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Droning, Buzzing Confusion; UMass Football: Whipple Returns; New England Lawmakers Lead Effort to Reveal “Black Budget”

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
photo courtesy of PETA
The PETA hunter-stalking drone

Droning, Buzzing Confusion

A drone that would track hunters in forests was offered for sale in October, at the beginning of the Massachusetts bow hunting season, by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA says the idea is to spot hunters who are drinking while using firearms, shooting deer from the side of the road, or committing other infractions. By now, the group says it has sold “dozens” of the drones, which cost $325 each.

The event underscores the variety of uses—some unexpected—of drones now that Congress has authorized their release over U.S. territory. At the moment, a patchword of drone regulations is arising as states field questions about privacy and safety while unmanned objects, including some with cameras, begin to flit above towns and undeveloped areas.

In Massachusetts, state senator Bob Hedlund of Weymouth has introduced a bill that would put several restrictions on drone use. First on the list: no weapons on drones. Next, any local law enforcement agency acquiring a drone would have to make information about the acquisition public, and have it approved by the selectboard, City Council or other governing body. And if a drone were being used for a purpose other than law enforcement, no information it might gather could be used later in a criminal proceeding.

In Washington, another Bay Stater is trying to ensure that drones don’t become airborne spies. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who is a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, in November filed a bill, the “Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act,” which would prohibit drones from being used to collect information about people. More recently, he responded to a 60 Minutes report about Amazon’s plans to use little buzzing “octocopters” to carry parcels weighing five pounds or less to its customers. “Before drones start delivering packages,” said Markey, “we need the FAA to deliver privacy protections for the American public.”•

 

UMass: A Tamer Fall

Rowdiness at UMass creates a copy mill for the local press. Most any weekend, an incident ranging from a noise complaint to the occasional fight becomes fodder for a Monday story that recalls the old Z-word: ZooMass. (Far less coverage is devoted to the students’ sides of issues such as cutbacks in course offerings that make it harder for them to graduate on time; poor off-campus housing; and, in the case of those with jobs, low wages and bad working conditions.)

But this year officials at the state university’s flagship campus, which with 23,000 students has a population larger than many of the small towns surrounding Amherst, can wave a new report showing that the number of off-campus incidents involving students was down this year from last. In the fall of 2012, 268 incidents involving 431 students were reported; between Sept. 1 and Dec. 8, 2013, 227 incidents involving far fewer students—289—were reported, most involving noise complaints, failure to disperse and underage drinking. That’s a drop of 18 percent.

Though the ZooMass factor appears to be on the wane, however, it may be too much for townspeople to hope that a linchpin of the party scene, the annual Hobart Hoedown, will die out anytime soon. There are UMass alumni who still lodge fond reminiscenses of that annual blowout in North Amherst on the Internet, and it’s immortalized on UMass Wiki, where an anonymous writer proclaims, “The spirit and strength of Hobart Lane still lives on to this day. 40 Hobart Lane … has still managed to crank out party after party. Even though the Ho-down [sic] is not what it used to be, the address itself and the rest of Hobart Lane is known for an experience that one UMass student will never forget.”

Still, UMass officials should keep their chins up: on Playboy’s list of the wildest party schools of 2013, UMass is absent. Topping that list is the University of West Virginia in Morgantown, W.V., where street fires have been commonplace after the UVM football team scores a big win. Playboy called UWV “a seven-year plan with the possibility of parole.” UMass? Not even close.• —SK

 

New England Lawmakers Lead Effort to Reveal “Black Budget”

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) has filed a new piece of legislation that would require the 16 federal agencies involved in intelligence gathering to disclose their spending levels. That would give Americans a peek into the heretofore largely unknown “black budget,” a budget that totaled around $53 billion last year.

According to the text of the bill, H.R. 3855: The Intelligence Budget Transparency Act of 2014 would “require that the annual budget submissions of the Presidents include the total dollar amount requested for intelligence or intelligence-related activities of each element of the government engaged in such activities.”

According to Congress.gov, the bill is currently co-sponsored by 34 Representatives—21 Democrats and 13 Republicans—including two from Massachusetts, Rep. Michael Capuano and Rep. James P. McGovern. It’s currently being reviewed by the House Committee on the Budget, which is headed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Since 2007, according to the Huffington Post, the total intelligence budget for the United States has been disclosed yearly, but is not broken down by agency. In 2013, based on documents provided by Edward Snowden, the Washington Post was able to access a full breakdown of the budget for that fiscal year, and reported, among other things, that the CIA requested $14.7 billion in funding—a number that far outstripped outside estimates. And the intrusive and increasingly unpopular National Security Agency has upped its budget by 54 percent over the last 10 years.

“The biggest threat to the successful implementation of a vital national program is the combination of unlimited money with nonexistent oversight,” said Welch in a press release. “The top-line intelligence budgets for America’s 16 intelligence agencies are unknown to the American taxpayer and largely unknown to the members of Congress who represent them. It’s led to dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness. Requiring the public disclosure of top-line intelligence spending is an essential first step in assuring that our taxpayers and our national security interests are well served.”•

 

UMass Football: Whipple Returns

What’s worse than finishing your football season with a 1-11 record?

Doing it two years in a row while battling the negative perception your fans have of your football program.

That’s what happened at UMass over the last two years. It led to the firing of coach Charley Molnar after only two years of a five-year contract. To replace him, UMass has turned to Mark Whipple, who returns to Amherst 10 years after his initial departure.

Whipple led UMass to its Division 1-AA national championship back in 1998, the coach’s first year at the state’s flagship university. Over the course of his five-year tenure, UMass won nearly twice as many games as it lost.

Whipple’s return appears to be a first step toward wining back fans who, especially over the past few months, have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of UMass football.

Concerns with the program under Molnar reached a crescendo early last fall, when a video of the team’s conditioning workouts held during the 2012 winter offseason—featuring one-on-one wrestling and boxing “combatives” between players spurred on by teammates and coaches—led to a petition, circulated by UMass alumni who were football players, asking that the quality of the program be improved and “the improper treatment of the current players” stopped.

Change.org has since closed the petition, but the first 100 comments and signatures can still be found at www.change.org.

Despite his success as offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Molnar’s UMass teams struggled mightily on the field of play. Yet it appears that his termination was chiefly the result of off-field issues. There were problems with the “perception of the program,” as UMass athletic director John McCutcheon phrased it when he fired Molnar the day after Christmas.

“What we want to have is a program that all of our constituency groups—whether it’s on-campus, our alumni, our supporters, potential recruits out there, high school coaches, you name it—view as a program that is energized, that’s positive, that’s going in the right direction, that cares about the student athletes,” McCutcheon said in an interview following Molnar’s departure.

An independent group is looking into concerns related to the video of the off-season workouts. They were expected to submit a report to UMass-Amherst Chancellor Kubble Subbaswamy by mid-January, but had yet to do so by press time.

Regardless of the group’s findings, McCutcheon said that the video was not a factor in Molnar’s firing.

UMass owes Molnar approximately $836,000 for the three years remaining on his contract. McCutcheon said Molnar will be paid by “external sources,” not with university or state funds.

At close to a million dollars, that price tag isn’t likely to quell criticisms from faculty members already concerned with the time, money and effort the state university is investing to make the jump to upper-division football. More than $30 million is already being spent to renovate UMass’ on-campus McGuirk Stadium, even though the team will continue to split its home games between Amherst and the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium in Foxboro for at least the next three years.

But for now, UMass officials are embracing the arrival of Whipple, and the promise of moving forward while holding onto the past.

After leaving UMass, Whipple went on to the NFL, where he worked in a variety of offensive coordinator roles for the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, winning a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2005. He also got experience in big-time college football coaching at the University of Miami (Fla.).

“Sometimes you need to go away to find out where your home is,” a visibly emotional Whipple said at his introductory press conference in early January. “And I found it. Thank you.”

“I told my wife I can make a bigger impact than I’ve ever made in my life with people young, old and in between at the University of Massachusetts. And that’s what I’m really, really excited about,” Whipple continued. “Because I believe in this place. It hit me after the interview, when I drove around here and got out and walked—this is a special, special place.”•

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