Category Archives: Business

Brookline businesses and business people

All that glitters: how Chump exploited people

For some people, the first public appearance of Chump–currently the President–was hustling applicants seeking to rent his dad’s apartments in Brooklyn and Queens. It was also his first close encounter with federal government. In 1973, the U.S. Department of Justice charged him and the family company with civil-rights violations for refusing to rent to African-Americans–contrary to the Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. [Public Law 90-284] That helped spark a lasting reputation as a commercial sleazebag.

There is strong synergy between Chump, as commercial sleazebag, and the late Sen. McCarthy of Wisconsin (1908-1957), as self-annointed prosecutor of leftists. The late lawyer Roy Cohn (1927-1986) was attack-dog for McCarthy during the viral phase of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, not long after which McCarthy died of alcohol abuse. Before dying of AIDS and liver cancer, Cohn was attack-dog for Chump, trying in the 1970s to countersue the government as a dodge around Fair Housing charges.

Cohn failed. The countersuit was dismissed, and Chump was forced into a consent agreement. It was a taste of what became usual Chump behavior: try to blame the victims, and call them insulting names. A reporter told it this way: “As [his] Hyatt [hotel] rose, so too did the hidden hand of his attorney Roy Cohn, always there to help with the shady tax abatements, the zoning variances, the sweetheart deals and the threats to those who might stand in the project’s way.”

Exploiting the rich: The Chump reputation from the early 1970s stuck through years of turning his dad’s real-estate fortune into glitzy Atlantic City casinos and resorts. Those businesses all failed under his clumsy and greedy management. As reported in the New York Times, he cheated hundreds of people and ran down his properties, while contriving to enrich himself. Quoted by the Times: “[the family] name does not connote high-quality amenities and first-class service.”

While his gambling businesses in Atlantic City were cratering during the 1990s, Chump stiffed investors, contractors and suppliers, and he turned to almost any source of ready cash. He shortchanged his family as well, borrowing “at least $413 million in today’s money…and never fully repaid his loans.” He drove his “businesses into bankruptcy by his mismanagement…[and] pillaging.”

Exploiting the poor: A problem gambler down on his luck at exploiting the rich turned to exploiting the poor. The main angle was a string of “get rich” games, feeding off notions that the chief card-shark was immensely rich–because of secret knowledge that he could impart, for a fee. Among the better-known games, “Chump University” and later “Chump Institute” were the glitzy upper-crust.

According to a New York Times report, the “secret knowledge” imparted at Chump Institute was actually handicraft of a lawyer and legal writer from Briarcliff Manor, NY. “She said she never spoke” to Chump but “drew on her own knowledge…and a speed-reading” of Chump’s ghost-written books. According to another report, Chump University charged students $1,495 or more a course and delivered “nothing” in return: “No certification. No keys to success. Just debt.”

Bottom-feeding Chump games are described in the recent complaint beginning a federal class-action lawsuit. Chump, three of his offspring and his ongoing business are charged with exploiting poor and middle-income people by vague promises aimed at suckering them into streams of fairly small payments–around $20 to $500–in hopes of future income. Chump and alleged conspirators are charged with federal RICO violations, under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization provisions of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. [Public Law 91–452]

Chump suckered the public by pretending to be a self-made billionaire in a television series called The Apprentice, later The Celebrity Apprentice. According to the class-action complaint, “producers candidly acknowledged that their portrayal…was pure fiction.” [Class action complaint, page 23 of 164] Chump “has a long and storied history of wildly exaggerating his net worth.” [page 26 of 164] Chump’s “apparent wealth was largely an illusion.” [page 64 of 164]

Buyer beware: The main Chump games were recruiting lower-income people into becoming product resellers, particularly for a little-known outfit called American Communications Network (ACN). [Class action complaint, page 9 of 164]. On The Celebrity Apprentice, Chump displayed and touted ACN products. Offscreen, according to the complaint, he made “false and misleading statements indicating [he] was endorsing the company because he believed the ACN business opportunity offered a reasonable probability of commercial success.” [page 10 of 164]

Chump with business agents and conspirators, 2011

ChumpWithConspirators

Source: Class-action complaint, Jane Doe v. Trump Corp.

Hidden from viewers and recruitment targets was many millions of dollars paid by ACN to Chump and alleged conspirators, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. According to a gushing story in the Boston Globe, Chump also licensed his “brand” to a Massachusetts promoter of “diet plans, energy aids and skin care” products–using a similar game of recruiting lower-income resellers.

The class-action complaint in Jane Doe v. Trump Corp. asserts that the four individual complainants in the lawsuit who were suckered into becoming product resellers each lost hundreds to thousands of dollars to deceptive Chump games. Their occupations suggest this would not be money they could afford to lose.


“Jane Doe” — hospice caregiver
“Luke Loe” — mechanic and handyman
“Richard Roe” — fast-food sales clerk
“Mary Moe” — retail sales clerk

If the class action and the use of RICO sanctions are upheld in U.S. District Court, many other victims of Chump games stand to be identified, and punitive damages plus legal costs can be assessed. Chump and alleged conspirators might become exposed to criminal RICO sanctions, including fines and prison terms of up to 20 years.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 30, 2018


Maggie Haberman and Benjamin Weiser, Trump persuaded struggling people to invest in scams, lawsuit alleges, New York Times, October 29, 2018

Jonathan O’Connell, Trump defrauded investors in marketing scheme, lawsuit says, Washington Post, October 29, 2018

Class action complaint filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) provisions of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Jane Doe et al. v. Trump Corporation et al,, Case no. 1:18-cv-09936, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, October 29, 2018

Alexandra Hutzler, Bill Maher asks Stormy Daniels how she could ever sleep with ‘sleazebag’ Donald Trump, Newsweek, October 27, 2018

David Cay Johnston, New York Times exposed Trump’s tax fraud, Daily Beast, October 2, 2018

David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner, Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from his father, New York Times, October 2, 2018

Margaret Sullivan, After a stunning news conference, there’s a newly crucial job for the American press, Washington Post, July 16, 2018

David Lombardo, New York attorney general sues Trump Foundation, Albany (NY) Times Union, June 14, 2018

Joy Crane and Nick Tabor, 501 Days in Swampland, New York Magazine. April 2, 2018

Marie Brenner, How Donald Trump’s and Roy Cohn’s ruthless symbiosis changed America, Vanity Fair, June 28, 2017

Igor Bobic, Trump kicks out ‘sleazebag’ reporter for asking about sexual assault allegations, Huffington Post, October 13, 2016

Sam Levine, Michelle Obama explains exactly why Trump’s comments about women are so repulsive, Huffington Post, October 13, 2016

Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher, Trump Revealed, Scribner, August, 2016

Jonathan Martin, Trump Institute offered get-rich schemes with plagiarized lessons, New York Times, June 29, 2016

Peter Wehner, The indelible stain of Donald Trump, New York Times, June 12, 2016

Russ Buettner and Charles V. Bagli, How Donald Trump bankrupted his Atlantic City casinos but still earned millions, New York Times, June 11, 2016

Quiana Fulton, Trump University documents reveal Trump’s sleazebag marketing, Reverb Press, June 1, 2016

Charles Doyle, RICO: a brief sketch, Congressional Research Service, May 18, 2016

Ben Mathis-Lilley, Watch a cornered Donald Trump reveal himself for what he really is, a deceptive sleazebag, Slate, March 4, 2016

Oscar Michelen, NY appeals court rules Trump must stand trial for fraud, Courtroom Strategy (New York, NY), March 1, 2016

James V. Grimaldi and Mark Maremont, Donald Trump made millions from multilevel marketing firm, Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2015

Justin Elliott, Donald Trump’s racial discrimination problem, Salon, April 28, 2011

Erin Ailworth, Firm’s new moniker may be its Trump card, Boston Globe, December 7, 2010

Marylin Bender, The empire and ego of Donald Trump, New York Times, August 7, 1983

Craig Bolon, Election aftermath: recovery starting, work pending, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump disease: political virus, Brookline Beacon, October 2, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 2 returns as anti-Semite, Brookline Beacon, July 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3, plain vanilla creep, Brookline Beacon, June 16, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3 sounds like No. 2, Brookline Beacon, June 11, 2016

Offshore wind-power in Massachusetts: a long sail

In 2017 and 2018, the Baker administration’s Department of Energy Resources solicited long-term proposals for Massachusetts offshore wind-power. They came in at much lower rates than ones in 2012 from the failed Cape Wind project, cancelled in 2015. Vineyard Wind, the contractor designated in May, 2018, would provide a significant share of the state’s electricity–around twice as much as Cape Wind.

Massachusetts has the largest offshore wind energy potential of any U.S. state, estimated by NREL at more than 1,000 TWh per year. Vineyard Wind of New Bedford, MA, plans to install about 100 turbines rated at 8 MW each–with blade tips reaching about 700 feet above the water–in an area of about 250 square miles commencing about 15 statute miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Water depths there span about 120 to 160 feet. Environmental disputes over interference with fishing and over routes for the main power cables continue.

Vineyard Wind estimates a capacity factor of at least 45 percent, which would yield at least 3.15 TWh per year–equivalent to about 6.5 percent of the electricity used by Massachusetts retail customers in 2015, the latest year in state reports. If operating today, the proposed project would be the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

According to the agency, over 20 years Vineyard Wind would charge an average wholesale rate of $0.084 per kWh, adjusted to 2017 dollars. By way of comparison, ISO New England reported that the average wholesale rate for electricity delivered during 2017 to northeastern Massachusetts, including Boston, was $0.034 per kWh. According to 2012 agreements–now cancelled–Cape Wind would have charged $0.194 per kWh in 2017.

Wholesale electricity rates, actual and proposed

WholesaleElectricityRates2017

Sources: ISO New England and Massachusetts agencies

Analysis: Rather than tell what Massachusetts electricity customers have actually paid for wholesale electricity, the Department of Energy Resources offered a wordy argument about what they might pay during years of the proposed Vineyard Wind contracts. Most so-called “business reporters” parroted agency arguments and did not investigate them.

The agency claimed an average rate of $0.079 per kWh for other sources of electricity during the proposed 20 years, but it presented neither data nor methods to support the claim. Using net present value, the agency also estimated a different and lower rate for electricity from Vineyard Wind, but again it provided neither data nor methods to support the estimate.

New England electricity rates, 2003 thru 2017

NewEnglandWholesaleElectricity2003-2017

Sources: ISO New England and U.S. Commerce Dept.

Actual, inflation-adjusted average wholesale electricity rates, reported for the region by ISO New England, declined during 2003 through 2017. They fell from around 8 cents per kWh in the early years of that period to around 4 cents per kWh in the most recent years. The rate history provides no support for a claim by the state Department of Energy Resources that rates over subsequent years will again rise to average about 8 cents per kWh over 20 years.

The agency has not supported its claims with data and methods. Based on actual and recent data, Vineyard Wind’s output and pricing would raise Massachusetts wholesale electricity rates over 20 years by an average of about $0.0033 per kWh above the average rate for 2017 reported by ISO New England. Although it got lower rates for offshore wind-power from Vineyard Wind than proposed six years earlier by Cape Wind, the Baker administration did not achieve parity with recent wholesale electricity rates.

Background: For 2015, the latest year in published state reports, Massachusetts sites generated 2.65 TWh (43 percent) out of 6.23 TWh in total renewable energy supplied to Massachusetts retail customers. Within that total, 2.52 TWh came from wind (Massachusetts 18 percent), and 1.20 TWh came from solar (Massachusetts 94 percent). The rest, 2.51 TWh, mostly came from hydropower, landfill methane, waste burning and efficiencies of combined heat and power. During 2015, Massachusetts retail electricity customers used 48.0 TWh in all. About 13 percent of the state’s retail electricity came from renewable sources.

Massachusetts suppliers of retail electricity currently obtain so-called “Renewable Energy Credits” to satisfy six standards under state laws and regulations: Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I (2003), Class II (2009), Solar Carve-Out I (2010) and Solar Carve-Out II (2014), Waste Energy (2010) and Alternative Energy (2010). Federal reports on Massachusetts electricity measure only in-state generation and do not acknowledge some sources credited by the state, such as combined heat and power efficiencies.

The Baker and Patrick administrations have tried to develop new sources of renewable energy needed under laws enacted in 1997, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2016–the middle three during the Patrick administration. The Patrick administration tended to focus on expanding capacity, while the Baker administration has tended to focus on holding down rates. Thus Baker’s agents strain to show that Vineyard Wind will somehow save money.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 28, 2018


Massachusetts offshore wind farm forecasts incredibly low rates, National Wind Watch (Eric Rosenbloom, Kirby, VT, and Rowe, MA), August 29, 2018

Kristen Young, Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA), Petition mobilizes opponents of Vineyard Wind power cable in Yarmouth, South Coast Today (Orleans, MA), August 29, 2018

Julia Pyper, First large U.S. offshore-wind project sets record-low price, Greentech Media (Boston, MA), August 1, 2018

Jim Efstathiou, Jr., First big U.S. offshore wind farm to charge 6.5 cents per kwh, Bloomberg News, August 1, 2018

Petitions for approval of proposed long-term contracts for offshore wind energy, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, August 1, 2018

Alex Kuffner, Vineyard Wind still at odds with Rhode Island fishermen over turbines, Providence (RI) Journal, July 29, 2018

Michael Kuser, Massachusetts and Rhode Island pick 1,200 MW in offshore wind bids, RTO Insider (Potomac, MD), May 23, 2018

Jon Chesto, Two big wind farms to rise off coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Boston Globe, May 23, 2018

Construction and operations plan, Vol. 1, Vineyard Wind, U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, March 15, 2018 (draft). Map, see Fig. 1.1-1 on p. 1-2. Capacity factor, see p. 1-7. Blade tip height, see p. 3-4.

New England’s wholesale electricity prices in 2017 were the second-lowest since 2003, ISO New England, March 6, 2018

Wholesale electricity rates for 2017, ISO New England, January, 2018 (CSV format)

Plans for Vineyard Wind, U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, December, 2017

David R. Borges et al., Vineyard Wind contribution to employment and economic development, 800 MW proposal, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth Public Policy Center, December, 2017

Compliance report for 2015, Massachusetts renewable and alternative energy portfolio standards, Department of Energy Resources, October 10, 2017

Requests for proposals, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, June 29, 2017

Pat Knight et al., An analysis of the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard, Northeast Clean Energy Council, 2017

Walter Musial et al., 2016 Offshore wind energy resource assessment for the United States, Report NREL-TP-5000-66599, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, September, 2016. Potential by states, Fig. ES-4, p. viii

Jim O’Sullivan, Two utilities opt out of Cape Wind, Boston Globe, January 7, 2015

Bob Salsberg and Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, Utilities agree to buy Cape Wind power in merger, Boston Globe, February 15, 2012

Massachusetts Clean Energy Act, St. 2018, C. 227

Massachusetts Energy Diversity Act, St. 2016, C. 188

Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Act, St. 2014, C. 251

Massachusetts Competitively Priced Electricity Act, St. 2012, C. 209

Massachusetts Green Communities Act, St. 2008, C. 168

Massachusetts Electricity Restructuring Act, St. 1997, C. 164

Craig Bolon, Wind energy: broken promises, Brookline Beacon, January 2, 2018

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Winds of change: limits on marijuana

At the federal and state election of November, 2016, Massachusetts voters approved Question 4 by a 54-46 percent margin, legalizing marijuana for all uses. Opposition concentrated in the middle and outer Boston suburbs and on Cape Cod. Otherwise support spread across the state. Majorities voted Yes in 260 cities and towns with combined population of 4.7 million (72 percent of state population according to the 2010 census). Majorities voted No in 91 communities with combined population of 1.8 million (28 percent).

Voting to legalize marijuana did not mean accepting marijuana as a local business. Over the next year and a half, 156 Massachusetts cities and towns with combined population of 2.7 million (42 percent of state population) enacted moratoriums on marijuana shops. Some communities enacted outright bans, and some also banned or restricted other types of marijuana business. Most moratoriums were set to expire between June 30, 2018, and June 30, 2019.

Despite warnings from the state’s attorney general about enacting a moratorium extending into 2019, eight towns did so: Abington, Mansfield, Douglas, Rochester, Berlin, New Marlborough, New Braintree and Florida (listed by decreasing populations). Majorities in all but Mansfield had voted Yes on Question 4.

Bans on marijuana shops: As of late June, 2018, 76 Massachusetts cities and towns with combined population of 1.4 million (22 percent of the state population) had enacted permanent bans on marijuana shops. Most were communities where majorities of voters had voted No on Question 4. In those communities, town meetings and city councils could enact bans. Elsewhere voters had to approve.

In 18 Massachusetts communities where majorities of voters in a state election had supported Question 4, voters in local elections banned marijuana shops: Milford, Stoughton, Concord, South Hadley, Southbridge, Bellingham, Auburn, Whitman, East Bridgewater, Holliston, Medway, Acushnet, Hull, Southwick, Freetown, Merrimac, Barre and Mount Washington (listed by decreasing populations).

Hazards: Although milder than those produced by cocaine, amphetamines and narcotics, addictions to marijuana are well known. Craving, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, adverse reactions, cognitive and behavioral impairments and mood disorders tend to increase with frequency and amount of marijuana use. A range of psychological dependence shades into addiction, similar in some ways to dependencies on alcohol and tobacco and to compulsive gambling.

Marijuana users who begin as teenagers or in early adulthood incur risks of lasting harm. As with other addictive regimes, some people are not attracted to marijuana, and some avoid addiction despite exposure. There is controversy over degrees of risk and amounts of harm, and there is currently no reliable way to predict individuals becoming addicted or suffering lasting harm.

Trends and publicity: Rejection of local marijuana business has been notably firm and fairly cohesive among Boston’s middle and outer suburbs. From Boxford and Chelmsford to the northwest, curving through Weston and Northborough to the west, Foxborough and Raynham to the southwest, and Braintree and Duxbury to the southeast, towns banned marijuana shops outright. Some banned all marijuana business.

Those are communities where many live who grew up in the founding high-tech surges. Most such workplaces were located in the suburbs spreading outward from Route 128, so those are also the communities where much of the workforce went. Family values remain strong and upwardly mobile. There is low tolerance for needless risk to sons and daughters from parents who reached success in their careers. As one speaker at a town meeting put it, “We are a community that builds ball fields and parks.”

In contrast, the Boston Globe–New England’s best known news medium–has been patronizing marijuana partisans, often focusing on interests seeking a faster pace of development. Reporter Dan Adams carved out a niche writing items favorable to marijuana interests that rarely mention other outlooks. While there is an occasional contrary view written by someone else, it tends to get lost in the parade for marijuana. Chasing profits instead of candor, Globe managers foster public and reader disservice.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2018


Massachusetts city and town actions on marijuana shops, Brookline Beacon, July, 2018 (notes majorities voting to legalize marijuana or not, via Question 4 in 2016)

Ally Jarmanning and Daigo Fujiwara, Where marijuana stores can and can’t open in Massachusetts, WBUR (Boston, MA), June 28, 2018 (presents data through an interactive map)

Dan Adams, Attorney General Maura Healey’s ruling could slow Massachusetts marijuana industry, Boston Globe, June 25, 2018

Steven Hoffman, Which Massachusetts towns won’t allow marijuana sales?, WBZ (CBS Boston), June 22, 2018 (tabulates data from the Massachusetts Municipal Association)

Timothy Naimi, Why marijuana policies in Massachusetts aren’t strict enough, Boston Globe, June 20, 2018

Dan Adams and Margeaux Sippell, Recreational marijuana companies face bans, moratoriums in cities and towns, Boston Globe, March 17, 2018

Zoe Mathews, North Andover bans commercial marijuana, North Andover (MA) Eagle-Tribune, January 30, 2018

Massachusetts ballot question 4: legalize marijuana, Boston Globe, November 16, 2016 (includes interactive map showing voting by cities and towns)

Massachusetts marijuana legalization, Question 4, Encyclopedia of American Politics (Ballotpedia), November, 2016

Kevin Sabet, Madeline Meier responds to latest IQ and marijuana studies, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Alexandria, VA), January 19, 2016

Madeline H. Meier, Avshalom Caspi et al., Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife, Proceedings of the U.S. National Academies of Science 109(40):E2657-2664, 2012

Alain Dervaux, Cannabis use and dependence, Presse Médicale 41(12):1233-1240, 2012 (in French)

Alan J. Budney, Roger Roffman et al., Marijuana dependence and treatment, Addiction Science and Clinical Practice 4(1):4–16, 2007

Craig Bolon, Marijuana business: trends in Oregon, Brookline Beacon, May 29, 2018

Craig Bolon, Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2018

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

Discord over surveillance: Justice Kennedy retires

Justice Kennedy had enough sense to step aside before most of the public would see that he was losing his grip. Evidence showed in his dissent from Carpenter v. United States. In this high-profile case, he failed to see a difference between business and personal data. Even Chief Justice Roberts–sometimes a backer of imperial government–saw the difference, described in the U.S. Supreme Court opinion released Friday, June 22.

Carpenter v. United States involved government use of cell-phone location-tracking data in a criminal case without obtaining either consent from a cell-phone owner or a search warrant. As Justice Roberts wrote, “Tracking a person’s past movements through [cell-phone data is]…detailed and encyclopedic…the Court has already recognized that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements.”

Interstate crime watch: The Carpenter case arose from interstate crimes in Michigan and Ohio. Through cell-phone location-tracking data, the FBI found that Timothy Carpenter, alleged ringleader of a crime gang, was near the sites of several armed robberies at the times they occurred. Carpenter was convicted by a federal district court jury and sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

Informed by a confession from one of the robbers, the FBI might have been able to justify search warrants for cell-phone records under the Fourth Amendment. Instead it relied on exemptions found in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. [Public Law 99-508] A key issue was whether locations tracked from cell phones are Constitutionally protected as elements of personal privacy. If so, the Fourth Amendment requirement for search warrants should apply to records of locations.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

A so-called “third-party rule” derived from United States v. Miller and from Smith v. Maryland exempted data voluntarily sent to businesses from Fourth Amendment protections: bank transactions and manually keyed telephone numbers. However, those Supreme Court cases from 1976 and 1979 could not anticipate circumstances of the recent Carpenter v. United States case. Consumer cell-phone services were introduced to North America in the mid-1980s and grew slowly in early years, when they were very costly.

Surveillance: While they are powered on, cell phones sample the radio environment and silently exchange messages with transceivers so that they can respond to incoming calls and be ready to place outgoing calls. Most if not all cell-phone services keep records of silent messages that include cell-phone identifications and transceiver locations. Location tracking exposes cell-phone owners to continuous surveillance–a major threat against personal privacy.

The 2018 Carpenter case challenged whether the federal government can access location-tracking data for a criminal investigation without obtaining a search warrant. Joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor, the opinion from Chief Justice Roberts said no–citing among other cases Riley v. California, decided by the Supreme Court in 2014.

The Riley case arose from data contained within cell phones, not data acquired by cell-phone transceivers. As in the Carpenter case, however, data had been examined by law enforcement without obtaining consents or search warrants and had been used to convict cell-phone owners, who appealed. The Supreme Court opinion found a novel, qualitative factor in the “immense storage capacity” of cell phones, calling that “a digital record of nearly every aspect of their [owners'] lives.”

Confusion: The Supreme Court opinion in the 2014 Riley case was likewise written by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor. Justice Kennedy also joined that 2014 opinion, yet for the 2018 Carpenter case he wrote a carping dissent. It shows confusion, starting with a claim that the Carpenter case somehow involves “new technology.”

Justice Kennedy either knew or should easily have learned that technology relevant to the 2018 Carpenter case is older than technology relevant to the 2014 Riley case. He tried to invoke the “third-party rule” based on cases four decades ago. Only by comparison with the 1970s era of communications does either of the more recent cases involve “new technology.”

Justice Kennedy’s dissent failed to recognize changes in communication uses and technologies over the 39 years since Smith v. Maryland. It failed to distinguish the 2018 case from the 2014 case whose opinion he joined. He was unable to see that–unlike bank transactions or manually dialed telephone numbers–durable records linking individual cell phones to dates, times and locations are not essential to business services as usually provided in the United States but instead reflect personal information.

Justice Kennedy seemed to think cell phones are active only when “a cell-phone user makes a call, sends a text message or e-mail or gains access to the Internet.” His views suggest location data from cell-phone transceivers have been voluntarily sent to businesses and are subject to the “third-party rule.” At a late point in a long span on the Supreme Court, he faded to a shadow of his former presence.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 29, 2018


Todd Ruger, Justice Kennedy to retire from Supreme Court, Roll Call (Washington, DC), June 27, 2018

Adam Liptak, Supreme Court says warrants generally are necessary to collect cell-phone data, New York Times, June 22, 2018

Carpenter v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 16-402, June 22, 2018

Matthew Tokson, The Supreme Court’s cell-phone-tracking case has high stakes, New York, November 27, 2017

Orin Kerr, Supreme Court agrees to hear Carpenter v. United States, Washington Post, June 5, 2017

Riley v. California, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-132, June 25, 2014

Ken Schmidt, Wireless telecommunications timeline, Steel in the Air (Baldwinsville, NY), 2014

Smith v. Maryland, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 78-5374, June 20, 1979

United States v. Miller, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 74-1179, April 21, 1976

Billion-dollar splurge: Connecticut expands Hartford commuter-rail service

Borrowed locomotives decorated in Halloween orange and black. Rented coach cars lacking restrooms, with air conditioning that may not work. Nevertheless, some added commuter-rail service is operating on what Connecticut’s government calls the “Hartford Line”–in planning since 1994 with designs starting in 2003.

Gov. Malloy on June 15, 2018, in New Haven

GovMalloyNewHaven20180615

Source: Connecticut Governor’s Office

Plans versus progress: Plans in 2004 from the Connecticut Department of Transportation figured capital costs of the Hartford Line at about $260 million. Actual spending so far in Connecticut and Massachusetts totals about $800 million, over $500 million of that from the state of Connecticut. The program is not finished and could take $500 million more.

Since 2006, Connecticut spent about $503 million renovating former Hartford and New Haven Railroad facilities and equipment between New Haven, CT, and Springfield, MA. Massachusetts spent about $45 million to renovate the Springfield rail station. Springfield and the local transit agency put in $6 million. The federal government has contributed about $248 million to the combined projects. Amtrak continues to own most tracks and stations and continues to operate many of the trains.

The Railway Era: Founded in 1833, the Hartford and New Haven sold to the New York and New Haven in 1872. Afterward, although those owners acquired other lines, they operated as the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad–often called the “New Haven.” Its 4-track main line runs from Grand Central in New York City to New Haven–with early, main branches to Hartford, New London, Danbury and Waterbury. That main line is now owned by New York and Connecticut. It is jointly operated as Metro North.

In the aftermath of a 1902 train crash in the Park Avenue tunnel connecting to Grand Central, New York City banned coal-fired locomotives. The New Haven developed technology for its main line: the world’s first long-distance electric railroad. Through the 1920s, the New Haven spread into downstate New York, western Massachusetts and across Rhode Island into eastern Massachusetts, reaching Boston and Cape Cod.

New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, c. 1929

NewHavenRailroadMap1929

Source: Pechristener on Wikipedia

After financial reverses during the Great Depression, the New Haven again prospered during World War II and for several years afterward. However, automobiles began attracting many riders. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 [Public Law 84-627] funded new, toll-free interstate highways, soon erasing passenger rail from most of the United States.

Era of struggle: During the 1950s, U.S. passenger rail services plunged into deep decline. Services halted for lack of demand, and business failures began. New Haven management filed bankruptcy in 1961. At the start of 1969, as directed by Congress, the New Haven was taken over by the Penn Central, a brittle amalgam of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central. A year and a half later, the Penn Central was bankrupt.

In 1970, Congress authorized Amtrak: the National Railroad Passenger Corp. It made Amtrak the operator and prime custodian for the Northeast Corridor–between Boston, MA. and Washington, DC–under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. [Public Law 94-210] In the Northeast Corridor, more than vestiges of the Railway Era passenger services survive, and in recent years they once again prosper.

Initial Amtrak system map, 1971

AmtrakRouteMap1971

Dashed routes not then stabilized

Source: Brian Roman, Amtrak Archives

Amtrak acquired most former Hartford and New Haven property between New Haven and Springfield, operating a few trains in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Ownership of Northeast Corridor tracks and stations became divided between Amtrak and agencies of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Those states supported commuter-rail services around New York City and Boston: major transit markets without sound alternatives.

New Haven-Springfield service: The initial Amtrak system offered passenger service between New Haven, CT, and Springfield, MA, but during the 1970s and 1980s it became as little as two trains each way on a weekday. The Bay State connected New Haven to Boston via Springfield and Worcester, while Bankers Express ran between Springfield and Washington, DC. In 1995, Boston service ended, and legacy trains were replaced by trains between Springfield and Washington as part of Northeast Direct services–later called Northeast Regional.

There has also been one Amtrak train a day each way using that route between Washington and northern Vermont, subsidized since 1995 by Vermont. The Springfield Shuttle–operated by Amtrak and subsidized by Connecticut–began in 1995, connecting between New Haven and Springfield via Hartford. That service continues today. It has varied between two and eight trains each way per weekday.

With the start of Connecticut’s Hartford Line commuter rail June 18, 2018–contracted with TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts–the state also increased subsidies for the Springfield Shuttle. Amtrak now charges the same fares–as much as a 50-percent reduction–and accepts fares and tickets from new CTrail-branded service. There are 16 commuter trains each way on weekdays. However, only 10 travel the span between Hartford and Springfield, which continues to lack former double-track segments.

To cut its property taxes, during the 1970s Amtrak ripped out segments of former Hartford and New Haven tracks. It neglected maintenance of track equipment, bridges, crossings, platforms, signals and stations. The 1926 Springfield station was closed for over 40 years. The 1889 Hartford station, last renovated after a fire in 1914, is reached over an aging viaduct, reduced to a single-track platform when I-84 was built through Hartford during the 1960s.

Most federal support for the Hartford Line came from a so-called “high-speed rail” program touted by the Obama administration. Although rolling stock on the Hartford Line can reach speeds over 100 mph, tracks and signals do not sustain that. There are no express trains. The Hartford Line trains traversing the 62 rail miles between New Haven and Springfield stop at all of the nine current stations reached on their routes, except that Amtrak trains fail to stop at State Street in New Haven, a station Amtrak does not own. Their average scheduled speed is 39 mph.

So far, the Hartford Line commuter-rail program has reconstructed all but 23 miles of former double tracks between New Haven and Springfield, renovated or rebuilt several stations and put up a new station at State Street in New Haven. Four proposed new stations and several projects to renovate facilities and equipment have yet to start. There is no longer much federal assistance, and Gov. Malloy–a strong supporter of the program–did not run for another term in the November, 2018, state election.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 21, 2018


Initial Hartford Line schedule, Connecticut Department of Transportation, June 18, 2018

Initial Hartford Line fares, Connecticut Department of Transportation, June 18, 2018

Mary Ellen Godin, Launch of Hartford Line praised as exciting new chapter in transportation, New Haven (CT) Record Journal, June 15, 2018

Rebecca Lurye, Despite new commuter line, rail upgrades lag north of Hartford, Hartford (CT) Courant, June 12, 2018

Justin Schecker, Hartford Line passenger-rail launch rescheduled for June, NBC Connecticut (WVIT, West Hartford, CT), April 19, 2018

Nicole Ahn, Connecticut leases old rail cars for new Hartford Line, Yale Daily News (New Haven, CT), April 10, 2018

Gregory B. Hladky, 30-year-old rail cars Connecticut is leasing not worth repairing, Hartford (CT) Courant, April 6, 2018

Funding request for FY2019 and legislative report, Amtrak, February 15, 2018 (See Fig. 1, NEC ridership growth, and Fig. 2, Ticket revenue growth, FY1998-2017, p. 17)

Funding for New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail program, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2018

Ana Radelat, Northeast rail plan stymied by lack of funding, concerns in Fairfield County, Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, CT), December 11, 2017

Jim Kinney, Springfield Union Station rehabilitation: where did the money come from, and how was it spent?, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 23, 2017

Amtrak Northeast Regional and former Northeast Direct passenger services, USA Rail Guide–Train Web, American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (La Plata, MO), 2017

Adam Burns, Serving the heart of New England: the New Haven Railroad, American Rails, 2016

I-84 Hartford project, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2016

Andres Felipe Archila and Joseph Sussman, Amtrak’s productivity in the Northeast Corridor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013

Don Stacom, Wheels slowly start turning on New Haven-Springfield rail improvements, Hartford (CT) Courant. December 31, 2012

James Redeker (Connecticut Department of Transportation), New Haven, Hartford and Springfield rail service, Legislative briefing, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Washington, DC, February 29, 2012

State rail plan, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2012

Mark Samuels (producer), Park Avenue tunnel crash in 1902, U.S. Public Broadcasting System, 2008

Mike Ferner, Taken for a ride on the interstate highway system, CounterPunch, June 28, 2006

Wilbur Smith Associates, Recommended action, New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail implementation study, Connecticut Department of Transportaton, 2004

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, U.S. General Accounting Office, April 13, 1995

John B. O’Mahoney, Railroad electrification a landmark, New York Times, May 16, 1982

Brian Roman, Initial Amtrak system map, Amtrak Archives, 1971

Railway map, New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, c. 1929

Marijuana business: trends in Oregon

Oregon has the most experience of any U.S. state with commercial marijuana. For many years before legalization, starting as early as the 1950s, surveys of Oregon found more marijuana use and cultivation than in any other western state. Mild climate and moderate rainfall in the Willamette Valley, which produces widely known orchard fruits and wines, also favored covert marijuana farming.

In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana: up to an ounce. By the 1980s, marijuana had become the state’s most valuable crop. In 1998, Oregon became the second state to legalize and regulate medical marijuana. In 2014, Oregon became the third state to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, following Colorado and Washington two years before.

Product trends: Quality and strength of marijuana in the United States evolved after early restrictions, starting with federal and state laws during the 1930s. Bulk “bricks” of a pound or two–common through the 1970s–were often smuggled from Central and South America. Strength was generally low. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main euphoric, measured a few percent by weight in a mix of dried leaves, flowers and stems. Sinsemilla from only unfertilized flower buds–without seeds, leaves or stems–was unusual and costly.

Popular grades of commercial marijuana

Grade A seedless, no large leaves or stems, 15 percent THC or higher
Grade B some leaves, few seeds, around 10 percent THC
Grade C largely leaves, seeds and stems, 5 percent THC or lower

Source: RAND reports

Processed marijuana began to capture U.S. trade during the 1980s and became a focus of consumer appeal. However, grade A sinsemilla needs greenhouses to protect against insects and fungus–optimized for light, temperature, moisture and nutrients. During decades of marijuana cultivation as a covert crop in Oregon, most producers look to have worked small, open-field plantings. Locally grown, grade B products overtook grade C imports and so far survive against industrialized, grade A products.

Business trends: When presented the option of a legalized and regulated business in 2015, experienced Oregon growers mainly adapted and expanded open-field plantings, an annual crop cycle harvested in early fall. Out of about 2,000 producer licenses approved and in process, as of May, 2018, nearly two-thirds were for locations in only four of the 29 Oregon counties: Clackamas, Jackson, Josephine and Lane. They span lowlands east of the Coast Range mountains around Interstate 5, running from Portland south through Salem and Eugene to Medford. That is where about three-quarters of the state’s residents live.

The first of the annual harvests after legalization, in 2016, shrank because of heavy rain, cold weather and hailstorms. The next year, nearly ideal weather provided a huge crop. The Oregon agency licensing marijuana operations has not published production and sales summaries. However, news writers claiming to have seen internal data say producers reported sales for 2017 of around 350,000 pounds against producer inventory, unsold in February, 2018, of more than a million pounds.

Within a few months after the harvest, wholesale prices collapsed. Grade B product formerly selling at over $1,500 a pound was reported dumped at $100 a pound or less, when costs of production ranged above $200 a pound. Some growers say they are converting smokable marijuana into more stable extracts, hoping to sell medical and edible products. Retail shops that bought at last year’s prices are being whipsawed by competitors who waited and bought at fire-sale prices. Half the workers in the Oregon marijuana industry may be out of jobs. Desperate business owners are increasing covert exports to other states that legalization was expected to retard.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 29, 2018


Suzanne Roig, Overproduction of marijuana floods Oregon markets, Bend (OR) Bulletin, May 26, 2018

Matt Stangel and Katie Shepherd, Oregon grew more cannabis than customers can smoke, Willamette Week (Portland, OR), April 18, 2018

Robert C. Clarke and Mojave Richmond, Cups, labs and terps, Cannabis Business Times (Cleveland, OH), April 4, 2018

Oregon Liquor Control needs cannabis monitoring and security systems, Audits Division, Oregon Secretary of State, February, 2018 (7 MB, 41 pp)

Pete Danko, A reckoning has arrived for Oregon’s overgrown cannabis industry, Portland (OR) Business Journal, January 10, 2018

Marijuana License Applications, Oregon Liquor Control Commission, 2018

Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Zlatko Mehmedic, Susan Foster, Chandrani Gon, Suman Chandra and James C. Church, Changes in cannabis potency over the last two decades in the United States, Biological Psychiatry 79(7):613–619, 2016

Omar Sacirbey, Growing high-quality cannabis in a greenhouse, Marijuana Business Daily (Denver, CO), September, 2016

Jerry Kieran, Measuring yield, Cannabis Business Times (Cleveland, OH), September, 2016

Daniel Cressey, The cannabis experiment, Nature 524(7565):280–283, August 29, 2015

Eric L. Sevigny, Is today’s marijuana more potent simply because it’s fresher?, Drug Testing and Analysis 5(1):62-67, 2013

THC content of sinsemilla and Mexican commercial-grade marijuana, Appendin B in Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Brittany M. Bond and Peter H. Reuter: Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico, RAND Drug Policy Research Center (Santa Monica, CA), 2010

Jonathan P. Caulkins, Estimated cost of production for legalized cannabis, RAND Drug Policy Research Center (Santa Monica, CA), 2010

Keith Stroup, America’s no. 1 crop: marijuana, High Times (New York, NY), April, 1986

Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana

This month–likely on Thursday, May 24–Brookline’s Town Meeting will vote on a risk-laden approach to marijuana zoning and licensing. A complex surface hides disorganized, hypocritical, neighborhood-hostile efforts. Two meetings on Thursday, May 10 showed confusions and lapses of community spirit: a review for some Town Meeting Members and a regular Advisory Committee meeting, both held at Town Hall.

Recreational marijuana regulation: At the 2018 Annual Town Meeting starting May 22, under Articles 17 through 22 Brookline could allow up to four retail shops selling recreational marijuana and up to four marijuana cafes. The Planning Board and the Planning staff, supported so far by three of the five Select Board members, propose to allow the recreational marijuana shops in Local Business zones as well as in General Business zones.

Brookline has five main General Business zones. They are mostly well separated from residential areas and schools: Commonwealth Avenue, Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, Washington Square and the west end of Route 9 near the Chestnut Hill Mall. There are smaller ones near the north end of Harvard Street, bordered by Allston, and near the east end of Route 9, bordered by the Riverway.

There are seven main Local Business zones. Many thread through residential areas and near schools: the shopping center near Putterham Circle in South Brookline, the northern part of Harvard Street between Devotion School and Verndale Street, the middle part of Harvard Street between Pierce School and Marion Street, the northern part of Cypress Street near Washington Street, the middle part of Cypress Street near the High School and Route 9, the southern part of Cypress Street near Kendall Street, the east end of Beacon Street between St. Mary’s and Carlton Streets, and land near the west end of Beacon Street around Sutherland Road.

Threatened neighborhoods: Proposed zoning for marijuana includes so-called “buffer zones” extending 500 feet out from schoolyard boundaries. Marijuana shops are not allowed inside “buffer zones.” The maps that follow identify some of Brookline’s threatened neighborhoods–showing parts of Local Business zones outside “buffer zones.” Colored in bright blue are Local Business areas where marijuana shops would be allowed. “Buffer zones” around schools are cross-hatched.

Threatened neighborhoods near Harvard Street

HarvardStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Cypress Street

CypressStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Putterham Circle

PutterhamtNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

Information from Town Hall: Planning staff held a late-afternoon information session at Town Hall on May 10, sought by Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members. The two staff were Francisco Torres and Ashley Clark–hired in part to develop and promote plans for marijuana. They have fairly short spans of experience in Brookline, and they smile a lot.

At the Town Hall session were Betsy DeWitt–formerly a Select Board member–plus Phyllis O’Leary, Wendy Machmuller, Rob Daves, Andy Olins, Hugh Mattison and newly elected Cindy Drake from Precinct 5, John Bassett from Precinct 6, Craig Bolon from Precinct 8 and Regina Frawley from Precinct 16.

Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members generally opposed medical marijuana at the former Brookline Bank on the corner of Route 9, High Street and Washington Street. They spoke about keeping marijuana shops out of the Local Business zones on Cypress Street. Betsy DeWitt saw high profits from marijuana shops pushing out ordinary local business.

Planning has proposed no standards that support ordinary local businesses. Their proposals for zoning and licensing amount to a “first in the door” approach to zoning permits and business licenses. However, they propose no system to regulate how the timing of applications would be recognized. That could leave Brookline exposed to long and potentially costly “due process” lawsuits, claiming that results from its informal approach had been arbitrary and capricious.

Advisory Committee hostile to neighborhoods: Many of the 24 out of 30 Advisory Committee members at the evening meeting on May 10 seemed hostile toward Brookline neighborhoods. Because around 60 percent of Brookline voters opted to legalize marijuana, they claimed recreational marijuana shops could be sited without considering impacts on neighborhoods. Fisher Hill resident Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 led a charge for more marijuana revenue, while several others on the committee chimed in.

Critically examined, some claims about huge local revenues turn out to be fragrant BS when not flagrant lies. The budding marijuana industry had its friends at (the General) Court when Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017 was being written: the ironically titled “act to ensure safe access to marijuana.” The access is particularly “safe” for marijuana dealers. Much of the potential local revenues come from so-called “community impact fees” that can be included in city and town contracts with marijuana dealers. However, when the revenue party is over after five (5) years, it’s done and gone–while all the problems the community may find continue indefinitely. According to Chapter 94G, Section 3(d) of the General Laws, as amended by the 2017 act:

“…a host community may include a community impact fee for the host community; provided, however, that the community impact fee shall be reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center and shall not amount to more than 3 per cent of the gross sales of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center or be effective for longer than 5 years….” [emphasis added]

Voters blindsided: Many of the Brookline voters who opted to legalize marijuana had been informed by the cautious, two-year process to zone and license medical marijuana. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed in Local Business zones. The only current one is on Route 9. Hardly anybody would have expected “full speed ahead” and “open floodgates” for recreational marijuana–the approach from Brookline Planning, welcoming both marijuana shops and cafes to the Local Business zones threading through residential neighborhoods and near schools.

At Advisory Committee on May 10, vocal majorities rejected a motion to exclude marijuana shops from Local Business zones. They supported another motion to allow marijuana cafes. Hypocrites would continue to ban medical marijuana sales from Local Business zones, and they support a new ban on marijuana treatment centers. The outlook of hypocrites seems to be that medical marijuana would not yield as much in licensing fees and local taxes as recreational marijuana–so medical marijuana should be banned.

Those supporting neighborhoods by voting to exclude recreational marijuana shops from Local Business zones were committee members Harry Friedman, David-Marc Goldstein, Angela Hyatt, Alisa Jonas, Steve Kanes, Fred Levitan and Lee Selwyn. Thumbing noses at neighborhoods by voting the other way were Ben Birnbaum, Clifford Brown, Carol Caro, Lea Cohen, John Doggett, Janet Gelbart, Neil Gordon, Janice Kahn, Bobbie Knable, David Lescohier, Pamela Lodish, Shaari Mittel, Michael Sandman, Kim Smith, Charles Swartz and Christine Westphal. Committee chair Sean Lynn-Jones did not vote. Vice-chair Carla Benka and members Dennis Doughty, Kelly Hardebeck, Amy Hummel, Mariah Nobrega and Susan Roberts were absent.

Preventing needless burdens: The NETA medical marijuana dispensary on Route 9 is already in negotiations for one of the potential licenses as a recreational marijuana shop. Its success would leave only three licenses available. There are six more General Business zones to provide sites, leaving no need to burden neighborhoods near Local Business zones. A simple amendment to Article 17 at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting can keep recreational marijuana shops out of Local Business zones.

VOTED: To amend the motion under Article 17 so as to change “Use 29A, Storefront Marijuana Retailers” from “SP *1,2″ to “No” for L (local business) districts.

As of May 17, an equivalent motion is being proposed by Neil Wishinsky (chair of the Select Board) together with Betsy DeWitt, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member (TMM-5), Cynthia Drake (TMM-5), Scott Gladstone (TMM-16), Angela Hyatt (TMM-5) and Kate Silbaugh (TMM-1). After several years of experience with recreational marijuana shops in General Business zones, Brookline could review the results and see whether it might make sense to allow them in other places.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2018, updated May 17, 2018


Recreational marijuana information, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Locations for marijuana shops, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018

Adult use of marijuana, 935 CMR 500, Massachusetts Code of Regulations, 2018

Public documents, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, 2017-2018

Emma R. Murphy, Brookline’s NETA marijuana dispensary seeking recreational license, Brookline (MA) Tab, April 18, 2018

Business and functional requirements for the licensing, tracking and sale of adult-use marijuana (57 pp) Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, November, 2017

An act to ensure safe access to marijuana, Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 2017, Chapter 55

Gintautas Dumcius, Brookline medical marijuana dispensary, operated by NETA, set to open in mid-January, Springfield (MA) Republican, December 24, 2015

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

Plastic ban: tragedy of unforeseen consequences

In November, 2012, a Brookline, MA, town meeting stumbled when trying to ban polystyrene food packaging. The effort was boosted by an informal, so-called “Green Caucus” and was strongly endorsed by Brookline PAX, a 50-year-old organization formed to promote international peace and social justice. The outcome became a tragedy of unforeseen consequences.

Advocates for Article 8 attacked all forms of styrene-containing plastics as products “harmful to human health…[and] detrimental to the environment.” However, the bylaw the 2012 town meeting enacted bans only “polystyrene food or beverage containers…used…to package or serve food or beverages if that packaging takes place on the premises….” When a container is not technically “polystyrene” or when packaging takes place outside Brookline premises, then containers made with styrene monomers are allowed.

Town Meeting, its “Green Caucus” and Brookline PAX failed to consider how food businesses and the packaging industry would react to banning polystyrene packaging–which they often misnamed “Styrofoam,” a registered U.S. trademark for an open-cell foam material not usable as food packaging. Town Meeting and the proponents did not make realistic plans for the future. Brookline now suffers because of that.

In the wake of bans in Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine and New York, research on patterns of solid waste showed that banning polystyrene-foam food containers does not reduce the burdens. In 2015, the California Water Resources Control Board found that “a ban of foam takeout items would result only in the substitution of other products that would be discarded in the same manner.”

A market on Harvard Street provides a pointed example. The managers formerly used polystyrene-foam trays for packaged food, including uncooked chicken and beef. These are mainstays, sold in large amounts. Their replacement packaging uses flat, solid plastic sheets thermally formed into trays. The plastic appears to be a copolymer that includes styrene along with other monomers but may not technically be “polystyrene.”

The managers found the replacement trays too floppy and unstable, and they double them up. Each package they sell has two solid plastic trays jammed together. That weighs several times as much as the former polystyrene-foam trays. Because it contains much more plastic resin, one of the new trays surely costs more, but customers like the market and are apparently willing to pay more.

The next least costly alternative would probably use even larger amounts of different plastics, as some restaurants are now doing. The result has been a financial and environmental tragedy–waste of natural resources, more emissions and no benefit to anyone but plastic and chemical manufacturers. One can “make a statement” if that were all that mattered. However, practical results betray environmental goals that Town Meeting, its “Green Caucus” and Brookline PAX claimed to support.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 28, 2018


General Bylaws, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018
See Article 8.32, Prohibition on the use of polystyrene disposable food containers.

Steven Stein, Take it from a trash researcher, banning polystyrene food containers won’t do any good, Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2017

Minority report in opposition to polystyrene product ban, City Council of Portland, ME, 2013

Minutes of a special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, November 13, 2012
See Eighth Article, pp.. 24-27.

Warrant Report, Fall Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, November, 2012
See Article 8, starting on p. 8-1.

Pipeline fiascos: Mass. gas morass

In a brazen money-grab, two big U.S. pipeline companies proposed major new natural-gas pipelines across southern new England a few years ago. At 2.7 Bcf/d (billion cubic feet per day), their combined new capacity would have far exceeded the most aggressive estimate of domestic needs over 30 years, 1.1 Bcf/d.

Thinly disguised motives were to build channels to ship U.S. natural gas overseas as LNG (liquefied natural gas), mainly sent in ocean-going tankers to Europe. Natural gas is a finite and strategic U.S. resource that has greatly reduced emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gases, as compared with coal-fired power, during our country’s transition to renewable energy.

The pipeline developments were poorly reported in New England. The Boston Globe, the region’s largest news medium, has never employed a competent energy reporter. It has lacked a dedicated reporter on environmental issues since Beth Daley left in 2011 for a Knight fellowship at Stanford, never to return. Its politics reporters are usually clueless about business. Its business reporters pretend to be clueless about politics.

Take the money and run: Greedy, hostile companies trying to ream out New England were Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX–successor to Enron, El Paso Pipeline and Tennessee Gas Pipeline–and Spectra Energy of Houston–successor to Texas Eastern Pipeline and Algonquin Gas Transmission. Spectra recently became a division of Enbridge, a tar-sands pipeline developer located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The greedy, hostile companies were looking for a cheap date and found one. What could be cheaper than building pipelines with somebody else’s money? At somebody else’s risk? The 2014 Republican candidate for Massachusetts governor became an eager cheerleader. On Election Day, 2014, five Kinder Morgan executives forked over $2,500 to the campaign of Governor-elect Charles Duane Baker, Jr. Senior personnel at other interested companies and groups had kicked in earlier for “Charlie”–as he styled himself.

As Gov. “Charlie” likely knew at the time and surely should have known, the largest electric utilities in New England entertained partnerships with Spectra Energy. Eversource–successor to Boston Edison–and National Grid–successor to Northeast Utilities–considered commitments to Spectra’s “Access Northeast” project: a major, new gas pipeline along the route of the Algonquin pipeline opened in 1953.

Payback to business backers of Gov. “Charlie” was prompt. Angela O’Connor became chair of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). She was a former president of New England Power Generators Association. Ron Gerwatowski became assistant secretary for energy. He had been a senior vice president at National Grid. Robert Hayden, a DPU lawyer who lost for Congress, running as a reactionary, became DPU commissioner.

Three months after Gov. “Charlie” took office, mastiffs at the Department of Energy Resources proposed to allow electricity distribution companies to invest in natural-gas pipelines, funded by surcharges levied against retail electricity rates. They should have known the proposal violated both letter and spirit of the 1997 Electric Utility Restructuring Act. [St. 1997, C. 164] That law took the distribution companies, including Boston Edison and Northeast Utilities, away from electricity generation they had mismanaged.

Three and a half months later, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) notified the DPU that the proposal in DPU docket 15-37 appeared to violate the Electric Utility Restructuring Act. According to the AGO, the proposal also lacked “ratepayer protections such as competitive processes, transparency, avoidance of conflicts of interest and incentives to achieve the best results for ratepayers.” In other words, it encouraged greedy, hostile companies against which the Electric Utility Restructuring Act had been aimed.

Battling the elements, elements mostly win: An ox set to be gored by would-be money-grabbers was the operator of the Distrigas LNG terminal on the Everett waterfront. Since 1971, that facility has landed natural gas shipped from overseas to fuel what became the largest generating plant in New England. Lower costs for U.S. gas delivered from pipelines shut in three other New England LNG terminals, but the Everett terminal survived through enterprising services and favorable, long-term contracts.

More recently interconnected to major pipelines, the Everett terminal has supplied gas to pipeline customers during winter months when demands peak. Operator GDF Suez, reorganized as Engie in 2015, was incensed to find that Massachusetts might subsidize operations of pipeline competitors through regulated electricity rates and promptly filed a Massachusetts lawsuit: Engie Gas & LNG v. Department of Public Utilities. Other New England energy operators petitioned a federal agency to block similar state subsidy schemes.

Through an amicus filing, the AGO advised the Supreme Judicial Court that DPU support for pipeline subsidies using regulated electricity rates violated the Electric Utility Restructuring Act and went beyond DPU powers under the state’s general laws. The SJC assigned expedited reviews. In a decision of August, 2016, the SJC flatly reversed the DPU, closely following the attorney general’s reasoning.

Seeing that Massachusetts utilities were lining up behind the Specta project, Kinder Morgan had folded its cards before the SJC decision, shelving the “Northeast Energy Direct” project. Less than a year later, finding no customer base to support oversized capacity, Spectra shut down the “Access Northeast” project. Thus the administration of Gov. “Charlie” was left adrift–ready to run but lacking a race track.

Working mostly in the shadows, Gov. “Charlie” continues catering to business allies at the expense of voters and taxpayers. Recently the DPU shut down residential solar energy, again pandering to large utilities that would rather not be bothered with an intermittent, nondispatchable energy source.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 6, 2018


Residential solar suffers a major setback from latest DPU decision, Solar Energy Business Association of New England (Amherst, MA), January 12, 2018

Enzo DiMatteo, More banks bailing on tar sands pipelines, Now Magazine (Toronto), November 6, 2017

Herman K. Trabish, Massachusetts utilities take divergent approaches to grid modernization, Utility Dive (Washington, DC), September 6, 2017

Mary C. Serreze, Enbridge suspends Access Northeast natural gas pipeline plan, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 29, 2017

Jon Chesto, Lacking financing, utilities put $3 billion natural gas pipeline plan on hold, Boston Globe, June 29, 2017

Andy Metzger, State House News, Beaton ‘saddened’ by retribution charges as State House inquiry lingers, Worcester (MA) Sun, October 2, 2016

Richa Naidu and Sweta Singh, Enbridge buying Spectra in $28 billion deal, Reuters (UK), September 6, 2016

Lee Hansen, The Massachusetts natural-gas pipeline-expansion proposal, Connecticut General Assembly, August 29, 2016

Eugenia T. Gibbons, DPU approval for pipeline tax sought no more, but Spectra project still very much in the works, Mass. Energy Consumers Alliance (Boston), August 25, 2016

Engie Gas & LNG v. Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case nos. SJC-12051 and SJC-12052, August 17, 2016

Colin A. Young and Katie Lannan, State House News, Gov. Baker signs renewable energy bill, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, August 8, 2016

Jon Chesto. SJC rejects Baker’s plan to impose fee for gas pipelines, Boston Globe, June 29, 2016

William Opalka, Generation owners seek to block EDC-pipeline deals, RTO Insider (Potomac, MD), June 27, 2016

Jon Chesto. Kinder Morgan shelves $3 billion pipeline project, Boston Globe, April 20, 2016

Mary C. Serreze, More than 90 Massachusetts lawmakers oppose ratepayers financing natural gas pipelines, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 11, 2016

Craig Altemose, Gov. Baker’s campaign contributions from energy executives, Huffington Post, April 7, 2016

Mary C. Serreze, Supreme Judicial Court to consider if Massachusetts electric utilities can buy pipeline capacity on behalf of power plants, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 5, 2016

Paul J. Hibbard and Craig P. Aubuchon (Analysis Group, Boston), Power System Reliability in New England, November, 2015 (prepared for Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office)

Rebecca Tapper, Healey slams Baker’s DPU in letter, Commonwealth, September 22, 2015

Craig Altemose, Emerging reality of gas infrastructure: destination export, Huffington Post, July 10, 2015

Initial comments of the attorney general, Department of Public Utilities docket 15-37, June 15, 2015

Shira Schoenberg, Seek to expand state’s natural gas capacity, Baker administration tells Department of Public Utilities, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 14, 2015

Natural gas delivery capacity for thermal load and electric generation, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Docket 15-37 initial filing, April 2, 2015

Brian Dowling, National Grid joins $3 billion New England pipeline buildout, Hartford (CT) Courant, February 18, 2015

Mary C. Serreze, Region needs energy upgrades, including more natural gas pipeline capacity, says grid operator ISO New England, Springfield (MA) Republican, January 26, 2015

David Abel, Baker appoints controversial new energy team, Boston Globe, January 13, 2015

Matt Murphy, State House News, Beaton shakes up DPU team, hires former National Grid exec, Lowell (MA) Sun, January 12, 2015

David Abel, Environmentalists wary of Baker’s energy pick, Boston Globe, November 28, 2014

Shira Schoenberg, State Rep. Matt Beaton appointed energy secretary by Gov.-Elect Charlie Baker, Springfield (MA) Republican, November 17, 2014

Beth Daley, Senior reporter at New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Huffington Post, 2014

Thomas Overton, Everett LNG terminal at the crossroads, Power Magazine, July 2, 2013

An act relative to restructuring the electric utility industry, Massachusetts Acts of 1997, Chapter 164

Craig Bolon, New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates, Brookline Beacon, August 17, 2016

Craig Bolon, Little need for new gas pipelines, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2016

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: attorney general weighs in, Brookline Beacon, November 1, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: need versus greed, Brookline Beacon, August 29, 2015

China’s air pollution: a four-letter word

Coal.

After it emerged from the Communist blackout during the 1970s, China prospered by building export industries, largely powered by coal. In earlier times, China was only a modest consumer of energy. Recent governments promoted heavy industry–including metals and other mineral products–exploiting the country’s largest energy resource. Each year since 2010, China consumed more coal than all the rest of the world.

Coal consumption in China and elsewhere

ChinaCoal1965-2016

Source: BP Review of World Energy, 2017

Communist emperor Hu Jintao (2003-2013) built coal-fired electricity plants, blast furnaces, smelters, cement kilns and pottery ovens, never seeming to look back. His regime turned China into the world’s Coal Empire and sent its capital into a new Dark Age. Beijing, along with much of northeast China, has been suffering from massive air pollution–comparable to Pittsburgh at its worst in the 1940s.

As angry protests grew, successor Xi Jinping feared losing the Mandate of Heaven and started to tamp down some of the coal burning. Four years later, northeast China showed little air-quality improvement. That is hardly surprising, since Chinese coal consumption, after growing by a factor of about 2-1/2 over the ten years of Communist emperor Hu, shrank only about two percent during the first four years of Xi.

Propaganda: Government media in China often tout national progress in renewable energy: a government subsidized solar-panel industry and the growth of wind farms. However, modest growth in solar and wind energy has been swamped by surging outputs from coal-fired power plants.

Recently the independent TMT Post (Telecommunications, Media and Technology, based in Beijing) reported in Chinese about plans to replace conventionally fueled cars with electric vehicles, citing a speech by Xin Guobin, China’s Vice Minister of Industry. As electricity is actually generated in China, using it to power vehicles becomes more of an environmental threat than burning gasoline.

For the same amount of mechanical energy, both the toxic and the greenhouse gas emissions are higher. A few years ago, some Chinese engineers spoke hopefully about cleaner and more efficient generating plants, but high costs made them a small element in the power industry. Recently, air pollution–darkening the skies–was reported as causing up to 35-percent losses at Chinese solar farms.

Death by air: China’s air pollution from coal is causing more than a quarter million premature deaths a year, as reported in the New York Times. Economist Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago and four other academics recently found that in the northeast provinces of Shanxi and Hebei air pollution from burning coal has shortened life expectancy by three years.

So far the Xi regime failed to make a significant difference. After enforcing some restrictions on coal for a couple of years, reports of lower economic growth led to retrenchment. Initiatives to switch from coal to natural gas made minimal progress, because China lacks gas reserves and infrastructure to transport gas. In rural areas, many Chinese are reported to defy regulations and burn coal and waste wood for home heating.

China’s choices are economic. There is no practical way to reconcile headlong growth fueled by coal with good air quality and normal life expectancy. It will be one or the other. If air quality gets substantial improvement–no matter what combination of strategies might be employed–the Chinese economy will slow down in order to pay for it.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 8, 2018


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