Monday, December 22, 2008

News That Matters - December 22, 2008

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

"Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in one's life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted as a member at Saddleback Church."  - Rick Warren, Pastor of the Saddleback Church, who will be giving the invocation at President Obama's inauguration.

Good Monday Morning,

Chag Someach Hanukkah!

For those of the faith or for you Hanukkah paparazzi, this holiday would not be complete without latkes. Here's an easy recipe:

4 cups grated potatoes
1 large onion, chopped or grated (Depending on the consistancy you desire in the finished product.)
2 tablespoons flour
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze as much water out of the potatoes as you can. Tying them tightly in cheesecloth works well otherwise a clean dishrag or non-fuzzy towel will do. Beat the eggs separately. Stir the other ingredients to the potatoes then mix in the eggs. Stir, beat, or jump up and down until it's all blended together nicely. Put some high quality oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat and spoon in the potato mixture in dollops the size of the finished pancakes. Brown on one side, flip, brown on the other side, and remove to paper towels or a brown paper bag to soak up the excess oil. Serve with sour cream or apple sauce.

In Today's News:
  1. Putnam weighs lease for Tilly Foster Farm
  2. Valley Views: Tax income, not property
  3. Getting no charge out of utility bills
  4. Green Infrastructure Projects Would Create Jobs
  5. How One Community Started a Winter Farmers' Market
  6. America's Meat Habit Feeds Gulf Dead Zone
  7. Chinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace
  8. Your Water Footprint
  9. Bush shoe-thrower 'will sue for police beating'

I had a conversation at a party Saturday night about the Tilly Foster contract with someone I've known and whose opinion I trust. His take was this: there's so much potential for the future at the Farm that we should worry less about the contract and more about the potential for what the Farm could be and what it can offer the community. I got the feeling he feared that objection to the contract could scuttle the deal and that the dream of what the Farm might be would be lost. My assurances that my take was focused on protecting the taxpayers first were not met with a satisfactory response and we agreed to disagree on the issue. Yesterday morning and again this morning, a post to the Patterson 12563 list said the same thing: tourism, the arts council, warm fuzzy puppies, singing kum-ba-yah around rare goats... and that - somehow - I had some sort of nefarious  "agenda" and that we should accept the contract as it is. But this is the type of argument designed to confuse and befuddle and draw attention away from potential problems.

Look, there's no one I know who does not want to see the Farm have a successful future and even if the ultimate vision of that future differs, the basic concept is still the same. It's the getting there we're not focusing enough on. Supporters don't want us to get bogged down in the messy details, they'd prefer we get bogged down on the dream instead. That's not good business, not good governance and is demonstrably irresponsible.

Forty years is a long time. Anyone with a young child today should understand that we're in this agreement until our children's children have entered college. Forty years is a long time to be stuck with a less than desirable deal.

We need to do everything we can to vet this properly, to do the research, to see a genuine plan for the farm that goes beyond a bullet point list of promises. When you're entrusting the future of the Farm to someone, no matter how well liked, talented and well meaning, we need more than their personal assurances and promises.

This can only be achieved by shining a nova-bright light on the terms of this agreement, by ensuring that the taxpayers are well protected, that aside from Attachment A (the dream for the farm) there's a real, genuine business plan, that the taxpayers are intimately involved for the long term and that environmental concerns are more than adequately addressed. We know what things look like today, but we also need to know what they're going to look like 5, 10, 20 and 40 years from today. Not from the perspective of what may be possible, but from the perspective of what the costs might be and impact to the community.

There is a price we can afford to pay and a price we cannot. As it stands now, those in favor of the lease agreement don't seem to talk much about those costs nor the fiscal responsibility the county has to its taxpayers and residents; they seem to care only about "the dream." They seem to believe that if the dream comes to fruition that the fiscal costs will be more than compensated for. In the end it could be cool. In the end it could be not cool. We need to have the vision today to peer into that uncertain future.

Unless we take the time to be studious and cautious we steer our ship into this sea without a rudder to a vague destination on an unseen shore. Government should be more responsible than that.

All I can ask for, and all I have been asking for, is for the county to perform due-diligence on this deal and not be swayed by the emotional arguments being made but by sensible business practices: Have a business plan in place, protect the environment and protect the next two generations of Putnam County taxpayers for ultimately they are the ones who will end up footing the bill. If we cannot see this issue from a straight dollars and sense perspective than we're not doing our homework. Aren't we always pointing at some government entity or other claiming they're not thinking about the taxpayers first? In this instance, supporters of the contract are pointing at its cautionary detractors like myself (and interestingly, never directly to my face). But who will they point to if things don't go as planned? Will they come before us and say, "Sorry, we made a mistake"?

Whether Mr. Whipple (against whom I've been repeatedly accused of having some sort of personal vendetta!) has the business acumen to manage the farm for the next two generations is the key here. He may be more than capable and my writings have said as much. But we only have his word, a promise, we don't have a contractual business plan and that's what we need. Anything less and we're gambling and government should not gamble on our children's children's future.

I cannot urge the county enough to slow down, to take a breath, to think this thing through and not be pressured into making a hasty decision by anyone for any reason. If we are being pressured to decide now, that should signal to us that all may not be as it seems.

In the public relations battle I'm apparently the Grinch. But I don't mind playing that role so long as in the end we make a studied choice here. If anything I've had to say or write about this causes the county to be more cautious and to look beyond the flow of emotion that has pervaded this discussion, it will be, in the end, for our collective betterment.

And now, the News:

  1. Putnam weighs lease for Tilly Foster Farm
  2. Valley Views: Tax income, not property
  3. Getting no charge out of utility bills
  4. Green Infrastructure Projects in New York Would Create Jobs, Stimulate Economy
  5. How One Community Started a Winter Farmers' Market
  6. America's Meat Habit Feeds Gulf Dead Zone
  7. Chinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace
  8. Your Water Footprint
  9. Bush shoe-thrower 'will sue for police beating'

Putnam weighs lease for Tilly Foster Farm

Susan Elan
The Journal News

The terms of a proposed 40-year lease of Putnam County-owned Tilly Foster Farm in Southeast have come under increased scrutiny by some county residents and legislators who question its length and want to know who selects subtenants and who pays the utility bills.

But George Whipple of Kent, who wants to run an educational center at the farm through his nonprofit Preserve Putnam, said recent changes to a draft agreement answer many of those concerns.

The county Legislature's Physical Services Committee planned to visit the 199-acre former horse farm with Whipple on Friday, but that was postponed to today due to the bad weather. Legislator Vincent Tamagna, R-Philipstown, chairman of the committee, said Thursday that the lease was still under review, but that it could be ready for a vote by the full Legislature at its year-end meeting Dec. 29.

"The 40-year term for the lease is scary," said Denis Castelli, a member of the Tilly Foster Advisory Board, who did not speak on behalf of the board. "While we all may have every faith in Mr. Whipple and (Putnam County Executive Robert Bondi) Mr. Bondi, who knows who will be running the nonprofit organization or Putnam County government over the next four decades? How can a contract of this magnitude be tied to the personalities and reputations of two men?"

Read More

Valley Views: Tax income, not property

By Rich Taylor

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future."

- John F. Kennedy

Habitat for Humanity of Dutchess County has been trying unsuccessfully to qualify a family for a house to be built on Garden Street or Thompson Street in the City of Poughkeepsie for the past four years.

We can qualify families for a house, which may have a mortgage payment of less than $300 per month, but when we add in the escrow of school tax, property tax and homeowners insurance, plus utilities, they fail to qualify.

Mind you, we are working with families in the $35,000 to $40,000 range. If we move to a higher range, they most likely will not be living in substandard housing.

It is becoming harder and harder to help families who truly need to help due to the unfair and antiquated taxing system in New York state. In the past three years, two of our families have failed and their houses were put up for foreclosure.

Our mission is to eliminate substandard housing, but with our present system, our hands are tied.

We need to base school and property taxes on income, not on homeownership. With such a system, taxes would be spread among all who bring home a paycheck. New York state has the lowest owner-occupied households in the country, but has the highest school and property taxes.

Read More

Getting no charge out of utility bills

It's difficult to determine these days in a confusing economy whether we who are compelled to be customers of the local utility companies are in fact consumers or victims.

I am holding in my possession our bill for the month of November, a bill for the time of Oct. 27 through Nov. 25. This bill requires a payment of $639.37 for these 29 days. We live in a one-family home that is occupied by two of us, indeed two seniors. However, the cost of energy includes gas and electricity, "cost adjustments, SBC/RPS charges, RDM adjustments, government surcharges, delivery surcharges, delivery charges," which are all kinds of excuses that are geared to reach out to the helpless citizens who are unable to sustain themselves without the basic needs of energy.

Read More

Green Infrastructure Projects in New York Would Create Jobs, Stimulate Economy

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
By: American Rivers

Ready-to-go projects already identified

Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-898-3864 or 206-213-0330 x23

Washington, DC -- Green infrastructure projects are critical to stimulating the economy, and American Rivers and its partners have identified seven examples of ready-to-go projects in New York worth $28 million that would not only create jobs and jumpstart the economy, but would also improve clean water and boost natural flood protection.  American Rivers called on President-elect Obama and Congress to craft a green economic stimulus package that includes funding for projects that will bring New York’s and the nation’s water infrastructure into the 21st century.

“Clean water is our nation’s most vital resource, but our water infrastructure is outdated and crumbling, unable to cope with our drinking water, wastewater, and flood protection needs,” said Betsy Otto, vice president of strategic partnerships for American Rivers. “The good news is, investments in green solutions to these water infrastructure problems will create jobs, save money, and protect public health and safety.”

Read More

How One Community Started a Winter Farmers' Market

Farm preservation is the basis for a sustainable food web.

In spring, summer and fall, farmers' markets are a staple of life in communities throughout New York's Hudson River Valley, where I live. But come November, most stow away their tents and tables, victims of Old Man Winter's imminent approach.

This year, however, my hometown of Red Hook is trying something new: a winter farmers' market offering produce, meats and dairy products from area farms one Saturday a month. The heavy turnout for the first market — held December 13 in a beautifully restored 18th-century inn and stagecoach stop in the village's downtown — proves people are hungry for healthy, local produce regardless of the plunging needle on the outdoor thermometer.

A welcoming feeling of warmth pervaded the inaugural market, equally the result of its historic setting and the sense of community spirit shared by all in attendance. The offerings certainly couldn't have been more diverse. Hearty Roots Community Farm, which is spearheading the market, featured carrots and other root vegetables that looked like they'd just been plucked from the ground. Rib-sticking soups were ladled out by Gigi Market. Ken Migliorelli, whose family farm supplies Manhattan's busiest greenmarkets, arrived with baskets of apples and pears. Montgomery Place Orchards sold honey, flavored vinegars and jams. There was just-baked bread and fresh poultry—as well as wonderful earrings crafted out of rooster feathers. Just as important, there was plenty of laughter and camaraderie.

Read More

America's Meat Habit Feeds Gulf Dead Zone

Michael Reilly, Discovery News

America's taste for meat is a well-known enemy of the environment; growing feed for livestock guzzles far more oil and water, and pumps out far more nitrogen-laced runoff, than if we were all vegetarians.

Now new research shows how the leftover fertilizer is contributing to an oxygen-starved dead zone where the Mississippi River drains into the Gulf of Mexico. Last summer, the zone was nearly the size of Massachusetts.

Gidon Eshel of Bard College at Simon's Rock in Massachusetts and Pamela Martin of the University of Chicago calculate that if Americans kicked their meat habit, it would prevent seven million tons of nitrogen from spilling into the gulf -- a reduction of nearly 90 percent.

"When we did the calculations, it was astonishing," Eshel said. "The main reason is we're feeding so much corn to livestock. It takes 4.5 times more cropland to do that than if you feed people a plant diet, and corn is so nitrogen-intensive."

Read More

Chinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace

[Ed note: this story is from March of 2008 but still quite relevant. I met a woman this weekend whose business has been shut down due to the loss of Salmon in the Sacramento River.]


SACRAMENTO — Where did they go?

The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations — and coming up dry.

Whatever the cause, there was widespread agreement among those attending a five-day meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council here last week that the regional $150 million fishery, which usually opens for the four-month season on May 1, is almost certain to remain closed this year from northern Oregon to the Mexican border. A final decision on salmon fishing in the area is expected next month.

As a result, Chinook, or king salmon, the most prized species of Pacific wild salmon, will be hard to come by until the Alaskan season opens in July. Even then, wild Chinook are likely to be very expensive in markets and restaurants nationwide.

“It’s unprecedented that this fishery is in this kind of shape,” said Donald McIsaac, executive director of the council, which is organized under the auspices of the Commerce Department.

Read More

Your Water Footprint

Did you know it takes 15,500 litres of water to produce 1kg (2.2lbs) of beef and 3,900 litres for just 1kg (2.2lbs) of chicken meat? For each hamburger you consume, it takes 2400 litres of water to produce.

If we think in terms of bathtubs of water (the average bathtub holds 150 liters or 40 gallons), 1kg of beef takes 103 bathtubs full of water, 1 kilogram of chicken takes 26 bathtubs full of water and each hamburger you consume takes more than 16 bathtubs full of water.

We use an incredible amount of water to support our lifestyles, not just the water we use for drinking, cooking and washing, but we utilize even more water for producing things such as food, paper, cotton and clothes.

The Water Footprint Network, in conjunction with a group of organizations and companies, recently launched a campaign to get people to think about their water footprint. The water footprint is an indicator of water consumption that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or company.

Read More

Bush shoe-thrower 'will sue for police beating'

David Batty and agencies

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush was tortured into writing a letter of apology, his brother claimed today.

Muntazar al-Zaidi was wrestled to the ground after throwing his shoes during a news conference on 14 December held by Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The investigating judge in the case acknowledged last week that Zaidi was beaten around the face and eyes.

But the journalist's brother, Uday, said his brother suffered more severe injuries, including a missing tooth and cigarette burns to his ears, and would sue.

Read More
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