Local anesthetic needed...

...but novocaine isn't going to help local property owners with drilling-related pain.  Not everyone looking to sell up and leave the area is fleeing the prospect of flaming water faucets as you might be led to believe...some are just trying to recoup a lifetime's investment. 

Via The Lonely Conservative...Gaslandset to music:

Catchy, isn't it? But

...the creators “emphasize(s) that the video is not meant to be a substitute for ProPublica’s years of in-depth investigations. “While we hope that you enjoy the song….what we really want you to do is read about hydraulic fractured drilling, so you can truly understand ‘what the frack is going on.’

Precisely.  We'll get back to ProPublica shortly (don't you just love groups with noble-sounding Latin names?  Gives them a cachet of legitimacy).  In the meantime, I give you Phelim McAleer v. Josh Fox, director of Gasland (h/t Chrissy the Hyphenated):


Back to ProPublica...as the Unlikely Hospitalist writes at The Lonely Conservative

...Pro Publica has very progressive roots. That is in spite of the information that can be taken from their website, which highlights their association to the Wall Street Journal, this investigative group was initially given millions of dollars from the Sandler Foundation. These are liberal progressive billionaires needing to dispense of their hard earned gains by financing their political interests. Pro Publica also received a two year contribution of $125,000 each year from the Open Society Foundations. Not surprisingly, I suppose, this leads you directly to www.soros.org. If you find this a little hard to believe, google it, or just click the link above. The Open Society Foundation by the way, is a network of over 30 International Foundations, mostly funded by Soros, who has contributed more than $8 billion in this effort.

Yesterday, at Switchboard, the Natural Resources Defense Council staff blog (update: the NRDC's co-founder, John Bryson, was nominated yesterday to be Secretary of Commerce, replacing Gary Locke):

...there is recent news from New York State that mortgage lenders are denying applications where the property has a natural gas lease, including major lenders like GMAC, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America, and may even reject an application if a neighbor has a lease. I learned about this from the firm Toxics Targeting, which has a lot of documentation on this issue on its website, including a recent radio interview with NYS Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.

Assemblywoman Lifton has met with mortgage bankers in her district and discusses their difficulty in selling locally originated mortgages into the secondary mortgage market. They've told her they are each turning down 6-10 mortgage applications per week. According to a presentation by Tompkins Trust Company, a New York State bank, the secondary mortgage market requires that nothing "interfere with the use and enjoyment of any present or proposed improvements or the balance of the mortgaged premises," or the property's marketability or value. The lender goes on to say that a mortgage may be possible if the property is sufficiently large to ensure that any natural gas activity could be 5 acres away from the homesite for conventional financing, or 10 acres for FHA. That leaves out of a lot of homebuyers and sellers, since there is a substantial risk that natural gas production on one's property could interfere with the use, enjoyment, value or marketability of a home....

...[Lifton] also reports that homeowners may lose their title insurance. According to the Tompkins Trust Company presentation, most New York State title insurance policies do not cover properties where there are structures more than 35 feet tall, storage of machinery, equipment or industrial supplies, or any commercial activity. So even if someone has cash to buy a house and doesn't need a mortgage, very few people would likely buy it without title insurance.

The blogger finishes up with

*For an explanation of forced pooling, I recommend a recent ProPublica article on the topic.

All righty then.

Is it just me or do I detect a slight odor of gleefulness about the Switchboard post, a sort of schadenfreude at the situation of property owners unsuccessfully trying to sell and recover their equity and of potential buyers unable to acquire what may be their dream home? I've maintained that all of this concern for the environment—the global warmingclimate change stuff, the fracking stuff, the sustainability stuff—is as much about control as anything else...about telling others how to live their lives, about how to use or dispose of their property and so on, because let's face it—some people just plain know better than the rest of us.

This is nothing less that an all-out attack on the concept of private property. Do many of us put up with it because we're deathly afraid of appearing to be politically incorrect? Yes. And this state of affairs has been a long time in the making; another name for political correctness is cultural Marxism...and it really will be the death of us if we don't snap out of it:


And on a related note: Remember this from a couple of weeks ago?

Once again, South of 5 and 20 highlights the utter hypocrisy of holding private industry to a standard that government can only dream of attaining...and all at taxpayer expense.

And I just liked "South's" tag: No Mo Cuomo.

Agenda? What agenda?


Remember these videos of Frank-n-Stein, errr, Schumer-n-Gillibrand?                  

Update on that issue:


Marriage Bill Finally Drops in New York — Now the Fight Really Starts

The marriage bill just dropped in New York, and now we’ve entered a full-on war of one-upmanship with the good guys and the bad guys scrambling to top each other. And not in a fun spanky way.

On Monday [May 9], a thousand LGBTs rallied for marriage in Albany....

 [....] But while the gays were stirring up trouble in New York’s seat of power, NOM [National Organization for Marriage] & friends launched an anti-gay RV in that other important New York metropolis: Elmira. Wait, what?

Yes, it would seem that the anti-gays are pursuing a decidedly small-town approach with their statewide tour: Utica! Buffalo! Fairport! Halfmoon! Who exactly are they trying to rally, a herd of moose?

Followed by this last week:

Can We Please Just Start Admitting That We Do Actually Want To Indoctrinate Kids?

In response to New York’s recently introduced marriage equality bill, the so-called National Organization for Marriage got a bunch of pictures of black people and some guy who sounds like Foghorn Leghorn to repeat the same lies about indoctrinating schoolchildren that they ran in 2009. They accuse us of exploiting children and in response we say, “NOOO! We’re not gonna make kids learn about homosexuality, we swear! It’s not like we’re trying to recruit your children or anything.” But let’s face it—that’s a lie. We want educators to teach future generations of children to accept queer sexuality. In fact, our very future depends on it....

[....] Why would we push anti-bullying programs or social studies classes that teach kids about the historical contributions of famous queers unless we wanted to deliberately educate children to accept queer sexuality as normal?

[....] I and a lot of other people want to indoctrinate, recruit, teach, and expose children to queer sexuality AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

Text of A7600 is here.  Something to keep your eye on.

For the sake of completeness -- Cuomo and pensions

If you only read the increasingly paltry print version of the Ithaca Journal, you'll have missed the paragraphs that appear at the end of the original AP story on today's front page, "Cuomo to propose cost-cutting for pensions."  With respect to Cuomo's Tier VI plan for public workers outside New York City (which appears in the "Pension Plan" box in the print version on p. 5A), these paragraphs were cut from the print version although they do appear in the online version at the Journal:

The proposal doesn't replace the traditional public pension with a 401(k) retirement plan common in the private sector, where employees pay far more or all of the contributions.

The Cuomo administration said government contributions to pensions rose as many as 20 times since 2001 for teachers, government workers, police and firefighters.

Suffolk County Executive Steven Levy, who has led the fight for pension reform among counties, recently said now is the time for governments to trade in pensions for 401(k) plans. He has said generous public pensions are unaffordable to taxpayers.

As always, read the comments, too—one commenter is a member of that supposedly nonexistent group of New Yorkers leaving the state for greener, less tax-burdened, pastures.  Just sayin'.

NY-26: Like sands through the hour glass, so is the...Maze of Our Lives

The saga continues.

We've had occasional posts about the goings-on in NY-26 since the story about Chris Lee's pec-cadillo broke in early February.  The election to replace him is Tuesday, May 24th, and things certainly are interesting.  Here's the false flag Tea Party candidate, Jack Davis, in action in recent days (via The Lonely Conservative):

Way to go, Jack!  And by the way, although it's been reported that the assaultee in the second video is a cameraman,

Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy confirmed Thursday that the Republican volunteer whom Jack Davis was caught on camera slapping was in fact a member of Republican candidate Jane Corwin’s staff — reportedly her chief of staff.

Read the rest yourself—there's disagreement about what actually happened (what else is new?)—but it's safe to say that Davis is a little, well, strange.

As for Kathy Hochul, the Democrat in the race (there are really two Democrats to the race but I'll get back to that shortly), last night the NYDN was reporting:

A helpful reader tips me off that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined much of the New York Democratic establishment at a just-concluded fundraiser for NY-26 hopeful Kathy Hochul on the upper West Side.

"About 120 showed up for the event," which was hosted by James Simon at his home.

According to the event's Facebook page, the prices were: Chair: $2,500, Vice Chair: $1000, Patron: $500, Friend: $250.

The original "Special Guests" were advertised as Sen. Chuck Schumer (who'll also be on the stump with Hochul on Sunday), Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler and City Comptroller John Liu.

Also on hand tonight, the tipster reports: State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former NY-13 Rep. Mike McMahon.

"It seemed as though the only person missing was Andrew Cuomo," my reader says...


And Jane Corwin, the Republican

“Just last week it was announced that our unemployment rate rose to 9 percent, and the last thing we want to do in a struggling economy is raise taxes on the job creators that will lead our economic recovery,” Corwin said. “As someone who has helped run a small business in Western New York, I know firsthand the devastating effect high taxes have on a small business’ ability to grow and create jobs. Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and if honored to be Western New York’s next representative in Washington I will fight to fundamentally reform our tax code to allow hardworking taxpayers to keep more of what they earn and small businesses to invest in themselves and create jobs,”

Corwin gained her firsthand perspective of the detrimental effect of high tax rates while working in the private sector. Corwin helped grow her family’s company – The Talking Phone Book – to more than 700 employees.

So how did Jack Davis end up with the Tea Party appellation in this race? Thereby hangs a tale.  As Professor Jacobson writes:

You will not hear a word in the MSM about the fact that Davis is not a real Tea Party candidate, and instead this will further be portrayed as part of a schism in the Republican Party and reflecting how the Tea Party movement hurts Republicans.

The race and the whole Jack Davis/Tea Party question is actually getting some attention not only at NRO but, of all places, at the WaPo (via Legal Insurrection):

Davis is someone who has made a career — at least in recent years — of running for this seat...

[....] After three straight losses as a Democrat, Davis courted the right — though he’s provided no roadmap to explain his shift.

After failing to win the endorsement of either the Republican Party or the Conservative Party in this special election, Davis started a ‘Tea Party’ line.

Tea party activists were miffed; Davis never talked to them or asked for their support. He just got to the Board of Elections before they did. In New York, anyone who files 3,500 signatures to get their name on the ballot can create their own party line. (In New York, candidates can run on a variety of “lines”, allowing for multiple candidates on the ballot in a general election.)

[....] If Republicans lose this race in two weeks time, expect Democrats to paint it as a referendum on the cuts to Medicare contained in the House-passed budget crafted by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. And, that will clearly be a part of the narrative.

At the NRO:

...Davis ran for the Democratic nomination in 2008, endorsed then-senator Barack Obama for president, and accepted $5,000 from Obama’s political action committee. But primary voters rejected Davis in favor of lawyer Alice Kryzan.

Now, Davis’s name sits on the ballot line marked “Tea Party” — a line he fabricated with the help of a petition-signature-gathering firm. Sure, Davis professes belief in low taxes, but he tosses the social-conservative agenda to the wind, and he views foreign policy through the eyes of a mercantilist. And on his signature issue, his hobbyhorse, his idée fixe — protectionism — he is just plain wrong.

So there are actually two Democrats in this race against the one Republican, Corwin.

There's a week and a half before the election.  See Jane Corwin's website for more info.

Tax cap fever

Nope, not Madison.  These tempers were flaring at the Legislative Office Building’s Well in Albany on Tuesday morning (believe me, you won't have to watch the whole thing to get the flavor of it):

We've written about the issues surrounding a property tax cap several times; this post, for instance, may be helpful since it describes the experience of Massachusetts with a cap over the course of several decades.

While the debate over a tax cap has been raging for a while, the alternate scenario that seems to be getting the most play currently is the so-called circuit breaker.  At the Ithaca Journal:

Opponents of a cap have pushed for a "circuit breaker" approach, which would limit property-tax rates for low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Ron Deutsch, executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, said the circuit breaker is the choice of the people, and the only way to provide meaningful relief.

Although it's certainly not made clear in the Journal article, the way such a circuit breaker would probably work would be like this (in the Empire Center's The Case for a Cap):

A circuit breaker provides homeowners (and, in some versions, apartment dwellers as well) with a state income tax credit for a portion of their property taxes paid on their homes that exceeds a given percentage of their household income....

[....] One current version, co- sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Galef (D-Ossining) and Sen. Elizabeth Little (R-Queensbury) would apply to homeowners with incomes below $250,000 who have lived in their homes for at least five years.a The credit would be calculated as 70 percent of the amount by which property taxes exceed a limit depending on income; for example, a downstate homeowner with income of $100,000 and a $9,000 property tax bill would be eligible for a state tax credit of $2,100.

Although the bill sponsors have issued no estimate of its fiscal impact, an independent analysis suggested it would generate about $1.6 billion in tax credits– meaning it would require either a state tax increase or offsetting state budget cuts in the same amount. (p.15)

So, since the circuit breaker, which amounts to a statewide tax credit, shifts part of the burden from the local property tax base to the statewide tax base, it would not put pressure on school districts and municipalities to hold down growth in employee salaries and benefits, for instance.

So the circuit breaker alternative isn't the route to take.  But if you have a hard 2% property tax cap, then

[l]ocal government and school officials [will be] concerned that a comprehensive property tax cap will make it difficult for them to continue providing essential services while dealing with the mounting costs of state-mandated contracting rules and employee benefits. However, an ever-rising burden of property taxes can’t be seen as the only alternative.

Here are a dozen mandate relief priorities—most of which have been embraced by a broad spectrum of county executive, mayors and school board members around the state—that will give local governments the tools they need to reduce costs and live within a cap:

1. Impose a statewide freeze on public-sector salaries for up to three years. The Legislature has the statutory power to defer scheduled base salary and pay increment increases in light of the state’s fiscal crisis.

2. Repeal the Taylor Law’s “Triborough” amendment, which requires local governments and schools to continue paying longevity “step” increments even after a contract has expired...(p.19)

Read the whole thing.

Human nature being what it is, without the hard tax cap being in place first, there will be little incentive to make the difficult but necessary choices in NYS.

Block party?

Not exactly.  In today's Ithaca Journal:

GOP Medicaid plan would slash N.Y. funding

WASHINGTON — A House Republican plan to convert Medicaid into a federal block grant program and repeal last year's health care reform law would remove 2.17 million New Yorkers from Medicaid's rolls by 2021, according to a new report.

New York's enrollment is around 4.8 million now and is expected to grow to 5.64 million by 2021...

What is a block grant and how would converting Medicaid into such a program change things? A block grant is a federal lump-sum payment to states, and

Because Medicaid is an entitlement program, everyone who is eligible is guaranteed a spot. The federal government, which pays for nearly 60 percent of the cost, has an open-ended commitment to help states cover costs; in return, it requires them to cover certain groups of people and to provide specific benefits. For example, children, pregnant women who meet specific income criteria and parents with dependent children must be covered.

A block grant would effectively end this open-ended approach and provide states with annual lump sums. States would be freer to run the program as they wanted. But states would also be responsible for covering costs beyond the federal allotment.

We've written numerous posts regarding Medicaid here. And you're certainly capable of reading through the rest of today's Journal story (which had one statistic that actually took my breath away: "In New York, Medicaid covers half of live births...").  And we can argue about the details ad nauseam, but in the end does it really matter? In an earlier post on Medicaid, we quoted E.J. McMahon: "This is really a measure of dependency on government." And dependency on government can be viewed as both resulting from and leading to moral hazard. And moral hazard—the disconnect between consumers of services and those who pay for them—produces an unsustainable cost spiral.

As with a lot of things, I think we're wasting time having the wrong argument.

Thinking outside the Senatorial box

Go to South of 5 and 20 and you'll see this at the top of the page: 

Amity Shlaes for Senate

Who's that, you say?  Stacy McCain has lots of links to get you up to speed in his post Amity Shlaes Has a Big Sexy Brain.  He says, "she would certainly be more than a match for Kirsten Gillibrand."

I'll refrain from saying any more IYKWIMAITYD.

If the shoe fits

  • Amount of NYS pension fund invested in shale gas and fracking companies: more than $1B
  • Percentage increase in value of the fund's 4.2 million Schlumberger shares over the years: 104
  • Watching anti-fracking, tax-the-rich Barbara Lifton squirm when faced with the embarrassment of the state's public sector employee pensions earning big bucks off fracking investments: priceless

The Ithaca Journal story is here.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, has been one of the fiercest critics of hydrofracking in the Legislature, but said she trusts the work of the Comptroller's Office.

"I assume they look at these decisions strictly as investments and keep the politics out of it," Lifton said.


While the companies' practices continue to come under intense scrutiny from environmental groups, telling the comptroller not to invest in an industry would be setting a dangerous precedent, said Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton.

"This issue has come up on a number of occasions, and not just as it pertains to fracking, but as it pertains to a whole host of things over the years," Libous said. "If the comptroller started separating things out into what people agreed or disagreed with, there would be nothing to invest in."

No! I'm shocked—shocked!—that anyone could draw such a conclusion.

The lone commenter as of this writing says that the state pension fund has less than one percent of its assets invested in gas companies.  True.  But can you imagine the outcry if the shoe were on the other foot and a Republican comptroller were investing state funds in fracking?

Fracking-free utopia

As Unlikely Hospitalist writes at The Lonely Conservative (a Syracuse-area blog)

Why are environmentalists so vehemently opposed to natural gas drilling?  In upstate New York these folks are a vocal, well organized, and well financed minority who seek to force their will on the populace.

Yesterday, however, a report entitled The Shale Gas Shock was released by the British Global Warming Policy Foundation. Highlights:

Shale gas was welcomed at first by environmentalists as a lower-carbon alternative to coal...However, as it became apparent that shale gas was a competitive threat to renewable energy as well as to coal, the green movement has turned against shale. Its criticism is fivefold:

The shale gas industry uses dangerous chemicals in the fracking process that might contaminate groundwater;

poorly cased wells allow gas to escape into underground aquifers;

waste water returning to the surface during production, contaminated with salt and radon, may pollute streams; 

the industry‘s use of water for fracking depletes a scarce resource;

the exploitation of shale gas damages amenity and landscape value.

How does this paper address these issues?  A quick summary:

  • The actual [slickwater] chemicals are used in many industrial and even domestic applications: polyacrylamide as a friction reducer, bromine, methanol and naphthalene as antimicrobials, hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol as scale inhibitors, and butanol and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether as surfactants. At high dilution these are unlikely to pose a risk to human health in the event they reach groundwater (§45).
  • Groundwater contamination by fracking fluid is possible but unlikely if proper procedures are followed, and gas contamination of aquifers occurs naturally and has not usually been found to result from shale gas production (§s 46-52).
  • ...the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has tested the water in seven rivers to which treated waste water from gas wells is discharged and found not only no elevation in radioactivity but:

All samples were at or below background levels of radioactivity; and all samples showed levels below the federal drinking water standard for Radium 226 and 228. -- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, 7 March 2011 (§s 53-55)

  • A single shale gas well uses in total about the same amount of water as a golf course uses in three weeks (§ 56).
  • The concrete, forest clearance, and visual impact of more than 50 wind turbines with equivalent energy output is gigantic by comparison [with landscape and habitat impact resulting from shale gas extraction] (§s 57-59).

We've blogged about fracking a few times; this post in particular is relevant here.

It would seem that if environmentalists are really interested in lowering CO2 emissions, then they 

would do well to heed the advice of Voltaire and not make the best the enemy of the good. Rapid decarbonisation using renewables is not just expensive and environmentally damaging, it is impossible. However, switching as much power generation from coal to gas as possible, and as much transport fuel from oil to gas as possible, would produce rapid and dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

But as we've also blogged about before, maybe those reductions in carbon dioxide emissions aren't really the point. Maybe arriving at a "sustainable" utopia is the point...but let's remember that utopia means not only "good place" but "no place."

Higher ed in upstate NY: a perspective

Commentary on Tuesday's post on higher ed in our area by Tom Reynolds:

In the past, we have been shielded from the worst of economic times and the assumption is that it will go on forever—and that's what always gets us into trouble.  People borrow too much, governments spend too much, people drink too much beer thinking that life isn't a pendulum and good things last forever.

Colleges have not had a recession since World War II ended because the government has poured money into education without ceasing and, in many cases, without getting appropriate results.

SUNY colleges want to make decisions like private colleges, but they want the public funding subsidy to continue so they will still have a huge competitive advantage over private schools.  Let SUNY Cortland and SUNY Geneseo compete for students against Ithaca College on equal tuition terms if the SUNY schools are unwilling to fulfill the purpose for which they were established: to make a lower cost college degree available to NY residents.

Private colleges are directly subsidized through grant programs (Bundy money for example) and indirect programs for student aid (TAP, Pell, etc.).  They are also subsidized through required professional certification and continuing education courses that are taught by faculty and through overhead rates on grants (lab science grants came with a 100% overhead rate when I was handling them. So, a $1 million grant gives half a million to the college, not to the project).

But over 40 cents of every dollar spent by the feds is borrowed and the national debt will soon reach $16 trillion on an annual budget of $4 trillion.  NY State has huge structural budget issues that it will not address.  And yet education expects to continue to be funded in the manner to which it has become accustomed.

College liberals and our Assemblywoman decry "Wall Street," but colleges actively seek multi-million dollar gifts from those who got the hated "Wall Street bonuses."  Individuals invest their pensions in "Wall Street" and "oil company" stocks, and college endowments are filled with those "greedy" investments.  Where was the righteous indignation from our Assemblywoman last year when Cornell got a multi-million dollar gift from a "Wall Streeter"?  Why wasn't she condemning it as the progeny of "Wall Street" greed?  Colleges depend upon large donations and when business suffers, the giving suffers. 

Remember, the money that makes our colleges run comes from outside the Tompkins County area.  Tompkins will not continue as an economic island if we are surrounded by a sinking economy.  What happens if the governments cut back?  Where will the tuition money come from if "Wall Street" and "Main Street" are in a long term recession? Colleges say that people come back for an education when economic times are tough.  But they come back on borrowed money because they don't have a job. 

Many areas of Cornell could continue relatively unchanged as they are selective enough to ease their admissions standards in order to keep a full house and continue to support Cornell faculty in the manner to which they have become accustomed.  Of course, faculty will publicly decry the drop in standards while privately celebrating their continuing jobs.  But some areas of Cornell are public and they will certainly feel the effect.  Non-faculty may not be so lucky.  When Cornell sneezes, Tompkins County gets the flu.

Ithaca College will be another matter.  Certainly, they have a few selective schools, but when I worked there, admissions to their Liberal Arts programs required little more than the proverbial "pulse."  It has been many years since I worked for IC, but I know that private liberal arts colleges have not been increasing their admissions standards over the ensuing years, and they are heavily depedent upon government-supported student aid to keep up their census and high tuition charges.  A long term downturn in the economy and government aid will have a significant effect on IC and it will cause more than a sneeze.       

SUNY Cortland was contemplating major furloughs a year ago during that year's state budget crises.  They will certainly be affected by any state cutbacks, more so than Cornell or IC.  Cortland County, unlike Tompkins County, does not have a history of economic isolation.  

These institutions will not close, but cutbacks will affect their entire industry in an area that is primarily dependent upon that industry.  House values will sink as jobs dissappear.  People have already been leaving upstate NY in droves and if education falters, there is nothing left to keep people here.  Taxes will go up even more as there are fewer jobs to provide tax dollars.

Any decent industry leader does not want to become dependent upon one source of revenue.  But in the past, our one source has kept Tompkins insulated from economic reality and our liberal leadership believes it will continue forever.  Maybe it will.  Then again, maybe it won't.  And if it doesn't, Tompkins will be in a bad spot in a state that is broke, with political leadership totally clueless as to what to do.


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