Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Romney’s Obamacare scare

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 3:38 PM

Even before the Republican primary season was underway, Mitt Romney was promising to slay the Obamacare beast on his first day in office.

Earlier this week, while campaigning in Florida, Romney talked about the reforms he would put in place after repealing the Affordable Care Act. As the Nation's Ben Adler writes, "Romney gave a speech intended to create the false impression that he intends to replace the ACA with something that would provide the same benefits through other means."

Romney is proposing to give everyone a tax break specifically to buy their own health insurance. But as Adler points out, Romney wants to create a new tax deduction, even though he's been saying he would reduce the number of tax deductions.

Romney says free enterprise would magically kick in under his health-care plan, and competition would drive down the cost of health insurance and increase the quality of health insurance.

But Romney's plan could encourage employers to stop providing health-care benefits to their employees altogether.

Despite Romney's spin, under his plan the cost of health insurance is likely to continue increasing at double-digit rates annually - for thinner policies. He says he wants to "help" prevent people from being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. But how can he do that when he promises to gut the provisions that prevent it from happening?

What the free market is likely to do instead is reward healthy and younger people with lower costs and stick it to the sick and the poor. That will only create another wave of uninsured Americans who will seek treatment in emergency rooms.

Romney also wants to turn Medicaid over to the states in the form of block grants just as baby boomers are entering the system. This will simply shift the costs of caring for more elderly and disabled Americans to the states, many of which are already swimming in red ink. And he is not saying that block grants will cover all of those costs, which would force the states to raise taxes or cut coverage.

You don't need a crystal ball to predict how that will turn out.

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NEWS BLOG: Vandals and valedictorians: the School of the Arts incident

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 9:49 AM

Hearing about the vandalism at School of the Arts, handiwork by mostly school seniors, many of people probably shook their heads and thought, "What can you do? Kids will be kids."

SOTA's principal, Brenda Pacheco, said she was saddened by what appeared to begin as a prank escalated to damaging the school.

But I couldn't help thinking about a young Mexican girl living in Chicago featured on MSNBC's Morning Joe early Monday. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a conversation about that city's education issues, praised the girl for being the top student in her graduating class. Her parents sell oranges on the roadside in Mexico. Their daughter, however, has seized an opportunity to climb out of poverty. In the fall, she'll join the ranks of freshmen at Northwestern, one of the country's finest universities.

There are children like this young girl in schools all across this country, including here in Rochester. One of the top performing students in city schools this year is a young girl whose family is still living in one of the poorest countries in Africa. She seized an opportunity, too.

Rochester has been struggling to find the key to educational success for its students for years, with little progress to show for it. Our graduation rate lumbers around 50 percent. Still, these young women and thousands of youngsters like them have often experienced poverty and witnessed unimaginable atrocities.

But they recognized the value of receiving a free public education in this country. And their achievements are a stark contrast to so many American students who ignore the opportunities in front of them. While thousands of city students decide not to attend school, there are millions of children around the world that would gladly fill their seats

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NEWS BLOG: COMIDA vs. the Greece School Board

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 9:26 AM

The Greece School Board is taking a stand against proposed tax breaks for the Greece Ridge Mall.

The county Industrial Development Agency is proposing a plan that would limit future property tax increases on the mall for 25 years. The mall's owner, a subsidiary of Wilmorite, plans to reconfigure the former Bon-Ton space into several smaller units.

Last night, the school board passed a resolution opposing the incentive plan. Other local governments have protested COMIDA-proposed incentives before and with little luck. Whether the Greece School Board's opposition has any effect remains to be seen, though it gave its attorneys the go-ahead to take legal action if COMIDA approves the incentives, the Democrat and Chronicle reports.

The board's action brings attention to a key complaint critics have of New York's IDA's: local governments don't really have a say in whether a business gets tax breaks. COMIDA documents say that the school district's position will be taken into consideration, but COMIDA officials don't have an obligation to reject the tax breaks because the district opposes them.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Planning Commission backs fracking moratorium

Posted By on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Last night, Rochester's Planning Commission recommended that City Council pass a proposed one-year moratorium on natural gas exploration and extraction. That moratorium includes the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Nobody spoke against the proposal, though several speakers did urge Council to consider a full ban. They also said they'd like to see any moratorium or ban include other drilling-related activities, such as fracking fluid treatment or injection wells on industrial sites. They said, however, that the moratorium is a good first step.

"Please do everything you can," said activist and city resident Emily Good, who stressed the potential for fracking-related water and air pollution.

City resident Charlotte Miller told the commission that fracking, or its supporting services, could drive young people out of Rochester. She wants to stay here and buy a house in the city, but she'd leave if fracking comes to town.

"I want you to want me here," Miller said.

Most if not all of the audience members who were interested in the moratorium saw the text of the legislation for the first time last night. The moratorium would technically apply to permits, certificates of zoning compliance, and variances for natural gas exploration and extraction. It doesn't explicitly prohibit other fracking-related activities, such as injection wells or fracking fluid storage, and it's unclear whether those uses would be covered by the moratorium. It's not just the drilling that matters. For example, cities could experience problems with housing, crime, and truck traffic. Even emissions from nearby gas fields could affect cities.

The legislation says that drilling could threaten city residents' health, safety, and welfare. But the purpose of the moratorium is to allow a study of fracking's effect on the city. This section of the legislation is very important for that reason:

"There has been inadequate research into the specific impacts of natural gas exploration and extraction in urban areas, where there are dense residential development, many existing industrial sites, and a large number of brownfield sites containing identified and unidentified hazardous substances or hazardous wastes. Of particular concern is the impact that the natural gas extraction method of high-volume hydraulic fracturing may have on the existing hazardous waste substances or hazardous wastes found in brownfield sites, the potential for and increased danger from seismic activity in a developed urban area, and the increased danger from any spills, emissions, or discharges due to proximity to dense, urban populations," says the legislation.

By adopting the resolution, City Council would be saying that these issues need to be studied. That's an important statement, since the state is still reviewing its environmental statement on high-volume hydraulic fracturing; the state isn't issuing permits while that review is under way.

Council will vote on the moratorium during its June 19 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 30 Church Street.

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City Newspaper News Arts & Ent. Music Events Movies Restaurants Classifieds Rochester's Alternative Newsweekly NEWS BLOG: Economy’s good old days of the 1990’s

Posted By on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 at 9:54 AM

Although the Occupy Movement helped focus attention on income inequality in the US, the reality of just how wide the gap has grown sometimes got lost in tax-policy arguments about Warren Buffett's secretary.

But the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances released yesterday showed that the recent financial crisis left median American families in 2010 no better off than they were in the early 1990's.

The Fed's data helps to explain why the economic recovery has been slow and painful, according to an article in the New York Times. Home values fell by almost 50 percent between 2007 and 2010 in some parts of the country; in addition, median family incomes fell. The data shows that middle-income families sustained the largest percentage losses in both wealth and income during the crisis.

The impact on the economy means that the recovery is going to be slow no matter who becomes president. "Given the scale of those losses, consumer spending has remained surprisingly resilient," says the Times. But Americans are weary. Some of us are saving, but we're saving for the short term as a precaution in case of a job loss or some other emergency. We're not saving for a home or retirement.

It's true that the losses are being felt across all income levels, but those at the very top of the ladder have slipped the least, says the Times.

What was most concerning about the survey was the hit middle income Americans took in their single biggest asset, their homes. Many Americans have long counted on their home equity for their retirement or furthering their children's education.

The Fed's survey indicates it will take a long time to rebuild trust in either the housing market or the economy. And the inequality gap is likely to continue.

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NEWS BLOG: Just how would a Romney school-voucher system work?

Posted By on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 at 8:27 AM

Everybody's saying that the outcome of this year's presidential election will be determined by the state of the economy over the next few months, and I'm sure they're right.

But a president affects a lot more than the nation's economic policy, so we ought to be paying attention to the candidates' stands on things like, oh, education. Look, for instance, at this morning's New York Times piece on Romney and education: "Vouchers Unspoken, Romney Hails School Choice."

Mitt Romney is a big fan of vouchers, and rather than have federal funds go to schools that serve high-needs students, he wants that money to go to the students themselves, to help them pay for their education at any school they choose: public or private.

This is one of those initiatives that - particularly to people convinced that the private sector always does things better than the public sector - sounds logical on the surface. Why not let the money go directly to families, and let them decide where their children go to school?

Romney's plan would probably be great for private schools - and I can't imagine that it would be anything but disastrous for many public schools, particularly those in cities.

But plans put into action have a way of turning out a bit differently than they looked on paper. How big would those vouchers be? Enough to fully fund an annual education at Harley or Allendale-Columbia? Or would they primarily end up partially subsidizing the tuition for students whose families could already afford to go there?

And what about suburban school districts? Even if the vouchers fully covered the cost of a city student attending schools in Brighton and Fairport and Pittsford, would those districts welcome hundreds of city students? Would taxpayers in those districts agree to tax increases to build new classrooms and hire new teachers to accommodate a big enrollment increase?

I can't wait to hear more.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Not much good news on climate lately

Posted By on Fri, Jun 8, 2012 at 7:56 AM

The past couple of weeks have brought troubling climate news.

An article published in the journal Nature said that climate change is reaching a tipping point, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. If that point is reached, it'll mean rapid and irreversible damage to the global environment.

The report joins scores of others highlighting the effect of human activity on climate change.

And last week, the Associated Press reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in the arctic have hit 400 parts per million. That hasn't happened in at least 800,000 years, scientists told the AP. Globally, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are at 395 ppm, though scientists expect that level to surpass 400 ppm within a few years.

Scientists consider 350 ppm to be the highest safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Ray Bradbury went to heaven in a rocket ship

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 11:32 AM

I hope there's a heaven. I so want to picture Ray Bradbury there.

Actually, I believe Bradbury's death yesterday at age 91 was just a physical relocation. Spiritually, creatively, humanistically he's always been on a higher plane than the rest of us. Other writers, myself included, could only hope to occasionally tap into that stream. Bradbury lived there.

I'll never forget the image of young Ray on his roller skates, outside the big movie studios, bugging stars for their autographs. Or the protagonist of Something Wicked This Way Comes hearing the haunted calliope beckoning him at night. I wanted to live in a world created by Bradbury.

He wrote Fahrenheit 451 on rented typewriters: feeding coins in as needed. Someone said that they hated writing, but loved having written. Not Bradbury. The joy was in the creation.

So Ray Bradbury went to heaven yesterday. In a rocket ship. And I can't be sad because wonder was his nourishment, and the greatest adventure is now.

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NEWS BLOG: Walker’s road map to silencing the Democratic Party

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 10:44 AM

Some Democrats are reacting to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's victory Tuesday by playing down any connection to President Obama's re-election chances.

Conservatives couldn't be happier. They say Walker's win proves that the majority of Wisconsin's voters agree with conservatives' message about smaller government.

But something else happened in Wisconsin that Americans should be discussing: the influence of big money on elections and the growing desire to silence everyday workers. It was Walker's decision to strip public workers of their bargaining rights that sparked the recall.

Walker raised more than $30 million to fight off his recall, with much of it coming from outside Wisconsin, according to most news reports. Walker was able to outspend his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, by about seven to one.

Walker was not only successful at muffling the voice of public workers; he bought enough television advertising to muffle the voice of his opponent. And by crippling the unions and their chief advocate, he has drawn a road map for how to successfully silence the Democratic Party.

But there's far more to this than depriving Democrats of a traditionally strong ally. Conservatives have done an excellent job of promoting the idea that organized labor is to blame for the country's debt and unemployment problems. From an historical view, however, little good has come from efforts to silence workers.

Many historians argue that it was the combination of the GI bill and collective bargaining that built the largest middle class in human history following World War II.

In his most recent book, "The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers our Future," Columbia University professor and Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz discusses the fallacies surrounding innovation and job creation by the richest Americans. And he points to a steady assault on US workers wages since the 1960's. That's roughly the same time we began to see a decline in union membership, though Stiglitz attributes the growing inequality in the US, now the worst of industrialized nations, to multiple reasons.

Corporate America and its conservative supporters have learned that they can not only sell food and products -- like cigarettes -- that are harmful to the public, Stiglitz says. They've learned they can sell harmful ideology, too.

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NEWS BLOG: Bike projects, overdue water bills, library news

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 10:32 AM

City Council has started combing through Mayor Tom Richards' 2012-2013 proposed budget. Council members spent all day Wednesday grilling department heads in an open hearing.

Some highlights:

  • Bikes: the city is working on seven different projects to connect neighborhoods to bike trails.
  • Inner Loop cleaning may be reduced to twice a year. And the city will resubmit an application to fill in the Loop from Monroe to East avenues early next year.
  • The FederalBuilding owes the city more than $3,000 for water. An official said the city has been trying to get paid for six months, but it's not going well. Whoever pays the bills over there only wants to pay the current amount, a city official said, and not what's past due.
  • Will the state take good care of the Canadice and Hemlock watershed? Environmental Services employees spoke openly of their concerns.
  • Could Barnard Crossing library in Greece and Rochester's Charlotte branch be combined? They have the same customer base.
  • The Maplewood branch library has outgrown its space. Officials looked at an old fire house and an abandoned nursing home as possible new locations, but rejected both options. A couple of Council members mentioned striking a deal with School No. 7, since it's close to Maplewood. The area doesn't need two full libraries, Council member Dana Miller said.

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