Monday, February 21, 2011

Letter to Darien Times On Capital Punishment

February, 14, 2011

To the Editor:

Given that the number of people exonerated from death row is now 140 (fourteen of which, alone, have been proven innocent due to DNA testing), Carlo Leone's and Bob Kolenberg's conditional support for the death penalty ("27th District: Special election candidates debate in Darien", February 10, 2011), is becoming more untenable all the time.

As of last March, New Mexico (following New York and New Jersey) became the third state in two years to abolish the death penalty, bringing the total remaining that still apply capital punishment down to thirty-five. Aside from the realities that capital punishment is expensive, cruel and does little to deter the crimes that currently invoke it, New Jersey's own backing of abolishment is especially instructive for Connecticut, as the Garden State's system of capital punishment is virtually identical to our own--with the exception that no one in New Jersey ever volunteered to be executed (New Jersey has executed no one in the modern era).

New Jersey's decision resulted from wide recognition, both on the part of the petitioning public and Assemblymen Wilfredo Caraballo (D) and Christopher Bateman (R) that the death penalty fails to provide closure to families and is prone to arbitrary decisions, leading to racial and geographical disparities.

Kirk Bloodsworth stated it more plainly before a Fairfield audience last month, while recounting his traumatic experiences in prison as the first death row inmate to be freed by DNA evidence: “I work with people to try and abolish the death penalty because of one fact: We could execute an innocent person. We have a death row population of 3,500 and a prison population of 2.5 million. The risk is too great for error."

Rolf Maurer
Candidate for Connecticut State Senate (District 27)
Connecticut Green Party

Response To Himes' Defense of Health Care Reform

submitted to The Advocate, February 3, 2011

The true "theater" Congressman Himes should have cited regarding Republican opposition to health care reform (Himes: Vote on health care law repeal is 'political theater', 1/16/11) is the myth perpetuated by both parties that health care in the United States is inconceivable without serving the needs of for-profit insurance, first--an industry whose own health depends on actively denying it to customers.

Why isn't Washington talking about addressing the issue on terms dictatd by something more civilized, like shared human need? It can't be because the public wouldn't back that priority. Consistently, CBS, Yahoo! And New York Times polls have shown 60 percent public support for a single-payer system. Nor can it be because the idea is too absurd to take seriously, otherwise why did Senator Baucus (D-MT) have members of Single Payer Action and Physicians for a National Health Program arrested for demanding that such an option be considered by his reform committee?

Replacing the privatized model would reduce expenses that currently comprise about 17 percent of the GDP, while also serving everyone (regardless of income or conditions) with more money spent directly on care, as the costly bureaucracy and redundancy defining privately-mediated health care would be vastly reduced.

The concern that people should be able to keep insurance they are "happy with" under a new program represents a false choice. Would one like the option of breathing consistently clean over occasionally polluted air? Like fire protection, everyone needs health care.

That's not to say we don't need insurance. Coverage, however, for property damage does not validate coverage for one's health, because, unlike a house or car, no one has a choice of what body she resides in, nor the ability to switch from one to another in the event of poor health.

Another common partisan complaint is resentment over having to pay for others' medical needs--particularly if they don't take care of themselves. Yet, even private insurance cannot issue payouts to anyone without drawing from the collective contribu-tions of all plan participants. Like publicly-funded single-payer schemes popular in Europe and elsewhere, insurance pools risk and costs across all of its members, making it, at heart, a dysfunctional version of much-dreaded socialized medicine.

The sensible recommendation about taking responsibility for one's health is better served with universal care, because its lower cost would encourage more people to visit doctors on a preventative basis, rather than waiting until a problem becomes acute--often in costly emergency room situations.

Co-signed by over 80 members of Congress, John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich's "United States National Health Care Act" (H.R. 676) works by expanding Medicare coverage for all. But why wait for Washington? Like the Vermont legislature, there's no reason Hartford cannot investigate implementing a state-level version of its own.

Rolf Maurer
Candidate for State Senate
CT Green Party

Monday, November 2, 2009

Going Electric

(submitted to Stamford Advocate, November 2, 2009)

Dear Editor,

James Boncek makes an interesting point at the end of his inspiring account of giving a second-hand car a new lease on life ("Fairfield Man Crafts a Plug-In Toyota", October 17, 2009, p. A-10), when he wonders why the big car companies aren't doing the same. The answer is that several already have, including the maker of his Tercel, but after brief trials, subsequently cut short their rollouts in most of the United States.

According to the Toyota website, the reason their short-lived all-electric RAV4 EV SUV (1997-2003)--in almost all respects, virtually identical to its gasoline-fueled counterpart--failed to sell well was because of insufficient interest and a lack of supportive infrastructure.*

As anyone familiar with the fate of GM's EV-1 knows (as documented in the 2006 film Who Killed the Electric Car?), this is not quite the case. Despite the popularity of GM's electric vehicle with Californians freed from having to visit a gas pump, or deal with the assortment of maintenance routines associated with internal combustion engines, GM did not simply stop making the cars, but actually destroyed those left in their inventory. While Toyota also junked their cars, they took the further step of effectively confiscating RAV4 EVs from satisfied customers that wanted to renew their leases.

The infrastructure argument is pretty weak, as well. Honda, whose Fuelmaker subsidiary makes residential refueling devices for Honda Civic GXs that run on compressed natural gas can do nothing until its parent acts (Update: in fact, Fuelmaker went bankrupt earlier this year). Even when Spokane Community College expressed interest in equipping its fleet with CNG Civics, the company, after dragging its feet for months with one excuse after another, refused to sell the school their vehicles.

Yet, clearly conscious of how comparatively car-dependent U.S. culture is, outside of a few domestic markets, these same companies are happy to sell alternative-powered cars in Europe.

Despite recently reversing its position following public pressure from concerned Prius owners, among others, Toyota's original support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's opposition to climate-change legislation makes it clear the entrenched auto industry is reluctant to evolve, unless it is on its own terms.

Short of encouraging FedEx, UPS, or some other international businesses with a large fleet to become influential adopters, Boncek's approach could be a window on a future of a more grassroots transportational transformation. Edwin Black's The Plan: How to Rescue Society When the Oil Stops--Or the Day Before empowers communities to take matters into their own hands, by explaining how to implement mass automotive refit projects across the country.

*Correction: Though a common excuse by manufacturers for not more aggressively marketing EVs, Toyota did not cite a lack of infrastructure as a barrier to the success of the RAV4 EV, but industry-related problems with battery efficiency and lifespan.

Rolf Maurer
Green Party Mayoral candidate

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Stamford Green Drinks Speech, Stamford Marriott & Spa (10/28)

My thanks to Daphne Dixon for inviting me to speak briefly this evening, and to everyone here for their continuing support of Stamford Green Drinks. My name is Rolf Maurer, and as you know, I am running for Mayor as the Green Party candidate.

In keeping with today's dramatic economic and environmental changes, I'm interested in pursuing a more adaptable direction for Stamford by supporting a more vigorous local economic base and a sustainable infrastructure that, together, can stimulate an authentic sense of place and participation for city residents.

Some key facets toward this end would encompass increased pedestrian- and bike-friendly transportation options that would inspire more human-scale social interaction, the conversion of vacant spaces throughout town into community gardens that would offset the expense and pollution associated with far-traveled supermarket produce, the establishment of "destination" retail space in the Stamford Town Center exclusively for local businesses, as well as the introduction of a local currency to cushion further financial shocks.

Part and parcel of stimulating economic autonomy is the embracing of new technologies and business opportunities in keeping with the emerging green economy.

By redirecting city funds currently allocated for redundant privately-contracted services, like park and school facilities maintenance, as well as water treatment--all of which can be performed directly by the city, such monies can, instead, help support homegrown businesses related to sales, distribution, manufacture and installation of consumer and commercial energy-saving devices, ranging from as-needed tankless water heaters to residential micro-hydro power.

The Connecticut Green Energy Fund offers a variety of incentive programs to encourage homeowners to switch to alternative power, as well as a free tour of how residents around the state have already succeeded in going partially, or completely, off the grid.

In line with Woodstock's success in converting its school district to renewables, part of Stamford's 20 Percent By 2010 program, introduced by Dannel Malloy, commits the city to fitting one school with solar panels for every 100 homeowners who go solar, as well.

On the corporate side, the city can introduce the basic mandate that at least 10 percent of a given building's electricity must come from solar power. Other measures would include an ordinance against overnight lighting practices (unless for reasons of aesthetics, security, etc.) and a procedure to verify the effectiveness of LEED standards beyond the initial certification process. According to New York-based building engineer Henry Gifford, too often corporations attain a Gold or Silver rating following the adoption of some cosmetic fix, then go back to business as usual--a notorious example being an office tower with solar panels installed under a broad awning, hampering its ability to supply electricity to the building. In fact, in many cases, retrofitting new buildings with older building techniques is cheaper and gets better results than something more novel.

Beyond advocating regulation reforms, inspiring a greater commitment to corporate green compliance rests on challenging conventional wisdom that going green of necessity means a sacrifice to profits. Environmental consultant Gill Friend advocates adopting a nature-inspired corporate culture that can actually result in greater profits in many cases. The Florida-based author of The Truth About Green Business cites examples of how the average waste-to-product ratio of 96:4 can be shifted more favorably by turning what is conventionally considered waste into an additional revenue stream.

Probably the one aspect of industrial society's environmental challenges posing the biggest impact is, of course, transportation.

Depending on what partnership can emerge and how much money can be provided through the Federal Transit Authority, I would support completion of the Urban Transitway corridor linking the South End and the Transportation Center, at least to Bull's Head. While there is understandable controversy regarding the considerable expense for the proposed trolley system running along this route, in the long run, it would be a better investment than relying on buses, alone, because light rail offers fewer petroleum inputs to operate than buses or cars--which depend on oil not just for fuel, but for the production of tires and even asphalt.

Up front, buses should certainly run more frequently and offer additional routes to link pre-existing parallel ones. Jitney service can help round out the mix, so that, over time, people can enjoy a variety of mutually-supportive mass transit options, so that they have something to fall back on if one mode is unavailable--a situation familiar to seniors and disabled who need transport to the hair dresser or a doctor.

Which is why reinstatement of a Stamford Dial-a-Ride service is also vital, as drivers for the current Norwalk-based county-wide service are not always well-versed in Stamford's layout, resulting in frustrating delays.

Both the Urban Transitway and the Mill River Project feature accommodations for pedestrians and bicylclists, potentially heralding a time when these more passive means of getting around can share space equally with cars.

Besides installing residential sidewalks built to the standard of Bedford Street's, adding bike lanes along streets and beside Merritt Parkway, Bicycle-as-Vehicle education for adults and children, alike, can help reduce the tension between drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, so that each party is no longer wary of the unpredictable behavior of the other.

One option doesn't even require the purchase of a bike, at all: Boston has introduced European-style bicycle rental kiosks for the commuter and budget tourist sets. With the swipe of a card, you can take a bike from the train station to a business or retail core, returning it to another kiosk for the next person's use at your destination.

Stamford can emulate Greenwich's safe route master plan for students to walk or bicycle to their schools by instituting traffic calming measures in the relevant vicinities, while the conversion of high school student parking lots to parks or community gardens can help supplant early-onset dependence on car culture with an appreciation of sustainable local agriculture.

All of these new options offer the prospect of greater downtown commerce, as people would be less burdened by finding a place to park their cars--a phenomenon observed in the Bloor Street retail district of Toronto, where a recent story revealed the majority of business was generated by pedestrian and bicycling customers.

But car enthusiasts needn't feel left out in this evolving landscape. Around the time when electric, steam and petroleum vehicles shared the road, Stamford was once home to its own nameplate in the form of the "Stam-mobile".

A new support infrastructure for the conversion of conventional cars to run on electric, regionally-specific biomass, or other power plants, can resurrect such enterprise and engineering variety, today.

By having the city buy off-the-shelf conversion kits in bulk and selling them to interested drivers at cost, shutdown gas stations around town could be repurposed as conversion facilities, providing a new service outlet for the automotive aftermarket in the area.

The need for training of student and professional mechanics in these new specialties, as well as students in other green vocational areas, perhaps with the input of MXenergy, or other alternative energy investment firms, can be used to pressure the state board of education to re-open Wright Technical School.

In combination with the respective agricultural and green technology initiatives of Dolan Middle and Rogers Magnet Schools, Stamford can potentially situate itself to chart a more resilient, sustainable economy in the face of the financial, climate and resource access challenges of the years to come.

I hope my proposals have proved interesting, and thank you for your interest. If you would like to discuss anything in further detail, I would be happy to speak with you indvidually.

Thanks very much.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stamford Downtown Special Services District and the Franchising of Civic Culture

(submitted to Fairfield Weekly, September 30, 2009)

Dear Editor,

That chain businesses are taking notice of a growing consumer consciousness that prizes buying locally is gratifying, but only up to a point ("The Local Lie", Fairfield Weekly, September 13-23, page 15). As was the case with the push to weaken organic food standards in the 1990s, big business is reacting now as it did then, by attempting to change perceptions of what the public wants, rather than changing what it offers.

Of course, expecting name retailers like Wal-Mart to become localized is as reasonable as expecting the proverbial lion to lie down with the lamb. They would no longer be what they are if they tried. But there is another form of false localism that is more subtle and pervasive.

In the name of promoting the city's economy, Stamford's Downtown Special Services District--in partnership with UBS and Heineken, among other PR-hungry multinationals--channels city taxes to its activities, limiting the full potential by which dollars spent in Stamford can actually benefit Stamford, because so much of the funding for DSSD programs leaves town.

The current estimated expenses of DSSD operations for Stamford residents is $195,000 (Fiscal Year 2009/2010 Mayor's Operating Budget Request). While it has not changed from 2008, much could be saved by localizing the events, themselves, and keeping more money circulating in town, while cultivating social bonds and culture.

No one can contest how the DSSD has revitalized the Bedford Street/Broad Street area since its inception in 1993. It has dramatically pulled people to member shops and restaurants through a year-round series of activities, ranging from September Arts & Crafts on Bedford, the Alive @ Five concert series, as well as the (forthcoming) cumbersomely-titled SAC Capital Advisors, LP Giant Balloon Inflation Party. Still, can such franchised event management really equate with the fostering of authentic vitality for any city?

Contrary to DSSD Director of Retail Development Jacqueline Wetenhall's stated goal, there is more to robust commerce than having young professionals dine downtown "to leave with shopping bags full of retail offerings.” Truly independent commerce has as much to do with mutual ties of familiarity and good will as it does with the provenance of the goods and services being exchanged--not to mention a more democratic determination of WHAT is being exchanged.

For example, why can't the majority of Alive @ Five performers be drawn from an area pool of up-and-coming talent, rather than relying so heavily on name acts, like Blues Traveler or Sugar Ray? September Arts & Crafts on Bedford could do more to welcome artists and exhibits representing the high schools, UConn and the Loft Artists Association, right here in town, while being more accommodating to younger children's active participation. In addition to face-painting and the Stamford Museum & Nature Center's Petting Zoo, what about something like, say, a sidewalk chalk art competition? Over the years, some Stamfordites have acquired notoriety for the elaborate Halloween displays they put up on their lawns each year. It would have been fun and timely to have included them, or have their input on a how-to presentation.

Publicly-mediated community events have been done elsewhere with enthusiastic success. Cash-strapped Willimantic introduced do-it-yourself parades in recent years, where residents improvised with boom boxes to create an event with its own spontaneous character. Because no significant expenses are involved, something like this could be duplicated in different sections of Stamford--not just in pre-designated development zones, where even benefiting merchants must pay a membership fee.

Maybe the ultimate means of invigorating regional economic health is reconsidering what instrument of negotiation people rely upon. With the only thing keeping the U.S. dollar afloat is the willingness of credit-bearing nations to continue to support U.S. debt, as cited by Julian Robertson of Tiger Management, the introduction of local currency helps residents better support one another, while cushioning the impact of a major economic shock. Thread City Bread is alternative money used to sustain independent businesses in Willimantic. New Haven's more intimate approach takes the axiom "time is money" to a literal extreme, wherein participating neighbors trade one hour out of their day with one another to teach new skills, cook meals, walk pets, repair fences and so on. Because time is the one commodity everyone possesses, the SHARE Haven Time Bank is immune from inflationary or deflationary influences.

The only thing false about the creativity, conviviality and economy of such alternative ways of building local commerce, is that, in fact, they are about building community.

Rolf Maurer
Stamford Mayoral Candidate,
Green Party

Friday, September 11, 2009

Poultry's Promise

September 11, 2009 (9/20/09, Stamford Times)

The welcome piece in the August 23 edition of the Stamford Times, "A Home to Roost: Resident Leads Push to Keep Backyard Poultry" (page 3) enumerates advantages to this trend that only begin to, well, scratch the surface.

Besides the appeal of unusual and personable pets, or even the convenience of fresh eggs, backyard poultry could serve as the backbone to the comeback of literal home economics in Stamford--as economics originally addressed the management of finances and resources in the household.

Combined with World War II-style Victory gardens and a city-wide implementation of community gardens, before too long, raising chickens and other birds might be vital to local sustenance, while stimulating a sense of community solidarity more valuable than the transitory associations formed around society's current consumeristic preoccupations.

Many may still be reeling from the sub-prime mortgage debacle and the extractive consequences of the bank 'bailouts', but economists warn that we still have to wait out the impact of the credit and derivatives bubbles.
While they are considering the prospects of hyperinflation, any efforts to reassert local control of agriculture would be vital, if the prices for food and other essentials skyrocketed overnight, in the manner of Weimar Germany.

In addition to their usefulness as both food and pest controllers, natural gardening pioneer Masanobu Fukuoka (author of One-Straw Revolution) prizes chickens for the value of their droppings as fertilizer. Marrying this to a renewed emphasis on home canning and other traditional food-preserving practices can help gradually wean us off dependency on big box supermarket chains.

Despite the fecundity of their offerings, the year-round accessibility of fruits and vegetables they provide comes at a precarious toll in fuel-intensive transport from remote places, as well as in reduced nutritional integrity and safety, due to harmful inputs from agribusiness.

Recent food safety legislation, like H.R. 759: Food And Drug Administration Globalization Act, the Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)-sponsored H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 and the pending S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, among others, emphasize quick fixes for food-borne safety issues, increasing the application of hormones and toxic pesticides, while doing nothing to address the underlying problems of factory farming, such as lack of basic sanitation and poor government inspection practices.

Penned to the benefit of Monsanto and other industrial food giants, collectively, such legislation's regulations and penalties are so extreme, they could threaten the future of independent farms, local farmers' markets and even organic food co-ops.

With the weight of massive national debt, the threat of more wars on the horizon by the new administration and the unrelenting promise of a serious flu epidemic, establishing local food autonomy is an indispensable tool to adapting to our turbulent times.

Rolf Maurer
Green Party Mayoral Candidate

UBS Debacle: From Switzerland To Stamford

August 27, 2009 (posted on Advocate website 8/27/09)

Dear Editor,

When it comes to the recent UBS tax evasion controversy, it's interesting to see how what happens on the national level finds local expression. While Obama played golf in Martha's Vineyard with UBS executive Robert Wolf, after the settlement regarding UBS' aiding thousands of American tax evaders, Bradley Birkenfeld, the UBS insider who blew the whistle, lost his freedom for 40 months and his standing in the Swiss banking community--even as his own millionaire client only got probation. Another puzzle: while the IRS will investigate 4,450 millionaires with UBS accounts, Birkenfeld originally submitted 52,000 to the U.S. authorities. Will any action be taken against them?

The contradiction is obvious: how can U.S. courts on the one hand condemn one party for illegal activity, yet simultaneously condemn another for bringing it to their attention? Feeling cornered, it's as if the government resents exercising its lawful authority, and is making an example of Birkenfeld, so it won't have to call organizations like UBS to account in future.

When it comes to big business, Stamford seems to suffer from a similarly accommodating attitude. Twenty years past, when corporations first came to define the city's character, they demanded a variety of concessions under threat that they would leave. Though Stamford held the upper hand, it gave in.

When it first came to town in 2006, UBS was welcomed as a prestigious harbinger of new business and employment for Stamford. Enjoying a tax abatement and subsequent office expansion, it
is now laboring under the weight of not just this scandal, but the stigma of having written down more than $18 billion in exposure to sub-prime loans, with job losses in the thousands in the offing. Pegging the vitality of a community to the unexamined mystique of multi-national businesses that have no lasting stake in it makes no sense in the long run. While, in more manageable proportions, corporate presence in any town can be part of a healthy socio/economic mix, an authentic, more resilient strength (especially during a period of economic upheaval) comes from a renewed emphasis on locally/regionally-based commerce.

Rolf Maurer

Green Party Candidate for Mayor