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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Squeaky Wheels vs. Community Vision

Just returned from a city council meeting in neighboring Mountain View where they will be voting later this evening on whether to allow a Day Worker Center to go forward with a relocation or to stop it in deference to neighbors who don't want it there. The neighbors protest that their property values will go down while crime and traffic will go up. They say it's a commercial enterprise that should not be allowed.

Hopefully, the council will follow the staff recommendations to let it go forward. The police studied the old location (lease ran out) and found no increase in crime over its five years there. The traffic director did a study and found no traffic problems will occur. There are numerous courses given at the site - like English as a second language. Meals and health care screenings. They've got the best volunteer landscapers of any nonprofit agency in the town.

PBS commentator Ray Suarez once spoke in Palo Alto about the changing neighborhoods across the U.S. He asked how many folks had checked the value of their home recently and virtually all hands went up. He reminded folks that not many years ago, homes were purchased as places to live and not as an investment. The Mountain View neighbors don't want a commercial enterprise to locate among them, but it seems - at this point - each of the homeowners is more like a commercial enterprise themself.

Seems to me that living in a community means integrating social service agencies, schools, libraries, homeless shelters, and neighborhood serving retail with housing. Hopefully the council members will use their "community vision."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Ban Cluster Bombs

Here is a piece I wrote about cluster bombs that the San Jose Mercury News printed on Friday, May 1.

"Opinion: 40 years later, cluster bombs are still killing; ban them

By Elliot Margolies

Special to the Mercury News
Posted: 04/30/2009 08:00:00 PM PDT
Updated: 04/30/2009 08:12:17 PM PDT

A multimedia exhibit I stumbled upon in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, was deeply disturbing. Photos and narratives of people with prosthetics portrayed stories of hope and healing. What pained me was the realization that U.S. cluster bombs dropped on Laos over 35 years ago had caused these injuries. And those bombs continue to blow up as many as 300 Laotian villagers annually.

I am hardly unique in not remembering that our country bombed Laos daily for nine years in a secret campaign during the Vietnam War. Air Force records document over 500,000 bombing missions, dropping over 270 million cluster bombs.

A Defense Department report to Congress in 2000 said that 23 percent of cluster bombs did not explode when dropped in some test situations. That conservative estimate translates to 81 million "bombies" — as Lao people call them — lying in the forests and just under the ground in the rice fields and villages. Many look like yellow baseballs; they are filled with ball bearings waiting to rip a body apart.

In Xienghuang province, a heavily bombed area, there are posters in the schools and songs taught to students warning them not to pick up the yellow metal balls. It's not just the kids who need to be warned repeatedly. In impoverished Laos, many adults are tempted to look for scrap metal they redeem for cash. They buy handheld metal detectors and look for bomb fragments. As the price of scrap metal has gone up in recent years,
so too have the number of arms and legs blown off.

Since 1994, bomb-clearing squads have painstakingly cleared the land and have safely destroyed about a half-million "bombies." In that time, the U.S. has contributed $20 million toward the cleanup — far less than the bonuses awarded to AIG.

Those of us from Silicon Valley have a special connection because the cluster-bomb manufacturer is Lockheed Martin. But it turns out that we are at a pivotal moment when our voices could actually send cluster bombs into extinction.

The International Convention on Cluster Munitions was signed by 95 nations last December. These nations are destroying their stockpiles and they agree never to use or sell cluster bombs again. The Bush administration did not sign it. But there is every reason to believe that if Americans tell President Barack Obama it's important to us, he will review the treaty. In mid-February a coalition of 67 nongovernmental organizations led by Human Rights Watch sent a letter to him calling for a review. Now is the time to add your voice.

Meanwhile, there is a smaller but important step to take with our representatives in Congress. A bill before Congress will greatly limit U.S. use of cluster bombs in war, especially in civilian areas. Ask your representative in the House to co-sponsor HR 981. Both of our senators are already co-sponsors of a companion bill in the Senate.

Elliot Margolies lives in Palo Alto and recently spent a month backpack-traveling in Thailand and Laos. He wrote this article for the Mercury News. "