Thursday, July 19, 2012

NEWS BLOG: On climate change, media needs to connect the dots

Posted By on Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 8:50 AM

The news stories about drought, record temperatures, wilting crops, and freak storms - seriously, who ever heard of a derecho before the past few weeks - are piling up.

The stories raise, or should raise, questions about how these events tie in with climate change, yet many of them don't. I'm beginning to share the frustrations of environmentalists and scientists who say the media are doing a poor job of connecting the dots.

This morning's Democrat and Chronicle features an article with the headline: "Overheated cows in the region are producing less milk." In short, the article says that the oppressive heat wave that's affected most of the country is causing cows discomfort, which is causing them to eat less and produce less milk. And that may make dairy products more expensive for consumers at some point.

This same heat wave, and accompanying drought, is causing large crop losses in the Midwest. Some local farmers are starting to worry about their crops, too. The hot, dry weather is also fueling wildfires in the west.

And as for the storms, New York City got nailed with a sudden, intense one yesterday. The New York Daily News put up a photo essay of sorts and you can find it here.

Weather happens. So does bad weather and drought. And to say that climate change is the definitive cause of any single weather event is a reach. But climate researchers have identified trends in temperature, precipitation, storm intensity and frequency, and drought that show long-term changes. They project that heat waves will become hotter, longer, and more frequent; that short-term droughts will become drier, will last longer than in previous years, and will happen more often. And about those freak rain and wind storms? They'll be more common and more destructive.

There's a climate adaptation consultant, Michael Cote, that I follow on Tumblr. Yesterday, he had his own brief post on derechos. It included an analogy I liked that, while perhaps oversimplified, neatly explains the ties between climate change and weather:

"Bottom line, think of a baseball player on steroids. You don't know which homer is attributable to the 'roids, but you know that 20% or so of his stats are from the juice."

"Same with climate change," Cote wrote. "You don't know which storms are due to the juiced up atmosphere."

When Syracuse broke 100 degrees the other day, the Post-Standard reached out to Cornell University Professor David Wolfe. The result: an article that does connect some dots. The piece is premised on a single, basic question: what did the record temperature mean to a climate scientist?

Wolfe's answer: "What we are seeing today is the kind of thing we will see more frequently in the future. There's very little doubt about that."

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Angry Blog part 3- boy scout bigotry

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 12:31 PM

Words fail.

A committee studying whether the Boy Scouts of America should let gay children be Scouts and gay and lesbian adults be Scout leaders has wrapped up its work - begun in 2010. And yesterday, it announced its decision.

The Scouts will continue to discriminate.

No gays and lesbians allowed.

The decision puts the Boy Scouts of America on the side of bigotry - and, whether the Scouts like this reminder or not, it gives cover and comfort to the bullies who mock and attack gays and lesbians.

The Scouts organization should be roundly, and publicly, opposed by everybody interested in equal rights, by everybody concerned about the pain the LGBT community continues to suffer from the hostility of homophobic bigotry. And the churches, school districts, and other institutions that provide meeting space for Scout troops should stop offering that shelter.

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NEWS BLOG: Angry Blog part 2- Paterno

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 12:30 PM

I'm still angry about the adulation and deference being given to the Penn State hero, the late Joe Paterno

I'm still angry about the adulation and deference being given to the PennState hero, the late Joe Paterno. And I've sided with critics calling for PennState to remove the big statue to Paterno that stands in front of the school's football stadium.

So it was curious to read, this morning, not one but two columns suggesting that PennState keep the statue right where it is. Both columns - by the D&C's Leo Roth and Times guest columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates - argued that the statue would remind people of PennState's child-abuse scandal, that it would be a tribute to the children Jerry Sandusky abused.

Ya think?

If Penn State needs a tribute to the victims of child abuse, how about statues of children?

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NEWS BLOG: Angry Blog part 1- Rochester's test scores

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 9:07 AM

It's hard to start your day angry, but that was me this morning. News from several quarters had me in a froth before I could finish breakfast.

And so, a blog in three parts:

Angry Blog 1: Yesterday this region got yet another release of really bad news: The Rochester School District had the worst test scores of any of the state's big cities in the latest State Ed Department report .

The worst.

And, let me note, the state's big cities have worse scores than the average district.

You know the reason that urban school districts have the worst scores: that's where the state's poor children are concentrated. Why did test scores in Rochester drop when those of the other Big 5 cities rose a bit?

Who cares?

Seriously. Who cares?

Next year it could be Buffalo that drops a bit, and Rochester that goes up a bit. It doesn't matter. What matters is the long-term trend, the long-term performance. And long-term, urban school district and their children are doing really, really poorly.

According to this latest report, in Rochester, nearly 80 percent of the students in third through eighth grade didn't meet state standards in English proficiency. Nearly 80 percent.

In math, nearly 73 percent of them didn't meet state standards.

How are children who do that poorly in third or eighth grade going to succeed in high school? What are the chances that they'll graduate? Get a job?

Are you angry yet?

We'd all better be. But get angry at what? At whom?

This community's traditional reaction is: Damn the teachers. Damn the parents. Damn the school board. Damn the superintendent.

Shouldn't we have that out of our system by now?

All those people can improve. But we've using that excuse for decades. And the test scores get worse and worse. And children's lives are wasted.

Concentrated poverty is the reason. It's not an "excuse," as some of the district's critics like to insist, it's the reason.

We can address that, or we can keep looking away.

I suspect that we'll keep looking away. It's a pity that the only damage from that is to our own conscience.

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NEWS BLOG: Poll may not be best predictor of New York Senate control

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 9:07 AM

The Siena College Research Institute has released the results of a new statewide poll, and 54 percent of the respondents support a Democratic majority in the state Senate.

That seems like good news for Democrats, but they're received similar results before. And it didn't work out so well.

In the July 2010 Siena poll, 34 percent of the people interviewed said they wanted the Dems to take a bigger majority. A Republican majority was favored by 26 percent of respondents, while 35 percent favored a closely divided Senate. Democrats had the majority in 2010, but lost it in that year's elections.

Republicans have a 33 to 29 majority in the Senate.

There are several other factors working against the Democrats. While New York voters tend to disapprove of the Legislature's performance, they tend to like their individual legislators. Historically, some Democratic-leaning districts have been reluctant to oust Republican incumbents.

Money is also an issue: The Senate Democrats' campaign committee still owes $1.5 million on loans from the 2009 campaigns. It has a $750,000 balance, reports WXXI, compared to the Senate Republicans' $5.4 million. Republicans will have more to spend on getting their candidates' names and messages out.

The Senate district lines may turn out to be the pivotal factor. During recent redistricting, the state was sliced up in a way that protects Republican incumbents in the Senate and Democratic incumbents in the Assembly. That plan toughened the odds of either chamber flipping.

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NEWS BLOG: Son of a litter bug

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 8:26 AM

As I was driving my mother south toward the Pennsylvania border last week to visit her brother, she did something that stunned me. She reached down and grabbed a handful of trash - a paper cup, used tissues, and some candy wrappers - that had gathered at her feet. Then she rolled down the passenger window and flung it out.

A kaleidoscope of garbage appeared in the rear-view mirror.

I shot her one of those "I can't believe you did that" looks because my near 80- year-old mother has always supported efforts to protect the environment and endangered animals.

Doesn't that begin with not littering?

Public service campaigns against littering began in the 1950's, and by the 1970's,

"Don't be a litterbug" had become a moral response to a national disgrace. The "Keep America Beautiful" ad campaign was enormously successful in changing public attitudes about littering. To be seen littering was to be déclassé.

But the campaign drew criticism after it was made public that the iconic "Crying Indian" ad featured an actor who wasn't a Native American. Iron Eyes Cody was actually an Italian actor. The revelation seemed to weaken the campaign.

Concerns about litter today, judging from our roadways and intersections, must seem quaint. Still, the research on littering is interesting. For instance, 51 billion pieces of litter land on US roadways yearly, and annual cleanup costs for litter nationally top $11 billion. People are more likely to throw litter on top of other litter rather than spoil a clean area. And younger people, especially those who drive and consume fast food, are among the country's worst littering offenders.

And according to studies by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources,

a plastic jug takes 1 million years to decompose. An aluminum can will take 200 years, and a paper bag will take a month.

My mother didn't see the irony of her NatureValley granola bar wrapper decomposing in a valley for the next 45 years, but she took the teasing well.

"You busted me," she said.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Greece Ridge Mall on tomorrow's Comida agenda

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 3:36 PM

When the county Industrial Development Agency meets tomorrow, it will again discuss proposed tax breaks for Greece Ridge Mall.

Last month, COMIDA's board delayed its decision on the proposal. The deal would limit future increases on the mall's property taxes for 25 years. The Wilmorite subsidiary that owns Greece Ridge Mall plans to redevelop the former Bon-Ton space into smaller units.

Greece School District officials have objected to the breaks because the district stands to lose several million dollars in tax revenues.

An agenda for tomorrow's meeting doesn't specify whether there will be a vote. But COMIDA director Judy Seil told WHAM that the board could vote on the deal tomorrow. The meeting starts at noon at the Watts Conference Center, 47 South Fitzhugh Street, downtown.

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NEWS BLOG: Dukakis on Obama

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 11:23 AM

Do principles matter in the often unprincipled world of politics?

That question was recently put to former Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. Dukakis was a guest on their PRI show, "Smiley and West," where he discussed the recent Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act and President Obama's first term.

It was an excellent interview. But when Dukakis responded to a question about the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, the conversation got heated.

Dukakis was asked what he would have done if he was in Obama's shoes: would he reject super PAC money or would he compromise his principles, as Obama did, and get in the game?

Dukakis's answer was a clear message to Democrats: he would do just as Obama has done. Dukakis, like Obama, sharply disagrees with the court's decision. But Dukakis said Obama needs to be able to fend off the super PAC-funded attack ads that are created for one purpose: to destroy the opponent's image.

Obama will be the first sitting president, Dukakis said, who will be outspent on campaign advertising, much of it in the form of potent political attack ads.

The impact of political attack ads is something Dukakis knows a thing or two about. A political action committee working on behalf of George H. W. Bush in 1988 made Dukakis look like Daffy Duck on the issue of violent crime. And Dukakis admits he was slow to respond, taking what he called at the time the "high road."

He has since advised many leading Democratic politicians not to underestimate the power of attack ads, including Senator John Kerry in his race with George W. Bush.

But Smiley and West both cringed at Dukakis's response. Is winning at any cost winning, they asked? And given Obama's stance on the need for campaign finance reform, has he sacrificed his principles to be president?

Democrats, who have been slow to contribute to super PACs, can and should have their dirty-money debate, Dukakis said. But to have a significant impact on policy, you first have to win elections.

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NEWS BLOG: Slaughter-Brooks race approaching $2 million mark

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 10:51 AM

This post has been updated with clarifications.

Republican Maggie Brooks outraised Democrat Louise Slaughter over the past month. But Slaughter has raised more than $1 million during the 2011-12 Congressional election cycle.

Brooks, who got a later start on fund-raising, has brought in about $773,000. Tack that amount on to Slaughter's total and the candidates have raised a combined total of just less than $2 million. (Brooks' filing is available here, Slaughter's here.)

The candidates filed their July quarterly reports yesterday, though the documents contained about one month's worth of contributions and expenditures. Both candidates filed pre-primary reports in June, which listed the contributions they received in the first two months of the quarter. Last week, the Brooks and Slaughter campaigns sent out dueling press releases touting the full-quarter fundraising: Brooks' release said she raised $521,000 while Slaughter's release said she'd raised more than$530,000. (A Slaughter spokesperson points out that she actually raised $536,000 for the full quarter.)

Brooks brought in approximately $335,000 between June 7 and 30, Slaughter approximately $294,000. The Federal Election Commission permits individuals to give $2,500 to per candidate, per election. Many of Brooks' contributors appear to have maxed out. For example, Buffalo businessman and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino gave her $2,500, as did Colleen Wegman and Nicole Wegman. Among the people who gave Slaughter $2,500: Mayor Tom Richards and attorney and developer Lewis Norry. Slaughter racked up more contributors, who tended to give her smaller amounts.

Slaughter and Brooks each received contributions of varying amounts from members of the Wilmot family. And both received substantial contributions from political action committees: $99,125 for Brooks and $116,150 for Slaughter. ActBlue and Emily's List, both progressive PAC's, directed thousands of dollars in contributions from individuals to Slaughter's campaign.

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NEWS BLOG: Democracy for sale, part 1

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 8:49 AM

You know this is happening, but still, the numbers shock.

On NPR's Morning Edition today, Steve Inskeep discusses this year's presidential campaign spending with two political strategists, Mark McKinnon (Republican) and Mark Mellman (Democrat). Among the statistics McKinnon offered:

  • Spending by the Obama and Romney campaigns will reach "a minimum of $4 billion - much more than has ever been spent historically."
  • "The Koch Brothers themselves" - the libertarian billionaire industrialists who are determined to have President Obama defeated - "will spend more money in this election cycle than the entire presidential campaign of John Kerry in 2008."

Every day, I get e-mails from conservative groups predicting everything but the end of the world if Obama is re-elected: the end of capitalism, the end of gun rights, the end of religious rights, the takeover of US sovereignty by the UN.

I'm still waiting, though, for some sign that they're worrying about the end of democracy thanks to the Supremes' Citizens United decision.

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