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News Briefs 10.16.02

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Marching on to war

New York's Democratic senators sided with President Bush last week, giving him the authority to wage war against Iraq when he wants to. But three Rochester-area members of the House of Representatives put up a fight.

            Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer voted yes on the joint resolution to give Bush the power to attack Iraq unilaterally.

            Among the 126 House Democrats voting "no": Louise Slaughter and John LaFalce. Republican Amo Houghton of Corning, whose new Congressional district includes a substantial portion of Monroe County south of the city, was one of only 6 Republicans  --- and the only one from New York State --- to vote against the president.

            Republicans Tom Reynolds of Erie County, who represents part of the western Rochester suburbs, and James Walsh of Syracuse, whose new district includes some eastern suburban areas, voted in favor of the resolution.

            In the House, the vote was 296 in favor of the Bush plan (215 Republicans and 81 Democrats) to 133 opposed.

            In the Senate, where the vote was 77 to 23, only one Republican --- Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee --- resisted the president. Independent and former Republican James Jeffords of Vermont also voted "no." The Democrats voting "no": Kennedy of Massachusetts, Byrd of West Virginia, Feingold of Wisconsin, Wellstone and Dayton of Minnesota, Mikulski and Sarbanes of Maryland, Levin and Stabenow of Michigan, Akaka and Inouye of Hawaii, Leahy of Vermont, Corzine of New Jersey, Bingaman of New Mexico, Conrad of North Dakota, Boxer of California, Graham of Florida, Durbin of Illinois, and Reed of Rhode Island.




Honeoye renaissance

Immediately south of Honeoye Lake, cradled by spectacular hills, sit some of the most extensive and ecologically valued wetlands in Upstate New York. For many years, these wetlands were owned by the late developer Emil Muller, who turned several hundred acres into "Wild Rose Ranch" and controlled some extensive pastures and woodlands, too. But now, with a deal involving the Muller family, the Nature Conservancy, and New York State, Wild Rose Ranch and surroundings --- around 2,000 acres in all --- will become a new state Wildlife Management Area. And this means full public access. Indeed, part of the land is already open to the public, says Jim Howe, deputy director of the Nature Conservancy's Central and Western New York chapter.

            Cemented with $1.1 million from the state's Clean Air/Clean Water bond act and Environmental Protection Fund, the deal brings three large parcels together. The Nature Conservancy was steward of two of these parcels for several years; soon the group will acquire the third parcel from the Emil Muller Trust and then deed it to the state. "We've helped preserve [the land] from residential development," says Howe, noting the land's scenic attractions. Howe lauds Emil Muller's widow, Florence Muller. "She's really had a great vision," he says. Part of that vision, he says, was the gift of the Wild Rose Ranch headquarters to Finger Lakes Community College, which now uses it to house the Muller Biological Field Station.

            Will there be a direct path from the new wildlife management area to Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area to the west? According to Howe, time will tell. The two areas sit achingly close to each other, though there's quite a difference in elevation. But even without a connecting trail, the Spencer Rec Area and the new "WMA" will be a well-matched pair of natural treasures.




Predatory lending foiled

Albany has been cooking with progress against "predatory lending," that is, a set of practices that take advantage of vulnerable borrowers (often the poor and seniors on fixed incomes) through inordinately high interest rates, steep processing fees, and tricky "fine print."

            On October 11, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Governor George Pataki, and the state banking superintendent announced a nationwide agreement with Household International, the parent company of Beneficial Finance and Household Finance corporations. By the terms of the agreement, said a news release, Household will pay $484 million in restitution to the states involved; New Yorkers who were affected will share in $37 million or more.

            What was Household up to? One example: The company had been charging customers an average 7.25 percent in fees for a home-financing loan; now it will limit the fees to 5 percent. The company will also rein in the fees and points it charges for refinancing home loans. In a prepared statement, the company said it will be "more rigorous when it comes to compliance monitoring" from now on. "We apologize to our valued customers for not always living up to their expectations," the company said.

            Meanwhile, New Yorkers for Responsible Lending, a statewide anti-predatory lending coalition, hailed the enacting of a new homeowner protection law. The law imposes tighter regulation on "subprime" mortgages --- high-cost loans often made to borrowers who are deemed credit risks, or peddled to others who don't realize they could get more affordable loans. Some local players deserve credit for the new law, especially staffers of the Public Interest Law Office of Rochester. A recent PILOR study found that "subprime lending grew by over 600 percent in the Rochester metropolitan area between 1993 and 1999" --- and that subprime loans accounted for 42 percent of all refinancing loans in the city in 2000.

            A PILOR news release cited Assemblymember David Gantt's support. And Assemblymember Susan John, another cosponsor, issued a prepared statement: "No New Yorker," John said, "should have the home they worked so hard for stolen from them by a predatory lender; this law lets fast-talking predatory lenders know their days of exploitation are over."




Correcting ourselves

After a gremlin infected his GPS and ate up his memory, Jack Bradigan Spula wrongly placed the Politics of Food/School 9 community garden ("Things go better with food," October 9-15) at the nonexistent intersection of North Clinton and Driving Park avenues. Even a gremlin knows the garden's actually at the corner of North Clinton Avenue and Upper Falls Boulevard.




Sitting for peace

As the country moves ever closer to a war with Iraq, members of the local chapter of The Buddhist Peace Fellowship are expressing their concern and opposition by holding monthly meditations in front of the Federal Building on State Street. "The purpose of the sittings is to witness suffering in the world due to violence and to provide a presence of peace," says participant Kit Miller.

            The group started meeting again about 18 months ago, after being inactive for a number of years. "We wanted to bring our spiritual practice into the world through various kinds of activism," says Martha Howden. While most of the people involved with BPF and the monthly sittings are members of local Buddhist organizations, anyone may attend the sittings.

            The local BPF has been involved with a number of different issues, including the death penalty and local poverty, but since 9/11 its emphasis has shifted to the worldwide suffering caused by violence. "Meditation helps us see that there is no difference between ourselves and others," Miller says, "and that violence done to anyone is done to all beings." "In the stillness of meditation," adds Venerable Amala Wrightson, a Zen Buddhist priest, "we may more easily connect with others who are suffering."

            While recognizing that action against Iraq may be inevitable, Miller says the action should be "non-violent and multi-national." Ven. Wrightson added her hope that any action "...will be through the UN and with the close involvement of Iraq's near neighbors."

            The group plans on continuing its monthly sittings. The next one is scheduled for Monday, November 11. For the location or other information, contact Kit Miller at kitdave@frontiernet.net or Martha Howden at mmhowden@aol.com. The national BPF website is www.bpf.org.

--- Joseph Sorrentino

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