Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Anybody who spent time downtown, or occasionally went to local watering holes, knew Elmer. I never quite knew his story until I read read it in his obituary. Elmer was one of those folks who was always happy, always enthusiastic about everything and was smiling no matter what life threw at him. My favorite memory of him was singing an awful, horribly out-of-tune rendition of a Beatles song at Key West on a bitter cold Thursday night a few months back. True to form, Elmer was having the time of his life. He'll be missed:
Elmer G. Huntoon 1985 - 2009 NORTH ADAMS Elmer George Huntoon, 23, of 1393 South State St. died Saturday, April 25, 2009, from an unexpected fishing accident.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
  Fox New at Williams - sort of...
To the Williams Community,

This evening, Greta Van Susteren will be taking part in the course Political Leadership, taught by Visiting Lecturer in Leadership Studies Jane Swift. There isn't time afterward for Van Susteren to get to a studio for her nightly Fox program "On the Record" so she'll do her part of it live outside the west entrance to Stetson Hall.

The program will consist of news and commentary on the day's events, and not be about Williams. Any interviews she does will be conducted remotely; no guests will be on location here in Williamstown.

Members of the campus community are free to be there, though there will be no sound amplification.

A 15-minute, Internet-only pre-show will begin at 9:45 p.m.; the cable program will run from 10 to 11.

Jim Kolesar
Assistant to the President for Public Affairs
Monday, April 27, 2009
  Get out the popcorn
If I didn't think this was actually very serious stuff, I would find all of this to be grand entertainement:
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and other top lawmakers have been huddling this afternoon in meetings, trying to garner a veto-proof majority to vote on raising the state’s sales tax to 6.25 percent, according to House members.

They need 107 votes to overcome Governor Deval Patrick’s threat to veto a sales tax increase.


Patrick, who met at the State House over the weekend with DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, sent a letter to the Legislature this afternoon that caught most lawmakers off guard. The letter could dissuade lawmakers from voting in favor of the increase, and could provide an embarrassment to DeLeo in his first major test as speaker.

The governor threatened to veto the sales tax in a letter sent to lawmakers at 12:31 p.m., just before they went to the House floor to debate the $27.4 billion budget.
I expect to hear the sound of multiple shoulders popping with all the arms being twisted on Beacon Hill.

My dog has made Martha Stewart's web site.

No. I'm not kidding.
Monday, April 20, 2009
  Too Kind
I would like to thank the person who signed me up for the digital version of the Reverend Sung Myung Moon's right-wing propaganda sheet - The Washington Times.

However, it might interest this mysterious person, who seems to want to broaden my horizons, that I already was subscribed at a different email address. But thank you anyways.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
  Closing Budget Gaps
Representative Dan has a lengthy post on Beacon Hill's budgetary dilemma. No matter how you slice it, there are going to be some big cuts in the commonwealth's budget.

However, Texas (of all places) has found some money for community mental health in a rather unusual place:
The Texas House Friday voted to drain most of GOP Gov. Rick Perry’s office budget and instead spend the money on community mental health crisis services and veterans’ services.
Granted, this appears to be political payback for Perry's secessionist stupidity, and it will never stand in the final budget, but, damn, it's a great way to make a point.

FYI, our own Governor Patrick's proposed FY 2009 office budget in the House's bill is $4,952,646. Hmmmmmm.......

UPDATE: Glenn chimes in on the budget mess and I agree with him except for:
It also seems reluctant to pass a 1 percent increase in the sales tax, which would yield an estimated $750 million in additional revenue while having a negligible effect on the buying public, despite screams of outrage from the usual quarters.
Sales tax is exactly the wrong place to find money in times like these. It is, by far, the most regressive tax. You are effectively increasing the working poor's tax burden by 1% (except for groceries, which are non-taxable) while increasing the upper incomes by only a tiny fraction of that. "Negligible" is not accurate.

Frankly I am tired of seeing the least economically viable groups in this state and country pick up the slack. It has been shown time and time again that the effective tax rates on the bottom half of the incomes in America is far higher than those on the top. Just ask Warren Buffett.

Find the money somewhere else.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
  Quote of the Day
"... going to the barricades because of taxation with representation."
The notion that somehow these well promoted rallies are the ebb of a huge tide of a supposedly conservative resurgence is... well.... to use an appropriate metaphor - "nuts."

UPDATE: Don't tell Fox's Roger Ailes, but his newest rising star just called for third party which will invariably cripple the GOP that Ailes was hired to promote (not that I mind, but...)

UPDATE 2: The Governor of Texas is rattling the secession sabre. I say go for it. It worked out really well the last time.
  App Envy
This article touches on why I believe the iPhone has been a bigger success than anyone really imagined - the fact that AT&T was forced to let the people who made and used the iPhone define its capabilities.

Sadly, AT&T's cell service in my neighborhood stinks, so no iPhone for me. I was pretty much forced to go with Verizon Wireless simply because of reception. I have bought a very modern phone and I pay extra for things like web browsing, email, etc... but there are only a handful of useful applications available for it, and most of them cost a hefty monthly subscription charge for things that I might use once in a blue moon.

Compared to the thousands of apps for the iPhone, the selection and usefulness of the Verizon apps are pathetic. My guess is that very few programmers are developing them because Verizon keeps a very tight grip on what gets offered to its customers. For the iPhone, Apple controls the content, not AT&T. And that, in my opinion, makes for a world of difference. (Could LG start promoting apps for my phone? Not without Verizon's blessing.)

This is why I hope that Apple ends AT&T's exclusive grip on the iPhone when the contract runs out in 2010. I suspect that it would force the other cell providers and phone manufacturers to step up or lose ground. And Apple would gain at least one more customer in North Adams, MA.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
  Anybody wanna start a pool?
Perhaps we can wager a soda on the date of Cup and Saucer's next Health Inspection.

Putting that up takes cojones. Ya gotta' respect that.

The full photo, taken by the unparalleled Gillian Jones, available on coffee mugs and mouse pads via The Transcript's web site.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
  Chart of the Day
I am quite a bit more hawkish than most people realize. A strong and vibrant military, along with the side benefits of the research and development that go into everything from aviation to medical technology to astrophysics, are a good thing in my book.

That said, this graphic is rather provocative:
Aside from the obvious overkill, there is a deep irony in those numbers. The actual cost of "defense" is only a fraction of the $420 Billion. The rest is spent on all sorts of stuff from R&D to policy projection.

Given that basic paradigm it is amusing to see that those who rant and rave against government spending and its stimulative "bang for the buck" in the economy are quite often the same people who support HUGE military spending.

It has become almost predictable that if the Pentagon tries to end a weapons program a "fiscal conservative" will freak out and start making stuff up to keep the money flowing.

Just sayin'.
Monday, April 06, 2009
  Props to BMC!
Colon Cancer screening for those at risk, but not covered by insurance, actually pays off in the end (pardon the pun). It is cheaper for health plans public and private to catch it early and identify those at high risk, so good job BMC:
Seeking to increase the number of people who get the potentially life-saving procedure, Berkshire Medical Center recently gave free colonoscopies to patients who otherwise couldn't afford the test.

Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in Massachusetts and the nation, yet studies show that only half of those who should be screened by a colonoscopy actually undergo the exam. Experts say this low participation rate can be blamed on a number of factors — patient reluctance or ignorance, lack of access to medical care and, significantly, the cost of the procedure itself.

So BMC and eight other hospitals in Massachusetts provided free screenings to pre-qualified patients on March 21.
Go to C3's website (Colorectal Cancer Coalition) and sign the petition to pass HR 1189 which would create such a program nationwide.
  It's On!
Alcombright is running for Mayor.
City Councilor Richard J. Alcombright alerted the media Monday morning that he will announce his bid Tuesday morning at his home to unseat longtime incumbent John Barrett III.

Alcombright, a Hoosac Bank vice president and city native, is serving his fourth full term as city councilor and has been a member of the McCann School Committee since 1991. He was appointed by the council in 2000 to fill the unexpired term of his late father, longtime City Councilor Daniel F. Alcombright Jr.

Barrett, the longest-serving mayor in Massachusetts, is in his 13th term. He will face his first substantial opposition since he defeated Paul Babeu, a former city councilor and county commissioner, in 2001 for the second time.
I've spoken to Dick about his intentions and have great faith that he is doing this for the right reasons.

I honestly do not know if Mayor Barrett will run or retire rather than have to put on a full fledged campaign. He says he is a candidate, so I would take him at his word.

The dynamic I see at play is that after 26 years, Mayor Barrett has made as many political foes as he has allies. These voters would likely back anybody who runs against JBIII. In Dick's case, I just don't sense any real public opposition to him. His biggest hurdle will be to demonstrate that he would be an effective leader. If he does that successfully, with everything else being even, I tend to think he has a pretty darn good shot.

Now with all that said, the council races will get interesting. Watch for some announcements in the near future.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
  Nut Jobs who "Think the Unthinkable"
Charles Blow get this one pretty much exactly right:
But, it’s not all just harmless talk. For some, their disaffection has hardened into something more dark and dangerous. They’re talking about a revolution.

Some simply lace their unscrupulous screeds with loaded language about the fall of the Republic. We have to “rise up” and “take back our country.” Others have been much more explicit.

For example, Chuck Norris, the preeminent black belt and prospective Red Shirt, wrote earlier this month on the conservative blog WorldNetDaily: “How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution?”

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, imagining herself as some sort of Delacroixian Liberty from the Land of the Lakes, urged her fellow Minnesotans to be “armed and dangerous,” ready to bust caps over cap-and-trade, I presume.

And between his tears, Glenn Beck, the self-professed “rodeo clown,” keeps warning of an impending insurrection by saying that he believes that we are heading for “depression” and “revolution” and then gaming out that revolution on his show last month. “Think the unthinkable” he said. Indeed.
I became aware of political vitriol around the time of Anita Hill and the debut of Rush Limbaugh on the national stage. At first I thought it was harmless - maybe even good for democracy to have a little bit of the "throw crap at a wall and see what sticks" style of punditry. I watched with only slight dismay in 1994 when a bunch of lies about a national health care proposal invigorated the Gingrich Contract with America. A few years later I got kinda angry when a bunch of pantie-sniffers, unleashed by the GOP congress, tried to undo an election. By the time that the Supreme Court circumvented the Constitutional remedy for a disputed Presidential Election in 2000, I was truly pissed off.

But never, never in my darkest thoughts did I think that some sort of overthrow of the US Government was something remotely desirable or beneficial to our American way of life.

After 9/11 everybody saved the nasty comments for Bin Laden and Co. However, The Bush administration lied their way into a disasterous war and their utter incompetence led many to call for their legal and orderly removal from office. The right, courtesy of the former pantie-sniffer Charles Krauhammer, began to accuse those who thought Bush should be held accountable for his mis-steps as suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. (I laughed)

Rush asked 'Which is the party of Hate?' and shortly thereafter criticizing the President opened you up to a knee-jerk response along the lines of 'Your deranged hatred of our president is a mental disorder.'

I remember a city councilor clenching his teeth as he gave just such a lecture about "hate" when a group of citizens asked the North Adams City Council to vote on a resolution supporting Bush's impeachment. One of those who led that particular movement had to drive by a sign put up by one of his neighbors' lawns calling him "Dr. Hate" every morning on his way to work.

In 2004 Howard Dean's unofficial motto was "Take our country back." Being a candidate for office, he obviously meant - at the ballot box.

But in 2009, when I hear Beck, Hannity or Limbaugh make comments like these, I don't think they want to wait until November 2012. No, all you have to do is read the comments at the national bellweather of right wing craziness,, and you will see many who are calling action of an undemocratic nature. Hell, even the local Topix forum of the Berkshire Eagle is overrun with insane rants about such Joh Birch-esque topics as Global Currency, Gun Confiscations, FEMA Concentration Camps, Mandatory Service, Secret Muslim bowing rituals, New World Order, Government Censorship, etc.... etc.... etc....

I used to write-off such nonsense, but this time around there is a different tone. The nutjobs are truly restless. They've been told that their world is coming to an end so many times that I think that they finally believe it.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
  Victim or "victim"
Stories like this one break my heart. This cake business sounds like a truly heartfelt little outfit. But I have a difficult time believing that a city employee who has had a side business out of his home for decades can play naive about health regulations and permits.
The Cake Man was told to put the mixer down and step away from the flour — no more wedding cakes until he complies with a state health law.

You see, Pulcaro and his wife, Rosalie, both 69, bake and design cakes inside their Doreen Street home kitchen. Pulcaro started the "hobby" at age 18 when he organized a 25th wedding anniversary party for his parents.

Short on money, his aunt told him "Make one yourself," so he did. That night, two family members asked him to bake their wedding cakes.

He hired a helper when he married Rosalie 49 years ago. They even baked their own wedding cake — a cherry-nut cake "with vanilla frosting and royal blue and pink roses," Pulcaro quipped.

"He still remembers," Rosalie said, smiling.

She bakes the cakes, Pulcaro designs them, about a dozen per year for family, friends and friends of friends. The Cake Man has built up a reputation as one of the best around.
As someone who deals with food handling regulations, permits, inspections, etc... I suspect that Pittsfield's Health Department quietly turned a blind eye to the "dozen" cakes a year. Considering that these cakes might sell for several hundreds of dollars each, we are not exactly talking about a hobby. I have a sinking feeling that the health department is the least of this guy's potential problems if an IRS agent reads The Eagle.

If you want to play the game, you need to play by the rules.

UPDATE: Per Larry's comment, you really need to check out the Topix thread with the article to see just how unhinged small city politics can get. You've got people calling for the head of the Mayor and the Health Inspector over a legitimate requirement for a health permit. Yikes.
Friday, April 03, 2009
  Globe Going Bye Bye?
The Boston Phoenix breaks a BIG story. The NYTimes Company, which owns the Boston Globe, has told the Globe's unions that the paper will close in 30 days if the workers don't immediately give $20 million in concessions.

Having witnessed the dramatic collapse of several large daily papers around the country in the past year, it is difficult to say how much of this is a calculated threat versus an absolutely desperate Hail Mary.

Strange days.....
Thursday, April 02, 2009
  The Globe Ed Board Gets One Right
I wonder what the chairman of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Revenue thinks about this:
IF TOWNS and cities are going to maintain public services during the current downturn, they are going to need access to the kind of new revenue that the Legislature has always been unwilling to grant them. This week or next, a special legislative commission on municipal finances is expected to break new ground by calling for local-option taxes on meals and lodging, as well as the elimination of the property-tax exemption for telecommunications gear.
Speaker DeLeo's absolute lack of understanding (or is simply a lack of compassion?) of the revenue issues faced by small cities and towns boggles my mind. Therefore I tend to think that any real leadership on this issue is going to have to come from the Senate.

I get the impression that the new House leadership is dead set against even the tiniest loosening of their grip on the state's purse strings. Someone with good sized soapbox needs to call them on it.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
  I Work in an Odd Industry
From a co-operative Grocers Listserve:
Subject: [CGIN-list] up the river . . . to the co-op?
From: "Donald M. Kreis" []
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2009 23:48:54 -0400
To: co-op Board listserve [], CGIN listserve []

Fellow cooperators:

A friend in the NH Legislature -- a Republican with whom I exchange friendly banter from time to time -- forwarded this to me . . . and I have to confess I am without a credible response. Any ideas?

President, Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rep. Lois Fairchild []
Date: Mar 25, 2009 11:41 PM
Subject: first gay marriage and now THIS?
To: Donald M. Kreis []

Don: I know you're into this cooperative thing and belong to the socialist fringe of the Democratic Party. Can you explain what these people are thinking?



Administration to Put Inmates in Charge of New Federal Prison

By John De Bello
Assocated Press Writer

LITTLETON, New Hampshire (AP) – Attorney General Eric Holder plans to travel to this remote New Hampshire village next month to launch what the Obama Administration is calling the boldest prison reform experiment in nearly two centuries: a correctional facility that is not just run by its inmates but is actually owned by them.

Holder will join local officials here in officially opening the $457 million Meldrim Thompson Cooperative Correctional Facility, a federal prison that will house 300 inmates under terms of incarceration that even the project’s proponents concede are without precedent in the history of punishment.

“It came to me in a blinding flash of insight, while shopping at my local food co-op,” explained J. Stephen Peace, the Justice Department’s newly appointed director of the Bureau of Prisons. “Wouldn’t inmates behave better, and actually build a sense of community behind the prison walls, if they owned the facility and if it existed to serve them instead of oppress them?”

Rather than have a warden appointed by the Bureau of Prisons, the Thompson Correctional Co-op will have a general manager who is appointed by the inmates themselves, through an elected board of directors. To become a resident of the facility, an inmate would have to make an equity investment of $3,500 – after getting the approval of his or her sentencing judge and probation officer.

It will, however, still be a prison. The inmates on the board will have the right to hire, supervise and fire the general manager, but the by-laws of the cooperative prison specify that it must be run according to the same rules and regulations that govern the rest of the federal prison system. Yes, there will be the usual cells, bars, locks and strict behavioral requirements.

“But it will be a democracy – a real democracy,” said Bob Hayes, general manager of the Littleton Consumer Cooperative Society – the town’s new food co-op which will, by coincidence, open not long before the prison does and which will, under an agreement with the Justice Department, have a special relationship with the new federal facility.

The Littleton Co-op will provide advice to the Bureau of Prisons on
running a cooperative organization and, in return, low-risk federal inmates on work release will stock shelves and work the checkout counter at the food store. Part of the arrangement would allow inmates to borrow the $3,500 prison membership fee from the food co-op and then work off the debt.

“The federal prison system is full of guys who know all about retailing because they were peddling illegal drugs,” said Hayes. “I can’t wait to put all those street smarts to work selling herbal medicines and organic vegetables!”

According to Professor Thomas Nokitofa, director of the Crime and Punishment Institute at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the new correctional facility could be the biggest advance in prison management in the English-speaking world since the modern concept of a penitentiary replaced the traditional, dungeon-like jail in the early 19th Century. “Two hundred years ago, prisoners were literally treated like vermin, and people were outraged at first about reform efforts,” said Nokitofa. “Today most of us understand that inmates need rehabilitation – and what could be better calculated to do that than living and working cooperatively?”

The Obama Administration likes the prison co-op idea not just for policy reasons but because it is a rare example in today's economic turmoil of something that will reduce rather than increase the federal deficit. "This has potential implications for vast swaths of the federal goverment," according to Samuel Smith, a press officer with the Office of Management and Budget. "Requiring users of a particular facility to provide the equity to support the infrastructure is a great way to leverage the government's resources."

Still, the plan has its critics – some of them local folks who are not thrilled with such an unusual neighbor.

“I’ve heard of inmates running the asylum, but this is ridiculous,” said Wilbur Finletter, a county commissioner and outspoken local Republican whose home will be just a few hundred feet from the new prison. “I don’t think Hannibal Lechter is going to give a damn about ‘democratic member control’ or ‘concern for community.’” His quip alludes to two of the seven “cooperative principles,” adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance, that officials say will guide the new cooperative prison.

Gretta Attenbaum, manager of the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket, vowed to file a lawsuit to stop the facility from opening. “Nobody said anything about cooperatives, or driving the local food store out of business, when the Bush Administration showed up and said this would help our local economy,” she said. “Now that the socialists are in charge, we are not going to cooperate with their crazy cooperative. If [President] Obama thinks this is such a great idea, he should let the gorillas and monkeys run the National Zoo in Washington.”

Also apoplectic is the Congressional Law and Order Caucus. According to its chairman, Rep. Don Foozman (R-Ark.), the bipartisan caucus will hold a news conference and public protest on the day of Holder's appearance in New Hampshire. The protest is tentatively scheduled to be held outside the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, an ultra-high-security facility where 22 percent of inmates have killed fellow prisoners in other correctional facilities.

The Bureau of Prisons is seemingly unconcerned about the threats and expressions of outrage. According to spokesperson Jim Richardson, as long as the inmates are locked inside, the Bureau has the authority to set whatever rules – or allow the inmates to set whatever rules – they want within the facility.

“We’re confident that once this thing is up and running, everyone will see that a cooperative prison is a real achievement for Littleton and for the nation,” said Richardson.

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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

My ongoing campaign for North Adams City Council

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Because a Chart is Worth 1000 Words

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