Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Crime guns’ origins vary

Posted By on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 11:56 AM

This summer has seen plenty of news devoted to gun violence, from the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, to the high number of fatal shootings in the City of Rochester.

Underlying each incident is a question: Where do these guns come from? In the Aurora movie theater incident, the alleged shooter purchased the guns legally (see this New York Times article for information about his arsenal.)

In Rochester, it’s a different picture. Some of the guns used in crimes — the offenses are not limited to murders and include robberies, assaults, drug possession or sale, and simple possession — fall into a legal gray area. In 2009, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Public Safety Initiatives issued a report focusing on Rochester’s illegal guns and their sources.

The report said that about 15 percent of guns seized by the Rochester Police Department were reported stolen. The 2009 report didn’t provide a specific count of the seized guns, but data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Tobacco says that 878 firearms were recovered in Rochester in 2011.

The 2009 RIT report says that many of the guns used in Rochester crimes are transferred from a legal owner to an “illegal possessor”; one example would be giving a handgun to someone who doesn’t have a pistol permit. And police report that the guns are commonly exchanged for drugs, says the report.

The report also says that most guns used in local crimes come from the local area and are not brought in from other states.

Recent data from the ATF back up that conclusion. The ATF’s 2011 statistics show that police across New York recovered 8,793 crime guns last year. The majority of them were initially sold in New York.

In an Associated Press article, Citizens Crime Commission of New York President Richard Aborn says that there’s an upstate-downstate split in crime gun origins. Most of the guns used in upstate crimes come from within the state, while in New York City the guns often come from states along the Eastern Seaboard.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

What I’m reading: Nuclear power from nuclear waste?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 12:10 PM

When it comes to nuclear power, storing and disposing of spent fuel rods is a problem. Power plants have to keep the spent rods on site, because there’s nowhere else for them to go.

For environmentalists, the on-site storage is a major concern, though not the only one they have with nuclear power. And nuclear and critics agree that the spent rods pose safety and security problems. And storing the spent rods is costly for plant operators.

A recent article on Yale Environment 360 says that fast-breeder reactors could be a solution to the spent-fuel storage issue. The fast-breeder units can be run off of the plutonium contained in spent fuel rods, says the article. It also says that GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy wants to export a fast-breeder reactor to England for a test project; that country has the world’s largest stockpile of civilian-use plutonium.

“Theoretically at least, fast reactors can keep recycling their own fuel until all the plutonium is gone, generating electricity all the while,” the article says.

But fast-breeder reactors won’t solve all of the problems associated with nuclear power; among the other issues are water consumption, destructive uranium mining, and the cost of building reactors. The Yale E360 article asks whether fast-breeder reactors are a panacea; it hardly seems that they are. But if the technology works, it may help mitigate one serious problem.

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NEWS BLOG: Malgieri and Ansbrow join the Rochester school district. Wow!

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 9:03 AM

Among the more interesting news over the weekend was the D&C’s report that two heavy-hitters - Patty Malgieri and William Ansbrow - have accepted top administration positions in the Rochester school district.

Malgieri, who is leaving a job at Hillside, will become Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s chief of staff. Before joining Hillside, Malgieri served as Rochester’s deputy mayor and, earlier, headed the Center for Governmental Research. Ansbrow, who is currently the city’s budget director, will be the school district’s chief financial officer.

This will be interesting to watch. Malgieri is no novice to education; the Rochester school district was among the subjects of CGR’s research when she was its director (as it continues to be). But she has a strong business-oriented approach, has been a strong critic of the district, and was deputy mayor under Bob Duffy as he pushed for mayoral control of the school district.

We’re already hearing that at least some school board members were surprised at the news - and aren’t one bit happy about it. They have no say on the appointments, though; the superintendent picks his top officials without board approval.

I said this was “interesting news.” Actually, it’s a blockbuster, one that will play out slowly - but I’ll bet dramatically - over the coming weeks and months. Among the flash points: the role and power of the school board.

In the past, some boards have wanted to be heavily involved in decisions about operations. Others have taken a more hands-off approach, believing they should stick strictly to policy making. This board tends toward a desire to be heavily involved, something former Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard complained about.

Tension has already been building between Vargas and a few board members over some of Vargas’s proposals - his plan to close School 16, for instance.

I would bet that the business community is delighted with the Malgieri-Ansbrow appointments. But if school board members stay unhappy about them, we’re in for some interesting times.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Would armed civilians have stopped the Aurora carnage? Cop says no

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 10:37 AM

Predictably, in the days following the Aurora, Colorado, tragedy, some gun enthusiasts have argued that if several theatergoers had been carrying concealed weapons that night, they could have limited the number of people killed and wounded. We heard the same suggestions after the Gabby Giffords shooting and after the Virginia Tech shooting.

It was good to read in this morning’s Times, then, the op-ed piece by Michael Black, a former Chicago police officer.

Black relates some of his own experience with armed criminals - and he emphasizes the difficulty that well-trained, experienced officers have when they’re faced with someone with a gun.

In the Aurora theater, with the sights and sounds of the movie combining with gunshots from a live person and a panicking crowd: “Even a highly trained armed police officer would have been caught off guard,” Black writes. “Try adding a bunch of untrained, armed civilians into the mix - this type of intervention could have made things much worse.”

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I'm reading: Frank Rich on American Exceptionalism

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2012 at 4:17 PM

Frank Rich’s long column was always the first thing I turned to in the Sunday New York Times, so I was dismayed when he left the Times, citing long years of weekly deadline pressure.

He’s found a terrific home, though, at New York Magazine, where he’s writing less frequently but at greater length, and with the same thoughtful analysis.

This week’s essay, teased on the cover with the headline “Is America Dead,” takes off from the death of Andy Griffith and the American nostalgia about Griffith’s television show. But the subject is, as usual, a timely political one: our longing for a past that never existed, and the conviction of so many Americans that this country is superior to all others.

The belief in American exceptionalism is — dare I say it? —simply childish. We could ignore it, except that it is becoming a recurring theme in the presidential campaign, with Obama’s critics insisting that Obama is un-American because he doesn’t believe strongly enough in American exceptionalism.

Increasingly, Rich notes, politicians and analysts — including some moderates and progressives — are worrying that America is losing (or has lost) its greatness, and they look to periods like the heyday of Griffith’s show as an example of what we should try to reclaim.

Reclaim it? The Andy Griffith Show, like the other popular shows of its time, featured a white family living in an all-white town. That, Rich suggests, explains a lot about the exceptionalism infatuation.

As usual, it’s a thought-provoking piece, yet another topic worth discussing as the presidential election campaign heads toward fall.

Colorado's run on guns

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2012 at 9:16 AM

At this point, it’s well documented that mass shootings cause people to buy guns. This was pointed out in an Atlantic Wire article published yesterday.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, starting Friday morning — immediately following the tragedy in Aurora — Colorado saw increased gun-buying activity.

An article published Monday in the Denver Post used state background checks as a gauge of people’s interest in purchasing a gun:

“Between Friday and Sunday, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation approved background checks for 2,887 people who wanted to purchase a firearm — a 43 percent increase over the previous Friday through Sunday and a 39 percent jump over those same days on the first weekend of July,” the article said.

“The biggest spike was on Friday,” said the article, “when there were 1,216 checks, a 43 percent increase over the average number for the previous two Fridays.”

It appears that there’s at least some self-defense interest behind the run on guns. The Post article also says that firearms instructors are seeing “increased interest” from people who want to take the training needed to get a concealed-carry permit.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Gay marriage a year later

Posted By on Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 1:26 PM

Driving home yesterday evening, I was stopped at a light when two attractive young women crossed the street in front of me. They were probably in their early 20’s, and they were holding hands.

When they reached the other side of the street, the blonde leaned into her girlfriend and kissed her. It wasn’t a peck. It was amour, baby.

It took me a moment to remember the last time I held a guy’s hand in public, gay bars excluded. My Torontonian friend Jasper locked arms with me one morning while walking down Young Street. That doesn’t count. It was in Toronto, and who was going to mess with a 6-foot-seven-inch black man wearing a full-length lynx coat?

Years earlier, I was walking through Provincetown with David, my partner at the time. We had our arms around each other, and as we walked toward a restaurant, I began to make out the faces of my aunt, uncle, and three little cousins gawking at us from the window.

I suddenly stopped walking as if I had reached the edge of a cliff.

It will be a year ago this week that New York passed its landmark legislation making it legal for same-sex couples to marry. At the time, that seemed like a different kind of cliff.

None of the horrors predicted by opponents of gay marriage have come true. Opposite-sex couples continue to marry, and there have been no changes to their family bonds.

But gay couples are still growing accustomed to our new freedom. We still don’t benefit from many privileges that are available only to married opposite-sex couples.

And the new law didn’t automatically liberate gay couples. Some of us have been fortunate enough to never experience inhibitions about public intimacy; have no fears about witnesses to our expressions of affection.

But for some of us, the thought of kissing even our husbands and wives on Main Street remains unimaginable. We can have legally binding wills drawn up that convey our end-of-life desires, but the freedom to convey our desires in this life still comes in small increments.

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NEWS BLOG: Rochester district's website gets a new look

Posted By on Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 9:14 AM

The Rochester school district has an unenviable communications challenge

The Rochester school district has an unenviable communications challenge. School officials have a slew of audiences, many with different needs and interests. And the district's website hasn't been a particularly helpful communications tool.

But the website has been given a much needed makeover. The site isn't entirely new - many of the features are the same -but it's fresh, upbeat, and much easier to read and navigate. The site moves some of the district's more pressing concerns about programs and events to the center of the home page: registering your child for school or signing up for ParentConnectxp, for instance. The latter gives parents access to an online system that tracks students' daily performance.

School board and special meetings are clearly posted on the left side of the home page, with quick links on the right. Social media links are more prominently featured at the top of the page. And the site can be converted from English to a number of different languages.

But there are still some things about the site that are clumsy. It's not easy, for instance, to search for a board policy. And the site uses almost half the home page for a photo that has no caption and doesn't tell us anything. With so many schools, students, and teachers, there should be a new photo and something to report every day.

But a bigger missed opportunity is the absence of any commentary or discussion with Superintendent Bolgen Vargas or school board members. The site could be much more dynamic if school officials used it to talk to parents and students about important issues, such as attendance, summer reading, and new developments in education.

Local college leaders are doing a much better job at this. District officials, however, have been slow to use the website. Their correspondence is mainly behind the scenes with each other. A daily or weekly blog from the superintendent and a more interactive school board page might help to build something officials say they need: a more engaged community.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

NEWS BLOG: The guns in Aurora

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 12:28 PM

What would compel a 24-year-old to walk into a movie theater armed with four guns and open fire

What would compel a 24-year-old to walk into a movie theater armed with four guns and open fire? The suspect in that horror this morning is a college graduate student, so presumably he knew exactly what devastation he would create.

And devastation it was: 12 dead so far, dozens more wounded.

Reading and listening to the accounts from Aurora, Colorado, you just feel numb.

I'm seeing conflicting reports about what kind of guns the suspect had, but clearly we can reduce gun violence of all kinds by reducing gun availability. Just as clearly: unless guns are eradicated throughout the world, someone intent on owning a gun specifically to kill people will find a way to get a gun.

We can toss out plenty of questions as the investigation in Aurora proceeds. Did no one, for instance, see the suspect - wearing a gas mask and carrying four guns - entering this theater?

What happened in the life of this obviously troubled young man that resulted in this carnage? Were signs of trouble ignored?

And what about the increasing amount of violence in pop culture? Is it enough to say that most people are not affected by the movies they see, the games they play? Is the result an acceptance of the impact that fictitious violence has on a troubled mind?

"Mass killers are determined, deliberate and dead-set on murder," James Alan Fox, a NortheasternUniversity criminology professor, wrote on CNN.com earlier today. "They plan methodically to execute their victims, finding the means no matter what laws or other impediments the state attempts to place in their way. To them, the will to kill cannot be denied."

Right. But it's hard to argue that we shouldn't do all we can to reduce access to the means of mass murder.

"Mass murder," Fox writes "is regrettably one of the painful consequences of the freedoms we enjoy."


Is that statement one of simple realism? Or too quick an acceptance of a problem we can do something about?

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NEWS BLOG: Romney, release your darn tax records

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Mitt Romney and his Republican backers are trying to pass his tax-records shell games off as transparency. This is the same party whose members have been passing legislation requiring multiple forms of photo identification to vote, but don't want us to know the financial history of their candidate.

Romney has not broken any laws by refusing to release more of his tax records. And his filings may provide the country with a much-needed snooze.

But Romney isn't running for president of the local merchants association. He has been in an almost non-stop campaign to become president of the United States for several years. Not only should he have been prepared for this kind of scrutiny, he should have welcomed it.

Romney has tried to position himself as the candidate who can fix the economy, and he has the job creation experience to do it. Fine.

But he also wants us to take his word for it. We don't know whether his claims on the campaign trail are reflected in what he has reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

And he has argued that Obama is attacking him because he's rich, a case of class warfare, and an attack on successful business people. The guy who has been running around the country lambasting Obama for "apologizing" now wants a public apology.

The longer that Romney drags this out, the more he twists in the wind. And he is stoking the suspicion that many Americans have about people who are as rich as he is: that they don't play by the same rules as the rest of us, and that their wealth often comes from deals that hurt others.

Just release your dang taxes records, Mr. Romney. That would shut your critics down. And if your tax records are as clean as you claim they are, your campaign would gain something it sorely needs: credibility.

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