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A ‘Nature School’ for curious visitors – The Hindu

Posted: July 6, 2017 at 8:46 pm


The Hindu
A 'Nature School' for curious visitors
The Hindu
Debating what would reside in the pit, a group of youngsters gather around a termite mound with much enthusiasm. While 'snake' seemed to be the popular opinion for what might inhabit the underground dwelling, presence of monitor lizard further

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Editorial: Gigs and garlands – News Chief

Posted: July 4, 2017 at 10:47 pm

Body type J: Many big things tend to sprout from small, humble, almost unnoticeable beginnings, and such a happening, which is well worth recalling, occurred on this date.

Body type J: On July 2, 1865, an evangelical Methodist preacher named William Booth and his wife, Catherine, set up a tent to deliver what William referred to as the three Ss soup, soap and salvation to the drunks, drug addicts, prostitutes and other neer-do-wells inhabiting a slum in Londons east end. At the time Booth had been a Christian minister for more than a decade, but reportedly had grown frustrated with the duties of conventional pastoral life, preferring instead the mission of evangelization. Body type J: So fervently did Booth believe in this calling that he endured the fatiguing and sometimes violent travails of serving Londons forgotten underclass. Yet his work paid off. Within two years, his East London Christian Mission encompassed basic education and literacy programs, as well as penny (or piggy) banks and soup kitchens. Thirteen years after Booth launched his mission, he was drafting a report on its works. First describing his ministry as a volunteer army, he subsequently lined out volunteer and substituted the word salvation. Thus, the Salvation Army, with its eventual use of military titles and regalia and even a band, was born. Body type J: From that slum the Salvation Army has grown to operate in more than 120 countries with 1.1 million soldiers who toil in hospitals, homeless shelters, daycare and senior centers and rehab facilities. They are, as Booth explained in his original manifesto, devoting their leisure time to all sort of laborious efforts for the salvation of others from unbelief, drunkenness, vice and crime. And doing it well. Body type J: GARLAND: They might not be in the business of saving souls, but Medulla Elementary School Principal Myra Richardson and her staff still did yeomans work to show her students how much they are appreciated. As The Ledger reported recently, Richardson and her faculty fanned out across Lakeland to surprise with balloons, yard signs and hugs the 41 students who scored a 5 the highest possible in at least one section of the states year-end standardized tests. What a wonderful gesture. Body type J: GARLAND: And speaking of salvation, we applaud the Nikana Corp., the owners of the Town Center plaza in Lakeland. The companys board recently consented to allowing local historic preservationists to save two colorful mosaics at a former Publix store that were threatened because of a renovation project. Publix founder George Jenkins commissioned the pair of 240-square-foot mosaics by California artist John Garth when he opened the store in 1964. Advocates for preserving the artwork dont know yet where theyll land, and they must fix the stores walls after they are removed, but like them, we are grateful Nikana agreed to hand them over. Body type J: GARLAND: Kudos to coach Kevin Sullivan and the Florida Gators baseball team, who last week won their first-ever College World Series, defeating LSU. According to alligatorarmy.com, the Gators are one of just four schools along with Michigan, Ohio State and UCLA to capture national titles in baseball, football and basketball. The Gators, however, are the only one to have won all three within the last 50 years. Goooo Gators. Body type J: GIG: President Donald Trump earns a gig for his Twitter outburst at MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. Trump in a tweet referred to Brzezinski as Crazy Mika, who was bleeding badly from a facelift last New Years Eve. Its the latest in a long line of insults he has hurled at prominent women. We can understand why the president counterpunched. Brzezinski and her fianc, Joe Scarborough, once a conservative Republican from the Florida Panhandle, have turned their three-hour Morning Joe show into little more than a perpetual anti-Trump rant that often gets harsher and more personal than what Trump tweeted. But, Mr. President, this has to stop. Its beneath the dignity of your office. Body type J: GARLAND: We applaud the city of Lake Wales. Officials recently struck a deal with the local YMCA to allow city residents use to the swimming pool for much of the week during the next year. While the city paid $36,000 a year, the residents pay nothing. In return, the Y offers an audition to possible future members. Win-win. Body type J: GIG: We gig David Cooper of St. Petersburg, recently arrested on multiple charges of burglary. Cooper, 36, was a former pest control worker, and police say he targeted his victims by scouting for homes that were tented as part of an anti-termite treatment. In all, he broke into 12 homes and stole guns, cash jewelry, electronics and even shoes. Its innovative thinking for criminal behavior, but still pretty low.

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I spent three days as a hunter-gatherer to see if it would improve my gut health – eNCA (satire)

Posted: at 10:47 pm

File: The Hadza is one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer groups in all of Africa. Photo: Pixabay / TheDigitalWay

Tim Spector, King’s College London

Mounting evidence suggests that the richer and more diverse the community of microbes in your gut the lower your risk of disease. Diet is key to maintaining diversity and was strikingly demonstrated when an undergrad student went on a McDonalds diet for ten days and after just four days experienced a significant drop in the number of beneficial microbes.

Similar results have been demonstrated in a number of larger human and animal studies.

Your gut microbiome is a vast community of trillions of bacteria that has a major influence on your metabolism, immune system and mood. These bacteria and fungi inhabit every nook and cranny of your gastrointestinal tract, with most of this 1kg to 2kg microbe organ sited in your colon (the main bit of your large intestine).

We tend to see the biggest diet-related shifts in microbes in people who are unhealthy with a low-diversity unstable microbiome. What we didnt know is whether a healthy stable gut microbiome could be improved in just a few days. The chance to test this in an unusual way came when my colleague Jeff Leach invited me on a field trip to Tanzania, where he has been living and working among the Hadza, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer groups in all of Africa.

My microbiome is pretty healthy nowadays and, among the first hundred samples we tested as part of the MapMyGut project, I had the best gut diversity our best overall measure of gut health, reflecting the number and richness of different species. High diversity is associated with a low risk of obesity and many diseases. The Hadza have a diversity that is one of the richest on the planet.

The research plan was devised by Jeff who suggested I should have an intensive three days of eating like a hunter gatherer during my stay at his research camp. I would measure my gut microbes before heading to Tanzania, during my stay with the Hadza, and after my return to the UK. I was also not allowed to wash or use alcohol swabs and I was expected to hunt and forage with the Hadza as much as possible including coming in contact with the odd Hadza baby and baboon poo lying about.

To help us record the trip I was accompanied by Dan Saladino, the intrepid presenter and producer of BBC Radio 4s The Food Programme, who was preparing a Hadza microbe special.

After a long tiring flight to Mount Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania, we stayed overnight in Arusha, a city in the north of the country. Before setting off the next morning, I produced my baseline poo sample.

After an eight-hour journey in a Land Rover over bumpy tracks, we arrived. Jeff beckoned us to the top of a huge rock to witness the most amazing sunset over Lake Eyasi. Here, within a stones throw of the famous fossil site of Olduvai Gorge and with the stunning plains of the Serengeti in the distance, Jeff explained that we were never going to be closer to home as a member of the genus Homo, than where we were standing at that moment.

The million-year-old diet

The Hadza seek out the same animals and plants that humans have hunted and gathered for millions of years. Importantly, the human-microbe tango that played out here for aeons probably shaped aspects of our immune system and made us who we are today. The significance of being in Hadza-land was not lost on me.

Unlike the Hadza, who sleep around the fire or in grass huts, I was given a tent and told to zip it up tight as there were scorpions and snakes about. I had to be careful where I stepped if I needed a nocturnal pee. After an interesting but restless nights sleep, a large pile of baobab pods had been collected for my breakfast.

The baobab fruit is the staple of the Hadza diet, packed with vitamins, fat in the seeds, and, of course, significant amounts of fibre. We were surrounded by baobab trees stretching in the distance as far as I could see. Baobab fruit have a hard coconut-like shell that cracks easily to reveal a chalky flesh around a large, fat-rich seed. The high levels of vitamin C provided an unexpected citrus tang.

The Hadza mixed the chalky bits with water and whisked it vigorously for two to three minutes with a stick until it was a thick, milky porridge that was filtered somewhat into a mug for my breakfast. It was surprisingly pleasant and refreshing. As I wasnt sure what else I would be eating on my first day, I drank two mugs and suddenly felt very full.

My next snacks were the wild berries on many of the trees surrounding the camp the commonest were small Kongorobi berries. These refreshing and slightly sweet berries have 20 times the fibre and polyphenols compared with cultivated berries powerful fuel for my gut microbiome. I had a late lunch of a few high-fibre tubers dug up with a sharp stick by the female foragers and tossed on the fire. These were more effort to eat – like tough, earthy celery. I didnt go for seconds or feel hungry, probably because of my high-fibre breakfast. No one seemed concerned about dinner.

A few hours later we were asked to join a hunting party to track down porcupine a rare delicacy. Even Jeff hadnt tasted this creature in his four years of field work.

Two 20kg nocturnal porcupines had been tracked to their tunnel system in a termite mound. After several hours of digging and tunnelling carefully avoiding the razor-sharp spines two porcupines were eventually speared and thrown to the surface. A fire was lit. The spines, skin and valuable organs were expertly dissected and the heart, lung and liver cooked and eaten straight away.

The rest of the fatty carcass was taken back to camp for communal eating. It tasted much like suckling pig. We had a similar menu the next two days, with the main dishes including hyrax a strange furry guinea-pig-like hoofed animal, weighing about 4kg a relative of the elephant, of all creatures.

Harvested high from a baobab tree, our dessert was the best golden orange honey I could ever imagine with the bonus of honeycomb full of fat and protein from the larvae. The combination of fat and sugars made our dessert the most energy-dense food found anywhere in nature and may have competed with fire in terms of its evolutionary importance.

In Hadza-land nothing is wasted or killed unnecessarily, but they eat an amazing variety of plant and animal species (around 600, most of which are birds) compared with us in the West. My other lasting impression was how little time they spent getting food. It appeared as though it took just a few hours a day as simple as going round a large supermarket. Any direction you walked there was food above, on and below ground.

Massive increase in microbiome diversity

Twenty-four hours later Dan and I were back in London, him with his precious audio tapes and me with my cherished poo samples. After producing a few more, I sent them to the lab for testing.

The results showed clear differences between my starting sample and after three days of my forager diet. The good news was my gut microbal diversity increased a stunning 20%, including some totally novel African microbes, such as those of the phylum Synergistetes.

The bad news was, after a few days, my gut microbes had virtually returned to where they were before the trip. But we had learnt something important. However good your diet and gut health, it is not nearly as good as our ancestors. Everyone should make the effort to improve their gut health by re-wilding their diet and lifestyle. Being more adventurous in your normal cuisine plus reconnecting with nature and its associated microbial life, may be what we all need.

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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I spent three days as a hunter-gatherer to see if it would improve my gut health – eNCA (satire)

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NMSU doctoral student receives NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship – KRWG

Posted: at 10:47 pm

When you think about West African savannas, elephants and lions may come to mind. But termites?

Brianna Lind was studying abroad in South Africa as an undergraduate student at Colby College when she found out she would be learning about termites, instead of typical African animals. She was surprised to learn the unusually large termite mounds have a major impact on the ecosystems and habitat in semi-arid environments, such as the West African Sahelian and Sudanian savannas, areas from which she is now collecting data.

Termite mounds are really big in this area, and theyve been around for a really long time, Lind said. As mounds erode, they take up more and more space in the landscape because it is so difficult for plants to colonize the mound surfaces. They can be over 20 or 30 meters in diameter in this area of Senegal. And they have a really big impact on how water is redistributed in the environment and where plants can grow.

Lind will join New Mexico State University this fall. She will pursue a doctorate in plant and environmental sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

The importance of termite research isnt the only thing that has surprised Lind. She recently learned she was the recipient of a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship to further her research. She was one of just 69 people out of 385 applicants from across the United States to receive the award.

Grant and fellowship applications are huge, she said. Theyre really time-consuming and difficult, and you put a lot of energy into it. It was a really nice surprise.

Niall Hanan, professor of dryland ecology in the NMSU Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, is Linds adviser, and he also worked with her while she was pursing her masters degree in biology at South Dakota State University.

Brianna is a highly motivated and independent student, Hanan said. For her masters research, she explored how the diversity of termite species varies across Southern Africa in relation to climate, soil and vegetation types, using termites as a model to explore larger ecological questions about biodiversity. With her NASA Fellowship, Brianna plans to build on that research to study how these small insects, through construction of large termite mounds, act as ecosystem engineers radically altering water and nutrient distributions in African savannas.

A unique aspect of her research is the use of satellite imagery. In addition to recent images, Lind will reference Corona satellite images from the 1960s and 1970s. These United States photographic surveillance satellites were designed to assess how rapidly the Soviet Union was producing long-range bombers and ballistic missiles and where they were being deployed.

The Corona satellite imagery provides very high-resolution photographs across large geographic areas that can be used to understand exactly what the landscape looked like in the 60s and 70s, she said. Otherwise, we would have no physical picture of that. Im hoping to see how the landscape has changed or not changed over time. Hopefully Ill be able to see how this type of arid landscape responds to climatic shifts, how it has changed over the past few decades and how termites affect that.

Although shell continue her West African research and data analysis while at NMSU, she is eager to experience hands-on research at semi-arid and arid locations near Las Cruces, including the Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research area, which is similar in landscape to West Africa.

The NASA Fellowship is one year, with the option for Lind to submit a renewal request for two additional years. Her research contributes to the NASA Carbon Cycle and Ecosystem science focus area by documenting and understanding how termites impact ecosystem structure, function, vegetation, water and carbon cycling in semi-arid and arid environments.

Briannas success in applying for a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship reflects not only her abilities as a young researcher but also recognizes NMSU and the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences for the quality of our graduate degree program and the reputation of our students and staff, Hanan said.

Lind credits her success of receiving the fellowship to support from Hanan and others from the Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence, which is a research and educational collaboration between SDSU and the United States Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science center.

Although she was initially disappointed about studying termites instead of elephants, giraffes and lions, she now finds termites exciting.

It turns out termites are super interesting and really cool, and when you get down to it, theyre a huge part of that environment, she said. Many different animals in the savanna eat termites. A lot of animals use termite mounds to stand on to get a better vantage point, and the mounds can have plants growing on or near them that the animals prefer to eat. Theyre right in the middle of things. Its a cooler thing to study than people think.

Information from NMSU

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Life after Croman – The Real Deal Magazine

Posted: at 9:43 am

In 2002, Steve Croman, a slick broker-turned-landlord who had amassed an enviable portfolio of Manhattan rental buildings, set his sights on a pair of Upper East Side walk-ups on 72nd Street near Central Park. It was there that he and his wife, Harriet, began building their dream home, evicting tenants from 23 apartments to create a 19,000-square-foot mansion with eight bathrooms and a rooftop pool. But Croman is not likely to be spending much time at that palatial residence in the coming year.

In June, the landlord walked into a Lower Manhattan courthouse and pleaded guilty to fraud and larceny, agreeing to serve a year in jail in decidedly less extravagant accommodations on Rikers Island, where his cell is not likely to measure more than 70 square feet. Are you pleading guilty voluntarily? New York State Supreme Court Justice Jill Konviser asked Croman, who replied in a low, froggy voice, Yes, I am.

Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty? she asked. Yes, he answered.

Then the judge warned Croman not to get arrested before his September sentencing: Not for jaywalking, not for riding your bike on the sidewalk.

But long before Croman found himself in that courtroom before New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman dubbed him the Bernie Madoff of landlords he garnered a reputation as one of the citys most notorious property owners, building the largest multifamily portfolio in the fast-gentrifying East Village and clearing out rent-stabilized apartments as property values skyrocketed. Now, with his guilty plea, hes become a poster boy for the current moment in the decades-long conflict between tenants and landlords, which has reached a fever pitch in New York.

The stakes have never been as high as they seem to be in the last five years or so, said Mary Ann Hallenborg, a professor at the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate, whos written books on both tenants and landlords rights.

Related: Howculpable are banks whenlandlords push out rent-stablizied tenants?

In the past few years, authorities have pursued case after case against landlords, but tenants and advocates have argued that not enough is being done to hold those landlords fully accountable for their actions. That might soon change: City and state lawmakers are currently pushing for tougher laws to regulate harassment that could have major implications on the citys roughly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments.

While most agree that Cromans actions towards tenants were at the very least dubious and at the worst criminal, there is less consensus about the broader clampdown being pursued against multifamily owners.

In interviews with The Real Deal, landlords, investors, lawyers and industry lobbyists all said there is a growing feeling that the deck is being stacked against property owners and even that New York may be on a slippery slope toward landlord harassment. They contend that prosecutors are politically grandstanding and legally overreaching. New legislative proposals, including one that would greatly expand the legal definition of criminal tenant harassment, could criminalize honest owners and even dissuade them from upgrading the very properties that their tenants live in, those sources argue. Tenant advocates and Democratic politicians, however, insist that current laws make tenant harassment a relatively low-risk vehicle for landlords to line their pockets.

For landlords and investors there is, indeed, a lot of money on the line. The citys multifamily market logged $14.1 billion in sales last year. In recent years, institutional investors and lenders like Blackstone and Wells Fargo have backed some of the largest deals. But in some cases, multifamily bets are only worth it for investors if rent rolls are increased in a short window of time.

And as billions of dollars are being poured into that market, the number of harassment investigations is on the rise.

The states Homes and Community Renewal agency, which oversees the rent-stabilization program, logged a nearly 23 percent increase in the number of harassment cases it probed between fiscal years 2013 and 2016.

Tenant harassment is like termites; where theres one, there are many, said Aaron Carr, founder of the Housing Rights Initiative, a nonprofit thats organized rent-fraud suits against some of Manhattans largest landlords. To solve a termite problem, you have to eliminate the termite nest. And the nest is almost always found in the business models of predatory landlords.

(Click to enlarge)

While lawmakers have pledged to go after the bad apples who push the limits of the housing laws, concern is mounting that the new laws will put a damper on the multifamily sector and lead to a broader fishing expedition.

If they start broadening the language like this, everybody could potentially get caught up in it, no matter how in compliance with the law youre going to be, said Bronstein Properties principal Barry Rudofsky, who owns dozens of rental buildings with 4,000-plus units in Queens.

The people who enforce these laws dont distinguish between [landlords] who do the right thing and the really bad guys out there, he added.

Strong-arming tenants

While Schneidermans Croman prosecution is the most high-profile case of its kind in recent New York memory, in the end the landlords downfall had nothing to do with the ex-cop he allegedly hired to scare tenants out of buildings, or the toxic levels of lead dust and nonstop construction that, according to state prosecutors, made living in his buildings dangerous. His downfall also had nothing to do with violating the states criminal anti-harassment law, which can carry a sentence of four years in prison.

Instead, Croman pleaded guilty to lying to his banker about the rents he was collecting at six Lower East Side, Chelsea and Nolita buildings so that he could nab a bigger loan a violation that could have put him behind bars for 25 years.

Now, as they push for stricter penalties in Albany and at City Hall, tenant rights advocates and lawmakers who back their movement are pointing to the fact that it was easier to take Croman down for his bank dealings than for allegedly strong-arming tenants. It is extraordinarily hard to prove tenant harassment, because the law defines it as a course of conduct over time, said tenant activist Michael McKee, who heads Tenants PAC, a political action committee that backs tenant-friendly candidates for public office. So you have to show there are repeated and repeated and repeated instances of harassment.

The difficulty of proving that a landlords actions served the explicit purpose of repeatedly harassing tenants is what makes winning even civil tenant-harassment lawsuits so rare, advocates argue.

Intent is the thing we struggle the most with, said Stephanie Rudolph, an attorney at the Urban Justice Center, a legal-services nonprofit. And I think in all but the most egregious situations with lucky facts where tenants have gotten things on audio or video its hard.

At an April City Council hearing, a city representative seemed to back that up.

The representative noted that between 2014 to 2016, New York City Housing Court only ruled that harassment occurred in 2 percent (or less) of cases brought by tenants. In 2016, for example, only 15 of the 977 cases that tenants lodged were decided in their favor a fact advocates say illustrates the need for stricter laws.

But Mitchell Posilkin, general counsel for the landlord group the Rent Stabilization Association, said the figures are proof that harassment is less prevalent than tenants claim.

In terms of actual instances in which Housing Court actually found that there was harassment, you could count on the fingers of one hand, he said. The reality here is that theres a lot less than what the tenant advocates claim. I think its really incumbent upon those who want to see further legislation to prove their point, not just to make a lot of noise.

In May, Schneiderman introduced state legislation to strengthen rules on tenant harassment. And over the last few years, he and others including Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance have increasingly targeted landlords, both criminally and civilly. So far, the results have been mixed.

In late 2014, the AG initiated a civil case against Lower East Side landlord Sassan Sami Mahfar alleging illegal buyout practices and construction harassment. When the two sides settled for $225,000 this past May, Schneiderman said his proposed laws would have allowed him to prosecute this case (and other similar cases) criminally.

In June 2015, the AG also brought criminal charges against Daniel Melamed, accusing the Brooklyn landlord of filing bogus forms with the city, stating that one of his Crown Heights buildings was empty during construction when, in fact, tenants were living there. Late last month, just two weeks after Croman pleaded guilty, Melamed was convicted during a bench trial of illegally evicting tenants. But he was acquitted on the top charge of filing false paperwork, as well as a misdemeanor of endangering a child.

In an interview with TRD late last month, Melamed, who faces up to a year behind bars when hes sentenced in September, painted the prosecution as a political witch hunt.

Hes going after every single landlord out there whether theres a case or not, the landlord said during a phone interview. Schneiderman has an agenda to get re-elected, and hes pushing that agenda.

In August 2015, the AGs office launched an investigation into the controversial broker-turned-landlord Raphael Toledano, who was busted when tenants at 444 East 13th Street recorded employees at the buildings management company intimidating tenants. Toledano, who fired the management company, later settled the harassment claims for $1 million.

And then theres Joel and Amrom Israel the Brooklyn brothers who admitted to hiring drug addicts and vandals to use baseball bats and pit bulls to intimidate rent-stabilized tenants at their buildings in Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

Rolando Guzman helped organize tenants at 300 Nassau Avenue, where one tenant was paying $754 a month in an area where $3,000 is now the market rate. Guzman said that starting in 2013 construction began wreaking havoc in the building: A toilet pipe leaked raw sewage into apartments, and the buildings boiler was mysteriously destroyed with an ax, cutting off heat.

The brothers faced up to four years but struck a deal in late 2016 with the Brooklyn district attorney that got them out of jail time in exchange for paying tenants a total of $350,000.

The agreement was seen by many as a slap on the wrist.

[The Brooklyn DAs office] called me and asked me to give them a quote in their press release, said Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge at the Legal Aid Societys Law Reform Unit. I said Sure, Ill give you a quote, if the quote is Im extremely disappointed with this result.

Goldiner said the Israel case is a prime example of why reform is needed.

We think if anyone shouldve been put in jail, it shouldve been the Israel brothers, given what they did, she added.

Others who have been in the crosshairs include landlords Dean Galasso, whos currently facing mortgage-fraud charges, and Ephraim Vashovsky, who allegedly cut tenants heat in single-digit winter temperatures, causing a toilet bowl to freeze. Vance charged Vashovsky last year with reckless endangerment, among other offenses. That case is still pending.

Schneidermans legislation, meanwhile, would broaden the definition of criminal harassment to include practices like filing frivolous lawsuits and construction harassment, which are currently civil offenses on the city level. Sources say construction harassment has been the slumlord tactic du jour during this economic cycle (while illegal buyouts were the bread and butter of the last cycle) and that the law is lagging todays reality.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron, one of many Democratic lawmakers backing the push for stronger tenant protections

Matt Engel, president of the Community Housing Improvement Program, or CHIP, an industry group, said that while harassment against tenants sounds like something everyone should be concerned about, the language in some of the new proposals is vague and doesnt clearly differ from whats already on the books, other than that it would give prosecutors more leeway to decide what constitutes harassment.

We need to identify specific behaviors that we believe are being violated and that dont already have laws and a means [with which] to go after, said Engel, whose Langsam Property Services owns or manages 8,000 units in the New York metropolitan area.

How to horse-trade

The rules governing tenant harassment in New York are a hodgepodge of criminal and civil statutes that have been pieced together through political horse-trading over the past few decades.

One of the seminal moments in that political tug-of-war came in 1997. Thats when Albany lawmakers amended the 1969 Rent Stabilization Law the statute that established rent stabilization in New York to make it easier for landlords to flip units to market rate, the holy grail for rent-regulated property owners. To do that, the state lowered the cap on the income a family in a rent-stabilized unit could earn annually to $175,000 from $250,000 and increased the amount landlords could hike the rent during vacant periods.

A ProPublica analysis of state rent-regulation figures between 1994 when the first deregulation laws went into effect and 2015 found that more than 153,000 apartments were removed from rent regulation through those two measures alone. (Another 48,000 were lost to co-op and condo conversions.)

Balancing that 1997 giveback to landlords, lawmakers also raised the civil penalty for harassment to $5,000 from $1,000. They also made it a Class E felony (a criminal act punishable by up to four years in prison) for a landlord to cause physical injury to a rent-regulated tenant with the intent of pushing them out.

Sherwin Belkin, a Manhattan real estate attorney and an expert on rent regulation, said the new laws could have a chilling effect on responsible owners when it comes to owning and maintaining their property without fear that if a door cracks or a window breaks they suddenly may be prosecuted.

Im not Pollyanna, and Im not going to pretend there are not landlords out there that act in nefarious ways and are motivated by dollars or greed, he said, but what concerns me is that to catch the few bad apples in the barrel, [the AG and City Council] are going to sweep in a lot of good apples with the bad.

The proposals, industry sources say, could have a crushing effect on landlords finances in the form of steep legal fees and administrative costs, and could deter investment for fear that it may be perceived as construction-related harassment.

And, sources say, the ripple effect could extend to lenders, investment sales brokers and others.

Michael Tortorici, executive vice president at the commercial brokerage Ariel Property Advisors, said the laws passed by the City Council in 2008 and 2015 that increased protections for tenants led to extended precontract due diligence and slowed down some deals.

In some cases, they have scared certain buyers off of moving ahead with certain deals, he said. Theyve slowed down transactions a bit, more than theyve impacted pricing.

The new proposals, he said, could make buyers more conservative in projecting turnover of stabilized units and force owners to prepare for higher legal fees. But, he added, its too soon to gauge any possible impact on transaction volumes or pricing.

One multifamily landlord with a large portfolio of rent-stabilized units said if this new battery of legislation passes, it could deter property owners from investing in building improvements and scare off future investors.

All of these tenant-harassment laws have second- and third-orders of unintended consequences, said the landlord, who asked to remain unnamed. I think that has an incredibly apparent chilling effect on reinvesting in and renovating these buildings. Why would you do it if youre going to be in court with tenants all the time because they feel youre trying to push them out when youre cleaning up the common areas or youre renovating the apartment next door?

CHIPs Engel echoed that point: Our concern is that when legislation is passed, that makes it that much more onerous and challenging for the good actors to manage buildings, he said. People will just decide that [being a landlord] in this city is too difficult and theyll go find somewhere else.

But the left-leaning City Council backed by New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and others has gone to bat for tenants.

In April, the body proposed a package of 14 bills, the most controversial of which would create a rebuttable presumption, meaning New York City Housing Court would assume a tenants claim to be true unless the landlord could prove otherwise.

The idea is to ensure that landlords have a clear paper trail for things like construction plans and buyouts that prove they were following the letter of the law. The legislation would also prevent landlords from contacting tenants during unusual hours, require owners whove been found guilty of harassment to keep an escrow account of 10 percent of the rent roll to pay relocation fees, allow the City Council to award attorneys fees to tenants and create a tenant advocate position in the mayors office, among other things.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who proposed the rebuttable presumption regulation, declined to be interviewed, but in a statement to TRD she said the bill will empower and strengthen tenant protection.

She also said it will put the onus on landlords to prove their actions are legally defensible.

The councils proposed laws coincide with a decidedly more pro-tenant environment on the other side of City Hall under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Since 2014, the city has earmarked $155 million to provide free legal assistance to low-income tenants facing eviction, and the number of tenants represented by an attorney has shot up to 27 percent from 1 percent.

Landlords and real estate attorneys say that in addition to gumming up the already overburdened courts, the legal assistance creates a ripe environment for tenants to game the system by dragging eviction cases out, regardless of the merits.

Rosenberg & Estiss Luise Barrack, the head of the firms litigation division, said shes seen nonpaying tenants prolong eviction cases for more than a year by filing every motion and petition allowed by the court.

Some tenants realize they can scam the system. It could be months into the process, and for some small owners, its a real hardship, she said.

Daun Paris and Peter Hauspurg, the husband and wife who own and run the commercial brokerage Eastern Consolidated, said it took them nearly two years to evict a trio of nonpaying tenants in one apartment at a rent-stabilized property they own uptown.

There are no rules that apply to anybody but the landlords, and theyre used against them, said Paris.

Taking off the gloves

The New York real estate industry, which spent more than $35 million in 2016 lobbying Albany and municipalities, does not have a track record of sitting out fights.

The industrys three main lobbying groups in the city the Rent Stabilization Association, the Real Estate Board of New York and CHIP have all come out against various aspects of the proposed legislative measures.

REBNY, which is led by John Banks, has publicly said that the rebuttable presumption requirement would turn the most basic concept of justice innocent until proven guilty on its head, while the RSA has said that with 14 state and local laws already in effect, the issue has been dealt with successfully and repeatedly.

Both CHIP and the RSA have also challenged the notion that harassment is, in fact, even on the rise. The data just do not support the City Councils desire to increase legislation, said CHIPs Engel.

The RSA has pointed to HPD data it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request on so-called certificates of no harassment, which multifamily landlords are required to have tenants sign off on before demolishing rental properties. The group claims that out of 361 filed certificate applications between fiscal years 2014 and 2016, only five were denied.

The RSA has also pursued legal challenges: The organization challenged the citys 2008 Tenant Protection Act, arguing that it overstepped by legislating rules covering rent stabilization, which currently fall in the states domain. But the following year the state Supreme Court upheld the law.

And until recently, the RSA was locked in a three-year legal battle with the Homes and Community Renewal agency over nearly a dozen state rent-stabilization amendments passed in 2014 on Governor Andrew Cuomos watch. Among other things, it created the Tenant Protection Unit the department thats returned some 60,000 improperly deregulated units back to the system and churned out investigations that served as the basis for many of the recent high-profile harassment cases, including Cromans and the Israel brothers.

The RSA lawsuit was dismissed in state Supreme Court last month.

But some say the rent-stabilization law itself is vulnerable to a legal challenge at least under a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

Just five years ago, the owner of a five-story Upper East Side brownstone appealed a lawsuit challenging the New York State law to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. But if President Trump installs more conservative judges on the bench, some say that the law could be vulnerable.

The basis for finding rent regulation constitutional is very, very shaky, said real estate attorney Joshua Stein. All you need is a couple more conservative justices on the court.

The Albany crapshoot

Though cracking down on landlords usually has strong backing from tenant groups, some longtime activists say focusing on criminal harassment ignores the real problem.

Under current rent-stabilization laws which allow landlords to drastically increase rents if they can achieve vacancies harassment as a business model is still worth the risk, argued Tenants PACs McKee.

Theres always been this tendency to say, Were going to increase the penalties for harassment or Were going to go after people more vigorously, McKee said.

It really frustrates me to see elected officials talking about this when theyre ignoring the need to close the loopholes in the rent laws, without which you would have a lot less harassment, he said, citing methods like decontrolling units when tenants move out and making improvements to units to push rent over the so-called luxury threshold. Those tactics have allowed landlords to destabilize tens of thousands of units.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who co-sponsored Schneidermans bill, told TRD that there is an enormous correlation between loose rent-stabilization laws and tenant harassment.

She said that for landlords, turning over units is tantamount to winning the lottery.

For years, Kruegers constituents on Manhattans East Side have complained of harassment from landlords but have had little success in court because they werent able to prove it.

Nonetheless, Schneidermans bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Since 2013, Brooklyn Assembly member Joseph Lentol has proposed very similar legislation with less severe penalties. Same goes for Upper West Side Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, a rent-stabilized tenant herself.

Neither of those proposals has gotten anywhere.

I think [Schneiderman] still runs up against the same math in the Senate, Rosenthal said, referring to the ratio of Democrats to Republicans. I think coming up this year were going to be passing a whole slate of tenant-protection bills in the Assembly. None of them will get a hearing in the Senate.

Krueger said shes hopeful the bill shes pushing with Schneiderman will be heard in the next session.

The existing civil and city harassment laws are clearly not strong enough to get anyone to change their behavior, Krueger said. And laws that dont actually motivate people to stop doing bad things arent very effective laws.

Meanwhile, Croman still has a civil tenant-harassment case pending against him. But that is likely to be hard for tenants to win, given the current legal standard.

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IRS summertime tax tip 2017-01: Tips to know for deducting losse … – WKOW

Posted: at 9:43 am

From IRS.gov

The IRS wants taxpayers to know it standsready to helpin the event of a disaster. If a taxpayer suffers damage to their home or personal property, they may be able to deduct the loss they incur on their federal income tax return. If their area receives a federal disaster designation, they may be able to claim the loss sooner.

Ordinarily, a deduction is available only if the loss is major and not covered by insurance or other reimbursement.

Here are 10 tips taxpayers should know about deducting casualty losses:

1.Casualty loss.A taxpayer may be able to deduct a loss based on the damage done to their property during a disaster. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event. This may include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. It can also include losses from fires, accidents, thefts or vandalism.

2.Normal wear and tear.A casualty loss does not include losses from normal wear and tear. It does not include progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

3.Covered by insurance.If a taxpayer insured their property, they must file a timely claim for reimbursement of their loss. If they dont, they cannot deduct the loss as a casualty or theft. Reduce the loss by the amount of the reimbursement received or expected to receive.

4.When to deduct.As a general rule, deduct a casualty loss in the year it occurred. However, if a taxpayer has a loss from a federally declared disaster, they may have a choice of when to deduct the loss. They can choose to deduct it on their return for the year the loss occurred or on an original or amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.

This means that if a disaster loss occurs in 2017, the taxpayer doesnt need to wait until the end of the year to claim the loss. They can instead choose to claim it on their 2016 return. Claiming a disaster loss on the prior year’s return may result in a lower tax for that year, often producing a refund.

5.Amount of loss.Figure the amount of loss using the following steps:

6.$100 rule.After figuring the casualty loss on personal-use property, reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty-loss event during the year. It does not matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

7.10 percent rule.Reduce the total of all casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10 percent of the taxpayers adjusted gross income.

8.Future income. Do not consider the loss of future profits or income due to the casualty.

9.Form 4684. CompleteForm 4684, Casualties and Thefts, to report the casualty loss on a federal tax return. Claim the deductible amount onSchedule A, Itemized Deductions.

10.Business or income property.Some of the casualty loss rules for business or income property are different from the rules for property held for personal use.

Call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 for special help with disaster-related tax issues. For more on this topic and the special rules for federally declared disaster-area losses seePublication 547, Casualties, Disasters and Thefts. Get it and other IRS tax forms onIRS.gov/formsat any time.

Avoid scams. The IRS will never initiate contact using social media or text message. First contact generally comes in the mail. Those wondering if they owe money to the IRS canview their tax accountinformation on IRS.gov to find out.

Remember that all of the web page addresses for the official IRS website, IRS.gov, begin with http://www.irs.gov. Don’ t be confused or misled by Internet sites that end in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. The address of the official IRS governmental Web site is http://www.irs.gov/.

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India’s Fumigation Rules Extended Amidst Uncertainty In Pulses Export – BW Businessworld

Posted: July 3, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Old fumigation rules that were related to imports had expired on June 30 this year. But in a strange move a well prepared union government of India had extended the current laws up to September this year.

The agrarian experts that were already divided in different opinions seem unable to speak about the outcome.

Some said, had this law expired, import of pulses and some other food items would have seriously hampered. According to law, importers could not find themselves able to fumigate (disinfect) the pulses and other food items at Indian ports.

An expert from food policy research institute told BW Businessworld that many countries have their environmental practices so strong that they do not allow fumigation at ports. Meanwhile extending the fumigation law in light of already 22 per cent lower sowing of pulses in current kharif season (area wise) across India would have resulted in a lower output of pulses.

It has been another doubtful decision as Canada the biggest exporter of pulses to India do not allow fumigation at its ports due to use of Methyl-Bromide as fumigating element as it makes adverse effects on ozone level. It is believed that Canada exports almost 30 per cent of our total pulses imports.

As availability of pulses in India is higher and prices are ruling lower, import flow is bound to decrease considerably in coming weeks.

The table above clearly shows our dependency on Canada and US for pulses, jaggery processed fruit/vegetable and other miscellaneous food items. In the year 2016-17 Canada exported us Rs 778077.4 lakh pulses and US exported Rs 123005.2 lakh pulses, though US fills the gap with Rs 13989.1 lakh jaggery and other food items worth Rs 40450.4 lakh. Soon the US may restrict the use of Methyl-Bromide for the fumigation on its port due to environmental issues leaving India with no other choice than to do it on Indian ports and affecting ozone layer seriously.

Exempting Canada

Though the exemption applies to all the nations but Canada would have suffered most, it is now clear that the shipments that left Canada on or before 30 June are exempted and practice may continue till this September. Indias fumigation policy is aimed at preventing the import of pests, but Indian agricultural analysts see this as a non-tariff barrier to curb imports and support local prices, especially when New Delhi has surplus stocks of pulses and a new wheat harvest is under way.

Few aggressive farmers union term it as a pressure from exporters include Glencore agriculture unit Viterra and AGT Food and Ingredients. On the other hand Canadian exporters had termed it as a good sign keeping an eye over falling exports to India due to uncertainty of Indian governments policy from past few months.

What is Fumigation?

Fumigation is a method of killing pests, termites or any other harmful living organisms to prevent transfer of exotic organisms. Fumigation is executed by suffocation or poisoning pests within an area of specified space by using fumigants. Normally it is done for wood material used for packing of goods to be exported and also for the grains and pulses etc.. In some cases, empty container before stuffing of cargo is fumigated, but in most of the cases it is done after packaging which is more effective. A gas form of fumigant is used for it which is very effective but avoidable method for food items for direct consumption.

Methyl-bromide is commonly used and widely used as fumigant all over the world. Few other fumigants are chloropicrin phosphate, dichloropropene, methyl isocynate (the gas which killed millions in Bhopal tragedy), hydrogen cyanide and they all have one factor common, destruction of ozone layer.

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India’s Fumigation Rules Extended Amidst Uncertainty In Pulses Export – BW Businessworld

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Bugged by pests? Here’s how to find a good company to control them – Fresno Bee

Posted: at 6:46 pm


Fresno Bee
Bugged by pests? Here's how to find a good company to control them
Fresno Bee
The SPCB licenses pest control operators and regulates the application of pesticides and services related to general household and industrial pest control, and termites and other wood destroying organisms. The Cal-EPA, Department of Pesticide

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Come Hungry! Hot Dog Eating Contest Part Of Greeneville’s Fourth Of July Activities – Greeneville Sun

Posted: at 6:46 pm

The stakes are higher in this years Top Dog Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4.

Two monetary prizes totaling $200 will be presented, thanks to a new sponsor, Tony Jones Termite & Pest Control.

The contest will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Big Spring as part of the 5th annual American Downtown 4th of July celebration.

This is the second year of our hot dog eating contest, and last years was a big hit, said Amy Rose, organizer of the celebration. We are extremely thankful to Tony Jones Termite & Pest Control for offering to sponsor this years contest and for the support of John Price, owner of the Top Dog Hot Dog Stand.

First prize is $150, and second prize is $50.

To enter and obtain the official rules, visit the Top Dog Hot Dog Stand at the corner of Summer and Irish streets or call 423-620-8340.

Entry fee is $10, and deadline to enter is July 1. Competitors must be 18 years or older.

In addition to the Hot Dog Eating Contest, American Downtown kicks off with a Main Street parade at 2 p.m., includes live music, dancing, a kids zone, outdoor movie food vendors, and ends with a huge fireworks show at Greeneville High School.

Admission to American Downtown is free.

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Come Hungry! Hot Dog Eating Contest Part Of Greeneville’s Fourth Of July Activities – Greeneville Sun

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Editorial: Gigs and garlands – The Ledger

Posted: at 4:43 am

Body type J: Many big things tend to sprout from small, humble, almost unnoticeable beginnings, and such a happening, which is well worth recalling, occurred on this date.

Body type J: On July 2, 1865, an evangelical Methodist preacher named William Booth and his wife, Catherine, set up a tent to deliver what William referred to as the three Ss soup, soap and salvation to the drunks, drug addicts, prostitutes and other neer-do-wells inhabiting a slum in Londons east end. At the time Booth had been a Christian minister for more than a decade, but reportedly had grown frustrated with the duties of conventional pastoral life, preferring instead the mission of evangelization. Body type J: So fervently did Booth believe in this calling that he endured the fatiguing and sometimes violent travails of serving Londons forgotten underclass. Yet his work paid off. Within two years, his East London Christian Mission encompassed basic education and literacy programs, as well as penny (or piggy) banks and soup kitchens. Thirteen years after Booth launched his mission, he was drafting a report on its works. First describing his ministry as a volunteer army, he subsequently lined out volunteer and substituted the word salvation. Thus, the Salvation Army, with its eventual use of military titles and regalia and even a band, was born. Body type J: From that slum the Salvation Army has grown to operate in more than 120 countries with 1.1 million soldiers who toil in hospitals, homeless shelters, daycare and senior centers and rehab facilities. They are, as Booth explained in his original manifesto, devoting their leisure time to all sort of laborious efforts for the salvation of others from unbelief, drunkenness, vice and crime. And doing it well. Body type J: GARLAND: They might not be in the business of saving souls, but Medulla Elementary School Principal Myra Richardson and her staff still did yeomans work to show her students how much they are appreciated. As The Ledger reported recently, Richardson and her faculty fanned out across Lakeland to surprise with balloons, yard signs and hugs the 41 students who scored a 5 the highest possible in at least one section of the states year-end standardized tests. What a wonderful gesture. Body type J: GARLAND: And speaking of salvation, we applaud the Nikana Corp., the owners of the Town Center plaza in Lakeland. The companys board recently consented to allowing local historic preservationists to save two colorful mosaics at a former Publix store that were threatened because of a renovation project. Publix founder George Jenkins commissioned the pair of 240-square-foot mosaics by California artist John Garth when he opened the store in 1964. Advocates for preserving the artwork dont know yet where theyll land, and they must fix the stores walls after they are removed, but like them, we are grateful Nikana agreed to hand them over. Body type J: GARLAND: Kudos to coach Kevin Sullivan and the Florida Gators baseball team, who last week won their first-ever College World Series, defeating LSU. According to alligatorarmy.com, the Gators are one of just four schools along with Michigan, Ohio State and UCLA to capture national titles in baseball, football and basketball. The Gators, however, are the only one to have won all three within the last 50 years. Goooo Gators. Body type J: GIG: President Donald Trump earns a gig for his Twitter outburst at MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. Trump in a tweet referred to Brzezinski as Crazy Mika, who was bleeding badly from a facelift last New Years Eve. Its the latest in a long line of insults he has hurled at prominent women. We can understand why the president counterpunched. Brzezinski and her fianc, Joe Scarborough, once a conservative Republican from the Florida Panhandle, have turned their three-hour Morning Joe show into little more than a perpetual anti-Trump rant that often gets harsher and more personal than what Trump tweeted. But, Mr. President, this has to stop. Its beneath the dignity of your office. Body type J: GARLAND: We applaud the city of Lake Wales. Officials recently struck a deal with the local YMCA to allow city residents use to the swimming pool for much of the week during the next year. While the city paid $36,000 a year, the residents pay nothing. In return, the Y offers an audition to possible future members. Win-win. Body type J: GIG: We gig David Cooper of St. Petersburg, recently arrested on multiple charges of burglary. Cooper, 36, was a former pest control worker, and police say he targeted his victims by scouting for homes that were tented as part of an anti-termite treatment. In all, he broke into 12 homes and stole guns, cash jewelry, electronics and even shoes. Its innovative thinking for criminal behavior, but still pretty low.

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