Right Here, Right Now: Sustainability from the Ground Floor

photos: USFS Region 5 CC and Pug50 CC (my mix)

Tackling the looming specter of unsustainable economics in an effective way is SIMPLE, if you got the gist of Professor Stephen Healy’s presentation ‘Building a Green Economy” in the Blue Lounge last Wednesday.

Healy’s was one of four ‘Teach-In’ lectures at Worcester State University’s 5th Annual Sustainability Fair, but his was definitely more than a lecture. There was a great turn-out, a lot of people and a lot of students taking notes for assignments. But that’s not all Healy had in mind.

Healy has a new book; Take Back the Economy, Any Time, Any Place coming out in 2013. Asa Needles, who introduced Dr. Healy said the book is about “rethinking what we mean by economics” and the ‘Teach-In’ turned into an exercise in point.

Before it was over the audience got a taste of the idea by becoming participants, ever so briefly, in how a working model of sustainable economics happens, as in: right here, right now.

In his introduction Healy talked about Worcester’s manufacturing history, of “de-industrialization and abandonment” and one result of that being 1,200 brownfield sites. These are old industrial sites that are no longer in use whose soil is likely somewhat contaminated.

Healy talked about the people of Worcester on the “economic margins” being excluded from the traditional processes of economic development, yet having these consequences which they are not responsible for to deal with, and he said that the prospect of sustainable development really only makes sense if they are involved at the core of the process.

As an example he showed “Eat Your Landscape”, a TED talks presentation by Pam Warhurst about a fantastic transformation in Todmorden England where the whole community became involved, growing food in every conceivable public place, commencing with the demise of decorative flower beds and being so thorough as to include artfully designed edible raised beds on town cemetery plots. There’s a lot more to it; how much further it goes is worth seeing.

In the video Warhust made one thing clear: “we’re not asking for anyone’s permission, we’re just doing it” . . . “we’re not doing it because we’re bored, we’re doing it because we want to start a revolution.” She also explained that using the “language of food” cuts across social barriers to “the sort of shifts in behavior we need to live within the resources we have” and “to stop us thinking like disempowered victims and . . . start taking responsibility for our own futures.” By “the power of small actions” she pointed out, “we’re starting to believe in ourselves.” So who can participate in this kind of economic development? Simply put, a la Warhurst: “If ya eat, you’re in.”

After the video Healy’s audience was asked to split into groups and discuss how what was in that video could be used or adapted to make a difference in Worcester and what concrete actions toward that end could be taken now. Then members of the audience raised questions and points from their discussions.

The issue of growing food in potentially contaminated soil was brought up, or “how do we transpose this idea to a post-industrial city like Worcester?” as Healy rephrased it. He deferred on that to his colleague from SAGE and Stone Soup, Asa Needles, who’s quite familiar with ‘Toxic Soil Busters’, the youth-run worker cooperative that does free lead testing in Worcester.

Needles detailed various means of dealing with contaminated soil and processes by which funding can be sought and acquired to remedy the soil situation in Worcester. It’s conceivable that some of these types of funding could create local employment, business and university research opportunities.

Needles mentioned the process by which plants can be used to filter toxins out of the soil and then disposed of as hazardous waste (phytoremediation) and how raised beds and below-ground barriers make growing food on questionable ground possible. If it works on penthouse rooftops in New York City, it will work in Worcester’s brownfield ground. If using phytoremediation means you can’t eat what you grow on brownfield sites in Worcester for a while, maybe you can use those crops for fuel. Michigan State University has been involved in research looking into whether phytoremediation can double as biofuel production.

As Healy presented it, Warhurst’s ‘language of food’ communicates a more democratically-driven and sustainable type of economic development that as a model can be adapted to and replicated in the city of Worcester; and other northern post-industrial cities; and in other types of and more dynamic projects in other venues and “sectors”. He cited Evergreen Cooperatives, through which Cleveland Clinic, one of the biggest and best hospitals in the world, pretty much gets “all of its food, energy and laundry needs met locally.”

In his introduction Healy confessed to having an “ulterior motivation” in participating in the Sustainability Fair; to promote the 2nd Annual Solidarity and Greening Economy Conference  at Clark University next week. He also got it across that participation in this sort of ‘bottom-up’ economic development is what people do in a “functioning democracy”.


Healy’s new book Take Back the Economy, Any Time, Any Place, co-authored with Katherine Gibson and Jenny Cameron, will be published by University of Minnesota Press in 2013.

The Second Annual Solidarity Economy Conference
Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610
9am-4pm on Saturday October 13
(513) 593-2619 | info@WorcesterSAGEalliance

Eat Your Landscape, Pam Warhurst –


An Onus to Uphold

If you’re looking for a nice safe and secure means of earning a living, you can’t possibly be thinking of becoming a journalist. Not in these days of confusion about what exactly the press is or will be. Journalism as a profession has always required more courage and ‘pluck’ than many an other means of earning a living. But for those who take a journalistic code of ethics to heart, it requires more; much more.

Shady stereotypes belie an underlying truth: this job involves stepping into shadows rather than avoiding them. To be worth your salt as a journalist you must also have a degree of integrity not required by most professions in the business world, if any. Most journalists earn a living via the market economy, but all serve the higher purposes of government as members of the Fourth Estate. This role is recognized in the U.S. at least, as fulfilling a crucial function of democracy. One must have a healthy ‘moral compass’ to do this job well.

One of the reasons for that is the grey area of laws concerning and affecting journalism; right down to the First Amendment. Americans might easily assume that at least freedom of the press is set in stone here. In fact, it’s not even clear that most Americans are clear on that. It’s not just the noble pursuit of getting facts straight that can run a journalist afoul: even facts themselves can put journalists in sketchy positions. There are examples throughout history of journalists coming across conflict -as per necessity- in ways that put their work and personal well-being in jeopardy: many journalists have gone so far as to die in the line of duty.

Endurance might be another quality well-suited to journalistic pursuits. The travails of New York Times investigative reporter James Risen are a case in point currently playing out in federal appellate court. Department of Justice prosecutors have been dogging Risen to “burn” a confidential source since at least as far back as 2008; no doubt during prior investigations; definitely when he was first subpoenaed during grand jury proceedings that led to the indictment in United States v. Sterling Dec. 22 2010; and ever since Sterling’s arrest on Jan. 6 2011.

Jeffrey A. Sterling is a former CIA employee accused of divulging classified information to Risen. It appears that Risen was approached by federal agents about Sterling as far back as 2003, in a successful effort to prevent him from publishing ‘something’ in the New York Times.

Risen’s ‘cooperation’ in this and other federal cases and investigations has been relentlessly pursued for a long time. In 2005 Risen and fellow New York Times writer Eric Lichtblau published a mind-blowing series of articles on warrantless domestic surveillance. For this work Risen and Lichtblau received a Pulitzer Prize. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker says “Risen has been a target of federal leak prosecutions ever since.”

Unlike former New York Times journalist Judith Miller who spent 85 days in jail, ultimately “burned” her source and forfeited her job, Risen seems thus far to have successfully resisted the demands and commands of federal prosecutors that he divulge something, anything having to do with Sterling, but most particularly whether Sterling was his source for certain material in “State of War”, the book he published in 2006: thus far he’s avoided incarceration as well. Whether Risen collected ‘some’ material as a journalist or as an author may be legally relevant.

In early 2002 Risen published an article in the New York Times about Sterling’s experiences in the CIA concerning racial discrimination. His initial contact with Sterling was probably right after 9/11. According to that article Sterling was “let go” in October 2001 and “the terrorist attacks [of 9/11] occurred just as the agency was dismissing him.” Item number 23 of the indictment asserts that Sterling disclosed classified information (to Risen) by November, 2001, and includes references to a slew of phone calls and emails between the two following that.

A press release about Sterling’s arrest reported by Robert Chesney on Jan. 6, 2011 notes that “according to the indictment” Sterling “was aware by June 2003 of an FBI investigation into his disclosure of national defense information.” It’s not too much of a stretch to surmise that Risen (being a national security correspondent specializing in intelligence) was well aware that he was being ‘observed’ by that time as well.

Indeed: Politico’s Josh Gerstein reported in early February 2011 that federal prosecutors in Sterling’s case had copies of Risen’s private credit reports, personal banking, credit card records, phone records, and information about his travel arrangements; all of which was being turned over to the court. According to Gerstein Risen was not shocked to hear this, but told Politico that it made him feel “like a target of spying.”

Gerstein also mentions something that would be alarming to anyone with a grasp of the rationale for laws, statutes, and administrative regulations designed to protect the role journalists play in U.S. democracy: shield laws, the legal liability of journalists’ in breach of agreement with confidential informants, and laws providing for journalist privileges and right of access. “First Amendment advocates” he says, are concerned that “those records . . . . could potentially expose a wide array of Risen’s sources and confidential contacts— information that might fall beyond the initial investigation that led to Sterling’s indictment.”

It’s been over 11 years since this all started. On Sept. 24 Risen’s attorney Joel Kurtzberg filed papers in response to yet another filing in Sterling vs. U.S made by federal prosecutors on Sept. 17; yet another attempt to get Risen to breach whatever contract he may have with Sterling.

Risen’s marathon resistance to the Justice Department’s attempts –throughout two presidency’s now- to coerce him into breaching an alleged agreement with a confidential source represents an admirable testament to his commitment to following a journalistic code of ethics –and protect what it represents. It sounds awfully complicated but really in this instance it’s very simple; As the Society of Professional Journalists’ put it in their code of ethics: “keep your promises.” Sometimes that is a helluva lot easier said than done.


Appeal  11-5028 Doc: 73 Filed 09/17/201

Appeal: 11-5028 Doc: 74 Filed: 09/24/2012

Feds Spy on Reporter in Leak Probe. Josh Gerstein, Politico, February 25, 2011

Former CIA Officer Indicted for Disclosing National Defense Info to Reporter. Robert Chesney, Lawfare, January 6, 201

Sterling Indictment. Case 1:10-cr-00485-LMB Document 1 Filed 12/22/10

Fired by C.I.A., He Says Agency Practiced Bias. James Risen, New York Times, March 2, 200

Subpoena Issued to Writer in C.I.A.-Iran Leak Case. Charlie Savage, New York Times, May 24, 2011

House Democrats ask that Libby grant Judith Miller a special waiver to testify.Last in a series of reports from Murray Waas on his blog Whatever Already!, August 8, 2005 (and going back)

Telling Secrets: How a leak became a scandal. Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker, November 7, 2005

Times and Reporter Reach Agreement on Her Departure. Katherine Q. Seelye, New York Times, November 9, 2005

James Risen’s Subpoena. Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, May 24, 201

The 2006 Pulitzer Prize Winners in National Reporting: James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. (the five articles in the series are here)

Former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling charged in Leak Probe. Greg Miller, Washington Post, January 6, 2011 confirming that “Author A” in the indictment is Risen, and that “dozens” of alleged emails and phone calls between Risen and Sterling are described in detail and as dating back to 2002 in the the indictment

Classified Defendant No. 1. Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, January 6, 2011

Times Reporter Subpoenaed Over Source for Book, Philip Shenon, New York Times, February 1, 2008

Reporters Without Borders: For Freedom of Information (see the ‘Press Freedom Index’ –updated annually)

Why The First Amendment (and Journalism) Might Be in Trouble. Ken Dautrich and John Bare, Nieman Reports, Summer 2005 “Only 51 percent of 9th and 12th graders agree that newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories . . . “

Definition of ‘Fourth Estate’, the Free Online Dictionary

Integrity. Damian Cox, Marguerite La Caze, and Michael Levine, © 2011. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics