Sunday, December 26, 2010

News That Matters - Monday, December 27, 2010 - The Day Early Edition

News That Matters

News That Matters
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Good Monday Morning,

Just in case there is no Monday (read: if the electricity goes out here in the Free State and we're the last to get turned on again which is the way it works out here,) I'm putting Monday's Edition out this evening.

I hope you all enjoyed whatever holiday it was you were celebrating this weekend. Thanks to PB, SCH, BV, PN, MS and others mine was pretty sweet. There were two dinners on Xmas day, one planned and the second a surprise! At the second however, I was compelled to accompany, on a borrowed guitar, a cellist and a singer in order to get the gelato/caramel pie for dessert.

Thanks also go out to a *new* supporter here at News That Matters and remember, if you've got that spirit and you're reading... Please Click Here.

We're enduring our first big storm of the season and all the standard rules apply:
  • Check in on the elderly and infirm.
  • This includes younger people living alone - you never know what can go wrong.
  • If the lights go out - CALL THESE FOLKS and ask them if they're going to be alright. If not, offer to help. If they say, "no thanks", compel them.
  • Don't drive like an idiot. Driving too slow is just as bad, if not worse, than driving too fast.
  • You do not need to go to the mall today.
  • If you do have to go out, leave *lots of room* between yourself and the car in front of you. If he skids out odds are you will too.

Collected from the 'net:

"I've eaten pretty much every cookie anyone else has ever made for me, and I'm still here."

"No, the trees spill their seeds upon the ground. It's sort of a coniferous Onanism."

"Wikipedia seems to agree with me.  Maybe I should be worried about that."

"I was visited by three ghosts this Christmas. They were all family members, and technically they were all still alive. I just find it comforting to imagine that they are already deceased." - Sedated Ape

What to do on a snowy day?

The national Film Preservation Board of the library of Congress has a collection of websites around the world where historically important films are maintained, most free for the viewing. Look, it's beats the TV. Go here.

Google has released a new dataset where you can compare up to 5 words from literature, one against the other, to see how often they were used over time. That link is here. For example, when comparing "aren't" and "ain't" we find that for some reason the latter spiked in use in the early 1940's. Why? You'll have to figure that one out for yourself.

Consolidating the vast amount of 'Strange Stuff' out there into 1 easy to use place. Haunted buildings, places, Urban legends, cemeteries, weird places, cool places, ghost towns, and anything else that is worth your time to visit. Visit It's fun, try it out!

Discover how far you can travel on land from a fixed point. Specify the start point, then input either how far you can go or your mode of transport with time available. This tool will then show you the range of locations that you can reach in that time. Visit How Far Can I Travel to find out.

While you're looking out the window at the snow, consider mind-traveling to St. Petersburg... Russia. Peter Sobolev says, "I am a great fan of digital photography. I have been taking pictures of St.Petersburg since 1997. Now this site contains about 500 albums with thousands of pictures of St.Petersburg [sic] historic center, its vicinities, suburbs etc. Much more than a typical tourist would be able to see. I kindly invite you to explore my collection of photos." See those here and really, it's quite amazing.

If you've got that spirit and you're reading this without supporting it... Please Click Here.

And now, The News:
  1. State audit finds fault with Peekskill Business Improvement District
  2. Delaware River Basin Commission Proposes Rules to Protect River from Impacts of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling
  3. Why Did the Elk (Bear or Deer or Lynx) Cross the Road?
  4. Cut Here. Invest There.
  5. Bush Policy on Lands Is Reversed
  6. Big-Box Retailers Move To Smaller Stores In Cities
  7. Banks Accused of Illegally Breaking Into Homes
  8. Monitoring America

State audit finds fault with Peekskill Business Improvement District

By Brian J. Howard for the NY Journal News

PEEKSKILL — State officials say the city's downtown Business Improvement District does not properly safeguard cash, has no written agreement with the city, receives inadequate oversight and has no procedures for administering grants.

The state Comptroller's Office detailed those findings and others in a 21-page audit released Thursday. It covers BID operations from Jan. 1, 2008, through March 10.

Among the findings: BID Director Ed Burke approved 12 payments to himself and family members totaling $1,758 and had a contract to provide his own private business' services to the BID. Also, a state grant went to a business owned by the BID Chairman Joe Lippolis.

Neither is named in the audit, but a spokesman for the Comptroller's Office confirmed that the findings referred to them. Reached Monday, Lippolis and Burke declined to comment.

Former BID Chairwoman Patty Villanova lauded the report. Villanova was ousted in September, she said, for questioning BID operations.

"I think that they got the worst of it, without a doubt," she said of the audit.

Read More

Delaware River Basin Commission Proposes Rules to Protect River from Impacts of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling

Following a May 2009 ban on natural gas drilling absent Commission approval, last month the Delaware River Basin Commission proposed new regulations that would require gas drilling companies to have an approved plan for siting and accessing their natural gas development projects.  The proposed regulations would apply to all natural gas development projects that involve placement, construction, or use of exploratory or production wells in the Delaware Basin and to water withdrawals, well pad-related activities, and wastewater disposal associated with such projects.  The commission intends to defer to Pennsylvania and New York to regulate construction and operation of wells within their borders, although waters also run through New Jersey and Delaware.

The proposed regulations address, among other things:

*only water sources approved by the commission for use for natural gas development may be used for that purpose

*minimum setbacks for well pads from water bodies, wetlands, surface water supply intakes, and water supply reservoirs (setbacks from homes and public buildings, roads, and water supply wells will be those established in the regulations of the state in which a well pad is located)

*financial assurance of $125,000 per natural gas well  to cover costs associated with plugging, abandonment, and restoration of wells and remediation of pollution from natural gas development activities

*wastewater treatment facilities would have to obtain commission approval to accept wastewater from a natural gas development project

*Showing that discharge of the treated wastewater would not cause Safe Drinking Water Act standards to be exceeded or violate zone-specific water quality objectives and effluent limits for streams

Three public hearings will be scheduled during the 90-day comment period on the proposal, and written comments will be accepted until March 16, 2011.

The proposed regulations may be accessed at:

Why Did the Elk (Bear or Deer or Lynx) Cross the Road?

By Stephanie Simon for the Wall Street Journal

Landscape architect Robert Rock takes pride in talking to his clients to understand just how they'll be using the green spaces he designs. In his most recent assignment, however, he hit a roadblock.

"You can't ask elk what they'd like for dinner," Mr. Rock said ruefully.
The Olin Studio

A design from the Olin Studio in Philadelphia would cost about $12 million and span a six-lane highway.

Nor can you ask them what would induce them to nibble that dinner while strolling across a lushly planted footbridge spanning a six-lane highway.

Getting elk to cross highways safely—and encouraging lynx, bear, deer and bighorn sheep to follow suit—was the key challenge in an unusual global contest that concluded this month.

The ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition asked engineers, ecologists and landscape architects to come up with an overpass bridge for pedestrians of the furry sort. The goal: to encourage wildlife to roam freely across their habitat—even when that habitat is bisected by a highway.

The five finalists, unveiled last week in Denver, designed multimillion-dollar bridges that aimed to tempt animals across with tasty foliage, green valleys, gentle streams and curved walls to block out noise and vibrations from the traffic below.

Read More

Cut Here. Invest There.

Thomas L. Friedman

As I’m about to start a four-month book leave, I need to get a few things off my chest: President Obama understood, rightly, that our economy needed more stimulus, so, given the G.O.P.’s insistence on extending the Bush tax cuts for all, he struck the best deal he could. The country, we are told, is now in a better mood, seeing our two parties work together. I, alas, am not in a better mood.

I’ll be in a better mood when I see our two parties cooperating to do something hard. Borrowing billions more from China to give ourselves more tax cuts does not qualify. Make no mistake, President Obama has enacted an enormous amount in two years. It’s impressive. But the really hard stuff lies ahead: taking things away. We are leaving an era where to be a mayor, governor, senator or president was, on balance, to give things away to people. And we are entering an era where to be a leader will mean, on balance, to take things away from people. It is the only way we’ll get our fiscal house in order before the market, brutally, does it for us.

In my book, the leaders who will deserve praise in this new era are those who develop a hybrid politics that persuades a majority of voters to cut where we must so we can invest where we must. To survive in the 21st century, America can no longer afford a politics of irresponsible profligacy. But to thrive in the 21st century — to invest in education, infrastructure and innovation — America cannot afford a politics of mindless austerity either.

Read More

Bush Policy on Lands Is Reversed

By Leslie Kaufman for the NY Times

Since 2003, the department has excluded wilderness as a criterion it applies in managing federal lands for the public benefit.

“The new Wild Lands policy affirms the B.L.M.’s authorities under the law — and our responsibility to the American people — to protect the wilderness characteristics of the lands we oversee,” the bureau’s director, Bob Abbey, said in a statement.

Environmentalists welcomed the decision but questioned why it had taken nearly two years for the Obama administration to reverse the policy. They also expressed worry that the new policy could prove weaker than the wilderness designation formulas in place before President George W. Bush took office in 2001.

“We are not quite where we were before,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel in the Denver office of the Wilderness Society.

The rules for managing areas that come under the new designation “wild lands” are not yet clear and will be decided after a 60-day comment period, the Interior Department said.

The Bureau of Land Management is charged with managing 245 million acres largely located in 11 Western states, from the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado to the Headwaters Forest Reserve’s redwood forest in California.

While only Congress can designate areas as wilderness, the bureau has traditionally identified areas for study and issued recommendations.

Read More

Big-Box Retailers Move To Smaller Stores In Cities

Retailers have been following the growth of the suburbs for decades, setting up in shopping centers and big-box strip malls far outside the core of major American cities. Department stores that stayed in big-city downtowns have suffered. Others didn't stay -- they closed up altogether.

But a reversal of that trend is becoming apparent. Big-box retailers -- companies that built their discount businesses out where land was cheap and space was plentiful -- are now moving inward.

Both Wal-Mart and Target are prime examples of big-box stores with big-city plans. They're aiming at the likes of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

Read More

Banks Accused of Illegally Breaking Into Homes

TRUCKEE, Calif. — When Mimi Ash arrived at her mountain chalet here for a weekend ski trip, she discovered that someone had broken into the home and changed the locks.

When she finally got into the house, it was empty. All of her possessions were gone: furniture, her son’s ski medals, winter clothes and family photos. Also missing was a wooden box, its top inscribed with the words “Together Forever,” that contained the ashes of her late husband, Robert.

"When she finally got into the house, it was empty. All of her possessions were gone: furniture, her son’s ski medals, winter clothes and family photos. Also missing was a wooden box, its top inscribed with the words “Together Forever,” that contained the ashes of her late husband, Robert."

The culprit, Ms. Ash soon learned, was not a burglar but her bank. According to a federal lawsuit filed in October by Ms. Ash, Bank of America had wrongfully foreclosed on her house and thrown out her belongings, without alerting Ms. Ash beforehand.

In an era when millions of homes have received foreclosure notices nationwide, lawsuits detailing bank break-ins like the one at Ms. Ash’s house keep surfacing. And in the wake of the scandal involving shoddy, sometimes illegal paperwork that has buffeted the nation’s biggest banks in recent months, critics say these situations reinforce their claims that the foreclosure process is fundamentally flawed.

“Every day, smaller wrongs happen to people trying to save their homes: being charged the wrong amount of money, being wrongly denied a loan modification, being asked to hand over documents four or five times,” said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Identifying the number of homeowners who were locked out illegally is difficult. But banks and their representatives insist that situations like Ms. Ash’s represent just a tiny percentage of foreclosures.

Read More

Monitoring America
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

Other democracies - Britain and Israel, to name two - are well acquainted with such domestic security measures. But for the United States, the sum of these new activities represents a new level of governmental scrutiny.

This localized intelligence apparatus is part of a larger Top Secret America created since the attacks. In July, The Washington Post described an alternative geography of the United States, one that has grown so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

Today's story, along with related material on The Post's Web site, examines how Top Secret America plays out at the local level. It describes a web of 4,058 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 935 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks or became involved in counterterrorism for the first time after 9/11.

Read More

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