State fails to curb usurious pawnshop rates

This investigative piece was published in The Boston Globe April 30, 2007:

For the last seven years, Massachusetts banking officials have made fitful efforts to stop some of the state's poorest cities from letting pawnshops charge usurious interest rates for loans to the down-and-out.
Yet nothing has changed. Tens of thousands of the state's poorest people continue to pay municipally sanctioned pawnshop interest rates of 7 to 10 percent per month -- 84 to 120 percent a year -- despite a state rule limiting the annual rate to 36 percent.
In one case, it took the state Division of Banks 18 months to hold a hearing on the 10 percent monthly rate approved by Fall River officials.
State and local oversight is so scant that an investigation by the Globe and Fox 25 News found that some pawnshops do as they please:
In Brockton, for example, pawnbroker Philip S. Cohen opened Ideal Pawn in 1992 and has been charging a largely poor clientele 10 percent monthly interest since -- without city approval. Cohen acknowledged his business has been very profitable; so much so that he paid nearly $1.6 million in 2005 for a 5,000-square-foot home on six acres in Dover.
READ THE FOX 25 NEWS REPORT: Taking advantage of the poor
And in Worcester, city and state officials authorized pawnshops to charge 2 percent a week on small loans, but 3 percent a month -- 36 percent a year -- on loans above $100. Two weeks ago, police officials started a crackdown after reporters discovered that Worcester pawnshops were charging 2 percent a week -- 104 percent a year -- on all loans.
"Absolutely outrageous what they are charging," state Representative John F. Quinn , a Democrat from Dartmouth, said in an interview. "There should not be excessive profits in this industry -- particularly on the backs of the poor."
The 10 percent monthly rate charged in some communities is, in practice, often much higher than that-- higher even than what loan sharks charge. That's because the full monthly rate applies to any part of a month. For example, at Fall River Pawnbrokers, a Globe reporter left a wedding ring as collateral for a $40 loan. Six weeks later, it cost $53 to retrieve the item -- $40 to repay the loan, $8 for two months' interest and a $5 "transaction fee." The cost for the six-week loan was 32 percent.
Since 2003, Quinn has filed legislation three times to place a statewide cap of 36 percent per year on pawnshop interest. If Quinn's legislation became law, it would replace a century-old statute that has caused more squabbling between state and municipal officials than oversight of the industry. The law gives cities and towns the power to set rates, but includes a section that says state banking regulators have to approve the rates.
Finally, Quinn's lonely crusade is drawing attention. On Beacon Hill, where executive power changed hands this year, Daniel Crane, the top consumer official under Governor Deval Patrick, and newly elected Attorney General Martha Coakley expressed anger and chagrin when the Globe and Fox 25 News raised questions about the exorbitant interest rates, and the state's hapless efforts to rein them in.
Crane said any pawnshop that is charging more than the 36 percent annual rate the Division of Banks has set as the highest rate it will approve is violating the law.
In an interview, Crane said it appears the issue has fallen through the cracks, partly because banking regulators have no clear power to enforce the interest rate limits under the law. He said he has asked Coakley's office to investigate. Coakley said she would step in, but said new legislation may be needed to clarify the law. Coakley called some of the interest rates "outrageously high" and said they should be outlawed.
In Boston, where the police commissioner holds the rate-setting authority, pawnshops operate under the 36 percent annual limit. But 120 percent annual rates are being charged in Fall River, Lynn, Taunton, Haverhill, Malden, Hudson and -- without municipal approval -- Brockton. Annual rates ranging from 84 to 104 percent are being levied in Chelsea, New Bedford, Springfield, Lawrence, Chicopee and -- until last week -- Worcester.
Typically, pawnshops buy or make loans on items -- most commonly jewelry -- that people leave as collateral in return for quick cash. Pawnshop customers are typically poor and working-class consumers in financial straits and without access to conventional credit. Among the other pawnshop regulars are drug addicts desperate for cash .
Ordinarily, a pawnbroker will loan a fraction of the value of an item -- $100, say, on a $200 necklace. Under the law, the borrower has four months to claim the item and pay off the loan -- $100 plus $40 in interest and handling fees if the monthly rate is 10 percent. If the item is not reclaimed, the pawnbroker takes ownership and can sell it for its full value, recouping his loan and the interest. In theory, borrowers are entitled to any surplus amount from the sale, but they must claim it.
To put the numbers in context, if the 10 percent monthly rate were applied to home loans, a homeowner with a $200,000 mortgage would pay $240,000 a year in interest alone.
Crane expressed concern that poor people who patronize pawnshops have little understanding of the interest rates they are being asked to pay.
To document the interest rates, Globe and Fox 25 reporters asked municipal officials to verify that they had approved the rates local pawnshops are charging. City officials in Brockton, however, could find no evidence of any approval for Ideal Pawn, which opened in 1992.
Last week, a Globe reporter talked to "Phil," who identified himself as Ideal Pawn's manager. Phil said he did not know when the rate had been approved because he had worked there for only a few years. He said the owner would know, but was on vacation and had left instructions that he not be disturbed.
A check of Massachusetts corporate records, however, showed that "Phil" -- Philip S. Cohen -- is the company's founder, owner, and president. In a subsequent conversation, Cohen admitted he had misrepresented himself. Asked when the city approved his 10 percent rate, he replied, "To my knowledge, they never have." Cohen said he had had no idea pawnbrokers needed such approval, at least not until 2003 when he read about the requirement in a newspaper article.
Even then, Cohen said he did nothing to rectify the error. "I don't think the onus was on me to contact the city. The onus would be on the city to contact me," Cohen said. But after hearing from the Globe, Cohen said he would approach city officials. He expressed confidence they would sign off on his 10 percent monthly rate.
In Worcester, where police officials have jurisdiction over pawnshops, the city set the rates in 1997 -- capping interest on any loan of more than $100 at 36 percent a year. Sergeant Kerry Hazelhurst said he believed pawnbrokers were abiding by the rates, until a reporter told him the city's five pawnshops were charging 104 percent annual interest on all loans. Police then visited pawnshops to demand they comply with the 1997 rates.
Richard Rizzo , who owns the Money Stop, a pawnbroker shop in Worcester, denied that he had ignored the interest rate limits in hopes that no one would notice. "No. Not really. That's not what I was doing at all," he said.
Rizzo said he doesn't believe the city ever set a 36 percent rate limit in 1997, but then conceded that he isn't sure. "That's not true. Well, I shouldn't say that's not true. They might have had them. We were never informed of that."
In Lynn, a reporter received an $80 loan on an 18-carat gold chain at a pawnshop, Sherman Loan and Jewelry, at a monthly interest rate of 10 percent. The City of Lynn approved that rate in 2003, but banking regulators in 2005 rejected the rate, in part because neither the city nor local pawnbrokers could provide any evidence to justify it. James Lamanna , the city attorney, told a reporter that the City Council is on the verge of lowering the rate.
Kenneth Stauffer , the owner of Sherman Loan, declined to be interviewed.
Crane, who is director of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, which oversees the Division of Banks, said he believes pawnbrokers can do just fine charging 36 percent annual interest.
Edward D. Bean , the owner of Suffolk Jewelers on Washington Street in Roxbury, Boston's largest pawnshop, said 10 percent monthly rates are uncalled for. But Bean said that pawnshops cannot be profitable if they're restricted to 3 percent monthly interest -- the rate in Boston -- unless they do business with an enormous volume.
The volume statewide worries Crane and Coakley, both of whom noted that drug addicts frequently visit pawnshops to pawn stolen items. "You have to assume that a certain percentage of the goods that come in may be fenced, may be stolen," said Coakley, who was Middlesex district attorney for eight years.
This article was reported for a seminar in Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University by two graduate students, Donna Roberson and Mike Beaudet. Beaudet is also the investigative reporter for Fox 25 News. Their work was overseen and this article was edited by Northeastern journalism professor Walter V. Robinson, former editor of the Globe Spotlight Team.

Nashuan part of bringing dog to late soldier's family

This article was published in The Telegraph on March 13, 2011.

Hero captured the state’s heart in 2007 when, as a puppy, she was brought from Iraq to the family of Justin Rollins, a 22-year-old soldier killed in action.

Now, four years later, Animal Planet will take Hero’s story to the nation. And Nashua’s own Cmdr. Griffin Dalianis will be part of the show.

Rollins’ longtime girlfriend, Brittany Murray, received a message through her Facebook page from The Discovery Channel asking about the possibility of doing a feature on Hero.

“I thought it was joke,” Murray said.

When she realized the request was in earnest, she contacted the Rollins family.

“That was a complete surprise,” said Skip Rollins, Justin Rollins’ father. “But I never say no to her, so I said, ‘Sure.’ ”

In January, producers for the show came to the family’s home in Newport, and the Rollinses spent hours in interviews. Skip Rollins said he felt a connection with the show’s assistant producer upon learning he lost a close friend in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Rollins said Sept. 11 was the motivating factor in his son’s enlistment in the military.

“He promised us he’d do a good job,” Rollins said.

Murray also said she found the Animal Planet crew great to work with.

“They’re just a really great group of people who genuinely care,” Murray said. “It means a lot to have them invested in our story.”

Dalianis received a call from an Animal Planet producer a few months ago asking him to talk about his role in making sure Hero made it home. Dalianis agreed, and met the Animal Planet crew in Concord.

“The cameras were no more than 3 feet from my face,” Dalianis said of the interview, remembering how he was directed to look at the camera as he answered questions. “I never saw so much audio and visual equipment in my life. It looked like a Best Buy, there was so much stuff there.”

Dalianis said telling his story for the camera was intimidating – trying to make sure he didn’t mix up his words or make a mistake.

“I’m still afraid of what I’m going to sound like,” he said.

But overall, the experience was a good one, allowing Dalianis to make peace with a difficult time in New Hampshire’s history.

“Having this done is a little bit of catharsis for me,” Dalianis said. “When he died, several other soldiers died in those three weeks. It was like I was going to a funeral or a wake every two days. So many young people.”

Dalianis said he’s glad Hero is going to have her moment of fame.

“It’s good for families to know that their sons and daughters have not been forgotten,” he said.

Army Spec. Justin Rollins was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on March 5, 2007. Rollins was assigned to the 2/505 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne as an infantryman. During foot patrols, several soldiers frequently saw a pregnant dog and checked in on her during the patrols.

The night before he died, Justin Rollins found the dog had given birth in the back room of an Iraqi police station. According to his father, Justin Rollins yelled for his men. They came in with guns drawn, and found Rollins lying on his back on the floor covered in puppies.

“It’s just the way he loved animals,” Skip Rollins said. “It was kind of a release from the war for him – kids and dogs.”

Skip Rollins said his son never liked to talk about the lives he had taken in Iraq, but wanted to focus on the lives he saved, including those of stray animals, in the war-torn country.

“Saving lives was more important to him,” Rollins said. “… He was running around trying to rescue everything. To us, (Hero) was the last life he ever saved.”

And for the Rollins family, Dalianis was the first point of contact to getting one of the puppies.

Dalianis, as the civilian aide for the Secretary of the Army in New Hampshire, is charged with the task of meeting the remains of soldiers at the closest airport. Typically, Dalianis visits with families of soldiers killed in action after the casualty officer and chaplain meet with the family.

Dalianis has served as a civilian aide for the Secretary of the Army for 10 years. He is also chairman of the Mayor’s Veterans Council in Nashua and chairman for the Veterans Administration Rehabilitation Committee in Washington, D.C., a post to which he was appointed by former President George W. Bush.

He is the commander of Chapter 7 of the Disabled American Veterans in Nashua. Dalianis served during the Vietnam War in the Air Force for four years.

Dalianis arrived in Newport to meet with the Rollins family the day before Justin Rollins’ wake. It was then, Dalianis said, that Rollins’ mother, Rhonda Rollins, approached Dalianis about getting one of those puppies.

Dalianis spent the night in Newport and attended the services, which were held at the Newport Opera House.

“It was the largest wake of the 30-something funerals for servicemen I had gone to up to that point,” Dalianis said, adding that more than 2,000 people turned out to bid Rollins farewell.

Convinced that a family who lost their son fighting for the United States deserved their wish, Dalianis promised to do what he could to get a puppy.

“When you look into the face of a mother who has borne the brunt of this war with the loss of her child, you can’t say no to anything,” Dalianis said.

Justin Rollins held and took photos with several of the puppies. But, Skip Rollins said, the fact that his family has the dog with which his son was photographed was just chance.

“It just works out that she was in the pictures,” Rollins said.

Rollins credited Murray for being the “driving force” behind bringing Hero to her new home. Murray stayed in touch with Dalianis about getting one of the puppies from Iraq. Dalianis, in turn, called the Secretary of the Army. Meanwhile, he advised the family to begin contacting their congressmen.

The soldiers who served with Justin Rollins had taken one of the puppies, but hadn’t received official permission to get the dog. After being reprimanded by their first sergeant for having the dog without permission, the soldiers let the dog go.

When the Rollins family received permission to bring the dog home, the soldiers went back to the litter. By then, Murray said, there were only a few puppies left.

Sgt. Jason Wheeler, Justin Rollins’ friend, said he remembered Rollins playing with Hero, and took her for the family.

“The dog is just awesome,” Skip Rollins said. “She just reminds us a lot of him – a lot of personality and always on the go.”

Murray said when Hero came to New Hampshire, she slept with Murray that first night. Murray said Hero has a wild side – she’s territorial and was hard to house break – but she’s also a love.

“I really feel we have a very special connection,” Murray said. “You can tell at times she’s very … appreciative, almost.”

And, Skip Rollins said, Hero always remembers Murray.

“I think she definitely remembers that she’s the one who got her over here,” Rollins said, describing how Hero gets so excited to see Murray that she starts shaking with excitement and urinates when she spots the woman.

But Murray believes it’s Justin Rollins who deserves the credit.

“It just adds to Justin’s memory,” Murray said. “Justin got her home. I couldn’t have got her here without him.

“I know he would be so honored to have her here.”

Toxic Toys:Parents Say Recalls of More Than 25 Million Toys Will Affect How They Shop For the Holidays

This piece was published in December edition of Bay State Parent.

Jennifer Rios of Westminster has a box full of Thomas the Tank Engine toys that her children, ages 6, 4, and 2, are not allowed to play with. She is not entirely sure which ones have been recalled and which are safe. But she is sure that some of those toys she bought for her children have been painted with lead paint. So, no Thomas the Tank Engine play time in her home.
"I just feel like the whole recall thing is confusing," Rios added.
In 2007, lead paint was discovered on children's toys manufactured in China. Then, there were small magnets in toys that could be swallowed. Recently, a chemical mimicking the date rape drug GHB was found in Aqua Dots, an arts & crafts toy.
As mid-November, there have been 70 toy brands and 25 million products, including well-known names such as Dora the Explorer, Barbie, and Elmo, recalled this year alone.
Erica Bodden, of Shrewsbury, the mother of children ages 8, 11, and 13, said she is less concerned about the recalls, since her children are older; but still, it's something she thinks about.
"It's something I have in the back of my mind for sure," Bodden said. In fact, while she may not Christmas shop differently this year, she said she's "put the kibosh" on toys from gumball machines, since even older children put necklaces and chains often dispensed by the machines in their mouths while fiddling with their jewelry.
And parents are now in the toy-buying season.
"I feel like Christmas this year, I'm not going to spend as much," said Rios. "Toys are a major waste of money now, because you don't know what's safe."
This year, she says, she'll stick to books, hats, mittens, and will steer clear of anything made in China.
David Parent of Westford, a father of a 4- and 6-year-old, agreed.
"I think they have a lot of problems in China."
When shopping, he will be looking to see where products are made.
However, Betsy Madson, owner of the Classic Toy Shop, in Worcester, said most toys are made in China. Parent will likely have a hard time finding toys that have no parts made in China, she added.
"You might as well zip up your wallet," Madson said.
Still, Madson said she is seeing a lot of concern - and confusion - about the toy recalls.
"Actually, what I'm seeing are more grandparents are petrified of making the wrong choice that mom and dad will veto," she said.
Jack Schylling, president of Schylling Associates, of Rowley, which specializes in old-fashioned tin and wooden toys, said parents can shop with confidence this year. Schylling would only be interviewed via an e-mailed list of questions. The company has recalled four of its toys for lead paint: Dizzy Ducks music box, spinning metal tops with wood handles, the Duck Family wind up toys, and the Robot 2000 tin robots. Since the recalls, the company does not grant live interviews.
Schylling, a father of three young children, said his company is now requiring additional testing from vendors and has ended business relationships with those who cannot lived up to the company's standards.
However, he wrote, parents should not worry too much. Often, "the problems with lead paint contamination were caused by a few paint factories essentially cheating their customers." Toy companies acted in good faith, believing the paint they used on toys was safe. In September, Schylling wrote, China has banned lead paint in the country, so eventually, it will begin disappearing from the country altogether.
"The system is working," Schylling wrote. "The toys being sold today are safer than they have ever been. There are many good people working very hard to protect our children."
Hasbro Inc., of Pawtucket, R.I., did not respond to a call to talk about toy recalls.
Bibi Nageer, director of the Apple-a-Day daycare center in Worcester said parents need to check their gifts against recall lists and be cautions of plastic toys and toys with metallic finishes.
Wooden toys are often the best bet, but parents still need to be careful of varnish on the toys. She recommended parents bring the latest recall list with them when holiday shopping.
Expect kids to wheedle, Nageer said, "They don't know that some of these toys that they would like to have could hurt them."
Dr. Margarita Perez, associate professor of early childhood development at Worcester State College, said she also is concerned about how the toys will affect Christmas donations this year. She said the idea of sharing "has become part of" the holiday season. It's certainly something she discusses with her own grandchildren.
Dr. Ericka Fisher, assistant professor of education at Holy Cross College in Worcester, and a mother of a 2- and a 6- year-old, said she's also concerned about toy donations, especially since toys often reach children whose parents may not have access to the television or Internet.
"We're just passing on a problem from our child to someone else's child."
Perez and Fisher also advised heeding the age warnings on toys.
"Parents need to know their child well when it comes to deciding what's appropriate," said Perez
Often, said, Fisher, parents believe their child is smart enough to play with an older child's toy, never considering that there may be small magnets or choking hazards in the product, not appropriate for younger children.
Perez said the recalls have made parents question how safe their children's toys are in general. She said the desire for inexpensive toys had led to outsourcing production to countries that have more relaxed regulations.
While stores have been responsible in removing tainted toys from the shelves, she said there's a bigger issue at work. She said parents should talk to their legislators and urge stricter safety standards for children's toys - even if that may create more expensive toys in the future.
"You pay or you pay," said Perez.
In the meantime, she recommends buying toys from a reputable toy store.
Check toy labels, and visit the local hardware store to ask questions about paints or varnish.
Fisher said she's going back to puzzles and books this Christmas and other toys that engage children in healthy, imaginative play.
"I believe in going back to the old standbys," said Fisher.
And that means less mass-market products. Fisher said while Thomas the Tank Engine is popular with children, there are other toys trains to buy.
"I'm honestly hoping to make it through Christmas this year without buying any character merchandise. And, that will be a first in seven years of Christmases."
Donna Roberson is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and the assistant news editor at The Telegraph newspaper in Nashua, N.H.
How Lead Affects a Child
Unfortunately, there are no telltale signs of lead poisoning, said Dr. Michael Shannon, associate director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Center at Children's Hospital Boston and a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
"There's no way to know," said Shannon, which is why pediatricians often test children for lead poisoning.
Often the buildup of lead in a child is gradual until the lead affects the kidneys, the liver, and the brain, said Shannon. In fact, lead affects virtually every organ in an individual's body, he added.
According to the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic's Web site, children may experience irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, unusual paleness, and learning difficulties when lead levels in their blood are high.
Treatments for lead poisoning include prevention by removing the source of the lead poisoning, nutritional supplements and, in extreme cases, medication which binds with the lead so it is excreted in the urine.
Dr. Shannon said parents who have had toys recalled should find the product and send it back to the manufacturer. Do not dispose of the toy in the trash, since lead is a toxic substance; and do not donate the toy.
He said parents do not need to call their pediatrician and have their child tested for lead poisoning, since young children who put toys in their mouths may have some leeching of lead into their blood, but are unlikely to have ingested enough to suffer from lead poisoning.
"I would call that exposure trivial," said Dr. Shannon.
In the meantime, parents who may worry they may miss that all-important recall, can get the information online, said Jeannette Hudson of the Children's Safety Network in Boston. Plus, Bay State Parent magazine post recalls on its blog. To access the recalls, visit and click on recalls on the left-hand navigation links. Hudson said parents can sign up for emails of the latest recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission at To review past recalls from the Commission visit To search the Commission's recall list, visit To buy the right toy for your child's age, visit

Impressions from crossing the 'Green Line' in Nicosia

Published in the Spring 2007 issue of the Diplomatic Courier:

Young men Surreptitiously checked out the college women from the corners of their eyes, grinning, nudging, and whispering to each other. Boys will be boys—even in Cyprus—except when they’re forced to become adults. These young men held guns. And these college students were standing on the Green Line in southern Nicosia, peering over a wall into the UN Buffer Zoneknown as “The Dead Zone.”

The conflict between the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the so-called Turkish Republic
of Cyprus—TRNC (recognized only by Turkey) has the dubious distinction of being
the United Nation’s longest peacekeeping mission, and, although there has been no large scale violence since 1974, it remains an island in turmoil.

“I remember waking up to the sound of a machine gun,” said one Greek Cypriot official, who was a child in 1974. Bullet holes still pit his childhood home. Although unification has been flirted with in recent years, the situation remains at a standoff. While the world turns its eyes to Darfur, Israel and Palestine, the Cypriots remain in their little piece of paradise, with a green line drawn across an island the size of Connecticut.

Almost as if they’re willing the world not to dismiss theirs as “just another ethnic conflict,” Cypriots on both sides whitewash their memories of the past. They tell tales of a Utopian time when Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived side by side in harmony—before the fighting in 1974 and the official split in 1983. Ignored is the long history of separate communities, resentment and occasional outbreaks of violence.

Yet the feeling of the other hangs about the island. While Cypriots rushed to assure the students that they consider everyone a Cypriot, the students heard people talk in cafes of the “Turks” and the “Greeks.” Opening the Green Line has done little to help the sides interact. The south eats Greek food, speaks the Greek language, and practices Greek customs. In the north, Cypriots follow the Turkish way of life. There is no Cypriot language, nor Cypriot customs.

“Cyprus has no culture,” said one of the students, noting that the Cypriots identify themselves with their motherlands more than with their own country. “I think to me that’s been the saddest thing so far.”

If the Green Line divides the island physically, memories and culture divide Cypriots emotionally. Feelings run deep on both sides, and many Cypriots can’t forget how life used to be before the fighting began in earnest. They long for their homes and a unified country.

Each side has its own story. Greek Cypriots have lost as many as 1,200 people in the
north—people that disappeared, unaccounted for to this day. There are no numbers on how
many Turkish Cypriots were lost, although many claim that even before the fighting broke out, Greek Cypriots murdered Turkish Cypriots and terrorized their communities.

Today the memories of those violent years linger in Nicosia, a dark, psychological backdrop
to a bustling city. Nearing the border, neighborhoods deteriorate and once-loved homes sit abandoned. One such had become a parking lot for taxis, so designated by graffiti sprayed upon the sides of the stucco mansion, which sits without windows and doors, a tree growing in what was once the front hallway.

Before entering the buffer zone from the south, the students are assaulted with propaganda. A military post contains a monument to missing Greek Cypriots, and trees decorated in yellow ribbons commemorate the same. The checkpoint the students cross is littered with signs detailing Turkish atrocities and decrying “Turkish Law and Order,” telling the story in both Greek and English of a young man shot by Turkish soldiers underneath pictures of him and
his wife. Greek Cypriots show their anger in the stores that dot the border—“No Border Market,” “No Border Underwear” and “The Berlin CafĂ©.”

Greek Cypriot soldiers barely looked up as the students crossed the southern line into No Man’s Land. Students walked the dirt road past vacant storefronts and empty homes that had fallen into decay, weeds pushed their way through stone steps and roof tiles slipped to the ground. The area has been designated as a wildlife sanctuary and has one Northeastern student remark, these manmade posts only keep out men. “The cats go everywhere though,” she noted.

At the northern line, crossing became a process—visas were filled out and stamped, information entered on old computers and passports looked at. But not stamped. Never stamped. Students check their passports; a TRNC stamp could mean not being allowed back into the south.

Taxi drivers sat on the other side of the line, hoping to pick up some business. Instantly, signs changed from Greek to Turkish. People in northern Nicosia busied themselves with the day-to-day details that needed to be attended to, conflict or no, in Adidas coats and Nike hats. Turkish soldiers patrolled their posts on top of the wall that divides the city, overlooking a playground in which no children play. Men sat about in the town center, smoking and chatting. Slightly shabby, the fashions, the people, the stores resembled the western trends of the 1980s.

“It’s kind of like time suspended,” said senior Jennifer Adrien.

Students had mixed emotions about the crossing. Some thought the process was simple, others were surprised by the soldiers, the visas and the seriousness surrounding the process.

Ashley Adams said the first time she crossed “It didn’t look as bad as they made it sound.” Yet she said crossing the Green Line made her more aware of the conflict’s effect on the Cypriots, noting that the north, cut off from much of the world, resembled the poorer neighborhoods of Turkey.

“It was so vastly different,” Adams said. “It was much more night and day than I expected.”

“I don’t think I expected the creepy feeling I got walking through there,” senior Alyssa
Rallis said of No Man’s Land. “It was very desolate.”

Patrick Cavanaugh, a junior, said he thought the crossing would be easier—like crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada. Despite the divide, he said, “When people were walking by, I couldn’t pick out, ‘That person’s Greek and that person’s Turkish.”

Freshman Michelle Blanter said she felt the Green Line had almost become a tourist trap. “It was like walking into Disney World. They have to check your tickets and there’s all
these tourists around.”

But Cypriots don’t look forward to crossing a Green Line with the happy anticipation of a child headed to Disney. Indeed many Greek Cypriots said they’ve crossed the Green Line once, but they’ll never cross again. Humiliated and infuriated by showing their passport to Turkish soldiers before walking into the northern part of their capital city— and the northern third of their country— many refuse to go through the checkpoints. Having crossed once to see what they left behind, they’ll never again show their passport to a Turkish soldier. Hurt and angry, longing for their homes, Cypriots lick the wounds that reopened when they crossed “the border,” while tourists snap photos of the last divided city in the world.

Others visit their old homes from time to time, remembering their past lives. “It’s a journey of rediscovery,” said one Greek Cypriot, who visits her home in Kyrenia from time to time. She said she’s trying to make peace with the past and accept the loss of her childhood home. The first time she crossed the Green Line, she found Bulgarian Turks living in her home.

“That was really hurtful for me,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “I cried and cried a lot.” Partly, she said, because in her mind foreigners occupied her home. Every time she visited her home, she’d cry, in part because Turkish Cypriots were not living there.

Trying to communicate— she spoke Greek and they spoke Turkish—she felt awkward and embarrassed, but she kept reminding herself that this house was her home. But it was the new residents’ home also, she said, “these people have memories here too.” Eventually, she began to feel that she was lucky to have once lived in Kyrenia and now others are living in her home, “and they also belong.”

Another Greek Cypriot said the first time she drove across the Green Line, she was trembling. “I was holding both hands on the seat, but still I was jumping.”

She went to see her grandmother’s home, only to find others living in it. At first, she said, she
couldn’t accept the loss of the place where many of her childhood memories were made. She viewed the occupants as renters, believing they would eventually leave and the house would once again be hers. In her mind, she began to make plans for the future, thinking, and “I’m going to repaint this wall. I don’t like this red.”

Eventually, she realized that she was not going back. Everything had changed, she said, with a half-hearted smile. “I went to find the old cinema and I couldn’t find it. I went to find the old church and I couldn’t find it. It was like a ghost that was haunting me.”

In a sense, crossing the Green Line has made many Greek Cypriots realize that they can’t go back to ‘the good old days.’ “When they realize they can’t go back, they don’t want to go back anymore,” she said. “They lost hope.”

A Turkish Cypriot, now living in the north, laughed nervously, as he remembered crossing the Green Line to visit his home in Limassol. “Oh Gosh,” he said, running his hand through his hair. As he crossed, he could only think of the politics and the fighting. But, he said, “It was very good.”

He made peace with the loss of his home years ago, building a new life in Kyrenia. Back in his old neighborhood, he was stunned to find he was lost. “I couldn’t find the place because everything has changed,” he said. His home is now a tailor shop and the coffee shop where he drank his morning cup is now an antique store. Some of his old neighbors still live in their homes. Now he crosses the Green Line every couple of months to have dinner with his former Greek Cypriot neighbors.

Others are not so comfortable with their countrymen. One jewelry maker, born in Kyrenia and raising his young family there, said he feels the Greek Cypriots blame the Turkish Cypriots for the split. “We feel sorry for them, but it’s not our fault for this. It’s the government’s fault. They ask us to obey, we obey.”

He said opening the Green Line has made things harder on most Turkish Cypriots. While some living in the north of Nicosia may see increased trade as Greek Cypriots cross to take advantage of the lower-priced goods, Turkish Cypriots living further north, such as in Kyrenia, see only increasing prices, he feels, brought on by joining the European Union and opening checkpoints for trade.

Greek Cypriots who do come all the way to Kyrenia often come only for the casinos. “They come, they play, they go,” he said. “There is nothing for the business people from the Greeks.”

“Many people are suffering now,” he said. While prices rise, salaries stay the same and, since the north’s airport is run by an unrecognized country, it’s illegal. Tourists must fly into the south and drive to the north or fly in through Turkey. Many, instead, choose not to come at all. Jobs are scarce and there’s little to do except open a business. This jeweler studied to be a chemical engineer, “and look what I’m doing,” he disgustedly gestured towards his shop.

His eyes softened as his four-year-old daughter was offering me a candy and waiting for me to say “thank you” in English before she collapsed in peals of laughter. He’s worried about her future, especially after the north voted for reunification and the south voted against it. “Always I dream,” he said softly. “When I look to her sometimes I’m crying.”

“Denktash, maybe he was right when he say you can’t make peace with these people,” he shrugged. “We don’t believe Denktash before. Now we start to believe.”

This feeling of hopelessness and anger is trickling down to the next generation of Cypriots, who, though not alive during the fighting in 1963 and 1974, carry with them a fear of the mysterious “other side.”

Some, such as one 17-year-old Greek Cypriot, has been fed on stories of past violence by
his family. He remembers growing up to hear how Turks raped Greek women and kidnapped
Greek Cypriots to use them to perform chemical experiments. He said he’s angry with all Turkish people and Turkish Cypriots—even if they didn’t participate in the killings, they profited from them.

The teen said he feels as if he’s poorer than other 17-year-olds whose families owned property in the south, despite his family owning two homes—one on the beach. While others will inherit what their families have been passing down, and accumulating for generations, he will only inherit his father’s wealth.

He did cross the Green Line once to see his grandmother’s house, which now has Turks living in it. He said he will never cross the Green Line again, or show his passport to move about in his own country.

“Why should I show my passport to a Turk?” he asked bitterly. “Every one of them would
be dead if I had my way.”

Meanwhile, a 27-year-old Greek Cypriot said she believes the governments are to blame for the tensions, not the people. Raised on stories of her mother’s summer trips to Kyrenia with her father, she said, it was like hearing a fairy tale. “She was talking about things that were completely strange to me.”

So the when the Green Line opened, she headed north to see the places her mother talked about. “I started to believe I would die without seeing them.” Yet her happiness at seeing the north was tinged with a feeling that she wasn’t doing the right thing; that by filling out a visa to cross the Green Line, she was acknowledging the north’s right to exist as a country. “We’re one country,” she said adamantly. “We’re not supposed to show passports or IDs.”

Sometimes, it’s as if the north is thumbing its national nose at the south. Names of places have been changed; not just translated from Greek to Turkish, but completely changed. Turkish flags decorate the north, including one painted and illuminated on the Pentadactylos Mountains. One young Cypriot believes it’s an attempt to alienate the Greek Cypriots that once had a heritage in the north.

“I really do not appreciate that,” she said. But she is hopeful, “I do not believe that people are bad. I believe what is bad is the government.”

Meanwhile, a 32-year-old Turkish Cypriot woman in the north is still hoping for peace. On a slow day at her car rental shop, she has time to talk about the first time she crossed the Green Line. “I did not feel insecure in any way.”

She returned to live in the north, where most of her family now lives, eight years ago. Her family lived in Limassol, where her father worked for the British Embassy, and fled to England in 1974, where they began again, losing their home in the south.

“We were looked after by the English. They put us in a hostel,” she said. Talking to
her friends, she said, most of them want reunification; it’s the older generation that’s hesitant. “They really don’t want peace with the Greeks because of what they did. They don’t seem honest.”

Like Greek Cypriot children, she was raised on horror stories of the atrocities of the other side. In her family, stories circulated about her cousin’s husband’s family. “Apparently the Greeks buried them alive,” she said carefully. “Apparently.”

But she said the younger generation isn’t haunted by the old memories. Crossing the Green Line, she said, is no big deal. What matters is how those on the other side feel.
“Have you been to the other side?” she asked eagerly. “How have you found it? Do they want peace?” Unsure of what to say, I smiled and shrugged, “It’s about the same as here.”

Students crossed the Green Line several times during their trip, and they became used to the procedure, the walk past the crumbling homes and the anti-UN graffiti as they readied their visas in preparation for the checkpoint.

One student, clicking several pictures of an empty storefront littered with graffiti and rubble, stopped and lowered his camera. “You know, I feel kind of bad about taking pictures of other people’s misery….”

A Brief of Issues & Facts
  • Cyprus is comprised of citizens of Greek decent(80 percent) and of Turkish decent (20 percent).
  • The country has a long history of Greek, Turkish,and British colonization. Cyprus did not becomeits own country until 1960.
  • The country’s constitution established a GreekCypriot President and a Turkish Cypriot VicePresident in an attempt to balance power on bothsides. Greece, Turkey, and England all reservedthe right to occupy the country if its stability wasthreatened.
  • Peace was short-lived in the country with manyGreek Cypriots favoring enosis (unification withGreeks) while Turkish Cypriots favored takoism(maintaining Cyprus as an independent country).
  • Fighting broke out in 1963. Turkish Cypriots flednorth while Greek Cypriots fled south. Both sidesabandoned their homes. Politicians drew a greenline through the capital city of Nicosia—the infamousGreen Line.
  • UN peacekeeping troops arrived in 1964, butskirmishes plagued the country until 1974, whena military junta in Greece attempted to overthrowthe Cyprus’s government. The Turkish militaryarrived in Cyprus to fight the takeover.
  • In 1983, Turkish Cypriots in the north declaredthemselves their own country —the Turkish Republicof Northern Cyprus—TRNC. The Turkishmilitary remains in northern Cyprus to this day.
  • “TRNC” President Rauf Denktash opened thecheckpoints in 2003, allowing Cypriots to movebetween the north and the south.
  • Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annanpresented the Annan Plan in 2004. The northapproved the plan. The south defeated it.

New Hampshire Superior Court takes some hits

Appeared on New Hampshire Public Radio March 5, 2007. Transcript is below:

New Hampshire’s Superior Court handles criminal cases, domestic relations, and civil suits.
It’s the only place in the state where one can get a jury trial.
But due to a reorganization, the number of judges in the state’s Superior Court is going to drop from 24 to 22.
Two of the positions are moving over to the newly created Family Court.
And that loss has Superior Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn concerned the system won’t be able to keep up with the case load.
"Our remaining jurisdiction is such that we should have about 24 ¾ judges rather as opposed to 22. Being at 22 is going to… we really do need more judges than that." [Judge Robert Lynn 5 :16]
The judicial branch says it needs more judges because the case backlog has grown 39 percent over the past decade.
The Governor’s 5 percent budget increase is just enough to maintain what the courts already do. To add to the belt-tightening, of those 22 judges who are left, 10 can retire this year.
The reason for the potential mass exodus is due to a change in the judicial retirement system four years ago.
Judges can now retire at 60 instead of 65.
However, Justice Lynn says there’s no reason to panic.
"Of the ten that are eligible to retire I don’t think anywhere near all 10 or even half are likely to retire." [Judge Robert Lynn 2 :08]
And, says Lynn, if any judges do retire there is a plan for how to replace them.
Still, John Hutson, Dean of Franklin Pierce Law School, says the combination of fewer judges and newer judges could add delays.
“Cases could slow up because the judges aren’t available because judges are working hard it’s not like judges that would still be sitting would have a lot of extra time to deal with cases so the judicial process could slow up. Cases that should be going to trial won’t be going to trial. You’re going to be having less experienced judges” [John Hutson2 :27]
But the New Hampshire Bar Association’s President Rich McNamara is a little more optimistic.
He admits there is a learning curve for new judges, but he adds that most New Hampshire residents won’t feel the pinch.
"It’s interesting time certainly. I think that all of these new nominations will be a test for the system, but we’ve been able to attract good people in the past and I hope we’ll be able to do it in the future and I expect we will" [Rich McNamara2 :10 ]
Justice Lynn isn’t worried that the Court won’t be able to attract good people.
He just wants to make sure the system runs as smoothly and as speedily as possible.
"In the mid and late 80s it was very difficult in many of the larger areas of New Hampshire – Hillsboro County, Rockingham County Merrimack County --- it was very difficult for litigants in civil cases to be able to get cases to trial. I think most people in the state – most citizens and legislators and judicial officials, etc. realize that was a very detrimental situation for our system of justice." [Judge Robert Lynn 5 :27]
Lynn doesn’t want to go back to those days.
The Governor’s proposed budget for the Court system is currently before the House Finance Committee.
For NHPR News, I’m Donna Roberson in Concord.

High tech answer to the lack of nurses

Appeared on New Hampshire Public Radio April 25, 2007. Transcript below:

Natural Sound of Machine. (:02)
Tom Getters had a stroke over a month ago.
His doctor wants to record his blood pressure three times a day.
But instead of driving to the clinic, Getters relies on a device about the size of an alarm clock to make sure his doctor gets the information he needs.
“And this tells you where to put the cuff cause it has the arrows point to your artery. Press the green start button … it’ll tell you to that if you don’t do it … and relax. That’s all there is to it." (Tomcuff :12)
Getters is one of a growing number of patients who are part of the latest trend in home health care, called Telehealth.
Patients no longer have to wait for the daily nurse visit.
They hook themselves up to a machine that takes their vital signs and asks them a series of questions.
The machine then sends that data through the patient’s phone line to the Visiting Nurse Association, or VNA.
A nurse reviews the results and calls the patient or the doctor if the numbers don’t seem right...
Lake Sunapee VNA Clinical Director Scott Fabre said the technology allows chronically ill patients to receive 24 hour monitoring – a service the local VNA can’t provide.
"That data can pick up unfavorable trends before the patient can actually feel those unfavorable trends. The machine may notice that somebody that’s got heart disease, cardiac disease, may have put on four pounds over the last four days." (Scottheart :20)
Such weight gain in a heart patient could mean fluid retention – leading to congestive heart failure and a trip to the hospital if it’s not caught in time.
Janet didn't want us to use her last name.
She's just had hip surgery
She says using this new technology makes her feel more secure.
“It waits for me to get there. I was rushing initially and the first time I did it my blood pressure was quite high and they called me shortly thereafter to find out if anything was wrong, which was a very comforting thing.” (Janet1 :11)
Home monitoring has reduced the number of nurses the VNA needs at a time when nurses are in short supply.
But Andrea Steel, President and CEO of Lake Sunapee VNA, said some patients have found the technology overwhelming–
But then again so did the staff when the VNA first started the program in 2000.
“I think in the beginning some nurses didn’t trust the readings. It’s a little different technology that they had been used to.” (Andrea2 :08)
And since the the system saves what could be unnecessary visits to the doctor or hospital, Steel says it cuts healthcare costs.
“We had a little boy – 11 ½ or 12 – who had a heart transplant and he used one of these units for about a year and he never had any emergent care visits down to Boston during that year because we picked up when his medications needed to be adjusted.” (Andrea4 :20)
The machines run about 35 hundred dollars each, but neither Medicaid nor Medicare cover it.
But Dr. Louis Kazal at the Dartmouth Medical School is working to change that.
Kazal, who also runs the New Hampshire Telehealth Program, is working with legislators to get Medicare coverage for telehealth.
“In fairness to the Medicaid program they have not been asked to because we haven’t had a significant amount of clinical care being delivered via telemedicine in the state. It’s just beginning to, so it take a while for Medicaid to digest the complexities of telemedicine and where it might fit into their budget.” (Kazal :24)
The New Hampshire Telehealth Program says home health monitors have caught on in the Lakes region and southern New Hampshire.
Now some home health care services in the north country are looking into jumping on the bandwagon.
Pretty soon instead of a daily knock on the door from a visiting nurse, this may be the standard sound of home health care…..
Natural Sound 2 (:07)
For NHPR News, I'm Donna Roberson