Friday, August 31, 2012

Vito Lopez, Shelly Silver, and the harassment of women

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 5:38 PM

I feel like I’m reading the same story over and over, just with different perps, different victims, and different kinds of abuse: Jerry Sandusky, Catholic priests, and now Vito Lopez, the New York Assembly member accused of sexually harassing women staff members.

And once again, the reaction from higher-ups is to protect the accused. Aren’t these guys learning anything?

The Assembly’s ethics committee has found that Lopez harassed two of his staff members, groping them, kissing them, and verbally harassing them. But that’s not the entire scandal.

The New York Times reports that earlier in the year, the Assembly leadership had learned of other complaints about Lopez — and rather than turning those complaints over to the ethics committee, Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver agreed to a settlement with the women, paying them with state funds. Silver, the Times said, required Lopez to attend a sexual harassment workshop.

In its own investigation, the Times interviewed women who told of similar harassment, of Lopez suggesting that they come to work without bras, that they wear short skirts, telling one woman to leave her shirt partially unbuttoned so that he could look down it.

Silver has apologized for handling two of the complaints himself rather than turning them over to the ethics committee, and he says he now realizes that was a mistake.

He didn’t alert the ethics committee, he says, because the women asked for confidentiality. Maybe that’s the case. But by paying the women, he in effect convicted Lopez — without a proper investigation. And if the women were telling the truth, he shielded Lopez, leaving other women on the staff vulnerable.

There are loud calls for Lopez’s resignation from the Assembly. So does Silver get off with an apology?

Just asking.

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Romney, unveiled

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 11:15 AM

The Republicans have wrapped up their convention in Tampa, and if I were the people in the Obama campaign, I’d be worried. Particularly after Mitt Romney’s speech.

I could certainly find plenty to criticize, as I did throughout this attack-dog week. Speaker after speaker simply threw facts to the wind. And the hyper-patriotism and “USA! USA!” chants always make my skin crawl. (And yes, frankly, they remind me of scenes from newsreels showing the adoring, emotional crowds in Germany during Hitler’s reign.)

But Romney’s speech last night showed a stronger, more forceful Romney than we have seen — and than the Obama campaign has portrayed. And in the numerous tender segments of the speech, we saw a far more human Romney.

The speech, and his delivery, personalized him. And there were lots of strong lines — the kind that make great, on-the-road campaign speeches and great TV ads.

I’ve been nervous before about Barack Obama’s chances for re-election. But after last night, I’m close to betting that he’ll be a one-term president. And I won’t be surprised if Republicans make it a full sweep, keeping the House and taking the Senate.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Facts aren't Ryan’s forte

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 4:25 PM

For weeks, political pundits and journalists — a lot not known for niceties — have treated Paul Ryan’s comments like they were delicate little finger sandwiches.

Dan Amira wrote an excellent article for New York Magazine saying that Ryan’s campaign strategy is to ignore the facts and just attack. He’s relying on the public’s ignorance, Amira says.

Maybe no one wants to use the L-word out of civility, but where does that leave the nation? Maybe it’s time to clarify the truth, even if it means calling the Republican VP candidate a liar, starting with his attack on President Obama during last night’s Republican National Convention. Ryan blurred fact with more fiction than a supermarket tabloid.

The line about a GM plant in Wisconsin closing after Obama said he would try to keep it open was an incredible distortion. Obama made the statement while he was campaigning in 2008, but the plant had already closed by the time he was in the Oval Office.

Much of Ryan’s tale-telling last night was not new.

Contrary to Ryan’s assertion, the stimulus bill did create jobs. And Ryan’s Wisconsin constituents were some of the bill’s beneficiaries.

And if Ryan thought Obama should have acted on the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles debt-commission’s report, why did he vote against its recommendations? Ryan didn't even say he was on the commission.

And then there’s his claim that Obama is raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare, which is nonsense. That’s especially hypocritical, since Ryan made the same recommendation in his budget plan.

NPR interviewed some young college women yesterday. They giggled about Ryan’s looks like sixth-grade bobbysoxers. But they knew nothing about his views on women’s health, rape, and abortion.

But they had heard Ryan say that he’ll help them get rid of their student debt, and that's all they think they need to know. I wonder whether they know that he's been talking about cutting support to students: cutting Pell Grants and reducing access to to low-interest loans.

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Rochester needs restorative justice

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 4:24 PM

I spent a couple of hours recently with Dominic Barter, a former school teacher who has pioneered a form of restorative justice known as restorative circles. And I came away encouraged about the prospects for Rochester.

Restorative justice is not about punishing the perpetrator of a crime — though it can and often does take place in tandem with punitive measures. The idea is to heal the rift between the parties directly impacted by an act, but more than that, it acknowledges that the insult goes beyond those people. The very fabric of the community is damaged by criminal acts and attention must be given to that wound, as well.

Restorative justice is not about mollycoddling criminals, and I do believe it can work in Rochester. I can hear cynics saying that a 20-year-old intent on shooting someone is not going to drop his gun and run to pour his heart out to friends and neighbors instead.

But imagine having a meeting space in every neighborhood, where a mother can bring her young child when he or she gets involved in minor scrapes — a fight, bullying, maybe shoplifting. That child must face the person he directly hurt, and also learns that there are consequences for his or her actions, and that the damage caused by the act ripples out.

“You hit the nail on the head,” said John Klofas, professor of criminal justice at RIT, when I shared my thoughts with him this morning. “There’s a very big place for that kind of thing here.”

Klofas also explained how many small acts are either dismissed or ignored by the criminal justice system, and the young person skates by sans consequences until boom! His record builds up and then the hammer comes down. Having a restorative system means there’s continuity, Klofas said: action equals consequence.

I just don’t think we can continue our current pattern, which is to ride out the trends until we hit a rough patch, and then flood the city with cops. It’s purely reactive, and it’s not working.

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Fairport meeting to focus on sharing the road with cyclists

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 1:16 PM

This is a corrected version of the post.

As a triathlete, Mary Eggers logs plenty of time on her bicycle.

But after her friend, Fairport teacher Heather Boyum, was killed last month while riding in Penfield, she’s been hesitant to ride on the road. It didn’t help that, shortly after that tragedy, a friend was run off the road by a large truck. For the next few weeks, Eggers rode indoors on a trainer.

But Boyum’s tragic death inspired Eggers and several other area cyclists to organize a meeting to talk about keeping cyclists safe on the road. Interest grew, so it will include several speakers, including MVP Health Care cycling team director Todd Scheske and Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn. (More information is available here.)

That meeting is taking place tonight, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Fairport High School, and the event’s Facebook page shows that more than 200 people say they are going. It is open to the public.

Cyclists have the legal right to ride on roads — with some exceptions, including expressways like I-490 — but they also have the obligation to ride single file, ride with traffic, and obey traffic signals and stop signs.

Boyum, however, was doing all of the things she was supposed to, Eggers says. One driver involved in the incident was charged with manslaughter and another driver was charged with driving while intoxicated.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ann Romney’s flawed speech: What’s love got to do with it?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 12:12 PM

Praise flowed for Ann Romney even before she delivered her speech at the Republican National Convention last night. Hours earlier, Republicans nominated Mitt Romney for president. But Romney, polls indicate, is having trouble with women and minority voters. And it was on Ann Romney's shoulders to help recast his image in an effort to endear him to women.

In many respects, she delivered. She spoke lovingly about her husband. And she seemed remarkably at ease, considering she doesn't often give speeches in front of such large crowds.

But her love boat ran ashore for me when she talked about her struggles with MS and breast cancer, and her husband's support during her illnesses. This is admittedly a touchy and nuanced area for criticism. But I have to wonder whether many women listening to her at home could confront these problems with the same level of confidence.

And do the Romneys understand this?

The Romneys can readily afford the best medical care available. They can afford the screenings for early detections, the cost of drugs that are not typically low-priced generic brands, and the cost of co-pays for multiple office visits to help her fight her illnesses. The Romneys also have the resources to turn to the specialists they trust and counter challenges from their insurance company.

But millions of women, particularly women of limited means, would not have Ann Romney's advantages.

That doesn't mean that she is a bad person or that her struggles with life-threatening illnesses were somehow less significant. It doesn't diminish her role as a wife or mother, either.

But her husband claims that he will overturn the Affordable Care Act on his first day in office if he is elected.

If Ann Romney is going to talk about her illnesses and her husband's dependability during those stressful times, it's also incumbent on her to be straight with women. If her husband has his way, many will not be nearly as equipped to face such formidable odds.

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Massachusetts' low uninsured rate has political implications

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 10:41 AM

Massachusetts has the lowest rate of residents without health insurance of any state in the US.

That’s a simple fact, released this morning by the Census Bureau. But it has massive political overtones: Massachusetts has a health insurance system that is the basis of Obamacare. And that system — including an individual mandate — was implemented under Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.

To put the estimates in perspective, 5.2 percent of Massachusetts residents were uninsured in 2010, the year the Census stats are based on. New York, which has relatively strong public insurance programs and laws aimed at giving citizens access to insurance, has an uninsured rate of 13.7 percent. (In Monroe County, 10 percent of residents are uninsured.)

The Census Bureau statistics don’t address how many of the insured residents in any state — 86.3 percent of New Yorkers and 94. 8 percent of Massachusetts residents — are underinsured.

Expect the Congressional and presidential candidates, as well as media pundits, to make a lot of fuss over these figures, particularly the Massachusetts numbers. They’re a key metric and an essential aspect of the broader healthcare debate.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Federal regulations for smog-causing pollutants still uncertain

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 11:36 AM

For decades, New York has had more stringent emissions regulations than other states. It’s been state government’s way of trying to improve air quality.

But air moves, which complicates such efforts. Emissions from other states will drift in to New York, making their pollution this state’s problem. Former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued Midwestern power producers because pollution from their coal-fired plants was drifting into New York and degrading the state’s air quality. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has pursued similar legal action.

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to regulate some of the interstate pollution, particularly sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. But courts keep ruling against the regulations; most recently a federal appeals court struck down the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. As an article in the New York Times notes, the EPA’s rule creates a trading system that would let the states buy and sell pollution credits as a way to drive down the smog-causing emissions. In its ruling, the court said that EPA exceeded its authority.

In a statement responding to the decision, the American Lung Association urged the EPA to appeal the decision. The decision “creates additional unnecessary and conflicting hurdles that delay life-saving protections from millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution,” the past chair of the association’s national board of directors, Dr. Albert Rizzo, said in the statement.

In a saner political climate, Congress might intervene with a legislative fix. But Congress is polarized over myriad issues, including emissions regulations, so that won’t happen for now. If the EPA drafts a new regulatory scheme, it will almost certainly face court challenges. That means more cost and more regulatory uncertainty. Previous EPA regulations, which a court ruled must be replaced, will remain in place for now.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

WEEK AHEAD: SW Neighborhood meeting on School 16

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 10:39 AM

Residents of the 19th Ward and nearby southwest neighborhoods are meeting on Wednesday, August 29, to discuss ways to become more engaged in School 16's future and to better support area parents and students.

The meeting is at 6 p.m. at the SW Community Center, 275 Dr. Samuel McCree Way. It is open to the public.

K-8 students from School 16 will be relocated to Dr. Freddie Thomas at 625 Scio Street for the 2012 to 2013 school year while School 16 undergoes repairs.

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After a scorching summer, weather hits GOP

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 10:13 AM

It matters that weather has delayed the start of the Republican National Convention. It matters a lot.

The convention was supposed to start today, but Tropical Storm Isaac changed those plans. Many delegates and speakers are facing changes to their travel plans, reports the Washington Post.

Nationwide, weather has been a constant topic of news reports this summer. And little, if any, of that news has been good. High-temperature records have been routinely surpassed. The heat coupled with the lack of rain fueled forest fires in the West and scorched Midwest corn crops. To some degree, the intense weather — and the mild winter we had locally — has boosted public interest in and concern about climate change.

Tropical Storm Isaac was not caused by man-made climate change, though tropical storms and hurricanes may become more frequent and more intense because of it. Isaac does put disruptive weather in the news again, however.

Isaac should remind the public of the sort of summer we’ve had. The media ought to be explaining how heat waves and short-term droughts may become more common because of climate change. These heat waves will stress utilities, particularly the antiquated power grid. And the media ought to explain how droughts will put water supplies and farm crops in jeopardy.

Back to the convention: the GOP has been, at best, dismissive of climate change. Some party members don’t even believe that man-made climate change exists, despite a scientific consensus that it does. Many Republicans appear unwilling to even discuss adaptation, which, by the way, wouldn’t require them to admit that climate change is man-made. They’d simply have to acknowledge that long term weather trends are changing and that the government needs to make investments and adopt policies to align with those changes.

But this year’s crop of federal candidates shows no intention of seriously looking at climate issues.

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