Wednesday, February 16, 2011

News That Matters - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

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Good Wednesday Morning,

My sources tell me that no one called TaconicArts to request an estimate for house painting and that worries me. TaconicArts is our longest-term sponsor who contributes thousands of dollars a year to the cause and no one needs any painting done in their home, even at their special, super-duper Putnam-only prices? Pshaw! We just have to assume you all missed that portion of News That Matters on Monday so consider this a reminder.

Friday is our regular "Things To Do" Edition of News That Matters so if your organization or club is holding an event this weekend or into next week, please get it in to us - in plain text - before tomorrow (Thursday) evening.

Back to the Future

You've been digging through an old drawer getting ready to move the furniture so the painters can come in and spruce your place up, and you come across a trove of old photographs.
There you are with the accordion in the backyard at your parent's old house, the time, 1974. And you still have that accordion up in the attic. What would it be like to take the same photograph from 1974, today?

Artist Irina Werning has taken those thoughts to the next step and produced a series of photographs that recreate - almost exactly - pictures taken a generation apart. Her website is here.

And there's a website where you can upload those "old vs new" pictures you've recreated and that's here, at Young Me/Now Me. It's safe for work but will keep you busy when you probably should be calling the painters or preparing for that meeting.

Thomas A. Siewert, 51, of Poughkeepsie, died on Friday February 11, 2011 and if you read his obituary in the Poughkeepsie Journal you'd never know the circumstances behind his death or where he died.
The ugly truth is that he hung himself while a guest of the Dutchess County jail while awaiting trial for a probation violation for his second DWI.

Now, maybe I'm just being all kum-bah-ya'ish about this whole thing but it seems to me that this is not an atypical situation, where someone is in jail for DWI. But this is his second and that should have thrown up alarm bells all over the place that there was something wrong with Mr. Siewert that required not jail, but medical assistance. Not the courts, but doctors. Not punishment, but care.

We're so quick in this nation to solve our societal problems by locking you away, by passing tougher and tougher laws that are supposed to act as deterrents but really don't. By spending tens of thousands of dollars every year on "corrections" and barely a dime on mental and physical health. By separating families and communities and nothing on bringing them together and making them stronger.

When it comes to suicide I'm all about letting you make that choice and not intervening unless we can actually solve your problems. If they're financial, which they so often are, then if we intervene we have a responsibility to help you financially. If they're because of a chemical imbalance and we intervene, then we have a responsibility to get you the treatment that you need to get things balanced out and keep them that way.

We should have been looking at Mr. Siewert's case from this perspective long before we considered jail, from his very first day in court for the first DWI charge. He obviously had a problem with alcohol so what did we do to help a fellow member of our community get through it? We sent him to jail  when we should have sent him to a hospital. He should have been a patient and not a prisoner.

If we began to look at our criminal issues, such as DWI, from a health perspective rather than as a criminal one we'd end up doing two things right off the bat: For one, we'd save a lot of money. Jails, courts, police... these are incredibly expensive while psychological care is a lot cheaper and usually longer lasting and, second, we'd be building stronger and healthier communities and families and the loss of a life, such as in Mr. Siewert's case, might have been avoided and his family not today in mourning.

I know this whole diatribe is falling on deaf ears. I know our society has gone so far into the wrong direction that it's only a wish that it could be different. And I know that our culture is so deep into punishment and correction that we'll probably never begin to seriously look at these problems from their proper place, the human perspective. But if we start the process of reversing the collective damage within our own communities we might get somewhere before I die. But then again, looking around, I might as well be hoping for peace in the Middle East which, at the rate we're going, will come first.

After all, when it come to budget-crunch time we cut spending for hospitals and human services and gut the social safety nets while never touching the cops, the courts or our prisons.

Kenneth Mars died this week at 75 from pancreatic cancer. You'll remember Mr. Mars from his role as Franz Liebkind in Mel Brooks', "The Producers" and as Inspector Kemp in another Mel Brooks entry, "Young Frankenstein".

During a 50 year career he appeared in 35 major motion pictures including, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and "What's Up Doc?" and dozens of television roles that included  "Love, American Style and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", all of which are now classics and fondly remembered.

The NY Times has an obituary here.

Defunding Propaganda:

Congressional Republicans have introduced no less than six different bills which would defund NPR, a goal they have had for more than a generation. Back during the Gulf War, NPR's moniker stood for "National Pentagon Radio" for their slavish reporting of anything the Pentagon told them to report, damaging their reputation as an independent, neutral voice on the American media landscape. Now they're known on the Left as "National Propaganda Radio", so I don't know exactly why Republicans have had this change of mind about NPR. It must have something to do with Car Talk as I cannot figure out any other reason.

Strip Mining in Kentucky

Fourteen people held a sit-in over this past weekend at the offices of Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, after negotiations broke down on Friday over the issue of strip mining, better known today as mountaintop removal. Joined by poet Wendell Berry, a nurse practitioner who used to work with coal miners, a retired coal miner, the retired mayor of Inez, KY, a professor from Moorehead University and others, the group met with the governor on Friday and while he maintained his support of strip mining as being vital to the economy, the group decided to stick around for the weekend in protest. Governor Beshear said they could stay as long as they like and they did - for four days - while 150 supporters outside brought them food and messages and kept their spirits up and an unidentified couple from Tampa, Florida, sent 6 pizzas to the demonstrators for dinner on Friday night.
On Monday, when the sit-in ended, 1000 Kentucky residents joined the demonstrators at the capital plaza in Frankfort including one group, Footprints for Peace, who walked from Prestonburg to Frankfort, a distance of 140 miles to rally.

Novelist Silas House said of the group, “This is not a stunt. This is not a bunch of young people who are just doing this for the thrill. They’re all people who’ve thought about this carefully and for a long time, and they just want to bring more attention to the issue and talk to the governor in a serious conversation.”

But Governor Beshear has no intention of talking to anyone beyond which mountains can be removed, which valleys will be filled by the detritus, which rivers and streams will be choked out of existence and which communities will have their hearts ripped out of them for the sake of cheap energy and

Protest sign of the week:

Seen at a WESPAC demonstration in White Plains. It was a confused demonstration, called to support the pro-democracy movement in Egypt but turned out to be yet another anti-Israeli pro-Hamas event.

US is to Iraqis
Israel is to Palestinians
Nazi Germany was to Jews

As Nazi Germany was to Jews...
I guess a little blatant extremism in the name of propaganda never hurt anyone, eh?

While we're on this most touchy subject, Hamas renamed the Mubarak Hospital in Gaza to "Liberation Hospital" in a sudden reversal of allegiances and to honor the pro-democracy movement in Egypt while at the same time not allowing a native pro-democracy movement inside Gaza to form. Arrests, beatings and the like meet each attempt.

Try being a woman (or gay!) in Gaza and Egypt under Mubarak looked pretty sweet.

But things take an even more bizarre turn! Gaza, if you believe the  propaganda, is still occupied by Israel or blockaded, (it depends upon the protest signs). Yet shops and stores are doing a thriving business on the Israeli made products that line their shelves.

But Hamas sees that as a nod to the fact that Israel exists and so has banned the sale of Israeli-made clothing and requires permits to sell the following list of products; Home and office furniture, Plastic products, Tissues, toilet paper, Hoses, Juices, soft drinks, Chemical products, Canned beans, Biscuits, all types of candies, and for some reason, Packaging materials. It's okay to stock these items if they're made elsewhere but anything made in Israel is verboten and requires a permit - and a payout - to Gaza's Ministry of National Economy.

The problem for shopkeepers is that Israeli products flow into Gaza rather easily and are more affordable at wholesale than those made elsewhere and are of better quality. Gaza's consumers, like those anywhere, seek quality product at affordable prices but are prevented by their government from purchasing them. And who is to blame? Israel, of course. We don't know why, it just is.
(source: Ma'an News Agency)

Find Hosni!

So, where is the Hosni Mubarak? If you read the Pal Arab press as I do you'll know that he's in a hotel in Eilat, Israel. Well, that's what they say anyway. Apparently Arab sources claim they saw Mubarak's helicopter fly into the courtyard of an exclusive hotel in this Israeli Red Sea vacation paradise.

But that's not right. Other news reports say he's in Germany for medical treatment! He's fleeing to Dubai! He's fallen into a coma at his home in Sharm el-Sheik! These are all from the regional press sources so they must know.

But we here at News That Matters are better reporters than that. Our sources tell us that Mr. Mubarak was last scene lounging by the pool at an "active senior" community in Miami eating mojitos and bagels and lox with vegetable cream cheese. He's not taking interviews and US secret servicemen confiscated our cameras so sorry, no photos.

And now, The News:
  1. Shift Education Funding To Income Tax Says Assemblyman at Galef-Sponsored Forum
  2. The Invisible, Growing Leaderless Revolution in America
  3. What High Speed Rail Means for Community Design
  4. Single-payer is still needed to ensure health care for all
  5. Fox News Reveals Its True Colors In On Air Attack On the Constitution
  6. U.S. National Forest Service’s New Plan
  7. Mars flight simulation has 'spacewalk' on red planet

Shift Education Funding To Income Tax Says Assemblyman at Galef-Sponsored Forum

Proposal draws supporters and critics

By Kevin Foley for

Is the way New York State funds its public primary and secondary school education system the best we can do?   As the governor and N.Y. State Legislature grapple with a $10 billion budget shortfall and local school districts confront the public’s displeasure with rising property taxes as the largest revenue source, some are suggesting there is another way. State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, (D-Kingston) came to the Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison last Thursday, Feb. 10, to promote his “Equity in Education” legislation to have the state government assume the lion’s share of education funding through an increase in the state income tax.  The bill would phase out school property taxes over a five-year period. Cahill appeared at the invitation of his colleague Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, a Democrat whose district includes Philipstown.  Galef set up a challenge for Cahill by also inviting a three-member panel of policy experts to respond to Cahill’s legislation.

The meeting attracted over 75 people with their cars exceeding the library’s limited snow-bound parking area, resulting in gridlock with many people eventually just shutting off their engines wherever their cars stood.  The full meeting room would have been standing-room-only had not some people driven away upon seeing the traffic snafu. Galef opened the lively, well-mannered discussion declaring herself agnostic on Cahill’s proposal but definitely interested in exploring new ideas as she referred to the budget gap and the governor’s proposals for a 2-percent property tax cap and a cut in state aid to education.  “Many people have come to me suggesting that income tax is a more progressive form of taxation, and would be a fairer way to fund schools, taxing those with steady and rising incomes, versus others who may have fixed assets as well as fixed incomes.  I’ve heard from other people who believe that because income is more volatile than property, in tough times when many people are out of work—like we are seeing now—schools would suffer if they had to count on income tax as their main funding stream,” said Galef.

Read More

The Invisible, Growing Leaderless Revolution in America

By Will Wilkenson for Common Dreams

At first glance, the “leaderless revolution” in Egypt has nothing in common with the recent closing of Allyson’s, a local deli here in our small Oregon town. Until you hear why the bank called the note. “… the balance and payments are due.”

Quoting from a article by David Porter on Egypt, “It is the slowly-accumulating momentum of hundreds of thousands of confrontations with local officials and elites… that slowly develop the courage, confidence and essential horizontal networks bubbling below the surface…”

How many Allyson’s stories are accumulating throughout America? How many business owners and employees, home owners and credit card users have had their lives turned upside down by banker’s decisions like this one, so utterly devoid of humanity?

The banker’s quote appeared in a story carried by our local paper and it wasn’t accompanied by any mitigating compassion. Apparently he didn’t feel it was necessary to show any. It’s the golden rule in action: he who has the gold makes the rules. Period. And, it’s happening everywhere.

A San Francisco friend tells me about his eleven months of futile communication with the bank that holds his mortgage. They lost his paperwork three times. All he wanted was to renegotiate the payments. Finally, he’s walking away. But first, he’s stopped making any payments at all. He’ll live in the house until he is forced to leave. When he does leave, the house will sit empty, tied up in red tape, while homeless people crowd the streets nearby.

Read More

What High Speed Rail Means for Community Design

TrainsIn his state of the union address, President Obama called for 80 percent of Americans to have access to high-speed rail by 2025. An ambitous goal, but perhaps more achievable given Vice President Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood just announced the administration was going to invest more than $53 billion in high-speed rail, adding to the $10.5 billion spent so far. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. High Speed Rail Association (USHSR) says Obama’s plans would cost $600 billion over twenty years. The bulk of those funds will need to be from the private sector, given the dire financial straights of federal and state governments.  To finance high speed rail, public sector bodies will need to partner with private-sector rail operators as well as transit oriented development (TOD)-focused real estate developers. High speed rail stations provide an enormous opportunity to recoup the huge amounts needed for high speed rail lines, but will need to be well-integrated into communities if operators expect them to be widely used. Smart design can help ensure the public sees high speed rail as a viable transportation option. Well-designed stations and public spaces may also mean denser, mixed-use neighborhoods as well.

The Case for High Speed Rail

At a USHSR conference, Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) argued that sustainable communities offer “efficient housing” (or housing near work), provide ”multi-modal” transit, and create economic growth that benefits all residents. High speed rail is just a matter of the “efficient allocation of resources.” Sims relayed the twenty-plus year history involved in adding one extra lane to King County’s airport, which brought out lawsuits and carried enormous expense. He said because of the expense of creating airports, it’s expensive to move people between cities by plane. In comparison, high speed rail is the “cheaper of multiple nodes.” HUD is interested in high speed rail because new stations can offer an important platform for community revitalization. “High speed rail can open up corridors and communities, spur job growth and create a more competitive future.”

Stuart Sirota, an urban planner with TND planning, said in order for high speed rail to work for communities, high speed rail must be seamlessly integrated with regional transit networks and transit-oriented developments (TODs), including compact, walkable places. In addition, those inter-city high speed rail networks must function as centers for multiple layers of transit — regional transit as well as local light rail. The vision: someone can walk to a local light rail station and then transfer to a regional line, and soon end up at a high speed rail station. Manfred Ohrenstein, a lawyer, added that rail corridors like the the one found in the northeast are most valuable than any state-based rail network.

Read More

Single-payer is still needed to ensure health care for all

A Letter to the Editor by Madeline Zevon

By 2019, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will improve health-care access by extending health insurance to 32 million more people than are now covered — 16 million through Medicaid starting in 2014, and the rest through subsidies to help lower-income people to afford health insurance.

Although the current legislation extends coverage and institutes reforms of the insurance industry, the League of Women Voters looks at it as only a first step to health-care reform. At its national convention last June, the league reaffirmed its resolution to advocate for single-payer Medicare for all.

Under the PPACA bill, 23 million Americans will still be uninsured in 2019. Surging health-care costs will not be contained. As long as we have private insurers we will never be able to achieve truly universal or affordable care. Compared with other developed nations, the United States pays twice as much for health care and yet ranks 49th among male and female life expectancy. By replacing the inefficient patchwork of private insurers with a streamlined single-payer, our nation can save about $400 billion annually, enough to cover everyone, with no co-pays or deductibles. The House single-payer bill, HR 676, will be introduced again this month. In the 2009-10 Congress, there were 12 co-sponsors from New York, and Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, recently said that when the same bill is reintroduced, she will sign on.

Read More

Fox News Reveals Its True Colors In On Air Attack On the Constitution

By Jason Easley

On Fox and Friends today, Fox News argued against liberty and freedom with a claim that the Constitution is too outdated to handle the war on terror. Gretchen Carlson said, “Ok, well back in the 1700s and 1800s, we didn’t have this thing called the war on terror where you have to get to the bottom of things quickly.”

Fox News had on contributor former judge Andrew Napolitano to discuss the Constitution and the Patriot Act. Napolitano said, “I feel like I’m shoving against the tide when it comes to the Patriot Act, although there were 26 Republicans who voted against it. Here’s the problem with that. The Constitution says if the government wants to read your mail, or look at your business records, or listen to your phone calls it has to go to judge present evidence that you’ve done something wrong. The fancy phrase is probable cause, and if the judge agrees, the judge will authorize the government to do that. The Patriot Act lets the government bypass the Constitution.”

Napolitano was interrupted by Steve Doocy who tried to say that the Patriot Act doesn’t bypass the Constitution, just the judge. Napolitano straightened him out, “Bypass the Constitution by letting federal agents write their own search warrants.”

Gretchen Carlson made the Fox News argument that the constitution to too outdated to fight the war on terror, “Ok, well back in the 1700s and 1800s, we didn’t have this thing called the war on terror where you have to get to the bottom of things quickly and if we wait, people argue, to go to a judge then sometimes that terrorist could already do the dirty deed.”

Napolitano knocked down that argument, “That is not a serious argument to be made and I’ll tell you why, because judges sit 24/7. The person now speaking to you used to issue search warrants in my gym shorts in my living room at three o’clock in the morning when the police needed them…This argument about speed does not justify violating the Constitution.”

Read More

U.S. National Forest Service’s New Plan

From The Dirt

The U.S. National Forest Service announced it was seeking broad public input into its new 97-page plan for the country’s 193-million acre forest system. The new plan, according to The New York Times, will better enable the Forest Service to respond to natural disasters and climate change, deal with lawsuits, and empower local forest managers. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack said the updated forest management rules will encourage forest resiliency. The revamped plan, which could “potentially guide mining, logging, and wildlife protection in 155 national forests” is expected to undergo fierce public scrutiny. More than 3,000 participants in 40 public forums have already logged 25,000 comments in the first phase of review.

Forest Service officials said the new plan enables local knowledge and science to take precendence. Managers can now better draw on science related to their local areas and work out the details on the watershed areas and wildlife species that need protecting in specific forests. For example, the issues facing forests in Alaska will be far different from those in Florida.

Still, some environmental groups argue that the minimum requirements are too lax. According to The New York Times, the current forest rules, which were established under President Reagan in 1982, “require that the forest be managed to maintain ‘viable populations’ of all native fish and wildlife. Under the proposed rule, local managers could choose which species would be of ‘conservation concern’ beyond those already receiving mandatory protections under the Endangered Species Act.”

Overall, environmental groups seem split on the plan. Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation advocacy organization, said: “The bottom line is that this is a significant rollback of required protections for wildlife and habitat compared to what currently exists. It is amazing. The public had the right to expect more from the Obama administration.” In addition, in comments to The Washington Post, he was critical of the new plans to give local forest managers more discretion over managing their lands. “They give too much discretion to individual forest supervisors. We don’t know that they’re going to protect species or not. There is no question that this is a rollback to required protection to wildlife habitat.” In contrast, the Sierra Club has said the plan “is a step in the right direction.”

Read More

Mars flight simulation has 'spacewalk' on red planet

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The crew of a simulated international Mars mission 'touched down' on the red planet on Monday, marking the halfway point in an ambitious 1.5-year isolation experiment to test the strains of interplanetary travel.

Two of the six-man crew from Europe, China and Russia, who enlisted to be locked up in a mock spacecraft for 520 days, held their first sortie after eight months of cramped living in the 160-square-metre (1,720 square ft) module, parked in an institute on Moscow's outskirts.

Dubbed Mars500, the ambitious experiment, the first full-duration simulation of a manned flight to Mars, aims to test one of the biggest unknowns of deep space travel: the mental and physical strains of such a journey.

The idea is to most closely mimic the timescale of a manned Mars flight -- 250 days for the actual flight, 30 days in orbit and surface landings and 240 days for the long return back to Earth -- all the way shuttling through imaginary space and cut off from the world below.

Russia's mission control centre, which monitors real-life space flights, broadcast live footage of Russian Alexander Smoleyevsky and Italian-Colombian Diego Urbina trudging awkwardly under the weight of 32-kilogram (70-pound) space suits through a dark, sand-filled and rock-strewn room meant to imitate the surface of Mars.

Read More
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