Monday, February 1, 2010

News That Matters - February 1, 2010

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

"The 32,500 souls fortunate enough to work at Wall Street banking giant Goldman Sachs will pocket an average $498,153 for their labors in 2009. Their total compensation for the year, $16.2 billion, runs $3.3 billion more than the pay that went the year before to the 207,315 teachers who staff New York state’s public schools." -- Ronald Pires

Good Monday Morning,

The county took out a legal notice in the Putnam Courier last week that must have cost a mortgage payment on a foreclosed home or two in order to announce new laws regarding the licensing of electricians and plumbers. This reminds me that my own license will be up for renewal soon.

A license for a house painter? Yes. The county has required that in order for me to put a coat of paint on your bedroom wall I must be licensed, bonded and insured, a process that can cost as little as $1500 and could be more, depending on certain factors. I am happy to pass that cost on to you as I have little choice and you should thank the County legislature for that.

I understand that part of the reason for all this is that if I take money from you up-front and then walk away from the job you have a place to go (my bond which the county holds.) But along with that I have to pay the county a $250 fee every two years, which we won't call a tax. Because it's not a tax even though it disappears into the general fund. There are around 1200 license holders in the county meaning the program generates around $300,000 for the county  each year. We'll call it a protection racket but we won't call it a tax even though, in the end it comes out of your pocket and goes into theirs. That's not a tax. It's something else. I'm sure of it.

What happens if I don't pay their shakedown money or worse, what happens if I simply cannot afford to? Well, if I don't belly up and pay the county, even if I am privately insured and bonded, I am liable for a fine for daring to try to earn a living without the county's permission. And here I thought we ended feudalism several hundred years ago (but apparently they didn't get the memo on that).

Aside from having the right to work, what else do I get for my $250? While the county provides an online list of licensed contractors, that's not enough: we need to get that information into the physical hands of every property owner in the county. The combined fortune raised by these fees should be more than enough to cover the cost of printing - and mailing - the 60 or so page book. The county could even offer ad rates for those licensed and who reside in Putnam County - to help the project along.

The county could also open their health insurance to those registered which would provide individuals and families an opportunity to purchase health insurance using the power of a larger pool to drive down costs which, in the end, would save tax dollars by lowering the county's overall insurance costs.

But they need to do something that offers me, and the hundreds of others forced to pay into the racket something in return other than what should be given as a free right: the right to work.

The budget for the Pentagon will be in the neighborhood of $700 billion when the President releases his budget this week. That's just direct spending. There's another $140 billion in "supplemental" spending and $100 billion in indirect military spending and some $30 billion more for nuclear weapons (which is hidden in the Department of Energy), making a total expenditure of roughly $1 trillion for this year alone. This represents 48% of the world's total defense spending.

That money buys us peace.
In the last 140 years not a single US state has declared war on another. Money well spent, if you ask me.

I know what the arguments against cutting DOD spending are and they're all wrong. Europe can defend itself. Saudi Arabia can defend itself. We don't need Azerbaijani oil. And no matter how much money we spend on bullets and bombs they won't make people stop hating us for what we've done to them as a colonial power for the past several generations. Better that $1 trillion be spent on butter and bread than bullets and bombs. We'll be a safer, and richer nation for it.

MuralA private property owner in Los Angeles decided that the concrete retaining wall which held his property back from falling into the road needed a little sprucing up so he hire mural artist Phil Lumbang to make it pretty. Phil did. But a neighbor complained saying that the new mural (imaged here) would attract criminals and went to the city for redress. The city decided that you needed a permit to paint a mural - even on private property - so it encouraged the mural owner to get himself a permit. The only problem is that there is no agency within the City of Los Angeles governmental structure charged with distributing permits for wall murals. Yeah, it's on the books that you need one but there's no mechanism in place to get one. Joseph Heller, where are you when we need you?

Rock on at the Ailes'!
In a recent poll, 74% of Republicans and 30% of Democrats felt that FOXNews was their most trusted news outlet. Not having access to broadcast television I'm sorry I'm going to miss the report where FOX claims 104% of Americans... But ignore the poll and its results since everyone knows that Liberals control the media.

Greenland is the largest island in the world.
The Caspian Sea is the largest lake. Manitoulin Island is the largest island in a lake. The largest island in a lake on an island is Paulu Samosir in Sumatra. The largest lake on an island in a lake is Lake Manitou (which happens to be on Manitoulin Island). And the largest lake on an island in a lake on an island is Crater Lake on Vulcano Island in Lake Tall on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Got it? Good.

Wall Street Market Watch claims that "universal access to affordable, high quality healthcare," fair trade agreements, living wage laws, the right of workers to organize into labor unions and engage in collective bargaining, the abolition of significant portions of the USA PATRIOT Act, the legalization of same-sex marriage, strict campaign finance reform laws, a complete pullout from the war in Iraq, and a crackdown on corporate welfare and influence" are "far left" ideas. If you don't think the list above is a reasonable basis for a sane society, please write and let me know which and why.

Fire!Nancy Pfotenhauer, a Republican strategist and an adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008 claimed last week that "the president's health care proposals will cause "most Americans to have their premiums increased, not decreased, and hundreds of millions of people lose their current insurance coverage." Hundreds of millions? I have no idea how to respond to that.

Last week the Dutchess County Legislature voted to pay 15% of their provided health care costs out of their own pockets. Problem is, the Republican controlled body exempted, for a year, its four top members. It's good to be the King!

The NY Journal News has finally picked up the story on the proposed racetrack off Route 22 in Patterson and the folk over there are squirming over this one. Why? One commentator on the article wrote:

"Did they for one second consider what the Lake Carmel residents will be going through with the Patterson Crossing? Not more than a small handful. They allowed a bunch of crooks in the Patterson town board to run roughshod over the desperate pleas of hundreds and hundreds of Lake Carmel residents who literally begged them not to build this project. Yet we will have to put up with 4 or maybe 5 years of blasting, rock grinding, chainsaws, bulldozers, noise from traffic, pollution of our environment, a visual eyesore and who knows what else."

And here I thought it was just me harassing them to the point of distraction on the Patterson12563 email list. Rise Up! Lake Carmel. Be fearless in pointing out their hypocrisy and never back down.

Oh, and by the way, as of last week the Patterson Chamber of Commerce is still backing Patterson Crossing on the home page of their website. Write their executive board and complain. It won't do any good but it might make you feel better.

And now, The News:

  1. Dutchess County Legislators seek repeal of electrician licensing
  2. Wal-Mart Billionaire Wants $8 Million Subsidy
  3. Oregon Voters Raise Taxes... on Themselves
  4. Is New York's Budget Deficit Leading it to Adopt Natural Gas Drilling Practices That Threaten Drinking Water?
  5. Water Heist: Corporations Are Targeting Cash-Strapped Cities for Control of Their Public Water
  6. N.Y. debt collection laws need reform
  7. Ailes Defends Beck
  8. Truly Organic Companies Suing Over Misuse of the Word "Organic"
  9. Is There an Ecological Unconscious?

Dutchess County Legislators seek repeal of electrician licensing

Some Dutchess County legislators want to repeal a local law requiring the licensing of electricians. Proponents of the law think it would protect consumers, while opponents say the cost of licensing fees would be passed onto the consumer.

Though enacted in 2008, the law has not been enforced because the volunteer board set up to oversee the licensing process has not yet developed a licensing system.

Legislator Joseph Incoronato, R-Wappinger, and 13 other Republicans have sponsored a measure to repeal the licensing law. The Legislature's Government Services and Administration Committee will consider the repeal at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the County Office Building, 22 Market St., Poughkeepsie.

The law says applicants must have seven years of experience and pay a $350 licensing fee.

"If the contractor has to pay the fee, he's either going to absorb it or he's going to shift it to the consumer," Incoronato said.

Read More

Wal-Mart Billionaire Wants $8 Million Subsidy

Missouri Sports Mogul Needs Welfare To Build Superstore

By Al Norman

Missouri is the "show me the money" state---where using public funds to bail out billionaires is considered good business.

An entrepreneur who married into Sam Walton's extended family, and is listed high up on the Forbes Wealthiest Americans list, is asking Missouri taxpayers to help him build a bigger Wal-Mart.

Enos Stanley Kroenke married into a fortune when he wed Ann Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton's brother "Bud." But Kroenke, already a successful businessman before his marriage, now apparently needs millions in public welfare to carry out his latest development plans.

Owner of the Denver Nuggets basketball team, and hockey's Colorado Avalanche, Kroene is part owner of the St. Louis Rams and the English soccer team Arsenal. His development firm, THF Realty (the acronym stands for "To Have Fun") has asked for a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) deal to build a Wal-Mart supercenter in the tiny community of Bridgeton, Missouri.

Read More

Oregon Voters Raise Taxes... on Themselves

GOOD Blog > Andrew Price on January 28, 2010 at 10:46 am PST

Yesterday voters in Oregon did something crazy: They voted to raise taxes on Oregonians. More specifically, they voted to raise taxes on the richest people and on businesses in Oregon.

There were two pieces of legislation, Measure 66 and Measure 67. Measure 66 raises taxes on households earning $250,000 or more. It passed by 54 percent. Measure 67 increases corporate levies and passed by 53 percent. The business lobby fought against them. Unions for public employees and teachers fought for them. They passed, and the new taxes will generate $727 million for the state.

This seems like good news. Say what you want about teachers' unions, but Oregon's schools are in dire straits. They were facing the real prospect of having to trim the school year by 3 weeks. Whether or not teachers should have tenure, it's clear the schools need to be open at the very least. Apparently enough Oregonians noticed that taxes and public programs and services are related.

Businesses complained that the taxes would have an adverse impact on jobs but their fears seem overblown given the taxes' actual effects:

Read More

Is New York's Budget Deficit Leading it to Adopt Natural Gas Drilling Practices That Threaten Drinking Water?

The state's environmental regulations are supposed to ensure that drilling in the Marcellus Shale proceeds smoothly; they don't even come close.

Is New York hoping to quell its mounting deficit by approving a risky environmental practice that may cost the state its revered drinking water? That’s what many residents and environmental agencies fear.

On Dec. 31, New Yorkers had their last chance to comment publicly on the state’s tentative environmental template for natural gas drilling. The 804-page document, which is known formally as the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS), was released by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in late September. It lays out a series of guidelines for gas companies, including some specifics on the controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

Three months ago, policymakers in Albany were hoping that the dSGEIS would pave the way for wide-scale drilling in New York’s share of the Marcellus Shale. (The Marcellus is an enormous rock formation that’s believed to contain around 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas; it runs under sections of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania Tennessee and Virginia.) The Empire State, which is saddled with a $3.2 billion deficit and an 8.7 percent unemployment rate, stands to benefit significantly from the influx of jobs and tax revenue that gas exploration could generate.

But as more public attention was focused on the dSGEIS, numerous flaws became glaringly evident -- flaws that hold significant implications for New York’s economic and environmental future.

Read More

Water Heist: Corporations Are Targeting Cash-Strapped Cities for Control of Their Public Water

>From wastewater to drinking water, big business is looking to cash in on public water systems and they've got a new tactic.

Corporate interests having are eyeing our water. From wastewater to drinking water, big business is looking to cash in on public water systems and they've got a new tactic: They're using desperate economic times to convince city officials that they should place a corporation between families and their ability to eat, drink, and clean.

Take Akron, Ohio, for example. In September 2008 I wrote an article for Alternet about a ballot measure in Akron where voters were asked whether to lease the city's wastewater system to a corporation in return for an immediate, one-time payment. The plan was roundly defeated. But more importantly, as the article suggested, the lease signaled a new direction for water privatization in the U.S. This involved a collaboration between water companies and Wall Street to snatch up control of water infrastructure for the better part of a century.

Since that vote, similar lease plans have been floated in Milwaukee and Chicago, presenting a dangerous possibility: In the near future, a major U.S. city could sign over unprecedented control of its water system to a corporation for a generation or longer. The silver lining in this narrative is that the same communities being targeted by water corporations for these deals are now charting out new ways to ensure their water remains in public hands. And for the moment, advocates of public control are winning.

Read More

N.Y. debt collection laws need reform

Re "Debt collectors become more aggressive; consumers cry foul," Jan. 27 article:

Consumers are right to cry foul. Debt collection horror stories of harassing phone calls, threats of violence or harm, impersonation of government officials and other abusive, high-pressure tactics continue to mount.

In fact, the New York State Consumer Protection Board has received some 4,000 complaints and/or inquiries about debt collection practices over the past four years.

It's high time that something is done about changing the law to provide greater protection for consumers.

New Yorkers should not be left vulnerable to questionable tactics used by unsavory debt collectors.

However, thanks to outdated laws, they continue to be. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, enacted in 1977, is in dire need of modernization. So too is New York's antiquated debt collection law, enacted in 1973. These laws are out of step with the times, do not account for new technologies, fail to address new tactics being used by debt collectors, and were written before debt was commonly sold as a commodity between third-party collection agencies or debt buyers.

That's why Gov. David Paterson has proposed legislation to update and strengthen the legal protection for all New Yorkers.

Read More

Ailes Defends Beck

Fox News Channel President Roger Ailes insisted on Sunday that his network was no longer at war with the Obama White House and defended Fox's Glenn Beck over some of his more inflammatory statements.

Appearing for the first time on ABC's "This Week," Ailes said that Beck's often over-the-top rhetoric was politically legitimate, even if it ruffled a few feathers.

Reminded by HuffPost's Arianna Huffington that Beck has warned of "slaughter" and a "killing spree" for those not on board with the Obama administration's agenda, Ailes insisted that the reference wasn't to this president but rather to murderous dictators.

"Well, he was talking about Hitler and Stalin slaughtering people, so I think he was probably accurate," he said. "I think he speaks English, I don't know. But I don't misinterpret any of his words. He did say one unfortunate thing that he apologized for. But that happens in live television."

Read More

Truly Organic Companies Suing Over Misuse of the Word "Organic"

Things are heating up in the organic beauty products department, and it was only a matter of time. As it stands, the so-called "organic" personal care industry—from toothpaste and bar soap to shampoo and mascara—is a total free-for-all. There are very few rules in place about what companies can and can't say to sell you a product, as well as what they actually

in the product itself, which is what makes this new lawsuit so juicy and exciting: Several certified organic companies (like Dr. Bronner's and Intelligent Nutrients) have filed a complaint with the USDA's National Organic Program against allegedly fake-organic companies

(like Jason, Kiss My Face, and Nature's Gate) for misuse of that ubiquitous buzzword.

Why? Glance down the aisle of any pharmacy and you'll see the word all over the place; this is doubly true at any Whole Foods or health food store. And yet lots of the products branded as organic are far from it, and the ones who are jumping through hoops to get certified think that's unfair (and illegal).

With food, the laws are stricter; there are federal regulations in place about what can and cannot be branded "100% organic," "organic," "made with organic ingredients," etc. These rules don't extend to products, though, which means when you see "organic" on the label of your shampoo, you're going on faith that it's true—which can get sketchy, as we saw earlier this week with the H&M scandal.

Read More

Is There an Ecological Unconscious?

About eight years ago, Glenn Albrecht began receiving frantic calls from residents of the Upper Hunter Valley, a 6,000-square-mile region in southeastern Australia. For generations the Upper Hunter was known as the “Tuscany of the South” — an oasis of alfalfa fields, dairy farms and lush English-style shires on a notoriously hot, parched continent. “The calls were like desperate pleas,” Albrecht, a philosopher and professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, recalled in June. “They said: ‘Can you help us? We’ve tried everyone else. Is there anything you can do about this?’ ”

Residents were distraught over the spread of coal mining in the Upper Hunter. Coal was discovered in eastern Australia more than 200 years ago, but only in the last two decades did the industry begin its exponential rise. Today, more than 100 million tons of black coal are extracted from the valley each year, primarily by open-pit mining, which uses chemical explosives to blast away soil, sediment and rock. The blasts occur several times a day, sending plumes of gray dust over ridges to settle thickly onto roofs, crops and the hides of livestock. Klieg lights provide a constant illumination. Trucks, draglines and idling coal trains emit a constant low-frequency rumble. Rivers and streams have been polluted.

Albrecht, a dark, ebullient man with a crooked aquiline nose, was known locally for his activism. He participated in blockades of ships entering Newcastle (near the Upper Hunter), the largest coal-exporting port in the world, and published opinion articles excoriating the Australian fossil-fuel industries. But Albrecht didn’t see what he could offer besides a sympathetic ear and some tactical advice. Then, in late 2002, he decided to see the transformation of the Upper Hunter firsthand.

Read More

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