Tuesday, December 23, 2008

News That Matters - December 23, 2008

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

"I find it unacceptable that we would leave the American taxpayer with a tab of tens of billions of dollars while failing to receive any serious concessions from the industry."
- Senator John McCain

Good Tuesday Morning,

So, how did the tour of Tilly Foster and the Physical Services Committee meeting go yesterday? Jeez, I'm sorry you asked. Don't mind if I'm a little bitter this morning, or cranky, but when I woke at 6:30 this morning and the temperature was 1.7 degrees I realized that after yesterday's excursion and meeting hell had finally frozen over. At least the pipes in the unheated crawl space under my house didn't burst.

There are some unwritten rules in Putnam County I learned about yesterday:

  1. Some residents are more trustworthy than others.
  2. Some business deals are more equal than others.
  3. Some verbal promises are more guaranteed than others.
  4. Woe to those who warn caution for they shall be vilified and despised.
About 25 people gathered at the Lodge at Tilly Foster yesterday afternoon for a tour of the facility which amounted to a rah-rah session for what George Whipple and Preserve Putnam (PP) has accomplished there over the last 6 months. A tractor museum. A pump museum, a home for Ned Moran's Avalon Archive. Miracles have taken place. People have walked on water. But no one talked about The Contract and if anyone tried to, they were viewed as an Afghani terrorist at a bris.

In the News:

  1. Letter From Governor Paterson on the Budget
  2. A Walk In The Park A Day Keeps Mental Fatigue Away
  3. AP Study Finds $1.6B Went to Bailed-Out Bank Execs
  4. War College warns military must prep for unrest; IMF warns of economic riots
  5. Bleeding Heart Tightwads
  6. The Great Unraveling
  7. Shocking study finds most will torture if ordered

Back at the county office building, Room 318 was packed by 4:30 while the Physical Services Committee (minus Dan Birmingham who was away on family business) rushed through their agenda to get to the main focus of the meeting: The Contract. And you know what? Almost no one talked about it. No, what ensued instead was an explanation of The Rules (see above) and anyone who dared question the gaping legal holes in that contract/lease agreement became the enemy.

At the meeting I mentioned how great things were at The Farm and noted that if Mr Whipple and Preserve Putnam had achieved all this without a lease, why not simply contract with PP to manage The Farm into the future? The response was that without a commitment for all the facilities being under the control of PP that foundations would not donate money to keep it going.

What? Why not? There were no answers. We need to accept this in faith.

Okay then, how about a ten year lease with an option for another ten years? Mr. Whipple said that maybe I could make that work but that he could not. Okay, how about a 20 year lease with an option. His reply was the same.

Legislator Tamagna claimed the county was not rushing to completion of this and mentioned that discussions had stated 6 or 7 months ago and that the county would take all the time it needed... so long as it rushed this thing through... without rushing, of course. That proper vetting of such an extensive contract could be done without taking too much time.

Ann Fanizzi took on the Putnam Arts Council and the Putnam Sportsman's Association claiming the latter held beliefs (hunting, guns) that she found horrid and abhorrent and that should not be represented at The Farm. That prompted a statement from Lynn Greenwood in defense of the Sportsman's Association and from the Arts Council who said they would be inclusive of ideas during their tenure at The Farm.

Further, Ms. Fanizzi writes:
"If we were to accept the arguments raised by the opponents of the lease, then nothing would ever be signed - no deed, no lease, no contract, no law, no Constitution even."
She even complained at the meeting that some people wanted to cross all the t's and dot all the i's and that somehow this was wrong and counter-productive.

Has anyone reading this ever signed a lease agreement or a contract? Things are pretty well spelled out, so well so that it often takes teams of lawyers to sift through for a full understanding. Why would any governmental entity lease a 200 acre multi-million dollar facility for two complete generations with language less detailed? Oh boy, but when it comes to development projects, man, she's all over the builder and the boards like flies on.... well, you know. But this is different: Read the rules.

A huge tip 'o the hat goes to Legislator Tony Fusco who braved the  condemnation of some of the audience and other Legislators to dare to ask pointed questions about The Contract. Kudos also go to Legislator Sam Oliverio for his attempt to voice concerns which were all shot down, one by one, by promises and assurances... but no real change in language in The Contract. Virtually all of their questions were dealt with in one of two ways:
1) Vinnie Tamagna, acting as Chair in Dan's absence, assured him that his worries were unfounded or,
2) The attorney responsible for The Contract assured him that 'it as in there' or that, 'we read it like that'.
I'd say, "but that's not in the contract!" wherein the Attorney said, 'sure it is!' but offered no section or amendment where whatever it it was could be found because, well, it's not really there. We're supposed to accept these things on faith and nothing more.

Legislator Fusco asked about County control over activities, subleases and renovations at The Farm and Legislator Tamagna insisted the county could negotiate. But you know, there's nothing about negotiation in The Contract, only that PP would "notify" the county of such. Mr. Whipple assured those gathered that he was open to suggestion but that The Farm could not be run by committee and that he would be The Decider. Therefore, Mr. Fusco had violated Rules number 4. If Mr. Whipple says so, even if it's not noted in The Contract, it is gospel.

Mr. Fusco asked if we had complied an inventory of conditions of the county owned buildings at The Farm, a simple baseline from which to measure compliance. Mr. Tamagna said it wouldn't be necessary, that we gave PP crappy buildings and look! Miracles! Trust! But Mr. Fusco rightly stood his ground so we'll see if that basic practice will work its way into The Contract.

The meeting went on like that until almost 7PM.

Here's a link to a sample basic rental agreement. Here's a sample commercial lease. Compare those to "version #6" of our 40 year lease with PP at The Farm and tell me... isn't there something lacking in the latter?

I will give Legislator Tamagna credit for allowing the meeting to be as open as possible, to allow everyone who had questions or discussion points to bring them up and kept things moving along as well as he could. But in the end, if you violated The Rules, Woe to those who warn caution for they shall be vilified, and despised.

Any question about The Contract was viewed as a personal attack against the word of, and the character of George Whipple or viewed as being 'against' The Dream. While nothing could have been further from the truth, the atmosphere was so defensive and so protective that even when faced with clear and present dangers to the taxpayers, the wagons circled, shafts were loaded,  hammers cocked and gunpowder fired.

So, I give up. My attempts to speak for sanity have clearly fallen on deaf ears and based on Mr. Whipple's attitude towards my questions at the meeting yesterday, I am the Devil. The truth is finally revealed! All your souls are mine!

Look, I'm not against The Dream for Tilly Foster. I have no personal vendetta against George Whipple and hold no doubt he can achieve what he claims. But any lease agreement we sign with anyone should be ironclad. That The Contract protects the county using language that is provable and verifiable and that sets concrete conditions and measures success.

But in this instance the county is leaving itself open for possible future conflicts that may only be resolved after a long and protracted legal battle. That we are left with Mr. W's word and a contract so full of holes that it should trigger action from the State Comptroller's office. That even if Mr W was the most beloved and trusted man in the universe the type of contract we're about to enter into sets a precedent that will be hard to undo when others come calling in the future. As President Ronald Reagan said of a missile agreement with Soviets, "Trust, but verify". Perhaps the only sage words he's ever uttered.
This is the land, the Land of Do What You're Told
The Land of the Free: if you don't leave the fold
Smile a little wider as you're waiting to be sold
This is the land, the Land of Do What You're Told
- Chumbawumba

This column has raised cautionary flags at the County level and I do suspect there will be some changes made to The Contract and for that I am most proud. While no one would address the source of those concerns directly, there was allusion to them and a few have been addressed. But more needs to be done, more assurances written down and The Rules need to be applied fairly and consistently.

I know, for forever and a day the new Putnam County mantra will be, "Jeff Green is the guy who tried to ruin Tilly Foster. And he hates George Whipple, too!" Its a lie but, whatever. I broke the rules and now must suffer the consequences for that infraction. Someone had to stand up for the taxpayers of this county since the County Legislature clearly wasn't going to. There's a price to pay for that and I'm going to pay it. Governmental insanity has spoken.

Hallelujah. Amen.

And now, the (slightly cranky) News:

  1. Letter From Governor Paterson on the Budget
  2. A Walk In The Park A Day Keeps Mental Fatigue Away
  3. AP Study Finds $1.6B Went to Bailed-Out Bank Execs
  4. War College warns military must prep for unrest; IMF warns of economic riots
  5. Bleeding Heart Tightwads
  6. The Great Unraveling
  7. Shocking study finds most will torture if ordered

Letter From Governor Paterson on the Budget

New York is poised at a defining moment in its history. We are faced with the greatest economic and fiscal challenge of our lifetimes.

Wall Street, a pillar of New York's economy, has suffered a series of unprecedented shocks. The financial services sector, which accounts for twenty percent of state tax revenues, may never be the same. Moreover, our broader economy is grappling with a deep recession that promises to be one of the worst in decades, and is expected to cost tens of thousands of New Yorkers their livelihoods.

New York's leaders, including myself, have the duty and responsibility of guiding our state through this difficult period. Despite the obstacles we face, New Yorkers should know that we will not turn our backs on our core priorities. Instead, in these demanding times, we must better focus our limited resources so we can deliver the essential services that we need not just to weather this economic storm, but to build toward future progress.

That being said, adjusting our state budget to reflect this new fiscal environment will be an extraordinary challenge. This Executive Budget begins the difficult process of fundamentally reevaluating both how we manage our government and what the state can afford to spend in a time of plummeting revenues. It seeks shared sacrifice from all New Yorkers and includes reductions across virtually every area of government. It also lays the groundwork for efficiencies and rationality in our operations that will produce a more disciplined and cost-effective state government.

Read More    Read the Budget here

A Walk In The Park A Day Keeps Mental Fatigue Away

ScienceDaily (Dec. 23, 2008) — If you spend the majority of your time among stores, restaurants and skyscrapers, it may be time to trade in your stilettos for some hiking boots. A new study in Psychological Science reveals that spending time in nature may be more beneficial for mental processes than being in urban environments.

Psychologists Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan from the University of Michigan designed two experiments to test how interactions with nature and urban environments would affect attention and memory processes. First, a group of volunteers completed a task designed to challenge memory and attention. The volunteers then took a walk in either a park or in downtown Ann Arbor. After the walk, volunteers returned to the lab and were retested on the task. In the second experiment, after volunteers completed the task, instead of going out for a walk, they simply viewed either nature photographs or photographs of urban environments and then repeated the task.

Read More

AP Study Finds $1.6B Went to Bailed-Out Bank Execs

by Frank Bass and Rita Beamish

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services committee and a long-standing critic of executive largesse, said the bonuses tallied by the AP review amount to a bribe "to get them to do the jobs for which they are well paid in the first place.

"Most of us sign on to do jobs and we do them best we can," said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. "We're told that some of the most highly paid people in executive positions are different. They need extra money to be motivated!"

The AP compiled total compensation based on annual reports that the banks file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The 116 banks have so far received $188 billion in taxpayer help. Among the findings:

Read More

War College warns military must prep for unrest; IMF warns of economic riots

Phoenix Business Journal - by Mike Sunnucks

A new report by the U.S. Army War College talks about the possibility of Pentagon resources and troops being used should the economic crisis lead to civil unrest, such as protests against businesses and government or runs on beleaguered banks.

“Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security,” said the War College report.

The study says economic collapse, terrorism and loss of legal order are among possible domestic shocks that might require military action within the U.S.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned Wednesday of economy-related riots and unrest in various global markets if the financial crisis is not addressed and lower-income households are hurt by credit constraints and rising unemployment.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., both said U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson brought up a worst-case scenario as he pushed for the Wall Street bailout in September. Paulson, former Goldman Sachs CEO, said that might even require a declaration of martial law, the two noted.

Read More

Bleeding Heart Tightwads


This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.

Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so.

The upshot is that Democrats, who speak passionately about the hungry and homeless, personally fork over less money to charity than Republicans — the ones who try to cut health insurance for children.

Read More

The Great Unraveling


Hong Kong

The stranger, a Western businessman, slipped into the chair next to me at an Asia Society lunch here in Hong Kong and asked me a question that I can honestly say I’ve never been asked before: “So, just how corrupt is America?”

His question was occasioned by the arrest of the Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff on charges of running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of billions of dollars, but it wasn’t only that. It’s the whole bloody mess coming out of Wall Street — the financial center that Hong Kong moneymen had always looked up to. How could it be, they wonder, that such brand names as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and A.I.G. could turn out to have such feet of clay? Where, they wonder, was our Securities and Exchange Commission and the high standards that we had preached to them all these years?

One of Hong Kong’s most-respected bankers, who asked not to be identified, told me that the U.S.-owned investment company where he works made a mint in the last decade cleaning up sick Asian banks. They did so by importing the best U.S. practices, particularly the principles of “know thy customers” and strict risk controls. But now, he asked, who is there to look to for exemplary leadership?

“Previously, there was America,” he said. “American investors were supposed to know better, and now America itself is in trouble. Whom do they sell their banks to? It is hard for America to take its own medicine that it prescribed successfully for others. There is no doctor anymore. The doctor himself is sick.”

Read More

Shocking study finds most will torture if ordered

Fri Dec 19, 2008 1:20pm EST
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some things never change. Scientists said on Friday they had replicated an experiment in which people obediently delivered painful shocks to others if encouraged to do so by authority figures.

Seventy percent of volunteers continued to administer electrical shocks -- or at least they believed they were doing so -- even after an actor claimed they were painful, Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University in California found.

"What we found is validation of the same argument -- if you put people into certain situations, they will act in surprising, and maybe often even disturbing, ways," Burger said in a telephone interview. "This research is still relevant."

Read More

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