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Bill Clinton: Infrastructure Bank and BUILD Act

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Halfway To Discontent
Halfway To Discontent

Charles Pierce and Mark Warren interview Bill Clinton, well worth a read. I had many disagreements with President Clinton, but I admire his political savvy and intelligence.

I like this idea:

ESQUIRE: Where’s the demand from outside, though? Where are the people insisting, “Hey, my bridge is falling down, and ‘We can’t afford to fix it’ is not a good enough answer for me. And if you can’t come up with a better one, then you’re back in the private sector”?

CLINTON: One of the things that I think should be done is the infrastructure bill that Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Kerry proposed, which sets up an infrastructure bank which would be seeded with U. S. taxpayers’ money, but it would be open to investors. Like, you and I could buy a $1,000 infrastructure bond, or the Chinese sovereign wealth fund, Saudi sovereign wealth fund, anybody could invest in it, and the returns on infrastructure are significant enough that in an uncertain stock market, I think you could get a lot of private capital.

And then it would be really interesting, it’d be a great opportunity — all this dispute about the one tenth of 1 percent of America that Paul Krugman’s always talking about. I believe that people of my income group should pay more, and I explained why, but that won’t necessarily lift overall wage levels. To do that, you’ve gotta have more jobs, a tighter labor market, different job mix. This is one way that wealthy Americans could really contribute. They could put hundreds of millions of dollars into the infrastructure bank, be a good investment for them, for their children, for their grandchildren, and they would directly contribute to revitalizing a big sector of middle-class wages in America and making our country more productive, so that we could create more opportunity. But I think that we could get a lot of grassroots support from, like, local chambers of commerce and other things if they understood exactly how this infrastructure bank would work. I hope that the president will make more of this, and I wouldn’t be as sure as everyone is now that nothing will be done next year. If we get this done, then I think he ought to challenge them to make a deal on corporate taxes and establishing the infrastructure bank that can take private capital, and you can make some slice of that deal repatriating a bunch of that money that’s overseas now at a lower tax rate, and put that money directly in the infrastructure bank. That’s the federal government’s contribution, and then open it up for other investment. And I think, you know, you might have $100 billion by the time you get done — that could put people to work right away.

(click here to continue reading Print – Bill Clinton: Someone We Can All Agree On – Esquire.)

Is this privatization? or just investment. If it is the latter, I’m for it. Our national infrastructure is crumbling, and the Republicans, for the most part, seem to be pleased about this. Repairing bridges, water mains and the like is also an employment boon – you can’t outsource that kind of work so easily.

Decline and Fall of Empire
Decline and Fall of Empire

I had never heard of this concept, turns out Senators John Kerry and Kay Bailey Hutchison proposed it back in March 2011, but I guess it went nowhere.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a press conference today, Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Member of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, announced legislation to create an infrastructure bank that would help close America’s widening infrastructure funding gap, create millions of American jobs in the next decade, and make the United States more competitive in the 21st century.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who also attended the event, underscored the unique coalition of business and labor uniting around this initiative.

“This is a bi-partisan moment to make a once bi-partisan issue bi-partisan once again,” said Sen. Kerry.  “Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, are now united to create an American infrastructure bank to leverage private investment, make America the world’s builders once again, and close the deficit in our infrastructure investments.  The BUILD Act will create good jobs, strengthen our competitiveness, and do more with less.  Most of all, this bill breaks a partisan stalemate to get America back in the game.  When you’ve got a Massachusetts Democrat, a Texas Republican, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO preaching from the same hymnal, you’ll find a sweet spot that can translate into a major legislative step forward.”

“I have been working to overhaul our nation’s aging infrastructure for nearly 20 years. This national infrastructure bank is an innovative way to leverage private-public partnerships and maximize private funding to address our water, transportation, and energy infrastructure needs. It is essential to think outside the box as we work to solve national challenges, particularly in this fiscal crisis. We must be creative to meet the needs of our country and to spur economic development and job growth while protecting taxpayers from new federal spending as much as possible,” said Sen. Hutchison, who served on the Commission to Promote Investment in America’s Infrastructure in 1993 as State Treasurer of Texas and is the Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

“The United States is spending less than two-percent of its GDP on infrastructure, while India spends five-percent and China spends nine-percent,” said Sen. Warner. “As a matter of global competitiveness, we need to find additional ways to upgrade our nation’s infrastructure, and this bank will help us strike the right balance between near-term discipline and investment in future growth.”

“A national infrastructure bank is a great place to start securing the funding we need to increase our mobility, create jobs, and enhance our global competitiveness,” said Donohue. “With a modest initial investment of $10 billion, a national infrastructure bank could leverage up to $600 billion in private investments to repair, modernize, and expand our ailing infrastructure system. While private capital is badly needed, we must also recognize our public financing mechanism is broken. Receipts to the Highway Trust Fund have fallen dramatically, funds are being diverted to non-infrastructure projects, and the gas tax has not been increased in 17 years. We need a multiyear highway bill to meet immediate needs, but we have to figure out a way to ensure we have adequate public investments for years to come.”

The Building and Upgrading Infrastructure for Long-Term Development (BUILD) Act would establish an American Infrastructure Financing Authority (AIFA) – a kind of infrastructure bank – to complement our existing infrastructure funding.  This institution, which would provide loans and loan guarantees, would be both fiscally responsible and robust enough to address America’s needs.

 

AIFA is independent of the political process.  It would fund the most important and most economically viable projects across the country, our states, and our communities.

AIFA is also fiscally responsible.  While AIFA will receive initial funding from the government, after that it must become self-sustaining.

Finally, AIFA relies on the private sector.  It can never provide more than 50 percent of a project’s costs, and in many cases would provide much less, just enough to bring in private investment.

(click here to continue reading John Kerry – United States Senator for Massachusetts: Press Room.)

Division Street Bridge
Division Street Bridge

More:

Earlier this year, Sen. John Kerry introduced the BUILD Act as new legislation to tackle the problems of jobs, economic growth and our declining infrastructure simultaneously. The centerpiece of the legislation calls for the creation of an American Infrastructure Financing Authority, or what is coming to be known as an “infrastructure bank.” This essay will touch on the fundamentals of the bill and the problem it attempts to solve, explain ways it could be improved, argue that it is a good idea, and advocate political support for it. The BUILD Act creates a financial institution modeled after the Export-Import Bank, which was created by FDR during the Great Depression. The bill would require a small amount of start-up capital financed by the federal government, but it would conduct its business as an independent agency. A CEO and a seven-member board of directors would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Although the initial start-up capital ($10B) would be provided by the federal government, the bank would be required to become self-sufficient in five years.

(click here to continue reading Daily Kos: Building on the BUILD Act.)

So, we’ll see. Apparently John Boehner’s House minions don’t like the idea of country first over party victory, so have refused to move the bill forward.

Written by Seth Anderson

January 22nd, 2012 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with ,

Illinois’ eavesdropping law under attack

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Continuous Video Recording in Progress
Continuous Video Recording in Progress

I’ve been following the Chris Drew travesty fairly closely. Why should police be treated differently than other citizens? If Illinois law was on the books in California, for instance, would Scott Olsen be a household name? Or other Occupy incidents, like the various pepper spraying videos? If police are doing their job, they shouldn’t be worried about a spectator videoing their actions, and if they are doing something questionable, citizens should be able to collect evidence of police wrongdoing.

Anyway, there are rumblings that the law could be thrown out as vague, or unconstitutional.

When a Cook County jury in August acquitted a woman of violating Illinois’ strict eavesdropping law, an unassuming man with wire-rimmed glasses and wispy white hair sat in the gallery, quietly taking notes.

Chris Drew had good reason to keep an eye on the case — he’s facing trial on the same felony charge of eavesdropping on a public official, which carries up to 15 years in prison.

An artist whose ’60s upbringing instilled a deep respect for questioning authority, Drew, 61, is accused of making an illegal audio recording of Chicago police during a 2009 arrest for selling art on a downtown street without a permit.

Drew intended the incident to be a test of the city’s permit laws. But now his case has wound up at the forefront of a much bigger effort to challenge the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping law, which makes it illegal to audio-record police without their consent, even when they’re performing their public duties.

“He’s become the accidental eavesdropping activist,” Drew’s lawyer, Joshua Kutnick, joked in a recent interview.

Illinois is one of a handful of states in which it is illegal to record audio of public conversations without the permission of everyone involved and has one of the strictest eavesdropping laws in the country.

Opposition to Illinois’ law has been gaining traction for months as several cases have been tossed out of court.

In August, while Drew watched, Tiawanda Moore, 21, was acquitted of illegally recording two Chicago police internal affairs investigators whom she believed were trying to dissuade her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer. One juror later told the Tribune that he and his fellow panelists considered the case “a waste of time.”

The next month, a Crawford County judge ruled the law unconstitutional and dismissed eavesdropping charges against a man accused of recording police and court officials without their consent.

 

(click here to continue reading Illinois’ eavesdropping law under attack – chicagotribune.com.)

Officer with Blackberry
Officer with Blackberry

For instance, Ralph Braseth, a Loyola University journalism professor had a run-in with the Chicago Police while filming a documentary. The officers arrested him, and erased his footage.

Braseth has since filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Authority, which forwarded the case to Chicago police internal affairs investigators.

While Braseth said he understands why some police officers don’t like to be recorded, he said Illinois’ eavesdropping law “should have been done away with a long time ago.”
“The citizens of Chicago employ the police officers, and they are acting as agents for our government,” Braseth said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s my job to police the police, but I think it’s a good idea for them to know that that can happen at any time. It’s one of the checks and balances that we have. It’s so fundamental.”

Even the Faux Walls have eyes
Even the Faux Walls have eyes

Meanwhile, the court has ruled it is ok for corporations to spy on you:

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has ruled as constitutional a law giving telecommunications companies legal immunity for helping the government with its email and telephone eavesdropping program.

Thursday’s unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision regarding the 2008 law.

The appeal concerned a case that consolidated 33 different lawsuits filed against various telecom companies, including AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. on behalf of these companies’ customers.

The court noted comments made by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the legal immunity’s role in helping the government gather intelligence.

“It emphasized that electronic intelligence gathering depends in great part on cooperation from private companies … and that if litigation were allowed to proceed against persons allegedly assisting in such activities, ‘the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future,'” Judge M. Margaret McKeown said.

The plaintiffs, represented by lawyers including the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, accuse the companies of violating the law and the privacy of its customers through collaboration with National Security Agency on intelligence gathering.

(click here to continue reading Court OKs immunity for telecoms in wiretap case – CBS News.)

Written by Seth Anderson

January 2nd, 2012 at 10:35 am

Terrorism Movie Plot Idea Number 7

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Things you probably shouldn't eat
Things you probably shouldn’t eat

Following up on the recent discussion of where germs reside in airplanes and airports, especially this part:

People get bunched up in lines, where there is plenty of coughing and sneezing. Shoes are removed and placed with other belongings into plastic security bins, which typically don’t get cleaned after they go through the scanner.

A National Academy of Sciences panel is six months into a two-year study that is taking samples at airport areas to try to pinpoint opportunities for infection.

With limited resources, airports and airlines have asked researchers to help figure out where best to target prevention, said Dr. Mark Gendreau of Boston’s Lahey Clinic Medical Center who is on the panel.

Check-in kiosks and baggage areas are other prime suspects in addition to security lines, he said.

what about a film plot that basically works off of this fact? Imagine – Christian evangelicals develop some deadly bacteria or virus, some variant of Ebola, for example, and these Christian End-of-Worlders smear their shoes, coats, and computers with it. When they take their shoes off and place them through the security line, the deadly toxins spread, and infect the next 200 people who go through this same security line. Can you just imagine if a whole plane full of people died mid-flight?

The hero could of course track the source back, but what then?

Immigration at Heathrow
Immigration at Heathrow

Tangentially related, Charles Mann and Bruce Schneier think the TSA is a joke:

To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. The best memorial to the victims of 9/11, in Schneier’s view, would be to forget most of the “lessons” of 9/11. “It’s infuriating,” he said, waving my fraudulent boarding pass to indicate the mass of waiting passengers, the humming X-ray machines, the piles of unloaded computers and cell phones on the conveyor belts, the uniformed T.S.A. officers instructing people to remove their shoes and take loose change from their pockets. “We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”

(click here to continue reading Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer? | Culture | Vanity Fair.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 22nd, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Parking Meter Firm Bills City Another $2.1 Million

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Put Money in the Parking Meter or else!
Put Money in the Parking Meter or else!

Gee, thanks, Mayor Daley and your rubber-stamp city council! Privatization strikes again…

While Chicago’s infamous parking meter lease deal quietly celebrated its third anniversary the first week of December, the city was releasing documents chronicling more evidence the privatization of the city’s more than 36,000 parking meters turned out to be more costly for taxpayers than originally imagined.

Financial statements, released by the Chicago Inspector General’s office via their Open Chicago government transparency initiative, reveals what many critics of the lease deal had feared–the city would end up owing or paying Chicago Parking Meters, LLC millions of dollars in compensation when any sort of change or activity by the city impacts parking meter revenue for the company.

Financial statements for the company show that CPM has billed the city an additional $2,191,326 in “True-up Revenue” through the end of 2010.

As the notes from the independent auditor’s report by accounting firm KPMG LLP to the financial statements explains:

“The Company has an agreement with the City, whereby, the Company receives compensation from the City in accordance with the Agreements in the event that the City implements changes to the System, which reduces the Company’s revenues (True-up Revenue).”

These same notes reveal the city owed CPM $533,290 in True-up Revenue for 2009 and $1,658,036 for 2010.

(click here to continue reading Parking Meter Firm Bills City Another $2.1 Million | theexpiredmeter.com.)

Booted!
Booted!

Street festivals seem to be the biggest culprit:

According to the over 500 pages of contract with CPM, these events could include any situation which would require the city to remove a metered space from the system (installing a loading zone, moving a bus stop, etc.), or if a tax on metered parking is imposed by the city, or when metered parking is temporarily out of commission during a closure.

While removing a metered space is usually handled by adding another space or spaces elsewhere in the city to compensate CPM, the most likely culprit for this over $2 million is street closures.

Closure is defined as anytime metered parking is taken out of commission for a prolonged period of time due to any street work, be it to replace a broken water main, for street repairs or resurfacing or even for a street festival.

Under the terms of the lease, any time this occurs above an annual allowance, CPM can file a claim for the loss of potential revenue due to street closure.

But wait, there’s more indignity!

Shamrock Shuffle No Parking Zone

Last week Chicago Parking Meters, LLC sent the City a bill for $13.5 million in revenues they lost from motorists with handicapped parking placards parking for free in metered spots. Today our friends at The Expired Meter report the company also sent the City a bill for an extra $2.1 million in what they call “true-up revenue” related to street closures.

Our analogy comparing the parking meter deal to herpes becomes even more apt.

(click here to continue reading Parking Meter Company Bills City for Street Closures: Chicagoist.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Texas Man Seeks Inquiry After Exoneration in Murder

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Till Death Do Us Part
Till Death Do Us Part

I hope Michael Morton gets his day in court, and hope he deposes Rick Perry. If Rick Perry had gotten his way, Morton would have been already dead, no matter if Morton was innocent…

AUSTIN, Tex. — A Texas man wrongfully convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife is scheduled to be officially exonerated on Monday. That is no longer so unusual in Texas, where 45 inmates have been exonerated in the last decade based on DNA evidence. What is unprecedented is the move planned by lawyers for the man, Michael Morton: they are expected to file a request for a special hearing to determine whether the prosecutor broke state laws or ethics rules by withholding evidence that could have led to Mr. Morton’s acquittal 25 years ago.

“I haven’t seen anything like this, ever,” said Bennet L. Gershman, an expert on prosecutorial misconduct at Pace University in New York. “It’s an extraordinary legal event.”

The prosecutor, Ken Anderson, a noted expert on Texas criminal law, is now a state district judge. Through a lawyer, he vigorously denied any wrongdoing in Mr. Morton’s case.

Mr. Morton, who was a manager at an Austin supermarket and had no criminal history, was charged with the beating death of his wife, Christine, in 1986. He had contended that the killer must have entered their home after he left for work early in the morning. But Mr. Anderson convinced the jury that Mr. Morton, in a rage over his wife’s romantic rebuff the previous night — on Mr. Morton’s 32nd birthday — savagely beat her to death.

Mr. Morton was sentenced to life in prison. Beginning in 2005, he pleaded with the court to test DNA on a blue bandanna found near his home shortly after the murder, along with other evidence.

For six years, the Williamson County district attorney, John Bradley, fought the request for DNA testing, based on advice from Judge Anderson, his predecessor and friend. In 2010, however, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing, and the results showed that Mrs. Morton’s blood on the bandanna was mixed with the DNA of another man: Mark A. Norwood, a felon with a long criminal history who lived about 12 miles from the Mortons at the time of the murder. By then, Mr. Morton had spent nearly 25 years in prison.

(click here to continue reading Texas Man Seeks Inquiry After Exoneration in Murder – NYTimes.com.)

Dead Duck
Dead Duck

and Ken Anderson sounds like he had a vendetta:

In August, however, a different judge ordered the record unsealed, and Mr. Morton’s lawyers discovered that Mr. Anderson had provided only a fraction of the available evidence. Missing from the file was the transcript of a telephone conversation between a sheriff’s deputy and Mr. Morton’s mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a “monster” — who was not his father — attack and kill his mother.

Also missing were police reports from Mr. Morton’s neighbors, who said they had seen a man in a green van repeatedly park near their home and walk into the woods behind their house. And there were even reports, also never turned over, that Mrs. Morton’s credit card had been used and a check with her forged signature cashed after her death.

In October, Judge Sid Harle of Bexar County District Court freed Mr. Morton based on the DNA evidence and authorized an unusual process allowing his defense lawyers to investigate the prosecutor’s conduct in the original trial. The lawyers questioned the lead sheriff’s investigator, an assistant district attorney who worked with Mr. Anderson and the former prosecutor himself.

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 11:20 am

Posted in government

Tagged with , ,

Congressional Techno-morons

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Computer Consultants
Computer Consultants

The Hollywood-funded SOPA1 debate has been tabled for now, to be taken up again next year. Maybe by then Congress can figure out what exactly they are proposing to do.

Or not:

It’s of course perfectly standard for members of Congress to not be exceptionally proficient in technological matters. But for some committee members, the issue did not stop at mere ignorance. Rather, it seemed there was in many cases an outright refusal to understand what is undoubtedly a complex issue dealing with highly-sensitive technologies.

When the security issue was brought up, Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina seemed particularly comfortable about his own lack of understanding. Grinningly admitting “I’m not a nerd” before the committee, he nevertheless went on to dismiss without facts or justification the very evidence he didn’t understand and then downplay the need for a panel of experts. Rep. Maxine Waters of California followed up by saying that any discussion of security concerns is “wasting time” and that the bill should move forward without question, busted internets be damned.

The fact that there was any debate over whether to call in experts on such a matter should tell you something about the integrity of Congress. It’d be one thing if legitimate technical questions directed at the bill’s supporters weren’t met with either silence or veiled accusations that the other side was sympathetic to piracy. Yet here we are with a group of elected officials openly supporting a bill they can’t explain, and having the temerity to suggest there’s no need to “bring in the nerds” to suss out what’s actually on it.

“No legislation is perfect,” Rep. Watt said at one point, continuing the insane notion that the goal of the House should be to pass anything, despite what consequences it may bring. Later, Iowa Representative Steve King tweeted, somewhat ironically, about surfing the internet on his phone because he was bored listening to his colleague Shiela Jackson speak about the bill. Then, even more ironically, another representative’s comments calling him out for it were asked to be stricken from the record.

This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.

(click here to continue reading Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works | Motherboard.)

 

Footnotes:
  1. Stop Online Piracy Act. Wikipedia entry []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 10:36 am

Investment Shortfall for Water Infrastructure

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Natural Science
Natural Science

Speaking of water infrastructure, this report is disturbing:

A new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers takes a dim view of the state of the country’s 54,000 community-based drinking-water systems and its 15,000 public wastewater treatment facilities. The systems are rusty, aging and seriously inadequate for meeting future needs, the study warns.

The drinking-water systems, just under half of which are publicly owned, supply 264 million people. The wastewater treatment facilities supply about 225 million people, but they are so prone to failure that 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage are discharged each year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2004.

The E.P.A.’s 2010 estimate of the capital cost of modernizing this infrastructure was $91 billion, the report said, but financing for that purpose amounted to only $35 million. If systemic neglect continues, it adds, that shortfall will only increase.

(click here to continue reading Report Sees Investment Shortfall for Water Infrastructure – NYTimes.com.)

If only there was an unemployment crisis in the United States that could be solved by hiring folks to repair infrastructure. Oh wait, there is! Too bad the Rethuglican plan is to destroy our country by any means necessary, including sabotage of the economy…

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 9:50 am

Posted in government

Tagged with

Texas Water Miracle

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A Dream of Presidential Showers
A Dream of Presidential Showers

The Rick Perry Texas Miracle in action: privatization of public resources, for profit of the few. Who gets screwed? Just consumers.

A growing number of suburban Texans are getting their water from large, private corporations owned by investors seeking to profit off the sale of an essential resource. State figures show private companies are seeking more price increases every year, and many are substantial. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water and sewer rates for nonmunicipal customers, doesn’t keep numbers, but “their rate increases tend to be 40 and 60 percent,” said Doug Holcomb, who oversees the agency’s water utilities division.

For years, small private companies have played a crucial role in Texas, providing water and sewer service in new developments outside of cities. Analysts say private companies will continue to fill an essential need in the future, when public money is projected to be insufficient to make the billions of dollars in costly upgrades needed in water and sewer systems.

Increasingly, however, the companies are neither small nor local. Over the past decade, multistate water utilities have expanded aggressively in Texas, drawn by the state’s booming population and welcoming regulatory environment. A September report prepared by utility analysts for Robert W. Baird & Co., a financial management company, identified Texas water regulators as the most generous in the country for private water companies. Today, three out-of-state corporations own about 500 Texas water systems that serve more than 250,000 residents.

For residents living outside cities served by private utility companies, the state environmental commission is charged with setting “just and reasonable” water rates based on a company’s cost of doing business plus a guaranteed profit. In exchange, the companies enjoy a monopoly on their service area.

Yet critics say the agency is unprepared to handle the recent influx of corporations that have exploited a regulatory system more accustomed to handling rural mom-and-pop operations. Meanwhile, Texas laws provide fewer consumer protections to residents facing water rate increases than electricity and gas ratepayers.

“We are in the midst of a transformation in this state, and the state is ill-prepared to move into that transition,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who co-chairs a legislative subcommittee to investigate the rates charged by investor-owned water utilities. “It feels like it’s happening at warp speed.”

Industry officials say their rates reflect the true cost of rehabilitating and expanding older water systems, and that without their deep pockets, such systems would languish. The “larger Investor-Owned Utilities have invested in small, rural water and sewer systems that have gone decades without meaningful improvements in their infrastructure and often do not meet minimum environmental standards set by the state,” SouthWest Water spokeswoman Janice Hayes said in an email, adding that the companies have poured millions of dollars into new equipment and upgrades.

But in some places, the rate increase s following those improvements have been so high as to inhibit economic growth. Just south of Austin, SouthWest Water seven years ago purchased rights to provide water on the eastern edge of Kyle. Today, officials say, its rates are about double those of the city.

As a result, the company’s service area is one of the few desirable commercial locations — just off Interstate 35 — where fast-growing Kyle has remained underdeveloped, said Diana Blank, the city’s director of economic development. “We’ve lost projects because of that,” she said. Prospective employers “will look at the map and say, ‘Who serves the area for water?'”

SouthWest’s latest rate request, which would increase rates for some suburbanites to more than three times what Austin residents pay, has caught the attention of lawmakers. A half-dozen legislators said they will introduce changes to the law during the next session to provide more consumer protections.

“This may be the poster child for the kinds of reforms we need,” Watson said. “Some utilities will stretch the law as far as they can stretch it.”

 

(click here to continue reading Statesman.com : Growth of large private water companies brings higher water rates, little recourse for consumers.)

Regulation? I thought the mantra was that regulation was anathema in Texas? You mean to say, “let the free market figure it out!”, right?

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 9:22 am

Posted in government

Tagged with ,

Hoffman Estates Battle Over a Tax Break For Sears

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A Matter of Degree
A Matter of Degree

Of course, corporate welfare for the 1% trumps education, schools, kids every single time. I’d hoped the outcome was different since Hoffman Estates is not a poor district, and thus has a little clout, but I was wrong.

When Ms.  1 Crates met with Hoffman Estates officials in March, she learned the money might not be coming after all because the tax break might not expire.

“I cried,” Ms. Crates said. “The school district has cut for the last two years. We’ve had no wage increases, and we were planning on that revenue to bring down our class sizes. We have one algebra class with 47 students. It was devastating.”

Ms. Crates and her school district had suddenly found themselves at the epicenter of Illinois’s latest political and financial crisis, described by one lawmaker as round-robin blackmail among Midwestern states. Unless Illinois agreed to extend the tax break, Sears threatened to leave. The state of Ohio, for one, dangled $400 million in tax incentives as a lure.

But when lawmakers agree to corporate demands for property tax relief, they induce strain on the financial stability of schools, local governments, libraries and parks that rely on those taxes as their most stable form of revenue. The State of Illinois, with $3 billion in unpaid bills, has already disrupted local governments’ revenue streams, often delivering payments to schools at least four months behind schedule.

So when Ms. Crates and her colleagues learned in March that Sears might win an extension of its tax break, they followed the lead of many corporations with well-connected lobbyists. They began a fierce campaign.

At first, the district wasn’t even involved in discussions about the bill. The village of Hoffman Estates oversees the distribution of the Sears property tax revenue. Village officials did not mention that they had helped write and introduce legislation to extend the tax break until months after they did so, according to Ms. Crates. “I was dumbfounded that a public agency like ourselves, right next door, didn’t bother to tell us and tried in the middle of the night to pass legislation without telling us,” Ms. Crates said.

(click here to continue reading Town and School District Battle Over a Tax Break – NYTimes.com.)

and I’m with Representative Currie: some state needs to have the gumption to stand firm, and see if moving a giant corporation’s HQ is as simple as renting a moving truck.

The House Democratic leader, Barbara Flynn Currie, questioned whether the state should keep bending to satisfy threats from businesses entertaining other offers.
“Do we respond or do we just say goodbye? Or do we even call their bluff?” she asked. “I mean, sometimes I think we should start calling the occasional bluff and say: ‘Wait a minute. Is this for real?’ Because the costs of moving are certainly significant.”

Footnotes:
  1. Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 17th, 2011 at 11:41 am

ACLU sues Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

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No Photos - Gentlemen Please Remove Your Hats
No Photos – Gentlemen Please Remove Your Hats

Photography is not a crime, part the 234,642nd. Kudos to the ACLU…

The ACLU of Southern California sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and several of its deputies Thursday alleging they harassed, detained and improperly searched photographers taking pictures legally in public places.

The federal lawsuit alleges the Sheriff’s Department and deputies “have repeatedly” subjected photographers “to detention, search and interrogation simply because they took pictures” from public streets of places such as Metro turnstiles, oil refineries or near a Long Beach courthouse.

“Photography is not a crime. It’s protected 1st Amendment expression,” said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “It violates the Constitution’s core protections for sheriff’s deputies to detain and search people who are doing nothing wrong. To single them out for such treatment while they’re pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong.”

(click here to continue reading ACLU sues Sheriff’s Department, alleges photographers were harassed – latimes.com.)

Photography is Not A Crime
Photography is Not A Crime

and from the ACLU:

The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) and the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP today sued the County of Los Angeles and individual Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies for detaining and searching photographers. The incidents of harassment occurred when photographers were taking pictures in public places where photography is not prohibited.

“Photography is not a crime. It’s protected First Amendment expression,” said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU/SC. “Sheriff’s deputies violate the Constitution’s core protections when they detain and search people who are doing nothing wrong. To single them out for such treatment while they’re pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong.”

The complaint is filed on behalf of three plaintiffs, who between them have been detained or ordered not to photograph by Sheriff’s deputies on at least six occasions. The complaint details similar incidents involving others, from amateur photographers to veteran photojournalists.

(click here to continue reading ACLU/SC Challenges Sheriff’s Dept.’s Detention of Photographers.)

Written by Seth Anderson

October 28th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

TIF May Need a Boost in Poor Neighborhoods

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Leftover Stories

Leftover Stories

The problem I have with Chicago’s TIF program isn’t the program itself, but rather that it has turned into a form of corporate welfare for politically connected developers. Too much of the money goes where it isn’t needed, instead of where urban blight actually exists.

Local residents once called the far western stretch of Madison Street the downtown of the West Side. That was before the race riots and factory closings of the late 1960s sent this area around the thriving commercial corridor into a tailspin of population loss, poverty, crime and blight.

When Chicago set out over a decade ago to turn around the crumbling retail area, it created a tax increment financing district along Madison Street from West Garfield Park to the city limit at Austin Avenue. But halfway through the TIF’s 23-year life span, the city has spent only $4.8 million on commercial revitalization projects there, and western Madison Street remains a place of struggling retail strips and vacant, decaying blocks.

Criticism of TIFs under Mayor Richard M. Daley focused largely on his administration’s heavy spending of TIF funds in and around Chicago’s thriving downtown. But the scant investment along Madison raises a key question not answered by a TIF reform task force created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel: Can the city’s primary economic development tool help reverse decades of economic decline and physical decay in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods?

The TIF program was created 27 years ago specifically to spur development in the city’s blighted areas. When the city creates a district, it freezes the amount of property taxes that local governments can collect within a particular area for a period of 23 years. If property values rise during that time, the city is required to spend the additional property-tax revenue — the tax increment — on economically beneficial projects within the district or in a bordering one.

Whether they are public works or business subsidies, the projects are meant to catalyze development within the district. But if property values do not rise and create money for new investment, TIFs are virtually powerless to spur growth.

“It’s very difficult for those poor places to be turned around by this tool because the property taxes aren’t going to generate enough revenue to do the massive push that you need,” said David Merriman, an economics professor and director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. “There’s got to be development to generate revenue, and that’s probably not going to work unless you already have some market momentum.”

According to a Chicago News Cooperative analysis of the last eight years of Mr. Daley’s tenure — during which the city escalated TIF investment — only 23 percent of the $1.84 billion in TIF funds spent went to districts in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

(click here to continue reading TIF May Need a Boost in Poor Neighborhoods – NYTimes.com.)

Twenty three percent is a woefully small percentage. Is the TIF program enough to spur neighborhood revitalization? Who knows, what’s obvious is that nobody is even trying.

The Earth Was Here
The Earth Was Here

 

dismissals
dismissals

Written by Seth Anderson

October 16th, 2011 at 8:48 am

Jimi Hendrix Is Cited During Supreme Court Arguments

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Whipped Into A Frenzy
Whipped Into A Frenzy

The times they are a-changing…

Jimi Hendrix made an appearance at the Supreme Court on Wednesday in an argument over whether Congress acted constitutionally in 1994 by restoring copyright protection to foreign works that had once been in the public domain. The affected works included films by Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini, books by C. S. Lewis and Virginia Woolf, symphonies by Prokofiev and Stravinsky and paintings by Picasso.

The suit challenging the law was brought by orchestra conductors, teachers and film archivists who say they had relied for years on the free availability of such works.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. posed the general question in the case this way: “One day I can perform Shostakovich. Congress does something. The next day I can’t. Doesn’t that present a serious First Amendment problem?”

Then the chief justice, a pioneer in the citation of popular music in legal discourse, asked the question slightly differently, invoking Hendrix, the great rock guitarist, to test the limits of the government’s position. “What about Jimi Hendrix, right? He has a distinctive rendition of the national anthem, and assuming the national anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it wasn’t before, he can’t do that, right?”

The solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., making his debut in the post, said there were good reasons to allow Congress to restore copyright protection to works that had entered the public domain, even at some cost to free expression by performers and others. Responding to the chief justice’s hypothetical question, Mr. Verrilli said that “maybe Jimi Hendrix could claim fair use.”

(click here to continue reading Jimi Hendrix Is Cited During Supreme Court Arguments – NYTimes.com.)

fair use since the Jimi Hendrix version alters the anthem a bit, but unfortunately, even fair use is a tenuous legal foundation these days. Just ask Scott Baio, or Shepard Fairey

Near the end of his argument in the case, Golan v. Holder, No. 10-545, Mr. Falzone returned to the chief justice’s reference to performers like Hendrix.

“There can’t be any doubt, as I think Chief Justice Roberts got at, that the performance has a huge amount of original expression bound up in it,” Mr. Falzone said. “It’s the reason it’s different to see King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Company; it’s the reason it’s different when John Coltrane plays a jazz standard.”

Written by Seth Anderson

October 6th, 2011 at 8:19 am

US-TransCanada E-Mail Trail Reveals Corruption

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Free to Change Your Mind.
Free to Change Your Mind.

A little insight into how Washington corruption works – not necessarily with a suitcase of cash, though that is implied, but rather with government officials having a cozy relationship with industry. The Obama administration is better than the prior regime, but not by much…

A State Department official provided Fourth of July party invitations, subtle coaching and cheerleading, and inside information about Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings to a Washington lobbyist for a Canadian company seeking permission from the department to build a pipeline that would carry crude from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

E-mails released Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between the lobbyist for the pipeline company, Trans-Canada, and officials in the State Department, the agency responsible for evaluating and approving the billion-dollar project.

The exchanges provide a rare glimpse into how Washington works and the access familiarity can bring. The 200 pages are the second batch of documents and e-mails released so far.

They also offer insight into the company’s strategy, not revealed publicly before. TransCanada lobbyists exchanged e-mails with State Department officials in July about their intention to drop their request to operate the Keystone XL pipeline at higher pressures than normally allowed in the United States to win political support, but then suggested they would reapply for the exception once the project had been cleared.

“You see officials who see it as their business not to be an oversight agency but as a facilitator of TransCanada’s plans,” said Damon Moglen, the director of the climate and energy project for Friends of the Earth. While the e-mails refer to multiple meetings between TransCanada officials and assistant secretaries of state, he said, such access was denied to environmentalists seeking input, who had only one group meeting at that level.

Environmental groups argue that the 1,700-mile pipeline, which could carry 700,000 barrels a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas, would result in unacceptably high emissions and disrupt pristine ecosystems.

(click here to continue reading Pipeline Foes See Bias in U.S.-TransCanada E-Mail – NYTimes.com.)

Behind the Scenes at the Garfield Conservatory

From the Friends of the Earth website:

We have received a new round of documents from the State Department in response to our Freedom of Information Act request. These documents are deeply disturbing in that they provide definitive evidence of pro-pipeline bias and complicity at the State Department — including one “smoking gun” email (PDF) in which State Department employee Marja Verloop literally cheers “Go Paul!” for pipeline lobbyist Paul Elliott after he announces TransCanada has secured Senator Max Baucus’ support for the pipeline.

The most interesting emails in this tranche are between Elliott and Verloop, a member of the senior diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, with responsibility for energy and environment issues. In one back and forth, Elliott and Verloop discuss TransCanada’s July 2010 decision to abandon its efforts to obtain special permission to pump oil through the Keystone XL at higher-than-usual pressures. The same exchange contains a reference to reassurances from the State side that the 90-day review would “delay…State’s recommendation of a presidential permit but such a delay won’t be as long as the one advocated for by the EPA.” (PDF)

The exchange indicates an understanding between the State Department and TransCanada that TransCanada would be in a position to apply for a pressure increase after getting the permit. The tacit understanding on the permit and NID timing was even relayed by Verloop to her boss, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, in an email where she says to him: “TransCanada is comfortable and on board.” The revelation of the understanding between State and TransCanada on the pipeline pressure issue could be unwelcome to Senator Jon Tester, who announced his support for the pipeline only after he was reassured by TransCanada’s decision to lower the pressure.

 

(click here to continue reading New FOIA docs reveal smoking gun regarding State Department bias | Friends of the Earth.)

Written by Seth Anderson

October 5th, 2011 at 8:46 am

Self-inflicted Decline Of United States

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Neon Green Tea
Neon Green Tea

The United States has deep, serious structural problems with our economy, and yet the morons in Congress debate trivialities.

Malcom Fraser, former Prime Minister of Australia writes, part:

The United States’ friends around the world watched with dismay the recent brawl over raising the federal government’s debt ceiling, and the US congress’ inability to come to anything like a balanced and forward-looking compromise. On the contrary, the outcome represents a significant victory for the Tea Party’s minions, whose purpose seems to be to reduce government obligations and expenditures to a bare minimum (some object even to having a central bank), and to maintain President George W Bush’s outrageous tax breaks for the wealthy. The United States’ current fiscal problems are rooted in a long period of unfunded spending. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the manner in which he conducted the “global war on terror” made matters much worse, contributing to a totally unsustainable situation. Indeed, Obama inherited an almost impossible legacy.

In the weeks since the debt ceiling agreement, it has become increasingly clear that good government might be impossible in the US. The coming months of campaigning for the US presidency will be spent in petty brawling over what should be cut. The example of recent weeks gives us no cause for optimism that US legislators will rise above partisan politics and ask themselves what is best for America.

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that financial markets have returned to extreme volatility. The expenditure cuts mandated by the outcome of the debt-ceiling debate will reduce economic activity, thereby undermining growth and making debt reduction even more difficult. Providing further fiscal stimulus to boost economic growth would carry its own risks, owing to the debt ceiling and another, more ominous factor: the US is already overly indebted, and there are signs that major holders of US government securities are finally tired of being repaid in depreciated currency.

Most importantly, China’s call for the introduction of a new reserve currency stems from its frustration with the failure of major governments – whether in the US or Europe – to govern their economic affairs with realism and good sense. China recognises that the US is in great difficulty (indeed, it recognises this more clearly than the US itself), and that, given the poisonous political atmosphere prevailing in Washington, there will be no easy return to good government, economic stability, and strong growth.

(click here to continue reading America’s self-inflicted decline – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.)

Bank of China
Bank of China

One more important excerpt from Mr. Fraser’s Op-Ed:

The counter-argument – that any sell-off or failure by China to continue to buy US government securities would hurt China as much as the US – is not valid. As each year passes, China’s markets expand worldwide, and its domestic market comes to represent a greater percentage of its own GDP. As a result, China will not need a strong dollar in the long term. Americans need to get their economic house in order before China loses its incentive to support the dollar.

On several occasions in the post-WWII period, the US has learned with great pain that there are limits to the effective use of military power. US objectives could not be achieved in Vietnam. The outcome in Iraq will not be determined until the last American troops have been withdrawn. In Afghanistan, where withdrawal dates have already been set, it is difficult to believe that a cohesive unified state can be established.

As the efficacy of military power is reduced, so the importance of economic power grows. Recognition of these central realities – and bipartisanship in addressing them – is critical for America’s future, and for that of the West.

We ignore these realities at our peril – and allowing the Tea Party to control policy is akin to letting someone hepped up on bath salts pilot your airplane. Dangerously stupid, in other words.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 5th, 2011 at 8:53 am

Greening the concrete jungle

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Green Alley, signed by Richard M Daley
Green Alley, signed by Richard M Daley

Baby steps, yet they should be celebrated because the alternative is sitting on our hands as the planet fries…

THERE are many places in Illinois where you expect to find a prairie. The roof of City Hall in Chicago is not among them. Yet there it is—20,000 square feet (almost half an acre) of shrubs, vines and small trees, 11 storeys above LaSalle Avenue. Planted in 2000, City Hall’s “green roof” reduces the amount of energy needed to cool the building in the summer; captures water during rainstorms, thus reducing the amount of water flowing into Chicago’s already overtaxed sewers; and combats the urban “heat island” effect, which makes cities warmer than nearby rural areas. On average, air temperatures above City Hall are 10-15°F degrees lower than those above the adjacent black-tar roof of the Cook County Building; on hot summer days the difference can be as great as 50°F.

Large as it is, City Hall’s roof accounts for a small proportion of Chicago’s total green-roof space. And those roofs are just one part of Chicago’s Climate Action Plan (CCAP), which was launched in September 2008 and was preceded by years of green initiatives during the tenure of Richard Daley, who from 1989 until earlier this year was mayor of Chicago. CCAP aims to reduce Chicago’s greenhouse-gas emissions to 75% of their 1990 levels by 2020, and to just 20% of their 1990 levels by 2050. In the two years after CCAP’s launch public-transport ridership rose, millions of gallons of water were conserved, hundreds of hybrid buses were added to Chicago’s fleet and over 13,000 housing units and nearly 400 commercial buildings were retrofitted for energy efficiency.

These achievements have come not through sweeping social engineering, or by making Chicagoans dine on tofu, sprouts and recycled rainwater while sitting in the dark, but by simple tweaks. City buses inevitably need replacing; so why not replace them with hybrid models that are not only 60% lower in carbon emissions than standard diesel buses, but also 30% more fuel-efficient and will save an estimated $7m a year in fuel and upkeep? Alleys—Chicago has 1,900 miles of them—will inevitably need repaving; why not repave them with permeable, light-coloured surfaces rather than asphalt to reduce water run-off into sewers and reflect rather than retain the sun’s light and heat?

(click here to continue reading Cities and climate change: Greening the concrete jungle | The Economist.)

There Is Only This Kind
There Is Only This Kind

Daley’s plan has been criticized because implementation has been slow, but at least something is happening, in Chicago, and nine other American metropolitan areas that are leading this effort:

Chicago and New York are just two of the ten American cities—the others are Austin, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle—who are members of the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group (mercifully renamed the C40), which now comprises 58 cities around the world. Roughly 297m people, less than 5% of the Earth’s total, live in the 40 charter-member C40 cities. But they account for 18% of the world’s GDP and 10% of its carbon emissions.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 5th, 2011 at 8:29 am