Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Friday, December 28, 2007
  Patience? Virtue?
Today's Trancript article about the Mayor's decision to delay of the renovation of the Mohawk Theater brings a few thoughts to mind:
  1. Politically and psychologically this is a wise decision since the typical homeowner in North Adams would howl if the city spent a dime on such a project during a year that the city is raising taxes.
  2. This project is important enough that if the city can't do it right, they should wait until they, or someone else, can do it justice. A second rate job with poor planning is far worse than the status quo. Reputation is a huge part of a performing arts venue's ability to book acts. A lousy theater in a small town would quickly get black-listed.
  3. The Mayor would not have been forced to back-peddle if he had not tooted his own horn when he unwisely slashed the project earlier this year and prematurely announced that hammers would banging within months. Mayor Barrett's much celebrated scaling back of the architect's renovation proposal was poorly considered because it severely limited the types of productions the theater could host.
  4. Kudos to the Mayor for apparently recognizing his previous mistake. It sounds like he listened to the experts that the city is paying big bucks for.
  5. Is it my imagination or is the notion that Mass MoCA will completely administrate the Theater for the city at no expense completely pie-in-the-sky? The idea that no staff will have to be hired to run the this additional venue, by either MoCA or the city, is nonsense.
  6. The costs associated with the renovation just might... maybe..... come down because of the accelerating slump in the commercial real estate market. Hopefully the economic demand curve for contractors will work to the city's favor. But, for the love of Pete, don't wait too much longer.
Does anyone else remember the Mayor's quote from earlier this year when he said he would like to see the project finished before he left office? Hmmmmmm......
  Calling Dr. May and Mr. Buddington
Brattleboro has got more going on than naked kids:
A group in Brattleboro is petitioning to put an item on a town meeting agenda in March that would make Bush and Vice President Cheney subject to arrest and indictment if they visit the southeastern Vermont community.

"This petition is as radical as the Declaration of Independence, and it draws on that tradition in claiming a universal jurisdiction when governments fail to do what they're supposed to do," said Kurt Daims, 54, a retired machinist leading the drive.
I'm going to keep my eye on this one. Aside from the simple fact that towns don't have jurisdiction over war crimes, this could get some international attention. And knowing Brattleboro, they'll adopt the darn thing.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
  Israeli Greetings
I've noticed that somebody has been googling me from Israel. Could it be my crazy long lost friend Amit?

If that's you, drop me a note at the email address in the right-hand column.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
  The road to Hell is paved with good intentions
Here's an interesting letter to the editor from Richard A. Jones Sr. about Leo Senecal's attempt to regain his pension which was taken away after he was convicted of a felony for illegally dumping oil in the city landfill:
I have sat on the Grand Jury twice. One time was when Leo Senecal was in the hot seat (for illegally disposing of oil), obviously ratted out by a fellow employee.

The state was represented by a woman from that entity presenting the charges. When I questioned her as to the composition of said oil, she could not tell me.

In my opinion, those charges never should have been brought. I found this guy to be totally ignorant of the potential for what he did. His only intent was to save the city some money and bookwork.

Why didn't the city have a procedure in place to deal with this occurrence? The city itself is the culprit here, to not have covered such an eventuality and have a procedure in place to deal with it!

In my opinion, Senecal was not a highly educated individual and dealt with the problem as best he could, given the circumstances. I voted not to indict Senecal because I saw no malicious intent!
OK. These are all relevant points that might help persuade governor Patrick to sign the special legislation needed to reinstate the pension.

But then this effort derails itself by playing into stupid racial stereotypes for no reason whatsoever:
The DA's office puts itself forward as a knowledgeable, all-knowing entity. NOT SO. BUT, they lead those on the jury to believe they know the score. Nothing could be further from the truth. Were Senecal to be black, he would have his pension, and it would never hit the news.
(emphasis mine)
Oy. So much for that particular argument.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
  Peace On Earth...
... and Goodwill Towards All!!

(Now get off your computer and go hang out with your family!)
Monday, December 24, 2007
  Stupid Quote of the Day
In an article headlined "Patrick: Erasing income tax is dumb" tax critic Carla Howell effectively makes the Guv's point for him:
Carla Howell of the Committee for Small Government said that there is plenty to cut in the state budget, and that the ballot question would give lawmakers the incentive to get down to work.

"They need to spend the money they have right and cut all the waste and the damaging and destructive programs out of the state government that do more harm
than good," she said. "If they do that, we will have 20 times more than we need for roads and bridges"

Asked to point to a damaging or destructive program that should be cut, Howell declined to answer, saying that the burden of proof is on lawmakers to justify each program.
Emphasis mine.

There is something that doesn't smell quite right about Ms. Howell's group. If I can find the time, I think some digging into her group's funding and looking for a Tom DeLay style money laundering operation might be in order. A few years back, Grover Norquist's group, Americans For Tax Reform, got into a messy situation for funneling unlimited tax-deductible donations back to heavily regulated state level groups trying to pass drown-it-in-a-bathtub tax reforms as well as create "get out the vote" movements for conservatives.

Could Romney's Presidential campaign be trying to proactively prevent an embarrassing November '08 loss for the former Governor in his so-called "home state" by getting the anti-tax folks worked up? Now that the Gay Marriage Amendment is off the ballot, is the Romney campaign looking for something else to mobilize the Massachusetts GOP?

For legal reasons, let me be clear; I am not accusing anybody of anything other than being stupid. But there are certainly questions that this movement and it's timing raises. I'm just asking.....

Also, on a topic more germane to the income tax, would Dan and/or Ben be willing to comment on just how much of the state budget is allocated by law and how much is discretionary? Just how much *is* there to cut without opening prison doors and cutting school funding?
Saturday, December 22, 2007
  Does Bill O'Reilly Have an A**hole Brother in Scotland?
This Davidson fellow sounds like a relative of Bill "you will celebrate Christmas the *RIGHT* way, or else" O'Reilly:
A NINE-YEAR-OLD boy was banned from his school Christmas party because he does not believe in God.

Douglas Stewart was asked to stay at home while his classmates were treated to jelly and ice-cream, followed by a visit from Santa and presents.

Douglas's mother, Dawn Riddell, was informed that he was unwelcome at the celebration because she had withdrawn him from religious education classes at Cluny Primary School, in Buckie, Banffshire, earlier in the school term.

Ms Riddell, 38, said the headteacher, Ian Davidson,had told her that as the youngster had no interest in religion, he could not celebrate the birth of Christ.
I would like to know the name of a Christian Church that intentionally excludes non-believers. It kinda' defeats the point, dontcha' think?!?! Mr. Davidson (along with Mr. O'Reilly) obviously was not paying attention in Sunday School.

But further down in The Scotsman's education blotter the nonsense gets a little more light-hearted when talking about a Teacher's Christmas Party:
A LOCAL council has banned staff from kissing under the mistletoe, it emerged yesterday.

Hyndburn Council bosses in Lancashire sent a memo telling staff not to be "misled by mistletoe" over the festive season and warning against "inappropriate party behaviour"

including suggestive language, unwanted jokes and bodily contact.

The memo, also said "Secret Santa" gifts should be carefully chosen so as not to cause offence and risqué items should be avoided.
[Insert dirty joke here.]
Thursday, December 20, 2007
  Tool Time
The Eagle provides two great examples of "being a tool" over the last two days.

And an honorable mention for the most poorly considered story lede goes to The Eagle's Connor Berry who in his piece on the Curnins writes:
They never meant to make a federal case out of it — literally or figuratively.
Umm, then why did they go to court? Doesn't The Eagle have editors?
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
  "This won't be Silicon Valley any time soon, and I wouldn't want it to be..."
Here's an interesting glimpse of how the internet has affected economic growth in rural towns from the Christian Science Monitor:
"It's not just about historical preservation or farming, but also the Mayberry mentality – that ultimately people do enjoy these small towns," says Chad Adams, director of the Center for Local Innovation in Raleigh, N.C. "It's a golden opportunity for small-town America."

Three trends are fueling growth in some rural areas, says Bill Gillis, director of the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide in Spokane, Wash. Mobile dot-commers with "golden Rolodexes" are launching tech-based companies. Eco-fuel growth and rising corn prices are pumping money toward entrepreneurs in traditional breadbasket industries. And government investments in broadband and high-tech "incubators" (subsidized office space geared toward high-tech businesses) are allowing local economies to branch out beyond the cotton and corn fields.
Waterfront Media sort of fits this mold, although it seems that most of their high paying jobs are in NYC while we get the customer service phone bank. And let's not overlook Berkshire Biodiesel in Pittsfield. It wouldn't shock me if someday this incredibly well connected company is a huge global player in the renewable fuels game.

This is a damn nice place to live and regardless of the opinions of a few long-time loudmouths, most of us so-called newbies are here to stay. Change is the only constant.

UPDATE: How could I forget MCLA's science center? This project has the potential to impact our economy in a 21st century kind of way, as well!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
  Even When I Agree with Him I Still Want to Punch Him In The Nose
Of course I am talking about the terminal jack-ass Howie Carr who recycles some Romney oppo-research about Huckabee. And even though I agree with Howie's take on the Huckster (*obviously not* about state reps), his writing is a perfect example of the politics of division that is the classic hallmark of the modern GOP:
Gov. Mike Huckabee has the soul of a Massachusetts state rep. Not to mention the ethics.

What other conclusion can you draw after studying the squalid career of the current front-runner for the GOP nomination for president?

The Huckster is from the same town as Bill Clinton - Hope, Ark. - and at the risk of engaging in geographic profiling, what more do you really need to know? From what I can tell, if Huckabee had been raised around here, he would now be known as either “Mr. Speaker” or “the defendant.”

This barefoot boy with cheek is lucky he came up in the hookworm capital of America, because even here in Boston, where political corruption is seldom prosecuted anymore, he would have been in deep doo-doo a long time ago.
The Republican freakout over Huckabee's rise is grand entertainment. Huckabee is everything they say he is, but he is also the obvious product of 20 years of Republican pandering to the hard-Christian right and the ridiculous 1990's pursuit of Bill Clinton's sex life.

Hey guys, you reap what you sow.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
  Healthcare For All is Worth Breaking Copyright Laws
A guest Op-Ed in the NYTimes:
I Am Not a Health Reform

Published: December 15, 2007

Cambridge, Mass.

IN 1971, President Nixon sought to forestall single-payer national health insurance by proposing an alternative. He wanted to combine a mandate, which would require that employers cover their workers, with a Medicaid-like program for poor families, which all Americans would be able to join by paying sliding-scale premiums based on their income.

Nixon’s plan, though never passed, refuses to stay dead. Now Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama all propose Nixon-like reforms. Their plans resemble measures that were passed and then failed in several states over the past two decades.

In 1988, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a version of Nixon’s employer mandate — and it added an individual mandate for students and the self-employed, much as Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards (but not Mr. Obama) would do today. Michael Dukakis, then the state’s governor, announced that “Massachusetts will be the first state in the country to enact universal health insurance.” But the mandate was never fully put into effect. In 1988, 494,000 people were uninsured in Massachusetts. The number had increased to 657,000 by 2006.

Oregon, in 1989, combined an employer mandate with an expansion of Medicaid and the rationing of expensive care. When the federal government granted the waivers needed to carry out the program, Gov. Barbara Roberts said, “Today our dreams of providing effective and affordable health care to all Oregonians have come true.” The number of uninsured Oregonians did not budge.

In 1992 and ’93, similar bills passed in Minnesota, Tennessee and Vermont. Minnesota’s plan called for universal coverage by July 1, 1997. Instead, by then the number of uninsured people in the state had increased by 88,000.

Tennessee’s Democratic governor, Ned McWherter, declared that “Tennessee will cover at least 95 percent of its citizens.” Yet the number of uninsured Tennesseans dipped for only two years before rising higher than ever.

Vermont’s plan, passed under Gov. Howard Dean, called for universal health care by 1995. But the number of uninsured people in the state has grown modestly since then.

The State of Washington’s 1993 law included the major planks of recent Nixon-like plans: an employer mandate, an individual mandate for the self-employed and expanded public coverage for the poor. Over the next six years, the number of uninsured people in the state rose about 35 percent, from 661,000 to 898,000.

As governor, Mitt Romney tweaked the Nixon formula in 2006 when he helped devise a second round of Massachusetts health care reform: employers in the state that do not offer health coverage face only paltry fines, but fines on uninsured individuals will escalate to about $2,000 in 2008. On signing the bill, Mr. Romney declared, “Every uninsured citizen in Massachusetts will soon have affordable health insurance.” Yet even under threat of fines, only 7 percent of the 244,000 uninsured people in the state who are required to buy unsubsidized coverage had signed up by Dec. 1. Few can afford the sky-high premiums.

Each of these reform efforts promised cost savings, but none included real cost controls. As the cost of health care soared, legislators backed off from enforcing the mandates or from financing new coverage for the poor. Just last month, Massachusetts projected that its costs for subsidized coverage may run $147 million over budget.

The “mandate model” for reform rests on impeccable political logic: avoid challenging insurance firms’ stranglehold on health care. But it is economic nonsense. The reliance on private insurers makes universal coverage unaffordable.

With the exception of Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic presidential hopefuls sidestep an inconvenient truth: only a single-payer system of national health care can save what we estimate is the $350 billion wasted annually on medical bureaucracy and redirect those funds to expanded coverage. Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Obama tout cost savings through computerization and improved care management, but Congressional Budget Office studies have found no evidence for these claims.

In 1971, New Brunswick became the last Canadian province to institute that nation’s single-payer plan. Back then, the relative merits of single-payer versus Nixon’s mandate were debatable. Almost four decades later, the debate should be over. How sad that the leading Democrats are still kicking around Nixon’s discredited ideas for health reform.

David U. Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler are professors of medicine at Harvard and the co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program.
When our state's "new" system becomes unworkable don't say that nobody saw it coming.

There is a huge difference between health care and health insurance. It's too bad that most of our political leaders like to pretend otherwise for reasons that are far more cynical than ideological.

UPDATE: Today's Eagle provides more evidence of the the impending train wreck.
Friday, December 14, 2007
  When Reality Becomes Parody
Remember Bill O'Reilly's clamoring about "The War On Christmas"?

It was a bad joke last year, but this year he is really taking his idiocy to new levels:
Yesterday, the right-wing group Focus on the Family released “The Attack on Christmas 2007, a list of businesses that advertise during the holidays. Barnes & Noble (B&N) is listed in the “Ugly” category for “censor[ing]” Christmas in holiday advertising.

On The O’Reilly Factor yesterday, the group’s Carrie Gordon Earll and Bill O’Reilly — a fighter in the War on Christmas — slammed the business community for “avoiding using the word Christmas.”

But when Earll criticized [Barnes and Noble] for “intentionally removing the word Christmas” and “using that holiday theme,” O’Reilly cowered. “We got - now Barnes and Noble, they say to be fair to them, because they sell a lot of book at Barnes and Noble,” he said:
May Santa leave your integrity in your stocking, Bill. Merry Kwanza!
  Eating Their Own
The Republican primary race is getting fun to watch. And now Utah's favorite son, Mitt, is finally getting a little comeuppance for the crap he pulled while Guv of our state:
As governor, Romney raised fees, which generated an additional $400 million in revenue in their first year, according to, a nonpartisan website that examines candidates' statements. Romney doubled fees for court filings and gun licenses, and he created a $10 fee to receive a certificate of blindness.
$10 bucks to prove you're blind?!?! What a prick!

And I was ticked off about my $95 driver's license. Oy.

My political holiday wish? May these ***holes destroy each other.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
  Folks from "The City" and Town Meeting

This is funny in an odd sort of way:
"The Curnins — property tax-paying, second-homeowners who are not registered to vote in Egremont — sued the town and several municipal officials last year. The couple claimed they were prevented from "speaking on issues important to them as taxpayers" — including a sewer project, a zoning law change, and a $350,000 fire truck expenditure — at town meetings in 2005 and 2006.

The couple, whose legal address is in Larchmont, N.Y., a New York City suburb, said that Egremont officials "unlawfully discriminated" against them and that the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution prohibited town officials from arbitrarily restricting the free speech of people at town meetings"
A Judge (the same one who smacked around the Artist Formerly Known a Buchel) has disagreed for the second time. I wish the same logic would apply to election law where the Supreme Court has indeed confirmed that money is equivalent to First Amendment Free Speech when it comes to campaign spending. The same goes for corporations being given the rights of individuals.

I get tired of those who try to buy influence being "outraged" when they hit a snag, so this story makes me smile.

More so, this story makes me wonder about our neighbor Williamstown and their policies. Does Williamstown allow 2nd Homeowners to speak at Town Meeting? Frankly, given the town's reputation for kowtowing to the whims of the uber-wealthy, I suspect that a wealthy landowner's tend to take a more effective path and "get a meeting" with Peter Fohlin.

More on wealthy Williamstown land owners later....
Monday, December 03, 2007
I live up in the western crux of the hills coming down from Mt. Greylock / Mt. Washington at the trailhead to the Cascades.

During the winter months, when the winds are blowing, there is tremendous and constant roar that seems to come off the top of the hills. It sounds a little like the frieght trains that rumble through a few times a day, but with no breaks in the fury.

Does this noise have anything to do with formation known as "The Bellows Pipe" that is directly south of the Cascades?

Does any other neighborhood in town get treated a similar phenomenon?

Sunday, December 02, 2007
  A Really Bad Idea
Having lived in a state with no income tax (Washington) and understanding the basics of budgeting, I can assure you that the only folks who will come out ahead on this asinine proposal are the top 5% of all wage earners:
It’s the kind of ballot question that would seem irresistible to most voters — whether or not to eliminate the Massachusetts state income tax.

The radical change in tax law would put thousands of dollars back in the pockets of families, but critics say it would deal a dire blow to key services, from education to transportation, wiping out 40 percent of state revenues.
While some state spending will certainly be cut, other taxes (or "fees", as our former Governor used say, to hide his tax increases from Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire) will most certainly go up to avoid draconian cuts in education, etc....

What's the problem with the idea of forcing gov't to spend less by cutting off almost half of all state income?

Well, for starters, no one on Beacon Hill is going to slash 40% of state spending so let's look at the more likely alternatives. How about raising the sales tax? (Or consumption tax some like to frame it.) Those of us who earn near the state average household income, or less, *spend* the vast majority of our paychecks on taxable items. Aside from food, you get dinged by the tax man on almost every penny in your take home pay. However, if I earned $200K/year I would probably be "saving" more and spending a much larger percentage out of state. Hence, lower tax rates.

Perhaps we could raise property taxes. Again, a horrible idea given that the average homestead in Massachusetts is already overvalued and being taxed way too much because of the recent housing bubble. And creating more disincentives to home ownership is the last thing you want to do in a bear-market like the current one.

The income tax hits most people pretty fairly. It can be argued that it is too high, or too low, but the idea that it should be replaced by other revenue streams is short-sighted and designed to play upon the passions and ignorance of a typical voter while only actually benefiting a tiny sliver of the wealthiest residents.

"Hey Bob! Do you want to stop paying state income taxes?!?!"

'nuf said.
A blog of random thoughts and reactions emanating from the bank of a mountain stream in the farthest reaches of the bluest of blue states.

May 2006 / June 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / January 2011 / May 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / October 2011 /

greg at gregoryroach dot com

"Livability, not just affordability." - Dick Alcombright

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