Progressive Calendar 02.28.10
From: David Shove (shove001tc.umn.edu)
Date: Sun, 28 Feb 2010 13:32:04 -0800 (PST)
            P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R   02.28.10

1. Public spaces     2.28 3:30pm
2. Pol repression    2.28 7pm

3. Save GAMC         3.01 12:30pm
4. Janitors strike   3.01 4pm
5. Peace walk        3.01 6pm RiverFalls WI
6. Keep Chief Dolan? 3.01 6:30pm
7. Uhcan-mn          3.01 7pm

8. Dave Bicking   - Events on Chief Dolan and police accountability
9. Scott Thill    - Cities shorten yellow traffic lights for deadly profit

--------1 of 9-------

From: Lydia Howell <lydiahowell [at] visi.com>
Subject: Public spaces 2.28 3:30pm

The Book House,  429 SE 14th Avenue, a Dinkytown landmark for over 30
years, will hold its second in a series of public conversations
"Public Spaces - Disappearing or Transforming?" on Sunday, February
28th, 3:30-5:30pm.

This forum will explore how changing economic circumstances and
technological innovation have redefined both the need for, and
availability of, public space. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, are we
less likely to see engagement and interaction in physical spaces? And how
will spaces that have traditionally provided this service - like museums,
cafes, libraries, theaters and bookstores - function in this shifting
landscape?

Featured speakers David Unowsky, founder of the legendary Hungry Mind
bookstore, and Jay Wallsjasper, editor of the "Utne Reader" and author
of "The Great Neighborhood Book," will join others in discussing how
we use public space to shape a personal sense of belonging and
community.  Monte Bute, Associate Professor of Sociology at
Metropolitan State University, will moderate the discussion.

For more details check www.bookhouseindinkytown.com or call 612-331-1430.


--------2 of 9--------

From: Women Against Military Madness <wamm [at] mtn.org>
Subject: Political repression 2.28 7pm

A Talk by Dhoruba Bin-Wahad: "Political Repression and State Violence
from Minneapolis to Palestine

 Sunday, February 28, 7:00 p.m. (Community Dinner, Donations Accepted)
Walker Church, 3100 16th Avenue South, Minneapolis.
 Monday, March 1, 7:00 p.m. (Lecture) University of Minnesota, Blegen
Hall, Room 5, 269 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis.
 Tuesday, March 2, 11:15 a.m. (Lecture) Hamline University, Sundin Music
Hall, 1536 Hewitt Avenue, St. Paul.
 Tuesday, March 2, 7:00 p.m. (Lecture) Historic Pilgrim Baptist Church,
732 Central Avenue, St. Paul.

In November 2009 Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, a former U.S. political prisoner,
leader of the Black Panther Party, and member of the Black Liberation
Army, was detained and deported from the West Bank of occupied Palestine
by Israeli authorities. He had been invited to attend a conference on
political detention by the Palestinian Authority. Dhouba spent 19 years of
a life sentence in jail for a crime he did not commit. He was a target of
the FBI's COINTELPRO, was arrested in 1971 and had his conviction
overturned in 1990. He will discuss historic and current struggles against
social injustice and state violence in the U.S. and in Palestine, with
specific focus on political prisoners and institutions that repress social
movement mobilization within communities fighting oppression. Join a wide
array of Twin Cities organizations to hear this powerful speaker, who
challenges conventional wisdom and inspires people to embrace social
change.

Sponsored by: American Studies Department, (U of M), Coalition for
Palestinian Rights, Communities United Against Police Brutality,
Department of African American and African Studies (U of M), International
Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, RNC 8 Defense Committee, Scholars for
Academic Justice, Scott and Carrie Support Committee, Women's Student
Activist Collective, and the WAMM Middle East Committee and others.


--------3 of 9--------

From: Welfare Rights Committee <welfarerightsmn [at] yahoo.com>
Subject: Save GAMC 3.01 12:30pm

Below is a message we like to pass onto others that are being effective
and/or know someone that will be effected by this GAMC cut.

Join folks at the State Capitol for an interfaith vigil on Monday, March
1st, prior to the House vote. Gather at 12:30pm outside the House Chamber.
Located at the State Capitol - 2nd floor, 75 Rev Martin Luter King Blvd.
STP

Read the information and Call your State Represenative.

Welfare Rights Committee PO Box 7266, Mpls MN 55407 pho: 612-822-8020 main
email: welfarerightsmn [at] yahoo.com alt email: welfarerights [at] qwest.net
--
From: "info [at] jrlc.org" <info [at] jrlc.org>

Hello Welfare Rights Committee,

We need you to act NOW to SAVE GAMC. We expect the House to attempt a veto
override this Monday, March 1st.

First Action: Call or email Your Minnesota State Representative through
this weekend. To find your state representative call (800) 657-3550.

Thank state representatives for their vote to save GAMC (if your member
was one of the nine "no" votes*, you can tell them of your disappointment).

Ask your Representative to vote yes again. Let them know that this issue
should not be partisan and that their previous vote on the merits of the
bill should stand. We need problem-solving, not partisanship.

Second Action: Sign on to the Interfaith Statement to Save GAMC.

Third Action: Join us at the State Capitol for an interfaith vigil on
Monday, March 1st, prior to the House vote. Gather at 12:30pm outside the
House Chamber. Read about our Feb 18th vigil to get a feel for what we
intend to do. We will be respectful, solemn, hopeful.

Your actions will help establish a principle this legislative session that
we will not allow people to die because of the state's budget woes.

Background:
On Thursday, February 18th, the Minnesota House overwhelmingly approved
(125-9) an extension of the GAMC program for the next 16 months. The
Senate quickly concurred, and this bill, with very strong bi-partisan
support, went to the Governor. Within hours, the Governor vetoed this
bill. GAMC health care will end in about 30 days unless the legislature
overrides the veto. The Senate looks poised to override. However, the
House vote will be very, very close. General Assistance Medical Care
(GAMC) offers health care coverage to the poorest adults in the state of
Minnesota. The Governor eliminated funding for the program last spring
with a line item veto and further reduced funding with unallotments.
Without action by the legislature, GAMC expires April 1, 2010. The House
and Senate both passed a GAMC reform bill, and on Thursday, February 18th,
the Governor issued a veto. Highlights of GAMC Bill (SF2168):

* Reduces costs. This bill cuts costs by $219 million for the next 16
months of the program.

* Reforms the program: This bill eliminates layers between the health care
provider and the patient and encourages new, local collaborations to
better manage the health conditions of the many chronically ill
Minnesotans who rely on GAMC.

* Provides health coverage for 85,000 people. The Governor's proposal
would cover only 28,000 people.

* Saves jobs. Hospitals across the state are preparing to cut hundreds of
jobs if this legislation does not pass.

* Does not rely on any tax increases.

*The nine "no" votes in the House: Anderson, B., Buesgens, Drazkowski,
Emmer, Hackbarth, Holberg, Kohls, Severson, Shimanski.

Help us.Donate now to JRLC.
Justice work endures. Remember JRLC in your estate planning.


--------4 of 9--------

From: Teddy S <tyimenu2007 [at] gmail.com>
From: MN Socialist Alternative <mn [at] socialistalternative.org>
Subject: TC janitors strike 3.01 4pm

Twin Cities Janitors to
S T R I K E  M O N D A Y

Show your support: Join the picket lines! Donate to the strike fund!

Picketing shifts between 4 - 10pm Monday through Wednesday! Show up at
4pm at Central Labor Hall at 312 Central Ave SE, Mpls or any time at
Gethsemane Episcopal Church at 905 4th Ave S, Mpls to be dispatched to
picketing locations.

Click here to commit to supporting the strike -
http://26.seiu.org/page/s/holdtheline

Contributions to the strike fund can be mailed to SEIU Local 26 at 312
Central Ave SE Suite 356, Minneapolis, MN 55414. Make checks out to
Working Partnerships and write Justice for Janitors on the memo line.

Contact Steve Payne from SEIU local 26 for more details at 612-325-9401.

---
Dear Socialist Alternative Supporters,

The over 4000 Twin Cities janitors represented by SEIU local 26 who work
in the downtown and suburban metro areas have had enough! They have worked
without a contract since January and management remains unwilling to move
on their draconian demands for concessions.

At a membership meeting today, Janitors of local 26 agreed to begin strike
action on Monday. Socialist Alternative will be on the picket lines and
continue doing all we can to mobilize community support. We are appealing
to you to join us and the brave janitors of the Twin Cities on the streets
starting Monday!

In this time of crisis, big business is demanding working people pay the
price for their system's failure. All working people of the Twin Cities
need to unite with the janitors struggle to "hold the line," and make this
struggle a success for them, their families and all Twin Cities workers!

For more details on the issues involved with the strike - please read the
article below linked here
http://socialistalternative.org/news/article14.php?id=1264 and pasted
below.

Solidarity and Justice for Twin Cities Janitors!

Feb 23, 2010
By Dan DiMaggio

Thousands of janitors in the Twin Cities are preparing to strike, if
necessary, for decent wage increases, affordable health care, paid sick
days, and in defense of full-time jobs.

These janitors, members of Service Employees International Union
(SEIU) Local 26, clean buildings owned by some of the most profitable
corporations and banks in Minnesota, including Wells Fargo ($8 billion in
profits in 2009), U.S. Bank ($1.8 billion), Target ($2.2 billion), and
Medtronic ($2.2 billion). Yet the cleaning contractors hired by these
companies have proposed ZERO wage increases, no paid sick days, increased
health care premiums, and a host of other attacks. These cleaning
companies are also quite profitable enterprises, with the largest, ABM, a
Fortune 1000 company with 100,000 employees and revenues of $3.6 billion
(MPR, 11/9/09).

The importance of this struggle was summed up in the words of one worker,
a young mother of two, who said, "The bosses, they sleep easy at night. I
wanna sleep easy at night like they do! And if my kids have to do
something like this - though I hope they don't - it will be easier for
them because we fought. I consider us a gang now. There are more of us
than there are of them. We've got the dust pans, the brooms, the mops, and
if we stop using 'em, what do you think, they're gonna start doing the
work?"

The struggle by Twin Cities janitors deserves the support of all workers
and youth, and anyone who is fed up with the greed of the big banks and
corporations, who aim to take advantage of the recession to roll back the
gains made by workers in order to boost their profits. While CEOs might
be able to survive a pay cut (the CEO of Goldman Sachs is "only"
getting a $9 million bonus this year - how will he pay the mortgage on
his mansions and pay off his yachts and still be able to feed his
family?), janitors making less than $13/hour can hardly afford to
"tighten their belts" anymore.

The ultimate goal of the cleaning companies and building owners is to
revert back to part-time, poverty-wage janitorial jobs, with workers
firmly under the thumb of management and afraid to assert their rights.
All workers have a stake in this struggle, because defending and
expanding the number of good jobs helps counter the race-to-the-bottom
and raise standards for all workers.

Janitors are not taking these attacks lying down. In a union meeting in
early February, they voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call
a strike. The African-American, white, Latino, Somali, and Ethiopian
members of the union chanted "Sí se puede" ("Yes we can") in 5 languages,
in an inspiring display of unity. (See video at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XglK_L8CaBo)

Janitors have been working without a contract since January, and the
companies have offered virtually nothing in negotiations. The biggest
company, ABM, is proposing NO pay increase for 2010 and 2011, and then 13
cents in 2012. Marsden, another major contractor, proposes no raise for
2010, and 5 cents in both 2011 and 2012. When workers were presented with
the employers' proposal at a recent union meeting, most laughed at what
they consider a sick joke.

Right now, Twin Cities janitors covered under the union contract make
$12.97 per hour, a wage that is extremely difficult to raise a family on,
or even to survive on alone. But the proposal from the companies amounts
to a pay cut, given inflation.

In addition to offering no wage increases, the employers want yearly
increases in health insurance premiums paid by workers, while offering
the same bad plans. Many workers complain they have racked up thousands
of dollars in debt for hospital bills and other medical expenses despite
having insurance. The union is demanding better coverage, fighting to
achieve free health care like janitors in Boston, Chicago, and Seattle
have won. The companies have also refused to accept the union's demand
for three paid sick days per year - an extremely modest demand (and one
that is many other countries a constitutional right, with 127 countries
guaranteeing at least a week of paid sick days a year - and 102
countries guaranteeing a month or more, while in the U.S. 48% of private
sector workers have no paid sick days -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sick_leave).

The companies are also trying to do away with any commitments to
full-time work, to allow them to create more part-time jobs. They have
refused to give workers job protection when buildings change contractors,
refused to guarantee paid breaks on the job, and callously refused to
allow workers to save vacation up (crucial to many immigrant workers with
elderly relatives and families in other countries).

The union is also calling on the companies to make janitorial jobs
"green jobs," by transitioning to day-shift cleaning instead of having
to light buildings at night while workers clean. They also want to move
to more environmentally-friendly, safer cleaning products.

There is no reason why janitorial jobs shouldn't be good jobs, paying a
living wage, with good health care, full-time hours, paid sick days, and
decent working conditions. Yet for the past 30 years, building owners
have shifted to subcontracting work to cleaning companies who often pay
poverty wages with no benefits, in an effort to cut costs. SEIU's
Justice for Janitors campaign has fought against this trend and built a
fighting union in numerous cities across the country.

If the union did not exist, the building owners and cleaning companies
would be happy to be paying workers $7 an hour, with no benefits and
absolutely no rights. The struggle by Twin Cities janitors is a struggle
in which all workers have an interest. As one security guard, also a
member of SEIU Local 26, put it at a recent union meeting in offering his
support to the janitors, "If the janitors don't fight it will affect
everyone" - encouraging the employers to go for blood against the
security guards and other workers throughout the cities and surrounding
suburbs.

The mainly immigrant janitors are setting a heroic example by fighting
back against some of the biggest corporations in the Twin Cities - and
the country - during this time of economic recession and corporate
assault on working people. This is even more the case given that 1,200
janitors working for ABM lost their jobs in October in a "quiet
immigration raid, one of the largest immigration crackdowns under the
Obama administration to date"
(http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/11/09/immigrants-fired/).

As one janitor put it, "I really want people to hear - and if possible
even get to the ears of President Barack Obama - that we don't come here
for anything other than to work. And if anyone could see the places we
come from and were in our shoes, they would do the same thing" (MPR,
11/9/09). Coincidentally, this raid just happened to take place a few
months before the janitors' contract was set to expire.

It is to the enduring credit of these janitors that they are still
standing up to their employers, at the bargaining table, in their
workplaces, and on the streets. As the great abolitionist Frederick
Douglass put it, "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and
you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be
imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted ... The
limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they
oppress."

Come out and march with SEIU Local 26 on Monday, February 15 at 11:30am,
starting at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown
Minneapolis. And hear from janitors and union activists about their
struggle at a public meeting sponsored by Socialist Alternative, La Raza,
and the SEIU Local 26 Solidarity Committee on Tuesday, February 16 at 7pm
at the University of Minnesota in Coffman Union Room 211. The union is
also looking for supporters willing to walk on the picket lines and even
be picket captains.

An injury to one is an injury to all! Support the struggle of Twin Cities
janitors!


--------5 of 9--------

From: Nancy Holden <d.n.holden [at] comcast.net>
Subject: Peace walk 3.01 6pm RiverFalls WI

River Falls Peace and Justice Walkers. We meet every Monday from 6-7 pm on
the UWRF campus at Cascade Ave. and 2nd Street, immediately across from
"Journey" House. We walk through the downtown of River Falls. Contact:
d.n.holden [at] comcast.net. Douglas H Holden 1004 Morgan Road River Falls,
Wisconsin 54022


--------6 of 9--------

From: Dave Bicking <dave [at] colorstudy.com>
Subject: Keep Chief Dolan? 3.01 6:30pm

Community Forum:
Should Police Chief Tim Dolan be Reappointed?

Monday, March 1, 2010, 6:30pm
Shiloh Temple, 1201 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis
(enter parking lot from Girard Ave. N. & park in fenced lot, enter
building through the back)

Come to a forum to discuss whether or not Chief Dolan should be
reappointed for another three year term.  Three knowledgeable activists
will share their experiences over the years of trying to bring about a
change in the culture of the police.  Please come and share your ideas,
opinions and experiences with other concerned residents.  Pizza and pop
will be served.

Speakers:
    Michelle Gross, Communities United Against Police Brutality
    Dave Bicking, member of the Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA)*
    Kenneth Brown, former chairman of the Civil Rights Commission
           * for identification only, not speaking on behalf of the CRA Board

If you can't attend this forum, please come to the public hearing about
Chief Dolan's reappointment downtown at City Hall on Wednesday, March 3,
at 1:30 pm, in room 317.  It is vital that concerned residents show up.
To speak, it is helpful to come a little early to sign up.

Sponsored by New Broom Coalition, a group of activists from varied
political backgrounds who have come together to bring about change in
Minneapolis.  Our website is NewBroomCoalition.net.  Or contact Dave or
Jan at 612-276-1213.


--------7 of 9--------

From: Joel Albers <joel [at] uhcan-mn.org>
Subject: Uhcan-mn 3.01 7pm

Next Universal Health Care Action Network of MN (UHCAN-MN) organizing
meeting.
Monday March 1, 7pm
Walker Church, 3104 16th Ave S., Mpls,(1 block from Lake str and
Bloomington Ave. Lower-Level Gallery

Items:
1.Reportbacks: Network Bldg;need website mgr,other
2.state level:framing GAMC debacle/debate to need for MN Health Plan
3.national HC debate; analysis, actions, networking w/ key groups Ice
house demo at health insurer CEO's Mansion ?
4.UHCAN-MN Film 20" footage of Seattle WTO shutdown,10th Anniv;analysis,
Implications for HC direct action;date,time,location ? other films ?

Let me know if you want to add an agenda item.


--------8 of 9--------

From: Dave Bicking <dave [at] colorstudy.com>
Events on Chief Dolan and police accountability

This is going to be a busy week for those concerned with the problems of
policing in Minneapolis.  This is a critical time - and our best
opportunity - to do something about it.  There are three events this week
- a forum for information and preparation, a City Council public hearing
on the Chief's reappointment, and a public meeting of the Civilian Police
Review Authority (CRA) board which will be confronting some of the same
issues.

1)  Monday, March 1, 6:30pm:  Forum on Chief Dolan

I have been working with the New Broom Coalition, which sponsored a
previous forum about a month ago.  That was a big success - important
info, good discussion, and media attention.  We are repeating it, with new
info added, on the North Side.  We hope that the CUAPB will be unveiling
their comprehensive report on the performance of Chief Dolan!  Here is our
full announcement:

Community Forum:
Should Police Chief Tim Dolan be Reappointed?

Monday, March 1, 2010, 6:30pm
Shiloh Temple, 1201 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis
(enter parking lot from Girard Ave. N. & park in fenced lot, enter
building through the back)

Come to a forum to discuss whether or not Chief Dolan should be
reappointed for another three year term.  Three knowledgeable activists
will share their experiences over the years of trying to bring about a
change in the culture of the police.  Please come and share your ideas,
opinions and experiences with other concerned residents.  Pizza and pop
will be served.

Speakers:
    Michelle Gross, Communities United Against Police Brutality
    Dave Bicking, member of the Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA)*
    Kenneth Brown, former chairman of the Civil Rights Commission
           * for identification only, not speaking on behalf of the CRA
           Board

Sponsored by New Broom Coalition, a group of activists from varied
political backgrounds who have come together to bring about change in
Minneapolis.  Our website is NewBroomCoalition.net.  Or contact Dave or
Jan at 612-276-1213.

2)  Wednesday, March 3, 1:30pm:  Public hearing on Dolan at City Council

Mpls Police Chief Dolan's first three-year term as Police Chief ended in
January 2010, and he is up for reappointment to another three-year term.
He remains in that position until reappointed, or until another chief is
found.  Now is our best opportunity to get rid of him, or, if that fails,
to bring attention to the problems in the Police Department and win some
concessions.

The City Council's Executive Committee has already acted, on Feb 17th, to
forward the Mayor's recommendation to the City Council.  The Public Safety
and Health Committee acts next, and is required to hold a public hearing
before voting on the appointment.  If the Committee votes in favor of
Dolan, that goes to the entire City Council for a final vote on Friday,
March 12.

Unfortunately, the Mpls City Council holds its public hearings downtown
during weekdays, ensuring minimum public participation and input.  Let's
surprise them!  If there is any way you can take the time off to come,
this is the time!  A big crowd can have a substantial impact - it did many
years ago when Chief Olson did not get reappointed.  Though this City
Council tends to be a rubber stamp for the mayor, particularly on
appointments, there are concerns by some Council members about Dolan's
record, his unwillingness to accept any direction from the Council, large
lawsuit settlements, and budget problems.

The hearing is held in Council chambers, Room 317 of City Hall (the old
stone building, 350 S. 5th St.).  Please come, even if you do not feel
prepared to speak.

If you wish to speak, it is best to prepare 3 minutes or less of comments.
More than that is never allowed, and we could be cut to only 2 minutes
each.  It is best to come just a bit early to sign up to speak on the
sheet outside the chambers.  Additional speakers are generally allowed,
after all those who have signed in.

ALSO, if you can't come, or if you don't wish to speak, or even if you do,
please contact the Committee members ahead of time!  They generally take a
vote as soon as the public hearing ends, so it is also good to give them
your opinion ahead of time, in addition to appearing in public.  Their
email addresses are:

Don Samuels, chair, Ward 5:  don.samuels [at] ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Cam Gordon, Ward 2:  cam.gordon [at] ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Diane Hofsted, Ward 3:  diane.hofstede [at] ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Barb Johnson, Ward 4:  barbara.johnson [at] ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Meg Tuthill, Ward 10:  Meg.Tuthill [at] ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Betsy Hodges, Ward 13:  betsy.hodges [at] ci.minneapolis.mn.

I hope to see you there!!

3)  Wednesday, March 3, 6:30pm:  CRA Board meeting, City Hall, Room 333

The volunteer board of the Civilian Police Review Authority has its
monthly meeting this Wednesday evening.  It is sure to be an interesting
one.  There has been some conflict lately, with the Chair of the board
telling me I have to resign, and with fallout from some legal action.
Too much to explain it all here, I hope you have received some previous
emails about this or have seen it on the news.  Best single source for an
overview is: http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2010/02/13/controversy-cra

Public attendance and interest will help strengthen the resolve of board
members to serve the community.  With the failure of the Police Chief to
impose discipline in sustained cases from the CRA, the CRA could become
meaningless without action to bring about changes.  The community has
fought hard for civilian oversight and police accountability.  Victories
need to be constantly defended!  I will be bringing up several issues at
what could well be my last Board meeting, given the attempts to remove me.

Comments from the public are accepted at all CRA board meetings, generally
limited to three minutes each.


That's it for now.  Please participate in whatever way you can!  All of
this is a way to put our Green Party principles into action.

Dave Bicking
612-276-1213


--------9 of 9--------

Cities Shortening Yellow Traffic Lights for Deadly Profit
By Scott Thill
AlterNet
February 23, 2010
http://www.alternet.org/story/145752/

Reeling through a 21st century addicted to technology and surveillance,
citizens may be too overwhelmed to complain of increasing cameras popping
up atop red lights at intersections across the nation, most of which are
designed to catch them breaking traffic laws. That is, until they're
caught in those intersections as the yellow lights unexpectedly change,
and cars in front and back of them hit the brakes or punch the gas to
avoid tickets. And when they find out those cameras and lights are being
gamed, sometimes lethally, in the pursuit of quick profit? Then they get
mad, and maybe even, for being used as motorized money pits.

"With all of the stories we hear on a daily basis, there is little doubt
that the desire for ticket revenue trumps safety concerns," Gary Biller,
executive director of the National Motorists Association told AlterNet. "A
quick current example is California's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who
a few weeks ago proposed state budget including a proposal to add speed
sensors to 500 existing red-light cameras. The reason? Safety wasn't
mentioned, but an expected additional annual revenue of $338 million was."

Roughly multiply that revenue by 50 states, and you quickly get an idea
why red-light cameras designed by companies like Arizona's Redlfex Group
and American Traffic Solutions (ATS) are an increasingly attractive crutch
for America's cash-strapped cities. But they're unsafe short-cuts, because
they haven't necessarily proven very effective at anything other than
generating ticket revenue -- and accidents, lots of accidents. In fact,
studies have repeatedly shown that red-light cameras can cause more
accidents, not less.

They're not particularly good at generating legitimate tickets either:
Illegal camera set-ups at intersections in Seattle are issuing invalid
citations, around 80 percent of red-light violations in Los Angeles are
comparatively safe rolling right turns, and so on. Meanwhile, 15 states
have elected to prohibit red-light cameras, and more are surely to come as
motorists learn that some American cities have been shortening yellow
lights for deadly profit, as countries like Italy quickly follow suit.

"While several cities have been caught shortening yellow lights to
increase revenue from red-light tickets," said Biller, "I think the larger
issue today is that the duration of so many yellow lights has never been
adequately set for optimal safety results. An increase of approximately
one second can reduce the frequency of red-light-running by at least 50
percent."

The standard definition of a safe yellow light is arguably hard to nail
down, depending on the intersection. The Federal Highway Administration's
Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices specifies a wide-ranging
duration of three to six seconds. But the application is more important
than the theory, which is why it should be left to the scientists to
decide which goes where, according to Justin McNaull, director of state
relations for the American Automobile Association.

"Yellow light intervals should be determined by engineers," he told
AlterNet. "If yellow lights are too short, motorists can't stop in time.
If they're too long, motorists will continue to accelerate when they
shouldn't. To borrow from 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears,' yellow lights
need to be just right."

If they're not, the statistics get scary. Shortened yellow lights usually
increase accidents by a significant percentage. In fact, in some cities
they have caused more accidents than they have stopped. But they have also
pulled down millions in fast, easy money, and that is often evidently
worth the cost in human lives to politicians and industry heavyweights.

"The camera does have a place in the traffic safety toolbox," said
McNaull. "But it's not a cure-all. There's a temptation for local
governments to see it as a revenue tool. And as a safety tool, but one
that produces revenue."

With profit as the red-light camera's primary motive, it's hard for an
already disenfranchised citizenry to find friends in those money-hungry
local governments. But it's not impossible: State Representative
Christopher Hurst in Washington is sponsoring a bill to mandate a
four-second duration for yellow lights and severely downsize violations to
$25. Given the opportunity to decide on the need for such lucrative
surveillance, citizens have always opted to just say no.

"Red-light cameras have never survived a public up or down vote," said
Biller. "The problem is that many photo enforcement programs have yet to
be put on a public ballot."

Until they are, dissenters are just going to have to hammer cities with
the ugly details. From letting corporations like Redflex and ATS decide
where the cameras are installed to shortening yellow lights and beyond,
cities are gambling their citizens' lives in pursuit of money they might
just have to give back anyway, in the form of lawsuits, illegal tickets
and so on. And given the major cost of the serious collisions the
red-light cameras are supposed to be stopping, the whole enterprise could
turn out to be a high-tech exercise in cost-inefficient waste.

"The cost of traffic accidents is huge," said McNaull. "A conservative
figure is $200 billion a year, but it can go beyond half a trillion in the
United States annually. Reducing crashes certainly does produce
significant benefits."

But increasing them produces the opposite: A massive destruction of
taxpayer revenue in the pursuit of massive taxpayer revenue. Even if
motorists could comprehend that labyrinthine headache, it's not like they
don't have enough to worry about as it is.  With their safety so obviously
on the back-burner, some might decide in defiance the law shouldn't apply
to them. Especially when they're trying to do the right thing most of the
time.

"The vast majority of camera tickets for such violations is based on
vehicles entering the intersection within 0.2 or 0.3 seconds after the
signal turned from yellow to red," Biller explained. "These are technical
violations by drivers trying to clear the intersections responsibly. The
kind of red-light running that causes the serious broadside accidents
touted by the camera companies are those where the vehicles enter the
intersection three seconds or more after red."

"It's not an issue that's black or white," McNaull said. "We're certainly
operating within the gray area."

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on
Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.
c 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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