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There it is: The Albany YMCA, its sign and the trees marked for death.

An Inconvenient Shade

The YMCA considers cutting down its trees; critics say “not so fast”

Albany’s YMCA at 274 Washington Ave. is looking at a proposal to cut down the five tall maple trees directly in front of the building in order to create a more transparent and safer environment.

“There is a lot of foliage, and it is dark around the area,” said Orville Abrahams, executive director of the Y. “Cutting down the trees and replacing them with smaller trees creates a more open and overall safer appearance,” especially at night. But Bill Cook of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment argued that the trees are too important to just cut down. “Mature trees are not as susceptible to vandalism and cutting down as saplings may be,” he said, and these tress “are required in urban areas for an overwhelming public need of temperature control.”

While Abrahams said he and the Y realize the environmental and moral value of the trees, another issue is promotion of the facility. “The trees are very big,” he said, “and cover the YMCA sign from street traffic. We are looking at increasing visibility.” Cook said that a more cost-effective solution would be relocating the Y’s sign.

Regarding the foliage problem, Cook said, “It is ridiculous. Raking does not rise to the level of a compelling reason for cutting down the trees. People should stop putting their personal self interest above everyone else. Other than Washington Park, trees are few and far between.” Cook added that mature trees are significantly important to urban areas like Albany.

According to the Colorado Tree Coalition, “A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 lbs. per year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two human beings.” Trees also mediate the climate by providing shade in the summer.

The trees in question are in an area that provides cooling for specific community rooms, Cook said, therefore, “making a direct impact and lowering the Y’s cooling costs for the summer. Why would you want to raise your cooling costs in the summer?”

“We all saw what happened with Lark Street a few years back,” said Cook, referring to the felling of many large trees on Lark Street that were obstructing street lights and blocking buildings. That course of action was not very popular with many Center Square residents. Should the Y’s proposal be accepted, there is likely to be significant community objection. As the Times Union reported on June 25, protest has already begun within the Y members themselves.

The Y has not made its decision about the trees’ fate, yet. On July 11, a members’ forum will be held to discuss current issues; the tree-cutting proposal will be one of the items on the agenda.

—Jamie-Lee Greene

What a Week

Party in His Pants

Rush Limbaugh has gotten himself in trouble with the law yet again. This time, the 55-year-old radio personality was detained at the Palm Beach airport after customs officers found a bottle of Viagra in his pants pocket. The right-wing pundit was returning from a vacation in the Dominican Republic when authorities discovered that the bottle of perfomance-enhancing drugs did not have Limbaugh’s name on it. Limbaugh’s attorney said that the prescription was made out to someone else to avoid an embarrassing situation.

Protesting Torture

Twenty-five of the more than 60 people marching in protest of the Guantanamo Bay detainment center were arrested Monday in New York City. Stories of torture and abuse surround the notorious prison. The protesters gathered in front of the United Nations building and marched behind a rolling cage to the United States Mission to the United Nations in an effort to bring attention to the more than 400 men still held at the U.S. prison facility. Three of the arrested protesters identified themselves to authorities using the names of the prisoners who committed suicide earlier this month.

Define Hypocrisy Please

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged this week to block the next scheduled congressional pay raise until the national minimum wage is increased for the first time in nearly a decade. It is not clear how Reid will block the pay raise, but Reid says he has 40 Democrats in the Senate who back him. Democrats want the minimum wage that has remained at $5.15 since 1997 to increase in increments of 70 cents until it reaches $7.25 in 2009. Republicans have blocked numerous attempts to increase the minimum wage.

Who Should Be Upset?

Last week The New York Times reported yet again on how the Bush administration is using anti-terror measures to sift through the information of private American citizens. The Times told of a program that allows counterterrorism officials to examine financial records “involving thousands of citizens.” The Bush administration’s response was to go on the attack, claiming that the Times had revealed sensitive information in the war on terror. Rep. Peter King has said that he will write Attorney General Gonzales and ask him to “begin an investigation and prosecution of The New York Times—the reporters, the editors and the publisher.”

Guilt by Association

Critics fear civil liberties will lose out in state’s fight to curb “gang” activity

Civil-rights advocates say recent state recommendations to combat gang-related crime not only will be ineffective but also will threaten civil liberties.

On May 30, the New York State Commission of Investigation released a report titled “Combating Gang Activity in New York: Suppression, Intervention, Prevention.” In that report, the commission offered eight recommendations for the governor and Legislature in hopes of lessening the perceived gang problem statewide.

“There is nothing to be happy about in this report,” said Alice Green, executive director of the Center for Law and Justice. “We try and make people fearful of a whole bunch of things and then we come up with recommendations that will cut back on people’s civil rights and civil liberties and make it sound like it’s OK.”

The report has drawn criticism for its push to enhance penalties for gang- related crime and its promotion of policing tacitics that may violate a person’s right to privacy: the use of roving wiretaps and the creation of a statewide gang database.

“These two methods, we believe, would be ineffective and intrusive into the privacy rights of innocent people,” said Melanie Trimble, director of the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

A statewide gang database is not a new thing. Seven years ago, the Northeast Gang Information System, which includes fives states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York—was created to provide police with information on gangs. The database the commission has recommended would be more expansive and comprehensive. With the creation of the database, the commission hopes that a gang member who commits a crime in one part of the state could be connected to crimes committed in other parts of the state.

Trimble recommends caution when using such a database. “There is ample evidence showing that collecting and storing these large databases are almost always fraught with inaccuracies,” she said, “and lead to people being wrapped up in data-mining operations.” Critics fear that although the commission recommends the state create criteria for admitting and expunging information, nothing is set in stone, which leaves open the possibility of innocent names being admitted and ex-gang members never being removed.

“This whole collection of data is very scary,” Green said. “It places an increased limitation on exercised civil liberties.”

The wiretapping of innocent people’s phone lines is also a concern, as the report suggests the use of roving wiretaps, allowing telephone calls of targeted individuals to be intercepted by law enforcement regardless of the telephone being used. This, Lerner said, will help combat the use of disposable phones by gang members. “A gang member may buy a dozen portable phones,” he said. “They use them for a few hours then discard them.”

While the proposal would “focus on a specific person instead of a specific phone,” it still leaves room for officials to violate privacy rights, Trimble argued. “The problem with roving wiretaps,” she said, “is that then at any point your line could be monitored by police agents even though you may not have had any knowledge that a gang member had used your telephone.”

Civil-liberties advocates believe that these recommendations intrude on the rights of innocent people. “They talk about suppressing, but not enough about prevention.” Green said. “I think we need to be putting more of our resources and energy into trying to prevent criminal behavior.”

Green also argued that the report’s recommendation to enhance penalties for gang-related offenses fails to solve the more critical social issues. “Enhancing penalties means you’re simply going to have more mandatory sentencing and longer prison sentences, which don’t really address the underlying problems if you do have gang activity,” she said. “It’s a distraction from focusing on the real causes—systemic poverty and racism—so we want to blame somebody again and we want to blame people we consider to be ‘gangs.’ ”

The question still remains: What exactly is a gang? Even the report acknowledges that the term “gang” needs to be defined in the penal law. Green feels that the way the commission wants to define the term “gang” is a violation of the First Amendment.

“I know they are having communities define what gangs are, that’s a problem for me because it is basically equating gangs with violence and criminality,” Green said. “I think there is an association issue here that is important, I think a person has the right to associate with whoever they want to.”

—Leah Rizzo

And the Winners Are . . . Us!

Metroland writers shine in Association of Alternative Newsweeklies annual editorial contest

The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies announced the winners of the 11th AltWeekly Awards recently in Little Rock, Ark., at the annual AAN conference. Metroland writers Miriam Axel-Lute, Rick Marshall and John Brodeur were among those honored for papers with a circulation of less than 50,000.

Brodeur took second place in the category of Music Criticism for his pieces “Spring Forward,” “Worth the Wait,” and “All the Right Moves.” Marshall took second place, as well, in News Story—Short Form for “Size Matters,” “Hold the Spice,” and “Finished in an Unfinished Sort of Way.” And Axel-Lute took first place for Column Writing with “Crimes of Passion,” “Many Shades of Bi,” and “The Price of Fear.” Her writings will be included in the book Best AltWeekly Writing and Design 2006.

The AltWeekly Awards were begun in 1996 to honor exceptional writing from AAN’s member papers, of which there are now 128. This year’s contest received a record 1,554 entries.

PHOTO: Alicia Solsman

Pogo Lovers Unite

Pogo ninjas the country over have joined forces to bring stunt jumpers and jumping lovers together for a yearly event celebrating the art of the jump. Actually, a bunch of jumpers met up on the discussion forum of pogo Web site and decided to get together and show off their skills. Two years ago, Dan Brown (no, not the author) held the first Pogopalooza in Lincoln, Neb. The next year, jumpers rocked it in Chicago. And this year, local jumper Nick McClintock brought the Xpogo gang together at the Wholly Cow Ice Cream & BBQ in Schodack. Think this pogo thing is a fad? Xpogo member Betrayal puts it in verse: “i love this sport/it will always remain in my soul/not as a sport/but as an art/Don’t diss the stick.”







“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.


Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.

Loose Ends

Last week a bill that would have taken 13 acres of the Pine Bush Preserve [“The Garbage Burden,” April 27] and added them to the Rapp Road Landfill was killed by one of its sponsors, Assemblyman John McEneny. The bill would have required the city to replace the excised acres with 30 more at a later date. McEneny has said he wants an environmental review to take place before the land is removed. The Pine Bush Preserve Commission voted last Thursday 9-1 to allow test wells to be dug on the land. . . . The Fair Share Health Care Act [“Who Will Pay,” Newsfront, June 1] that would have forced large employers to pay $3 an hour for each non-insured employee did not pass the state legislature. A bill called the Fair Share Disclosure Bill was passed by the House and Senate instead. This bill will require the state’s largest employers to disclose the number of their employees who are on state-funded healthcare. It also requires the disclosure of the cost incurred to the state by having these workers uninsured by their employers. . . . The Albany convention center [“Convention Wisdom,” March 2] project will get $274.5 million from the state thanks to legislation passed last week. The funds will be used to pay off convention-center bonds to build the hotel if it is needed. Otherwise, the money will be used for city operations.

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