It’s been a heavy couple weeks for the various legal teams
in the ongoing Crossroads DEIS review, with final “reply
briefs” to the December 23 “final briefs”
on the proposed Belleayre Resort now in, and the record finally
closed on last year’s contentious SEQRA issues conference.
There’s plenty new to read, and, like the lawyers sometimes
do, you can download all these public documents from phoeniciatimes.com.
In a new twist, Watershed Attorney General James Tierney, the
State’s highest-ranking official charged with protecting
the downstate water supply, has waded deeper into the proposed
project’s adjudication talent pool, filing a brief on
January 21 seeking Amicus or friend of the court status in the
project’s ongoing SEQRA review. Subsequent to the filing
and a 7-way conference call with the judge & presumed parties,
briefs from all sides are due February 4, with Tierney set to
respond to them by the 11th. Sometime soon after, presiding
Judge Wissler is expected to rule on the request to participate.
Tierney, jointly appointed by Governor Pataki and Attorney General
Spitzer, has previously submitted extensive comments and scientific
studies highly critical of the project. His current brief calls
for full adjudication by DEC on the issues of stormwater, cumulative
impact, pesticide and herbicide usage, and wetlands. Tierney’s
brief notes special concern over areas in Big Indian “slated
for excavation,” equivalent to157 football fields “with
end zones,” “on exceedingly steep slopes over 35
Crossroads Ventures, in a January 26 press release, responded
to some of the various briefs by “vehemently challenging
the opponents’ arguments, technical claims, and ‘tortured
interpretation’ of state regulations,” which the
company characterizes as “improper and unwarranted interference
in the proper functioning of the SEQRA process.”
Finally and also last week, nine additional NYS environmental
organizations joined the 11 groups of the Catskill Preservation
Coalition in asking Governor Pataki to require full adjudication
of all issues now before DEC. New signatories to the request
include the NY League of Conservation Voters, the NY Public
Interest Research Group, the Regional Plan Association, Audubon
New York, Environmental Advocates of NY, and Scenic Hudson.
According to Natural Resources Defense Counsel attorney Eric
Goldstein, the January 27 letter to Pataki suggests that “the
largest single development project ever proposed in the Catskill
Park is emerging as an issue of statewide environmental concern.”
Word has reached local media that Supervisor Robert Cross Jr.
is expected to try and push through local legislation next week
to strip the health benefits away from retired town employees.
It remains unclear how many retirees, many now senior citizens,
would be affected.
According to sources Cross, who gave himself an almost 6% raise
this year, is cutting the benefits to save the taxpayer’s
The town board meeting is slated for Monday, February 7th at
7pm at town hall. More information will be available at that
Gov. George Pataki’s proposed state budget identifies
billions of dollars in new state obligations while conceding
that New York has limited resources to pay for them.
The $105.5 billion spending plan, up $2.5 billion or 2.4 percent
from the current fiscal year, now goes to the state Legislature
for its review, including public hearings. The governor and
Legislature have failed to pass a budget by the April 1 deadline
for 20 straight years and word has it this one’s expected
to be even later than usual.
Pataki’s budget has proposed two massive new five-year
initiatives: $36.6 billion for improvements to highways, bridges
and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority system and the
phasing in of $8 billion a year in new spending on public schools,
with much of the money going to the anticipated cost of complying
with a court order to improve funding for New York City schools..
But the governor included only $1 billion in new revenues in
his budget, in part through higher fees to register cars and
perform vehicle title searches at the state Department of Motor
Vehicles. The rest of the new funding comes from cutting state
spending on Medicaid by nearly $2 billion.
Local school administrators are saying that steep rises in mandated
costs, such as employee health care, may offset any expected
increases in state aid. According to an October 2004 study by
the Public Policy in Education Fund, Ulster County schools are
currently underfunded by $16.7 million. Meanwhile, State University
of New York tuition would go up by $500 a year, atop a $950
hike to $4,350 a year in 2003.
“This budget puts a major squeeze on low- and middle-income
students,” said Miriam Kramer of the student-supported
New York Public Interest Research Group.
According to a press release from the Governor’s office,
funding for the $105 billion budget proposal comes 35 percent
from Federal grants, 28 percent from personal income taxes,
13 percent from user taxes and fees, 6 percent from business
taxes, 6 percent and 18 percent from all other sources. The
basic breakdown of outgoing funds go 29 percent to Medicaid
health care programs, 23 percent to Non-Medicaid local programs,
20 percent to School aid and STAR property tax reductions, 16
percent for state agency operations, 4 percent for fringe benefits/pensions,
and 8 percent for debt service.
Onteora high school students were unable to take state Regents
exams on January 26 when every school district in Ulster County
had to cancel classes for what turned out to be a relatively
minor snowfall, the second time in as many years that January
Regents were canceled because of bad weather. The tests missed
included 11th-grade English, Earth science and foreign language
Regents. The affected students must now wait until June or August
to take them. January tests are generally taken by students
who failed or missed previous Regents exams. A passing score
on the English Regents is required for graduation, and the Earth
science test is one of four exams that may be used to fulfill
the science graduation requirement. The foreign language Regents
counts toward an advanced Regents diploma.
Last year when most schools in New York City, Long Island and
parts of upstate New York, including Kingston, canceled January
Regents exams due to snow, the Education Department allowed
students to use course grades for local diplomas. But a similar
option will not be offered this year, state officials said this
In spite of slippery conditions, an enthusiastic audience of
children and parents came to the Phoenicia Library on January
8th for Uncle Rock’s appearance. The library is offering,
in conjunction with the Phoenicia Elementary School, to “Fill
the Library Shelf,” a reading program continuing through
March 17 and involving children receiving
book- related rewards for reading 20 minutes, five nights weekly.
They are also continuing their weekly reading hours on Saturdays,11am
to 12pm. For further information call the Phoenicia Library
The White House has scrapped its list of Iraq allies known as
the 45-member “coalition of the willing,” which
Washington used to back its argument that the 2003 invasion
was a multilateral action. The White House has replaced the
coalition list with a smaller roster of 28 countries with troops
in Iraq sometime after the June transfer of power to an interim
Iraqi government. The original coalition, unveiled on the eve
of the invasion, consisted of 30 countries that publicly offered
support for the United States and another 15 that did not want
to be named as part of the group.
The public relations firm that arranged for pundit Armstrong
Williams to promote the Bush administration’s No Child
Left Behind education program admitted recently that the deal
with Williams violated “the guidelines of our agency and
our industry.” The statement by Ketchum Inc. came on the
same day that Bush’s nominee for Education secretary,
Margaret Spelling, promised to review the promotional tactics
used by the Department of Education. Ketchum, as part of a $1
million contract with the Education Department, paid Williams
$240,000 to “regularly comment” on No Child Left
Behind during his syndicated TV talk show. The arrangement raises
questions about whether the Education Department broke the law
by using taxpayers’ money to pay for “propaganda,”
and whether Williams and Ketchum should have disclosed the commentator’s
deal to his viewers, readers of his syndicated newspaper column
and listeners of his radio show.
Snowfall in Ulster County for the January 22 blizzard, where
a rare state of emergency was declared 5 p.m. Saturday, reached
its deepest at 19 inches in Shandaken, according to the National
Weather Service. Neighboring Phoenicia had 9 inches. A car rolled
over in a single vehicle accident along Route 28 in Olive. Otherwise,
things were returned to normal by the afternoon of January 23.
Social Security disability benefits may not be safe from the
across-the-board cuts that are likely in President Bush’s
proposal to allow personal investment accounts. Since retirement
and disability benefits are calculated using the same formula,
disability benefits also would be reduced - unless the program
is somehow separated. This also raises big questions about how
investment accounts would be structured for disabled people,
especially if they get injured at a young age or are dependent
on a parent. Disabled beneficiaries typically work less and
need benefits sooner, so the accounts would not provide enough
income to these people.
Nearly 25 percent of the population in rural Catskills towns
tend to receive disability payments of some sort, according
to U.S. Census figures.
Currently, disabled workers move seamlessly through the Social
Security system, often unaware they draw their benefits from
the disability program until they reach retirement age and shift
to the retirement program. That would change with investment
accounts, advocates claim, with people falling through holes
in a new system.
About 16 percent of the 47 million people receiving Social Security
benefits are disabled workers and their dependents. The impact
of accounts on beneficiaries who aren’t retirees hasn’t
been publicly discussed yet by the Bush administration.
Almost three in 10 of today’s 20-year-olds will become
disabled before reaching age 67, according to the Social Security
Administration. About 72 percent of the private sector work
force has no long-term disability insurance.
Departing New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
(DEC) Commissioner Erin M. Crotty and New York City Department
of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Commissioner David
B. Tweedy recently announced implementation of a new spill reduction
program of controlled releases from the City’s Pepacton
Reservoir in Delaware County, a means for stemming flooding
in the Delaware River watershed over coming years. Under the
program, controlled releases will be made from Pepacton in order
to maintain a void in the reservoir equal to one-half of the
water equivalent of any existing snow pack, meaning that the
void will vary as the snow pack increases or decreases. The
program will continue until March 31. The new program is the
result of an agreement reached after months of discussion by
a committee seeking ways to help alleviate flooding concerns
along the East Branch of the Delaware River . Members of the
committee include DEP, DEC, Delaware County, the Town of Colchester
, and the federal government. The terms of the agreement were
approved by the four Delaware Basin states, as is required for
any controlled releases from the City’s Delaware River
The tiny country of Qatar is being pressured by the Bush Administration
to cease its sponsorship of Al Jazeera, the popular television
station that is a big source of news in the Arab world. Vice
President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell and other officials have complained to Qatari
leaders that Al Jazeera’s broadcasts have been inflammatory,
misleading and occasionally false, especially on Iraq. The pressure
has been so intense, a senior Qatari official has said, that
the government is accelerating plans to put Al Jazeera on the
market, though Bush administration officials counter that a
privately owned station in the region may be no better from
their point of view. Estimates of Al Jazeera’s audience
range from 30 million to 50 million, putting it well ahead of
Administration officials have been nervous to talk about the
station, being sensitive to charges that they are trying to
suppress free expression. However, some administration officials
acknowledged that the well-publicized American pressure on the
station - highlighted when Qatar was not invited to a summit
meeting on the future of democracy in the Middle East last summer
in Georgia - has drawn charges of hypocrisy, especially in light
of President Bush’s repeated calls for greater freedoms
and democracy in the region.
“It’s completely two-faced for the United States
to try to muzzle the one network with the most credibility in
the Middle East, even if it does sometimes say things that are
wrong,” said an Arab diplomat. “The administration
should be working with Al Jazeera and putting people on the
The U.S. kicked the station out of Iraq last summer when it
disagreed with some of its broadcasts. Stay tuned…
Global warming is approaching the point of no return, after
which widespread drought, crop failure and rising sea levels
will be irreversible, an international climate change task force
has warned, while calling on the Group of 8 leading industrial
nations to cut carbon emissions, double their research spending
on technology and work with India and China to build on the
Kyoto Protocol for cuttings emissions of carbon dioxide and
other “greenhouse gases” blamed for global warming.
The independent report was made by the Institute for Public
Policy Research in Britain, the Center for American Progress
in the United States and the Australia Institute.
“An ecological time bomb is ticking away,” said
Stephen Byers, who was co-chairman of the task force with U.S.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. “World leaders need to recognize
that climate change is the single most important long-term issue
that the planet faces.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has since said that the United
States must do more to address the concerns of the rest of the
world if it expects support for its own policies, and cited
global warming as a prime example.
“If America wants the rest of the world to be part of
the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda, too,”
he told the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, a gathering
of 2,500 world political and business leaders. Blair’s
unusually sharp comments directed at the United States come
at a time of growing public anger in Britain over his support
for U.S. President George W. Bush in Iraq, and months before
British general elections.
A new index of environmental sustainability around the globe,
released in tiome for Davos, saw countries from Northern and
Central Europe and South America dominating the top spots while
the United States ranked 45th of the 146 countries studied,
behind such countries as Japan, Botswana and the tiny Himalayan
kingdom of Bhutan, and most of Western Europe. The lowest-ranking
country was North Korea. Among those near the bottom were Haiti,
Taiwan, Iraq and Kuwait. The report is based on 75 measures,
including the rate at which children die from respiratory diseases,
fertility rates, water quality, overfishing, emission of heat-trapping
gases and the export of sodium dioxide, a crucial component
of acid rain.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic believe it’s not the trips
to the gym, but the everyday pacing, fidgeting and restlessness
that may play a bigger role in whether someone’s fat or
thin, according to a small study of self-described couch potatoes.
The scientists found that the obese people they studied sat
for about 150 minutes more a day on average than their lean
subjects, and that meant they burned about 350 fewer calories
The researchers looked at the role of routine activities such
as sitting, standing, walking and talking. If the overweight
subjects could match the behavior of their lean counterparts,
that could work out to a weight loss of about 33 pounds a year,
the study said. And it’s not necessary to go to the gym
to do that. The activity deficit in the overweight subjects
didn’t reflect a lack of motivation, the report said.
Instead, it probably indicates a difference in brain chemistry
because even when the obese volunteers lost weight, they didn’t
sit still any less. Conversely, when the lean subjects gained
weight, they didn’t sit around any more.
The researchers recruited 10 mildly obese and 10 lean people
to wear special underwear, which used technology developed for
fighter jet control panels. Sensors embedded in the undergarments
recorded their postures and movements every half-second, 24
hours a day, for 10 days. The underpants look like bicycle shorts;
the tops resemble undershirts for the men and sports bras for
Using a young readers’ novel called “The Misfits”
as its centerpiece, middle schools nationwide recently participated
in a “No Name-Calling Week” initiative. The program,
now in its second year, has the backing of groups from the Girl
Scouts to Amnesty International but has also drawn complaints
that it overemphasizes harassment of gay youths. The initiative
was developed by the New York-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight
Education Network, which seeks to ensure that schools safely
accommodate students of all sexual orientations.
“No Name-calling Week” takes aim at insults of all
kinds - whether based on a child’s appearance, background
or behavior. But a handful of conservative critics have zeroed
in on the references to harassment based on sexual orientation.
“I hope schools will realize it’s less an exercise
in tolerance than a platform for liberal groups to promote their
pan-sexual agenda,” said Robert Knight, director of Concerned
Women for America’s Culture and Family Institute, which
also was involved with the recent flap about Spongebob being
a tool for gaydom. “Schools should be steering kids away
from identifying as gay.”
Meanwhile, a new survey has found that church-going Americans
have grown increasingly intolerant in the past four years of
politicians making compromises on such hot issues as abortion
and gay rights. At the same time, those polled said they were
growing bolder about pushing their beliefs on others —
even at the risk of offending someone.
The trends could indicate that religion has become “more
prominent in American discourse ... more salient,” according
to Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research
organization which released the survey.
On the question of whether elected officials should set their
convictions aside to get results in government, 84 percent agreed
in 2000. However, four years later that had dropped to 74 percent.
There was a sharper decline on the same question among weekly
church-goers from 82 percent in the first survey to 63 percent
in the second. In the survey, 32 percent of those who attended
church once a week said they were willing to compromise on abortion
issues — a 19-point drop in four years. Among the same
group the question of compromising beliefs on gay rights was
acceptable to only 39 percent, down 18 points from 2000. The
poll also found that 37 percent overall felt that deeply religious
people should be careful not to offend anyone when they “spread
the word of God,” a decline from 46 percent four years
earlier. The number of those who felt that committed faithful
should spread the word “whenever they can” rose
to 41 percent, up 6 points.
On another issue, the survey found little change in opinion
on whether the U.S. political system can handle greater interaction
between religion and politics. Asked if there was a threat if
religious leaders and groups got a lot more involved in politics,
63 percent in 2000 and 61 percent in 2004 said the system could
“easily handle” it. But the remainder continue to
believe the system would be threatened.
China has lost faith in the stability of the U.S. dollar and
is tying its currency to a more flexible basket of currencies,
fearful that the U.S. currency will continue to destablize in
the coming years.
“The U.S. dollar is no longer a stable currency, and is
devaluating all the time, and that’s putting troubles
all the time,” the Chinese said in a press release on
The dollar hit a new low in December against the euro and has
been falling against other major currencies on concerns about
the ever-growing U.S. trade and budget deficits.
“The US cannot take support for the dollar for granted,”
the Financial Times (FT) quoted Nick Carver, one of the authors
of a study by Central Banking Publications that surveyed 65
central bankers. According to the study, 70 percent of those
questioned said they had increased euro-denominated reserves,
and the report sent Europe’s single currency higher against
its US counterpart.
Shifting central bank reserves would increase pressure on the
United States, which relies on foreign investment to fund a
current account deficit that grew to 164.7 billion dollars in
the third quarter of 2004, a new record. US officials would
have to raise interest rates if foreign investment decreased
significantly, dampening economic growth.
The Air Force and Navy have more people than they need and are
trying to get thousands to leave without resorting to layoffs.
Over the next year, the Air Force says it will shrink by 20,000,
downsizing from 379,000 troops to 359,000. The Navy will trim
more than 7,300 and fall from about 373,200 sailors to 365,900.
In contrast, the Army will grow from 493,000 to 502,400 and
the Marines from 175,000 to 178,000. Their growth reflects the
demands of open-ended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are
about to trigger second tours of duty for tens of thousands
of ground troops.
The high-tech Air Force and Navy, which have few rifle-toting
troops, believe they can absorb personnel cuts that might threaten
to debilitate the Army or Marines. Part of the reason the two
services can draw down: High tech weapons are changing warfare.
A single Air Force B-1 or B-2 Stealth bomber flying with satellite-guided
bombs can now destroy more targets than an entire squadron of
Air Force or Navy planes dropping unguided bombs in the 1991
In future years, the Navy and Air Force will sail fewer ships
and fly fewer aircraft because of improvements in weapons. Whereas
the 1980s-era Pentagon envisioned building up to a 600-ship
fleet from 450 in 1982, the Navy now has a total of 289 ships
Personnel is among the biggest expenses for the military. The
cost of 10,000 additional troops is $1 billion or more a year
when recruiting, training, salaries and benefits are included.
As part of their efforts to downsize, the Navy and Air Force
last year began encouraging sailors and airmen to consider transferring
to the Army. But since the “Blue to Green” program
began, only 50 sailors and 89 airmen have switched to the Army,
according to Navy and Air Force figures.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is finally confronting, in its new budget,
a reality that had been hidden in recent years: That there is
not enough money to pay for the wars on terror and in Iraq,
fund long-term defense strategy and the forces needed to carry
it out, pay for military benefits, and buy future defense technology
- all at the same time - especially with a growing federal deficit.
The Air Force’s F-22 fighter plane program will be cut,
destroyer programs and other Navy projects will slow down, and
even the Army’s vaunted Future Combat System will be cut
Could Star Wars be next?
Women who enjoy a drink of beer or wine daily have sharper minds
into old age than women who abstain, U.S. researchers have found.
A new report, based on a study of nearly 12,500 nurses, adds
to the apparent benefits of light to moderate drinking, which
can also prevent heart disease and stroke. The study found that
drinkers aged 70 to 81 were 20 percent less likely to experience
a decline in their thinking skills over a two-year period than
women who did not drink at all. On average, the women who quaffed
a beer or a glass of wine each day tended to have the mental
agility of someone a year and a half younger than abstainers.
But drinking more than one glass of beer or wine didn’t
produce a greater benefit, the researchers said.
Moderate alcohol consumption — about a 12-ounce beer or
a six-ounce glass of wine — is already known to reduce
the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The legal fight over access to the records of Vice President
Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy task force is back before a
federal appeals court, seven months after the Supreme Court
sidestepped the issue. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia Circuit has been hearing arguments in the nearly
4-year-old fight over whether a federal open government law
can be used to compel the Bush administration to publicly release
records from meetings of the task force. The Sierra Club and
Judicial Watch are suing to get access to the records, claiming
the public has a right to know what role energy company executives
who met with task force officials played in crafting industry-friendly
The Bush administration opposes producing any records, saying
that privacy is important to ensure members of such panels can
speak candidly. The administration also maintains that the formal
makeup of the task force was limited to government officials.
Federal law requires government panels to conduct their business
in public, unless all members are government officials.
The groups that are suing allege that participants from industry
effectively became members of the task force formulating the
White House’s energy policy. They complain they were shut
out of the meetings.
When the case was last considered by the appeals court in 2003,
a three-judge panel rejected government arguments that the lawsuit
would be an unconstitutional intrusion on the operations of
The task force met for several months in 2001 and issued a report
that favored opening more public lands to oil and gas drilling
and proposed a range of other steps supported by industry. Most
of the recommendations stalled in Congress.
Meanwhile, Cheney said in a recent interview that the proper
power of the presidency has finally been restored after being
diminished in the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and
that President Bush contributed to the process by not allowing
his narrow victory in the 2000 election to inhibit him during
his first term.
Ford Motor Co. is recalling nearly 800,000 pickups and sport
utility vehicles because the cruise control switch could short
circuit and cause a fire under the hood. The recall affects
approximately 792,000 Ford F-150 pickups, Ford Expeditions and
Lincoln Navigators from the 2000 model year. Also affected are
2001 F-Series Supercrew trucks that were made at the same time.
Ford will notify owners of the recall in February, and dealers
will deactivate the cruise control switch for free. Once the
company has an adequate supply of replacement switches, it will
send another letter notifying owners that they can get their
switches replaced. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
opened an investigation into the defect in November after receiving
36 reports of fires. All of the incidents occurred when the
vehicle was parked and the ignition was turned off. No injuries
Britain is urging America to announce a timetable for withdrawing
coalition troops from Iraq over the next 18 months or more.
With a new Iraqi government due to take power following this
week’s elections, British officials believe the time is
ripe for the coalition to announce an “indicative timetable”
for its departure. British officials say that a timetable, however
tentative, would signal an exit strategy, bolster the transitional
government and undermine the insurgents’ claim that America
intended to occupy Iraq indefinitely.
A series of new U.S. intelligence assessments on Iraq paints
a grim picture of the road ahead and concludes that there’s
little likelihood that President Bush’s goals can be attained
in the near future. Instead of stabilizing the country, the
national elections Jan. 30 are likely to be followed by more
violence and could provoke a civil war between majority Shiite
Muslims and minority Sunni Muslims, the CIA and other intelligence
A new public report by the National Intelligence Council concludes
that instead of diminishing terrorism, U.S.-occupied Iraq has
replaced prewar Afghanistan as a breeding and training ground
for terrorists who may disperse to conduct attacks elsewhere.
The Bush administration claimed before invading Iraq that Saddam
had strong ties to international terrorism, but most counterterrorism
experts dispute that and no evidence has been found to support
Bush has given no sign that he plans to change approaches in
Iraq and has declined to set his own timeline for American troops
to withdraw. The president told The Washington Post in a recent
interview that he believed that the 2004 election ratified his
The Viagra Cure
The impotence drug Viagra may also help prevent the abnormal
growth of the heart seen in some types of heart disease. The
drug, originally tested but rejected as a heart drug, stopped
the overgrowth of hearts in mice that were implanted with heart
failure, researchers have found.
Viagra, known generically as sildenfil and made by Pfizer, was
the first of the new impotence drugs, It works by affecting
a molecule called nitric oxide, which expands blood vessels.
It increases blood flow to the genitals, but was originally
tested to see if it could help hearts function better. However,
it had little effect on resting heart rates.
Viagra blocks an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-5A.
Often the hearts of heart failure patients grow to abnormal
sizes as they struggle harder and harder to pump blood. About
half of heart failure patients die within five years of being