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Finally, A Revolutionary


It has taken 70 years, but, I am finally a revolutionary.

Born in 1946 I was a prime demographic for rebellion in the turbulent 1960’s, but, I mostly sat it out. Oh, I observed and I pondered, but, did not take real action. I even became a reluctant soldier from 1968 to 1971. However, as a squad leader I did play Bob Dylan’s Masters of War to my troops so the seeds of discontent were there.

Then I came home and lived a life. Those who know me would probably say I am a mild mannered, middle of the road, let’s find a way kind of guy.

Now, as we enter 2017, I am ready for a revolution. Events of the past 16 years have had an accumulative affect and I have reached my tipping point.

Certainly losing a close relative, and his wife, in the horror of September 11, 2001 could be seen as the first crack in my comfortable acceptance of the world as it was. But, it is more than singular events, dispiriting elections or global problems which have made me a late life rebel. It is the realization that the United States of America’s system of government is broken. Broken in a non-partisan, they are all to blame, a pox on all their houses way.

We have had wars based on lies. We have had political parties publicly declare their primary goals were to undermine newly elected presidents, not to best serve the country. Senator Schumer just went lower case Senator McConnell in recent interviews. We have had a Congress with a pre-election favorability of just 19% have most members who were up for re-election voted back into the quagmire.

Because of both parties intransigencies we have the possibility of having a vacancy on the Supreme Court for almost 2 years. Compare this to the fact that in 1986, Antonin Scalia, a controversial selection, was unanimously confirmed for a seat on the Court.

All chances of compromises on issues for the greater good have been abandoned in the current vitriolic political atmosphere.

These are not minor details. These, along with numerous other examples, are clear signals that our system of governing is broken. Major overhauls are the only answers.

Bring on the revolution!

First, abolish political parties. I’ve waited a long time, so why not start with my most radical proposal? All candidates will be unaffiliated. Having a “D”, an “R”,or even an “I” next to a candidate’s name carries preconceived notions, built-in biases . I do not want me, or the populace, to make voting decisions based upon biases. If you want my vote tell me what you stand for, even better show me what you stand for by how you have conducted your life.

Second, term limits for all office holders. Winning candidates should make a sacrifice with their limited time in public service then return to the reality of being a private citizen. To the naysayers who will wail, “..but what if we have someone really good in office?”, I ask do you have such little faith in the ability of a nation of 320 million people to produce a stream of competent representation? The present system creates fiefdoms which beget corruption and stagnation.

Next, strict, reasonable limits on campaign spending based upon the positions being contested. This change would also include limiting contributions and reversing the dreadful Citizens United decision. Money has corrupted the system for decades.

Finally, fair and equitable voting districts in every state which reflects the actual population base not the horrid gerrymandering mess fostered by both parties.

Are these proposals a stretch? Of course but the need is now too great to settle for placating incremental steps or kick the can inaction. I personally will do all I can to begin the process of this political revolution.

Does a 70 year old, with a full head of hair, look foolish wearing a red bandana?

– END –

Tension in the Air This Election

SIGNS OF THE TIMES (Published – Providence Journal 10/22/16)

In my neighborhood the first political signs appeared in July, their two narrow metal tines poking small holes into the soft summer lawns. They are colorful placards, approximately 36 inches wide and 24 inches high, touting my neighbors’ preferred Presidential candidates. This is a tradition which has been around for decades.

This year feels different.

This year, I fear, those many small holes have combined to create a fissure now bursting to the surface in this nasty autumn season as we approach November 8th. There is a tension in the air, a disturbing wind of rancor swirling through our everyday interactions.

We have moved so dangerously far from the simple declarations of; “I Like Ike.” or “Not Just Peanuts.” from past campaigns.

Social media has, of course, exacerbated the heated debates. Marital spats over this election play out, with heightened accusations, for all to see on Facebook threads which end eerily in silence leaving followers to wonder what lasting damage may have occurred.

Neighbors, who know they are on opposite sides of this bitter contest, warily avoid each other in the check out lines at the supermarket. Golf foursomes have been split by animosity.

An Huffington Post poll in May showed more than one-third of Americans had
already had a serious argument with either a close friend, coworker or spouse
over the Presidential race.

A September Harris poll reported over half of respondents reported that they were noticeably stressed out by the campaign.

It feels like we are gearing up for a national fist fight.

By hatching such overwhelmingly unpopular final choices for voters this election cycle and fomenting such globally embarrassing campaigns the process itself has shown it must either be extensively repaired or replaced. We would have to be a truly masochistic nation to submit ourselves to such torture again in 2020.

A complete review and analysis of the process is called for from; the length of campaigns which has grown by more than 35% since the 1970’s, the debilitating influence of an out of control financial contribution system, the fuzzy selection of delegates, the use of the electoral vote count, the gerrymandering antics which so influence state and local elections, appropriate and fair consideration of independent or alternative parties and some form of accountability of media outlets would be just some good starting points.

On November 9th, one day after the election, the yard signs will be pulled from our neighbors lawns. Mother Nature will begin her slow, patient healing process and soon the holes will no longer be visible. But, the United States will be put to a severe test. Can we shake our animosities and work together to close the fissures in our national psyche?

Only time will tell.
– END –

Jim Raftus lives in Cumberland.
Contact @:

Donald “The Gunslinger” Trump


The more Donald Trumps speaks it becomes more and more obvious that he has seen too many Sam Peckinpah shoot ‘em up western movies.

12/22/15 – Grand Rapids, Michigan. Trump railing about journalist at a rally, “I hate some of these people, but, I would never kill them. Let’s see…ahhh…..
(hesitates, smirks and makes a wave with his hand) no, I wouldn’t.”

The crowd roared their approval. It was at this moment I truly became worried for our country.

1/23/16 – Sioux City, Iowa. Trump proposes, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

This description of the loyalty of his supporters serves as a surreal introduction, and counterpoint, to the following tirade.
9/9/16 – Pensacola, Florida. Trump categorizes Clinton as, “So protected she could walk into this arena and shoot somebody with twenty thousand people watching, right smack in the middle of the heart and not be prosecuted.”

His fanatic acolytes cheered this hyperbolic mendacity as if it was the word of God straight from the Bible.

This gunslinger mentality is more than a trend. It is a troubling, and revealing, character trait showing a man who fantasizes about violence, gun play and murder while in the most visible forums imaginable. If this is an important part of his public persona, what deeper demons lie beneath this frightening surface?

Coupled with the documented violence at many of Trump’s events, it is not a paranoid stretch to imagine on of his more unhinged followers taking a cue from the candidate to a dangerous and disastrous level. Trump did, of course, once bemoan that he misses the old days when a protester would be “taken out on a stretcher”.

The Republican nominee does not mute his proclivity towards violence when describing his plans for international policies. At the same Florida rally where he fabricated Clinton shooting someone he gave his solution for a recent incident between the U.S. Navy and Iran, “..when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and make gestures at our people, which they shouldn’t be allowed to do, they will be shot out of the water.”

Thus, Trump would order an act of war over a gesture. You could hear his supporters in the crowd screaming, “Yeah, kill them! Kill them!” without realizing, or worse caring, that it would enter America into yet another war.

Combine all these utterances with other well known comments such as, “…bomb the s*#& out of them” and “…with the terrorist, you have to take out their families.” and Trump’s fetish for violence and killing is shocking.

In the final stages of this exhaustive, and disheartening, campaign the question of which candidate is more “trigger happy” is being bandied about. Yes, it is a dangerous time in history, but, Gunslinger Trump’s view of the world as a Peckinpah sequel to The Wild Bunch or a Rambo film should clearly answer that question.

A dangerous man wants to lead our country.

– END –

Are the U.K. & U.S. Unspooling Together?


What do America’s 2016 presidential campaign and the upcoming, June 23rd, United Kingdom referendum on remaining in the European Union (EU) have in common?


And this is not a good sign for democracy.

I recently returned from a short visit to London. While there I conducted an admittedly informal poll with, perhaps, the world’s smallest sample size to gauge sentiment on these two looming political watersheds. Several London cabbies and a pocketful of bespoke suit clad businessmen enjoying their early evening pints were my unwitting participants. I volleyed the conversations back and forth between Clinton versus Trump and the EU question, or Brexit as the “stay” or “leave” referendum is cleverly called in Great Britain.

Both topics produced stunningly parallel responses.

Scratch the surface of the lorry drivers psyches and a stream of anger, fear and xenophobia quickly flows. Immigration concerns are at the heart of these emotions. The current European Union, codified in 1993, allows travel free zones between the member nations and this freedom of movement terrifies a fairly significant segment of England’s population. Ironically, most of our cab drivers who expressed these fears were obviously recently immigrants themselves. These men who were definitely in the “leave” camp on the EU referendum also were huge Donald Trump supporters. With only one exception, the cabbies showed no concern, only enthusiasm, for Trump’s “build a wall” and ending Muslim immigration stances for America. They felt the U.S. has become weaker under Obama. One declared, “Every time I see Obama on TV he is apologizing to someone.”

This fear of foreigners, this call for isolationism, is fueled by the notoriously sensational nature of London’s tabloid newspapers which run headlines warning that staying in the EU would cause England to lose control of its own coast and even lead to a merger with France!

Of course in the United States a large portion of Trump’s supporters are described as alienated, angry white lower middle to low income males whose amicus is fueled by conservative talk radio and Fox News pundits spouting apocalyptic scenarios if Clinton is elected.

On the other hand the London business people, men and women, sipping their ales, porters and stouts hold a different point of view from my cabbie acquaintances. More so than the drivers, they admit to being so preoccupied with the EU question that they have given only cursory attention to our Trump/Clinton option. Most of these folks in the financial segment feel confident that the “stay” option will prevail. While they have some serious concerns about certain aspects of how the EU’s workings affects their country they feel the alternative is far too dangerous. This certainly mirrors how many people in America will vote for Clinton despite their deep distrust of her past actions and motivations. One Briton even evoked the old “…devil you know..” cliche to justify his vote.

Sadly, and most troublingly, beneath all my simplistic prodding and the answers it produced I sense a seething, rancid cleaving of the bound fabric which help create both these nations. Allies, who together defeated our common enemies in two major world wars, the United Kingdom and the United States have long been seen as beacons of hope and opportunity.

Perhaps, I myself have been unaware or too insular and these cultural divides within each country have long existed, but I fear the arc of normal disagreement and debate has escalated to disastrous levels. Levels where, unlike the past, no compromises are possible and discord becomes the constant, dominant state.

This unspooling of the threads of common decency, understanding and compassion would be heartbreakingly catastrophic for future generations. It is time for a national reassessment of how we approach each other as we carry out the obligations of citizenry.

Perhaps the London cabbies, the London financiers, the feeling neglected American middle class and the U.S.’s 1%ers should all meet together for a pint, or a draft, of their favorite brew and talk to each other.

It beats the alternative.

Pawtucket Overdue for Vietnam Memorial.


Fifty years is too long to wait.

On May 21st, 1966, Marine Lance Corporal Antonio Maciminio became the first of twenty one soldiers from Pawtucket, Rhode Island to perish in Vietnam.

Exactly fifty years later an inspiring gathering of family and friends of these fallen heroes plus numerous Vietnam and Korean veterans met at Pawtucket’s Slater Park to honor them at an event called 21 Heroes. Amazingly, forty three years after the last troops left Vietnam in 1973, thirteen of these heroes’ families were in attendance. Widows, brothers, sisters and even Maciminio’s daughter, Vicky SanSouci, who never met her father, read their loved ones’ names in a roll call designated as 21 Heroes. They added poignant, personal remembrances of these brave men who gave their lives in service to their country.

It is sadly ironic that while there is a generic scalloped shaped monument labelled simply, “Pawtucket Veterans Memorial” at one of the entrances to Slater Park, nowhere in the city is there a memorial which pays tribute to all of these brothers -in- arms. While there are scattered individual plaques and renamed streets throughout the neighborhoods where these men spent their youths, it is far past the time to create a permanent memorial.

The genesis of the May 21st gathering was the recent publication of a book titled, “They Heard The Bugle’s Call”, written by retired Pawtucket Times journalist and Vietnam veteran, Terry L. Nau. Through extensive research and interviews the author skillfully tells the story of not only these 21 men, but also the impact their deaths had on their families and friends. Nau paints a vivid, sometimes painful, portrait of how some of Pawtucket’s finest young men of that era met their fate in the quagmire which was Vietnam.

Nau’s efforts with his self published book, his third related to Vietnam, has evolved through social media into larger projects the first of which was the Slater Park gathering.
Nau’s work also led to the Pawtucket City Council and Mayor Donald Grebien’s official Proclamation of May 21st, 2016 as “21 Heroes Day”.

Nau is donating the first $1,000 in proceeds from the sale of his book as a start up fund to create a permanent memorial wall. It will now take further action by the Mayor and the City Council to turn this nascent, long overdue, dream into a reality. Nau has created a web presence called Pawtucket’s Vietnam War Heroes to continue his efforts.

The title of Nau’s book was gleaned from a portion of a poem titled, “If I Die”, written for his parents by Army Specialist 4th Class Normand Plante.

“Don’t cry for me now that I’m gone.
The bugle called and I heard its song…..”
Here, in order of their passing are the 21 Heroes:
Marine Lance Corporal Antonio Maciminio, Marine PFC Ronald Pierce, Army Spec4 Normand Plante, Marine 1st Lt. Charles Yaghoobian, Army Spec4 Raymond Michalopoulos, Army PFC Robert Renaud, Army Spec4William Moore III, Army Spec4 James Cavanaugh, Army Captain Robert O’Brien, Army Colonel Walter Pritchard, Marine Lance Corporal James William Dean, Marine 2nd Lt. John William Hulme III, Army 1st Lt. Thomas Patrick Gill III, Army Corporal Robert Taylor, Army PFC Edward John Vaillancourt, Army Spec4 Albert William Haslam, Army Brig. Gen. Carroll Edward Adams Jr., Army Spec4 Valentino La Scola Jr., Army Spec4 John Francis Maloney, Army 1st Lt. Richard Stephen Dyer and Army 1st Lt. Michael Moran Dalton.

I was classmates of three of these men and as a Vietnam era veteran I still remember how the news of their deaths resonated in my soul even as I served 9,500 miles away in Alaska.

It is time for the City of Pawtucket to re-unite these 21 Heroes in spirit.

Fifty years is too long to wait.


The Black Hole of Bipolar Treatment


A family member has been battling bipolar disease since 1998. Other mental afflictions such as Alzheimer, dementia and depression are also serious, debilitating diseases which affect, and can destroy, many lives. However, my family has found that no other diagnosis is so quickly shunned by portions of the mental health system than bipolar. The system plunges this disease’s victims, and their families, into a dark rabbit hole of frustration.

The outlandish array of obstacles and hurdles facing those afflicted, and those attempting to help, are beyond confounding. The myriad regulations, combined with the very limited living facilities which accept bipolar residents, creates a daunting challenge making long term recovery an elusive goal.

My relative has now had five severe bipolar manic episodes requiring hospitalization in the past seventeen years. When the disease is under control this person is an outgoing, compassionate being. Unfortunately these events are occurring at a more rapid pace perhaps heading towards what is known as rapid cycling bipolar.

When hospitalized my relative is given the usual cocktail of lithium and Seroquel doses until the doctors feel stabilization has been achieved. Additionally some counseling and physical rehabilitation is included. When it is determined by the hospital staff that the patient should be released, often well before the family feels it is time, the real struggle begins.

Many times returning to the patient’s home is not the best step because bipolar victims are not good administrators of their medication and tend to rebuff family members attempts to help. Often, assisted living placement, where medication is professionally monitored, would seem the best option. However, in a Catch-22 that only Captain Yossarian could appreciate, a vast majority of assisted living facilities do not accept recovering bipolar residents. They make special accommodations for dementia, depression, Alzheimer…etc., but when you mention bipolar to admissions folks you literally see their faces become stern as they inform you that your relative is not welcome in their facility. I fully understand the concerns for other residents’ piece of mind and safety, but the vast majority of these homes just saying “No.” is avoidance not a solution.

In my family’s five experiences with the mental health system we have met many caring, dedicated professionals; psychiatrists, nurses and social workers, who do their absolute best in a system which hamstrings honest efforts.

I understand the need for patient’s privacy and rights. I agree with many aspects of the HIPAA code, but when the only criteria for keeping a patient in a psychiatric unit is that they represent a “clear and immediate danger to themselves or others” patients are released far too soon for recovery to be effective. Combine these early releases with the lack of assisted living options and it is no wonder that bipolar recidivism is at an astoundingly high rate.

While there is no one panacea, some steps seem obvious.

First, the National Institute of Mental Health should consider addressing more broadly based parameters for keeping patients on a longer more comprehensive care path. No one wants to return to the horrible practice of families dumping “difficult” relatives into institutions as was the case up to the mid 20th century, but the pendulum of patients’ rights has swung too far to the detriment of those afflicted with acute problems.

Second, there are 5.7 million adults in the United States who suffer from bipolar disorder. Savvy health entrepeuners should create assisted living facilities which cater to only bipolar residents. These homes would be staffed by professionals who specialize in bipolar treatment. Families all across the country are desperate to find such accommodations.

I write this as my family member is close to being released from the hospital. Because of all I have described above, four previous attempts to stay stable have followed the same pattern leading back to another manic episode. We are in the throes of a two pronged dilemma; first convincing our relative that assisted living is their best hope for the longest duration of stability, and second, finding an appealing, competent facility undaunted by the challenges posed by bipolar disease.

I’ve heard the layperson’s simplistic definition of insanity being doing the same thing exactly the same way over and over again and expecting different results.
Using this definition the ironic conclusion is that the mental health care system is insane.

Change is imperative.

Guns and Silence – (Published in the Providence Journal on 10/9/15)


Personally, I really hate guns. I immediately hated the M-14 I was issued at basic training in 1968. It was the first real gun I had touched. I hated the sound, smell and harsh recoil of the M-14 when forced to use it on the range. While most of my fellow trainees earned pins adorned with “Expert”, I barely managed to reach the score needed to get a pin that said simply, “Rifle”.

I so hated guns that one year later when I had to re-qualify I devised a scheme so I would not have to shoot. Each shooter had a scorer squatting next to them. Then they would switch places. I scored for my buddy, Gary Smith. We were both 6’4” and lanky. Gary liked hunting. After he shot his round we feigned switching and Gary fired for me. A true win-win.

Last night another mass shooting occurred, this time at a college in Oregon. Immediately the raging battle over gun laws erupted once again. You might assume I would land squarely in the take all the guns away camp.

Did I mention that I really hate guns? Gary Smith, who I stayed in occasional contact with until he passed away in 2014, liked guns. He was one of the kindest persons I’ve ever known.

I always factor Gary into my thinking about guns.

To oversimplify, there are two types of shootings; mass murders and single incident crimes. It seems to me these two types of horrors require two types of solutions.

Mass murderers are insane. Even those who yell, “Allah Akbar” are religious zealots who have gone insane, as are the extreme social outcasts and white supremacists who slide into psychopathic states. The current coinage for them is “lone wolves”. Here is where I have serious reservations. All of them have some family, friends, classmates or even store clerks they must have contact with as they spiral into their nightmares, plan their mayhem, and acquire their arsenal of weapons. How many people must turn a blind eye to allow these tragedies to occur? I am well aware that mental illness takes on myriad forms and causes astounding grief for many families struggling against it, but, when a loved one, or even an on-line friend, steps over the line and shows themselves to be a danger to others silence is not an option. All too often, post incident, we hear people say, “He was a nice guy who kept to himself.” In reality we often discover journals, on-line posts or videos of the mass murderer ranting against society. Silence is not an option.

The mental health care mechanism also appears to share some blame. While patient privacy is extremely important it is not meant to be sacrosanct . Doctors, who are trained to recognize psychosis, should err on the side of public safety when deciding who needs to be identified as a potential risk to society. Silence is not an option.

We have a nation of 320 million people. Unfortunately, mental illness will drive some souls to commit despicable acts, but more diligence by all can prevent some future disasters.

As to gun control itself, I think the first step is to more rigorously enforce existing laws. Imagine if law enforcement, plus national and local government agencies, were to expend as much effort and money on stopping the flow of illegal, unregistered guns as they do pursuing minor drug offenses. A shift in policing policy which targets gun trafficking certainly seems warranted.

Beyond enforcing existing laws, I do agree on limiting the firepower which a citizen can acquire. Without entering the arcane argument of what constitutes an assault weapon, I have to wonder why a person needs a high capacity, magazine loading weapon to take down a deer or dissuade an intruder in their home?

I would never have wanted to take away my friend Gary’s hunting rifles, but I surely want police to confiscate any illegal, serial number obscured handguns causing young black males to die at alarming rates in our cities and any weapons intended for wars instead of recreation.

Silence is not an option and legal status quo is not a solution.

– END –

Civility Trumped – (Published in the Providence Journal 9/23/15)


Ben Franklin advised, “Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none.”

My wife and I were recently shopping for a new car. We told the salesman we’d just met that we had already shopped the dealership across the street and were not impressed.

“Oh yeah, I hear they’re real a _ _ holes.” he quickly replied.
We had meant we were not impressed by the other dealer’s car offerings.

Last week we were checking into a small hotel in Rockport, Massachusetts. The man at the desk, who we learned was the owner, did not know where our hometown of Cumberland was so we told him it was about ten minutes away from the Wrentham Factory Outlets.

“The clothes they sell there are s _ _ t.” he informed us.

Two small incidents several days apart, yet, so indicative of the pervasive loss of civility in our country. I don’t believe I am a prude. However, both these merchants decided it was perfectly fine to use profanity when speaking to two senior citizens, a grandmother and grandfather, within minutes after meeting us.

In my youth, as part of the growing up process, I cussed along with the rest of my gang. By the time I enlisted in the army in 1968 I was fairly proficient in profanity. Then a funny, actually unfunny, thing happened as I was sitting in the barracks listening to the ongoing torrent of swear words which dominate army dialogue. I suddenly, and vividly, decided that the word “mother” was never intended to be the first half of a hyphenated vulgarity. The picture these vilely connected words painted was so scurrilous to me that I stopped swearing. I made no grand pronouncements, just stopped. Interestingly, I eventually noticed that the young soldiers around me cut back on their swearing as well. Oh, certainly not instantaneously, or completely, but there was a definite, detectable sea change in their vocabularies despite the fact that I never preached, or, as their squad leader commanded them to watch their language.

Post army and into my business career I continued my obscenity boycott even in the rough and tumble world of commerce and I saw the same uplifting affect on my colleagues behavior. Now, I can’t say I was a 100% abstainer, but my few slip ups had an interesting affect as well. If I threw out a heated “damn” or “hell” in a meeting I noticed everyone sat a little straighter in their chairs and their focus would increase. The one time in 20 years that my Administrative Assistant heard me drop the “f” bomb, not directed at her but an employee who had badly abused my trust, I thought she was going to melt in her chair. I quickly apologized to her.

Why do I think this is important? Because lack of civility has a corrosive effect on a country. It is a creeping disease which leads to rancor, divisiveness and myriad social ills.

Some lack of decorum appears innocent and victimless such as Vice President Biden whispering to President Obama, “This is a big f _ _ _ing deal.” when the President was signing the Affordable Care Act in 2010. But, why should such a prominent figure be so lax at an open public forum? What does it teach our nation’s youth?

Other examples are more insidious. Gangsta’ rap lyrics from the 1990’s categorized young black women as “bitches” and “whores” denigrating a whole spectrum of impressionable girls. Where was the moral outrage from black leaders and clergy?

While not yet stooping to the level of obscenity, the nascent presidential political campaigning is already one of the most uncivil in history and we have not even reached the first primary event. Donald Trump has escalated to the top of early polls seemingly partly based upon; denigrating all Mexican immigrants, disparaging a decorated P.O.W., misogynisticaly attacking a female reporter and chiding the looks of a female Republican opponent. (I am tempted to swear here.)

What can an individual do when faced with uncivil behavior? What should my wife and I have done when confronted by a trash talking car salesman and inn keeper? Seems to me there are three options.
First, you can grin and bear it.
Second, you can immediately raise your objection.
Third, you can have some patience and wait to see if there is a second indiscretion then walk away and take your business elsewhere.

Using this formula, Mr. Trump seems well past his quota and it will be interesting to see which of the above three options the electorate chooses in the upcoming primaries.

The novelist Henry James once opined, “Three things in human life are important; the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind.”

– END –

Jim Raftus lives in Cumberland. Contact: Follow:

Fissures – Repairing The Cracks In America’s Foundation

FISSURES (Published in Prov. Journal 8/10)

My suburban home is 50 years old. This Spring there was a little water in the basement after some rainfall. Inspection showed some small cracks in the foundation. Not much of a DIY (Do It Yourself) guy, but, I sealed as best I could and the problem seems to be solved.

If only there could be DIY solutions for the ever widening fissures in American society. The United States appears to still be having serious “settling” problems and the foundation is showing cracks. Long standing divisions, which have been allowed to fester for generations; racial, religious, liberal/conservative politics are now joined by newer conflicts; immigration, sexual orientation and economic disparity. This confluence of divisiveness has created a wave of negativity which floods our nation’s culture and saps its energy.

Sometimes, however, like the water appearing in my basement, you need a precipitating event to realize the full extent of the problem. Well, the past couple of years have certainly provided many painful red flags for Americans; police shootings of unarmed black men ( with the correspondingly disgusting revenge murders of innocent policemen), the continued consolidation of wealth in the hands of a select few while the middle class disappears, and the tragic slaying of nine black church members in Charleston evolving into raging debates over the merits/evils of the Confederate flag.

These events are clarion calls. History tells us that the responses will go two ways; positive and negative. The positive is that these events, and their root causes, can no longer be ignored. The negative is that these events will give the haters more to hate.

There are no Pollyanna answers to America’s issues. The United States has endured and prospered for nearly 2 1/2 centuries. The good news is that while our foundation may be developing fissures, its base, built with morality and justice, is still strong. The vast majority of our citizens, far removed from the virulent rantings of the extreme right and left, recognize the need for DIO (Do It Ourselves) solutions. These solutions require, however, the difficult acknowledgement that often problems can be fixed by a blend of both liberal and conservative steps.

Here are a couple of “helicopter” level examples.

On income inequality progressives bemoan the fact that according to a 2013 Credit Suisse report the top 10% of the richest people now own 87% of the world’s wealth, while conservative rail against entitlement program frauds. Well, many rich people create numerous jobs, support multiple charities and pay their appropriate share of taxes. Liberals should concentrate on exposing the cheaters and pursuing financial regulations which are fair and equitable. They should not be demonizing all the well to do. They must also accept that some fraud and generational habit forming is occurring in the government’s safety net programs for the poor. Conservatives, meanwhile, must stop stereotyping all people on some form of government assistance as “Cadillac welfare queens” and join liberals in seeking more balanced, and simpler, support systems and tax regulations.

The tinder box problem of race relations also requires a balanced approach. The U.S. Department of Education reports that in 2013 the high school graduation rates for white students was 86.6% while only 71% for blacks. The Forum on Child and Family Statistics reports that the average SAT scores for whites are 527 in reading and 536 for math with corresponding scores of 428 and 428 for blacks. Clearly educational needs for blacks must be addressed, but, in new more focused ways.

Sadly, other statistics show some of the set backs for young blacks are self inflicted. The Center for Disease Control reports that in 2013 a staggering 71.5% of black babies were born out of wedlock. This compares to 29.3% for whites. Many of these black babies are the progeny of very young parents. Nothing chains a person to poverty more firmly than this situation. Conservatives are correct that black clergy, parents and teachers must be far more actively involved in steering their youth in a more responsible direction.

The skill of balancing both sides of an issue is sorely lacking in present day politics. The solutions must come from a sensible, tolerant citizenry who provide DIO (Do It Ourselves) initiatives which attack problems from all sides.

The fissures are many, but not unrepairable. It is time for DIO action.

– END –

The Unlikely Story Of Independent Bookstores



It was a sight I had feared I may never see again. A cadre of youngsters sitting on short, colorful stools, on old fashioned Captain’s chairs or, even, on the carpeted floors absorbed in books. Real, bound, paper and ink books. This scene was repeated on two trips to the recently opened An Unlikely Story Bookstore and Cafe in Plainville, Massachusetts. Now, granted, An Unlikely Story Bookstore and Cafe has a cache which is impossible for other independent bookstores to duplicate. Its owner is megastar children’s book author Jeff Kinney creator of the immensely popular Wimpy Kid franchise. Kinney, to his undying credit, has poured a sizable amount of his earnings into creating this wonderful new haven for book lovers of all ages.

In that sense An Unlikely Story Bookstore is an outlier, but the really great news is that the long predicted demise of independent booksellers may be averted. Or, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of their demise has been greatly exaggerated. Entrepreneurs are slowly reversing the trend of decreasing independent bookstore locations which was caused by the triple whammy of e-reader sales, Amazon and the Great Recession which started in 2007. The American Book Association reports that since 2009 the number of independent stores has increased by 27%. This good news is somewhat tempered by that fact that while the numerical increase brings the number of locations up from 1,651 to 1,971, this still pales compared to the nearly 4,000 independent stores in operation during the 1990’s. This past carnage means most everyone has a sad tale of favorite bookstores now forever gone. My wife and I spend part of our summers in Falmouth on Cape Cod and we’ve watched two out of three stores fold.

Still, the national trend is up and there are good stories to tell in our local area as well.

Barrington Books, long a staple in their hometown with their wonderful mix of books and gifts, is opening a new 5,000 square foot store, called Barrington Books Retold, this coming Fall at Garden City in Cranston.

Island Books, conveniently located for beach goers at Wyatt Square in Middletown, opened a branch store on eclectic Spring Street in Newport a couple of years ago. One street up from the bustle of Thames Street it is a quiet oasis where you can find those vacation reads.

Down in Mystic, Connecticut the popular Bank Square Bookstore heralded in the independents rebound by almost doubling their square footage two years ago. Building on this momentum they will be opening a 2,500 square foot bookstore and cafe this Fall in Westerly located in the former Savoy Hotel on Canal Street. It will be called, aptly, The Savoy Bookshop and Cafe.

Some independents rose like the Phoenix from the ashes of other failed enterprises. Wakefield Books, open since 2011, took over the space previously inhabited by the ill-fated Walden chain. Owner/Manager Bob Ryan, who worked for Walden, has succeeded by providing the personal touches not seen at big box stores and by crafting his selections to the taste of his clientele. Ryan says that sales have incrementally increased each year and claims that former e-reader users are returning back to printed pages. According to Ryan membership in the New England Independent Booksellers Association has also shown increases in the past two years.

This new increased activity combined with some surviving Providence icons such as the Brown Bookstore and Books On The Square, where I recently attended a standing room only reading from the Providence Noir book headed by local author Ann Hood, offer wonderful choices for Rhode Islanders to put down their electronic devices and enjoy the slow pleasure of the turned page. While book appraisers consider the small triangular dog ears of a used book to be value killers I cherish them as benchmarks of a journey to the places only literature can take us.

Let us celebrate the unlikely, but happy, turn around in this one very important part of daily life.

Jim Raftus lives in Cumberland.