Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fights return downtown

Posted By and on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 4:45 PM

The Rochester Police Department and city and school district officials thought they found a way to stop young people from gathering to fight — or to watch a fight — in the Liberty Pole area downtown. Changes were made to the busing situation last year to reduce the number of young people downtown at peak times, and it seemed to make a difference.

But the fights have started again. And now there are questions about whether a police officer acted appropriately when he allegedly pepper-sprayed a student following a fight that happened about a week ago.

The incident was recorded by a news team from Channel 13, and the video prompted school board member Van White to write to Police Chief James Sheppard about the officer’s behavior. White called for an investigation.
In a phone interview today, White said Sheppard has responded to his letter, and that he’s satisfied with Sheppard’s promise to review the incident.

“A public vetting will help to restore the public’s confidence in the RPD,” White said. “If the officer did do something wrong, it says something when they stand up and say: ‘We were wrong.’”

But the problem goes much deeper than the officer’s conduct.

At a time when the city and school district are financially strapped, much-needed resources are being diverted to ensure safety on Main Street. And the fights only fuel perceptions among some business owners and visitors that downtown is unsafe at a time when we desperately need more businesses and visitors.

City Council member Adam McFadden, who heads Council's Public Safety Committee, says sending more police officers to patrol downtown isn’t likely to help. He advocates a return to using school buses instead of RTS buses to transport students, and he says he wants a return to neighborhood schools.

While some people say that the new transit center currently under construction will help solve the problem, McFadden is dubious. The transit center is only a building, he says. Students are fighting inside the schools, he says, why wouldn’t they fight inside the transit center?

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The high price of the presidency

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 9:08 AM

This spending in this year's presidential race will crush the record set in 2008. But how outrageous will the sums be? As of October 17, the numbers were staggering.

First, some context. The 2008 presidential election cost $1.7 billion, twice as much as the 2004 presidential election.

In 2012, spending will at least double that number. With a month left, the race had already passed the $1 billion mark. This breakdown from the Sunlight Foundation lays it out. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, had raised $632.2 million as of October 17, and spent $540.8 million. Republican candidate Mitt Romney had raised $389.1 million as of the same date, and spent $336.4 million. But once party and PAC spending is figured in, spending for each candidate hovers around $1 billion (see this breakdown).

The picture isn't any prettier in Congress. House candidates have raised approximately $1 billion and spent approximately $891.9 million, according to Opensecrets.org. Senate candidates have raised $627.6 million and spent $540.6 million.

Politicians need money to run for office, but spending has exploded, fed in part by a 2010 Supreme Court decision that ended prohibitions on corporations' spending on elections. Super PAC's, corporations, unions, and other outside groups have put more than $1.1 billion into the presidential, House, and Senate races.

The problem with much of that money is that the sources are untraceable. For example, Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS leads in independent expenditures, so far spending $157.6 million. But the group doesn't disclose its donors, and by law it doesn't have to.

The amount of money in these races is astonishing. The fact that the public can't find out who's responsible for a large portion of it is inexcusable.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vargas plans community outreach

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 5:22 PM

City schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas will hold a community meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, November 5, at School 3, 85 Adams Street.

The “Neighbor Night" will be similar in format to Vargas’s monthly “Coffee and Conversations.” He’ll answer questions from parents, students, and residents in an informal setting. The intent, according to a statement from the district, is to listen to the community’s concerns.

More community meetings are planned.

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Racism regenerates

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 10:47 AM

When President Obama was elected, millions of Americans wondered whether the country’s long history of racial turbulence was finally over. But many people, particularly some well-known African-American leaders, were quick to say: It’s a nice thought, but don’t count on it.

And it seems they were right.

A solid majority of Americans outwardly express prejudice toward black Americans, according to a recent poll by the Associated Press. It didn’t matter whether the questions asked were explicit or implicit about racial attitudes; more Americans are prejudiced toward blacks since Obama took office in 2008.

And more have anti-Hispanic attitudes, too, according to the poll.

Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? A little.

But the signs have been apparent for awhile. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported an increase in the number of Neo-Nazi and white-extremist groups.

We’ve seen the president dogged by questions about his citizenship through much of his term. The prevalence of coded language, referring to him as the community organizer, food stamp, and welfare president, draws little protest from Republicans.

And just days ago, Senator John Sununu said General Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama for a second term was, like that of many African-Americans, racially motivated.

Maybe the rise of racism is a response to a slow economic recovery that hasn’t been kind to working-class white males. Or maybe the country is coming to terms with a population that is increasingly diverse; a future where whites could someday be a minority is not the America many envision.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Handy storm tools from RG&E

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Hey, this is neat. RG&E’s website has a section called “outage central” with all sorts of useful tools. You can report an outage, get an estimate on when your power should be back, and find out who else is without power. Information is available all the way down to the street level.

There’s also an interactive “outage map” if you’re looking for a broader picture.

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Week Ahead: Midtown public-space hearing, another Slaughter-Brooks debate

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 11:03 AM

The City of Rochester will hold a public hearing to present designs for the open space and public realm portion of the Midtown Redevelopment Project. The designs include plans for new streets, sidewalks, and open spaces.

Some people have also talked about using a portion of the property for a permanent downtown festival site. The hearing is at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 1, at the Central Library, Kate Gleason Auditorium, 115 South Avenue.

Congressional candidates Louise Slaughter and Maggie Brooks will throw down for the second time in a Tuesday night debate sponsored by WROC TV 8. Both candidates will likely re-state the arguments they’ve been making throughout the campaign.

Incumbent Democrat Slaughter has been hitting Brooks hard on county scandals while touting her own accomplishments as a longtime Congress member. Brooks says Slaughter is part of a broken federal government and doesn’t have Monroe County’s best interests at heart anymore.

Slaughter currently holds between a five- and 10-point lead in the race, depending on which poll you trust. The debate is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 30, on Channel 8. Christine Carrie Fien

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Hurricane Sandy and climate change: It's complicated

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 8:44 AM

The entire northeast is preparing for the onset of the Hurricane Sandy. Or more specifically, people in the northeast are preparing for the Frankenstorm: Hurricane Sandy mixed with a winter storm coming from the north.

That combination of a hurricane and a nor'easter is weird. And it's the latest example of weird or abnormally severe weather this year. I've found myself wondering what role climate change plays in the Frankenstorm and I'm not alone. Yesterday, NPR published an answer to that question; it's not the most fulfilling, but it's honest.

The NPR article says that determining attribution — the idea of whether changes in the climate cause or worsen specific weather events — is still "science on the bleeding edge." With hurricanes, scientists aren't yet able to point to specific storms and say with adequate certainty that climate change played a key role, says the NPR article.

A blog post by New York Times writer Andrew Revkin draws a similar conclusion:

"But there remains far too much natural variability in the frequency and potency of rare and powerful storms — on time scales from decades to centuries — to go beyond pointing to this event being consistent with what’s projected on a human-heated planet," Revkin writes.

So there you have it. The not-so-scientific answer to whether the Frankenstorm is a product of climate change: Maybe.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Proposed county fracking law stalls

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 8:54 AM

For now, Democrats' proposal to prohibit the county from treating fracking-related waste water won't move forward.

Last night, Republican John Howland, the chair of the County Legislature's Environment and Public Works committee, referred the proposal to the Brooks administration for further study. He said it's a complex issue with lots of facts coming from each side of the issue. Howland did not set a timeframe for the administration to report back. Democrat Paul Haney accused Howland of "just sending it [the legislation] to the dustbin."

Democrat Justin Wilcox introduced the moratorium legislation. Fracking waste water is loaded with chemicals, salts, and often some radioactive materials, and Wilcos says he's concerned about the environmental and public health concerns posed by treating the waste water. The state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are still studying fracking's environmental and health impacts, he noted.

Even if legislature never passes the Democrats' proposal, the county would need state approval to accept and treat fracking waste water. The county's water treatment plants operate under state permits. For the county to get a permit modified, officials would have to analyze the waste they want to take in as well as the plant's ability to treat it. No municipal water treatment plants in the state are permitted to accept fracking fluid. The state DEC has questioned whether any of them are capable of effectively treating the waste water.

During the meeting's public forum last night, three people affiliated with R-CAUSE, a local anti-fracking group, spoke in favor of the legislation.

Jennifer Fitzsimmons of Webster said that while Pennsylvania allows drilling, it does not permit the treatment or disposal of any of the waste water within the state's borders.

"This is a huge public health issue that we all know affects all of us," said Nedra Harvey of Rochester.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

War with Iran and election hype

Posted By on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 10:02 AM

It was a little hard to tell whether Mitt Romney was confident or confused in the foreign policy debate on Monday night. We saw the difference between a candidate’s campaign jabber and the knowledge of an experienced president. Side by side, one rings hollow and the other authentic.

Romney’s eagerness to pump up Pentagon spending and talk tough on Iran was especially unnerving, partly because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In addition, he’s turned to George W. Bush’s cronies for advice, a group that didn’t know what they were talking about either.

An article by Jim Lobe, Washington bureau chief for Inter Press Service, gives an analysis of a recent meeting at the Center for the National Interest on a potential war with Iran.

With its arsenal of ballistic and shorter-range missiles, Iran could easily take more than eight million barrels of oil a day off the world market by striking oil pipelines that lead to the gulf and the tankers that move the oil out of region. That could send the price of oil higher than $200 a barrel within days. Gasoline at the pump would hit $10 a gallon in a flash. And that’s just the beginning.

If Iran hit oil facilities in Qatar, Japan and South Korea’s energy supply could be flicked off like a switch.
It’s also quite possible that Iran’s nuclear facilities could survive a US-Israeli attack. And the US could discover that the economic cost of war with Iran could prove to be too much, and be forced to back down.

It’s likely that Obama already knows this.

Romney conceded in Monday's debate that Obama’s economic sanctions have shaken Iran's economy. His lack of the knowledge about the region is showing, and his reliance on advice from the Bush administration should be enough to send voters running in the opposite direction.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Education commission hears local problems and solutions

Posted By on Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 11:07 AM

Governor Cuomo’s New NY Education Reform Commission ended its statewide listening tour of school district officials, politicians, and community leaders in Rochester yesterday. The commission is charged with gathering information about what is and isn’t working to boost student achievement, and then making recommendations for improvement to Cuomo.

The commission panel, which included state Education Commissioner John King and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, certainly got an earful from local speakers.

Too many mandates, insufficient state aid, and inequitable distribution of funding were among the chief concerns voiced yesterday. Some speakers complained that Rochester teachers have not been rigorously evaluated and held accountable. And that for too long they’ve been permitted to use poverty as an excuse for low student achievement.

Teachers choose to be educators, and they can get a job in a different district if they want to, City Council President Lovely Warren said. But city students often don’t have any options when it comes to their education.

Creating regional high schools, lifting the cap on charter schools, and increasing emphasis on collaboration between schools were some of the recommendations for raising student outcomes. One teacher from Churchville took a small robot to the event and talked about how robotics can interest students in science, math, and engineering through competitions with neighboring schools.

Some of the most compelling ideas had to do with earning college credits while in high school, and increasing online learning opportunities. Monroe Community College President Anne Kress said students who earn 20 college credits are less likely to drop out of high school and nearly twice as likely to complete college.

And online learning, the newest wave in education, offers multiple opportunities for students and educators at every grade level.

The commission members' report to Albany, which is due before the end of the year, will have to compress a lot of information from the state's best performing districts to its worst into a meaningful tool. And even though their work was statewide in scope, there's no mistaking that it's the large urban districts like Rochester's that are facing the biggest challenges. Coming up with solutions that work is not going to be easy considering the state's financial constraints.

But bold recommendations are needed, and they probably won't please everyone. And it seems like the commission could advise Cuomo in one of two ways: move further down the path of increased competition, open more charter schools, and push the union into accepting even more rigorous teacher and principal evaluations.

The commission might even call for a control board’s oversight for failing districts.

Or it could recommend providing the early childhood support that almost every expert agrees is needed to mitigate some of poverty’s impact on poor urban children.

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