Wednesday, May 12, 2010

News That Matters - May 12, 2010

News That Matters

News That Matters
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Good Wednesday Morning,

"Queen Elizabeth accepted the invitation of Conservative Party leader David Cameron to become Britain's new prime minister Tuesday night after Gordon Brown resigned following his failure to form a coalition government with another liberal party after national elections last week"
The above quote came from a recent report from FOXNews, a close cousin of what used to be the Putnam County Courier. The problem with the quote is that no one asked the Queen about this and it came as quite a surprise to the other 100 million people who live in England, especially David Cameron who was, in fact, appointed Prime Minister. They Report. We Deride.

Our informal NY 40th Senate District poll has picked up another 9 votes since Monday. Results as of this writing are:

Mike Kaplowitz with 45% (down from 52%),
Jim Borkowski with 24% (down from 26%)
Greg Ball with 20% (up from 12%) and
Mary Beth Murphy with 11% (down from 10%)

The part-time assemblyman, who picked up four votes last evening, can count on a vote from inside the State Assembly offices and Mr. Borkowksi racked up two - within two minutes - from computers at Manhattan College. Mary Beth Murphy picked up several votes from the same IP addresses as were cast for Vinnie Leibell in our County Executive poll. The vote cast from the State Senate was expected as was the one from Washington, D.C., but there's that one from Simon's Rock... that one really confuses me. I know the voter is reading so please, drop me a note. I have to know who you are! (And I promise I won't tell.)

Anyway, we're considering the poll closed and a hearty congratulations to Mike Kaplowitz for handily staying in the lead.

Oh! Why do I analyze where the votes are coming from and at what rate they come in? Because with anything online it's easy to skew the results by having all your friends vote or, as we saw with Senator Leibell's tallies during the County Executive poll, use automated scripts. Most, if not all of Mr. Kaplowitz' votes came from IP servers in the area and were casually spaced out over time telling me that support for him was genuine and not contrived. And, if the votes are coming in from Washington, DC or from inside government offices in Albany or from Lativa, well, can those people actually vote at the election?

We had a hard freeze on Tuesday morning and the garden pulled through rather well with sensitive plants covered. The beans, however, did not make it and the butterfly bushes didn't so all that well either and some viney-spreading thing out in the field was brown and dead by yesterday afternoon. Lets hope that's the end of it until October 20th or so.

The Ryder Farm on Starr Ridge Road will hold an Opening Day event this Sunday, May 16th complete with tours, refreshments and a Maypole dance. It really is a day you should come out and bring your kids to. Here's a short video on being an intern at the farm which was filmed during the 2009 growing season.

The Journal News has done a bang-up job reporting the Barbara Dunn case.
Imagine if they covered municipal meetings as closely as they do this populist pablum?

We can add Chase Bank to the list of Banks That Suck. The other day Richie received his bank statement which had a $25 charge for membership in some "points" club or other. He called the bank - twice - to ask a) to please remove the charge and b) how did it get there in the first place? Regardless of whom he spoke with they a) wouldn't remove the charge and b) wouldn't tell him how it got there. Remember when banks were there to help you manage your money? Now they're just there to manage your money.

It's a tie between Romania and Estonia for having the lowest debt to GDP ratio in Europe. Yes, Romania and Estonia.

Last week we broke the story (which the NYJN has still not picked up) about who will pay the property tax bill at Tilly Foster Farms. The "contract" the county signed with George Whipple and Preserve Putnam clearly states that they will make the farm self-sufficient and will put any monies generated from the farm (and they seem to be making a good deal of it) into an account specifically to pay the bills. But the question arises whether or not that means paying property taxes.

Tomorrow night (Thursday) the County Legislature will discuss this very question and it would behoove any and all of you who care to be there. Rumor has it that the County Attorney will be there to answer these questions and as they're the ones who wrote the original contract (see this article) the results could be interesting. If you've read the linked article(s) you'll remember that it was quite a fight to get a decent contract and try as hard as I did it still sucked - for you, not for Preserve Putnam. If we had won that fight we wouldn't have to be asking these questions as the county would have spelled them out - if they had a qualified attorney on staff and if the County Executive's primary concern was our welfare and not that of a wealthy personal friend.
Also tomorrow night, the Legislature's Rules committee will take up the issue of the $250 bi-annual contractor's fee they charge anyone who touches your house. Landscapers, carpenters, painters, deck builders, pressure washers, everyone seems to be covered - with some notable exceptions (see below).

If you don't pay the fee you can't work and you face significant fines for working illegally in the county.

But it's not just the administrative fee (see this article for more information) but a requirement that contractors carry $1,000,000 worth of insurance and post a $25,000 bond that names the county as the payee. The costs of both those combined, in addition to the "administrative fee", can run as high as $1000 or more depending on the cost of insurance.

But there's more! As part of the contractor's application we are also forced to prove we don't owe child support, that we will use Homeland Security's e-Verify system if we should hire employees, that we've opted out of (or in to) the State's workman's comp program and more.... and all of the documents and forms need to be notarized, signed sealed and delivered.

Do we ask doctors and auto mechanics and cops and educators and store clerks to pay a "fee" to work in the county? Does the county require gas station attendants to carry personal business insurance? Does the county require your vet to use e-Verify? No, so why just blue-collar workers who are mostly self-employed and struggling through this economic recession? What is it about the people who form the backbone of our economy the County Legislature doesn't like?

Or, the better question is this: if the county needs the money (and they grossed $171,000 on our "fees") why not tax you directly rather than hide it and make the guy who cuts your lawn collect it from you?

And finally, what do contractors get for their $250? Nada. Zilch. Nothing. And, what if the economy sucks and you can't afford the fee and yet you continue to work to house and feed yourself? If you get caught you're facing fines and legal action. How is it possible that we charge county residents for the right to earn a living?
I thought only the mafia did that. Can you imagine? Well yes you can.

If this is important to you - and it should be - come to the Legislature's Rules Committee meeting tomorrow [Thursday] evening in Room 318 (it could change but it'll be one of two) at 6:30 PM. Both committees will meet one after the other and it could be quite a night. At least when it comes to forcing blue collar workers to act as a tax collector for the county it's going to be v e r y interesting to hear those gals and guys squeak through the reasons why they won't tax you directly but force your house painter to be the bad guy.

For those of you suffering from Lyme Disease (and contrary to what doctors say, once you've had it you will always have it,) there's a free screening of a film, "Under Our Skin" at the Rhinebeck Town Hall at 80 East Market Street up there in Dutchess County. Yeah, it's a haul but the information could be invaluable.
Unfolding like a real-life thriller, “Under Our Skin” exposes the hidden epidemic of Lyme disease and reveals how our health care system is failing to address one of the most serious and mysterious illnesses of our time. After the film join Dr. Steven Bock from The Rhinebeck Health Center and Jill Auerbach of the Dutchess County Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Task Force for a Q&A. Joel Tyner, Dutchess County Legislator, will also be available to answer any questions.
Your government has decided to allow private corporations to reach into your home and disable parts of your set-top TV controller box at their will. Allegedly in an effort to reduce piracy of newly released movies, the FCC has told Hollywood, "Sure, no problem, mess with people's personal equipment that's sitting inside their homes and it's okay to do it without their permission." Really though, the problem is that the movie industry isn't losing money from piracy but they are because you're getting their films via Netflix or Amazon and the cut just isn't enough for their greedy, money-grubbing  claws. But hey, if you want to live in a capitalist society then you need to accept that corporations will do what they want, when they want, and you and your privacy be damned and without the government in the way to stop them.

Sarah Palin hasn't said anything truly stupid in the past 48 hours. Rumor has it she's been kidnapped by the Liechtenstein Liberation Army and is being held in a cave just outside Vaduz. Seeing that Alaska does not have diplomatic relations with that small European nation, (though many can see it from their homes,) we're not holding out much hope for her return.

We Built Sioux City: My eyes burned. It's an awful, terrible video. And yet, I couldn't stop watching and neither will you.

And now, The News:

Why You Should Eat Weeds

We are always looking for ways to save money, and our grocery bill is where we often try and find savings. Our drive to reduce our spending is understandable. Life is expensive. However, if you really want to save some money on your food bill, you may need to look no further than the backyard.

Now unless you are lawn fanatic, there is likely a plant or two that you can harvest and add to your dinner menu. We call these plants weeds.

What is a weed? Simply a plant we have not yet found a use for and so reject. True, not all weeds are edible and you do not want to just start grazing, but there are delicacies out there just waiting to be discovered.

The common blue violet is not only attractive to look at but tasty as both the flowers and the leaves are edible. They apparently have a high vitamin C content as well. Thicken soups with the leaves or add them to salads.

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The Wonders of Wheatgrass

Monday, 10 May 2010 Gayle Eversole

What helps you naturally improve 70+ ailments and provides at least two dozen health benefits? Wonderful wheatgrass. Just one 3 ounce serving of this healing elixir provides you with about 36mg of chlorophyll and leads the way in detoxifying your body’s cells: cellular detoxification and nutrition are foundations of health.

Chlorophyll is akin to hemoglobin in the blood.  This iron-binding element in red blood cells carries oxygen to other body cells. In turn, this stimulates your red blood cells to carry more oxygen and key minerals like magnesium. Replete with high vitamin, mineral, protein and enzyme content, chlorophyll-laden wheatgrass is anti-cancer; it’s helpful in removing toxic heavy metals, protects you from DNA damage, and boosts immunity while serving as an anti-infective agent.

Wheatgrass supplies over 100 nutrients that are easily absorbed because they are in the whole food state. It takes energy to keep your body detoxified and in positive health and wheatgrass offers you superfood energy to support this important process. Wheatgrass has been commonly used since the 1900s as an adjunct to health and wellness programs. Its benefits are many - it cleans your lymph system, cleanses and builds blood, restores nutritional balance and vitality, nourishes the liver and kidneys.

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For Subway Signs, a Six-Figure Editing Job

Ed note: This article is about the cost of unintended consequences. You wanted the MTA to spend less money on moving wealth around the region and it's going to cost you almost a million dollars to do it.

The signage of the New York City subway — stylish Helvetica, white-on-black type — is one of the most universally recognized design schemes in the world. By June 28, quite a bit of it will need to change.

On that Monday, disappearing trains (goodbye, W) and redrawn routes will render thousands of existing signs and maps throughout the system obsolete, a hidden cost of the drastic service cuts brought on by the subway’s budget problems.

To avoid chaos, New York City Transit must replace some 3,000 signs and 25,000 maps, all to be switched out within the span of about two weeks before the service changes take effect.

That task requires the biggest overhaul since service over the Manhattan Bridge was restored more than six years ago, juggling the Midtown subway routes.

John Montemarano, director of the station signage division for 15 years, said: “We make sure our customers can wake up on June 28 and figure out how the hell to get around.”

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Froot Loops Not Made of Real Fruit: The Cereal Lawsuits

There are days every now and then when my actual legal work directly intersects with my blog work.  This was one of those days.

On May 21, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a complaint filed by a woman who said she had purchased “Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries” because she believed it contained real fruit. The plaintiff, Janine Sugawara, alleged that she had only recently learned to her dismay that said “berries” were in fact simply brightly-colored cereal balls, and that although the product did contain some strawberry fruit concentrate, it was not otherwise redeemed by fruit.  She sued, on behalf of herself and all similarly situated consumers, some of whom may believe that there are fields somewhere in our land thronged by crunchberry bushes.

According to the complaint, Sugawara and other consumers were misled not only by the use of the word “berries” in the name, but also by the front of the box, which features the product’s namesake, Cap’n Crunch, aggressively “thrusting a spoonful of ‘Crunchberries’ at the prospective buyer.” Plaintiff claimed that this message was reinforced by other marketing representing the product as a “combination of Crunch biscuits and colorful red, purple, teal and green berries.” Yet in actuality, the product contained “no berries of any kind.” Plaintiff brought claims for fraud, breach of warranty, and our notorious and ever-popular California Unfair Competition Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

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Telcos' secret plans to use fake "citizens groups" to kill Net Neutrality

Cory Doctorow at 7:45 PM May 11, 2010

ThinkProgress has a leaked copy of a telcoms industry PowerPoint presentation laying out their plans to use astroturf to kill Network Neutrality. The industry is hiring the same turfers who work with the Tea Party movement to carry their message to the people.

What the telcos want to do is reduce your access to websites and services unless those services have paid a bribe for "premium carriage" to you. So Google buys its bandwidth from its ISP. You buy your bandwidth from your ISP. Then your ISP goes to Google and says, "If you want to send your bits to our customers when they ask for them, you'll have to pay us too." If Google doesn't pay, the ISP slows down its bits when you ask for them.

They call this "free and unregulated internet access for content flow and connectivity speed free and unregulated internet access for content flow and connectivity speed."

Here's how I see it: the telcos and cable operators got a huge public subsidy when we agreed to let them use our public sewers, tunnels and streets (not to mention our houses and basements) for their wires. We give them all this for free or far below the market costs. They put their wires in our dirt.

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Fraud is as American as apple pie, here's a primer on systemic fraudulence

By Mark Ames

Ever since I got kicked out of Russia and forced back home, I’ve been collecting all kinds of news articles about fraud, in a document file titled “America Is Russia.” Here’s a sampling.

    * Accounting Fraud: Last year, America’s leading banks were insolvent. So Tim Geithner and Larry Summers forced an accounting rule change called “mark-to-model,” which let banks essentially scrape a pile of dogshit off the sidewalk, fling it into a vault, and mark it “worth 1 billion dollars.” Voila! The banks are making record profits.
    * Big Pharm Fraud: Between May 2004 and March 2010, a handful of top drug companies like Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers paid over $7 billion in criminal penalties for bribing doctors to prescribe drugs for unapproved uses, but it was a small price to pay for the tens of billions they earned poisoning Americans. Up to 100,000 Americans die every year from misprescribed drugs. Bummer for you guys.
    * Greenspan Fraud: America’s central banker didn’t believe fraud is a crime that should be regulated, and he forced out a do-gooder regulator named Brooksley Born, who disagreed. Then Alan Greenspan pumped up the biggest housing bubble in human history, and once it was ready to burst, he quit the Fed and went on the payroll of three firms that made billions on the subprime crash: Paulson & Co., Deutsche Bank, and Pimco.

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