Monday, November 23, 2009

News That Matters - November 23, 2009

News That Matters
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Good Monday Morning,

I'd like to thank those of you who have supported News That Matters this year but it's largely the same people who do so year after year and are carrying the weight for the rest of you! Let's see some new faces this year.

Rumor has it that Greg Ball has decided against running for Congress
and will step into Vinnie Leibell's State Senate seat when he steps down to run his Kingdom from the 4th floor of the County Office building in Carmel, sending Bob Bondi packing to his Steuben County Farm. That leaves the door open for Dan Birmingham to occupy the 99th Assembly District seat causing a special election to fill his County Legislative seat. Well, that's what the rumors are.

The wheel bearings (or the wheel something-or-other) on my car are shot and there's no time to have them repaired by Thursday so I'm not driving to Long Island on Thanksgiving. Instead, I'm looking for a more progressive way to spend the day than hanging around and painting my house. Is anyone aware of a food kitchen or pantry that's serving that day where I could volunteer?

The State Senate and Assembly are stuck in Albany not doing much of anything but blaming each other for the deadlock in budget negotiations. Republicans blame the Democrats and Democrats put their hands up and say, (fairly, I might add) "give us some ideas!" In the end you know as well as I that your taxes will go up since no one wants to give up any State services and then Republicans will point to the Democrats calling them 'tax and spend' (which is not unlike Governor Pataki who was a 'borrow and spend' Republican.) Whew!

Fifteen year old teeny-bopper heart-throb Justin Beiber was supposed to make an appearance at the Roosevelt Field mall on Long Island the other day but the 3000 pre/post pubescent girls who showed up (some camped overnight) started pushing to get better position and when the dust settled 5 people had been taken to hospital for minor injuries. Justin never made it into the mall, being turned away by police outside who, no doubt, asked where his mother was.

Wednesday's News That Matters will combine news and events for next weekend so if you've got something going on you want your fellow readers to know about please get it in pretty quick. I can't post on Friday as it's the traditional MAD DASH TO THE MALL DAY and I aim to be sitting in traffic, burning fossil fuels, contributing my share of greenhouse gases to global warming while waiting my turn to see Santa and give him my wish list and rudely jostle millions of fellow mall-goers forcing my way past them for that sale at Banana Republic. Honestly, how the heck are the reindeer going to fare after the ice melts?

And now, The News:
  1. Praising progress at Peach Lake
  2. 300,000 have visited Walkway; lighting being installed
  3. Now is the time for Cape Wind
  4. The New (Green) Arms Race
  5. 8 Steps Obama Could Take to Save Our Food System
  6. Why Not Tax Wall Street?
  7. Michigan State police want nearly $7 million to fulfill FOIA request
  8. Big Foot
  9. Support Our Sponsors
    2. Brown Ink
    3. Joe Greico's Out On A Limb

Praising progress at Peach Lake

By Michael Risinit • • November 22, 2009

NORTH SALEM — Tom Duffy, chairman of the Peach Lake Coalition, stood on the porch of the Vails Grove Pavilion at the lake and gave a two-minute summary of the almost 40-year effort to rid the lake of pollution.

His speech carried those who listened from 1971 to Saturday afternoon, from the initial effort to form a lake-improvement district to the receipt of almost $7 million in federal funds and the ceremonial groundbreaking to bring sewers to almost 500 homes.

"The rest is history that is being written at this very moment," Duffy said Saturday.

About 150 residents, community leaders and elected officials came to the shores of Peach Lake to herald the major chunk of funding for the $24 million project and to mark the progress. The project will replace failing septic systems and keep sewage out of the lake that straddles the Westchester-Putnam border. Many of the homes were built as summer cottages on small lots and have failing or inadequate septic systems.

Among those in attendence were Rep. John Hall, D-Dover Plains, who presented a $5 million check to North Salem and a $1.9 million check to Southeast. The amounts included federal stimulus money and other federal grants. Hall said the Peach Lake project, which is expected to create about 30 construction jobs, is why he voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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300,000 have visited Walkway; lighting being installed

Emily Stewart • Poughkeepsie Journal • November 21, 2009

Fred Schaeffer wants to make Walkway Over the Hudson the "friendliest park in the world."

More than 300,000 people have visited the linear state park since it opened seven weeks ago, said Dave Barone, park manager.

Schaeffer, chairman the nonprofit group responsible for turning the abandoned Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge into a park, envisions Walkway volunteers, or "ambassadors of goodwill," answering questions, making people feel at home and, yes, reminding guests to clean up after their pets.

Construction of the Walkway was completed in September , but finishing touches are still being added. That includes LED lights under the railings, additional signage and an elevator that would take people from the Poughkeepsie Railroad Station up to the bridge. Benches, shade structures and permanent bathrooms are also on the agenda, according to Walkway officials.

Schaeffer opens the park’s gates each weekend morning, often a little before 7 a.m. so people can catch the sunrise.

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Now is the time for Cape Wind

Peter Lehner
NRDC Executive Director, New York City

Today in the NY Times, there's an exciting article about efforts to develop deepwater, floating wind turbines. The article makes it clear that there are still engineering and major costs hurdles, but I'm hopeful that one day floating wind farms will provide bountiful zero-carbon electricity. But we have to get started today, and fortunately we can. The Cape Wind project proposed for Nantucket Sound is ready to be built now.

Unfortunately, with seemingly endless review, the future of Cape Wind continues to hang in the balance. On Tuesday, NRDC sent Secretary Salazar a letter (PDF) urging him to require that the Interior Department complete the review of the Cape Wind project and issue a final decision prior to the commencement of the U.N. Climate Change Conference on December 7, 2009. This letter echoes a similar message to the Secretary from Congressman Markey. It is time to have a clear indication from our federal government that offshore renewable energy is a priority in this country.  As the administration and the world gear up for next month's meeting in Copenhagen, action approving the Cape Wind project would speak louder than words.

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The New (Green) Arms Race

by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Hobbled by opposition from the carbon incumbents and their short-sighted allies on Capitol Hill the Obama administration acknowledged this week that it would not return from Copenhagen with any groundbreaking commitment to control green house gases. Meanwhile, Congress is backsliding on the administration's wise commitment to impose a rational price on carbon. Behind the logjam, a treacherous U.S. Chamber of Commerce, always willing to put its obsequious scraping to Big Oil and King Coal ahead of its duty to our country, has battled every effort to accelerate America's transition to a market-based de-carbonized economy.

The Chamber has continued to argue, idiotically, that energy efficiency and independence will somehow put America at a competitive disadvantage with the Chinese. Meanwhile, the Chinese have shrewdly and strategically positioned themselves to steal America's once substantial lead in renewable power. China will soon make us as dependent on Chinese green technology for the next century as we have been on Saudi oil during the last.

Indeed, the Chinese are treating the energy technology competition if it were an arms race. China is spending as much or more on greentech as it does on its military, hundreds of billions of dollars annually on renewable energy and grid infrastructure improvements. Those investments, if not vigorously countered, will effectively erode America's greentech industry leadership and secure China's dominance. China's economic stimulus package, targeted 38% of spending on greentech, as compared to a miserly 12% of the U.S. stimulus program. By 2013, greentech will account for 15 percent of the Chinese GDP. While the United States is projected to roughly triple its wind generation by 2020, China will increase its capacity twelvefold to a wind generating capability more than twice that of America's. And, while the United States is projected to increase its installed solar generation a modest 33% by 2020, China's solar generation is projected to increase 20,000%.

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8 Steps Obama Could Take to Save Our Food System

by Robyn O'Brien

The landscape of health has changed. No longer are our families guaranteed a healthy livelihood, not in the face of the current rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's and allergies. In the words of Elizabeth Warren, Harvard University law professor who is head of the Congressional Oversight Panel, "We need a new model," and we need a new food system. It's our health on the line.

8 Steps Obama Could Take to Save Food:

1. Evenly distribute government moneys to all farmers. The current system allocates the lion share of our tax dollars (approximately $60 billion) to farmers growing crops whose seeds have been engineered to produce their own insecticides and tolerate increasing doses of weed killing herbicides. As a result, these crops, with a large chemical footprint, are cheaper to produce, while farmers growing organic produce are charged fees to prove that their crops are safe and then charged additional fees to label these crops as free of synthetic chemicals and "organic". If organic farmers received an equal distribution of taxpayer funded handouts from the government, the cost of producing crops free from synthetic chemicals would be cheaper, making these crops more affordable to more people, in turn increasing demand for these products which would further drive down costs.  If we were to reallocate our national budget and evenly distribute our tax dollars to all farmers, clean food would be affordable to everyone and not just those in certain zip codes.

2. Reinstitute the USDA pesticide reporting standard that was waived under the Bush administration. In 2008, the USDA waived pesticide reporting requirements (a procedure that has been in place since the early 1990s) so that farmers and consumers would know the level of chemicals being applied to food crops. Given a report just released that reveals a 383 million pound increase in the use of weed killing herbicides since the introduction of herbicide tolerant crops in 1996 and the potential impact that this glyphosate containing compound is having on both the environment and on our health, perhaps the "don't ask, don't tell" policy assumed under the previous administration should be reversed.

Read More

Why Not Tax Wall Street?

Comment By William Greider

Washington is experiencing a rare and disorienting moment. Big ideas for financial reform that have languished for years are suddenly gaining momentum. Instead of taxing folks to clean up after reckless Wall Street bankers, why not tax Wall Street? Instead of tolerating behemoths regarded as "too big to fail," why not break them up before they do more damage to the country? Instead of genuflecting before the mysterious Federal Reserve, why not strip the temple of its secrets and cleanse it of the self-interested bankers who shape Fed policy?

The fact that these and other unsanctioned propositions are in play and even proposed by respectable figures indicates how deeply the established order has been rattled by the financial crisis. It also demonstrates that members of Congress who bailed out the bankers with public money are quite terrified of voter retribution in the next election.

The center is not holding. That's good news for the Republic, because the center has long been subservient to the demands of financial power. Cynics will say this is a passing tempest that will come to nothing. They might be right. But reformers should make the most of it, at least to agitate the fears of elected politicians--including the president.

Welcome to Mardi Gras, Washington-style. It feels like carnival time, when up is down and down is up, when humble folks parade as kings and queens and the reigning royals are dressed as clowns. As someone who has written about these heretical ideas for decades, I feel a bit giddy at the opportunities for real change, though mindful that the anarchy may not last long.

The most startling evidence of reversal is Chris Dodd, chair of the Senate Banking Committee, who has been a loyal friend of Wall Street and especially Connecticut-based insurance companies. Dodd proposes to strip the Fed of its regulatory functions because of its "abysmal failure" to protect the public, and to replace it with an overarching regulatory administration. Dodd is no doubt motivated by his weak prospects for re-election next year. Still, he earns courage points for violating the longstanding taboo against criticizing the central bank. Likewise, Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on banking, wants to eliminate bankers' insider influence over regulation at the Fed.

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Michigan State police want nearly $7 million to fulfill FOIA request

The Michigan Department of State Police is charging the Mackinac Center for Public Policy nearly $7 million to fulfill its FOIA request for information on how the state has used homeland security grant money since 2002, the nonpartisan research group reported.

A communications specialist at the center requested information after the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general released a report that detailed multiple implementation problems in how $129 million in security grants was spent in seven Michigan counties between 2002 and 2004.

The center filed a follow-up FOIA request for all documents relating to homeland security grants in the state since 2002, but the state police department, which administers homeland security grants in Michigan, said there would be more than 2 million pages and that it would cost $6.9 million to process the request.

Read More

Big Foot

In measuring carbon emissions, it’s easy to confuse morality and science.

by Michael Specter February 25, 2008

A little more than a year ago, Sir Terry Leahy, who is the chief executive of the Tesco chain of supermarkets, Britain’s largest retailer, delivered a speech to a group called the Forum for the Future, about the implications of climate change. Leahy had never before addressed the issue in public, but his remarks left little doubt that he recognized the magnitude of the problem. “I am not a scientist,” he said. “But I listen when the scientists say that, if we fail to mitigate climate change, the environmental, social, and economic consequences will be stark and severe. . . . There comes a moment when it is clear what you must do. I am determined that Tesco should be a leader in helping to create a low-carbon economy. In saying this, I do not underestimate the task. It is to take an economy where human comfort, activity, and growth are inextricably linked with emitting carbon and to transform it into one which can only thrive without depending on carbon. This is a monumental challenge. It requires a revolution in technology and a revolution in thinking. We are going to have to rethink the way we live and work.”

Tesco sells nearly a quarter of the groceries bought in the United Kingdom, it possesses a growing share of the markets in Asia and Europe, and late last year the chain opened its first stores in America. Few corporations could have a more visible—or forceful—impact on the lives of their customers. In his speech, Leahy, who is fifty-two, laid out a series of measures that he hoped would ignite “a revolution in green consumption.” He announced that Tesco would cut its energy use in half by 2010, drastically limit the number of products it transports by air, and place airplane symbols on the packaging of those which it does. More important, in an effort to help consumers understand the environmental impact of the choices they make every day, he told the forum that Tesco would develop a system of carbon labels and put them on each of its seventy thousand products. “Customers want us to develop ways to take complicated carbon calculations and present them simply,” he said. “We will therefore begin the search for a universally accepted and commonly understood measure of the carbon footprint of every product we sell—looking at its complete life cycle, from production through distribution to consumption. It will enable us to label all our products so that customers can compare their carbon footprint as easily as they can currently compare their price or their nutritional profile.”

Leahy’s sincerity was evident, but so was his need to placate his customers. Studies have consistently demonstrated that, given a choice, people prefer to buy products that are environmentally benign. That choice, however, is almost never easy. “A carbon label will put the power in the hands of consumers to choose how they want to be green,” Tom Delay, the head of the British government’s Carbon Trust, said. “It will empower us all to make informed choices and in turn drive a market for low-carbon products.” Tesco was not alone in telling people what it would do to address the collective burden of our greenhouse-gas emissions. Compelled by economic necessity as much as by ecological awareness, many corporations now seem to compete as vigorously to display their environmental credentials as they do to sell their products.

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