chuchin. That’s not real change.

I’ve seen this problem from different perspectives and experiences: as a consultant at La Fortaleza when it approved the second session, as a legislator when legislators approved the full-time law, as the Resident Commissioner —where I could see the differences with the federal Congress— and as a governor having to govern with a PNP-controlled legislature. The experience gained and the failed attempts of legislative reforms aimed at a deeper diagnosis of the problem: the poor quality of our legislators is the result of a deficiency in our democracy.

It is true that we as a people vote for these legislators, but the other truth is that every four years in Puerto Rico almost nobody knows who their legislators and candidates for the House and Senate are. We live in a highly “executive” system, which is what truly influences move the elections for our Governor and Mayors. These are the ones who work to have the people know and think about them when they vote. But let’s be honest, people are not thinking about their legislative candidates when they go to the polls. That is the root of our problem and legislators who are elected are the symptom.The problem is a deficiency in our political and democratic framework.

I have always believed that the remedy for the deficiencies must be more a democratic democracy. And in the case of our Legislature, after so many scandals and mediocrity of so many failed attempts at reform, it’s time to make real changes that are deep and dramatic. We have the power as a people to truly examine who the candidates are for our Legislature.

Therefore I propose to open a discussion about we can amend our Constitution effectively, so that legislators are chosen in a separate election from those of Governors and Mayors, just like in other countries and how it is done most of the time in the United States. (We should also discuss how many legislators we want.) We can keep the legislators’ terms to last four years, but the elections would occur every two years between the elections of Governors and Mayors. Thus, in this election the only thing on the ballot would be candidates for the Legislature and the people can focus on the performance of their legislators and the other candidates that could  replace them. What I propose is a direct relationship is between the legislature and their constituents. Let’s get to the root of the problem. The fever is not on the bed sheet.

Aníbal Acevedo Vilá

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Guess our original blog about Puerto Rico not becoming the 51st state from a few months ago has been circulating the political circles in Puerto Rico and the United States, since the comments continue to trickle in. This is our favorite one of the week from reader Bruce R. Harris:

Americans will never accept a flag with 51 stars in it

“I have a question for you we don’t pay fed taxes and that is true, if we become a state we will. Now you mention that against us, but where in the US Constitution says that a US Citizen can not vote because it do not paid federal taxes?” Israel

My posts are answers to one of your faithful, yet ignorant followers. I’m just surprised you did not provide an answer to Israels’ question. Is it because you are not very familiar with US history, and the why’s of how things are supposed to be accomplished in Congress?

Spreading bad poop is not the way to get people together. If you want to be taken as a serious mediator by people of all sides of the issues then provide only factual and truthful comments all of the time. And this statement below will win you absolutely no points from most of Americans, including many of my latino friends.

“So now that you have the history of this politically charged debate (it has basically been the respective rallying cry between the PPD and the PNP), I still say this: In today’s America, a place where anti-Latino sentiment towards illegal immigrants and legal citizens has never been stronger, why would Puerto Rico, a proud country with ties to both the United States and Latin America, want to become the 51st state? Even if it did (and the current governor Luis Fortuño is a strong advocate of statehood), the America we know today would never welcome it.”

Ok, so we are now accused of spreading “bad poop” but we will let Bruce in on a thing or two:

  1. This blog is NOT a moderator of all sides. If you know the history of this blog, you would know that we do not support statehood for Puerto Rico.
  2. Bruce, we have NO CLUE what you mean about “taxation without representation,” because the reality is that Puerto Rico DOES NOT PAY FEDERAL TAXES but still has a non-voting representative in the US Congress. Your argument makes no sense. Technically, Puerto Rico has minimal representation in Congress, although it is non-voting. Also, the American Revolution had to do with NOT BECOMING part of the British Empire; your logic is reversed here. If anything, the US would understand if Puerto Rico would choose to secede from the US.
  3. Last time we checked, more US Latinos we know feel that Puerto Rico would benefit from a more realistic political arrangement with the United States, such as free association or (gasp) independence.
  4. Here is what the Fortuñistas cannot answer: even if a non-binding plebiscite favors statehood, the FINAL AUTHORITY of Puerto Rico’s status is the US Congress and right now, in the era of extreme right vs. left politics in the US, very few people in Congress would have the courage to say that Puerto Rico (and the $19 billion dollars per year it would cost to maintain it) should become a state.
Bruce, keep drinking your Fortuño juice. And we still don’t get what you mean by Israel. Last time we checked, Israel’s situation is not even close to Puerto Rico’s. Actually, Palestine’s situation is a bit more similar than the island’s.

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