Tuesday, October 23, 2012

US should use caution when aiding rebel groups

Posted By on Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 8:51 AM

The United States has a long history of aiding coups against unfriendly regimes, only to watch the the rebel groups it aided become unfriendly. And the new regimes often have gone on to commit human rights abuses of their own.

In some cases, the goal was to stop the spread of Communism. That was an aim of covert activities backing early coups in Guatemala and Iran.

More recently, US officials backed a coup in Honduras. The newer regime has been particularly brutal and oppressive; this essay published in the New York Times lays out some of the problems.

I had this in mind as I watched last night's presidential debate. And when the topic turned to uprisings and conflicts in the Middle East, I was glad to hear President Barack Obama urge caution in picking sides. He had this to say on Syria, via an excerpt from CNN's transcript of the debate:

"What we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and that's why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition. But we also have to recognize that, you know, for us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step, and we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping; that we're not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region."

Romney made similar remarks:

"And so the right course for us, is working through our partners and with our own resources, to identify responsible parties within Syria, organize them, bring them together in a — in a form of — if not government, a form of — of — of council that can take the lead in Syria. And then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves. We do need to make sure that they don't have arms that get into the — the wrong hands. Those arms could be used to hurt us down the road. We need to make sure as well that we coordinate this effort with our allies, and particularly with — with Israel."

The idea that the US shouldn't put weapons and resources into the hands of the wrong people is good, but history shows that American officials haven't done a good job at that. While Obama and Romney each say the US ought to be careful in choosing its alliances, I'm not convinced that either administration would be careful enough.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Week ahead: education meetings, crime stat review, and anti-fracking proposal discussion

Posted By on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Members of the 25-person New NY Education Reform Commission are in Rochester today to hear recommendations for improving student achievement from educators, advocates, and community members.

The commission was created by Governor Cuomo to gather information on issues of particular concern to school districts and communities throughout the state: teacher evaluations, budget limitations, and graduation rates, for example. The meeting will be held at City Hall in City Council’s chambers on the third floor from 1 to 4 p.m., and it’s open to the public. An announcement from the governor’s office, however, recommends that members of the public should RSVP at NYEducationReformCommission@exec.ny.gov, since space is limited. — Tim Louis Macaluso

Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard will announce third-quarter crime statistics at a press conference on Tuesday, October 23. Sheppard and Mayor Tom Richards typically make brief statements, and then Sheppard reviews the year-to-date numbers for violent and nonviolent crime in the City of Rochester.

Of particular interest this week will be the statistics related to shootings and killings and whether Operation Cool Down has had the desired effect. The police crackdown was imposed over the summer following a rash of violence. Many cities suffered major upswings in violence this year, with experts at a loss to explain why. The RPD press conference is at 11:15 a.m. at the Public Safety Building on Exchange Boulevard. — Christine Carrie Fien

On Wednesday, a County Legislature committee will discuss fracking-related legislation.

Democratic Legislator Justin Wilcox has proposed a moratorium prohibiting the county from treating fracking wastewater at its plants. Wilcox previously asked the Brooks administration for its policies on accepting and treating the waste, but he says he wasn’t provided the information.

County officials have told City that they would review requests to treat fracking wastewater on a case-by-case basis. In New York, municipal water treatment plants operate under state-issued permits, and currently none of the plants are allowed to accept fracking wastewater. The state has said that most municipal plants probably can’t handle treating the waste.

If Monroe County officials wanted to treat fracking waste at a county plant, they’d have to try to get a modification of the plant’s permit. To do that, the county would have to analyze the composition of the waste and the plant’s ability to treat it.

At the last full Legislature meeting, local anti-fracking activists delivered petitions to legislators and County Executive Maggie Brooks asking them to ban fracking and related activities on county property. The petitions had more than 4,000 signatures.

Wilcox’s proposed legislation will be considered by the Environment and Public Works Committee, which meets at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Rochester school board ordinarily holds its monthly business meetings on the last Thursday of the month. But this month’s meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, October 24, at the district’s central office at 131 West Broad Street, at 6 p.m. The change was made to accommodate the district’s Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration, on Thursday, October 25, which begins at 5 p.m. at the central office. — Tim Louis Macaluso

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Clinton stumps for Slaughter, Hochul

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 5:24 PM

Former President Bill Clinton says the country needs cooperation and not conflict to get back on track.

In an appearance at the Main Street Armory this afternoon, Clinton told the crowd of about 2,000 people why they should vote for either Kathy Hochul or Louise Slaughter, incumbent Democrats facing tough re-election contests for their House seats. He talked up Democratic accomplishments, such as tougher rules for Wall Street, student loan reform, and health-care reform.

And he warned the audience that Republican control in Washington endangers all of those accomplishments.

"Trickle-down economics does not work," Clinton said.

Clinton's speech, which was received with deafening cheers and applause, focused heavily on economic issues. That's not surprising; in her introductory remarks, Slaughter said that during his presidency, Clinton handled the economy "like a maestro plays a Stradivarius."

Clinton fired off a few good one-liners. At one point he said neither Hochul or Slaughter would be facing much of a race if it weren't for the partisan groups spending lots of money against them.

"The real opponent of Kathy Hochul, the real opponent of Louise Slaughter is Karl Rove," he said.

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Truth takes an election holiday

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 12:03 PM

Watching the 2012 presidential election unfold, Jack Nicholson’s great scene as Colonial Nathan Jessep in the film "A Few Good Men" comes to mind.

“You can’t handle the truth,” Jessep snarls when he’s pressed about the murder of a young cadet.

Something has happened to truth in this election.

Is truth’s troubling absence due to our inability to handle it, or our casual disregard for it? Do facts even matter anymore?

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have toyed with the truth to squeeze out the smallest advantage in an extremely tight race. The problem has been worse with Republicans. Romney’s fictitious riffs about credible tax studies, job creation, and employing women should cause his nose to grow on live TV.

And Obama better have a straightforward answer about what went wrong in Libya before Monday’s debate on foreign policy. Obama hasn’t lied about what led to the death of four Americans. But it was politically inconvenient to have a frank conversation with the American public about how dangerous the Middle East remains, and how our dependence on the region’s oil will always come with an enormous price.

Obama's critics have been quick to fill that void even when some of the victims’ family members have warned against politicizing the event.

The over-reliance on spin and clever phrasing in this election has only bred suspicion, and could have a terrible unintended consequence: nobody believes the results.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vargas emphasizes early childhood education

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 11:38 AM

The Rochester school district has become a “remedial district,” Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said today at an early morning meeting with parents and students. The term is used by educators to describe a teaching atmosphere that emphasizes helping students catch up to as close to grade level as possible.

The way to change the district, he said, was to stop putting so much emphasis on intervention in the later grades, and redirect the district’s and the community’s resources to early childhood development.

“We need to be putting our emphasis on Pre-K to 3rd grade because we know that intervention costs so much more,” Vargas said. And many students become so disengaged and alienated that intervention doesn’t always help them.

There’s so much emphasis on intervention that even those students who are doing well aren’t receiving the support they need, Vargas said. This is one of the reasons middle class parents decide to pull their children out of the district and enroll them in suburban schools.

“Accelerated learning is lacking in this district,” Vargas said, citing a school where 8th grade math was being taught to 9th graders, and those students capable of working above grade level were being ignored.

Vargas said the district is too reliant on phasing out a failing school and phasing in a new school. Giving the new school a brand identity, such as global finance, for example, can’t succeed if the students haven’t been prepared in earlier grades for what that school offers.

“We’re not going to use the [state recommended] phase-in, phase-out model anymore,” Vargas said. “It doesn’t work. We are redefining education reform in Rochester.”

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Energy conservation ignored in debate

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 9:54 AM

Early in Tuesday’s presidential debate, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney got off on a tangent that wanted to be a discussion of energy policy. Instead, it was a mess. Arguments were mangled and facts were pushed over into a corner somewhere.

As they tried to out-coal and out-natural gas one another, neither candidate was particularly impressive. Their allegiance to fossil fuels was depressing. But there was something else bugging me, and I’ve since pinpointed what it was: neither candidate talked in any meaningful way about energy conservation.

Sure, at one point Obama brought up the new vehicle fuel efficiency standards his administration has put into place. If cars get more miles per gallon, they’ll burn less fuel. That’s good for the environment and good for consumers, who should pay less in fuel costs.

But that was it. Neither Obama nor Romney offered any other ideas for reducing energy or fuel consumption. That’s a shame since the cleanest, cheapest energy is energy that isn’t generated or consumed in the first place. And it's an area full of possibilities, from energy consumption standards for home appliances to investing in research that would lead to more efficient power plants.

At this point, I don’t have any great hope that the candidates will talk about energy conservation and efficiency initiatives. But since the president would have to work with Congress on that issue anyway, people can pressure their senators and House representatives to make those issues priorities.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Debate #2, part 2: Romney's affirmative-action fib

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 12:39 PM

Well, well, well....

Remember the debate segment last night where Romney bragged about seeking out qualified women to serve in his administration when he became governor?

Not true, says our sister alt-weekly, the Boston Phoenix.

When Romney was asked last night what he would do to help women achieve pay equity, Romney adopted a tactic both he (and Obama, too frequently) used throughout the night: rather than answering the question, tell a personal story. In Romney's version, as he prepared to appoint people to high positions in his administration, he noticed that all of the resumes his advisers were giving him were of men. "Gosh," he says he said, "can't we — can't we find some — some women who are qualified?"

And he went to women's groups asking them for names of possible candidates. And they gave him binders of women's names.

As somebody pointed out on the PBS analysis afterwards, that's affirmative action at work, and it might turn off some conservatives.

But that's not the best analysis of the night. The Phoenix's David Bernstein posted some info that he's written about before: Mitt Romney didn't seek out those names. He didn't go to those women's groups. They went to him. They had met before the election, came up with names of women who were qualified for administrative positions, and agreed to get together with whoever was elected governor and push to get women appointed. Romney won, and they gave him the binder.

(And, Bernstein says, none of the 14 women Romney hired were put in charge of the key departments that Romney felt were important.)

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Debate #2: Just how smart is the average voter?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Three-quarters of the way through last night’s presidential debate, I figured the debate was over — and that Mitt Romney was headed for the White House.

I feel a little better about the event this morning; most of the media analysis I’ve read this morning is calling President Obama a clear winner in the debate. But I’m still worried. Yes, Obama did far better than he did in the first debate. And yes, Romney again spent the night telling one lie after another. And yes, he continued to deal in generalities.

But he’s so darned good at it. He sounds so convincing. The fact that his performance in the first debate completely upended the race — eliminating overall Obama’s lead, shrinking Obama’s strong control of the swing states, and making the majority of voters in the latest polls think that Romney’s the more likable — all that makes me worry about the intelligence of voters. If they didn’t see through the lies and the platitudes the first time, why would they now?

Barring some dramatic outside occurrence, I assume after next week's debate, the race will still be a virtual tie. That, I'm afraid, means that the outcome of this important election will be determined by paid advertising’s effect on sadly malleable voters.

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Clean coal is still just a dream

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 9:10 AM

Just a reminder: there's no such thing as clean coal.

During last night's presidential debate, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each reiterated their energy policies. And they both included clean coal as an aspect of their plans. But there's a catch: clean coal is more theoretical than it is practical.

The term clean coal can have a couple of meanings. It can refer to technologies that may make the process of burning coal for electricity more efficient; it can also refer to scrubber technology that would lower the amount of some pollutants. Those technologies don't reduce problematic emissions to anything near clean, though.

But clean coal is often used as another way of referencing carbon capture and sequestration technology: the coal is burned and the carbon emissions are captured and stored, possibly in underground rock formations. The technology to capture the carbon exists, but it is extremely expensive and has not been used outside of experimental demonstration projects.

In July, Politico published an article about the problems facing clean coal. One issue it highlights: there's no incentive for companies to implement the technologies without climate legislation. It also says that billions of dollars in federal investment would be needed to deploy the technology. The article is worth a read.

But there's another simple reason about why coal can't be considered clean, even if the polluting emissions from burning it are somehow controlled. Coal mining is inherently dirty and often destructive, and generates polluting byproducts.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

[UPDATED] Clinton to stump for Slaughter, Hochul

Posted By on Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 4:50 PM

Louise Slaughter. - FILE PHOTO
Kathy Hochul. - FILE PHOTO

Former President Bill Clinton will be in Rochester this Friday, October 19, to stump for Democratic Congressional candidates Kathy Hochul and Louise Slaughter.

Hochul and Slaughter, both incumbents, are in tough battles to keep their seats. Hochul faces Republican Chris Collins and Slaughter is running against Republican Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks.

Friday's event is at 3:30 p.m. at the Main Street Armory on East Main Street. Ticket information: kathyhochul.ticketleap.com/clinton/

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