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Proposed rule changes for assessing new transit projects


Mass transit has, according to its fans, a staggering array of benefits. It reduces pollution, improves quality of life, and anchors vibrant walkable communities. It boosts public health and makes people happier. But relatively few transit-boosters understand that existing federal guidelines for assessing which new projects to fund not only exclude those considerations, they make it extremely difficult for newly built transit to meet those objectives. A new proposed rule from the Department of Transportation, now entering its 60-day comment period to let people raise objections, should change all that for the better.

The existing rule, sadly, evaluates proposals almost exclusively on the basis of how much time a new rail line shaves off commutes. But taking a train station-to-station rather than driving a car door-to-door is guaranteed to be slower unless traffic jams are severe. This has biased new mass-transit construction in favor of a very particular kind of project: First identify a highway that’s already extremely congested and where widening it is either politically or logistically impossible. Then build commuter-rail tracks in the highway median. Put the stations far apart from one another so that trains can cruise at maximum speed for a long time. Surround the stations with parking lots. Driving your car to a park-and-ride station and taking the train downtown is now cheaper and perhaps faster than the average trip on the congested highway.

That’s how you get something like the Washington, D.C. Metro’s Orange Line in Fairfax County, Va. Trains run in the I-66 median, and stations are far apart and surrounded by open-air parking lots. It’s a helpful addition to the region’s commuter mix. But it doesn’t create the kind of transit-oriented neighborhoods that you see all over Brooklyn or Boston.

For that, you need something else entirely. You need train stations surrounded by densely built structures, not parking lots. And you need the stations to be relatively close to each other. Dense building around one station creates a little circle of walkability. A series of stations built close together, each surrounded by its own little circle, creates a string of walkable pearls that re-enforce each other. That’s how you get whole new communities where people get by with fewer than one car per adult, spurring a circle of demand for pedestrian-oriented businesses and decreased demand for car ownership. And that’s what gives you big public health and environmental benefits.

Much more at the link.

Per the article, the proposed rule just entered a 60-day comment period.

You can go directly to the proposed rule at: http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2012-01198_PI.pdf

You can comment on the proposed rule at: http://www.regulations.gov (as described in the beginning of the document).

Take action against $2000 asset test for food stamps


This link goes to an article justifying Philabundance's position against the $2000 asset test.

To take action, click link near the top that says "ACT NOW! Contact Governor Corbett and tell him you are not in favor of a food stamp asset test.".

Even if you think SOME asset test might be appropriate, for many reasons $2000 is way too low. As a taxpayer and long-time Pennsylvanian, I would rather pay for a small amount of fraud in the system, than hurt as many honest people as will be hurt by Corbett's plan.

Giant Food Stores to buy 16 Philadelphia-area Genuardi's markets


In what amounts to its biggest expansion move ever in the Philadelphia market, Giant Food Stores on Thursday announced it had acquired 16 Genuardi's supermarkets from Safeway Inc. for $106 million.

The transfer of ownership to Giant of 16 of 27 Genuardi's stores in the region - coupled with the closing of three more stores and the hoped-for sale of the remaining eight - likely signals the end of the Genuardi's grocery name, which was among the region's most highly regarded before Safeway acquired the family-owned business in 2001.

The supermarkets being snapped up and converted by Giant, based in Carlisle, Pa., are scattered across Philadelphia's Pennsylvania suburbs and include locations in Wynnewood and St. Davids, giving the fast-expanding retailer a foothold on the coveted Main Line, where family incomes are high and land for new, large grocery stores is generally hard to find.

Safeway said it would close three other Genuardi's and sell all four in South Jersey and four in Southeastern Pennsylvania that are not among the group Giant plans to convert in the next six months.

The acquisition by Giant is contingent on approval by the Federal Trade Commission.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/business/136785273.html?page=1&c=y#ixzz1inQnecIn

The article has a list of which specific stores were sold to Giant, which ones will be closed, and which ones are for sale.

Giant is non-union and a union-buster, right? I have one near me and it's actually an excellent store, if I don't take into account the union aspect. But I always liked Genuardi's before it sold off to Safeway. So I see this development as unfortunate. More loss of choice. And, even though it has a certain store listed as acquired rather than closed, since it is very close to at least one existing Giant, I don't foresee it actually remaining open. I think maybe there is a question of the property lease and they will only keep that location open until they can get a better deal.

Climate change models flawed, extinction rate likely higher than predicted


As climate change progresses, the planet may lose more plant and animal species than predicted, a new modeling study suggests.

This is because current predictions overlook two important factors: the differences in how quickly species relocate and competition among species, according to the researchers, led by Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut.

Overall, competition slowed everyone down in the pursuit of habitat; however, the strongest dispersers were able to overcome this and displace others, the researchers found.

"It's not about how fast you can move, but how fast you move relative to your competitors," Urban said.

"The species that face the greatest extinction risks might not be limited to those that disperse less than climate change absolutely requires, but also those that disperse poorly relative to their warm-adapted competitors," they write in a study published in the Jan. 4 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

more at the link.

Citing Drug Resistance, U.S. Restricts More Antibiotics for Livestock

Good news.


Citing Drug Resistance, U.S. Restricts More Antibiotics for Livestock
Published: January 4, 2012

WASHINGTON — Federal drug regulators announced on Wednesday that farmers and ranchers must restrict their use of a critical class of antibiotics in cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys because such practices may have contributed to the growing threat in people of bacterial infections that are resistant to treatment.

The medicines are known as cephalosporins and include brands like Cefzil and Keflex. They are among the most common antibiotics prescribed to treat pneumonia, strep throat, and skin and urinary tract infections. Surgeons also often use them before surgery, and they are particularly popular among pediatricians.

The drugs’ use in agriculture has, according to many microbiologists, led to the development of bacteria that are resistant to their effects, a development that many doctors say has cost thousands of lives.

A decade ago, the F.D.A. banned indiscriminate agricultural uses of a powerful class of antibiotics, called fluoroquinolones, that includes the medicine Cipro. Wednesday’s announcement was another of the F.D.A.’s incremental steps.


Cephalosporins are not used as widely in livestock as penicillin, since they require a prescription from veterinarians. But the drugs are routinely injected into broiler eggs and used in large doses to treat infections in cattle and other animals.

The new rule will restrict only some of these uses and is therefore a modest step that, while applauded by consumer advocates, led many to call for far tougher measures.


more at link.

Santorum's tax plan (no estate tax, halve corporate tax rate, triple per-child deduction ....)


Some lowlights (each following bullet point is a direct quote from the article text):

* triple what his campaign identifies as the personal deduction that parents can claim for their children.

* eliminate both the Alternative Minimum Tax and the estate tax.

* he would reduce the capital gains rate from 15% to 12%.

* cut the corporate income tax rate in half to 17.5% and eliminate it entirely for manufacturers.

But at the same time he proposes to keep on the books many of the largest and most popular deductions, such as those for health insurance, retirement savings and mortgage interest.


Santorum also emphasizes his desire to use the tax code to support the family -- which he calls the "first economy."

There's been no formal third-party analysis of Santorum's plan so far. But his proposal to boost tax breaks for families may run counter to at least one oft-stated Republican beef: the number of households that end up having no federal income tax liability because of all the tax breaks they're entitled to.

"Interestingly, by using tax expenditures to support these families, Santorum would likely add significantly to the number of households that pay no income tax," wrote Urban Institute resident fellow Howard Gleckman in the blog TaxVox.

What's more, Gleckman noted, "because [Santorum's plan] cuts rates significantly but does not eliminate tax preferences -- and even expands a few -- it would very likely add trillions of dollars to the federal deficit."

Has Santorum had anything to say about the federal debt? Because his tax plan would make it skyrocket.

Lights of 5000 oil rigs threaten migratory birds in Gulf of Mexico

This story was on NPR's Living on Earth program this morning.


Tiger Sharks Dine on Migrating Birds

GELLERMAN: Something very strange is happening near oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. On dark and overcast nights, migratory birds become stuck in the cones of light from the powerful beacons on the drilling rigs. The birds swoop and circle overhead - flying round and round - until, exhausted - they drop into the sea.

Environmental reporter Ben Raines has written about the unusual and often deadly phenomenon for the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register:

RAINES: You have to imagine what the platforms are down here. I mean, we’ve got 5,000 in the Gulf, and they’re out there over a formerly dark ocean, and each one is lit up with several hundred bright, bright flood lights - think of streetlights. They’re like these beacons out on the horizon. If you’ve ever been close to a bright light outside like a lantern, you look away from it and you can’t see anything and it’s the same phenomenon on these platforms.

GELLERMAN: So how does that affect the birds?

RAINES: Well, on cloudy nights in particular, where the stars are obscured, birds migrating across the Gulf, which is a long trip - a couple hundred miles, takes 20 to 30 hours - will fly and they’ll become sort of disoriented and bamboozled by the lights on the platforms, thinking that those are, you know, navigation cues like stars because they can’t see the stars.

And, so, they just start flying in a circle around these platforms, and you have to remember the platforms - some of them are very big. I mean - you know, the top deck might be the size of a football field.

GELLERMAN: So what happens to the birds? They fall onto the platform?

RAINES: Well, some fall onto the platform, some are eaten by migrating raptors - you know, hawks and things, and some are eaten by sharks. We had some scientists here that work out of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab who began dissecting sharks - tiger sharks in particular - and finding a lot of songbirds in them. Brown thrashers, scarlet tanagers, you know, birds you would associate with the woods that could only be out there - 20 and 50 miles offshore - because they are migrating.


(more at link)

Audio is here (scroll down for just this topic): http://www.loe.org/shows/shows.html?programID=12-P13-00001

A light bulb has been developed that gives off green light and doesn't seem to disturb the birds. (See picture at link.) But it is not yet in use in the Gulf of Mexico.


For those who saw the astroturf anti-wind power article posted in LBN yesterday (since locked since it turns out to not even be current), consider this a bit of a counter. Global warming and other problems from hydrocarbon fuel production and use are more of a problem, overall, for birds than wind power. Although again, where potential problems can be mitigated, they should be - in any energy production scenario.

Thank you, Charlie: The Truth Inside Romney's Swift Boat Moment

(this is not about Gingrich claiming to be swift boated, but a differently erroneous use of the term)

I happen to really enjoy the writings of Charlie Pierce. (THAT Charlie Pierce, for NPR fans.) This is a short piece but I love the emphatic statement.

The Truth Inside Romney's Swift Boat Moment
By Charles P. Pierce
at 4:14PM

DES MOINES — Over on Liberal MSNBC, I just heard Mark Murray, who is a deputy political director at NBC News, chatting with Martin Bashir over the possible political effectiveness of using what happened to an Indiana company when it fell under the gentle ministrations of Willard Romney and his pals at Bain Capital. (In 1994, Ted Kennedy made a dog's breakfast out of Willard in their Senate race by bringing some laid-off employees of the company to Massachusetts. ...


This went along swimmingly until Bashir and Murray compared the use of the displaced workers against Romney to the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry in 2004.


The Swift Boat campaign was completely a lie.

Bain Capital did gain control of that factory in Indiana. The company did lay these people off.

Nothing the Swifties said about John Kerry was true.


Please go give Charlie some love in the comments section, if you feel so inclined.
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