Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, April 11, 2014 8:43 pm

Duke Power, trees, and simple questions

We here in the ‘boro have a chronic problem: We live in the ice belt — Virginia reliably gets snow in the winter, South Carolina reliably gets rain, but we’re as likely to get freezing rain and sleet as anything else. And with ice comes falling tree limbs and entire trees. And with those come downed power lines. In our most recent ice storm, a lot of people were dark for close to a week.

Duke Energy wanted to minimize this problem by trimming back trees that are near power lines. Residents (including me, in my ignorance) protested.

Now Duke proposes to reduce the problem by injecting a chemical called Cambistat into the ground near trees adjacent to power lines. The good news is, Cambistat will make blossoming trees blossom even more aggressively while slowing the rate of limb growth. This, in turn, will reduce the frequency with which trees near power lines have to be trimmed back.

(I and others have argued that, over time, burying power lines would save Duke Energy, and therefore ratepayers, money by reducing costs associated with repairing downed lines, utility poles, transformers, etc. I still believe that to be true, but not only would the trenching required to bury lines kill a lot of trees all by itself by damaging their roots, it’s also beside the point of this discussion.)

The bad news about Cambistat? Its active ingredient, paclobutrazole, is a chemical about which almost nothing is known but which might be toxic. Relatedly, not a few local residents grow ornamentals, and even herbs, fruit or vegetables, near trees that would be so treated. And pines and cedars, the trees most vulnerable to ice breakage, wouldn’t even be treated.

But remember: We simply don’t know what the effects of exposure to the chemical would be, whether pure or in the diluted form of an herbicide, whether short-term or long-term. On the other hand, with chemical toxicity, unlike in criminal trials, lack of evidence does not automatically equate to a not-guilty verdict.

So friend and local blogger Billy Jones asked a simple question of a tree service that had responded to a Facebook post of his:  “How will Cambistat affect my nearby herb and vegetable gardens?”

From a pure PR standpoint, the response he got made the mendacity of the tobacco companies back in the day look urbane and collegial. That made Billy both angry and even more curious. Me, too, and I don’t even grow stuff.

 

Thursday, July 25, 2013 6:01 pm

Police Chief Ken Miller, the First Amendment would like to see you

About eight years ago, I met Greensboro blogger Billy Jones. Billy and I disagree on politics almost as often as Fred and I do, but as with Fred, he and I have a very good RL relationship and I consider him a friend.

Billy took to his blog on Tuesday to take issue with the fact that George Hartzman, a candidate for mayor, apparently (I say “apparently” because I have no first-hand knowledge of this) was removed from the city’s farmer’s market this past Saturday for campaigning on city property. Billy’s post includes a lot of the email back-and-forth, which includes not only the original parties but also the Guilford County Board of Elections (which took Hartzman’s side), blogger and formal mayoral candidate Roch Smith Jr., and others. Billy concludes with this segment from the majority ruling in the 1938 U.S. Supreme Court case Lovell v. City of Griffin, which would appear to be the last word on the subject:

“4. A city ordinance forbidding as a nuisance the distribution, by hand or otherwise, of literature of any kind without first obtaining written permission from the City Manager, violates the Fourteenth Amendment; strikes at the very foundation of the freedom of the press by subjecting it to license and censorship. P. 450.

So held as applied to distribution of pamphlets and magazines in the nature of religious tracts.

5. The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It embraces pamphlets and leaflets. P. 452.

6. One who is prosecuted for disobeying a license ordinance which is void on its face may contest its validity without having sought a permit under it. P. 452. “

(Billy’s link is broken, but his pagination appears to match that of the source to which I’m linking.)

Billy himself then concluded:

I think we know what is going on here. As usual supporters of the status quo are stalling,  hoping Greensboro’s working class will give up the fight, roll over and die. Well here’s some news for you Mr S. Mujeeb Shah-Khan: Greensboro’s working class is educated, organized, pissed-off and ready to fight. We have access to the law and the media worldwide. And if you and your kind think you can continue to run Greensboro as Greensboro has been run for the last 100 years… Well click here and I think you will change your mind.

You can run but you cannot hide behind your lies.

Up to this point, some disagreement but nothing egregious. But then, yesterday morning, Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller, acting in his official capacity, wrote Billy the following:

From: Miller, Ken <Ken.Miller@greensboro-nc.gov>
Date: Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 7:05 AM
Subject: Encouragement
To: “Jones, Billy” <recyclebill@gmail.com>

Hi Billy,

I see a post on your blog that I am requesting and hoping you will remove it right away:

“I think we know what is going on here. As usual supporters of the status quo are stalling,  hoping Greensboro’s working class will give up the fight, roll over and die. Well here’s some news for you Mr S. Mujeeb Shah-Khan: Greensboro’s working class is educated, organized, pissed-off and ready to fight. We have access to the law and the media worldwide. And if you and your kind think you can continue to run Greensboro as Greensboro has been run for the last 100 years… Well click here and I think you will change your mind.

You can run but you cannot hide behind your lies.”

The language appears threatening and, even if you can qualify it as protected speech, adding the link to a Google map of Mujeeb’s home after indicating that the working class is “ready to fight” and before “you can run but you cannot hide…” certainly can be construed to be threatening or encouraging others to act upon your information.

I am, of course, appealing to your sensibilities here in asking you to remove the paragraph from your site, and I hope you will honor the request.

Kind regards,

Ken Miller

I’m not sure what the chief is thinking here, but he certainly is not thinking about the Supreme Court’s standard for what comprises a threat without constitutional protection. Having gotten a copy of Chief Miller’s email, I wrote to set him straight:

From: Lex Alexander <lex.alexander@gmail.com>
To: Ken.Miller@greensboro-nc.gov
Date: July 24, 2013
Subject: Billy Jones

I don’t normally involve myself in local politics beyond voting (which I haven’t missed doing since moving here 27 years ago), but violations of basic human and constitutional rights are a whole ‘nother subject.
I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? Tell me you didn’t send that moronic email Billy Jones quotes you as having sent. There’s nothing in Billy’s blog post that comes anywhere CLOSE to the standard for threats defined by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio:

…the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

You owe him an apology, and you owe us, the citizens of Greensboro, better sense. If you can’t muster it, resign. If you’re actually this misinformed, you’re just a lawsuit waiting to happen, and frankly, my tax dollars have better things to do than clean up your mess.
Sincerely, etc.

(The chief sent a one-sentence response thanking me for my perspective, which, depending on how you look at it, could be the civil response of a man swamped by job duties or an upraised middle finger.)

Feel free to disagree with Billy about city policy. Feel free to disagree with George Hartzman’s rights to speak on public property if you like; Lovell, after all, speaks to pamphleteering, not actual spoken words, and Hartzman’s efforts to speak may or may not have run afoul of time, place and manner restrictions recognized by the Supreme Court — I wasn’t there, so I don’t know.

But communicating threats is a crime in North Carolina, and it is incumbent upon law enforcement to understand, then, what constitutes a prosecutable threat. Billy’s blog post was a warning, not a threat, and it certainly does not appear on its face likely to “incite or produce” “imminent, lawless action.” We demonstrably have a police chief who does not understand the difference; thus, we have a chief unfit for his job.

My involvement in local politics is limited to voting, and that’s not changing here because when a high-ranking local official demonstrates constitutional ignorance in an area of his supposed expertise, that’s a problem for every resident of the city, not a political issue. If nothing else, it leaves every one of us city taxpayers legally exposed if someone sues the city for official actions stemming from that ignorance. And as I said in my email to Chief Miller, my tax dollars have better things to do. I’m pretty sure yours do, too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 6:17 pm

“I’ve got $3 in my wallet and it feels like a million.”

My friend and fellow blogger Billy Jones has been through a rough few years. He just had an experience most of us who are more comfortable would describe as somewhere between bad and awful. And yet, in a message to me, he calls it a small victory.

I’ll let you decide just how small.

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