Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NtM - February 24, 2009

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

Good Tuesday Morning,

Impeach Obama! It didn't take long for the websites, bumper stickers and Facebook pages to start appearing. I mean, the guy has been President for what, a month and his standing in the polls, even among more conservative voters, continues to be pretty good.

But the Impeach Obama camp has a good deal of work ahead of them, at least at Facebook, where there are 95 Impeach Bush groups as opposed to only 2 Impeach Obama groups.

With shades of Patterson Crossing, the New Jersey Meadowlands is seeing the construction of a $2 billion mega project - Xanadu. The 4.8 million sq ft mega-mall-entertainment complex which will boast an indoor ski and snowboard mountain and an outdoor ferris wheel, claims to be 70% leased though NJ State officials question that number.

But Howard Davidovitz, a retail consultant said, “We’re going to close 220,000 retail stores this year. Who’s doing well? Family Dollar. Dollar Tree. Wal-Mart, McDonald’s. Netflix. Consumers have no money. This is the total opposite of what’s succeeding. It’s not viable in this market.” Cautious words when we think about a 30+ acre clearcut with unfinished or empty buildings right in our own backyard.

Latest into the fray for the Putnam County Sheriff's race is former Southeast Town judge Jim Borkowski. Counting everyone else in the race for that much coveted position, his entry brings the total to, what, Two dozen? Three dozen?

While reading his campaign website I see he, like others in the race this year, is also claiming a booming increase in crime, yet I'm still not convinced all is as stated. His campaign website says, "Last year, general crime rose an astonishing 26%. DWI's rose 34%." But I have to wonder, especially with the DWI's. The current Sheriff made a big deal last year about enforcing DWI laws and if those efforts caught an additional 34% of drunk drivers, does that mean that there are *more* people driving drunk or just better enforcement?

DWI is one of those uncountable 'crimes' unlike burglary or theft which are almost always reported to the police. How can you measure an increase in an unreported crime? Better enforcement and a higher conviction rate does not directly relate to an increase in anything other than better enforcement and a higher conviction rate.
As this political season begins, and with each candidate running for Sheriff touting similar numbers as evidence of gloom and doom, keep an eye out for more of this semantic gymnastics exercise. I just hope you're all smart enough to wade through the bullshit. There's going to be a lot of it.

As reported here before, the Working Families Party has endorsed what they call Fair Share Tax Reform. The plan raises the state income tax rate for the wealthiest of New York's residents to bring our income tax structure in-line with that of other states. Right now in New York, the income tax rate is pretty much the same (6.85%) whether you earn $20k or $2000k a year. But it doesn't go far enough.

We really do need to go back to the 1972 progressive tax structure which could show an income tax decrease for many self-employed, blue-collar workers who are most affected by a weak economy and most importantly, are facing possible foreclosures on their homes for their inabilty to cover their proeprty taxes.
Many self-employed workers and small business owners are not part of the state's unemployment insurance program, do not carry health insurance and do not show up as being unemployed whenthe government counts. And when work dries up they are faced with the possibility of no income and no assistance from the State. Cutting their income tax rate while raising it just a small amount for the wealthiest among us would go a long way towards preserving the economic health and viability of our communities.

And now, the News:

  1. The Town of Dover and the Dover Knolls Development Company make a Joint Application for Federal Stimulus dollars
  2. Developer: Quarter-billion dollars or 1,375 homes on coast
  3. Jobless hit with bank fees on benefits
  4. Obama keeps weatherization promise
  5. Largest banks that received aid cut lending
  6. Tough Times in Troubled Towns
  7. Going Underground

The Town of Dover and the Dover Knolls Development Company make a Joint Application for Federal Stimulus dollars

February 22, 2009

The Town of Dover and the Dover Knolls Development Company (Dover Knolls) created a Joint Public-Private Partnership to apply for federal stimulus funds to aid in the demolition of abandoned buildings on the site of the former Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center (HVPC) in WIngdale, NY. The property is owned by Dover Knolls, and the developer is currently engaged in the SEQRA process having filed a preliminary DEIS on December 24, 2008.  A Draft Application for stimulus funds was submitted on February 2, 2009, to the Town for review and is linked below.

The partnership is seeking approximately $20mm in federal stimulus funds to demolish 11 buildings. The proposed benefits are threefold: Dover would get a jumpstart on the eventual teardown of buildings identified as not worthy of rehabilitation and which many residents consider eyesores; an estimated 355 jobs would be created in Dover for local and regional residents; the developer would save $20mm of already budgeted Construction and Demolition (C&D) costs to raze these buildings and dispose of the debris.

Read More

Developer: Quarter-billion dollars or 1,375 homes on coast

Hefty price tag put on 400-acre property known as Banning Ranch.

Activists will need to find around a quarter-billion dollars if they want to preserve 400 acres of coastal land that's slated for homes, a developer said this week, citing a new appraisal.

A partnership of three landowners wants to build 1,375 homes, as well as a hotel and shops, on the largely unincorporated Banning Ranch property that is expected to be annexed eventually by Newport Beach.

Mike Mohler of Banning Ranch LLC would not provide a copy of the appraisal, saying only that it was independently conducted by First American Real Estate Services and that it values Banning Ranch in the "mid-$200 million range."

That price tag conflicts with a city-commissioned estimate that, when released last month, gave a glimmer of hope – albeit a small one – to activists angling to secure public funds to buy the entire patch at Pacific Coast Highway and the Santa Ana River.

Read More

Jobless hit with bank fees on benefits

Unemployed workers outraged over charges to inquire on benefits

The Associated Press
updated 6:23 p.m. ET, Thurs., Feb. 19, 2009

First, Arthur Santa-Maria called Bank of America to ask how to check the balance of his new unemployment benefits debit card. The bank charged him 50 cents.

He chose not to complain. That would have cost another 50 cents.

So he took out some of the money and then decided to pull out the rest. But that made two withdrawals on the same day, and that was $1.50.

For hundreds of thousands of workers losing their jobs during the recession, there's a new twist to their financial pain: Even when they're collecting unemployment benefits, they're paying the bank just to get the money — or even to call customer service to complain about it.

Thirty states have struck such deals with banks that include Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., JP Morgan Chase and US Bancorp, an Associated Press review of the agreements found. All the programs carry fees, and in several states the unemployed have no choice but to use the debit cards. Some banks even charge overdraft fees of up to $20 — even though they could decline charges for more than what's on the card.

Read More

Obama keeps weatherization promise

Updated: Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 | By Robert Farley

Barack Obama started talking about wanting to weatherize more low-income homes long before the economic crisis. During the campaign, he mostly talked about it as a way to reduce the country's carbon footprint, reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut energy costs for low-income families. When the economy turned sour, he then emphasized that it also could create thousands of green jobs. That's how it got included in the economic stimulus package he signed on Feb. 17.

The weatherization program provides money to qualified homeowners for such things as insulation, smoke detectors and furnace and air conditioner repair or replacement. The WAP estimates that residents save about $400 to $500 on energy costs in the first year following the weatherization improvements.

Although Obama was criticized by some Republican leadership for including weatherization in the stimulus bill - House Republican leader John Boehner said it had "no place in a bill designed to get our economy moving again" - the final $789 billion stimulus package included $5 billion to massively expand the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). The original House version of the stimulus bill included $6.2 billion for weatherization; the Senate version countered with $2.9 billion. House and Senate negotiators settled on $5 billion.

So is it enough to reach Obama's goal of one million homes a year?

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Largest banks that received aid cut lending

By Christopher S. Rugaber

WASHINGTON (AP) — The 20 largest banks that received government rescue funds slightly reduced their lending to consumers and businesses in the last three months of 2008, the government said Tuesday.

The Treasury Department said the banks reduced their mortgage and business loans by a median of 1 percent each, while credit card lending rose by a median of 2 percent. The median is the point halfway between the banks that lent the most and those that lent the least.

The department's report is the latest sign that the bailout has done little to increase bank lending. A quarterly survey by the Federal Reserve earlier this month found that nearly 60 percent of banks said they had tightened lending standards on credit card and other consumer loans in the previous three months.

Many lawmakers have blasted the banks for not lending more in the wake of the $700 billion financial rescue program approved by Congress last October.

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Tough Times in Troubled Towns

America's Municipal Meltdowns
By Nick Turse

When Barack Obama traveled to Elkhart, Indiana, to push his $800 billion economic recovery package two weeks ago, he made the former "RV capital of the world" a poster-child for the current economic crisis. Over the last year, as the British paper The Independent reported, "Practically the entire [recreational vehicle] industry has disappeared," leaving thousands of RV workers in Elkhart and the surrounding area out of work. As Daily Show host Jon Stewart summed the situation up: "Imagine your main industry combines the slowdown of the auto market with the plunging values in the housing sector." Unfortunately, the pain in Elkhart is no joke, and it only grew worse recently when local manufacturers Keystone RV Co. and Jayco Inc. announced more than 500 additional job cuts.

In a speech at Elkhart's town hall, Obama caught the town's plight dramatically: "[This] area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in the United States of America, with an unemployment rate of over 15 percent when it was 4.7 percent just last year… We're talking about people who have lost their livelihood and don't know what will take its place… That's what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis."

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Going Underground

Paul Stamets On The Vast, Intelligent Network Beneath Our Feet

by Derrick Jensen

For several years people from different places and backgrounds kept recommending the same oddly titled book to me: Paul Stamets’s Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (Ten Speed Press). Everyone told me it was one of the most mind-bending texts they’d ever read. With so many recommendations, I perversely hesitated to pick the book up, and when I finally did, I prepared myself to be disappointed.

I wasn’t. Stamets fundamentally changed my view of nature — in particular, fungi: yeasts, mushrooms, molds, the whole lot of them.

When we think of fungi, most of us picture mushrooms, those slightly mysterious, potentially poisonous denizens of dark, damp places. But a mushroom is just the fruit of the mycelium, which is an underground network of rootlike fibers that can stretch for miles. Stamets calls mycelia the “grand disassemblers of nature” because they break down complex substances into simpler components. For example, some fungi can take apart the hydrogen-carbon bonds that hold petroleum products together. Others have shown the potential to clean up nerve-gas agents, dioxins, and plastics. They may even be skilled enough to undo the ecological damage pollution has wrought.

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