Sunday, September 21, 2008

Yellow Cardinal?/ no/ Cedar Waxwing

This is a picture of a yellow cardinal. I had never seen one before, but this was taken at the eastern portal of the Hoosac Tunnel in the Town of Florida. There were a bunch of Cardinals flying around by the train trestle over the Deerfield River. Only one was red and the rest were various shades of yellow! If you enlarge this picture you can clearly see a red spot on the wing that is shaped like a heart. Talk about carrying your heart on your sleeve!

Edited: After the Comment, it looks as if this is a Cedar Waxwing. Thank you for the comment. I have never heard nor seen this bird before. I thought it was a Cardinal because, well, it looks like one and there was a red one in the group. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful bird. BTW, it is sitting on the fencing of the train trestle. This is a long rickety bridge over the Deerfiel River.

Issues Update

It has been a month since my last post. This is not for lack of activity, but just a lack of time. Things have been progressing on several fronts.

Heating Assistance Forum. I believe that the forum was a success. The people who attended were given a lot of practical advice on where to go for assistance this winter and also were given information on services that could help make their homes more energy efficient. To an extent, it may have been too much information at one time. We gave out palm cards that had numbers of services available and hopefully, people will call these services. Since the forum, I have had a lot of calls asking for information and I know that people who were there have referred others to us.

Food Assistance. The other need this winter will be for food assistance for people who will be spending more money on heating and less on eating. Again, we have heard from a lot of people on this issue. This is an issue that I have worked on n the past and continue to do so. This year, the Legislature increased their funding for food banks to over $12 million. I also note that a few days ago, there was a story about food stamps in Massachusetts. We have lead the nation in the past few years in expansion of our program. I am proud to say that, working with the department, I included language in a past economic development bill that made it easier for that program to add participants. There are a couple of things we have been working on in my office. First, we are compiling a list of places that may be able to help. I will get that list out soon. In the Community Coalition office, the Target Hunger people have been working on coordination of services and my office is trying to be helpful on this front. Lastly, I am working with area agencies to try to make it easier to get food from the food bank to our area. I will have more on this in a week or two.

Broadband. In the next month, Commissioner Gillette from the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) will be in our area holding an informational hearing. She was key to passage of the broadband bill this session and I am happy that she is coming out here. We are working to implement that bill and passage of the bill has lead Verizon to expand their coverage of DSL services to many towns that didn’t have service in the past. I have heard from happy customers in Florida and just received word that Verizon has opened up Rowe. This is good news. Lately, however, I have seen stories from people in areas that haven’t had services complaining that Verizon is rolling out DSL and not FIOS, or fiber to the home. While we all want fiber to the home, it is foolish to complain about DSL services when people have been on dial up in the past. Is it optimal? No, but it is far better than the service we have received in the past.

Electric costs. Last fall I organized a forum concerning electricity costs and capacity in Western Massachusetts. I promised to conduct follow up meetings and report back with another forum. I didn’t do so. The problem was that our meetings took several turns over the past year. The Legislature passed several bills concerning electricity and green jobs and communities. The direction we were going in after the forum has changed based on these bills. I am now talking to local groups about a follow up local agency or group to monitor our electric needs. I will have more on this in the future weeks. I am also looking at alternative energy. Within the next week or so, I will be traveling to upstate New York to look at the windmills that dot the towns of Ellensburg, Chateaugay, and Clinton. People seem to live with these in their back yards and I am interested in the prospects of wind in Western Mass.

Wall Street. While this is not a local issue, it has everyone talking about it. And it affects our budget and our ability to fund local programs. I have been watching this closely as it has several immediate effects on state government. First, a federal bailout to the tune of $700 billion will impact the ability of the next President to enact new programs or fund existing ones. We are borrowing $2 billion a week to run government now and our payment on debt service is one of the largest line items in our federal budget. We must get a handle on this if we are to stay strong and viable as a world power. Second, the Freddie Mac-Fannie Mae “takeover” by the federal government impacts state government in that it impacts capital at local banks. While our area banks are strong, some of the larger banks in the state were impacted when their investments in these organizations were devalued. We need to be aware of this and its potential impact on the business community. Third, while we could not let these large companies fail without putting our entire economy in jeopardy, we need to put systems in place in order that this not happen again. Since the financial services sector of our economy in Massachusetts is one of our strongest, we need to take care to strengthen it while not impeding its ability to grow. This is something that will take a lot of my time and attention in the committee in the coming year.

One last thought on this issue: When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, our country was strong because of the American worker. We took raw materials and through hard work and innovation, we added value. For example, we took iron ore and made cars, or refrigerators. We took a wooden box and through innovation and technology built a television or radio. This “value added” made our economy run and gave us jobs that could support a family. The financial industry was important, but it was most important as a tool to finance our value added jobs. Today, many on Wall Street have decided that making money off of money is more important than the creation of goods.
It seems that new financial instruments are created that create ways to invest, but we have forgotten why we invested in the first place. We need to correct this.

Church Closings. My initial statement on this subject was simply this: Churches are important to our communities as centers for activities, charities, and socialization. If the Diocese is going to close churches, it would be a good idea to communicate with local leaders in order to plan accordingly. For example, St Francis is on one of the most visible approaches to North Adams and there are more considerations as to what happens with that building than whether it is cost effective for the church to close. I had no idea that this would be so controversial. I was scolded by some church officials for not respecting the separation of church and state. I was called by people who thought I wanted to spend state resources on keeping the churches open. However, I also received a lot of phone calls thanking me for speaking out. There are a lot of people that are very worried about their particular church.

This is a touchy issue. Here is what I know. We cannot sustain all of the churches in our area. We need to close some of them. The Bishop will be criticized regardless of which one closes. However, there may be other alternatives if we all work together and I want to explore these. I have not done so in a public manner because I am sensitive to the separation of church and state and this should not be politicized. However, I have talked to a lot of the people working to save their parishes and I have talked to the Bishop. I had a long and frank discussion in Springfield. I will continue to work with all of the groups to see what we can do to resolve these issues.

This is a long post, but there is a lot going on. I will update these and many other issues in future posts.