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Gender: Male
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
Number of posts: 72,866

Journal Archives

Northeast LA Getting LA's First Bike-Friendly Business District

Northeast LA already has a strong bike culture: its monthly art walk has a regular bike ride component, and there are bike lanes along parts of Eagle Rock and York Boulevards, with a bike corral reclaiming a couple spots near Avenue 50. Bike lanes went in last fall along Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock (near where those literally flashy crosswalk enhancements were recently installed), and there are plans for bike lanes along Figueroa too. All this has made the area a prime choice for Los Angeles's first Bike-Friendly Business District pilot program.

The BFBD will be an area where the city, local organizations, and businesses collaborate on things like promotions geared toward biking patrons and more and better bike infrastructure, like corrals, repair stations, and better signage. The launch is slated for 2015-2016, and will go into effect on Colorado, Eagle Rock, and York Boulevards, as well as along Figueroa Street.

The idea is to help businesses out, but, as Eastsider LA points out, there are always those business owners who worry that taking away traffic lanes will actually harm them. Still, the concept is already successfully playing out in Long Beach, and more people on the street (rather than zooming by) usually means more people stopping in.


Slush Lakes: An Explainer

Friday afternoon, New York City hit a high of 41 degrees—after a foot of snow fell. The upside: we’re not all freezing any more. The downside: enormous slush puddles at most corners. Slush lakes, even. For stroller pushers, wheelchair users, and people without tall waterproof boots, this is a huge drag.

Here’s how this happens. Most corners have ramps, which create a natural low point. Pedestrian traffic crossing at the corners melts the snow in those walkways. People who own buildings on corners are supposed to shovel out those ramps—it’s actually part of their legal obligation to shovel the curb. But many don’t. So the snow gets trampled, turns to slush, the watery mush then gathers at that low point and voila, a slush lake.

In theory, that melting snow should drain to a catch basin—one of those grates along the curb. But when the catch basin becomes clogged with snow, well, that drainage can take a while. .....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.wnyc.org/story/slush-lakes-explainer/

How Big Banks Are Cashing In On Food Stamps

from The American Prospect:

How Big Banks Are Cashing In On Food Stamps

Virginia Eubanks
February 14, 2014

Many benefit programs have gone high tech with debit cards and J.P. Morgan Chase and others are making a pretty penny charging users fees. What is there to be done?

The Agricultural Act of 2014, signed into law by President Obama last Friday, includes $8 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade. One way the bill proposes to accomplish these savings is by reducing food stamp fraud. When the new farm bill is enacted, many of America’s hardest working families will experience cuts in services and have trouble putting food on their family’s table. But there will be major gains for an industry that most Americans might not expect: banking.

Banks reap hefty profits helping governments make payments to individuals, business that only got better when agencies switch from making payments on paper—checks and vouchers—to electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. EBT cards look and work like debit cards, and by 2002, had entirely replaced the stamp booklets that gave the food stamp program its name. SNAP is the most well-known program delivered via EBT, but they also carry payments for Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF); Women, Infants and Children (WIC); childcare subsidies; state general assistance; and many other programs. EBT use is widespread, from the corner store to the supercenter. According to a 2012 USDA report, SNAP funds, averaging $133 per family member per month, can be spent at more than 246,000 authorized stores, farmers' markets, farms, and meal providers nationwide.

Not only are the operating costs of delivering benefits by EBT lower—no paper checks to cut, envelopes to stuff, or postage to pay—but electronic forms of payment allow banks to multiply opportunities for revenue generation. Banks hold contracts with federal, state, and municipal agencies to provide EBT cards and services, collect interest on federal reserve money held for government programs (though not on SNAP funds), charge transaction fees for merchant use of bank technology and infrastructure, and levy penalties on users for EBT card loss, out-of-network use, and balance inquiries. Banks make money distributing government benefits if the economy is bad, because more people sign up for assistance; they make money if the economy is good, because rising interest rates mean more profit on the money they hold to distribute to beneficiaries.

Distributing government benefits is a lucrative industry. According to the Government Accountability Institute, J.P. Morgan Chase, which currently controls EBT contracts in 21 states, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, made more than half a billion dollars between 2004 and 2012 providing government benefits to U.S. citizens. In New York alone, J.P. Morgan Electronic Financial Services (EFS) holds a nine-year, $177 million EBT services contract with the State Office of Temporary and Disability Services (OTDA). New York currently pays $0.95 per month for each its 1.7 million SNAP cases. In addition, J.P. Morgan EFS collects penalties and fees from benefit recipients: $5 to replace a lost EBT card, $0.40 for each balance inquiry, $0.50 each time their cards are declined for insufficient funds, and $1.50 per withdrawal if they use ATMs to get cash more than once a month. While information about profit margins on EBT contracts is neither collected at the national level nor released by banks, EBT is a significant growth area for big banks. Last year, the Federal Reserve Payments Study reported that the number of EBT transactions more than doubled since 2006. ..........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://prospect.org/article/how-big-banks-are-cashing-food-stamps

Jim Hightower: Shouldn't 'Natural' Foods Actually Be Natural?

from The Progressive:

Shouldn't 'Natural' Foods Actually Be Natural?
By Jim Hightower, Feb. 14, 2014

Years ago the delightfully-naughty movie star, Mae West, said: "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."

Less delightful are some of the purity claims of such food manufacturing giants as PepsiCo, which has long marketed a line of its Frito-Lay snack foods as "Simply Natural." Natural? Anyone who's even looked at one of the company's strangely-puffed, caterpillaresque, cheese-powdered, "Cheetos" would have a hard time believing nature had anything to do with the concoctions. Sure enough, PepsiCo has quietly dropped the volatile "natural" claim from its snack packages, rebranding them with just the word "Simply."

The multibillion-dollar food maker says the shift is merely a routine adjustment of its marketing scheme – but it comes only after consumer groups have taken Pepsi, Campbell Soup, and other manufactures to court in the past couple of years, successfully challenging their use of the "natural" phrase as deceptive hype.

PepsiCo settled one of its cases last year by paying out $9 million to the challengers and agreeing to stop labeling its Naked Juice brand as "all natural." A marketing pitch for these drinks had bragged that they were "the freshest, purest stuff in the world." The naked truth, however, was that they were not only juiced up with artificial vitamins and synthetic fibers, but also included an additive made from formaldehyde – a cancer-causing compound. ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://progressive.org/shouldnt-natural-foods-actually-be-natural

The Real Reason Why This Week’s Massive Ice Storm Is So Unusual

Climate Progress / By Emily Atkin

The Real Reason Why This Week’s Massive Ice Storm Is So Unusual
Global warming supercharges storms, causes abnormal drought conditions, and ultimately, it causes damage.

February 13, 2014 | As the Weather-Channel-dubbed “Winter Storm Pax” barrels across much of the eastern United States this week, the warnings have been just short of apocalyptic. “This is a storm of historical proportions with potentially catastrophic … crippling impacts,” the National Weather Service’s Atlanta office said in a 3:39 a.m. forecast discussion on Wednesday. “Catastrophic… crippling… paralyzing… choose your adjective.”

“If residents have not completed their preparations,” the NWS continued, “it may be too late.”

Indeed, the effects of the storm have already been — pun intended — chilling. As Slate’s meteorologist Eric Holthaus rightfully predicted, the Atlanta area got more than four inches of snow topped by as much as one inch of ice, which can add “thousands of pounds of additional weight to trees and power lines.”

“Add on gusty winds of 20-30 mph, as are also forecasted, and you have a recipe for disaster, with 100-year-old oaks and hickories snapping like matchsticks,” Holthaus writes. “As a result, Wednesday’s storm could have lingering impacts across the region for years, if not decades.” ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.alternet.org/environment/reason-why-weeks-massive-ice-storm-so-unusual

Government Hid Key Points In JP Morgan Deal

from the Working Life blog:

Government Hid Key Points In JP Morgan Deal
Posted on 10 February 2014

For the price of a measly $20 billion, the government left JP Morgan Chase walk away from the responsibility of helping fuel the wreckage that became the global financial crisis–and, to boot, it paved the way, incomprehensibly, for Jamie Dimon to get a big fat pay raise(long live the American free market!!!). Now, an important suit by Better Markets has been filed to potentially undo the deal, or, at least, force a more honest, open discussion about what the government’s cheap stay-out-of-jail, sock-it-to-the-customers actually says.

Not everyone was buying the P.R. gimmicks Dimon was throwing out at the gullible press and political world about what a great job he did that warranted the cheap deal and his subsequent pay raise. Better Markets correctly, and, in my view, courageously, referred to the bank as a “One Bank Crime Spree“. Now, Better Markets has filed a lawsuit challenging the deal and the critical point is here:

And yet, according to a lawsuit that a nonprofit group filed against the Justice Department on Monday, the crucial details of the deal were for the government’s eyes only.

In other words, the Administration is hiding details from the public–the very public which has had to bear the cost of the behavior of JP Morgan, Dimon and the rest of the pirates on Wall Street, whether those costs were lost jobs, obliterated savings and, now, the cost of the settlement which will be passed on to consumers. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.workinglife.org/2014/02/10/government-hid-key-points-in-jp-morgan-deal/#sthash.YV8jx8Wu.dpuf

D.C. Metro Chief: If You Want More Service, We Need More Money

Metro's chief executive pleaded with regional leaders on Wednesday to lobby Congress for funding to complete the transit authority's ambitious plans to expand rail capacity and improve service over the next decade.

In remarks to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) board of directors, Metro general manager Richard Sarles said the transit authority would need $6 billion to fulfill its 2025 plan for all 8-car trains during rush hours, station improvements, more buses and a "Metrobus priority corridor network," additional tracks, and a "new Blue Line connection." Once the Silver Line opens this year, Blue Line service will be reduced to one train every 12 minutes during rush hours.

"Half of the $6 billion of Metro 2025 will be for the operation of all 8-car trains and for the related station-capacity and infrastructure improvements. Without the additional cars passengers per car will reach extremely crowded levels," Sarles said.

The COG board passed a resolution to call on Congress to help pay for Metro's 2025 plan, as well as its ongoing maintenance needs after 2020—which is when the current 10-year, $3 billion program expires. However, there are no promises coming from Congress, a reality Sarles acknowledged. ...................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.wnyc.org/story/metro-upgrades-await-funding-decisions-locally-and-federal-level/

It Takes a Village: Designing St. Paul’s Frogtown Urban Farm

from Civil Eats:

It Takes a Village: Designing St. Paul’s Frogtown Urban Farm
By Antonio Roman-Alcalá on February 11, 2014

Urban farms are almost a cliché these days. Since the mid-2000s, media attention and increasing grassroots efforts have looked to urban farming as a kind of cure-all, a way to address a whole range of social, ecological, and economic problems facing cities and their residents. While I don’t want to dispute these ideas, I am interested in a more nuanced understanding of what it takes to make an urban farm “work.” How can these farms go beyond the hype? What challenges do urban farms face?

It was these questions that drew me to write about my recent experiences with Frogtown Farm.

In 2009, four residents of the Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota, had a “crazy vision.” They wanted to turn a 12-acre site of a former convent into a park and farm, for the benefits of food security, inter-cultural education, and the green space needs of the community’s children. They took action, talked to their neighbors, and petitioned both the foundation that owned the unused land and the city of St. Paul to support their vision.

The Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul is, by statistical accounts, low-income, but it isn’t a “food desert.” There are plenty of ethnic grocery outlets and the Hmong immigrants in St. Paul are some of the most active urban and peri-urban farmers in the country. While there are many home gardens and a recent upsurge in small-scale urban farming projects, however, Frogtown Farm will be the largest single public farm site in St. Paul by far. ...................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://civileats.com/2014/02/11/it-takes-a-village-designing-the-frogtown-urban-farm/#sthash.NdK19t2M.dpuf

Fancy, Futuristic Touch-Screen Subway Maps Have Arrived


from New York Magazine:

Fancy, Futuristic Touch-Screen Subway Maps Have Arrived
By Joe Coscarelli

The robots are here to make your commute easier. (Well, not you, but you know, tourists.) The long-teased touch-screen maps, referred to officially as On the Go! Travel Stations, have debuted in Grand Central to good reviews. Created by the design firm Control Group, which is also paying for the pilot program with hopes of eventual advertising revenue, the screens are like giant smartphones, with apps for food and attractions, news, and weather, in addition to directions and service-change info.

There are now 18 kiosks spread throughout Grand Central, and more to come citiwide throughout 2014. Gizmodo has a video demonstration:

And for the germophobes (a rightful fear considering how much bacteria is down there), Control Group assured Fast Company in a statement, "One of the principles of our design was to minimize touch and gestures with one click navigation. Also, the DST display works with any object — finger, nail, pen, etc. And the screen is in [a] waterproof enclosure to enable regular cleaning. And just like the thousands of Metrocard machines in the NYC subway system that feature a touchscreen, the MTA will maintain the new kiosks."

So, it's probably no grosser than anything else you touch in public every day.

Chicago Tribune Stands Behind State’s Fantasy of Radical Terror, Even Though ‘NATO 3' Acquitted

Published on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 by FireDogLake.com
Chicago Tribune Stands Behind State’s Fantasy of Radical Terror, Even Though ‘NATO 3′ Acquitted of Terrorism

by Kevin Gosztola

Few terrorism cases are lost by the government prosecutors in the United States, whether at the federal level or, in rare instances, at the state level. However, last week, a jury came to a verdict in the “NATO 3″ trial that acquitted three young men of all the terrorism charges they had faced.

It was a huge defeat for Illinois State’s Attorney of Cook County, Anita Alvarez, who angrily refused to admit the state had lost during a press conference after the verdict was announced.

Alvarez emphasized that the “NATO 3″ had still been found guilty of possession of an incendiary device with the intent to commit arson as well as two mob action offenses. However, the state did not bring this case as an arson or mob action case and all along the public had been led to believe that these were “terrorists” on trial. And they were so dangerous that the men were going to be charged with offenses under a largely untested state terrorism statute.

Rather than react to the outcome in the trial by examining the decision by Alvarez to abuse her authority and bring this case as a terrorism case when there was no shred of evidence for such charges, the Chicago Tribune editorial board published a state-identified editorial on February 10 that was a fervent defense of all that Alvarez and other prosecutors did in this case. It stood in sharp contrast to an editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times, which stated, “The Chicago Police and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez almost comically overreached.” .....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/12-0

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