Friday, October 28, 2011

Dogs Go to School. See Them Learn.

Story and video by Michael Orton
©2011 ImageProviders – All Rights Reserved
filed elsewhere and used by permission

Salt Lake City – 

Like lots of kids, George and Jack went to school today, but they had to have prior, special permission to do it. They are dogs with Intermountain Therapy Animals whose mission is to provide companionship to young readers, to build reader confidence and provide incentives for specific and individualized learning. Today that was as easy as "A...B...C..." In their service, they are called-upon to offer interaction, activity or specific therapies with screened and trained handlers, all free of charge to clients and other program providers who enlist their help.

ITA dog handlers are trained to recognize situations where a dog works better than a person. Both George and Jack are Reading Education Assistance Dogs® who use their trained, kind and gentle nature, coupled with books including canine themes, to assist other learners acquiring fundamental skills. They are frequent visitors at area homes, hospitals and of course, schools. Working for the Utah-based ITA, they also have chapters in Montana, Idaho, Nevada and as far east as Kentucky.

Though participating dogs like George and Jack cannot read themselves, their handlers admit that they certainly understand language, because the handlers must routinely spell words that they don't want them to recognize immediately. Words like "Walk," or "Treat" or the name of a special and favorite friend. In this way, they are quite similar to other learners acquiring literacy skills. 

Wednesday's "Reading Buddies" effort included a visit by Utah's first lady, Jeanette Herbert, who is a dedicated booster of reading and learning. She came to visit the children and the dogs, with some experience and books to share. VIDEO:

©2011 ImageProviders – All Rights Reserved; Used by Pernission

Recent research indicates that "lap reading" is the most significant predictor of future literacy in children, and new evidence also suggests that it even works well when the roles are reversed: If you were reading to a special friend like George or Jack... or even to the governor's wife, you learned that today you were as important as anyone else in the state. 


For more information about Intermountain Therapy Animals, their numerous programs for adults and children, they can be reached at:  Area 801 - 272- threefourthreenine

Thursday, October 20, 2011

SLCPD Chief on Civil Liberties

video by MICHAEL ORTON for ImageProviders 
©2011 – All Rights Reserved


Earlier this year, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank was asked about the training his officers receive to handle civil demonstrations organized on the streets by groups like PrideInUtah, PeacefulUprising and OccupySLC. Owing to the fact that these protests and rallies have happened with little, if any, incident or mishap and no violent clashes with law enforcement authorities, Salt Lake City's police department can come under some scrutiny for effectively doing things right. In recent days, authorities in Boston and Detroit have had far less success in keeping public protests in their cities calm.

During the July 26, 2011 sentencing of environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, Chief Burbank was asked how his department maintains a professional demeanor so that Salt Lake City can be a safe showplace for conventions and tourists, including the worldwide conference from the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (the mainstream Mormons). His response about ensuring citizens' civil liberties likely brands Utah's capitol city as most respectful to those who have something to say in a large, public forum. Burbank explained that "[My officers] go out and approach things from: 'what is a fair and balanced approach for everybody?'" VIDEO:

Police Chief CHRIS BURBANK on July 26, 2011 on civil liberties in Salt Lake City 
Camera and interview by MICHAEL ORTON for ImageProviders ©2011 - All Rights Reserved

In July, when DeChristopher's sympathizers blocked traffic and commuter rail with a peaceful but disruptive sit-in mid-street, observers witnessed arrests being made in a careful, deliberate and compassionate manner where the use of force mirrored the cooperation of the violators. Those wanting to be arrested as a sign of their commitment to civil disobedience protest were informed by the Chief himself that their failure to disperse from the street would indeed result in their arrest. They were then told what they could expect during their booking and eventual release, absent any other outstanding wants and warrants. In contrast, uniformed Homeland Security agents at the Moss Federal Courthouse that evening were visibly offended and angered by the protestors' tactics, but they were not involved as order in the streets was the responsibility of municipal, not federal, law enforcement officers. Cooler heads prevailed all around, even though many rail commuters were verbally upset about being late for dinner and responsibilities at home.

During the local OccupyWallStreet protests in October, a continuing presence of dissident gatherings in Pioneer Park was accommodated, and protestors enjoyed cordial relations with uniformed SLCPD officers who were present again to preserve order and public safety for all. An increasingly effective tactic used across the nation is the simple yet effective deployment of able female officers and during last Friday's meeting between protestors and local public officials, SLCPD Sergeant Jenn Diederich was the personal and congenial face supervising public safety in Pioneer Park. "We haven't really needed any additional resources here, and we attempt to be both visible and accessible to respond appropriately and in a professional manner," Diederich said. Designated smoking area signs made by the protestors were clearly visible and no illicit drug usage was apparent to those who came to the historic park to witness the Occupy movement firsthand. As of Day 11, OccupySLC showed little signs of abating, though relocation is planned by organizers and city authorities in an attempt to maintain the peace amongst dissidents and an ongoing census of the city's homeless.


October 20, 2011 – 1600 local time

The OccupySLC people received word that their permits would continue to be renewed on a daily basis, allowing them to remain at Pioneer Park as before. The Farmer's Market, organized by Salt Lake City's Downtown Alliance, has been a favorite of inner city residents on Saturdays at the same location. It will also continue to operate through the end of October, as planned.

OccupySLC's Facebook page has grown to over 8700 followers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Overwhelming Congressional Redistricting

story and video by Michael Orton
licensed through ImageProviders
©2011 – All Rights Reserved


More than a million dollars and several weeks worth of deliberation were left behind when Utah's Republicans decided to allow their state leadership to finalize Utah's congressional redistricting. The new census tracts were analyzed, according to House redistricting committee chairman Ken Sumsion (R-56) and Salt Lake County, traditionally democratic, was divided into three of the four new congressional districts. The state's democrats would have preferred to keep that county intact within a larger federal district but the majority diluted or eliminated the Democrats' influence on the process entirely. VIDEO:

Utah House Representative JOEL BRISCOE (D-25) 
video and interview by MICHAEL ORTON for ImageProviders ©2011– All Rights Reserved

House Representative Joel Briscoe (D-25) has a state district that presently includes Salt Lake and Summit counties, where many of the state's democratic and most affluent voters reside. During a break during Monday night's deliberations before the final congressional map was adopted, Briscoe said, "You'd be hard-pressed to say that what's gone on the past two weeks has been good [public policymaking] process on drawing congressional maps." His democratic colleagues denounced the last-minute republican steamrolling as a way to ensure that many Utah voters would not have any influence or representation in congress at all. Because diversity is not valued in Utah, the reddest state just got even more red.

It was generally accepted and reported that the Republican caucus substituted a new, last-minute definition on a map that came from state Republican party headquarters after all of the public deliberations and input had been shoved aside. The Utah Republican caucus has traditionally been closed to both the media and the public, prompting many to wonder why and if the public process had been only lip service. The Utah democrats traditionally and always have opened their caucus proceedings and plan to continue to do so, said minority House leader David Litvack (D-26). When the redistricting work was finished close to 11pm on Monday night, many state democrats left Arsenal Hill demoralized and disillusioned while more than one Republican thought that they might have a chance to go to a new seat in Washington, and to represent a state that some say is overwhelmingly conservative by brute force.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OccupySLC Day 6

by Michael Orton
©2011 ImageProviders–All Rights Reserved


Today's "General Assembly" near 3pm was attended by approximately three dozen people and four or five dogs on a balmy and bright October day. The agenda covered committee reports and assignments for their upcoming meetings with public policy makers, some of whom would have been called "the establishment" a generation before.

"We've got 'burners' and 'punks' and the homeless here, and I'll tell you, those 'burners' [regular attenders of the Burning Man festival] know how to get things done without a lot of money," said Alex Roseman, one of Occupy Salt Lake's spokesmen. A stop by the medical tent revealed four young men sorting through supplies, including a newly donated box of rubber gloves for "body substance isolation," which protects first responders from blood borne pathogens. The meals tent showed adequate precautions for sanitation, including a bleach rinse for dishes. Volunteers indicated that the county health inspectors had been by.

Amber, a woman in her mid-twenties, is a part time employee of Salt Lake City's public library. She was soon to leave OccupySLC for work and then to care for her three year old daughter at home. "I'd say that for every person you see here right now, there are two others at their jobs. Many go to their homes at night, and are not here at Pioneer Park full time." When asked about her general financial situation, she said that every pair of shoes she owns has holes in the soles. Amber admitted to be one of the "working poor." Competent and articulate, she works more than one part time job.

William Rutledge, a principle organizer of Occupy SLC indicated that he and his family run a small food processing plant in Sarasota, but that he's been a Salt Lake City resident for the past two years. While speaking to a reporter, Rutledge recognised Salt Lake City PD Deputy Chief Michael Brown strolling through the tent village. "This man is awesome. We're in touch with him and his people every day, sometimes more than once a day."

Kaylee, another twenty-something member of the movement, dressed stylishly and staffing the information tent, said that she feels completely safe in the park. When Brown was asked about upcoming events on Friday, where some dignitaries and public officials will be present to listen to the group, he said that no real plans have been made for additional police presence or deployment. "They [the public officials] already know how to respond to this kind of thing. We won't really have more than our normal bicycle patrols scheduled." Brown's office is less than eight city blocks away from this venue. The occupiers have had a valid city special event permit since Day 1.

Pioneer Park has been the summertime site of the Downtown Farmer's market, held in summer and early fall each Saturday. Brutledge says there's a waiting list of about a year to participate. Looking out over the tent city presently occupying the same space the market does, he says, "This will all be gone on Friday nite, to return on Sunday." This is an indication of Occupy Salt Lake's organization and its non-violent cooperation with the police department. "We're not a mob," he smiles, "We're a movement." Whether he understood it or not, it was an indirect reference to recent comments by congressional leaders and others around the nation who have called the OccupyWallStreet participants an unwashed "mob." Policy makers like Eric Cantor have been walking comments like these back, perhaps because they're hearing from sympathetic constituents.

OccupySLC is presently making plans to remain in Pioneer Park into winter.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dabakis Addresses the Power

by Michael Orton
Video licensed through ImageProviders
©2011 All Rights Reserved


It became a rhetorical contest by two smiling cobras determined to advance the interests of the people of Utah. One was the president of the Utah state senate, the other the chairman of the state's democratic party. At the end of the day, most declared it all a stalemate.

During the most recent meeting of the Utah redistricting committee, state democratic party chairman Jim Dabakis charged republicans with doing the public's business behind closed doors and said that when this has occured in other states, "democrats have walked out, stopping the process." He added, "That can't happen here." While democrats on the redistricting committee were quick to acknowledge the cooperative efforts of their republican colleagues, Dabakis asked that there be "no more closed meetings where maps are bickered over and fought over internally. It doesn't do the state any good; it doesn't do the citizens any good." He said that to have the entire redistricting process reduced to backroom negotiations in one night by a dominant political party, "is 'sausage making,' but it's the public's sausage," referring to the often distasteful and divisive aspects of public policy efforts by various party leaders.

Because of additional and shifting census information, every ten years the nation's representation in congress must be reconsidered. This year Utah gains a seat in congress and it is the congressional boundaries that are now in play, largely determining where and how the parties will be able to advance their influence at the federal level. Democrats are charging Utah republicans with steamrolling the process and excluding the interests of democratic and progressive voters. They say this keeps people from the polls when people feel that their votes don't matter. VIDEO:

Testimony of JIM DABAKIS, democratic party chairman for the state of Utah
video by Michael Orton for ImageProviders - ©2011 All Rights Reserved

Dabakis said that it has come down to "raw, political, brute force" on the part of a dominant party that is now operating behind closed doors and attempting to convince the public that they are all being served by this partisan effort. This prompted a response from Waddoups who said that since the chairs in the statehouse and in congress were determined by all of the people of Utah, that the seats went to the best candidates.

But the debate about congressional redistricting has recently become a controversy even internally amongst the republicans, many who are now reassessing their candidates running, or about to run, for the new congressional district that is being defined by these very legislators. Utah Representative Gibson said that the doors were closed because there were republicans fighting with other republicans over how the boundaries should be drawn and presumably, for whom. "If I have a fight in my house, I'm sorry but all of the visitors are going to have to leave."