Shandaken Planners have decided to allow an extra 19 days
for people to submit written comments about the Draft
Environmental Impact Statement for entrepreneur Andrew
Poncic’s water harvesting project on Phoenicia’s
Woodland Valley Road.
The planning board, which met last Wednesday, has been
in the midst of the comment period but the original deadline
for comments was January 11th. It has now been pushed
to the 30th of this month, one day prior to the planning
board workshop when the board will review the comments.
Board Secretary Marie Stutman reports that to date she
has received about 26 responses. There have been more,
she said, but notes cases where the same letter has been
sent three times from the same address, one from each
member of one family, so she chooses to count that as
a single correspondence.
“We’re getting letters from Key West, from
Florida, Georgia and all over,” she said.
Many letters include complaints that the board chose not
to have a public hearing on the matter, but Stutman believes
such remarks are due to a misunderstanding.
“There will be at least one public hearing on this
project,” she said.
That hearing would be during the planning board site plan
review, a later stage of the review process that is expected
to occur this spring. The public hearing on the Draft
Environmental Impact statement was waived, which the board
is allowed to do under State environmental laws.
Mike O’Neil of Vernon, Connecticut, who lives part
time on Woodland Valley road, said in his letter that
it seems restrictive to not hold a hearing since an overwhelming
number of people, both Woodland Valley residents and many
other citizens of Shandaken, have so firmly opposed Mr.
Poncic's plan for the better part of a decade.
“Public opinion is important for you and your board
to weigh and should be a very real element in any decision
you make regarding this Special Use Permit,” he
Stutman said so many people wrote in with similar complaints
that the board is drafting a response to all who commented,
informing them of the plan for a public hearing in the
The project calls for using 18 wheel, diesel powered tractor-trailers
carry 5800 gallons of water out of the long valley twice
a day, five days a week. Valley residents have continually
expressed fears that such loads would wreak havoc on the
thin roadway and it’s many bridges and also make
the road unsafe and noisy. The other primary complaint
is that the project may harm the trout population of the
woodland valley creek, which O’Neil describes as
“a valuable and viable trout fishery.”
In addition to sending written comments to the planning
board at Shandaken Planning Board/ Town Hall, P.O. 134
Shandaken, NY 12480, Stutman said e-mail’s will
accepted and included as written comments. The e-mail
address is email@example.com.
A settlement between the Onteora Central School Distroct
and the O’Connor family of Olive was reached just
before both parties went to trial on January 0 regarding
the 2002 death of Brian and Cindy O’Connor’s
15-year old son, Kevin. Neither party would speak about
the specifics of the settlement after the fact, and chose
to respond to queries from the public in press release
Originally, the O’Connors filed a wrongful death
suit seeking $6.5 million in damages from Onteora in 2002.
Recent reports noted that a previous attempt at settlement
had stalled near the $1.2 million mark.
Kevin O’Connor, a member of the high school football
team, as well as local Babe Ruth baseball, was struck
and killed by a 1990 Chevrolet station wagon owned by
the school district and driven by district employee Paul
Bresciani, 62 of West Shokan, on June 18, 2002, while
working outside his parents’ business, Sheldon Hill
Forestry Supplies on Route 28 in Shokan. Bresciani claimed
that he blacked out due to a recurring problem caused
by dizziness brought on by an irregular heart rhythm,
then veered off the road and struck the teenager.
The O’Connor lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court
a few months after the accident, alleged the district
knew or had notice of the “dangerous (medical) condition
... for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident”
and that former district Transportation Superintendent
Michael Grehl falsified Bresciani’s certification.
In a press release regarding the settlement Monday, Onteora
superintendent Justine Winters noted, “The District
is committed to enforce all laws and regulations that
govern the administration of its transportation services.
The Superintendent of Schools has committed to create
regulations that ensure strict compliance with the safety
requirements of Onteora students… The Onteora Central
School District extends its profound sympathy to the O’Connor
family for their losses.”
In their release, Brian and Cindy O’Connor were
“By conceding liability in our son’s death,
the defendants admitted to non-compliance of multiple
New York State DMV Vehicle and Traffic laws, the commissioner’s
Article 19A Special Requirements for School Bus Drivers
and New York State Education Regulations governing bus
drivers.,” they wrote.
Cindy O’Connor was elected to the Onteora School
Board last Spring.
Asked whether the insurance settlement amount would be
discussed by the board, or eventually made public, Winters
wrote in an e-mail accompanying the formal press release
that, “The Board does not have to take any action
regarding the settlement and no public announcement of
the terms of the settlement will be made. Any settlement
costs are borne by the insurance company.”
Since the case has been ongoing over the last three and
a half years, the insurance company has already raised
its premium costs for the district to reflect any possible
settlement, it was later noted, although further insurance
cost hikes could still occur as a result of Monday’s
The third annual Taste Of The Town will be held at Belleayre
Mountain on Monday, January 23rd, when the resort’s
Discovery Lodge is transformed from ski lodge to candle
lit dining room, featuring twelve of the finest restaurants
in the region. Each restaurant will showcase a dish unique
to their establishment, and to round out the evening,
a DJ will provide dinner music and dancing, and a cash
bar will be available.
Taste Of The Town is a fund raising event for the Belleayre
Region Lodging and Tourism Association, a not-for-profit
group dedicated to the economic development of Belleayre’s
surrounding communities. Their mission is to market the
entire Route 28 corridor region, bringing in overnight
guests who will spend their vacation dollars at local
eateries, convenience stores, hotels and tourist attractions.
Restaurants participating this year are the Peekamoose
Restaurant of Big Indian, the Andes Hotel of Andes, the
Highlands Inn of Fleischmanns, the Cheese Barrel of Margaretville,
the Pine Hill Arms of Pine Hill, Shangri-la Restaurant
of Big Indian, the Red Rooster of Big Indian, Peggy Bellar
Catering of Arkville and the Catamount at Emerson Place
in Mt. Tremper.
Seating space is limited for this popular event, so be
sure to purchase your tickets in advance from the Lodging
and Tourism Bureau by calling 800-431-4555. Tickets are
$35 per person or $60 per couple. Doors open at 6:30 pm.
The shift from Republican to Democratic leadership in
Ulster County government could cost taxpayers after the
departing GOP voted in payouts for political appointees
and others leaving county government that will put the
new year’s budget behind the $350,000 legislators
had previously anticipated for such costs.
“It was purposely not put in the budget and creates
an automatic shortfall,” Donaldson said of the funds
needed to pay outgoing employees for unused vacation,
sick, and holiday time.
Actual amounts range from $74.500 for retiring County
Attorney Frank Murray, first appointed in 1980, and $41,000
for Tourism Director Peter Carofano, on board since current
Shandaken councilman left the position nine years ago.
Payouts are established during bargaining between the
county and its labor unions and are therefore established
by contracts ultimately approved by the Legislature. Known
payouts for six employees this year are expected to total
almost $190,000, according to information provided by
the Ulster County Treasurer’s Office.
The outgoing Republican Legislature also added $800,000
to the county’s sales tax projection for 2006 and
$1.2 million in state Medicaid relief funds that is now
known to be unlikely to emerge, creating further shortfalls
for their Democratic successors, who solidly took the
legislature in a route last November.
“This puts us $2.5 million behind, and going out
to bond for a new law enforcement center will put us $9.5
million behind by the end of the year,” new Majority
Leader David Donaldson said last week. “Our biggest
challenge is going to be the budget, by far. It’s
my main concern.”
Longstanding Ulster County Elections Commissioner Harry
Castiglione, 73, recently submitted his resignation, effective
on April 1, after serving since 1985. His letter of resignation
did not cite the Woodstock resident’s recent cancer
trouble as a reason, but noted simply that “it was
time.” In interviews, Castiglione said partly, he
felt that after this past fall’s 21-12 takeover
of the legislature after 28 years, his work was done.
The Democratic County Committee will decide on a successor
for the $63,500-a-year job. Approval by the Legislature
is usually routine. Castiglione’s two-year term
expires on Dec. 31.
Democrat Committee Chairman John Parete of Boiceville,
father of Legislators Robert Parete and Richard Parete,
Olive Dems boss, and owner of the Boiceville Inn, said
the committee will meet “as soon as possible”
to select a new commissioner. He also said an appreciation
dinner for Castiglione will be scheduled.
Asked if he might be a candidate, Parete said he would
consider the job if offered it.
Castiglione served as president of the state Association
of Election Commissioners and was well respected for his
knowledge of election law and procedures.
The state Attorney General’s Office has filed a
lawsuit to prevent Healthcare Associates, the company
that runs the Northeast Center for Special Care in Lake
Katrine, from furnishing health services under the state’s
Medicaid program. The lawsuit was filed in state Supreme
Court in Albany in connection with an investigation into
allegations of patient neglect at two nursing homes, one
of which is provided health services by Healthcare Associates.
The company’s president, Anthony Salerno, is named
as a defendant in the lawsuit.
In a press release, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer,
a Democratic candidate for governor, said his investigation
led to the arrests of employees at the two homes, including
the Jennifer Matthew Nursing Home in Rochester, where
Healthcare Associates provided services. The lawsuit seeks
to “enjoin the defendants from providing health
care services in New York state under the Medicaid program.”
The bulk of the Northeast Center’s public aid, about
$27 million in Medicaid funding, comes from both the state
and federal governments, and is administered by the state.
David Lenefsky, the attorney for Healthcare Associates,
said negotiations are under way with the Attorney General’s
Office for an out-of-court settlement.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had warned
the Northeast Center about a possible loss of government
aid in March 2004, when inspectors found violations at
the Lake Katrine facility. An 11th-hour state inspection
gave the facility a clean bill of health and the state-administered
payments were no longer in jeopardy.
The Northeast Center for Special Care operates in a 209,000-square-foot
former IBM building on Grant Avenue in Lake Katrine, and
has about 240 patients. When the center opened in 1999,
it was touted by Gov. George Pataki and local officials
as a boon to the region’s economy and a health-care
facility unlike any other in the region.
Postage rates went up on January 8 for the first time
since 2002, raising the price of mailing a first-class
letter by two cents to 39 cents. The increases affected
all types of mail and packages, including postcards, which
will go up by a penny to 24 cents.
The increases of around 5 percent will help build a congressionally
mandated reserve fund. According to a 2003 law, the U.S.
Postal Service must put $3.1 billion into an ‘’escrow
account’’ by September 30, 2006.
Postal spokesman Jim Quirk said Congress was to decide
within 180 days after passage of the law what the money
would be used for, but that has not happened. ‘’Two
years have passed, and that determination has not yet
been put into law.’’
Without the reserve requirement, the service could have
avoided a rate increase this year, Quirk said. The postal
service ended its 2005 fiscal year on Sept. 30 with $1.4
billion in net income on operating revenues of $69.9 billion.
The cost to mail an item weighing up to half of a pound
via Express Mail, the postal service’s fastest delivery
method, rose to $14.40 from $13.65. Priority Mail, which
delivers packages in an average of two to three days,
now costs $4.05 for packages up to one pound, up from
$3.85. International rates will rise by similar amounts.
Federal investigators have racheted up their probe of
how International Business Machines Corp. advised Wall
Street about stock option expenses in the first quarter
of 2005, with the Securities and Exchange Commission opening
an informal investigation of the matter last June, but
Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM saying this week that the agency
had informed the company the probe is now formal, meaning
the SEC can issue subpoenas for documents rather than
just requesting them.
The investigation surrounds the guidance IBM gave before
its first-quarter earnings, which were released last April
14. At the time, the company said stock options cut into
earnings by 10 cents per share. But analysts had been
expecting 14 cents a share, a figure that Chief Financial
Officer Mark Loughridge gave in a chart accompanying an
April 5 conference call. Loughridge was disclosing what
options costs would have been a year earlier if IBM had
been expensing stock compensation at the time. He indicated
that the first quarter of 2005 would yield a similar result.
IBM went on to post a disappointing first quarter, missing
analysts’ expectations by six cents per share. Some
analysts complained that IBM led them to believe the options-expensing
costs would be higher so as to keep analysts’ overall
expectations down and thus cushion the poor results.
IBM spokesman Ed Barbini would not comment on that claim.
But he said IBM is cooperating with the SEC, and noted
that the agency has informed the company that the investigation
should not be construed as an indication the law was broken.
Cornell Cooperative Extension will be hosting an interactive
videoconference on energy issues on February 10 from 1:00
p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Dutchess County Extension office
in Millbrook and the Agroforestry Resource Center in Greene
County. “De-Mystifying Bio Fuels, Opportunities,
Challenges and Uncertainties for Economic Development
and Sustainable Energy Use in the Hudson Valley,”
will provide basic information regarding the growing interest
in bio fuels. The potential for expansion and application
of the technology in the Hudson/Catskill region will also
be explored. Speakers from Cornell University, Cornell
Cooperative Extension, NYS Agriculture and Markets and
others will discuss the major categories of bio fuels
and their potential applications. These areas of focus
will include research being conducted on plant oil based
technology using rapeseed, utilization of willow biomass,
waste wood as a bio fuel and grass based bio fuel/ethanol
The workshop is targeted at decision makers, economic
developers, agencies, farmers and interested citizens.
The fee is $10 payable at the door. For more information,
or to register, please call Cornell Cooperative Extension
in Greene County, 518-622-9820 or Dutchess County, 845-677-8223
Also coming up of interest, the 2006 Hudson Valley Nursery
and Greenhouse Growers School will be presented by Cornell
Cooperative Extension of the Hudson Valley on Wednesday,
February 8, 2006 at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New
Paltz, featuring a full day of educational classes for
commercial greenhouse growers, landscapers and others
in the commercial horticulture industry. Topics include
effective methods for growing perennials, mixed container
plants, cut flowers and woody plants and the latest, most
effective way to treat pests and diseases of bedding plants,
perennials and landscape ornamentals. The program is from
9 am to 4 pm. The fee is $40 if registered by Jan. 31
and includes a continental breakfast, lunch, all conference
material and a mini trade show; $50 after or at the door
subject to availability. To register or to receive more
information, please contact Teresa Rusinek, Commercial
Horticulture Extension Educator, at 845-340-3990.
Many physicians are complaining that much of this year’s
flu vaccine has gone to supermarket and discount chains
instead of medical clinics, creating problems for those
people who are most at risk of life-threatening flu complications
but aren’t always healthy enough to wait in store
For thousands of Americans, especially those who are healthy,
a flu clinic at the local drugstore or discount chain
is easier and faster than making an appointment to see
the doctor. However, doctors say chain stores don’t
necessarily give priority to the nearly 90 million Americans
considered at high risk of flu complications. They also
say it’s often better for those patients to see
their doctor, who can check their blood pressure, medications
and other concerns. A survey by the New Jersey Academy
of Family Physicians found two-thirds who responded had
received little or no vaccine by December, but 90 percent
saw local stores giving shots. Frustrated, 10 percent
said they’ll stop giving flu shots altogether and
35 percent are considering it.
According to the government, flu shot production was late
and about several million doses short this year. Medical
groups and public health officials are so concerned about
distribution problems they have made it a prime topic
for their annual flu vaccine summit set for later this
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that despite the billions
of dollars spent every year in this country on over-the-counter
cough syrups, most such medicines do little if anything
to relieve coughs. Over-the-counter cough syrups generally
contain drugs in too low a dose to be effective, or contain
combinations of drugs that have never been proven to treat
coughs, said a new report from the American College of
The group’s new cough treatment guidelines discourage
use of over-the-counter cough medicines. Irwin said that
not only are such medicines ineffective at treating coughs
due to colds - the most common cause of coughs - they
can also can lead patients to delay seeking treatment
for more serious coughs, including whooping cough.
Coughs can have numerous underlying causes, including
asthma, allergies, severe heartburn, postnasal drip and
bronchitis. The American Thoracic Society suggests patients
should see their doctors for coughs that linger longer
than three weeks or are accompanied by shortness of breath,
which could indicate pneumonia or other serious conditions.
Coughs due to colds usually last less than three weeks.
Drinking lots of fluids can help relieve these coughs,
and so can chicken soup, the reports say.
President Bush, searching for a way to ease Americans’
anxiety about the economy and to respond to business and
consumer alarm over health costs, is gearing up to focus
on health care as a centerpiece of his 2006 domestic agenda.
And instead of proposing major new federal spending, the
White House is considering expansions of several earlier
proposals aimed at using market forces to improve the
quality and restrain the rapidly rising cost of health
Mr. Bush has recently called health care “an unmanageable
cost” for businesses. Rejecting government-directed
care as a solution, he said the ideal health system “is
one in which there is a direct connect between provider
and customer, [and] where there’s transparency in
the pricing system.” In a likely signal of what
is to come, the president urged Congress to expand health
savings accounts, or HSAs. Created in 2003, HSAs allow
Americans to set aside money tax-free to pay health costs
if they choose high-deductible health insurance.
Among the proposals Mr. Bush is considering are: •
Providing bigger tax breaks for Americans who buy their
own health insurance to balance tax breaks available to
workers who get health insurance through employers. •
Encouraging broader use of HSAs in the hope that giving
consumers more control over their health-care spending
will make them more cost-conscious. • Helping consumers
get more information about health-care providers’
prices and performance to make them better shoppers.
Building on past Bush proposals, the new White House focus
on health — beyond the government’s Medicare
program — is intended to give Republicans an election-year
answer to many of the worries that voters have about the
fast-changing economy. In many voters’ minds, those
worries appear to be overshadowing the good economic news
about the pace of growth and falling unemployment.
Analysts on both sides express skepticism that Mr. Bush,
unable to persuade Congress to embrace his Social Security
proposals, can make much headway this year.
Meanwhile, pharmacists are struggling with billing glitches
and missing drug cards as they tried to fill prescriptions
under Medicare’s new drug benefit.
On the first full business day the benefit was available,
pharmacists said some customers came in without cards
or letters showing their eligibility and others were surprised
that they had to pay full cost until meeting a deductible.
“We’re trying everything we can to help, but
people are confused,” said Samuel Mogbo, a CVS drugstore
pharmacist in Chicago. He said some customers hadn’t
received their cards and others had lost them.
About 21 million senior and disabled Americans have some
kind of prescription-drug benefit. The majority either
kept coverage from former employers or stayed in a Medicare
Advantage plan they had previously joined. About 6.2 million
people were automatically enrolled in the new Medicare
program because they had been in state programs for low-income
people. About 1 million joined on their own.
Those eligible have until May 15 to sign up without penalty.
They can choose from an array of plans.
“People are falling through the holes,” he
said. “They need their medicine.”
Also on the “Challenging” front is the fact
that deficit spending in the 2006 budget is now likely
to soar above $400 billion, well over last summer’s
White House forecast, with the “election-year jolt”
being blamed largely on Hurricane Katrina costs.
The new deficit projection was likely to further intensify
a debate leading up to mid-term elections in November
on whether to renew President George W. Bush’s tax
cuts that he says are essential for economic growth but
which Democrats say are a drain on the budget.
The deputy director of the White House Office of Management
and Budget, Joel Kaplan, said White House officials believed
that by sticking to Bush’s economic policies and
spending restraint “we will return to our downward
trajectory and remain on (a) path to cut the deficit in
half by 2009.”
A July forecast had projected the 2006 budget deficit
at $341 billion. Kaplan said preliminary calculations
indicate the deficit will exceed $400 billion, or 3.1
percent of gross domestic product. Kaplan said the costs
of recovering from Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans
and the Gulf Coast in late summer, represented a “temporary
event.” A more precise deficit projection is expected
in the proposed federal budget for the 2007 fiscal year
— starting next October — that Bush will submit
to Congress in early February.
The inaugural two-day summit of what many see as an American-led
alternative to the Kyoto climate treaty convened last
week in Sydney. Formed this past July, the new bloc brings
together the US, China, India, Australia, South Korea,
and Japan. These six nations are responsible for more
than 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases,
which many scientists say cause global warming.
Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which sets emissions targets
for nations, the new Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean
Development and Climate aims to reduce emissions voluntarily
through the transfer of emerging technologies - including
“clean coal,” burial of carbon dioxide, and
next-generation nuclear power - from industrialized nations
to the developing world. The pact’s advocates argue
it is a more realistic approach than Kyoto, and commits
many of the major nations not yet bound by Kyoto quotas
to at least the principle of reducing emissions.
The effectiveness of this effort, however, may ride on
whether the high-tech systems can be developed fast enough
and made commercially enticing for businesses not otherwise
compelled to adopt greener methods.
Experts say that most technology transfers under consideration
are not yet commercially viable, and will require millions
of dollars in subsidies or investment. Some are still
in the research phase. This first meeting will be an attempt
by all the six countries to come up with plans and ideas
that can be put in motion.
Many scientists say the emission of CO2 and five other
gases are responsible for rising temperatures on the earth.
The average global temperature rose around one degree
centigrade in the 20th century. Both the US and Australia
had earlier refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on the
grounds that it cost jobs - about 5 million in the US
alone. They also said that it was too lenient on developing
nations such as China and India.
At the same time, attorneys general in 12 states said
last week that the Bush administration’s plan to
ease rules on reporting legal toxin releases would compromise
the public’s right to know about possible health
risks in their neighborhoods. In a letter to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, the state officials say
the proposals, which include raising some reporting thresholds
and moving from annual to biennial reports, would have
the greatest harm in low-income neighborhoods where polluting
facilities are often located. The Bush administration
proposed the changes in September as a way to reduce the
regulatory burden on companies by allowing some to use
a short form when they report their pollution to the EPA’s
Toxics Release Inventory Program.
“This EPA move appears to be yet another poorly
considered notion to appease a few polluting constituents
at the expense of a valuable program,” New York
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said.
Also signing the letter were the attorneys general of
California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts,
New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont and Wisconsin.
All are Democrats except Republican Kelly Ayotte of New
The proposed changes, which require congressional approval,
would exempt companies from disclosing their toxic pollution
if they claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a
specific chemical - the current limit is 500 pounds -
or if they store it onsite but claim to release “zero”
amounts of the worst pollutants. The chemicals involved
include mercury, DDT, PCBs and other chemicals that persist
in the environment and work up the food chain. Companies
must report any storage of dioxin or dioxin-like compounds,
even if none are released.
True War Costs?
Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard budget expert
Linda Bilmes have estimated that the true cost of the
Iraq War is between $1-2 trillion, far higher than earlier
estimates of $100-200 billion. In a paper presented to
the Allied Social Sciences Association annual meeting
in Boston MA., the two calculated costs by including such
things as lifetime disability and health care for the
over16,000 injured, one fifth of whom have serious brain
or spinal injuries. They then went on to analyze the costs
to the economy, including the economic value of lives
lost and the impact of factors such as higher oil prices
that can be partly attributed to the conflict in Iraq.
The paper also calculates the impact on the economy if
a proportion of the money spent on the Iraq war were spent
in other ways, including on investments in the United
The Allied Social Sciences Association meeting is attended
by the nation’s leading economists and social scientists.
It is sponsored jointly by the American Economic Association
and the Economists for Peace and Security.
Anyone can buy a list of your incoming and outgoing phone
calls, cell or land-line, for $110 online. And the best
part? Congress and the Executive branch have known about
this problem for half a year or more and no one did a
damn thing to fix it.
It was recently reported that the Chicago Police Department
is warning officers their cell phone records are available
to anyone — for a price. Dozens of online services
are selling lists of cell phone calls, raising security
concerns among law enforcement and privacy experts.
Some online services might be skirting the law to obtain
these phone lists, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.),
who has called for legislation to criminalize phone record
theft and use. In some cases, telephone company insiders
secretly sell customers’ phone-call lists to online
brokers, despite strict telephone company rules against
such deals, according to Schumer. And some online brokers
have used deception to get the lists from the phone companies,
“Though this problem is all too common, federal
law is too narrow to include this type of crime,”
Schumer said last year in a prepared statement.
To test the service, the FBI paid Locatecell.com $160
to buy the records for an agent’s cell phone and
received the list within three hours, the police bulletin
said. Representatives of Data Find Solutions Inc., the
Tennessee-based operator of Locatecell.com, could not
be reached for comment.
Schumer has called for legislation to criminalize the
“stealing and selling” of cell phone logs.
He also urged the Federal Trade Commission to set up a
unit to stop it. He said a common method for obtaining
cell phone records is “pretexting,” involving
a data broker pretending to be a phone’s owner and
duping the phone company into providing the information.
As for the front-page authorized spying controversy now
enveloping the nation, it was revealed this past week
that the National Security Agency advised President Bush
in early 2001 that it had been eavesdropping on Americans
during the course of its work monitoring suspected terrorists
and foreigners believed to have ties to terrorist groups,
according to a declassified document. The NSA’s
vast data-mining activities began shortly after Bush was
sworn in as president and the document contradicts his
assertion that the 9/11 attacks prompted him to take the
unprecedented step of signing a secret executive order
authorizing the NSA to monitor a select number of American
citizens thought to have ties to terrorist groups.
At the time, the NSA wrote the White House that, “senior
leadership must understand that the NSA’s mission
will demand a ‘powerful, permanent presence’
on global telecommunications networks that host both ‘protected’
communications of Americans and the communications of
adversaries the agency wants to target.”
A list of all Americans caught in the web of spying, the
new documents reveal, were regularly made available to
top White House officials. W such information was used
has not yet been disclosed.
The NSA’s domestic surveillance activities began
in early 2001 after the administration change to the Bush
presidency, under orders from the White House, according
to new accounts. The NSA, however, destroyed its accounts
of Americans caught in its spying activities rather than
turn them over, according to new news accounts, thus leading
to increasing acrimony between the various levels of government.
Also recently revealed was the fact that at least 66 politicians
in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are setting
permanent Web cookies on those who access their websites,
even though at least 23 of them promised never to use
the online tracking technique. And the Internal Revenue
Service, saying it was tracking scofflaws who owed on
past taxes, have been busy collecting information on the
political party affiliations of taxpayers in 20 states.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of an appropriations
subcommittee with jurisdiction over the IRS, said the
practice was an “outrageous violation of the public
trust” that could undermine the agency’s credibility.
IRS officials acknowledged that party affiliation information
was routinely collected by a vendor for several months.
They told the vendor last month to screen the information
According to Murray’s office, the 20 states in which
the IRS collected party affiliation information were Alaska,
Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York,
North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina,
Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
Americans feel significantly more alienated this year,
according to a recent Harris Interactive poll, with three-quarters
of U.S. adults saying they feel the “rich get richer
and the poor get poorer,” up from 68% in 2004.
The poll, which at this time each year since 1966 has
been tracking replies to five questions designed to measure
feelings of powerlessness and isolation in the U.S., also
shows an increase in other measures of alienation.
About 60% of those surveyed in the nationwide telephone
poll of 1,011 adults believe that “most people with
power try to take advantage of people like you,”
up sharply from 53% in 2004. More than half of those polled
say they tend to feel “people running the country
don’t really care what happens” to them, up
from 44% last year.
Additionally, 74% feel that “the people in Washington
are out of touch with the rest of the country,”
up from 67% in 2004 and at its highest level since 1998.
The level of alienation varies greatly in different segments
of the population. The highest levels of alienation are
found among people with household incomes of $15,000 or
less, Democrats and African Americans.
The lowest levels of alienation are found among Republicans,
college graduates and people with incomes over $75,000.
Meanwhile, there’s also more misery in people’s
lives today than a decade ago - at least among those who
will tell you their troubles. Or so says a new study on
life’s negatives from the University of Chicago’s
National Opinion Research Center, which conducts social
science research for government agencies, educational
institutions, non-profit organizations and private corporations.
The researchers surveyed 1,340 people about negative life
events and found that the 2004 respondents had more troubles
than those who were surveyed in 1991, the last time the
study was done.
Overall, the percentage who reported at least one significant
negative life event increased from 88% to 92%. Most of
the problems were related to increased incidents of illness
and the inability to afford medical care; mounting bills;
unemployment; and troubled romantic relationships.
On a more positive note, fewer of those surveyed reported
having trouble with crime or the law.