Credit, or BerkShares?
currency project is gaining momentum in southern Berkshire
Residents of southern Berkshire County are doing away with
the green and making room in their wallets for crisp, colorful
BerkShares, a new regional currency that’s being used as part
of an effort to encourage local consumerism. For about two
months now, community members have been able to use BerkShares
instead of federal dollars to purchase goods and services
from nearly 200 participating businesses.
already a culture of supporting locally owned businesses and
locally made products,” said Susan Witt, administer of BerkShares
Inc., the lead organization for the project, and executive
director of the E.F. Schumacher Society, a co-sponsor of the
endeavor. “The BerkShares are just a tool to make that kind
of support more visible and make it easier for citizens to
remember to shop locally, because with BerkShares in their
pockets, they can’t go online to shop or at stores outside
the region. They’ll have to go down to their Main Street businesses,
which takes more time, but builds community and links us more
closely to the people of our region and the products of our
BerkShares are available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20
and 50, and can be purchased at five participating banks for
a 10-percent discount—90 federal dollars will buy you 100
BerkShares. While their primary intent is to promote the local
economy, BerkShares also celebrate local figures, landscapes,
and the work of local artists, which are depicted on the colorful
bills. Approximately 333,000 BerkShares currently are in circulation.
Louann Harvey is president of the Southern Berkshire Chamber
of Commerce, another co-sponsoring organization, as well as
a loan officer at Berkshire Bank, one of the participating
can tell you at the bank every third customer that comes into
the bank is purchasing BerkShares,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The BerkShares Web site, berkshares.org, lists almost 200
businesses currently participating in the project. Merchants
represent numerous industries, including retail, entertainment,
legal services, and much more. New businesses are being added
to that list weekly, said Witt. BerkShares also often are
accepted by businesses not named as official participants.
Each business defines its own restrictions and rules about
using the currency, but typically BerkShares can be used interchangeably
with federal dollars.
has been incredible,” Harvey said. “People are so excited
because what we’re all about is trying to keep people here
spending money locally. We [the Chamber of Commerce] have
544 member businesses, and if we can keep our local people
shopping with our local merchants, it just makes for very
The BerkShares project, while unique to the Berkshire region,
is one piece of a larger local-currency movement.
The E. F. Schumacher Society, which is based in Great Barrington,
Mass., has been involved with the regional-currency concept
since the organization was founded in 1980. The nonprofit
is designed as an educational organization, promoting issues
of social and environmental sustainability such as local currency.
In 2004, the organization convened an international conference
about local currency at Bard College, which drew people from
around the world.
According to the organization’s Web site, local currencies
were used widely in the United States during the early 1900s.
Today, there are a handful of active local-currency projects
in the United States, as well as three projects in Canada
and one in Mexico. The specific operation of each local currency
varies from project to project.
BerkShares are somewhat distinct from other projects in that
they are backed by federal dollars. When a business or individual
chooses to cash-in their BerkShares, they again take them
to one of the five participating banks. The 10-percent discount
that applied to the consumer’s initial purchase of the BerkShares
is subtracted from the total cash-in value, so, if a business
owner deposits 100 BerkShares, he or she will receive $90
When consumers purchase BerkShares from a participating bank,
the 10-percent discount is designed to serve as incentive
for them to spend more in the local community, explained Witt.
“Ideally, what will happen is the increased volume of trade
will make up for that 10-percent loss [that business owners
incur when they cash in their BerkShares], but if the merchants
respend that, then they don’t take any loss.” This serves
as a form of incentive for businesses to recirculate the BerkShares
within the community rather than trade them in for federal
The BerkShares project, as currently designed, will cease
after one year. In June 2007, the organizational co-sponsors
will meet with bankers, merchants and citizens groups to gather
feedback, Witt said.
If the various community constituencies indicate they’d like
the BerkShares project to continue, it can be extended. The
summer expiration date, however, provides an opportunity to
adjust the program, Witt said. For example, the 10-percent
incentive could be reduced to 5 percent, or a debit-card option
could be instituted, she suggested.
If the residents and businesses choose to shut down the program,
community members would have three months to redeem the BerkShares
for federal dollars. Any difference between what was put in
circulation and what was cashed in would be donated to charity.
Neither Witt nor Harvey expects merchants and residents to
be ready to end the program any time soon, however. “We’ve
printed 860,000 worth of BerkShares, so we expect to grow
and we are ready for growth,” Witt said.
to a Dec. 9 article in the Times Union,
the dents in Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings’ city-owned
SUV are the result of his plowing the car into
a fire hydrant while returning from a college
basketball game a week earlier. Jennings claims
that he hit the fire hydrant after swerving to
miss a car that was pulling out of a gas station
on New Scotland Avenue, but the mayor was unable
to describe the car. Police Chief James Tuffey
was the first to report to the scene, at the mayor’s
Outgoing Congressman Needs a Hug
Sweeney (R-Clifton Park) has not taken his defeat
very well, or so reported the Times Union.
In the Dec. 10 article, it was noted that Sweeney
has become a bit of a recluse, avoiding his new
basement cubicle office in Washington (outgoing
congresspeople get booted from their more spacious
suites) and missing most of the votes. According
to a fellow congressman, Sweeney’s health is also
on the decline due to “a bug” the legislator claims
he picked up during official trips to Iraq and
George W. Bush was scheduled to deliver a country-uniting,
faith- inspiring speech on Iraq before Christmas,
during which he would reveal a new war plan. However,
finding a new way in Iraq is going to take longer
than expected, and an announcement has been rescheduled
until after the holidays. “The president believes
that in putting together a way forward, he will
be able to address a lot of the concerns that
the American public has, the most important of
which is, ‘What is your plan for winning?’ ” White
House spokesman Tony Snow told the press.
Are You to Tell Us We Are Wrong? Oh, You’re Kofi
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan ruffled some
feathers with his farewell speech this week. What
shocking thing did he say that has sent conservatives
like Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) into finger-shaking
overdrive? “When power, especially military force,
is used, the world will consider it legitimate
only when convinced that it is used, and is being
used, for the right purpose—for broadly shared
aims—in accordance with broadly accepted norms,”
When Your Provider Is
cervical-cancer vaccine has been approved, but insurance questions
and lack of government policy limit its availability
year in the U.S., thousands of women learn they have cervical
cancer. I could be one less.” That’s the opening statement
in one of two commercials airing on television across the
country as part of Merck pharmaceutical company’s recently
launched “one less” campaign, which is intended to educate
the public about the company’s Gardasil vaccine, the world’s
first and only vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
uptake has been very swift and robust,” said Marc Boston,
a Merck spokesman, describing the response to the vaccine’s
availability after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration
Although Merck has received orders for the vaccine nationwide,
patient requests for the vaccination often cannot be satisfied
immediately, as women and hospitals sort through questions
about availability, government regulation and insurance coverage.
Albany Medical Center’s obstetrics and gynecology office provides
Gardasil, but physicians are advising women to first check
with their insurance provider to determine if the company
covers the vaccine, which costs around $120 for each of the
three required doses. Physician Stephen Cohen said he’s aware
of roughly one inquiry about the vaccine every couple of days,
although he has yet to personally provide an injection.
Since demand for the vaccine is low, Cohen said the OB/GYN
division does not currently stock the vaccine. Instead, women
seeking it must make an appointment with a physician in order
to receive a prescription for Gardasil. The script would then
be filled at a pharmacy, and the woman would bring the vaccine
back to the office during the first of three scheduled office
visits, at which times she would receive the injections.
Not all pharmacies will be able to fill a script for Gardasil
immediately, either. Michael Levine, pharmacist at Chazan
Pharmacy in Albany, said he has yet to see a prescription
for the vaccine. If he were presented with such a script,
he said he would need to inquire about ordering the vaccine
from his supplier.
Elsewhere in the Capital Region, both Planned Parenthood and
St. Peter’s Hospital do not offer the vaccine, but spokeswomen
for both institutions said they plan to do so in the future.
According to Blue Carreker, director of marketing and public
affairs for Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood
supports the provision of Gardasil but is waiting for clarification
of coverage by both state and private health-insurance programs.
Such decisions are expected to happen after the Center for
Disease Control publishes a formal policy about the vaccine.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization and Practices,
which is charged with developing vaccine recommendations,
set forth several suggestions for the use of Gardasil. These
recommendations, however, will not become official policy
until they are accepted by the CDC director as well as the
secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and
then are published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly
The ACIP’s provisional recommendations include approval of
Gardasil for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26.
The committee also indicated Gardasil should be placed on
the childhood immunization schedule for girls between 11 and
12 years of age and should be included in the federal Vaccines
for Children Program, which provides free vaccines to qualified
expecting, at that point [once the recommendations are published
in the MMWR], that insurers will get on board and the [New
York] department of health will be able to cover this,” Carreker
said. “It is a very expensive vaccine and, unfortunately for
us, because we’re faced with so many difficult financial issues,
we need to be sure of what it will cost us and then what it
will cost our patients before we can provide it.”
When and if the ACIP’s recommendations become policy, health
officials and political observers expect states will begin
to develop their own health-department policies and enact
legislation in regards to the provision of Gardasil.
Women in Government, a policy-focused nonprofit, launched
its Challenge to Eliminate Cervical Cancer Campaign in 2004.
After the approval of Gardasil, the nonprofit launched a task
force to develop several policy recommendations for implementing
use of the vaccine. The task force report included recommendations
for states to provide funding to support offering Gardasil
through Vaccines for Children programs, require the vaccine
for girls entering middle school, encourage health coverage
by both state- and private-insurance providers, and develop
Susan Crosby, executive director of Women in Government, said
few states have adopted legislation and resolutions that address
the task force’s recommendations, but she noted a handful
of exceptions. For example, Crosby named Michigan as being
on the “cutting edge” of the vaccination effort. In September
it became the first state to consider legislation to require
the cervical-cancer vaccination for school entrance.
New Hampshire also is set to become the first state to provide
the vaccine free to all girls ages 11 to 18 when it begins
providing Gardasil through its child-immunization program
Crosby expected more states would develop similar policies
when their legislatures return to session in January and as
the federal recommendations are clarified by the CDC.
As the current questions about insurance coverage and government
recommendations are answered by providers and state legislators,
many expect demand for the vaccination will increase considerably.
think we’ll see a huge number of requests for it,” Cohen said.
“There’s a backlog, obviously, right now because nobody in
America has been vaccinated for it.”
Several years from now, when everyone who wants the vaccine
has received it, Cohen said he expected Gardasil will no longer
be provided in gynecological offices, which rarely stock vaccines,
and will shift to pediatric departments and become a vaccine
that’s provided almost exclusively to children.
Gardasil is said to prevent cervical cancer caused by certain
types of human papillomavirus, which can be transmitted through
sexual activity. Researchers have yet to determine whether
the vaccine will require a booster later in life, as research
data demonstrating Gardasil’s continued effectiveness currently
extends only five years.
CREDIT: Alicia Solsman
Tuesday, more than a dozen members of the Muslim Defense Committee
stood vigil outside the Federal Courthouse in Albany as part
of a weekly show of support for Yassin Aref and Mohammad Hossain.
The two men were convicted of terrorism and money-laundering
charges in October after a yearlong FBI sting (“Prosecution
or Persecution?” Sept. 28). “Right after the trial, we formed,”
said May Saffar. “The FBI did a great job of putting us together.”
The group members plan to continue their weekly vigils until
the sentencing in February. Also, Saffar said, they are planning
a 24-hour vigil in January outside the Rensselaer County Jail,
where Aref is being held. “Cold, yes,” Saffar said. “I know.
But what these men have to go through, this is the least we
loose ends this week-