Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What role for police in keeping the peace?

Last night I was driving back from a Jobs with Justice meeting in Northampton, coming down Rt. 91, and going about 60 miles an hour in a 65 mile an hour zone. I noticed a car travelling quite close behind me for nearly a mile. Finally the car pulled into the left-hand lane to pass, but instead of passing, it exactly paced me. After a few seconds I risked a glance to the left and saw that it was a Massachusetts State Police cruiser. After my glance the cruiser dropped back and melded into into other traffic.

What the heck was that about? I wondered. The cruiser was behind me long enough to run my plates, which clearly came back clean; so why the side by side pacing? I have a lot of bumper stickers, but nothing mean or threatening , and no "Stop Police Brutality" stickers (I'm dumb but I'm not that dumb). Boredom? Intimidation? Just doing his job? (But wasn't his job done after my plates came back clean?)

Yesterday I had lunch with Betty Agin from the Health Disparities Project-- just checking in with each other. I gave her a copy of some notes an Arise member had given me from a meeting about how to stop youth violence because I knew youth violence had been the topic of her most recent forum.

I admit I haven't had a high level of enthusiasm for recent community efforts to end youth violence. I've seen many similar efforts through the years in Springfield and the impetus of the projects usually fades away, leaving little change. It's tough, I know: good strategies have to come out of identification of root causes, and that's so discouraging, it's easy to despair or to come up with strategies that are eight or nine steps away from the root cause.

But even with that as a given, I asked Betty why, if group organizers want people to use the police more to report the potential or actual crime, changing police attitudes toward the public never comes up as a strategy? How do we regain that "The police are your friends" mentality?

This summer I wrote about a 15 year old kid. Delano Walker, who backed away from police right into the path of a car which crushed him to death-- turns out he had a knife on him that he shouldn't have had and didn't want the police to find it. I never did hear any more about this, but it was a tragic and traumatic situation for all involved.

Of course half of the fear and suspicion people have for the police have nothing to do with the police at all; it's about what happens when people get entangled in a criminal justice system that can't tell a molehill from a mountain-- maybe I shouldn't say "can't" but instead "won't", not when there's money to be made and paranoia to be milked.

This March an Indiana grandmother bought two boxes of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine in a one week period and found herself arrested (at her home, and then handcuffed) and convicted for violating Indiana law 35-48-4-14.7, which restricts the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, products to no more than 3.0 grams within any seven-day period. Don't Tase Me, Bro. The same site reports that a Michigan woman who was willing to wait with neighborhood kids at the morning school bus stop if their parents had already left for work was threatened with fines and jail time for running an unauthorized day care.

This morning CNN reported on a Connecticut blogger who was arrested in 2007 after taking a picture of the Connecticut governor in a parade. Turns out he was being followed closely by one of the 72 Homeland Security fusion centers because he had criticized the governor, was politically active, and had been arrested for civil disobedience. (Jeez, all those things apply to me, too!) It's not up on CNN's website yet, but you can read the whole story at The 40 Year Plan.

I think it's time for a refresher course in the Bill of Rights .

Photo from Mark Sardella's photostream at Flickr.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nickelsville residents facing eviction

Just about now, homeless people in Seattle, Washington should be setting up tents on the sidewalk in front of Seattle Mayor Gregs Nickel's house. The tent city that they've been living for exactly one year as of September 22 will be closed down by the Port of Seattle on Wednesday. No one will have anywhere to go.

In spite of talks between Nickelsville residents and city officials, the city has not come up with any alternative place for people to go if they leave their tent city-- and the shelters are full.

If you live in the area and can help with some short-term needs-- and maybe longer-term political ones-- you can contact the Real Change Organizing Project at (206)441.3247 x 206.

Photo from Beyond Neon's photostream at Flickr.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hyatt caves -- a little

Today's Boston Globe reports that after a huge public outcry, the Hyatt hotel chain is offering their fired housekeepers jobs at their original wages, good through the end of 2010-- at a temporary employment agency. Not good enough, most say. See the story.

Bee update, Save the Frogs contest


Readers of this blog know I have a particular fondness for the smaller (and sometimes misunderstood) forms of life, bats, frogs, spiders and bees in particular. Although I like them for themselves, I also know that when they suffer, when they are at risk, so are we.

The New York Times has pulled together the best information from a number of scientists on the Colony Collapse Disorder that's been plaguing bees in the U.S. and Europe since 2006. It's not good news because the collapse is caused by a multitude of factors. Rowan Jacobsen writes:

Thanks to the terrific gene sleuthing of May Berenbaum and others, it looks like the pieces of the colony collapse disorder puzzle are starting to fit together. And we can stop arguing about who was right: The virus camp, the fungus camp, the pesticide camp, the varroa mite camp, or the nutrition camp. It turns out everybody was right. (Well, everybody except the cell-phone and microwave-tower camps.)

The viruses compromise bees’ ability to manufacture proteins, and proteins are the tools bees use to fight off pathogens, to detoxify pesticides, to repair their cells, and to meet all the world’s other challenges. If bees lived in an utterly non-stressful world, they could go on despite the viruses. But of course they don’t live in a world anything like that.


On the frog front, entire species are disappearing and all frogs are facing habitat destruction, climate change and pesticides and pollution. A friend of mine sent me a link to Save the Frogs, which is holding an art contest. The pictures in this post are from that site. You can go there, register, and vote for your favorite. I had a hard time deciding! Fortunately, you can pick your top three. Come on, take a minute to vote and help spread awareness about the plight of frogs.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How high is 275 feet? (PRE's smokestack)


Took me a bit of time, but the following picture of a Giant Sequoia tree is exactly the same height as the smokestack of Palmer Renewable Energy's proposed biomass plant, to be sited on Cadwell Dr. in Springfield, MA. Look closely-- that speck near the bottom is a person. (I believe the tree is named "General Sherman."

Springfield biomass plant opponents have a website

People who want more information on the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE) biomass plant now have a resource: Say No to Springfield Construction and Demolition Debris Incineration. Blogging I can do, but website creation is beyond me, so thanks to the Warner family for pulling this off.

Some more anti-PRE info: The next general meeting of folks who want to stop this plant will be next Wednesday, September 30, 6 pm. at Arise, 467 State St. in Springfield. This will be a good meeting for new people, so please join us. An organizer from the Toxics Action Center in Boston will be coming to help us think through some of our next steps.

The Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection will have an Air Quality hearing on this plant probably before the end of the year. Keep checking back and as soon as a date is set, you'll know. Springfield residents really need to turn out for this hearing. Excuse my stating the obvious, but how can it possibly be good for us to add "only" a ton of lead, plus arsenic, chromium, dioxin and fine particulate matter and more to the air we breathe?

Signatures are now being collected to get a question on next year's state ballot which would remove the designation of wood-burning biomass as green. Petitions are available to sign at Arise, and if you want to take a petition with you to collect even more signatures, you can. You can find out more about this effort at Stop Spewing Carbon!

There's a lot more to say about PRE, biomass, organizing, etc-- it's a good part of the reason I haven't been blogging as much as usual, which I hope to remedy soon.

Photo from NIOSH's photostream at Flickr.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Burning more wood is for cavemen


Here's a letter about biomass from Chris Matera, Forest Watch, which was published in The Brattleboro Reformer.

The glowing and superficial review of burning forests for energy (a.k.a., biomass energy) in the July 29 editorial by the Reformer and its flippant dismissal of western Massachusetts' concerns regarding this dirty power source does a serious disservice to its readers.

Not only has biomass burning been described with talking points straight from the biomass industry playbook, but the situation down here in western Massachusetts was so poorly described as to raise questions as to how much homework was done before dismissing very informed and concerned citizens as "NIMBY's."

Such a cheap shot mimics industry tactics meant to marginalize anyone disagreeing with the developers plans to cash in, and is a punt on finding the facts so it is disappointing to see the Reformer stoop to this level. The citizens working on this are volunteering their weekends, evenings and lunch hours to defend the New England environment, including Brattleboro, Vt., from increased pollution, CO2 emissions and deforestation.

Here are some facts which align with common sense beyond the slick marketing claims of the "biomess" industry.

* Contrary to industry claims, biomass energy does not reduce CO2 emissions, it increases them. Biomass energy produces 50 percent more CO2 per megawatt hour of energy than coal. That is not a typo, and is based on numbers from the developers own reports.

Since burning wood is so inefficient, burning living trees (locked up carbon), is actually worse than coal. Biomass burning releases about 3,300 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour, while coal releases 2,100 pounds and gas about 1,400 pounds. Of course, industry waves a magic wand and says burning trees is carbon neutral because the trees grow back. That is nonsense. It takes a minute to burn a tree and at least 50 years to grow back (not to mention all the ecosystem impacts).That this myth has lived so long is a testament to the power of marketing, lobbying and a gullible (or worse) press.

Not only is burning trees worse than coal for CO2 emissions, but it produces more nitrous oxide, VOC's and particulates than coal, again by the proponents' own numbers.

Additionally, since when did burning trees become "green"? For all of my 44 years, we have learned that we need to plant trees for air and water quality, and recycle paper to save trees, and now all of a sudden let's pump massive "clean" energy public subsidies into burning forests for energy and let's call it "green".

This is truly Alice in Wonderland stuff. Fortunately, here in Massachusetts the Sierra Club has figured it out and calls biomass the "new coal".

While all biomass burning of green trees is a bad idea, the scale of the plants is important. The Middlebury College plant, for example, would burn about 21,000 tons of wood chips per year and this amount of wood could be provided by truly "waste" wood and is not such a big deal from a forest impact perspective, but the McNeil plant in Burlington, Vt., only runs part-time and burns about 250,000 tons of wood annually.

The owners admit that clearcuts up to 25 acres (25 football fields) occur to provide wood to fuel this plant. Additionally, McNeil has had lawsuits against it by neighbors for pollution and sometimes has substituted gas to lower emissions since it has regularly exceeded emissions allowances.

Now for perspective on what is happening in Massachusetts and is likely coming your way in Vermont. Massachusetts' current proposals are to build 190 megawatts of biomass energy that would require burning 2.5 million tons of wood each year. This is massive considering that the average total timber harvest in Massachusetts is about 500,000 tons. At this rate, all western and central Massachusetts forests could be logged in 16 years. If rare species habitat and state and privately protected areas are taken out, the entire area could be logged in nine years. (See www.maforests.org/Impacts.htm).

Public lands are target to provide 532,000 green tons of wood annually, a 1,082 percent increase over historical logging levels. Burning all this forest would only increase Massachusetts power generating capacity by just 1 percent, yet increase power plant CO2 emissions by 10 percent. Conservation measures, which cost one-third of what it costs to make new energy, could reduce our energy use by 30 percent. Just supplying the trees to these plants would require about 650 logging truck trips per day or 200,000 trips per year, at about 5 miles per gallon for trips up to 100 miles, mostly on narrow rural roads. For citations on all these matters, and photos of heavy clear cutting of Massachusetts forests, see www.maforests.org/Biomess.pdf.

At this time of ecological and economic crisis, there can be no reasonable argument for forcing taxpayers to subsidize new polluting, CO2 emitting, forest devastating carbon based fuels for minimal amounts of power. These policies will worsen air pollution, increase greenhouse gas emissions, deplete forests and drain our public coffers, the exact opposite of what we need to be doing right now. Taxpayer subsidies and other incentives should be redirected toward truly green technologies to produce clean, non-carbon emitting energy, and local jobs.

Chris Matera is the founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, a Northampton, Mass.-citizen watchdog group formed to defend Massachusetts state forests against commercial exploitation and to promote genuinely "green" energy solutions.

Photo from The Massachusetts Chainsaw Massacre: Savoy State Forest


Friday, September 18, 2009

Don't stay at a Hyatt hotel; support your local stripper

Yesterday's Boston Globe reported on how housekeepers at the corporation's three Boston hotels were tricked into training other people as housekeepers (although I'll be many of them suspected), ostensibly to fill in on vacation, but actually to become permanent (?) replacements. Many of them had worked at Hyatt for decades. Now their jobs have been outsourced and they are out of work.

Hyatt likes to ride on its reputation for being responsible partners in their respective communities. Apparently that responsibility doesn't extend to the hotel workers.

Today's Globe reports on a lawsuit by Salisbury strippers to challenge their independent contractor status, claiming they should be treated as employees. Strippers and other workers at gentlemen's clubs often have to pay to perform. Tips are supposed to compensate, but with the economic decline still in full swing--for workers, anyway-- tips just aren't cutting it.

Locally, the Springfield blog formerly titled after the Mardi Gras is now revamped and retitled The Employee Advocate, offering news and advice on the struggles of workers for fair wages and better working conditions.

Some corporations and employers are willing to take somewhat reduced profits in order to provide decent jobs for their workers. Many are not. I've never stayed at a Hyatt hotel and the only time I've been in a strip club was to pass out condoms. But we all need to be informed consumers.

Photo of the Hyatt hotel in Cambridge from Ornoth's photostream at the Flickr Commons.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stop Biomass petitions ready to go!

One thing I've learned about winning a campaign is that usually, there is no single strategy for winning; multiple strategies are needed.

My city, Springfield, Massachusetts, is being threatened with a reduction in air quality by the proposed construction of a "biomass" plant in Springfield. I put the word in quotes because somehow, biomass has gotten a blanket "green" endorsement from federal, state and local officials. Some of these people know very well that burning wood for energy is not green; others don't want to know, and some lack information. The poor public knows the least of all.

A coalition of individuals and organizations have designed a petition which would prohibit the labeling as "green" any renewable and alternative energy sources that emit more greenhouse gases than coal. Yes, that's right, biomass plants are no better than coal-- and often worse-- in contributing to global warming.

From the new, Stop Spewing Carbon website:
This proposed amendment will ensure that the Commonwealth’s efforts to curb global warming do not make climate change worse.
The amendment requires certain renewable and alternative energy sources to limit the amount of carbon dioxide emissions if they use combustion or pyrolization [decomposition by heating]. The proposed amendment requires renewable and alternative energy sources that use combustion or pyrolization to generate so called “clean and green” energy to keep their emissions at or under two hundred and fifty pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour in order to qualify as renewable or alternative energy sources for the purposes of the Renewable Portfolio Standards.
Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standards currently require that a certain percentage of energy sold in the Commonwealth comes from sources defined by law as “Class I” or “Class II” renewable energy sources. The proposed amendment would require waste-to-energy and biomass technologies that use combustion or pyrolization to emit less than two hundred and fifty pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour to be eligible for classification as “Class I” or “Class II” renewable energy sources. The statutory definitions of “Alternative Energy Development” and “Alternative Energy Property” would be amended to exclude such technologies that emit more than two hundred and fifty pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. Previously operational biomass plants that are retrofitted with advanced conversion technologies would be required to emit less than two hundred and fifty pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour in order to be considered an eligible “renewable energy generating source.”
In order to appear on the statewide ballot next year, we need 66,000 valid signatures between now and November 18, 2009. It's a BIG job, but at the least, it gives us the opportunity to talk to many people about biomass.

Petitions are available by emailing an address on the Stop Spewing Carbon site. Also, I'm sure there will be a high level of coordination in Western Mass, seeing as we have three plants proposed for our area. The Springfield plant, proposed by Palmer Renewable, is the worst of the three, seeing as it will be burning up to 75% "construction and demolition" wood-- that is, trash wood shipped in primarily from outside the state.

Email me if you want to know how to get involved in Springfield: michaelannb@gmail.com.

Photo from paulbence's photostream on Flickr.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Only the wealthy (and clueless) could think homelessness is chic

The NY Times reporter Guy Trebay has an article this morning on "homeless chic"-- the most recent infatuation of top clothing designers with the creative attire of the desperate.

From one designer:

“I’m not saying let’s glamorize the homeless,” said Ms. Wasson, who is often cited by fashion magazines as a style “icon” and a “muse” for Alexander Wang, a designer known for outfitting the kind of women who a couple of minutes ago were reverenced by fashion as “It” girls.

“It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Oh, God, that’s so inspiring — you got your clothes from a garbage can,’ ” Ms. Wasson said. What is she saying then? “When I moved down to Venice Beach, I found these people with this amazing mentality, this gypsy mentality — people that you couldn’t label and put in a box,” said the designer, perhaps forgetting that some of those very people live in one.
At the other end of the awareness spectrum is Frank Kelly, named the "Best Dressed Man in America" by Esquire magazine in 2007. He takes homeless people under his wing in his program Project Vacant Streets, helps them build confidence in their ability to get a job, then outfits them at Target. 33TV.

Let's all pretend for a moment that reincarnation is a fact of life (and death). Where will Ms. Wasson wind up on the ladder of existence? How about Mr. Kelly?

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Girl's Guide to Homelessness" gets well-deserved national attention

What a nice surprise! I checked the headlines on CNN when I got home from a meeting tonight and saw an article about Brianna Karp, author of A Girl's Guide to Homelessness. This is one of the best-written blogs on homelessness I've come across, and I've had a link to it on my blog for some time, but I haven't visited since before vacation. Looks like she's getting a fair amount of national attention and it's well-deserved. Check it out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ward Six Candidates' Night

The Ward Six Democratic Committee sponsored a Candidates' Night at Forest Park Middle School last night and though I'd spent all day in Boston, I made myself go and I'm glad I did. We have five candidates, which will be narrowed to two next Tuesday: Rich Carpenter, Rich Davila, Peter Lappin, Amaad Rivera and Keith Wright.

Quick takes: Davila is an individualist, a pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstraps guy because that's been his experience in life. Lappin believes in the power of experts-- he's been an economic developer. Carpenter, Rivera and Wright are community-focused, though in very different ways.

Wright was careful to define the scope of a city councilor's job, saying he won't make promises beyond the scope of his responsibilities.

Carpenter is a law-and-order guy; crime is high on his agenda and calling the police was his answer to a couple of questions.

Rivera thinks that the community should be the chief player in decision-making.

Lappin clearly has a lot of experience, but I admit he turned me off right away when, in his opening remarks, he asked for a few seconds of silence to honor our service men and woman in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, who can say no? I thought it was manipulative. This is not a race for a U.S. Senate seat. And I got a "been there, done that" sense of him as a city councilor.

Davila proved to be better than I'd expected at public speaking and at building a rapport with the crowd. He stressed that if elected, the city wouldn't be his boss, the people would.

Carpenter got a good response from some of the crowd with his anti-Longhill Gardens harangue. I'd like him better if I didn't think he was anti-poor people. When asked what he'd do to improve the housing stock for people on fixed income, he could only say what he wouldn't do-- create projects like Longhill Gardens.

Wright strikes me as a sensible person, a school teacher, with relatively low expectations for what he can accomplish as a councilor.

Rivera is a visionary, with lots of ideas for change he wanted to get across, leading him to speak too quickly sometimes for folks to follow. He's still my candidate of choice because I know he has a commitment to social justice and to building on the diversity of Forest Park to create more community. I've also heard him speak in depth about economic development strategies that I believe could move the whole city forward.

But I've gotta say, except for Lappin, the freshness of ideas and the depth of commitment of all the candidates was impressive. Without being overly idealistic, I do believe ward representation will help us move on to a new chapter in Springfield. It's late in the day for us but not too late. Get out and vote next Tuesday!

Home again and busy like crazy



Some people like fun and adventure on their vacation. I prefer going to a place I love, where within a day I feel like I've been there forever. Thus for twenty years I camped with my kids at Nickerson State Park in Brewster, and for the last ten years-- now that my kids have lives of their own and prefer to vacation with their own children, best friends and husbands-- I go to Wellfleet with my own friends. No matter how rough my finances get, somehow I manage to pull it off.

I love the Lower Cape. It's incredibly new geologically-- only 10,000 years old!-- and won't last 10,000 more. Winter storms and rising sea levels have narrowed the Wellfleet beaches; at high tide many beaches have only a small strip of dry land, and this year, as two hurricanes passed close to Cape Cod, some beaches were actually cleared at high tide because there was no safe place to be.

This summer I didn't try to blog from the Wellfleet library, just walked on the beach, read, kept my journal, and savored the rich dreams that I only have when I let myself sleep until I wake up. A lot has changed for me in the twelve months between vacations: health challenges, job changes, and the sense that at 62 years old, I may as well do what I want!

Actually, I won't be 62 until December. Next year, at 62, instead of my annual contribution to the National Park system, I get to buy a Golden Eagle pass good for the rest of my life! That makes me smile, because who knows how long life will be, but I intend to get my money's worth.

I knew that as soon as I got home I'd have to jump in with both feet both personally and politically. Both my daughters and my only granddaughter have September birthdays; one nephew is getting married next Saturday and the other nephew's girlfriend is having a baby shower. I have to buy a dress, buy gifts, and thoroughly clean my 1991 Dodge Shadow, now home to a new bumpersticker: Everything is Connected. I wrote a couple of new poems while I was away, and I'm thinking it's time to pull my poems together in a collection.

Politically, there's a million things I want to do, but stopping a biomass plant from being built in Springfield is my number one priority (why I was in Boston yesterday), with door-to-door outreach about ward representation my second priority (why I'll be in Boston today, picking up a small grant for voter outreach).

Right now I'm living in all dimensions of my life and hope to stay that way for a while. I don't like myself much in stick-figure mode, even though I can be effective that way. I have a window beside my desk and I will leave it open as long as I can.

First one, then two, then ten, and now we see
a thousand flecks of red against the shore
where ladybugs have chosen they will spend
the end of summer. Now they fly no more
but nestle in the seaweed strands or in
the final August footprints that we leave
upon the cooling sand. What days they've seen!
What wind has passed beneath their wings, and how
much like the wind the breaking waves now sound.
They rest. They fall asleep. The sun goes down.