Friday, July 30, 2010

Albany And The City Council Legislate Greener Buildings In N.Y.C.

New York City by definition is greener than most metropolitan areas. The widespread use of mass transit and higher population density put us way ahead of the sprawling cities of the South and West. However, being in the more temperate Northeast combined with old, large buildings where people live means that New Yorkers rely on antiquated heating oil systems. The large trucks bring it in, and the chimneys belch out the black, smoky byproduct that at first glance gives the impression that a building is on fire.

With hybrid taxis, prohibitive costs of driving in general and an extensive transit system (save for the recent death of the V and W trains), buildings are the last frontier in the green revolution within New York City's sphere of influence. Yesterday the City Council passed legislation that aims to curb that nasty pollution we are accustomed to.

From The N.Y. Times:

As announced earlier this week by the City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, one of the new laws will halve sulfur levels in a common type of home heating oil, No. 4, starting in October 2012. The law also will require that biodiesel fuel make up at least 2 percent of all grades of petroleum heating oil.

With the enactment this month of a New York State law that will drastically reduce the sulfur content in No. 2, the most common type of heating oil, the city’s action is expected to make an important dent in soot pollution and asthma cases.

The City Council also approved a package of bills ushering in the first major overhaul of recycling laws adopted in 1989. The new laws will increase plastics recycling, put more recycling bins in schools and public areas and allow residents to recycle hazardous waste like paint.
Quinn might be ethically-challenged in other areas, but when it comes to the environment this was the right move. In the future our buildings will hopefully all be LEED certified, but for now those historic relics of the 1800s and early 1900s should be adapted to limit their pollution as quickly as possible. These city and state laws will help to accomplish that.

Tony Hayward's Congressional Grilling: Does It Mean Anything?

Tony Hayward heard it from Members of Congress this week, but to what end? He claimed that the blame was not BP's alone, but that his soon to be ex-employer will be helping to ease the pain of their many victims. Compensation and public relations have already been doled out in some fashion (though hardly enough of the former), so my question is besides good press for the Representatives who pummeled Hayward at the hearing, what good will that do? Especially in regard to preventing future spills (like this one).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lindsay Graham, Constitutional Amendments And Xenophobia

There is nothing new about Republicans stoking xenophobic fears among their party's faithful, but it seems the G.O.P. is constantly looking for more preposterous solutions to a complex problem that they clearly do not wish to grasp. Utilizing right-wing zealot and ex-Congressman J.D. Hayworth is one thing, but for Lindsay Graham to step into the stupid shows how far they are willing to go to rile up fearful Caucasians that see immigration as a threat (you know, just as every other group in American history has).

From Politico:

“I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here,” Graham said during an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren. “Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake ... We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child's automatically not a citizen.”

Asked how intent Graham is on introducing the amendment, the South Carolina Republican responded: “I got to.”

“People come here to have babies,” he said. “They come here to drop a child. It's called "drop and leave." To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child's automatically an American citizen. That shouldn't be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.”

First off, the "drop and leave" scenario is more of a scarecrow argument than anything. The vast majority of undocumented workers that come to the U.S. and have children want to stay in the country and make a better life for themselves, just as immigrants have for more than 200 years.

If something like this passed, it would only end up hurting the children in these cases and hardly stem the fears of those that ascribe to the bigotry that Lindsay Graham and his G.O.P. brethren hawk.

Thankfully though, passing a Constitutional Amendment and nullifying a portion of the 14th Amendment is highly unlikely. Graham's a smart guy, he knows this, but for his conscious decision to play this card speaks more to the content of his personal character than to his intellect.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fare Hikes Away!

It was bound to happen sooner or later amidst the budgetary mess that New York is in.

That MetroCard you are holding in your wallet, purse, pocket or cellphone case is going to be getting heavier. The M.T.A., the agency most New Yorkers love to bemoan is going to be giving us more misery by charging more for what they are giving us less of. As we are still grieving the loss of the W, the V and parts of the M and the G, news of fare increases has already hit the ears of straphangers everywhere.

From The N.Y. Times:

By Jan. 1, when the increases would take effect, the heaviest users of the city’s subways and buses could be paying as much as $104 instead of $89 for a monthly system pass. Drivers who use E-ZPass on many of the city’s tunnels and bridges would pay 10 percent more per trip, and rail commuters could face the frustration of longer lines to buy tickets.

The unlimited subway and bus MetroCard, which pushed ridership to record levels after its introduction in the 1990s and revolutionized the way New Yorkers imagine their transit system, could also be on the way out. One proposal would place limits on how many rides could be taken on monthly and weekly passes.

All sorts of punitive measures are also included, such as steep ticket-refund charges, expiration dates on tickets will be pushed up and higher fares for all the commuter rails too. Of course this is tentative for now, as the vote will not be for a couple of months. Yet the agency's announcement of these high numbers means that no matter how the cookie crumbles, the taste will be sour come January when the rates take effect.

I think this may finally be the straw that breaks this camel's back.....I'm finally going to my sedentary arse to the bike shop.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Financial Reform Was A Good Step Forward....But

"The Real News" interviews economist William Black, who talks about the reform act that recently passed through Congress and signed by President Obama. The key item discussed is that while Obama's people are better stewards of the nation's finances at the moment, their reforms will not curb any of the abuses that a Republican regime might take up if they regain power.

Monday, July 26, 2010

As The Country Sizzles And Bakes, Krugman Nails Climate Change Deniers For "Greed And Cowardice"

Week after week, New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman expounds on the issues of our day. His latest opinion piece is no different, and calls out those that deny the overwhelming evidence of global warming as our nation has been beaten by the latest summer heat wave. Far from using the recent hot weather as proof, Krugman asks where the voices of those that claim the planet is cooling went; now that their faulty logic has broken down like many an overtaxed air conditioning unit. The undeniable proof is out there for anyone that wants a science-based education in global warming, but Krugman uses this piece to give a go at the root cause for all the deniers out there.

From The N.Y. Times:

The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.

If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.[...]

Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer.

By itself, however, greed wouldn’t have triumphed. It needed the aid of cowardice — above all, the cowardice of politicians who know how big a threat global warming poses, who supported action in the past, but who deserted their posts at the crucial moment.

Krugman goes on to describe the downfall of John McCain, who was once a celebrated "maverick" (though he now denies it) who positioned himself in the middle. Krugman aptly calls him out for bashing legislation such as cap and trade that he once championed only a few years ago. Clearly, greed and cowardice got to the Arizonan Senator, as much as it has to the rest of his party...and a few that claim to position themselves on the left.

Build The Damn Mosque!

I can't help but shout this out to all the irrational fearmongers who are afraid of a mosque being built in Lower Manhattan. So a few muslims want to build a place to pray in New York City, the idealized place of hardworking immigrants coming in to the melting pot that is our great country. Why are people so nuts about this? Irrationality and ignorance is what propels their hatred of anyone that doesn't look and act like themselves, even if freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution they claim to admire, adhere to and protect.

Tom Robbins from the Village Voice gives us a glimpse at the insanity observed at the latest hearings to approve the mosque:

Preserving urban landmarks hasn't been high on the roster of concerns in Tea Party land, from where a lot of the protesters were recruited. But many who showed up to denounce a Muslim-sponsored development so near sacred ground tied their cause to municipal art. All were suddenly gung-ho advocates for salvaging this splendid example of 19th-century Italian palazzo mercantile architecture.[...]

Testifying at a microphone on the aisle, a heavy-set woman pointed to a tiny teenager seated nearby wearing a hijab. "How do I know this young woman isn't going to be strapped with explosives?"

That was about par for the course during the three-hour session. One speaker suggested that this is how Muslims took over London. "It's unsafe for a Westerner to go to London's East End," she said. "The mosques are used to subvert the neighborhood." After she sat down, she was asked if she'd been to London. "No, but I've been doing a great deal of reading about it, mostly on the Internet," she replied.

Ah the internet, and I'm sure her reading was fully of well-sourced material....straight out of the tea party websites esteemed for their fact-checked stories and award-winning journalism.

The sight of this melée for the even-keeled Robbins must have been nauseating to say the least. I'd like to say that these displays are infrequent and unrepresentative of the general body politic, but sadly it is not. Too many Americans indulge in ignorant views that help them feel greater than. It has been practiced in America since the beginning of miscegenation laws of 17th century Virginia. It continued with the Know-Nothings of the mid-19th century and the Ku Klux Klan of the late 19th century and well into the 20th century.

Despite all that miserable bigotry, I do hope that the decision-makers in the approval process for the mosque are above that nuttiness. America is supposed to be better and bigger than it's lowest common denominators. Allowing freedom of religion to flower, especially in spite of 9/11 is exactly what will help us win the battle of ideas with the actual terrorists who wish us harm, not muslims like Sharif El-Gamal who are working for the common good.