CRACKERBARREL


[from SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Washington Bureau, May 1, 2004]
The chief of the Selective Service System has proposed registering women for the military draft and requiring that young Americans regularly inform the government about whether they have training in niche specialties needed in the armed services.

The proposal, which the agency's acting Director Lewis Brodsky presented to senior Pentagon officials just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, also seeks to extend the age of draft registration to 34 years old, up from 25. Some of the skill areas where the armed forces are facing "critical shortages" include linguists and computer specialists, the agency said. Americans would then be required to regularly update the agency on their skills until they reach age 35.

The Selective Service System plan, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, highlights the extent to which agency officials have planned for an expanded military draft in case the administration and Congress would authorize one in the future.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say they oppose a revival of the military draft, last used in 1973 as the American commitment in Vietnam waned, beginning the era of the all-volunteer force.

Mandatory registration for the draft was suspended in 1975 but was resumed in 1980 by President Carter after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. About 13.5 million men, ages 18 to 25, currently are registered with the Selective Service.


4/22/04 (abstracted from Boston Phoenix) Census Bureau is withholding significant errors in the census discovered at least six months ago with the corrected data showing a significant drop in household income; an agency official reportedly claimed that the bureau has not finalized a "release strategy" for the new numbers. . . .

Back in October of 2003 it was discovered that the U.S. Census Bureau's latest income and poverty report contained serious errors.
The reworked numbers, which have still not been made public - but have been ready since January 2004 - will show that median after-tax household income in the U.S. declined far more in 2002 than the bureau originally reported.

The bureau used erroneous marginal tax rates in calculating 2001 data and, therefore, falsely claimed that median after-tax household income remained stable in 2002, when in fact it dropped significantly.

The bureau conceded the error and promised to redo the figures, although their web site continues to report the uncorrected (false,as they have known for over six months) numbers as evidence that things are swell.
Bureau spokesman Dan Weinberg, chief of the bureau's Housing and Household Economics Statistics Division, claims that a "release strategy" for the corrected numbers has not yet been established.

It's beginning to look like the "release strategy" is to not release the corrected numbers at all.

Incorrect data leads to bad policy decisions.
State and local policymakers - if they are to be responsive to the concerns of all their constituents - need accurate census information.


Preschoolers on Antidepressants…
4/2/04 According to a study published in Psychiatric Services, a medical journal published by the American Psychiatric Association, antidepressant drugs are increasingly being prescribed for children five years old and under - in short, for troublous tots in America's preschool population.

The study of prescriptions written for pediatric patients nationwide between 1998 ad 2002 showed a 49 per cent increase in prescriptions for antidepressants to treat patients under 18, with prescriptions for children of 5 years and under accounting for the sharpest increase.

The study showed that antidepressant use among preschool girls was doubled in those five years, and among preschool boys antidepressant use rose by 64 per cent. Compared to 1998, the overall increase in antidepressant prescriptions by 2002 was highest in prescriptions for preschool girls (68%, compared to 34% for preschool boys).

"There is no medical justification for putting preschoolers on such drugs," said Vera Hassner Sharav of the Alliance for Human Research Protection. "Frankly, I call this child abuse, " Sharav said. Harsh words for parents in the land of Better Living Through Chemistry.

Antidepressants, hyped incessantly on tv and in print via multimillion dollar ad campaigns, mean big profits for the drug companies who make them.

In February 2004 a congressional hearing was convened to explore the safety risks of antidepressant drugs, at which time many parents testified that their children had committed suicide after taking antidepressants.

In March 2004 the FDA requested that drug makers add explicit warnings on the labels of antidepressant medications.

Drug companies (Wyeth, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Pfizer) deny that their antidepressants may lead to suicidal behavior in young people.

Now a new congressional probe is expected to examine the FDA's handling of the issue, and among other things the FDA may be asked to explain why one of its own medical reviewers was prevented from making a presentation at the February hearing.


Endangered Rangers...
4/14/04   From its earliest days, the idea behind the National Park Service (NPS) was that our national parks would be to America what the cathedrals and architecture of Europe are to those countries.

Today's U.S. citizens are justifiably proud of their nation's historic commitment to fund and preserve its parklands and to protect the natural wonders, resources, and wildlife habitats therein.
We should expect our government to honor that commitment. Every year, millions of us enjoy those beautiful parks - in summer they are such popular destinations that even the most enormous parks seem overcrowded with visitors.

NPS officials have always been in charge of operating and protecting these awesome public parks, which are also - in the truest sense - the American Commons.

But what would happen if, instead of the National Park Service, private foundations and corporate interests were put in control the parks?
We may soon find out.

"Last year," reported Mike McIntire in the 4/4/04 New York Times, "the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded in a report that the Park Service 'needs to better manage the increasing role' of its nonprofit partners. The accounting office found that the Park Service lacked even 'basic management information' about how much money the groups were raising and how it was being spent. What is more, the report said, the failure to track such data seemed deliberate."

Meanwhile the American Recreation Coalition has been banging the drum of "privatization" for the National Park Service and other public land management agencies. The Tourist/Recreation Development Industry, ever alert to the commercial potential of "eco-tourism" (as distinct from "environmentalism," which often thwarts commercial ambitions), is circling the American Commons in expectation of profitable ventures.

According to Ski magazine, "Forest Service officials appear to be leaning toward a policy change that would allow more visible displays of sponsors, whose logos, names or ads could appear on items they underwrite."

And the National Park Service has quietly imposed a hiring freeze, abandoned maintenance projects, cut visitor services and reduced park hours at many of America's national parks.

No wonder the nation's Park Rangers consider themselves an endangered species.

It is anticipated that this year the National Park Service, notwithstanding the U.S. Interior Department's current investigation of the NPS' Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island Foundation private fund-raising weasel deals, will announce a "public-private partnership initiative" for all the national parks.

As McIntire noted in his NYT article, " The investigation by the Interior Department's inspector general is not the first to raise questions about the foundation's activities or the broader issue of the Park Service's reliance on private groups to help manage the country's 385 national parks."

Another broader issue would be the reliance on private nonprofit foundations to make up for the NPS hiring freeze and funding cutbacks.
In the end, who benefits from this reliance on the whims of philanthropy?
Surely not the knowledgeable, dedicated public employees of the National Park Service, long recognized as one of this country's most dependable and well-run government operations.
Nor will the American public, once those knowledgeable, dedicated public employees are gone from our national parks. Will the nonprofits be proud when their portfolios deliver such cheerless results?

As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."
His words have never been more true than they are today, when the nation faces a deficit of appx. $540 Billion, and when the government pretends that private philanthropic wealth will voluntarily fill the funding gaps created by ever-deepening cuts in public programs, including America's national parks - which were underfunded by the government even before the current deficit-inspired hiring freezes and cutbacks.

Stephanie Clement, conservation director for Friends of Acadia, one of a number of "Friends of" groups across the country that annually raise about $100 million for the national parks, was adamant that her group never intended that its efforts would stand in for the government: "We never want our funding to replace what is basically congressional responsibility."

Think again, volunteer "Friends of" fundraisers and corporate sponsor seekers. Recreation/Tourist Development Industry lobbyists (together with a privatization-mad government administration of, by and for free marketers) are way ahead of you.
Nothing would please them more than to starve out the national parks in order to justify a takeover by the "free market solutions" crowd, who can finally begin the Disneyfication of the American Commons.

The assets of all private American foundations combined (about $480 billion), even if they were paid out in their entirety, could not offset a national deficit of $540 Billion and rising. The parks will increasingly face stiffer competition for private philanthropic funds. And they will be forced to rely on Disneyfication to survive.


Keeping Up Appearances...
It appears that the TC has been discussing proposed changes or additions to Vernon's property maintenance ordinances.

Last we heard, Deputy Mayor Janet Morrison was urging caution - a commendable approach to the minefield of property maintenance laws (especially "anti-blight" laws), since that minefield is littered with constitutional fatalities.

Known in suburbs across the country as "Snob Laws" or "Stepford Laws," property maintenance ordinances are meat and drink to those whose great purpose of life is to tell everyone else how to live.

It is usual for detailed property maintenance regulations to be found in the bylaws of private communities. When imposed upon the general public, however, Snob Laws may quickly run afoul of stressed-out property owners, especially if their tax dollars have to pay for a new bureaucratic level of municipal code enforcement (i.e., for Blight Police) to handle "visual blight" complaints.

Every year, in communities which have adopted Snob Laws, the local Blight Police are tasked with investigating thousands of complaints. Typically, the calls are from anxious homesellers who are certain that their house won't sell unless something is done about the next door neighbors' unsightly lawn (blight!) or untidy woodpile (blight!) or tacky/gaudy ornaments (blight!), or because the neighbors across the street have an old pickup truck or an RV(blightblightblight!!) in their driveway.

Apart from their appeal to folks who might otherwise be told to mind their own business, "anti-blight" ordinances also have great appeal to enterprising speculators on the lookout for land occupied by distressed properties - especially in commercial zones.

Enforcement of property maintenance ordinances may tempt municipal officials to use the scourge of eminent domain, which - among other things - empowers local government to condemn "blighted" properties.
Properties thus condemned can then be snapped up at bargain prices by builders and developers.

It is probably worth mentioning that, in towns across the U.S., many dilapidated historic buildings (and, in some cases, entire "blighted" neighborhoods) have been condemned, then acquired and demolished forthwith by enterprising real estate developers.

It may well be that anti-blight ordinances have been advanced on the Vernon TC agenda by those who feel it is not enough to have aggressive enforcement of the existing host of zoning, building, environmental and public health laws which protect public health and safety in Vernon.
Or maybe they have been advanced by spokesmen for the Keeping Up Appearances set, who feel that the town's "gentrification" isn't proceeding as aggressively as they'd like.
Or maybe they have been advanced by developers and builders with a nose for the main chance.
Or all of the above, individually or in concert.

Finally, we come to the ever popular "signage" ordinances, which usually get passed with very little opposition but which may - once enacted - plunge the town into a hellbroth of legal challenges from political candidates who need to use yard signs in their campaigns, from business interests concerned about protecting their outdoor advertising options, and from free speech advocates concerned about their constitutional rights.

There can be no question that the Constitution places significant and numerous limitations on what signs a locality may prohibit, where it may prohibit them, and how. A locality which enacts and enforces an unconstitutional signage restriction may not only be ordered to change its sign ordinance but may also have to pay damages for its past practices.

As with all local ordinances, if the Constitution is considered first, everybody wins.


Folks in Vernon - especially bizfolk and exasperated motorists - have been suggesting various downtown improvements for years.
A "loop road" idea, for example, was originally proposed in the late '90s.
it was to be part of a town center plan whose purpose was to make the existing downtown Vernon commercial hub more navigable, aesthetically appealing, and convenient for town residents and visitors alike.
This concept of the town center predated IntraWest Corp.'s 1998 purchase of Great American Recreation's bankrupt Action Park/Great Gorge Ski Resort property, thereafter renamed Mountain Creek.

Now, together with a planned sewer construction project, the chief purpose of the Main Street ("loop road") and Town Center project is to create another cluster of commercial real estate in Vernon's 515/94 hub, feeding into the stretch of Rt. 94 fronting Mountain Creek, which is to be a residential resort housing development and theme park for the affluent - a "complete community" which will have its own commercial Village on Rt. 94.

As one local wag said recently, how long until Mountain Creek has its own Zip Code?


Somewhere along the line, the town center plan was conflated with a more ambitious vision of affluent consumers thronging an Americanized version of a European ski village, which will offer (as in similar IntraWest resort villages) a Starbucks, a paint-your-own-ceramics shop and a gourmet chocolates shop and, above the shops and restaurants, turn-key condominiums with prices in the astronomical range.

In the end, it is not at all clear that the Vernon Town Center/Main Street project will mitigate the problems caused by increased commercial traffic (plus resort and "regular" traffic) in central Vernon, where the downtown strip of Rt. 515 is also to be altered.

On some weekend mornings this winter, traffic on Rt. 515 was backed up all the way past Rt.638, a.k.a. Highland Lakes Road.
God Bless Barrett Road! When it comes to local commerce, especially on weekends, Vernon's loss is Warwick's gain.


As matters stand, the large-scale (1000 housing units)Mountain Creek luxury residential development in Vernon will be cheek by jowl with the Stonehill/Great Gorge condo development, no great distance from the mammoth and continually sprawling Crystal Springs housing development on Rt. 94 near the McAfee border of town. Another large resort/residential housing development is to arise behind the Legends time-share hotel near the McAfee end of the town center corridor. And - now that the town has made straight the way for real estate developers - yet more housing development is slated for Hidden Valley, near the opposite end of the town center stretch.
Some folks even foresee luxury resort residential developments heaving into view on the Maple Grange Swapland, located as it is in the town's Rt. 94 North "gateway" area long and continuously coveted by developers.


Many of Vernon's ordinary townfolk are mindful (and protective) of the mountain habitats, scenic views, forests, unique historical sites, diverse housing mix and neighborly, peaceful climate of "country" society in which they live.
They are oddly contented to live in a wholesome, affordable hometown where it is possible to raise healthy children and, eventually, enjoy a comfortable retirement.
Will they want to live in Vernon five years from now? Ten years from now?

In the not-so-distant future, as thousands of local residents are commuting in a weekday stream of cars, express buses and trains to their living-wage jobs out of town, low-income resort employees will be commuting into Vernon because they can't afford to live here.

Property values all over town may go upscale indeed, as may the cost of living here. Affordable housing is, by definition, excluded from the "upscale" vision of luxury and extravagance. Young working-class people will be priced out of the market, as will senior citizens on fixed incomes, for that matter. Their incomes do not match the "gold town" profile.

Many of the town's middle class homeowners may seize the chance to sell their properties and then relocate, or retire, to less income-absorbing locales, where spending money in "upscale" shops and boutiques is not the Great Purpose of Life.


Meanwhile, Vernon's "goldtown" planners act as if the value of Vernon's natural infrastructure is limited to its commercial recreation potential and its usage capacities for future real estate development.
But the fact is that we all depend on the soils, the aquifers, the mountain streams, the forests, the biological complexity which has so far kept Vernon's 67 sq. miles of earth resilient.

It is therefore hard to imagine a greater obligation to "the future" than the obligation to plan for the continued wellbeing of these natural systems, on which the continued wellbeing of an entire town depends.

While public attention (and public money) is directed to the design and construction of recreational projects (ballfield park/stadium, bike paths, canoe trails, etc.) to enhance and expand "the Greater Vernon Resort Area," it would appear that the Vernon town council has made very little progress towards setting up a Geographic Information System.

The GIS might enable the public to make informed decisions by analyzing the long term, multi-level effects of such projects on the town's civil society, living environment and finances.
Whatever planning "visions" the Vernon government follows should be based on a thorough knowledge of the natural systems essential to our town's living environment, and on knowing what we'll need to do if that natural infrastructure is to continue working properly for generations to come.

The town government is, therefore, most unwise to procrastinate with regard to GIS while at the same time excluding all but the pro-development, uncritical "upscale commercial growth" enthusiasts, tourism/ski/golf promoters, and their like-minded consultants from town policymaking. Locked into its "vision" of the town's future as an upscale, commercial ski/golf resort-destination area, the town council shows a kind of single-mindedness which may have disastrous consequences far beyond the needless public expense of constantly correcting project designs and litigating related land use matters.


Worst case scenario?
Vernon could end up with overbuilt ski/ resort operations and empty high-rent condominiums in its midst when when today's affluent baby boomers worldwide grow too old for the slopes, and when today's speculative housing market bubble is history.

But what about Golf? Won't the local Resort Destination Area's Golf Mecca continue to attract upscale consumers and homebuyers, as prophesied by year-round- resort promoters and golf ghetto developers hereabouts?

To quote Jonathan Laing in Barron's Magazine:

"After all, few sports have the snob appeal of golf, and few allow for the indulgence of so much conspicuous consumption -- of $500 titanium-shaft drivers, extravagant trips to the celebrated links of Ireland and Scotland, and multi-million-dollar homes in swank communities built around courses designed by Jack, Tom and Rees."

The current "boomer" demographics would seem perfect for golf - but the economic news is bad.

" Steep declines in golf participation already haunt golf's boosters and industry insiders, " Laing reported.
"The golf boom has fizzled unambiguously in the past few years, and threatens to become a king-sized bust."
(Laing's detailed report was reprinted on 8/15/03 in the Real Estate Journal section of The Wall Street Journal.)

"Corporations, a key market for country clubs and high-end daily-fee play, likewise have pulled in their horns,"Laing noted.
"Companies are slashing expense accounts and have been more reluctant these days to hand out free country-club memberships and sponsor client golf outings and meetings at fancy clubs. Destination-resort areas… have suffered mightily as a result."

Who is suffering? Not the developers. Suffering is for The Public, whose tax dollars - king-sized bust notwithstanding - continue to pay for the engineering, construction, maintenance and remediation of infrastructural projects required by water-sucking-destination-resort development.


Will the next generation of income-earners be as affluent as the now-retiring boomers? And willing to shoulder the tax and debt obligations plus "gold town " mortgages in what may wind up to be just another water-depleting, de-forested, air-polluting, traffic-jamming gulag of condos and townhouses in the NY/NJ commuter archipelago?

No one can predict Vernon's future, but one thing is for sure: things never turn out the way you thought they would.
Vernon's "goldtown" wannabes and policymakers might be well advised to set aside the Luxury Estate section of the Sunday NY Times Magazine and to study something more useful. Like the news pages.


Chinese Lunar New Year begins on Jan. 22 in 2004.
It's the Year of the Monkey. Last year was the year of the Sheep.
Any Vernon gourmet who wishes to celebrate the Year of the Monkey in proper fashion will have to travel to a Chinese restaurant in some other town. Of course it is always best to go to Chinatown in NYC (watch out for those firecrackers, however).
The Chinese Lunar New Year is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac. Like the Western calendar, The Chinese Lunar Calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the lunar year being based on the cycles of the moon.
Therefore, because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. This year it falls on January 22. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each.
The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal. Legend has it that Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived (i.e., rat,ox,tiger,rabbit,dragon,snake,horse,sheep,monkey,rooster,dog,boar).
The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying: "This is the animal that hides in your heart."

So, just for fun, use this birthyear chart to find the animal "that hides in your heart" :

Rat   1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996
Ox   1925 1937 1949 1961 1973 1985 1997
Tiger   1926 1938 1950 1962 1974 1986 1998
Rabbit   1927 1939 1951 1963 1975 1987 1999
Dragon   1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988 2000
Snake   1929 1941 1953 1965 1977 1989 2001
Horse   1930 1942 1954 1966 1978 1990 2002
Sheep   1931 1943 1955 1967 1979 1991 2003
Monkey   1932 1944 1956 1968 1980 1992 2004
Rooster   1933 1945 1957 1969 1981 1993 2005
Dog   1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1994 2006
Boar   1935 1947 1959 1971 1983 1995 2007

Future New Year dates:

2004 - Jan 22
2005 - Feb 9
2006 - Jan 29
2007 - Feb 18


"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,
and that is not being talked about."    --Oscar Wilde

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