Monday, June 1, 2009

News That Matters - June 1, 2009

News That Matters
Brought to you (Almost Daily) by PlanPutnam.Org

Good Monday Morning,

It's June and it was 39 degrees here this morning. There's something wrong with that picture. Anyway...

"June is busting out all over...!" And so it was at the Ryder Farm in Brewster this past Saturday afternoon as area residents and friends gathered for an open house, Maypole dance and tours of the farm. A big shout-out to the PlanPutnam readers and their families who were there!

Manny's Music closed over the weekend. For those who know, you'll understand the loss.

The proposed Best Western hotel slated for Southeast has run into a bit of a problem. No, it's not the taxpayer funded incentives, tax abatements and handouts to the company which are sweeter than anything you could imagine, but the Southeast Architectural Review Board has said they don't like it. Technically that's not a deal-breaker but heck, it's Southeast so anything can happen. And, it's not that the proposed building doesn't have green roofs or passive solar construction or a gray-water system or anything like that, which it doesn't - but should. They just don't like the modular look of the thing.

According to the notice I got from Verizon tucked into my bill, some of their rates are going up. There's a 7% increase for a basic line charge and that's just for starters. By the time you're done, most customers in our area will be paying around $3.50 more per month for telephone service. And that's not all: Once the rates go up, so too will the amount you pay in taxes on that bill. With the state in financial distress and the Feds reeling from Bush's budget deficits, is there any chance the Public Service Commission will deny the rate increase? Heh. Just kidding.
Verizon claims it needs the money because, get this, it's losing customers to competitors and because they want you to pay for installation of their FIOS network in the region, a service many will not earn benefit from. If I'm losing customers I don't raise my rates, I either lower them or find ways to offer additional services to be more competitive. But in the US, the telecommunications industry, in bed with PSC's and the Congress, makes you pay for their shortcomings. What is it called when corporations and governments are in permanent mutually beneficial arrangements? Go look it up.

As it is you're already paying a "fee" to compensate Verizon for competition and regular business costs, look at your bill:
On my wireless bill I pay in allowed "charges":
$0.92 Fed Universal Service Charge
$0.07 Regulatory Charge
$0.85 Administrative Charge
$1.55 Gross Receipts Surcharge
$3.39 Total
And in taxes:
$1.20 E-911 Fee
$0.30 Putnam County 911 surcharge
$1.85 NYS Sales Tax
$1.85 Putnam County Sales Tax
$0.17 NY Local McTD Sales Tax (whatever that may be)
$5.37 Total

That's $8.76 in fees and taxes on a $45 basic bill. That's almost 20% of the bill. And if you notice, Putnam County is getting a pretty nice chunk of that, too. So the next time the county says it's 'holding the line' on taxes, send them your phone bill.
On my land line:

$6.42 FCC Line Charge
$0.73 Federal USF Surcharge
$0.80 "Surcharges"
$0.35 911 Surcharge
$0.67 Federal Tax
$1.92 NY State/Local Sales Tax
$10.89 Total
And that's on top of a basic $13.85 (soon to rise to $15 and change) line charge. In other words, allowable taxes, fees and surcharges amount to... Cripes! I can't even bring myself to do the math.

Does Verizon really need the money? In the first quarter of this year, Verzion's earnings were up almost 10% ($1.67 billion) over the same quarter a year ago and revenues rose from $22.6 billion to $23.8 billion. So, is the rate increase justified? Of course not! But then, you don't get a choice. Even if you use a competitor, you end up paying Verizon anyway, in one way or another. Oh, and if you want to get rid of a service you have with Verizon to save a few bucks there's a nifty little  "service charge" tacked on for your pleasure. They get you either way.

Some will argue that the fees paid to Verizon are fair or that since they were "allowed" or even mandated by the government that we should be nicer about it and not blame the company. But the point is this: you're being taxed and fee'd in ways you never thought possible and so long as we have abandoned our rights as citizens to *be* the government they're going to find new and unique ways of making you pay. And pay. And pay. Still, Verizon's defenders will do all they can to pass the blame and that's one line of bull you shouldn't be buying.

Added all together (land line, cell and DSL) I'm paying near $30 in fees, taxes and surcharges each month and so are you. What happens when you can't afford all that? You drop a service. And, when you do that what happens? The rates go up for everyone else and somehow, according to Verizon, it's your fault. Don't take my word for it, take Verizon's. They said so.
While we're talking about increases, has anyone noticed that gasoline is creeping above $3.00 a gallon? Exxon's profits fell 58% in the first quarter of 2009 due to people like you and me driving less. So, what do they do? Raise prices. So, right in the middle of a recession when there's no more blood left in the stone, two of the essential basic services we need to function and survive both as individuals and as a national economy are raising their prices, putting further financial pressures on each of us.

Not seen or recorded before the 19th century are eerie, electric blue wisps of clouds appearing in the evening sky about 30 minutes after sunset.

Noctilucent clouds are now more common and we still do not understand how they form or exactly what they are. We do know this: They're made up of water vapor at about 83Km above the earth, just on the edge of space in a region called the mesosphere, where the temperatures are -125° F. The thing is, this region of space is many hundreds of times drier than the Sahara Desert! We also know they're more likely to be generated during periods of solar minimums (like now) when the sun isn't as active. So yeah, we haven't much of a clue. The first noctilucent clouds of the summer season are being reported in northern regions now so get outside and look towards the west just after sunset.

And now, The News:
  1. New taxes, fees starts today across New York
  2. Bedford considers plan to protect ridgelines and hilltops
  3. All bottled up
  4. Pennsylvania Jury Awards Residents $1.4 Million for Stormwater Damage
  5. ‘Clean’ Energy and Poisoned Water
  6. West Virginians Step Up Protests as EPA Approves Mountain Top Removal
  7. Obama Invests $467M in Solar and Geothermal Development
  8. Last Titantic survivor, a baby put in a lifeboat, dies at 97

New taxes, fees starts today across New York

By Jay Gallagher
Journal Albany bureau

ALBANY - June is normally the time when thoughts of many people turn to proms, the end of school, summer vacations, pennant races and barbecues.

But this year, starting today, New Yorkers may have to focus on their wallets a little more than usual.

A host of new taxes passed as part of the state budget this spring and then, for people in the Hudson Valley, last month as part of a plan to bail out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

They range from higher levies on auto insurance and Internet purchases to car and limo rentals.

Read More

Bedford considers plan to protect ridgelines and hilltops

Sean Gorman

BEDFORD - The town is considering a plan to protect prominent ridgelines and hilltops.

On June 16 residents can weigh in during a public hearing on the proposal, which would require a permit to develop on certain ridgelines in town.

The draft proposal would only protect ridges and hilltops that are visible from public property like roads and parks.

The ridgelines would rest within a preservation area that would be mapped out by the town.

"That is not a thou shalt not build area, it's a thou shalt not build without a permit area," said Councilman Christopher Burdick, a proponent of the legislation.

Read More

All bottled up

It's not sunk, but the New York bill to require nickel deposits on water bottles is awash in political bile, industry self-interest and twisted priorities. Gov David Paterson and the Legislature need to fix the bill, which was supposed to become law today. After all, it is intended to help the environment, expand recycling, and, frankly, make the state some money - all sensible motives despite concerted efforts by opponents to thoroughly confuse them.

Lawmakers and Paterson passed the bottle bill in April as part of the state budget. It expands the current 5-cent deposit on just beer and soda containers to bottles of water. The original bottle bill was created in 1982. Advocates like the New York Public Interest Research Group have been campaigning for at least seven years to expand the deposit requirement to non-carbonated beverage containers like water, iced tea and sport drinks. They have grown to be at least 34 percent of the total beverage market, according to the Container Recycling Institute, citing 2006 data.

The success of the original law is beyond question: Roadside litter has been reduced by as much as 70 percent, environmentalists estimate, and recycling rates have been dramatically increased. And despite grumbling by the beverage and grocers industries about the original bill, they benefited from unclaimed deposits in the tens of millions of dollars each year; in 2006 they totaled an estimated $144 million.

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Pennsylvania Jury Awards Residents $1.4 Million for Stormwater Damage

WEST CHESTER, Pennsylvania, January 5, 2008 (ENS) - A Chester County jury has awarded $1.4 million to residents of North Coventry, Pennsylvania whose properties were damaged during construction of a nearby subdivision.

In 2005, Christopher and Patricia Washburn and their neighbor, Joan Cleveland, sued the Heritage Building Group, the developers of Coventry Lake Estates, a 57-home subdivision in Pottstown, for polluting ponds on their properties with sediment from stormwater runoff.

The plaintiff property owners told the jury that the Heritage Building Group and a subcontractor, Reading Site Contractors of Pottstown, removed trees and excavated soil on nearly all of the 60-acre subdivision before putting erosion and sediment controls in place.

As a result, about 92,000 cubic feet of sediment ran off the Coventry Lake site and into a seven-acre pond on the Washburn property and a one-acre pond on the Cleveland property. The sediment smothered the two ponds, killing fish and causing algae growth, according to a report Saturday in "The Phoenix," a local newspaper.

Read More

‘Clean’ Energy and Poisoned Water

Posted on May 25, 2009

By Chris Hedges

In the musical “Urinetown,” a severe drought leaves the dwindling supplies of clean water in the hands of a corporation called Urine Good Company.  Urine Good Company makes a fortune selling the precious commodity and running public toilets. It pays off politicians to ward off regulation and inspection. It uses the mechanisms of state control to repress an increasingly desperate and impoverished population.

The musical satire may turn out to be a prescient vision of the future. Corporations in Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and upstate New York have launched a massive program to extract natural gas through a process that could, if it goes wrong, degrade the Delaware River watershed and the fresh water supplies that feed upstate communities, the metropolitan cities of New York, Philadelphia, Camden and Trenton, and many others on its way to the Delaware Bay.

“The potential environmental consequences are extreme,” says Fritz Mayer, editor of The River Reporter in Narrowsburg, N.Y. His paper has been following the drilling in the Upper Delaware River Valley and he told me, “It could ruin the drinking supply for 8 million people in New York City.”

(AP Photo / Keith Srakocic)

Read More

West Virginians Step Up Protests as EPA Approves Mountain Top Removal

Seventeen people were arrested in West Virginia Saturday during a series of protests against the coal industry. The protesters marked a new phase of Operation Appalachian Spring, a campaign to end mountaintop removal mining.

The first two arrests occurred when two activists wearing hazmat suits and respirators rowed a boat onto an eight-billion-gallon coal slurry lake and unfurled a huge floating banner reading, “No more toxic sludge!” They were charged with trespass and littering.

Later in the day, eight more protesters were arrested on trespassing and conspiracy charges after they walked onto the Kayford Mountain mine and locked themselves to a giant dump truck.

Seven others were arrested at a Massey Energy facility.

Read More

Obama Invests $467M in Solar and Geothermal Development

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada, May 28, 2009 (ENS) - President Barack Obama Wednesday announced over $467 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to expand and accelerate the development, deployment, and use of geothermal and solar energy across the United States.

The funding is intended to help the solar and geothermal industries overcome technical barriers, demonstrate new technologies, and provide support for clean energy jobs.

"We have a choice," said the President, addressing armed services personnel and legislators at Nellis Air Force Base. "We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy. We can hand over the jobs of the future to our competitors, or we can confront what they have already recognized as the great opportunity of our time: the nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy. That’s the nation I want America to be."

Read More

Last Titantic survivor, a baby put in a lifeboat, dies at 97

The last living survivor of the Titanic, ­Millvina Dean, has died at the age of 97 in Southampton after catching pneumonia.

As a two-month-old baby, Dean was the youngest passenger on board the giant liner when it sank on its maiden voyage with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.

Her parents had decided to leave England for America, where her father had family in Kansas and hoped to open a tobacco shop.

Read More

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