Sunday, December 30, 2007

Corruption Persists in New York State Legislature

By Mary Cuddehe, Ellen Gabler, and Emily Pickrell
Albany Times Union
December 30, 2007

In a perfect world elected lawmakers would always obey the laws they alone are entrusted to enact, but public records show that, in Albany, lawmakers are anything but perfect.

An investigation for the Times Union by the Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting at Columbia University found that about one-fifth of elected legislators in New York have, by some measure, broken some law in recent years. While most of those cases were traffic violations, more than a dozen involved acts charged as crimes -- frequently bribery or theft.

Currently, two accused lawmakers have refused to leave office despite a mountain of evidence compiled by citizen grand juries who indicted them for felony crimes -- and legislative leaders have done nothing to officially discipline or remove them.

Assemblywoman Diane Gordon, D-Brooklyn, continues to hold office even after the Brooklyn district attorney released video recordings showing her agreeing to receive a house in exchange for arranging a $2 million land deal for a developer. She declined to comment.

State Sen. Efrain Gonzalez, D-Bronx, continues to hold office while awaiting trial on federal charges that he funneled $423,000 in taxpayer money through a charity to finance his cigar company, buy Yankees tickets and pay his daughter's tuition.

"You're innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," said Gonzalez, who was re-elected by a landslide in the Bronx last year.

Such cases have become a perennial disappointment for good-government advocates in Albany who for years have pressed for real ethics reform that, when it comes to lawmakers themselves, has never really come.

"I think what most citizens would say to them is how dare you do this to the working men and women of New York," said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters. "You are in a cherished position, voted into office by your constituency, and you let them down; you violated their trust."

Two lawmakers charged with driving while intoxicated this year had their driver's licenses suspended after they refused to take a Breathalyzer test: Assemblyman Karim Camara, D-Brooklyn, and Sen. John Sabini, D-Queens. Sabini said it was inappropriate for two student journalists to surprise him in the Capitol this month with a video camera and ask, on behalf of voters, if he was drunk when police arrested him in Albany. "No, I pleaded not guilty," he said.

Like many lawmakers, Sabini bristles at the suggestion he deserves to be labeled a lawbreaker in the press before his day in court. "I'm only charged at this stage," he said.

Sometimes lawmakers advocate legislation even as they violate the letter or spirit of the laws they propose.

Nancy Calhoun, a Republican assemblywoman from Blooming Grove, has called herself "a prime advocate for fighting crime." In 2005, the same year she co-sponsored a bill to strengthen anti-stalking laws, Calhoun pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree harassment for stalking an ex-boyfriend. The case was subsequently sealed in Orange County.

Rarely, a lawmaker admits his or her mistake and becomes a determined advocate to strengthen the law.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine, D-Nassau, received a ticket for speeding in October 2006. Since then, Lavine has voted in favor of cameras that catch speeders and co-sponsored a bill to double fines for speeding in a school zone. "In an age in which few accept responsibility for their faults, you may find it refreshing to know that I actually was guilty," Lavine said.

Since 2000, 13 members, past and present, occupying one of the 212 seats in the New York state Senate and Assembly combined, faced criminal charges or were convicted of crimes.

Another 10 lawmakers have had their driver's licenses suspended, typically for failing to respond to a court summons. Another 10 have been cited for speeding, driving while talking on a cellphone, ignoring a traffic signal or driving without a seat belt. Still another 15 had a traffic violation that prompted them to attend class to erase points from their driving record. That's 48 lawmakers implicated in or found guilty of lawbreaking.

One former assemblyman, Clarence Norman, formerly chairman of Brooklyn's Democratic Party, is currently serving a 3-to-9-year sentence in state prison for stealing the public's money and selling his party's control over judgeships.

Adult arrest rates for crimes within large populations in the United States are measured in different, sometimes flawed ways by states and the federal government, but depending on the criteria, they can range from a few percentage points to more than 5 percent. That suggests the arrest rate for the state Legislature, arguably just above 5 percent, may be normal.

However, these are elected lawmakers. While outright crime is the exception rather than the norm at the Capitol, government watchdog groups bemoan a system of legal loopholes in Albany that encourages bribery and a legislative culture prone to winks and nods with only private wrist-slapping for any ethics violations.

"I don't think it's just a few bad apples. I think the system is just ripe for corruption," said Rachel Leon, the former executive director of Common Cause, a citizens' group that lobbies for clean elections and ethical standards for elected officials.

"In most states, if you have one arrest, you get reform handed to you on a platter. In New York, you get person after person after person" arrested without censure, she said. "It's an entrenched system, an old-world style of politics that really needs to be updated."

Voters should not hold their breath.

In March 2007, a sweeping ethics reform bill approved by the Legislature combined the state's Ethics and Lobbying commissions under the new Commission on Public Integrity. But during the bill's drafting the Legislature insisted on a separation of powers from the new commission's authority, which has effectively left lawmakers in charge of policing their own ethical misconduct -- just as they had, or had not, under their existing ethics laws.

In fact, the former Legislative Ethics Committee, comprised solely of lawmakers chosen by legislative leaders, never rebuked a single legislator for any ethics violations during its 20-year existence. That inaction was predictable of what happens when powerful people are left alone to judge and punish themselves, said David Grandeau, formerly director of the now-disbanded state Temporary Commission on Lobbying.

"It is very difficult to perform your job if you're worried you'll be fired for it," Grandeau said. "These integrity commissions need to have not only independence, but there needs to be an effective buffer for the employees."

"You are going to have bad people doing bad things throughout the country," Grandeau said. "What we do have is a structure that enables it."

Albany observers say that a lack of campaign finance control contributes to corrupt behavior.

New York's current campaign finance laws let corporations receiving economic development aid and unions benefiting from public contracts contribute huge sums to politicians, creating the perception of a "pay-to-play" system, according to a 2006 Brennan Center for Justice study. Direct corporate donations to politicians are illegal in federal elections.

Some New York legislators have gone to town with their campaign funds, financing everything from lavish vacations to college tuition to private cellphone bills. In 2001, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, a Republican, used campaign funds to buy a swimming pool cover for his property in Brunswick, later claiming that he used the area for political events.

Former state Sen. Guy Velella, R-Bronx, used his campaign funds for his legal defense against charges he had accepted bribes. He eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for steering public works contracts to favored bidders who, in turn, made payments to law firms he controlled.

A lawmaker accused of a crime in New York does not automatically lose office. Some win re-election. Some don't even try.

Former state Sen. John "Randy" Kuhl Jr., R-Hammondsport, pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in September 1997. That conviction surfaced in 2004, when he was elected U.S. representative of the 29th District.

In 2003, former Assemblywoman Gloria Davis, D-Bronx, agreed to resign and spent two months in jail for collecting state travel expenses for free automobile trips to Albany. She also admitted receiving $24,000 from a contractor she helped reward with an $880,000 contract. Though former Assemblyman Roger Green, D-Brooklyn, was convicted of petty larceny in 2004 for also using free rides, he was re-elected.

In 2006, former assemblyman and labor leader Brian McLaughlin, D-Queens, pleaded not guilty to 44 charges, including labor bribery and money-laundering. He was indicted for stealing $2.2 million from, among other groups, a Little League baseball team. McLaughlin resigned.

Former Sen. Ada Smith, D-Queens, was found guilty of second-degree harassment in Albany for throwing hot coffee at an aide who had commented on her weight. She was fined $250, ran for re-election in 2006 and lost in a primary race.

"What all these indictments say generally about Albany is that the environment is still ripe" for corruption, said Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "Until we close loopholes on ethics and campaign reform, we'll continue to have these kinds of problems," Bartoletti said. "We have the most loophole-ridden law in the nation."

This year's ethics reform law has been widely panned as ineffective and an agreement for some campaign finance reform fell apart amid squabbling between Bruno and the governor, but some good government groups view the recent conviction of Norman as a sign that accountability is possible in the courts.

Copyright 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kucinich Excluded From Iowa Debate

by Gore Vidal
December 18, 2007

I don’t know how many of you were as appalled as I was at the way that the presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was totally erased from the last Democratic debate held in Iowa. This was a decision that was made, I can tell, jointly by the one-time voice of AIPAC, Mr. Wolf Blitzer, and, at the same time, The Des Moines Register—or whatever it is called—a paper of no consequence for the United States of America.

Elements of right-wingism are keeping his voice from being heard, even though there are many millions of us (Kucinich is ahead of both Biden and Dodd in the national polls) out here who like to hear his voice. He is in the great tradition of the original People’s Party of the 1880s; he is in the tradition of George Washington and of Thomas Jefferson, and to silence him with a bunch of political hacks who have made such a mess of our political system, pretending these were the only voices who could talk as presidential candidates ... is it because of their campaign budgets?

Now, I know, as all of you know, that people can come in with millions of dollars, like Romney and so on, and can buy time in Iowa and in the North Pole or wherever it is they are running. They can buy it, but to get an honest member of Congress speaking out for the people of the country is a great and rare thing.

I have listened to many political debates in my lifetime, if I may pull rank because I have been around longer than anybody else, and here is a voice not only against the war but the entire course leading us to it. I haven’t heard anybody who has ever listened to Kucinich who didn’t say, “Oh yes, yes, what he says is true, but nobody will ever take him seriously.”

Well, of course nobody will ever take him seriously, because they won’t let him on TV to stand side by side with the other candidates—some of them attractive candidates but whose roots are not as deep as his in what we may call “American life.” Dennis Kucinich was brought up in poverty, something the other candidates talk about but he actually lived through. He has known poverty in the richest country on Earth, a country that is constantly boasting, that seems to be out of control with self-love. Well, I say let’s have less self-love and pay some attention to our serious critics—and he is one—and his is a voice that’s showing us how to get to the exit from the box that we are all in.

It is so typical for CNN, a lousy network, and whatever that awful newspaper is called. Do we want to listen to them at the close of a primary campaign in a key state? They have nothing to say of any interest, and so they eliminate any voice that might say something intelligent. I have never felt more ashamed being an American than when I saw how this debate was handled.

Copyright © 2007 Truthdig, L.L.C.

The Ecopolitan

by Jay Walljasper
The Green Guide
December 18, 2007

Our planet is often described as a global village. But today that village looks bigger and more bustling than it once did.

At some point, either this year or next, the majority of people around the globe will live in urban areas rather than in the countryside. This makes it more crucial than ever that we find ways to keep our cities clean, green and livable.

Many green advocates now see creating sustainable communities as a major solution to problems such as global warming, loss of wilderness and out-of-control energy use. And savvy urban dwellers everywhere are working up ingenious plans to help heal the Earth. They are starting car-sharing programs, reusing abandoned buildings, farming in their backyards, joining community eco-teams, restoring urban streams and wetlands, commuting by transit or computer modem, cleaning up toxic dumps, strengthening the neighborly spirit of cooperation, and much more....

I've long been an ardent environmentalist, beginning with Earth Day clean-ups that captured my young imagination. But cities have always delighted me, too, ever since college when I first set eyes on the sidewalk cafes of Montreal.

I once worried these were contradictory passions, like being a vegetarian who loves pork chops. But I have come to understand that cities are simply another form of ecosystem--a diverse, dynamic human habitat full of potential for environmental innovation.

Working as a journalist, I have been lucky enough to get paid to pursue my passion: finding real-life examples of how we can save the planet in our own backyards. As editor of Utne Reader magazine for many years and now as roving writer for Ode magazine and senior fellow at the green urbanist group, Project for Public Spaces, I've explored Moscow and Milwaukee, Santiago and Seattle, cities along the Amazon, Rhine, and Ohio rivers. And I come back each time with exciting news: the same qualities that make communities sustainable also make them more interesting, comfortable, uplifting places to live. That's the theme of my new book, The Great Neighborhood Book ($19.95, New Society Publishers, 2007),which is filled with stories of how everyday people improve their communities and their own lives at the same time.

That's also the unmistakable conclusion my wife, Julie, and I have drawn from years of working on community projects here at home in Minneapolis. What's good for the environment--whether a bike trail, new parkland, green development projects or community revitalization initiatives--turns out to be good for the city, helping it thrive economically and culturally.

I am thrilled to launch The Ecopolitan blog all about green cities, and I look forward to hearing about what's going on in your hometown. Block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, we can restore the Earth.

© The Green Guide, 2007

The Ludicrousness of Stephen Johnson

by David Roberts
December 19, 2007

Today the U.S. EPA denied California's request for a waiver exempting it from federal fuel economy standards, allowing it to implement its own standards. EPA administrator Stephen Johnson announced the decision in a rushed press conference following President Bush's signing of the energy bill.

The announcement came with a veritable torrent of dishonest spin. Let me try to disentangle some of it.

1. Johnson leaned heavily on today's passage of the energy bill, saying that a "uniform national standard" is preferable to a "confusing patchwork of state standards."

The "patchwork" line is completely disingenuous. There aren't multiple standards in different states. There's one: California's standard, which other states can choose by law to adopt, or not. Seventeen states, representing over half the U.S. population, have pledged to adopt it.

2. Johnson said that he'd had "hours and hours" of briefing from the EPA's "world-class professional staff," which provided him with many "pros and cons" upon which he based his decision.

There's good reason to believe this is false. According to House Oversight Committee chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and other sources, the EPA's professional staff was cut out of the debate (PDF), which proceeded almost entirely on political grounds. Indeed, EPA staff overwhelmingly believes that the waiver should be granted. [Juliet Eilperin confirmed this.]

3. Johnson asserted that the newly passed CAFE standards (35mpg) are tougher than California's standards, which he said would amount to 33.5mpg.

The reason automakers have lobbied the White House so hard to get this decision is that California's standards are tougher than the new federal standards. The 33.5mpg number appears to have been pulled out of Johnson's rear. [UPDATE: Apparently, Cali's standards would reach 33.5mpg by 2016, while the federal standards would reach 35mpg by 2020. Also, Cali's standards cover all emissions related to use of all vehicles, while the fed standards only concern fuel economy. [UPDATE UPDATE: Calif. officials dispute Johnson's number.]] Regardless, the Calif. standards were always meant to be ramped steadily up over time, in keeping with their climate change action plan (the current standards go through about 2016). Make no mistake: this is a gift to automakers.

4. Johnson said he was denying the waiver on the basis of section 209 of the Clean Air Act. He said this request for a waiver was "distinct from all prior requests," in that the previous requests regarded local pollutants, and GHGs are global pollutants. Thus, California does not meet the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" called for by the Act.

This flies in the face of the clear language of the CAA and the just-passed energy bill, both of which explicitly reserve for California the right to exceed federal fuel economy standards. It also directly contradicts rulings in several recent court cases. Johnson's legal reasoning has no support outside of Bush administration political appointees.

In short, as Johnson all but admitted, this decision was made based on a "policy preference" of the White House -- exactly what was prohibited by the Supreme Court's ruling in Mass. v. EPA.

Schwarzenegger and state Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. are preparing an immediate lawsuit. Sen. Barbara Boxer said she is "prepared to take all measures to overturn this harmful decision" via legislation. Waxman says his Oversight Committee will immediately launch an investigation into how the decision was made.

There's no way this decision will stand for long. It's just another petty act of truculent defiance from an executive branch that history has left behind. Quite a legacy.

©2007 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Latest Word On Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Richard A. Friedman, M.D.
The New York Times
December 18, 2007

In a few days, the winter solstice will plunge us into the longest and darkest night of the year. Is it any surprise that we humans respond with a holiday season of relentless cheer and partying?

It doesn’t work for everyone, though. As daylight wanes, millions begin to feel depressed, sluggish and socially withdrawn. They also tend to sleep more, eat more and have less sex. By spring or summer the symptoms abate, only to return the next autumn.

Once regarded skeptically by the experts, seasonal affective disorder, SAD for short, is now well established. Epidemiological studies estimate that its prevalence in the adult population ranges from 1.4 percent (Florida) to 9.7 percent (New Hampshire).

Researchers have noted a similarity between SAD symptoms and seasonal changes in other mammals, particularly those that sensibly pass the dark winter hibernating in a warm hole. Animals have brain circuits that sense day length and control the timing of seasonal behavior. Do humans do the same?

In 2001, Dr. Thomas A. Wehr and Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, psychiatrists at the National Institute of Mental Health, ran an intriguing experiment. They studied two patient groups for 24 hours in winter and summer, one group with seasonal depression and one without.

A major biological signal tracking seasonal sunlight changes is melatonin, a brain chemical turned on by darkness and off by light. Dr. Wehr and Dr. Rosenthal found that the patients with seasonal depression had a longer duration of nocturnal melatonin secretion in the winter than in the summer, just as with other mammals with seasonal behavior.

Why did the normal patients show no seasonal change in melatonin secretion? One possibility is exposure to industrial light, which can suppress melatonin. Perhaps by keeping artificial light constant during the year, we can suppress the “natural” variation in melatonin experienced by SAD patients.

There might have been a survival advantage, a few hundred thousand years back, to slowing down and conserving energy — sleeping and eating more — in winter. Could people with seasonal depression be the unlucky descendants of those well-adapted hominids?

Regardless, no one with SAD has to wait for spring and summer to feel better. “Bright light in the early morning is a powerful, fast and effective treatment for seasonal depression,” said Dr. Rosenthal, now a professor of clinical psychiatry at the Georgetown Medical School and author of “Winter Blues” (Guilford, 1998). “Light is a nutrient of sorts for these patients.”

The timing of phototherapy is critical. “To determine the best time for light therapy, you need to know about a person’s individual circadian rhythm,” said Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at the Columbia University Medical Center.

People are most responsive to light therapy early in the morning, just when melatonin secretion begins to wane, about eight to nine hours after the nighttime surge begins.

How can the average person figure that out without a blood test? By a simple questionnaire that assesses “morningness” or “eveningness” and that strongly correlates with plasma melatonin levels, according to Dr. Terman.

The nonprofit Center for Environmental Therapeutics has a questionnaire on its Web site (

Once you know the optimal time, the standard course is 30 minutes of fluorescent soft-white light at 10,000 lux a day. You may discover that you are most photoresponsive very early, depending on whether you are a lark (early to bed and early to rise) or an owl.

The effects of light therapy are fast, usually four to seven days, compared with antidepressants, which can take four to six weeks to work.

For treatment while sleeping, there is dawn simulation. You get your own 90-minute sunrise from a light on a timer that starts with starlight intensity and ends with the equivalent of shaded sun. This is less effective than bright light.

It may sound suspiciously close to snake oil, but the newest promising therapy for SAD is negative air ionization. Dr. Terman found it serendipitously when he used a negative ion generator as a placebo control for bright light, only to discover that high-flow negative ions had positive effects on mood.

Heated and air-conditioned environments are low in negative ion content. Humid places, forests and the shore are loaded with them. It makes you wonder whether there is something, after all, to those tales about the mistral and all those hot dry winds, full of bad positive ions, that supposedly drive people mad.

Of course, you might decide to drop the light and ions and head for a sunny, tropical vacation.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Nation Consumed

by Paul Grondahl
Albany Times Union
December 16, 2007

Fat used to be funny.

Some of America's favorite comics from W.C. Fields to Jackie Gleason, Roseanne Barr to Rosie O'Donnell used to get a lot of mileage out of being fat.

Something has shifted in the country's cultural zeitgeist, however, and now "O'' for obesity has become America's latest scarlet letter.

Just 13 percent of Americans were obese in 1960, and the rate has increased every year since. An ongoing study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that by 2015 nearly 75 percent of Americans will be overweight. Obesity, basically an unhealthy ratio of weight to height, is becoming the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

We're burying our heads at a time when more than 280,000 Americans die each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. That's equal to the combined populations of Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Colonie combined dying annually because of obesity-related diseases and chronic conditions.

Talk to pediatricians, nutritionists and surgeons on the front lines of obesity's culture wars and you hear fear, anger and exasperation in their voices.

"Genetics loads the gun. And the environment pulls the trigger,'' said Dr. Sharon Alger, head of Albany Medical Center's Northeast Center for Eating Disorders.

Dr. Jennifer Lindstrom, a pediatrician and medical director of Albany Med's bariatric surgery center, is seeing an alarming increase in the number of children becoming sick and even dying of what had previously been considered adult diseases as the result of morbid, or extreme, obesity.

Crisis and epidemic are Lindstrom's words for what's happening.

Last year, a 17-year-old Albany girl, who was 5-foot-1, weighed 310 pounds and had a 50-inch waist, died from type 2 diabetes, a form of the chronic disease often triggered by obesity.

But Lindstrom does not recommend bariatric surgery for children, because it carries risks and fundamentally alters an individual's lifestyle. The term "bariatric surgery'' refers to several procedures that drastically reduce the capacity of the stomach, making it physically difficult for the patient to eat to excess.

If current trends continue, America's children could become the first generation in more than a century to have shorter life spans than their parents.

Nine million children are overweight in the United States, yet pediatricians concede they're reluctant to warn parents that their child is fat and at-risk for health problems, because the mothers and fathers are obese and in denial themselves.

Don't anticipate a belly laugh anymore after an obese person sits down and causes a chair to collapse. Doctor's offices and weight-loss centers have furnished their waiting rooms with extra-wide, heavily reinforced chairs known as "bariatric chairs.''

Observing an adult obesity support group isn't funny, either. Nobody's giggling as a 400-pound woman in her 50s describes how excess fat in her neck chokes off her windpipe while she sleeps and causes her to stop breathing for a time. If she doesn't lose weight, her doctor told her, the next step will be a tracheotomy cutting a hole in her throat and inserting a tube so she can breathe.

Other men and women attending the Thursday night group have similar stories. They've become prisoners of their own bodies. Being so overweight has also caused many of them to withdraw socially out of embarrassment and shame.

Obesity seems to have joined smoking, drinking and gambling in our collective community wood pile where the addictions, obsessions and compulsions end up because we have failed to deal with such behavior.

"Fat friends'' are the new "drinking buddies.'' Instead of going bar hopping, obese pals are gorging their way across all-you-can-eat buffets.

It turns out obesity may be contagious. A Harvard study found that obesity spreads in ways similar to influenza or HIV/AIDS, across groups of close friends and social networks.

Researchers studied the spread of obesity in a network of 12,067 people who underwent repeated measurements over a period of 32 years. They found that if a person becomes obese, a friend's chances of becoming obese rises 57 percent, a sibling's chances go up 40 percent and a spouse's chances increase 37 percent.

Obesity's annual cost has surpassed $100 billion nationally, and health insurers are scrambling to offer weight loss programs, some with euphemistic names like Weigh 2 Be.

Yet, who wants to be the self-appointed scold when we've become a nation blithely stuffing ourselves in a land of cheap, abundant food. How much and what we eat is a deep paradox: It's killing us and comforting us at the same time. Feeling depressed? Nothing that a triple-scoop chocolate sundae can't fix oh, and extra whipped cream, please.

What was the tipping point in this feeding frenzy?

It now costs three times as much for a gallon of gas as it does for an artery-clogging hamburger or crispy chicken sandwich at ubiquitous fast food chains.

We've passed laws and called out the trans fat police "No Trans Fat'' has become a sign of the times in windows of strip-mall eateries and yet the communal waistline continues to expand.

You can hardly channel-surf without landing on a program about obesity. Reality TV is jumping all over the topic as if it's the next big ratings prize, ready to eclipse Texas Hold 'Em and celebrity chef shows. There was Shaq, barking out orders to fat kids in Florida. "The Biggest Loser'' is still a popular TV show. Celebrity magazines can't get enough of it.

BMI, body mass index, a mathematical computation of height and weight that indicates how overweight a person is, now defines our bodies and ourselves.

And yet this YouTube-ification of obesity feels like the mental equivalent of a super-size order of cheesy curly fries. Salty and appealing. Lots of empty calories. You'll hate yourself in the morning.

Is there a way forward, an exit strategy, for our nation's obesity quagmire?

New research isn't yielding breakthroughs so much as confirming that controlling the nation's epidemic is at once ridiculously simple and maddeningly complex.

"The big, deep dark secret behind weight control is that weight loss and weight maintenance is still 99.9 percent on the patient,'' said Dr. Carl Rosati, a surgeon with Albany Med's bariatric surgery center.

Copyright 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Highly Toxic Pesticide Approved By EPA

by Tom Philpott
December 6, 2007

In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted temporary approval for use of methyl iodide, a highly toxic fumigant favored by large-scale strawberry and other fruit growers to sterilize soil ahead of planting.

The move generated outrage among scientists, though it didn't get much play in a news cycle dominated by the presidential election and high oil prices.

About a year before the unfortunate decision -- one of the most disputed in the EPA's history -- EPA director Stephen Johnson appointed a woman named Elin Miller to a high post within the agency. Before swinging through the revolving door to work as a regulator, Miller worked as CEO of the North American arm of Arysta, the Japan-based chemical giant that markets methyl iodide under the brand name Midas. Before that, Miller worked at Dow Chemical, "overseeing the company's public affairs, global pest management, and Asia Pacific operations," an EPA press release states, without an ounce of shame.

Coincidentally or not, weeks after the EPA gave methyl iodide the thumbs up, Arysta got snapped up by a European buyout firm for a cool $2.2 billion. Talk about the Midas touch.

In this age of Halliburton and Blackwater, none of this counts as remarkable or generates much discussion. Like a toxic fumigant, unchecked crony capitalism spreads a cynical haze over the political landscape. If we're powerless to stop the slow-motion calamity in Iraq, what can we do for a bunch of migrant farmworkers?

Yet each bite we take ties us to the people who grow our food. The methyl iodide situation deserves more thought.

©2007 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Lending a Voice to the Homeless

by ABC News
November 9, 2007

Platinum-selling singer and songwriter Natalie Merchant is lending her world-famous voice to the homeless.

"Homeless people are dehumanized by the whole experience," Merchant told ABC News' Charles Gibson in an interview, "and really isolated and robbed of their humanity in the eyes of so many of the nonhomeless people."

Merchant decided that the way to restore human dignity to the homeless was to give them a voice, and she lent them hers. Merchant and other musical celebrities like Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Keb' Mo' paired up with homeless and formerly homeless musicians to create a new album called "Give Us Your Poor." Songs on the album were also written by homeless artists.

Merchant described the collaboration as a musical petition on behalf of the homeless: "It's like stop pretending you don't notice us. Listen to us. And that's what I want this record to do. I want people to listen and allow these people to reestablish their humanity."

"That's how we express our humanity, is we speak to each other. We tell our stories. And they were telling their stories through their music," she said.

But Merchant wanted to do more than just sing a duet. She solicited demos throughout the country's homeless shelters until she found Nicole, a 15-year-old who crooned about looking for someone to rob after feeling desperate and being jobless.

"It seems the song just had the essence of what I was looking for. I was looking for the story of a homeless person trying to explain what it feels like," she said.

She produced and arranged the song, then recorded it with six musicians who are living or who once lived on the street, including Grammy-nominated blues man Sam McClain, who spent 20 years without a home.

"When people open their mouths to sing, it comes from a deep place where they store all the experiences of their lives," Merchant said. "And when the mighty Sam McClain opens his mouth, you know this man has had a life where he has known a lot of pain and suffering, but also joy."

Regarding the entire collaboration, she said, "It was a deep, fundamental, emotional exchange that took place. They were able to express themselves in a way and on a scale that they had never been able to before."

Merchant's work with "Give Us Your Poor" isn't over yet. She is co-headlining a benefit concert with Mighty Sam McClain and other artists in Boston Nov. 16.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Why Can't We Rely On Uncle Sam?

by Alix Clyburn
The Green Guide
November 28, 2007

As I write this, I'm listening to "Fresh Air" on NPR and learning that nearly every single thing in my life is leaking out questionable chemicals called phthalates (thay-lates).

My cosmetics, the dashboard of my car, nearly anything plastic . . . apparently these phthalates are in them all and slowly leak out into the atmosphere and will, I don't know, turn us into hermaphrodites?

The worst of it is not the phthalates in my mascara or my shampoo. It's in children's toys. My sons' toys are filled with phthalates. Apparently, studies have shown that these chemicals have an impact on the testosterone development in children. They call the plastics "hormone disrupters." Not good. Too much testosterone? Too little testosterone? Who cares? Either way, not so good.

Mark Schapiro is an investigative reporter who wrote a book about this called Exposed and was interviewed by Terry Gross. His book is excerpted in the article "Toxic Toys" on the website of The Nation.

In Europe, they have banned phthalates from children's toys. Those Eurokids still have lots of fun toys. The Chinese factories still make them, in fact. According to Schapiro, the Chinese factories literally make a phthalate-free version for Europe and a phthalate-laden version of the same toy for lucky American boys and girls. This is ludicrous. In October, California mandated that their toys be phthalate-free too. If Ahnold can make it happen, why can't the rest of us?

I don't even know that much about it, but a little bit of reading online can make you want to toss every toy in your house. Our host here, The Green Guide, has been talking about the dangers of phthalates since 1997, and more recently covered a CDC report that does not fill me with confidence. That said, the updated Toy Product Report is filled with better options. Maybe I should read more but when?? How are we parents supposed to stay on top of all of this, to protect our children from their own toys? When are we supposed to do that while we're also trying to actually care for our children, work and manage our own lives? If it's easy enough for moms and dads in Denmark and Spain to rely on their government to prevent these hormone disrupting chemicals from seeping into their babies' bodies, why can't we rely on Uncle Sam?

© The Green Guide 2007

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Our Troops Must Leave Iraq

by Walter Cronkite and David Krieger
Common Dreams News Center

The American people no longer support the war in Iraq. The war is being carried on by a stubborn president who, like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War, does not want to lose. But from the beginning this has been an ill-considered and poorly prosecuted war that, like the Vietnam War, has diminished respect for America. We believe Mr. Bush would like to drag the war on long enough to hand it off to another president.

The war in Iraq reminds us of the tragedy of the Vietnam War. Both wars began with false assertions by the president to the American people and the Congress. Like Vietnam, the Iraq War has introduced a new vocabulary: “shock and awe,” “mission accomplished,” “the surge.” Like Vietnam, we have destroyed cities in order to save them. It is not a strategy for success.

The Bush administration has attempted to forestall ending the war by putting in more troops, but more troops will not solve the problem. We have lost the hearts and minds of most of the Iraqi people, and victory no longer seems to be even a remote possibility. It is time to end our occupation of Iraq, and bring our troops home.

This war has had only limited body counts. There are reports that more than one million Iraqis have died in the war. These reports cannot be corroborated because the US military does not make public the number of the Iraqi dead and injured. There are also reports that some four million Iraqis have been displaced and are refugees either abroad or within their own country. Iraqis with the resources to leave the country have left. They are frightened. They don’t trust the US, its allies or its mercenaries to protect them and their interests.

We know more about the body counts of American soldiers in Iraq. Some 4,000 American soldiers have been killed in this war, about a third more than the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. And some 28,000 American soldiers have suffered debilitating injuries. Many more have been affected by the trauma of war in ways that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives - ways that will have serious effects not only on their lives and the lives of their loved ones, but on society as a whole. Due to woefully inadequate resources being provided, our injured soldiers are not receiving the medical treatment and mental health care that they deserve.

The invasion of Iraq was illegal from the start. Not only was Congress lied to in order to secure its support for the invasion of Iraq, but the war lacked the support of the United Nations Security Council and thus was an aggressive war initiated on the false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Nor has any assertion of a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda proven to be true. In the end, democracy has not come to Iraq. Its government is still being forced to bend to the will of the US administration.

What the war has accomplished is the undermining of US credibility throughout the world, the weakening of our military forces, and the erosion of our Bill of Rights. Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz calculates that the war is costing American tax payers more than $1 trillion. This amount could double if we continue the war. Each minute we are spending $500,000 in Iraq. Our losses are incalculable. It is time to remove our military forces from Iraq.

We must ask ourselves whether continuing to pursue this war is benefiting the American people or weakening us. We must ask whether continuing the war is benefiting the Iraqi people or inflicting greater suffering upon them. We believe the answer to these inquiries is that both the American and Iraqi people would benefit by ending the US military presence in Iraq.

Moving forward is not complicated, but it will require courage. Step one is to proceed with the rapid withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and hand over the responsibility for the security of Iraq to Iraqi forces. Step two is to remove our military bases from Iraq and to turn Iraqi oil over to Iraqis. Step three is to provide resources to the Iraqis to rebuild the infrastructure that has been destroyed in the war.

Congress must act. Although Congress never declared war, as required by the Constitution, they did give the president the authority to invade Iraq. Congress must now withdraw that authority and cease its funding of the war.

It is not likely, however, that Congress will act unless the American people make their voices heard with unmistakable clarity. That is the way the Vietnam War was brought to an end. It is the way that the Iraq War will also be brought to an end. The only question is whether it will be now, or whether the war will drag on, with all the suffering that implies, to an even more tragic, costly and degrading defeat. We will be a better, stronger and more decent country to bring the troops home now.

© Copyrighted 2007

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Forest Expansion Could Be Key to Carbon Dioxide Reduction

by Paul Eccleston
The Telegraph
November 29, 2007

Planting more trees could be the key to cutting CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, according to a new scientific study.

Between 1990 and 2005 the expansion of forests in the 27 EU countries absorbed an additional 126m tonnes of carbon each year - equal to 11 per cent of the continent's emissions.

The findings stunned a research team from the University of Helsinki who had in 1992 estimated the rate of increase of CO2 absorption through the expansion of forests at no more than 5 per cent.

"This shows that forests have been more important than switching to renewables in combating carbon emissions. Renewables have a part to play but they don't have as big a role as forests," said Professor Pekka E Kauppi who led the research.

"The message has to be - plant more trees. It is up to the negotiators who formulate policy but we think this is an important additional weapon."

EU leaders agreed the 20 per cent target earlier this year but no decision has been made on how the reductions will be divided among member states and whether carbon land-sinks such as forests will be included.

The researchers, writing in UK journal Energy Policy, said meeting the ambitious goal would require more than energy efficiency, new technology and reduction of non-CO2 gasses such as methane. Giving carbon credit for expansion of forests could also play a decisive role.

The performance of the forests as effective carbon sinks rate varied from 10 per cent in the 15 old member states - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK - to 15 per cent in the 12 new states (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia).

In Latvia forests more than offset per capita emissions and forests in Lithuania, Sweden, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Finland absorbed a large part of national emissions. But it did not have such a big impact on lightly-forested countries such as Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Denmark.

Last year Prof. Kauppi and his international team revealed the shift from clearing to planting trees in the world's most forested nations. They urged a more sophisticated approach to measuring forest cover that considered not just the area of forest but also the density of trees per hectare.

The team calculated the biomass and atmospheric carbon stored in forests and reported that forests had in fact expanded over the past 15 years in 22 of the 50 countries with most forest, including several EU members.

"The good news is that trees are extremely efficient mechanisms for capturing and storing carbon," says Prof. Kauppi, a member of the Nobel-laureate UN International Panel on Climate Change.

"The better news is that Europe's forests are thriving and expanding and therefore will play an increasingly important role in helping the EU to reach its environmental goals."

Co-author Aapo Rautiainen said: "Every year, the expanding European forests remove a surprisingly large amount of carbon from the atmosphere.

"According to rough estimates, their impact in reducing atmospheric carbon may well be twice that achieved by the use of renewable energy in Europe today."

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU is committed to an 8 per cent reduction of annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, using 1990 as the base year. Countries do not currently get credit for increasing natural carbon sinks through forestry and agriculture but negotiations on an accord to cover the post-Kyoto period 2012 to 2020 are underway.

CO2 emissions in EU nations grew by an average of 1 per cent every three years between 1992 and 2004. To reduce CO2 emissions in the EU by 20 per cent in the next 12 years, carbon emission needs to at least halve.

The report says emissions have not yet started to decline and that time is running out for the EU to meet its 2020 target.

The report's co-author Laura Saikku said: "Policies that accelerate the expansion of our forest biomass not only represent a win-win for climate change and biodiversity, they also open up economic opportunities.

"Land owners can benefit with new industries like forest-based bio-energy production. This could also help to reduce one of the main threats to sustained forest expansion - the need to open land to produce agricultural biofuels as alternatives to fossil fuels."

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation the UK's forests stored 95m tonnes of carbon in living biomass in 1990, rising to 112m tonnes in 2005. Over the same period the total amount of carbon in vegetation and soil rose from 778m tonnes to 858m tonnes.

But while forested areas in the UK have doubled over the last 60 years, the Forestry Commission warned further expansion was limited by pressure on the land. And three-quarters of the nation's land area would be needed just to offset emissions from cars.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2007

The Adirondacks, Part I: Land of Reckless Desire

by Brian Nearing
Albany Times-Union
December 2, 2007

A building boom echoes through Lake George's forested hills, beyond reach of a state board meant to protect a lake whose legendary gin-clear water is getting murkier.

This decade, nearly 2,400 acres -- equivalent to two dozen Empire State Plazas -- have sprouted 687 new single-family homes, according to a Times Union computer-assisted analysis of assessment records.

About 80 percent of the surge is at the lake's southwestern edge in Warren County, where local governments in Bolton, Lake George town and village, and Queensbury -- not the state-created Lake George Park Commission -- hold sway over development.

Every time it rains, each road, home and lawn can sweep a brew of silt, fertilizers or road salt into brooks, down steep hills and into the water.

Environmentalists claim the Queen of American Lakes is being nibbled to death. Researchers at a center run by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute agree increasing pollution is making water murkier, saltier and less hospitable to aquatic life.

One sign is more algae blooms, which cloud water and rob it of oxygen. Septic leaks and phosphorus-rich fertilizers that keep lawns green well into late fall also feed algae.

Most of the building surge is beyond reach of the park commission, created in 1961 to protect the lake.

Executive Director Michael White said the commission does not track building in the four burgeoning municipalities because each has commission-approved stormwater rules.

Commission Chairman Bruce Young said the four municipalities do a good job, with White adding: "We are a partner, not an overlord."

The town of Lake George took over rule enforcement from the commission in 1992. Bolton and Queensbury assumed responsibility in 1998, followed a year later by Lake George village. The commission controls the other five towns around the lake, where there is more state-owned land and less development.

However, the commission is eyeing its first-ever rules to limit building around streams and reduce cutting of trees, which help anchor natural ground filters that absorb contaminants.

Watching developers clear-cut land next to his Assembly Point home in Queensbury has been "a lesson in futility," said Stuart Rosenberg, an Albany doctor who has owned his Knox Road A-frame since 1985.

After a small camp was bulldozed and more than two dozen trees -- some more than 100 years old -- were cut, a 6,000-square-foot, five-bathroom mansion took its place. Rosenberg said he complained to the town but got little satisfaction.

"They replanted a handful of trees along the property line, and along the road, but only did that because they were told they had to," he said.

The commission's lack of oversight in the fastest-growing areas is a problem, said David Wick, manager of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.

"The lack of a building history for the lake is a huge point of contention," he said. "It is a political hotbed. Who is going to say they need to stop development?"

The lake's mountainous surroundings make it vulnerable. Each acre of lake is fed by drainage from five acres. For many lakes, that ratio is higher. Lake Champlain has about 1,000 acres of drainage for each acre of lake.

Disagreements have sparked two recent lawsuits against residential projects, filed by the Lake George Waterkeeper, a not-for-profit group affiliated with the Waterkeeper Alliance headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The commission's hands-off attitude toward local control surfaced during public hearings on stormwater rules in 2004. Residents urged the commission to review disputed local plans if opponents submitted petitions.

That was rejected, with the commission saying it would cost developers more money and discourage local officials who might feel second-guessed.

Such caution makes Chris Navitsky scoff. Navitsky is the Lake George waterkeeper, hired in 2002 by the Kennedy environmental group to head its Lake George operations.

A civil engineer, Navitsky once worked for developers putting up big-box stores in New Jersey. He has a name for local officials who review building plans of local developers: "The good ol' boy network."

Since May 2006, Navitsky, the Fund for Lake George and several homeowners have sued the park commission, Bolton, the town of Lake George, Adirondack Park Agency and prominent Bolton developer Rolf Ronning, owner of Bell Point Realty.

Targeted are two of Ronning's subdivisions -- Saddlebrook in Bolton and Forest Ridge in Lake George, which call for 60 homes on 370 acres. Navitsky claims the towns let Ronning off easy on rules, to the point that some Saddlebrook plans called for stormwater to flow uphill.

"My goal is to not sacrifice Lake George so a few people can go to the bank," Navitsky said.

Ronning, a lifelong resident of Bolton Landing, has his own word for Navitsky: "Waterboy." He said Navitsky's challenges cost a million dollars in engineering and legal fees.

Ronning admits lake water isn't as clear as it was when he was a kid, but he sees the problem as the state's irresponsible use of road salt and "sporadic and uneven enforcement" of rules.

While the park commission is responsible for water quality, that duty ends at the lake's edge. Control over building is "the job of the towns, not the commission,"' Ronning said.

"Stormwater issues can be quite expensive. I think that our planning board does an extremely good job," said Alexander "Sandy" Gabriels, Bolton town supervisor.

The town, where a two-acre hillside building lot goes for up to $350,000, is in a building boom. Of the town's 2,164 housing units identified in the 2000 Census, more than half were summer homes.

"The next rage of development is up the hillsides. People are going to build on higher and steeper slopes, because that is what's left," Gabriels said.

And there is plenty left. In 2003, a plan found room for as many as 2,600 additional residences.

However, the report by Saratoga Associates, a Saratoga Springs-based consulting firm, warned such a surge could increase pollution. Of the nine major creeks that drain into the lake, Bolton is home to three -- Huddle, Indian and Finkle brooks.

Ronning is currently pursuing a 15-lot luxury housing development on about 1,000 acres that he owns near Indian Brook.

Gabriels, like Ronning, takes a dim view of Navitsky. "Sometimes he takes a position that no development should occur," Gabriels said.

But some residents side with Navitsky. During a heated public hearing on Saddlebrook, several blasted the town.

"Town boards and planning boards take a very short view of their communities' fabrics and let short-term profit motives of developers drive their thinking," said Graham Cox. "We are not paying planning board members and staff to allow this landscape to be piecemealed to death."

The issue of development around the lake is not new. Recognizing a growing threat, the state in 1987 created the Lake George Watershed Conference, composed of 25 representatives from state, county and municipal governments, as well as lake associations, to come up with a plan.

A 2001 update, headed by state Secretary of State Christopher Jacobs, found problems with development and water quality remained. In 2004, another update contained recommendations such as an annual limit on algae-feeding nutrients and mapping to identify tainted stormwater.

While about two dozen local stormwater projects are done, the problem is far from fixed, said David Decker, executive director of the conference.

"There is no one entity taking a look at development trends around the lake. This is not an anti-growth mechanism. It is a smart growth mechanism," Decker said. "The lake has the ability to clean itself, but we are starting to invade the tipping point. When we get there, we can't reclaim the lake."

He said the park commission is hamstrung by a small budget and staff, and overwhelmed by other duties, like keeping track of permits for hundreds of docks and 10,000 boats that ply the lake.

Fixing stormwater mistakes is more expensive than preventing them. The conference's flagship project is the former Gaslight Village property in Lake George village, which is being converted into a man-made filter for pollution from West Brook.

It will cost $4.1 million to purchase the 12-acre parcel and another $5 million to build in bends to slow the brook, so settling beds catch sediment and plant beds absorb excess fertilizers.

"We only have four acres to fix this when you really need 50," said Decker.

He wants stricter rules to protect the lake, things like banning traditional lawn fertilizers and highway salt.

"There is no reason to have fertilizer in the watershed when it is absolutely accelerating the decline of the lake," Decker said.

Decker said past mistakes that hurt the lake stem from "a lack of knowledge and a misunderstanding of what it means to be a good steward of the lake. Whatever happens in the watershed in the morning gets into the lake in the afternoon. It's instant."

Copyright 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

The Adirondacks, Part II: Land of Stunning Hope

by Fred LeBrun
Albany Times-Union
December 2, 2007

After driving endless numbers of internal roads and an hourlong fly-over in Tommy Helms's 30-year-old Cessna sea plane, what's most striking about the 161,000 acre Finch, Pruyn & Co. property in the Adirondacks is its vastness and continuity.

Or as biologist Michelle Brown of the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy put it, the property's "intactness." Viewed in a global context, which we seldom think of for the Adirondacks, Brown says the Finch, Pruyn & Co. lands represent one of the last, best places on earth to conserve, protect and keep whole a significant temperate deciduous forest system.

What a stunning acquisition this is by the Nature Conservancy, still breathtaking to contemplate six months after it happened.

A meticulously maintained working forest in the pumping heart of the Adirondacks kept very private for 146 years, with 144 miles of river, 70 lakes and ponds, 80 mountains and and a ton of natural wonders only a few eyes have seen.

On very short notice, timber products giant Finch, Pruyn & Co. came calling and Adirondack Chapter executive director Mike Carr and his staff dropped an already full plate of land stewardship issues in the North Country to accommodate. They scrambled, borrowing $110 million from John Hancock Insurance and the Open Space Institute to seal the deal.

But now the madness begins. While an expensive clock driven by the interest on those loans is ticking, Carr has given himself a year to put together a complicated plan for the future of the property that takes into account myriad demands and desires from a broad range of stakeholders, and the Nature Conservancy's own mission statement.

"I'm not going to please everybody, probably nobody completely," the affable Carr said, as we were driving down a private road to a trail head that would take us in under a half-hour to a postcard view of Ok-Slip Falls.

In future generations, this little trail to the highest waterfall in the Adirondacks, and one of the tallest in the state, will become as popular as the trek from Adirondack Loj to Marcy dam -- if it becomes part of the Adirondack forest preserve, or becomes public through an easement. It probably will, because it is very high on the wish list of environmental groups looking to steer about half of the 161,000 acres into the Forever Wild forest preserve.

That means the state will have to make a significant purchase here. But at the same time, local governments, which have a veto if Environmental Protection Fund money is used, will have their demands, primarily centering on economic development opportunities. A snowmobile trail linking the towns from Long Lake to Schroon Lake is a high priority for them. The hunting and fishing clubs with a combined membership of 3,500 that lease 131,000 of the acres now would like a voice in the future as well, even though they may have to settle for smaller leases than they have now, and then there is Michelle Brown's voice, most compelling of all.

The Nature Conservancy, after all, is about protecting nature, biological diversity. Not about guaranteeing public access, or honoring hunting leases, or developing recreational opportunities. Mike Carr is certainly aware of all these other hands out, and wants to satisfy as many as he can, but not at the expense of the fragile ecosystems, the unusual, threatened and endangered.

The Adirondack Chapter has launched a hurry-up $35 million fundraising effort over this property, which tells me in the end they hope to keep a hunk of it. Interestingly, in short order they've raised more than $5 million, most of it coming in far from Long Lake. There are those in distant places who may never see the Adirondacks who understand the global importance of this piece of property.

So Mike and his staff and board will get a chance to decide how best to divvy it up to give it the wisest protection and use, while getting out from under a groaning debt load and a $1 million a year in taxes.

I do not pretend to have an inside track on Mike's thinking. Besides, I think his evolving plan is very fluid at the moment. But here are my impressions of where we'll be when the dust settles on this phenomenal legacy for our grandchildren.

Much of the Finch, Pruyn & Co. property will continue as a working forest. Done right, it works.

Mike Carr is a big believer in the dynamic that currently exists, that's kept the Finch, Pruyn & Co. properties beautifully maintained and conserved. In all likelihood, sexy items like the Essex Chain lakes, the Hudson Gorge, OK-Slip Falls, and maybe even Boreas Ponds will go into the forest preserve, as environmentalists wish. But there will be a place for the hunting and fishing clubs, which have proved to be excellent stewards and represent a strong Adirondack tradition.

There will be a connected snowmobile trail along existing logging roads, and probably named lakes and ponds that Tommy Helms and the other seaplaners can fly into, to keep that old tradition alive too.

Through the manipulation of transferable development rights, struggling towns and hamlets surrounded by forest preserve will get buildable property for growth.

In other words, my hunch is Mike Carr will come up with a complex mish-mash of public and private interests interlocked through easements, leases and fee purchases. A new paradigm for land acquisition in the Adirondacks.

This arrangement will require unprecedented cooperation and respect among parties, and pose a huge challenge for enforcement and all new headaches for the DEC.

But you can be sure the delicate ferns and mosses growing around rare limestone outcroppings, around Pickwacket Pond and up in the higher elevations, around Squaw Brook valley, and elsewhere, will never be safer.

Copyright 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation