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Laugh and Learn

“Learning is natural. School is optional,” reads the pithy motto of North Star, the alternative not-a-school for teens in Hadley.

But even the freest of learning isn’t always, well, free. So on Friday, Jan. 24, North Star will host a fundraiser featuring the Valley improv group The Ha-Ha’s. The “evening of family-friendly mayhem” takes place at the North Star building, 135 Russell St. (Rte. 9), at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 a person or $20 per family. For more information, go to http://www.facebook.com/northstarteens. (For more on North Star’s innovative, self-directed learning approach, see “The Unschool,” June 7, 2012, http://www.valleyadvocate.com.)


Coakley: Workers Deserve (Pancake) Dough

Wage violations in the Valley? At a landmark eatery like the West Springfield IHOP? Well, yes, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had this reprimand for the restaurant last week: “Workers deserve to be paid all of their wages, including tips. Restaurant employees should not have to front the business costs of the restaurant out of their pay.”

Coakley had just settled a wage case with RME Enterprises, operators of the IHOP (International House of Pancakes) on Riverdale Street. IHOP workers alleged, among other things, that the company forced servers to pay bills for customers who left without paying, and to pay for meals customers rejected because of alleged “mistakes.” The operators of the restaurant will pay $100,000, which will go back to the workers. Asked if he wanted to talk about RME’s side of the issue, RME president Robert Max Evans told the Advocate, “I have absolutely no comment.”

In this case, the workers’ complaints reached the attorney general through the office of state senator Gail Candaras of Wilbraham. Workers with wage issues can also get support through Western Mass. Jobs With Justice (wmjwj.org; 413- 827-0301).


By the Numbers


That’s the median net worth of members of Congress in 2012, according to a new report by the Center for Responsive Politics. The data came from financial disclosures mandated under the 2012 Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge—or STOCK—Act.

Other interesting revelations from the report:

• Democrats had a higher median net worth ($1.04 million) than Republicans ($1 million).

• The median net worth of senators was $2.7 million, while for members of the House it was—boo-hoo—a mere $896,000.

• The only subset that showed a drop in median net worth was Senate Democrats, a development CRP attributes, in part, to the departure of Massachusetts’ John Kerry (2011’s wealthiest senator, with $248 million) to become Secretary of State and the death of New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg ($87.5 million).

The full report is available at http://www.opensecrets.org.



That’s the percentage of American voters who now describe themselves as Independent, according to a new Gallup poll. That number, the highest in 25 years, means that more people are identifying as Independent than as Democrat (31 percent) or Republican (25 percent, down from 34 percent when George Bush was re-elected in 2004). The poll showed that the growth in the number of Independents has taken more people away from the Republican Party than from the Democratic Party, but 5 percent fewer people identified as Democrats than in 2008 (36 percent), when Barack Obama was elected the first time.

During the fourth quarter of last year, which brought a government shutdown and the problem-ridden rollout of the Obamacare website, the number of people identifying as Independents hit a high of 46 percent.

What to take away: Americans are sick of the two-party system and its dysfunctionality, and these numbers show what they think of it.


Worth Quoting

“As more destination-style resort casinos are built, the average distance customers travel is reduced and the market area effectively shrinks. Some analysts see the trend for states to approve gambling legislation as a way to keep gambling revenues in-state, eventually leading to an oversaturated market. … Furthermore, the business model of a resort style casino is for all of the customer’s needs to be taken care of within the facility, thereby reducing any likely cross visitation between regional casinos or regional tourism destinations. Oversaturation of the market is a real potential as the total number of customers interested in gambling is unlikely to change drastically enough to accommodate the influx in resort casinos in the Northeast.”

—From a report commissioned by the City of Northampton from Camoin Associates on the potential economic effects MGM’s proposed Springfield casino would have on Northampton. The report estimated that Northampton would take an economic hit of $4.4 million to $8.8 million if the Springfield casino opens.

Author: Advocate staff

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