Belated recognition: passing of reporter Joyce Mullins

Joyce Mullins died on the 4th of July 2009.  I, and many other people who appreciated Joyce, didn’t know, possibly because The News Journal apparently never ran an obit.

Joyce was a for-real reporter.  She never, as far as I know, had a high-profile job or an especially wide audience for her work.  That was our loss. 

We depend on reporters–I include bloggers, etc–to hold up mirrors, making us, or at least giving us the opportunity, to see ourselves are we really are. 

When reporters are weak, or their editors and employers corrupt or self-serving, our collective self-image becomes blurred.  We start to lose our connections to reality and our ability to recognize and correct our problems.  Politics tends to become "fact free" if the real, as opposed to official, facts aren’t presented. 

Reporting in Delaware seems in especially critical condition these days, not the least due to the manipulative skills of Governor Jack Markell and his people, themselves media savvy –Markell was a high-level Comcast guy–who understand how to exploit the economic difficulties of the media by feeding them ready-for-regurgitation promotional copy.  A consistently disgusting example is Delaware First State Media, which almost always has Markell’s weekly propaganda message on its front page, without analysis or rebuttal.

Here’s an example of Joyce’s work (Salisbury, MD, Daily Times, October 18, 2007):

Back in the late 1960s a college friend of mine killed herself a few months after her release from Philadelphia’s infamous Byberry Mental Hospital.

Her name was Patrice — it was the name she had chosen for herself.

It suited a girl who liked to make her entrances with a pirouette.

The authorities had no interest in knowing why she committed suicide. I thought I knew why.

Patrice had been a brilliant student and a beautiful nymph of a post-adolescent. She became a non-person when she was committed to Byberry.

Byberry swallowed her up. It took her friends six months to find out she was there and another six to get her out.

Before she was released, I went to visit her. She was unrecognizable — a bloated, shuffling creature with straw-like hair.

Patrice stared blankly into the distance and told me, in whispered monosyllables, that her psychiatrist had raped her.
I believed her.
 
I worked for a Delaware newspaper. I couldn’t write a story about a Pennsylvania hospital.
 
But I was young and foolhardily bold, so I decided to investigate her allegations for myself. I made an appointment with the doctor, ostensibly to get his permission for her to have a weekend pass.

Unlike Patrice, I was not in a drug-induced haze. I was strong enough to trip him, knock him down and run when he lunged for me.
 
He never reported to work again after he attempted to assault me. That was the way the hospital chose to deal with it when I reported what happened. They knew how to do cover-up very well. They had years of practice.

Byberry’s sins finally caught up with the state and the hospital was closed down in 1990. If you want to know more, just Google Byberry.
 
A few years after Patrice’s death I remember telling a doctor I was interviewing for a story about Delaware State Hospital that I was extremely skeptical about mental hospitals after my experience with her and Byberry.

He assured me that nothing like that could happen at Delaware’s hospital for the mentally ill. After all, he noted, "Delaware is so small. It’s easy to assure oversight."

Here we are, in 2007, and who believes that oversight is assured at Delaware State Hospital? Not I.

Some six weeks after a News Journal series recounted abuses at the hospital, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner created the Delaware Psychiatric Center Task Force.
 
Since the newspaper series began, one hospital staff member was indicted for assault on a patient. Another was indicted for the rape of a patient.

You’d think that the governor and her task force would rush to assure families their relatives in the hospital are safe.

The News Journal says Minner "has consistently maintained there is no evidence of any problems in the facility."

Did she really say that?

I don’t know, but last Friday her task force shut the public out of a discussion on a scathing report it released on poor care and patient rights’ violations.

For weeks now, every quote attributed to Gov. Minner seems to say she’s more interested in protecting the hospital instead of its patients.

I am saddened and disappointed.

To read about it yourself, search Google for delawareonline.com + Delaware Psychiatric Center.
 
Here’s another:

Safety should be morally imperative in mining

Delaware Coast Press – Rehoboth Beach,DE,USA
Opinion
By Joyce Mullins
August 16, 2007

Do you know who Robert E. Murray is?

If you don’t, don’t feel uninformed. Very few people outside the mining field did before last week when he lashed out at anyone who questioned how his company mines coal.

As this column is being written, the fate of the six men trapped 1,500 feet below ground in the collapse of Murray’s Crandall Canyon coal mine in Utah is unknown.

Every mine disaster is much like a play we don’t want to see again. We know when the awful vigil begins how each scene will unfold.

There is the inevitable cluster of hollow-eyed women, the mothers and wives standing, still and silent as a bas-relief on the wall of a tomb.

Clustered as close to the maw of the mine as they are allowed, they pray.

Nearby, the fathers and brothers, hold anger and grief in check.

Their faces are lit with the eerie glow of too-brilliant lights that make night into day for the emergency workers and the television cameras.

Fear makes this a sacred drama, a rite that calls for respect.

This time the ritual waiting was interrupted by Murray, demanding that we dare not blame him.
 
The dust had not even settled on his speculation that an earthquake ruined his mine before he focused his reproach on the public.
 
It is not the owner’s fault, but the consumer, he is saying.
 
After all, we don’t seem to appreciate that the American lifestyle runs on electricity. More than half our electric power comes from coal, he tells us.
 
He frightens and intimidates and says the voting public had better not encourage Congress to pass bills to make him clean up his dirty industry.
 
"Without coal to manufacture our electricity, our products will not compete in the global marketplace against foreign countries because our manufacturers depend on coal for low-cost electricity, and people on fixed incomes will not be able to pay for their electric bills," he said in his inappropriate harangue as attempts continued to save the trapped men.

"Every one of these global warming bills that has been introduced in Congress today will eliminate the coal industry and increase your electric rates four-to fivefold," he ranted.
 
He defended the technique called "retreat" mining, which means his employees have to work their way out of a nearly depleted mine, excavating coal in the very pillars that support the roof of the mine.

When the coal is removed from the pillars, they fall, taking the roof down with them.

I’m sick of the Robert F. Murrays of this world.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that the fatality rate for coal mining jumped 84 per cent in 2006 to 49.5 deaths per 100,000 workers, up from 26.8 in 2005.

The increase was largely due to the Sago mine (W.Va.) incident and three other multiple-fatality events that year.

American coal mining is driven by greed.

What else explains the fact that safety equipment used the world over is, according to a CBS-TV report, rarely used in U.S. mines?

Nothing but greed explains the $1.4 million safety violation fine expected to be levied on one of Murray’s mines this year.

Avarice — a constant in mining — equals death.

Safety — not profit — comes first.

And another:

Bullies in the Workplace
A National Disgrace

By Joyce Mullins
The Daily Times – Salisbury, MD
December 20, 2007

Now that the schools are taking belated action to curb bullying in the classroom, isn’t it time we look at the grown-up bully?

Bullying in the workplace is a national disgrace — and an expensive one.
 
Psychologist Michael H. Harrison, Ph.D., cited a survey of 9,000 federal employees indicating that 42 percent of female and 15 percent of male employees reported being harassed during a two-year period resulting in a cost of more than $180 million in lost time and productivity.

If that’s a fair estimate for one small segment of employees, it’s reasonable to think that the workplace bully costs business a bundle.

The human cost is immeasurable.

Money usually gets the boss’s attention, but there might be a reason the boss has his or her own reason to keep this ugly workplace reality under wraps.
 
Gary and Ruth Namie, two Ph.Ds, reveal in their book "
The Bully at Work" that 89 percent of the bullies in the workplace are the bosses themselves! I don’t use an exclamation point very often, but that statistic deserves one.

My interest in the workplace bully was ignited when a friend of mine confided in me that he was being harassed at work.

It was the third time in a few years that a friend had gone through incredible stress and emotional trauma at the hands of a bully at work.

One friend was bullied in a privately owned company. Another spent years building a career in a medium-sized corporation and another worked for one of the big chains.

What they all went through was remarkably similar, however.

Each had gone through the proper reporting channels as outlined by his or her respective company’s Human Resources manual.

Each was stunned to learn that management seemed to have little or no interest in helping. Each was victimized again in the process.
 
As I read the book, I was amazed to learn my friends’ experience was not unusual. Many employers don’t really want to help. In some circumstances, companies don’t even recognize the problem. What they really want is not to be held accountable.
 
Not all of the people I knew who were bullied at work were victimized by their bosses, but that 89 percent national average is just such a huge number it’s hard to ignore what influence that’s got to have over any rules.
 
An employee who has been punished for reporting abuse might think he works for maniacs.

"Business 2 Business" writer Ira S. Wolfe, reviewing the book "Snakes in Suits," pointed out that some of the same qualities companies look for in leadership — ambition, resilience, charm, charisma — are characteristics shared by bright psychopaths.

"All you have to do is remove a moral conscience and the incapability of empathy, guilt or loyalty to anyone but themselves and … you have a psychopath," he said, perhaps with his tongue wedged in his teeth.

So, if there’s no rescue at HR, where do you go for help?

According to www.healthyworkplacebill.org, only 13 states have introduced a bill against workplace bullying since 2003. None have yet passed.
 
Four states — New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington — have worked on bills recently. Let’s urge our legislators to make business-friendly Delaware workplaces safer for productive employees.

And this:

[March 3, 2004, original place of publication unclear]

If you want to save the animals, you have to work together

By Joyce Mullins

Like it or not, we’re in this together.

Conventional wisdom says too many unwanted dogs and cats are an insurmountable problem and the solution is euthanasia.
 
Usually if I see a "conventional wisdom" in my path, I regard it as a swamp where lazy thoughts go to die, but this is a huge problem. How do you think outside the box with this one?

First, you have to believe.

Believers are everywhere in Delaware and many live in Sussex County.

I could not call all of them, but here’s a sampling.

There’s Ellie Mayhew, a Dewey Beach Commissioner, who thinks there is enough determination and creativity in Delaware to develop a statewide no-kill solution.
 
The idea of animal sanctuaries where unadoptable animals can live out their lives after being spayed or neutered has a lot of support. Teresa Figgs, of Lewes, a co-founder of Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary, is looking for land.
 
Feral cats are among the most difficult animal populations to save. Trap/Neuter/Return (or Release) is a creative solution. Such sanctuaries are established here and increasing. Cats that have been trapped, sterilized and vaccinated against contagious diseases are released into a controlled environment. Alice Hendry of Milton is an advocate of that practice.

D.C. Brown, of Seaford’s Homeless Cat Helpers also believes in the Trap/Neuter/Return approach and sanctuaries. She stresses that everyone who wants to be a part of the solution should become educated about medical protocols to reduce the spread of disease.

Kevin Usilton, executive director of the Delaware Humane Association, the state’s only no-kill shelter, should be counted as a believer.
 
It’s true the association limits its admissions to adoptable animals, but its mobile spay/neuter van performed 1,500 operations last year. And on the grounds of its 6-acre facility in Wilmington, there is a feral cat sanctuary.
 
John Caldwell, director for the Delaware Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the largest humane organization in the state with facilities in Georgetown and New Castle County, is not yet a believer. He calls the support in Delaware for the no-kill movement "an honorable mission," but thinks there’s not enough money to change the status quo.

The Delaware SPCA can’t do it, he said, because it has contractual obligations with the state. "We enforce all the dog laws and we are chartered for the prevention of cruelty to animals for more than 130 years," he said. "People bring animals to us and through picking up stray animals, we can’t be selective."

For him, it’s about the numbers. A budget of "$1.5 million to $1.8 million" last year that supported the adoption of 2,341 dogs and 1,449 cats and the redemption by owners of 1,343 lost dogs could not be stretched further. A total of 2,226 dogs (913 brought in by their owners) were euthanized. A total of 3,963 cats (776 brought in by their owners) were euthanized.
 
The SPCA does what it does with its budget pretty much the way it has always done, but it is taking one baby step toward change. Almost as an afterthought during his interview Caldwell said, "We’re allowing some rescue groups to come in and take some animals."

It’s a start. More change might require legislative change.

In the end, it’s about more than believing. It’s about working together for change. And it’s not just about the money, but what you want to do with it.

The individuals and private groups with whom I spoke are believers. If they join forces, they could qualify for some serious financial help from one of the pioneer money sources for the no-kill movement. Go online and check out www.maddiesfund.org. Also look at the work being done by New York City’s ASPCA at www.aspca.org.

Joyce Mullins has worked for newspapers throughout Delaware and in Philadelphia for more than 30 years. Send feedback and ideas to jmullins03@comcast.net

Originally published Wednesday, March 3, 2004

And this:

The new environmental warriors

By Joyce Mullins –  Salisbury MN Daily Times, February 5, 2009

There is nothing new in Delaware�s fight to keep our environment clean.

One of the first people I met when I started my reporting career here was the late Grace "Bubbles" Pierce-Beck.

She made her mark working with former Gov. Russell W. Peterson to create the Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act in 1971 and people were still talking about her achievements right up to her death last fall at the age of 82.
 
I’m keeping an eye on some new environmental warriors, including some coastal folks such as Joan Deaver, Kim Furtado and Sallie Forman. And then there’s Alan Muller, founder of Green Delaware. Formidable! Say that word with a French flavor and you’re close to his intent and style.

Muller is controversial, but I am impressed with his thoroughness when it comes to uncovering facts.

In mid-January, for example, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control gave its report on "Toxic Release Inventory" for 2007. Muller published the TRI in his Green Delaware Alert No. 637.
[Note:
The alert is here]

Among the facts that got my attention were that 75 percent of TRI air releases came from power plants and 47 percent of statewide air releases come from NRG’s Indian River Power Plant.
 
Muller praised DNREC for "doing a pretty good job," but then he asked sharp questions that we all need to be asking. He says that actual power plant chemical emissions are about 17 times higher than the TRI reports reveal.

Muller said, "Our old friend NRG’s Indian River Power Plant, reports releasing into our air 3,271,238 pounds of TRI chemicals in 2007.

"A couple of years ago, this facility reported TRI air emissions of 3,932,377 pounds but the total harmful emissions reported to the DNREC were 68,297,232 pounds," Muller said. "Only 5.7 percent of the harmful emissions known to DNREC were reported in the TRI.

"The actual emissions are about 17 times higher. Why? This information is collected under a different federal law (the Clean Air Act) and DNREC is not required to publish the information," Muller said.

"Usually it is released only in response to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request," he said.

My purpose in listing a couple of names of rising new environmental warriors was not to urge you to follow them, but to encourage all of us to become activists.

When you read numbers that don’t add up, start calling. File a FOIA request. Make a nuisance of yourself. It’s our air and water and we have a right to expect it to be clean.

Isn’t it interesting that so many of these pieces now turn up on the sites of advocacy groups, rather than on the sites of the original publications?  As Jeff Brown of the Dover Post wrote

"Joyce had strong sympathies for those who had been wronged, either by others or by society in general. Woe betide anyone who tried to deflect her line of questioning, divert her from getting to the bottom of a story or avoid her queries by not returning phone calls.

She never took "no" for an answer and was not above literally chasing down someone she needed to interview. If necessary, she’d go undercover, once posing as a hospital patient to get a story. Sometimes she’d be told — in no uncertain terms — to get out of someone’s office, but she’d stand her ground."

Brown’s entire piece, " Brownie’s Points: Saying goodbye to a mentor and a friend," July 14, 2009, deserves a read.

Another nice tribute to Mullins appeared in the Milford Beacon.  Melissa K. Steele, Posted Jul  22, 2009

Joyce Mullins was somebody special as a person. (So were the editors and publishers who did give her a forum.) We need a lot more like her.    RIP

Alan Muller

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