Monday, November 16, 2009

News That Matters - November 16, 2009

News That Matters
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"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
Dan Quayle, former US vice president

Before we dive into the world around us this morning please do me a favor:

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Finally, click on the "donate" button above ~ and you know what to do after that. It is that time of year again.

Good Monday Morning,

Some attendees at an arts class at the Cultural Center at Lake Carmel reported seeing a bald eagle, one I've been watching and commenting on for a couple of years now. It's nice to know they're making the lake a home.

The State has decided that its new license plate program was an error in judgment and will no longer pursue the plan and instead will find, as the Governor put it, “real, recurring savings that will replace the revenue.”

Yesterday afternoon I attended a "Country Concert" at the Tompkins Corners Methodist Church in Putnam Valley. Over the years attendance at the church has dwindled until the congregation has gotten so small that it's difficult for them to maintain their historic landmark building. Jan and Kate Hoekstra who live directly across Peekskill Hollow Road from the building have conceived the idea that the church could be maintained as a performance and gathering space for western Kent and eastern Putnam Valley and to that end yesterday's concert was prepared to begin the process of raising funds to do just that. A talented assemblage of local musicians gathered before the audience and entertained for two hours on a gray, late fall afternoon and as would be expected, a wonderful time was had by all. The Hoekstra's then hosted an intimate dinner party which ran late into the evening capping off what was a wonderful Sunday.

From the New York League of Conservation Voters:
New York State Legislators are expected to come to Albany for a special session. On their to-do list is an important piece of legislation that represents a huge clean energy opportunity.

Called the "Municipal Sustainable Energy Loan Program Legislation," this bill authorizes towns and cities to set up loan programs for energy efficiency and retrofits on residential and commercial buildings. The goal is to make it easier for property owners to pay for these upgrades by allowing them to pay back the cost over 15 or even 20 years. The legislation will also help meet national goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Albany will need to act quickly. More than $450 million in federal grants will be awarded in the coming months and if the state passes enabling legislation on Tuesday, New York will be well positioned to get a large portion of that funding. Click here to get more information.
Smoking cessation programs across the nation are finding they're not as effective as they once were. Overall rates of smokers quitting are virtually unchanged over the past few years even as taxes charged on cigarettes continues to climb. In New York, $2.75 (the highest in the nation) of the price for cigarettes reflect the state portion of taxes. New York City adds an additional $1.50 per pack. The Federal government adds another $1 onto all that bringing the total tax on a pack of Marlboro's in NYC to $5.25, surely the highest taxes item in America. The national pre-tax average price for a pack of smokes is $4.32. So, why aren't people quitting? The Center for Disease Control claims that for every 10% increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes consumption is reduced by 3%-5% but this hasn't happened in the last couple of years.
The argument that higher taxes on cigarettes reduces the health effects caused by smoking through reduced usage is an interesting one. In America today, about 440,000 people die each year from smoking related causes, a number that has been slowly decreasing for quite some time.

But also in America today nearly the same number of people are dying from heart disease, mostly caused by our consumption of red meats, fatty and salty foods. If the true goal of high cigarette taxes is to promote less smoking and thereby reduce the numbers dying, why not equally tax that Quarter Pounder and reduce the number

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a major worldwide tree planting campaign. Under the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign, people, communities, business and industry, civil society organizations and governments are encouraged to enter tree planting pledges online with the objective of planting at least one billion trees worldwide each year. In a call to further individual and collective action, UNEP has set a new goal of planting 7 billion trees by the end of 2009. The campaign strongly encourages the planting of indigenous trees and trees that are appropriate to the local environment.

If you're wondering why you're supporting the Taliban... oh... wait! There's something wrong with that sentence. You're not supporting the Taliban, are you? Well, yes you are! Read this:
In this grotesque carnival, the US military's contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. "It's a big part of their income," one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts--hundreds of millions of dollars--consists of payments to insurgents.
See the article below for more.

I could not agree more.

And now, The News:
  1. The 2009 Leonids Are Coming!
  2. Cub Scouts free trees from vines' grip
  3. Which states are innovative in education? A new report card.
  4. People to Watch: Dan Shapley, Environmental Journalist
  5. Lake Carmel’s bravest saved the day
  6. Study: 2,266 Veterans Died Due to Lack of Insurance in 2008
  7. Natural Gas Drilling Produces Radioactive Wastewater
  8. Justice Dept. Asked For News Site's Visitor Lists
  9. Marine reservist attacked Greek priest he mistook for terrorist

The 2009 Leonids Are Coming!

Most meteor showers vary from year to year, but the Leonids are particularly capricious. Many years they chug along producing just 5 or 10 meteors visible per hour. But at the Leonids' historical greatest, in 1833, meteors were seen to fall "like snowflakes in a blizzard," with estimated rates of several dozen per second!
This year is expected to be better than average. The "traditional," most reliable part of the shower should peak around 4 a.m. EST (1 a.m. PST) on the morning of Tuesday, November 17th. You might see 20 or 30 meteors per hour under ideal dark-sky conditions. (Remember, if you want to stay up late instead of getting up early, you'll be staying up Monday night. It's easy to get the date wrong for events that happen after midnight!)

A second, briefer, but very intense outburst is expected about 12 hours later — during the early-morning hours of November 18th in Asia. (See "Will the Leonids Roar Again?".) There's only an off-chance that some activity from that burst will still be going on by the time the Earth turns halfway around and the Leonids become visible in the Americas on the morning of the 18th.

Read More

Cub Scouts free trees from vines' grip

By Theresa Juva • • November 9, 2009

HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON - Ecologist Sven Hoeger explained to a group of Cub Scouts how to spot an invasive vine.

"They have different-shaped leaves and tendrils here that hook onto the tree and grow up to the sun," Hoeger said Sunday, holding up a leafy stem.

The Cub Scouts eagerly got to yanking the pesky intruders to help with a Saw Mill River Coalition project to save trees from Oriental bittersweet and porcelain berry vines. The goal is to create a wildflower meadow along a section of the Saw Mill River. The coalition is part of Groundwork Hudson Valley.

Saw Mill River Coalition coordinator Ann-Marie Mitroff organizes the monthly "Free-a-Tree Vine Cutting" near Farragut Avenue on the South County Trailway.

Read More

Which states are innovative in education? A new report card.

The report card aims to highlight the sorts of innovations in education – such as an extended school day – that lead to better schools.

By Amanda Paulson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

If states truly want to improve their education systems, they need to do away with the rules, regulations, and bureaucracies that stymie innovation.

That's one message from a new report that measures states on how well they foster education innovation, grading them in areas ranging from finance and school management to how well they hire effective teachers and remove ineffective ones.

Ultimately, say the report's authors, they hope not to prescribe new fads or "silver bullet" solutions, but to highlight the sorts of innovations that are leading schools where they need to go.

"A lot of the states have tried some things, but they haven't tried all the things we argue would be useful to creating a more innovative environment for success," says John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, one of the report's authors. "States have a lot to learn from each other."

Read More

People to Watch: Dan Shapley, Environmental Journalist

By: John Ferro
Photo by Gloria Dawson

Dan Shapley didn’t start out wanting to become one of the most respected environmental journalists in the Hudson Valley.

“I wanted to be a poet,” he says of his college days. “I didn’t have a practical idea in my head about what I would do.”

Since then, Shapley has spent his career reporting on practical solutions to complex environmental problems. The 32-year-old resident of Port Ewen is the top editor of The Daily Green, an award-winning environmental Web site based in Manhattan and published by Hearst Digital Media, a unit of Hearst Magazines. Founded on Earth Day 2007, the site aims to foster environmentally sound living practices through news, features, tips, and awards.

“The term ‘green’ can mean anything and nothing,” Shapley says. “For the Web site, it means a lifestyle that is concerned about health, not only in the way everybody thinks about it — exercise and eating well — but also in terms of the quality of the food you are eating and how it was grown, how processed it is or isn’t. I think food is a really big, really growing part of the whole idea.”

The Daily Green won a “Best New Site” award from, a media industry Web site. In April, it hosted its first “Heart of Green Awards,” honoring people who were taking the “green” message to a mainstream audience. Among the honorees were actress Alicia Silverstone, a vegan and longtime animal rights activist; and Roger Doiron, founding director of the nonprofit group Kitchen Gardeners International. Doiron led a campaign that encouraged the Obamas to plant a garden at the White House.

Read More

Lake Carmel’s bravest saved the day

On Nov. 10 I had a scare of a lifetime. I went to go sit outside on my front patio to enjoy the beautiful night we had, when I realized that there were flames coming out my chimney. In the house was my wife, Susan, and my 4-year-old grandson Eric James. I immediately ran inside to inform my family and to call 911. The Lake Carmel Fire Department and Kent Police were at the scene within minutes. If it were not for the brave men and women of the Lake Carmel Fire Department, my family and I might have ended up homeless.

I want to reach out and give a big thank-you to the Lake Carmel Fire Department. The brave men and women who risk their lives every day for our community deserve a thank-you from my family and me. I appreciate the speed it took them to get here as well as everything they did for us.

Read More

Study: 2,266 Veterans Died Due to Lack of Insurance in 2008

Tuesday 10 November 2009

by: Maya Schenwar, t r u t h o u t | Report

More than 2,200 veterans under the age of 65 died last year due to lack of health insurance, according to a study out of Harvard Medical School released today. This number - 2,266 in one year - is more than 14 times the number of US troops who died in Afghanistan in 2008.

The researchers also found that, in 2008, 1,461,615 veterans between the ages of 18 and 64 lacked insurance.
Steffie Woolhandler, one of the study's authors, pointed out that most uninsured veterans fall into a common coverage gap: they aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or special VA benefits, but earn to little to pay for health care on their own.

"Uninsured veterans have the same problems getting the care they need as do other unsinsured Americans," Woolhandler said in testimony before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. "Moreover, many uninsured veterans have serious illnesses requiring extensive care."

Many veterans cannot receive care from the VA, even if they've been through combat, according to Woolhandler. Generally, VA facilities only treat medical problems or disabilities specifically acquired during military service.

The Harvard researchers stressed that the health care bill that recently passed the House would do little to address veterans' health care woes, and that the "solution that works for all veterans" would be a single-payer health insurance plan.

Read More

Natural Gas Drilling Produces Radioactive Wastewater

Wastewater from natural gas drilling in New York state is radioactive, as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink

By Abrahm Lustgarten and ProPublica   

As New York gears up for a massive expansion of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, state officials have made a potentially troubling discovery about the wastewater created by the process: It's radioactive. And they have yet to say how they'll deal with it.

The information comes from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, which analyzed 13 samples of wastewater brought thousands of feet to the surface from drilling and found that they contain levels of radium-226, a derivative of uranium, as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink.

The findings, if backed up with more tests, have several implications: The energy industry would likely face stiffer regulations and expenses, and have more trouble finding treatment plants to accept its waste -- if any would at all. Companies would need to license their waste handlers and test their workers for radioactive exposure, and possibly ship waste across the country. And the state would have to sort out how its laws for radioactive waste might apply to drilling and how the waste could impact water supplies and the environment.

What is less clear is how the wastewater may affect the health of New Yorkers, since the danger depends on how much radiation people are exposed to and how they are exposed to it. Radium is known to cause bone, liver and breast cancers, and the EPA publishes exposure guidelines for it, but there is still disagreement over exactly how dangerous low-level doses can be to workers who handle it, or to the public.

Read More

Justice Dept. Asked For News Site's Visitor Lists

Posted by Declan McCullagh (AP / CBS)

In a case that raises questions about online journalism and privacy rights, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a formal request to an independent news site ordering it to provide details of all reader visits on a certain day.

The grand jury subpoena also required the Philadelphia-based Web site "not to disclose the existence of this request" unless authorized by the Justice Department, a gag order that presents an unusual quandary for any news organization.

Kristina Clair, a 34-year old Linux administrator living in Philadelphia who provides free server space for, said she was shocked to receive the Justice Department's subpoena. (The Independent Media Center is a left-of-center amalgamation of journalists and advocates that – according to their principles of unity and mission statement – work toward "promoting social and economic justice" and "social change.")

The subpoena (PDF) from U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis demanded "all IP traffic to and from" on June 25, 2008. It instructed Clair to "include IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information," including e-mail addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, and Indymedia readers' Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and so on.

"I didn't think anything we were doing was worthy of any (federal) attention," Clair said in a telephone interview with on Monday. After talking to other Indymedia volunteers, Clair ended up calling the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, which represented her at no cost.

Read More

Marine reservist attacked Greek priest he mistook for terrorist

By Alexandra Zayas and Demorris A. Lee, Times Staff Writers

TAMPA — Marine reservist Jasen Bruce was getting clothes out of the trunk of his car Monday evening when a bearded man in a robe approached him.

That man, a Greek Orthodox priest named Father Alexios Marakis, speaks little English and was lost, police said. He wanted directions.

What the priest got instead, police say, was a tire iron to the head. Then he was chased for three blocks and pinned to the ground — as the Marine kept a 911 operator on the phone, saying he had captured a terrorist.

Police say Bruce offered several reasons to explain his actions:

The man tried to rob him.

The man grabbed Bruce's crotch and made an overt sexual advance in perfect English.

The man yelled "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great," the same words some witnesses said the Fort Hood shooting suspect uttered last week.

"That's what they tell you right before they blow you up," police say Bruce told them.

Bruce ended up in jail, accused of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He was released Tuesday on $7,500 bail. Marakis ended up at the hospital with stitches. He told the police he didn't want to press charges, espousing biblical forgiveness.

But Tuesday, Bruce wasn't saying sorry.

Read More

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