Wednesday, July 8, 2009

News That Matters - July 8, 2009

News That Matters
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Good Wednesday Morning,

Useless Trivia:

04:05:06 07/08/09

That was the time at 6 seconds after 4:05 this morning. Numerologists are having a field day. Check back again on July 8th, 2109 for more!

Too much power in too few hands:

Yesterday afternoon a rally was held on the steps of the County courthouse to which every elected official in the region was invited and yet not a single Republican attended. There was an interesting reference in the article (below) that said,
"State Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, called the event a "political farce," but denied that he had ordered Putnam Republicans to boycott it."

A clear read of that says Senator Leibell does have the power to order his fellow party members to do this or that or something else and apparently they listen. Additionally, the Senator struck hard, not at the dysfunction in Albany of which he is clearly a part, being a Senator and all, but at the organizer of the rally, Westchester county legislator Mike Kaplowitz, accusing him of political grandstanding. Whatever.

It's possible, if not plausible that the Senator did not order anyone to do anything. But just knowing that he has the power to do so weakens our democracy and that's got to change.

When I first moved up here more than a decade ago I took a look around and said that if we don't do something quick Putnam was going to look like Nassau County. People told me I was crazy. But one party government in Nassau led to an incredibly difficult time for its million residents for once the party imploded and its leaders sent to prison, property taxes skyrocketed under the weight of a patronage system that was both corrupt and focused solely on political power and not good governance.

Are we looking at the same for the future of Putnam county? The ghost of Joe Margiotta haunts us all.
News Briefs:
  • KMart is starting a 5 month long Christmas Sale.
  • Michael Jackson's visage has appeared as a grease smear in a pan and his ghost on a CNN video.
  • NY Senate Republicans and Democrats have a stranglehold on power in Albany. You'd figure by this time they'd have suffocated each other and we'd be free of them.
  • The group Little People of America called Sunday for the Federal Communications Commission to ban the use of the word "midget'' on broadcast TV.
  • Every time lightning strikes the pole my phone rings.
  • Sarah Palin. (I know there's more but it's so sad I won't even bother.)
  • Saddam Hussein's personal handgun, a 9mm Glock 18C, will go on display at the Bush Library. Dick Cheney will not be allowed anywhere near the thing.
  • Due to global warming, sheep are now 5% smaller than they were 25 years ago.
Website Watch:
Indeed! The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has taken another step in public outreach by putting some of their videos on the 'net for all to see. There's not much there of real substance but as an overview of what the State has to offer, it's actually pretty sweet. Surprisingly, one of the very best of the set is a video about DEC uniformed conservation officers called, "The Thin Green Line". See that, and all the other online videos here.
Just a few minutes before 10PM tonight, head on outside and look towards the west-southwest for a bright quickly moving object about halfway up the sky. That object is the International Space Station cruising overhead at a magnitude of -3.5 which is very bright for an astronomical object only outshone by the moon and the sun. The ISS is now about 240' long by 300' wide and is easily seen if you look.
And now, The News:
  1. Democrats' Putnam rally fails to draw GOP lawmakers
  2. A real solution
  3. Bobolinks 'making a last stand' in North Salem
  4. Costa Rica is world's greenest, happiest country
  5. Understanding Legislative Corruption
  6. Water supply and demand
  7. Bi-partisan expert panel proposes nationwide system of water trails
  8. Turbine plan received first permits
  9. Landmark Buildings Find New Life by Going Green

Democrats' Putnam rally fails to draw GOP lawmakers

Susan Elan

A rally in Putnam yesterday called by two Democratic Westchester County legislators to urge state senators of both parties to return to work wound up mirroring the political standoff in Albany instead.

Democratic County legislators from Rockland, Ulster and Orange joined Westchester County Board Chairman Bill Ryan, D-White Plains, and Westchester County Legislator and Board Vice Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, D-Somers, on the steps of the Historic County Courthouse in Carmel at noon.

Ryan and Kaplowitz said they launched the bipartisan call to action to end the stalemate in Albany, which they fear is destined to result in soaring property taxes and draconian service cuts across the Hudson Valley.

Despite a promise by some Republican legislators to attend, not a single one showed up.

State Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, called the event a "political farce," but denied that he had ordered Putnam Republicans to boycott it.

Read More

A real solution

A NYJN Editorial

As painful and frustrating as it has been these last weeks to watch our state lawmakers fight over their toys, the crisis presents a golden opportunity for Albany to get something right: reapportionment.

As Albany Bureau reporters Cara Matthews and Joseph Spector wrote last week, the long-running stalemate between the dysfunctional Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate isn't just about who has the power now; it is very much about who gets the most comfy seats later. We mean that figuratively and literally.

Who has the power now in Albany decides how money, jobs and influence shape the 2010 election. Who prevails after the 2010 vote controls how new district lines are redrawn when new census data arrive the following year. The new district lines will most certainly determine which party will lead in the decade to follow. "You can gerrymander them (the new districts) to meet your conference's needs for incumbency protection," said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the League of Women Voters.

Read More

Bobolinks 'making a last stand' in North Salem

Michael Risinit

NORTH SALEM - The fields rising behind Dick Button's home are thick with yarrow, clover and grasses. Untouched so far by a tractor this year, the grass in places is as high as an SUV's open window and the fields seem to roll to the horizon.

That makes it perfect for bobolinks, medium-size songbirds, to raise a family. Breeding males are black below and white on their backs - looking as if they put a tuxedo on backward, or, even, the jacket and tie Button wore skating during the 1948 Winter Olympics.

Button is among a handful of North Salem landowners who have agreed, either expressly or tacitly, to make hay later rather than earlier. Bobolinks nest on the ground. Delaying cutting of the fields until the Fourth of July or after gives the birds a chance to be successful parents. Like the grasslands they favor, the birds themselves are disappearing.

"Normally, we do it (mowing) earlier than this," Button, the two-time Olympic figure-skating champion and skating television analyst, said on a recent rainy afternoon. "I'm all for it if it works."

Read More

Costa Rica is world's greenest, happiest country

Latin American nation tops index ranking countries by ecological footprint and happiness of their citizens

Costa Rica is the greenest and happiest country in the world, according to a new list that ranks nations by combining measures of their ecological footprint with the happiness of their citizens.

Britain is only halfway up the Happy Planet Index (HPI), calculated by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), in 74th place of 143 nations surveyed. The United States features in the 114th slot in the table. The top 10 is dominated by countries from Latin America, while African countries bulk out the bottom of the table.

The HPI measures how much of the Earth's resources nations use and how long and happy a life their citizens enjoy as a result. First calculated in 2006, the second edition adds data on almost all the world's countries and now covers 99% of the world's population.

Read More

Understanding Legislative Corruption

posted by Christopher Hayes on 07/06/2009 @ 12:34pm

Ezra has a smart post up on the mechanisms of influence that the health insurance industry is using to affect the legislative process. "It's Not the Money. It's the Relationships," he says and includes a chart showing the various former Senate finance staffers who've gone to work for the insurance borg.

This is a really crucial point. We have a tendency to understand the economy of influence in DC has almost entirely a product of campaign finance, and the exchange of money. But in my two years here, I've been amazed at how much more powerful establishment social networks are. For another (depressing example) of this phenomenon, check out this item from Sam Pizzigatti's newsletter Too Much:

The Managed Funds Association, the industry trade group, has just hired a well-connected D.C. lobbying firm. How well-connected? The firm's newest star lobbyist, Carmencita Whonder, used to serve as the top financial policy adviser for Senator Chuck Schumer, the powerful New York Democrat. Hedge fund managers are hoping Whonder can save the loophole that lets them claim fee income as a capital gain. Ending this bit of tax sophistry, as the White House proposes, would over double the tax due on hedge fund windfalls. In 2008, the top 25 hedge fund managers averaged $464 million each.

Charlie Cray and I wrote about the scandal of the carried interest loop hole last year. If you want to know why it persists, this is more or less why.

Read More

Water supply and demand

Clean water makes a splash on Wall Street.

As Los Angeles battles the rest of the west for water rights — and aquifers everywhere start to dry up — it’s no surprise that water is a hot commodity. But lately, experts agree, the market is especially robust.
“It’s essential to human health, a safe environment and economic development — and, well, there’s no substitute, so it’s a basic supply-and-demand issue,’” says Steve Hoffman, president of WaterTech Capital, an investment firm that tracks this burgeoning sector. Why is it that water has become, as many have said, “the next oil”? Access to clean drinking water has simply failed to keep pace with population growth, especially in the developing world.

“Right now, 1.2 billion people are without access to safe drinking water,” says Erik D. Olson, senior attorney and director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Drinking Water Project. The United Nations has pledged to cut that number in half by the year 2015, which will require tremendous investment by governments of developing countries, the nations that aid them, businesses that offer clean water technology, and NGOs. Furthermore, rapid development in China, India, and elsewhere is driving demand for new water infrastructures to support those emerging economies.

Read More

Bi-partisan expert panel proposes nationwide system of water trails

Jamie Mierau, 202-347-7550
Amy Kober, 206-213-0330 x23

July 6, 2009

(Washington, DC) --  A new wide-ranging report released today by the private, bipartisan Outdoor Resources Review Group recommends creating a new nationwide system of water trails to protect clean water, and promote recreation, health, and economic growth. The report highlights the leadership of American Rivers in establishing new strategies like water trails to protect the nation’s rivers and clean water.

Water trails, or “blue trails” are the water equivalent of hiking trails, and are magnets for anglers, paddlers, and other recreationists. And, because they help safeguard riverside lands, wildlife habitat, and cool, clean water, blue trails are a useful tool to help communities prepare for climate change impacts like hotter temperatures, floods, and droughts.

“Paddlers and anglers love blue trails for the recreation opportunities they offer, and community leaders love blue trails because they create new economic opportunities, protect clean drinking water and public health, and deliver a host of other valuable services,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.

Read More

Turbine plan received first permits

An energy company from Texas, Hydro Green Energy, received early permits allowing it to study the possibility of installing 90 underwater turbines on the U.S. side of the Niagara River, in upstate New York. The permits allow the company to spend up to three years gathering data for a license application to pursue its proposed hydrokinetic power plant. If the economic case is there and the environmental impact turns out to be minimal, Hydro Green intends to suspend turbines from anchored barges, generating up to 140 megawatts of electricity.
The turbines, which are 12 feet in diameter, would contribute just a small fraction of the power generated by the hydroelectric dams at Niagara Falls, which  have a capacity of about 4.4 gigawatts. But the project holds a great deal of promise for a widespread use of renewable energy that is much less environmentally disruptive than its larger cousin, hydroelectric dams. Hydro Green's turbines turn slowly, which would keep fish safe. And according to another company, Free Flow Power (which the Buffalo News Opinion says is also is eyeing the Niagara River as a site for underwater turbines; we covered the energy start-up’s plans for underwater turbines in the Mississippi last April), rivers are ideal locations for hydrokinetic projects because they typically have easy access to the grid, water flows in a consistent direction (that is, no tides), and an established hydropower industry has set the baseline for environmental impact assessments (which can simplify and speed up the permitting process for newcomers like these two energy companies).
Read More

Landmark Buildings Find New Life by Going Green

Chris Kahn, Associated Press

July 6, 2009 -- When owners of the Empire State Building decided to blanket its towering facade this year with thousands of insulating windows, they were only partly interested in saving energy. They also needed tenants.

After 78 years, Manhattan's signature office building had lost its sheen as one of the city's most desirable places to work. To get it back, the owners did what an increasing number of property owners have done -- they went green, shelling out $120 million on a variety of environmental improvements, a move would have been considered a huge gamble a few years ago.

Buildings that define city skylines across the country, some national icons, are catching up to the sleek, new structures designed with efficiency in mind, as property owners and managers become convinced that a greener building now makes financial sense.

Read More

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