Friday, January 30, 2009

Hiding the Homeless: Super Bowl Edition

by Shannon Moriarty

Published January 27, 2009 @ 08:52PM PST

With the country abuzz about this weekend's Super Bowl, Tampa Bay is busy cleaning up the streets to host out-of-towners for the big game. That is, by conducting homeless sweeps and "aggressively" jailing unhoused people.

Shame on Tampa Bay... seems we've got another case of "hiding the homeless" on our hands.

According to the St. Petersburg Times:

"It's happened during other big events when there are a lot of out-of-town visitors," said Rayme Nuckles, chief executive officer of the county's Homeless Coalition. "But we know it's occurring now because some of our providers heard from a (police) captain at a meeting that they were arresting homeless people and holding them in jail."

Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said there is no such mandate.

"Our primary mission is the safety of our visitors," she said. "So the homeless wouldn't rank high on that. We arrest people for breaking the law, not for being homeless."

The sheriff's office, of course, vehemently denies the targeting of homeless people. And the mayor backs him up. But advocates on the ground have seen an increase in arrests of homeless people for petty crimes, like loitering and trespassing.

In fact, advocates perceive the problem to be so bad that they are pushing back this week's bi-annual "Point In Time" count (a one-night census of homeless people). They fear that so many homeless people have been arrested in the past week that the count will be inaccurate. The count has been rescheduled for next month... when city officials are no longer embarrassed about their unhoused citizens.

These stories seem to pop up every time a city is hosting a high-profile national event. Common though they may be, we should never become desensitized to them. It takes a lot of unabashed cruelty for a city to use their paternalistic forces, herd up vulnerable unhoused people, and stash them away until the party's over.

For future reference, cities like Tampa Bay should take a cue from Washington D.C. during last week's inaugural events. While they may have laid on the compassionate language a little too thick, at least they understood the importance of treating homeless people with dignity by finding ways to include them in the week's events, instead of herding them out of sight like cattle.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

WildEarth Gardians Speak Out Against Gov't Waste

Environmentalists call on appointee to end waste

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer

Western environmentalists are holding the Obama administration to its pledge to make the federal government more efficient, asking that it investigate several natural resource programs they describe as wasteful and environmentally harmful.

WildEarth Guardians sent a letter Tuesday to Nancy Killefer, President Barack Obama's new chief performance officer. She was hired earlier this month to make federal programs more efficient and to help eliminate those that don't work.

John Horning, WildEarth Guardians executive director, said the administration's interest in stamping out waste can have a positive impact on the environment aside from chipping away at the federal deficit.

"It's a new day and our economy is falling apart," Horning said. "With a new day, we have renewed optimism that some of these totally antiquated federal programs that waste taxpayer money and cause environmental harm will finally be reformed or all together eliminated."

In the letter, Horning targets issues that have long raised the ire of environmentalists, including grazing on public land, mining, federal timber sales and oil and gas operations regulated by the Bureau of Land Management.

WildEarth Guardians claims that despite BLM's best management practices, natural gas producers vent 148 billion cubic feet of methane each year. At $5 per thousand cubic feet, this amounts to more than $740 million of lost income.

"Not only does this represent a loss in royalty revenue for the United States, the escaped methane is a significant source of global warming pollution," the letter states.

BLM and industry officials maintain that they have been working together to limit the venting of gases by installing emissions equipment at well sites and limiting travel across oil and natural gas fields by using remote monitoring technology.

WildEarth Guardians also highlights northeast Wyoming's Powder River Basin in its letter. The group claims that decisions by federal land managers have allowed coal companies to draw their own lease boundaries, resulting in less competition and below market lease rates.

The group also claims revenue is being lost on public lands grazing. Ranchers were charged the federal minimum of $1.35 per cow per month to graze public land last year, while grazing fees on equivalent private land averaged $15.90 in 2007, according to the letter.

Horning said he thinks "no stone should go unturned" in the effort to improve government.

"I think every one of these problematic natural resource policies, if modernized or reformed or eliminated, is going to lead to a leaner, more efficient government so we can better use taxpayer dollars," he said.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Plea from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

After eight years of suffering under the Bush Administration's "polluters-first" policies, the polar bear is now hurtling headlong toward extinction.

It's up to the Obama Administration to slam on the brakes, put Bush's dangerous policies in reverse, and give the green light to full-fledged endangered species protection for the polar bear.

But that won't happen unless millions of Americans speak out now.

Why? Because President Obama's Interior Department will be under tremendous pressure from the oil lobby to maintain the Bush policy that puts oil development first and polar bears dead last.

We must make our voices heard if we are to persuade Interior Secretary Salazar to cancel Bush's "polar bears be damned" approach.

The stakes could not be higher. In the last year alone, the Bush Administration auctioned off a vast expanse of Alaska's Chukchi Sea to Shell and other oil giants -- exposing half of America's polar bears to potential drilling and lethal oil spills.

And only two months ago, Bush officials weakened the Endangered Species Act so badly that it no longer protects polar bears against the two deadliest threats they face: oil development and global warming.

But Interior Secretary Salazar is unlikely to defy Big Oil -- unless we mobilize a nationwide outcry that can't be ignored.

That's why it's so important that you send your own Citizen Petition right now and help NRDC ratchet up this next critical phase of our Polar Bear S.O.S. campaign.

Let the new Interior Secretary know you care deeply about saving the polar bear. Remind him that the American people expect our government agencies to protect our country's wildlife -- not sacrifice them for corporate profits.

Together, we can reverse eight years of relentless attacks on the polar bear -- and finally give these magnificent Arctic creatures a fighting chance at survival.


Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Senior Attorney
Natural Resources Defense Council

Click on title above to sign petition;