The Buffalo News - Viewpoint Latest stories from The Buffalo News en-us Sat, 12 Jul 2014 06:08:23 -0400 Sat, 12 Jul 2014 06:08:23 -0400 <![CDATA[ Keep the Bills in Buffalo by tying stadium deal to economic development ]]>
They’ll need a big table. The Bills’ new owner will likely have to come up with at least $1 billion. The average NFL team is worth $1.17 billion, according to a 2013 Forbes analysis. The magazine valued the Bills at $870 million, 30th out of 32 NFL teams. (The Dallas Cowboys topped the list with a value of $2.3 billion.)

The family of Bills founder Ralph Wilson, who passed away in March, hopes to strike a deal with a new owner by mid-summer.

Among those reportedly interested in buying the Bills are Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, billionaire businessman and former Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano, real estate mogul Donald Trump and rock star Jon Bon Jovi, who is working with Toronto sports magnate Larry Tannenbaum.

Once a deal is struck and the NFL approves, the new owner will have to deal with the expensive – and politically sensitive – issue of a new stadium.

Ralph Wilson Stadium, which opened in 1973, is currently undergoing a $130 million renovation, $90 million of which is coming from New York State. But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants more. He told ESPN that without a new stadium, the Bills might leave.

Buffalo may want to borrow Indianapolis’ playbook for building Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in August 2008. In preparing to build a new home for the Indianapolis Colts, city planners focused on a downtown stadium construction model designed to complement Indianapolis’ economic development agenda, which included making the city a national sports mecca.

Construction costs were about $720 million, with the bulk of the money coming from the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis; the Colts kicked in $100 million. Lucas Oil, owned by Indiana native Forrest Lucas, purchased the naming rights in 2006 for $121 million over 20 years.

The stadium features expandable seating capacity and a retractable roof that allows games to be played in all weather conditions, two major factors in attracting mega-events such as the Super Bowl and the tourism dollars that come with the tens of thousands of people traveling to them.

Indianapolis has already hosted the NCAA Men’s Basketball Regional Finals (2009, 2013, 2014), the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four (2010) and Super Bowl XLVI (2012). The Big 10 Conference college football championship game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium through 2021, the NCAA Men’s Final Four returns next year and the Women’s NCAA Final Four will be there the year after.

If Buffalo goes the new stadium route, the facility must have a roof that will enable it to operate year-round and attract similar events. That will allow the city and the state, which is pumping $1 billion into the Western New York region to attract businesses and create jobs, to maximize the return on any stadium investment.

A new stadium would create thousands of construction and permanent jobs in and around Buffalo. The team’s new owner will have to work closely with city officials and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to find a way to pay for either option without saddling Western New York with more debt. On this front, the state has some negotiating room.

According to the consulting firm Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, several NFL teams have covered at least 63 percent of the total cost of building a new stadium, including the New England Patriots (Gillette Stadium), Detroit Lions (Ford Field), Philadelphia Eagles (Lincoln Field) and Dallas Cowboys (AT&T Stadium).

The Buffalo Bills have a long, proud history and a fan base that has remained loyal through the years. The next owner should understand the unique character of the city and commit to creating a sports infrastructure – team and stadium – that supports regional economic development and returns the Bills and Buffalo to their glory days.

Anthony M. Figliola is an economic-development specialist. He is vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a government relations firm based in Uniondale. ]]>
Sun, 6 Jul 2014 00:15:33 -0400 By Anthony M. Figliola


<![CDATA[ Classroom is becoming a pressure cooker: 21st century educators face daily challenges ]]>
At one time or another, all have been accused of being the problem in the way we educate the young, and judging by the actions and reactions of today’s educators, one is hard pressed to believe that there is anyone who really knows what the 21st century purposes of education are or should be.

No doubt there are things that educators can do better to cater to the demands of society, but if we want to cast blame for our educational failures, then we must cast a much wider net. We must think not only of the problems within the schools, but of the society in which those schools must function: a society consisting of governments, business corporations, social organizations, religious institutions and even our institutions of higher education.

Too often we forget that what happens in communities and their schools is the result of what happens in society in general and in those major corporations in particular. Thus, when schools fail, it’s because society has failed them.

When we speak of the problems that we are having in education, it is educators (to include parents, teachers and school boards) who are the most challenged and pressured, not only within their communities and the states in which they reside, but also by the historical legacy that speaks to what we once were as a nation. That legacy includes children who had the advantage of living and working in safe environments, who had tools in the form of parents and teachers working together and society in support thereof. And even though equality of opportunity was still a major problem, the spate of opportunities that did exist is to be commended.

Today, however, it’s different. Along with shrinking opportunities and high educational cost, teachers and parents have become adversaries while school boards have become objects of ridicule. All parties appear to have been divorced from a society expressly indifferent and one that has become expert in the art of separation, contestation and wealth accumulation. To what degree do we profit when such wealth and unhealthy competition guide every economic principle by which we live and the educational principles by which we teach? Smart students would also like to know.

Today’s educators face challenges daily and they come from many parts of society – governments: No Child Left Behind, Race to The Top, the Common Core; universities: “fill those seats, no matter the cost”; employers: “send us your best, discard the rest.” It is understood that whatever employers want, they get; and as handmaidens we will all work to meet those demands.

But educators have their own internecine struggles as well: teachers to parents, parents to school boards and the school board within. What are the results of these pressures? Ask any teacher who has been caught changing test scores or lying about grade point averages, all for the sake of saving his or her job or the sovereignty of the school, or the 68 Harvard students who were expelled for cheating on a take-home exam, or the many grade-school children who are compelled to do two to three hours of homework every night. How much time is being wasted, along with student interests, in having to prepare for yet another test – and to what avail?

Equally as daunting and no less punitive is the educator’s reification of the American Dream, the nation’s mantra and determiner of all our successes and failures. Teachers, especially, are faced with the never-ending challenge that the money parents spend is going to be worthwhile and will give them a good return on their investment. Teachers are faced with parents who want their children bright, able to compete and, in the end, able to define success as the enjoyment of good contacts, good contracts and a good living. In other words, they want miracles. Meanwhile, the children are watching.

Pressure, then, is the culprit, and any that is exerted at the top must invariably find its way to the most vulnerable at the bottom – the children, fodder in our social, political and economic wars. We used them in the 1960s as child soldiers to integrate segregated schools. We hope to use them today as guardians to maintain our status in world affairs: American success on the backs of children.

It is with little doubt that they are greatly influenced by the models they observe and the behaviors and principles exhibited by immature adults. And if money, for example, is the most important goal of education, then it will be equally so for the young. So what shall it be: schooling for economics (competition and money), or development of the individual child as a concerned human being and contributor to the health and welfare of society? To date, we have proven that it cannot be both.

Our children are being raised in an economic and social environment in which wealth and prestige are keys to perceived success and happiness, and where personal growth is only success when what the individual wants coincides with what society demands. Until there are changes in those demands and their objectives, schools will remain as they are – in turmoil.

If, as some have said, “it takes a village to raise a child,” then it must be equally true that it takes a nation to raise a community, and just as important will be the responsibility of the community and all its citizens to teach the nation the requirements of an environment that is healthy for all. That’s the educational process: every child, every home and every community is important.

One need not ponder the question of whether society has washed its hands of the problems of education; all one has to do is to calculate in degrees by how much. In the meantime, the children will always be watching.

Wes Carter, now retired, was an assistant dean at Canisius College and an adjunct faculty member and a career developer at the University at Buffalo. He lives in Clarence. ]]>
Wed, 2 Jul 2014 17:17:20 -0400 By Wes Carter

Special to The News

<![CDATA[ Simple mistake changes course of history: Wrong turn triggers assassination, launches First World War ]]>
Sunday, June 28, 1914, dawned bright and sunny. The rain had finally stopped, the early morning mist had cleared and by 9 a.m. it had already become quite hot. In short, a picture-perfect early summer day in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, an outpost province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Sometime between 9:30 and 10 a.m., a parade of six automobiles – then an uncommon sight in this remote Balkan region – departed the railway station for the town hall. Local officials – the mayor and the chief of police – were seated in the second car, followed, in the third, by the guest of honor. In the rear seat of the vehicle – a borrowed gray convertible touring car – sat Archduke Franz Ferdinand von Österreich-Este, heir to the throne of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary and, as such, the most important figure after Emperor Franz Josef himself, and Ferdinand’s wife, Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg.

Suitably attired for the occasion – he in the dress uniform of a cavalry general complete with a helmet topped with green peacock feathers and she resplendent in a white veiled hat and white silk gown, red and white fabric roses tucked into a red sash – the couple smiled and bowed their heads to the crowd.

Few police or soldiers had been detailed to provide security and the route of the motorcade had been widely published, a puzzling lapse given that it was to be expected that not all who lined the Appel Quay, Sarajevo’s only major thoroughfare, would greet the royal visitors with a welcoming wave.

Annexed by Austria-Hungary just a few years before in 1908, Bosnia was a turbulent borderland in a turbulent region. Most especially, Serbs in the province bristled under their new rulers, uncomfortable in the multiethnic, polyglot empire – 13 languages were officially recognized – in which they, as a minority, felt repressed. Radical nationalists looked to unite ethnic Serbs across the Balkans in an independent Slavic state and they were willing to use violence to do so. The state they looked to was Serbia, independent only since 1878, one among a number of new nation-states in southeastern Europe carved out of the moribund Ottoman Empire, and all of them itching to expand their borders. Two wars had been fought by and among them in the three years before 1914.

For members of the ominously titled Black Hand, a Serbia-based terrorist group, and its offshoot, Young Bosnia, Ferdinand’s visit offered an opportunity made to order. On this morning, seven young men, members of Young Bosnia, stationed themselves strategically along the route. All were armed with pistols and bombs and given a cyanide pill, which they were instructed to take should they succeed in carrying out their orders: to kill the archduke.

Where the road intersected one of several bridges that crossed the Miljacka River, one of the individuals, after politely asking a policeman which of the cars carried the archduke, knocked the cap off his grenade on a lamppost to detonate it and threw it wildly at the vehicle. It hit the folded-back hood of the convertible and rolled off, exploding a few seconds later against a wheel of the car behind it. Two of its occupants, both army officers, were seriously wounded and about a dozen spectators were hit by bomb splinters. The perpetrator duly swallowed his cyanide capsule and jumped into the river, but due to its depth – a mere 4 feet – he was easily apprehended. The pill failed to take effect, either too old or, the accounts vary, consisting of nothing more than a harmless water-based solution. All of the other conspirators lost their nerve and fled the scene – all save one.

Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old born in Bosnia and living in Serbia, burned with a desire to prove himself equal to his peers. Rejected by the Serbian army due to his small stature and weak constitution, he arrived in Sarajevo intending to prove his prowess by means of assassination.

Ferdinand kept to his schedule and attended a reception at the city hall. The mayor delivered his scripted speech and heaped praise on his royal guest. Unimpressed, the archduke complained vehemently about the less-than-warm welcome he had received. His itinerary then called for him to be driven through narrow, winding streets to the local museum. However, determined to visit those injured in the grenade explosion, Ferdinand asked to be taken to the hospital.

In view of what had happened, organizers felt it best to take an alternate route, thus avoiding the city center. They would drive straight along the Appel Quay directly to the hospital. Unfortunately, no one thought to inform the drivers of the motorcade of the change in plan. Ferdinand’s chauffeur duly turned off the Appel Quay into a side street, the planned route to the museum. Noticing that the altered route had not been taken, a military aide in the car berated the driver, who slowed the vehicle, braked and began to reverse out of the street. Then the engine stalled and the gears locked.

After the botched attempt of his co-conspirator, Princip had remained on the scene, lingering among the milling crowd. Now, by pure chance, he found himself not 5 feet away, either standing on the pavement or seated in a café – again, accounts vary. He seized the moment. Princip reached for a grenade in his pocket, but, hemmed in by the crowd, was unable to swing his arm free to toss it. So he pulled out his pistol – a 1910 9mm Browning Short automatic – and fired two shots at point-blank range, hitting the archduke’s jugular vein with one and the abdomen of the duchess with the other.

Confusion and chaos ensued. Princip swallowed his cyanide pill, only to vomit. He then turned the revolver on himself, but a bystander threw himself on the assassin’s arm. Others in the crowd, together with nearby police, jostled each other in trying to get at the perpetrator. Using the handle of his pistol, Princip struck at the mob, who began to beat him until police were able to wrestle him away.

Galvanized into action, the limousine driver sped away across the Latin Bridge in a dash to the governor’s residence. “In heaven’s name, what has happened to you?” exclaimed Sophie in the flash of time that followed the gunfire, perhaps unaware she had also been shot. Then, mortally wounded, she slid off the seat and lay on the floor. Ferdinand frantically called out: “Sophie dear! Sophie dear! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!” With blood spurting from his throat, in an increasingly weak voice he repeatedly said, “it is nothing” to an aide who anxiously inquired about his condition. Both were carried into the palace. Sophie had already expired; her husband died about 10 minutes later. A few green feathers from the imperial helmet lay scattered on the floor of the car.

Belying the words of the archduke, we know with the hindsight of history, of course, that what had happened was anything but “nothing.” Although in the immediate aftermath of the assassinations, it appeared that way. Disliked among court circles in Vienna – from the emperor on down – Ferdinand and his equally unpopular wife were buried in a ceremony that lasted a mere 15 minutes. The rest of Europe and the world barely noticed – just another bloody act in the perennially troubled Balkans – and carried on enjoying what many would later remember as one of the most gloriously beautiful summers on record.

But because the killings gave Austria-Hungary a reason to put the blame on Serbia and to impose onerous demands on that country, and because Europe’s major powers were locked in a competing set of alliances, all of them engaged in building ever bigger stores of arms. What began as a localized incident served as the linchpin for a crisis that, within two months, would escalate into a continent-wide conflict. Later, with the entry of the United States and other countries, World War I became history’s first truly global conflagration.

The murder of the royal twosome on a long-ago Sunday highlights an enduring reality. Since history is the record of human experience, in history – as in life – expect the unexpected. You can never know what might trigger a major calamity in world affairs. Seemingly trifling errors in judgment, misperceptions or minor mistakes can lead to momentous consequences. Life is uncertain, and millions may be affected by an event of which they may not even have knowledge. We may not like it, but, in the end, nothing can be done to alter these facts because these things just simply happen. We can only say, like Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”: “It could have turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.”

It is not actions such as these but rather the reactions of those with the will and means to act that bring about the consequences. In this instance, a simple error was conjoined by a lucky accident – good or bad depending on the sentiments of the observer – to produce an outcome, indisputable by anyone’s reckoning, of monumental proportions. World War I happened to be an especially brutal, cruel conflict, one that was followed by revolutions, depressions and another world war of even greater magnitude.

Too young to be executed, Princip was sentenced to 20 years, the maximum the courts could give. Languishing in prison, he died there of tuberculosis in 1918. By then, an estimated 9 million young men across Europe had joined him in death, the result of a trivial mistake, a simple wrong turn.

Paul F. State is a writer on topics in travel, current events and history. His latest book, “A Brief History of France,” was published in 2010. ]]>
Sun, 22 Jun 2014 00:08:58 -0400 By Paul F. State


<![CDATA[ It affects the entire region: How to fix Buffalo’s schools ]]>
The health of the Buffalo schools isn’t just a city concern. The troubled city schools rob regional businesses of the trained labor they need to grow. It imposes costs on the whole area: assistance, incarceration, remedial education. It deprives retailers of the middle-class consumers they need to thrive. It robs the city – the heart of any metropolitan area – of families as they choose to raise their children in suburbs with better schools.

Most important is the crushing human cost. Buffalo is the fourth-poorest city in the United States. Education remains the best ticket out of poverty. Every year that the Buffalo schools flounder, the odds increase that another generation will lose.

Does it have to be that way?

Starting today and continuing the next few months, education reporters Sandra Tan, Deidre Williams and Tiffany Lankes and investigative reporter Mary Pasciak are traveling the country to write about urban school systems that have found answers. So much of journalism shines a spotlight on problems. Their stories will illuminate solutions: How can we fix Buffalo’s schools?

The four reporters have decades of experience. Tan has been at The News for 14 years and has reported about education here and in Virginia. Williams has been at The News for 15 years and covered Buffalo for a decade before moving to the education beat last year. Lankes, an Amherst native, covered education for more than decade in Florida and Rochester before joining The News last year. Pasciak, a Town of Tonawanda native, has been at The News for 16 years, half of that time covering education.

Leading the effort are Urban Affairs Editor Rod Watson and Deputy Managing Editor Stan Evans. You may know Watson from his column every Thursday on the front of the City & Region section, but he also edits a group of reporters writing about city issues. Evans is responsible for all of The News’ local news coverage. Both are News veterans.

In today’s installment, Lankes and photographer Robert Kirkham report about Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx, an all-male school for at-risk kids. Buffalo has one of the nation’s worst high school graduation rates for young black men. At Eagle Academy, nearly three-quarters of the young black men graduate.

Through the next few months, News reporters will take readers inside other urban schools that succeed. As you read the stories, join the conversation on

email: ]]>
Sat, 21 Jun 2014 11:23:53 -0400 Mike Connelly
<![CDATA[ Constitution requires prosecutors to pursue justice responsibly ]]>
As someone who has spent nearly 26 years as a prosecutor and having been the elected district attorney for Erie County since 2009, I have learned there are limits to the awesome power possessed by prosecutors.

Sadly and to my deep personal frustration, there are tragic episodes, often of profoundly devastating dimension, that my office, despite its power, remains unable to rectify. That is because prosecutors are empowered to contend with only a narrow scope of society’s ills, wrongs and tragedies. We come to realize that we may not use the power to prosecute for everything that offends, angers or saddens. Instead, we may use the power to prosecute only when we can prove someone committed a crime.

A “crime” is shorthand for a statutorily defined criminal offense. Criminal statutes are divided into elements of proof. Under New York law, a case can be prosecuted only when it is both legally sufficient (all of the statute’s required elements are satisfied) and factually sufficient (with credible evidence that’s admissible in court).

For example, when a statute, like driving while intoxicated, requires proof the defendant was driving and proof the defendant was intoxicated, the prosecution must prove both elements. Circumstantial evidence proving the suspect was driving accompanied by only suspicion that the suspect might have been intoxicated makes the case legally and factually insufficient and bars a prosecution.

Despicable behavior that offends us may be the basis for a legal action in a civil courtroom. One cannot, however, be criminally prosecuted in a criminal courtroom unless the district attorney can prove a crime was committed and can also prove the accused committed it.

On top of this, the prosecutor must act according to prescribed rules ensuring that the cherished rights of all citizens, including those suspected of committing crimes, are scrupulously honored. These rights include one’s right to remain silent, one’s right to an attorney, the presumption of innocence and the requirement that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. These rights are for our protection and are afforded to all, including the wicked and the cowardly.

A suspect’s refusal to be interrogated or wish to “lawyer up” might aggravate investigators and prosecutors, but that does not trump the need for solid proof and cannot form the basis of a just prosecution.

Deep suspicion or a strong opinion, especially when based upon speculation or fueled by contempt for the suspect, must not be confused with proof and cannot form the basis of a just prosecution.

Gut feeling, no matter how genuinely or passionately held, can never substitute for proof and cannot form the basis of a just prosecution.

Perhaps most importantly, a desire to extract a pound of flesh cannot serve as the basis for a just prosecution in a civilized society and an indictment cannot be premised upon a yearning to make someone run a gauntlet of public humiliation.

When I sign an indictment – and I sign lots of them – it is a solemn representation to the court and to the public that I can prove each and every element of each and every crime alleged in the indictment. My office rarely offers a plea bargain after a defendant is indicted. Indeed, the vast majority of our indicted cases result in a trial (and usually a conviction) or a plea of guilty to the highest count of the indictment, and not a plea to a lesser charge.

A prosecution based upon one’s outrage over a horrible tragedy or disdain for a suspect can lead even the most well-intentioned police officer, prosecutor or juror down a very dangerous path, including the prosecution of an innocent person. Our Founding Fathers, having learned the lessons of the Salem witch trials, preferred a system that occasionally let the guilty go free lest the innocent be wrongfully convicted, and not the other way around.

I am not advocating for a system that routinely permits the guilty to escape justice. Our Constitution and laws, however, require sufficient proof a crime was committed and sufficient proof the suspect committed it before she can be prosecuted. Adherence to a proof-based prosecution standard might sometimes make us feel frustration and anger, but it remains the best way to consistently achieve just convictions, prevent the injustice of wrongful convictions and safeguard the integrity of the criminal justice system.

Frank A. Sedita III is Erie County district attorney. ]]>
Thu, 19 Jun 2014 17:32:35 -0400 By Frank A. Sedita III

Special to The News

<![CDATA[ Juneteenth becomes a grand celebration of freedom ]]> Hallelujah, we’re free! Following shock and disbelief as news of their liberation was finally realized, shouts of rejoicing rang through the air. And so began Juneteenth, initially called Emancipation Day by the newly freed slaves.

It wasn’t until 1865, three years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, that slaves in Galveston, Texas, heard the news of their freedom. Reasons for the delay vary with each account, but one story speaks of a messenger murdered on his way to Texas with news of emancipation, while another declared that federal troops awaited a last cotton harvest before enforcing the proclamation.

When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army took command of the Military District of Texas on June 19, 1865, one of his first actions was to read General Orders No. 3, announcing the end of slavery to the citizens of the city. Following the initial rejoicing and jubilation, many set out in search of family members, journeyed to the North or moved to neighboring states. Others chose to remain on the plantations to work for wages. But lacking skills and education, the economics of freedom soon became clear because most owned only the clothing on their backs. They had been promised 40 acres and a mule, but this promise soon rang hollow.

Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865. Its purpose was to provide assistance to those left homeless by the Civil War, supervise affairs related to newly freed slaves in the Southern states and administer all lands abandoned by Confederates or confiscated from them during the war. Unfortunately, due to inadequate funds and personnel, the bureau was short-lived (1865 to 1872), but succeeded in building schools and hospitals while providing food, housing and medical care for former slaves and other displaced people.

Despite the hardships, former slaves wished to celebrate their freedom with a day of thanksgiving, prayer and rejoicing. Those activities set the stage for present-day gatherings and included parades, games for the children, food, music, dancing and gospel performances. There were prayers, speeches by ministers and local dignitaries, stories relating family history by former slaves and reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Because laws in many areas prohibited or limited fancy dressing by the slaves, getting dressed up was a major feature of the celebrations. The new clothes symbolized that the rags of slavery had been discarded. Karen Riles, history specialist at the Austin Public Library, relates an 1879 entry from the diary of Austin store owner George Brush: “Fine morning. This is Emancipation Day. The colored(s) are all dressed up. They march up the avenue going to the barbecue.”

The preparation of a special dish for the day was another hallmark of freedom. Meats had not been plentiful for the slaves, thus lamb, pork and beef now occupied a prominent place on the menu, often in the form of a succulent barbecue, washed down with strawberry soda pop.

Juneteenth celebrations spread and flourished throughout the country as blacks moved from the South, taking with them the traditions and holidays of their birth. Activities vary markedly with each site, although most have a parade, music, dancing and a barbecue, in addition to a variety of foods. However, concerns regarding education, health, self-improvement and political awareness have increasingly assumed greater roles as the festivals gained in popularity.

Pre-festival events have expanded considerably as various community groups bring educational, social and cultural programs to the celebration. If you haven’t yet attended the “Git On Da Bus” tour with the local griots, Tradition Keepers, you’ve missed a superb event.

President Marcus Brown reminds us that “the festival has succeeded due to a corps of energetic, community-minded volunteers. Without them, we’d be hard-pressed to continue to make this the third-largest Juneteenth celebration in the country.” And he notes, “While we celebrate with songs, prayer, food, dances, a parade and a diverse African marketplace, we must not forget that Juneteenth is a festival commemorating freedom, and that the fight for freedom is far from over.”

As we approach our emancipation day, let us be thankful that Juneteenth is alive, well and thriving; a living monument to the struggles of African-American people. It is an absolute given that “we shall overcome.”

Georgia Burnette is a retired nurse educator/administrator. She writes about African-Americans in Buffalo and Western New York. ]]>
Fri, 13 Jun 2014 09:38:08 -0400 By Georgia Burnette


<![CDATA[ Military intervention is needed to wipe out Boko Haram in Nigeria ]]>
The Mexican bandits had no interest in governing the village, or providing peace, order and justice. They only wanted to take: food and money, primarily.

If Calvera had to justify what he did to the villagers, he vaguely referred to an ongoing Mexican revolution and the need for his gang to survive for the revolution to continue. Calvera thinks of himself as the father of the gang, who has to provide for his men. To him, the products of the village are his own crop to reap.

The Nigerian group Boko Haram operates a lot like Calvera’s gang of bandits. Members take from the peaceable people around them for the benefit of the gang, in the name of some higher purpose. In no instance is Boko Haram offering a government to the people it terrorizes, nor would it be competent to run a civil government with law, order and justice should it attempt to do so.

Boko Haram is in the news of late because it abducted 276 Nigerian schoolgirls and is in the process of selling them off as wives to Muslim tribesmen, or holding them for ransom. Perhaps some of the girls were married off to gang members. The strategic end served by the abduction of these girls was the prosperity of the gang.

A lot has been made recently of the connection between Boko Haram and other terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida. The ostensible political aim of Boko Haram is the imposition of an Islamic Caliphate in Nigeria, the imposition of Sharia law and the elimination of Western education from that country. The group seems to share a common ideology with al-Qaida, which is linked further to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But the other thing Boko Haram has in common with al-Qaida is the need to survive. Both groups need money, and in addition to money, Boko Haram needs food, weapons and ammunition. Its men, who live in the African bush, need women. Consequently, a lot of criminal activity takes place in the name of religion. Without this criminal activity, Boko Haram could not survive. Its men would have to find sustenance elsewhere.

The imposition of the kind of rule advocated by Boko Haram is opposed even by other Muslims in Nigeria. And given that Nigeria is fairly evenly divided between Christian and Muslim, the likelihood of a happy and successful political regime in Nigeria of a kind advocated by Boko Haram is remote. The political program it advocates is not serious. Its alleged political aims have no place in a serious discussion of what to do about the gang.

The purpose of Boko Haram is to fulfill the psychopathic needs of its leadership. The men of the gang find gratification of their own personal wants and needs in the gang’s activities. Opportunities for murder, rape, adventure, a sense of belonging and purpose, as well as food and pay are positive motivators for gang membership and retention. What political program is advocated serves to quell any pangs of conscience that might arise in the course of violence.

Because of its strength and organization, the methods of normal law enforcement will not prevail against the gang. Stronger measures, the methods of war, are called for. This situation creates a problem for those addicted to positive law, because positive law was developed in and for the framework of civil peace, and positive law devotees are constitutionally unable to admit the boundaries of their doctrine.

Like what happened to Calvera and his men, Boko Haram needs to be hunted down and slain in a military operation. Its members are not protected by the laws of war. They are, and ought to be declared, outlaws in the purest sense of that term: the protection of the law does not apply to them.

What Magnificent Seven will undertake the operation?

Vincent J. Curtis is a freelance writer on military affairs who has corresponded for The Buffalo News from Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Afghanistan, where he was embedded with U.S. troops in 2010. ]]>
Thu, 5 Jun 2014 17:09:19 -0400 By Vincent J. Curtis


<![CDATA[ Nation’s expensive health care system will continue to leave patients behind ]]>
Obamacare was supposed to prevent this, but it can’t. Rather than reform health care, Obamacare merely expanded health insurance – a costly system that leaves patients behind and is largely responsible for spiraling costs.

Americans know this intuitively. Any mention of health insurance elicits moans and groans. This is the right response, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. He argued that there are good and bad ways for consumers to spend money. Unfortunately for us, health insurance uses the worst option.

Think back to your eighth-grade geometry class. You probably learned that the shortest path between two points is a straight line. You can apply this same logic to spending, where the cheapest option involves only two parties. In health care, the two parties that matter are you and your health care provider (your doctor, pharmacy, etc.). You spend the least money when you pay them directly.

Now consider how health insurance works. Your money exchanges hands multiple times before it reaches the provider. It first goes to a third party – either the insurance company or the government, such as in Medicare and Medicaid. From there, those entities negotiate compensation schedules with providers and facilities. Both of these steps add bureaucratic and administrative costs to health care’s price tag. And although insurers attempt to lock in reasonable prices on your behalf, they often come up short.

Why? Because they’re not spending their money – they’re spending yours. They thus have less of a financial incentive to get the best deal. Businesses and bureaucrats are no different than you and me; if you give them someone else’s money, they’re more likely to spend it foolishly.

The same problem affects you once you have health insurance. After you pay your premiums, insurance gives you the illusion that you’re spending someone else’s money. The health insurance trap thus comes full circle – both insurers and consumers make it more expensive.

At this point, you might want to abandon health insurance altogether, perhaps in favor of the “single payer” system – essentially Medicaid for everyone – favored by European countries. Liberal policymakers wanted exactly that in 2008 and 2009; public opposition caused them to choose Obamacare instead.

We’re lucky they failed. Single payer systems suffer from the exact same problems, and they add in a few more. In single payer, government is the sole provider of health insurance. It thus spends everyone’s money, whereas health insurance companies only spend their customers’ money. Yet the same perverse spending principles apply.

The government recognizes this, so it tries to stop consumers from spiking prices further. It restricts our access to health care through regulation. This leads to poorer quality (think of Medicaid), long waits (think of Europe or Canada) and rationing. Here in America, this is exactly what’s happening to the single payer Veterans Affairs system, where veterans are now dying.

This begs the question: If not Obamacare, what else? Reformers should start by giving consumers the freedom to make their own health care choices. We need to return health insurance to the role of taking care of unpredictable, catastrophic health care expenses, and leave the great majority of everyday health care decisions in the hands of consumers. We know this works. In the fields of cosmetic surgery, Lasik eye surgery, alternative medicine and dentistry, the absence – or minimal presence – of government regulation or health insurance has driven prices down and quality and service up.

Doctors can also refuse to take health insurance. More doctors and hospitals are choosing this path. One of my patients did this and saved $17,000 on a single procedure.

Lawmakers should encourage this kind of patient-focused innovation. Instead they gave us Obamacare, which wraps health care in red tape and forces everyone to purchase health insurance. Real reform shouldn’t leave us with a higher bill.

Jeffrey A. Singer, M.D., practices general surgery in Phoenix, Ariz., and is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. ]]>
Thu, 5 Jun 2014 17:09:15 -0400 By Jeffrey A. Singer, M.D.


<![CDATA[ Student debt crisis shows our approach is all wrong ]]>
But buried within Obama’s budget was a desperate cry for help. America’s student loan programs are in crisis: default rates are at record levels, red ink is flowing and the White House is trying frantically to stem the tide. The request to scale back certain loan-forgiveness programs may sound cold-hearted, but it’s a problem of the White House’s own making. More pointedly, it indicates how desperate the situation must be for Obama to recommend “cuts” to education funding.

Federal student lending was already on weak footing in 2011, when Obama decided to pour bureaucratic gasoline on an open fire. He loosened standards on an existing program, lowering the cap on student loan payments for government and nonprofit workers to just 10 percent of annual income. After 10 years, any remaining debts are wiped clean. For private-sector workers, loans are forgiven after 20 years.

To Obama’s apparent surprise, when you give away free money – or in this case, someone else’s money – people show up. Enrollment in the program exploded, increasing by 40 percent during the past six months alone. Today, 1.3 million people participate with a combined debt burden of more than $70 billion. Good luck getting that toothpaste back in the tube.

The broader numbers are even more startling. Total student debt quadrupled over the past decade and now approaches $1.1 trillion, with delinquencies nearing 12 percent – double the rate 10 years ago. Most ominously, while default rates on credit cards and mortgages have fallen well below their financial crisis highs, student loan defaults continue to soar.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution estimates that annual budget costs for Obama’s new program will reach $14 billion. Within the prolific Stafford Loan Program, write-offs have exceeded government projections by 90 percent. Although Obama now wants to limit the amount of loan forgiveness per person, he undermines his own reform proposal by expanding coverage to any student with a loan from Uncle Sam, not just new loans. So much for restraint.

Beyond the costs to taxpayers, Brookings concluded that forgiving loans also creates incentives for colleges to raise tuition even higher. Since 1978, college costs have risen at a rate four times inflation; during the past decade they’ve even outpaced health care costs.

Actions speak even louder than words: During the past two years, several law schools have begun covering some debt payments for their graduates – that is, for the 10 years prior to them being written off. As the Wall Street Journal reported, one Georgetown University website boasted until recently that “borrowers might not pay a single penny on their loans – ever!”

Which is worse – the shameless predatory practices of schools like Georgetown, or the naivete of the White House? Yes, it would be nice if everyone borrowing from the federal government had noble motives and a pure heart, but that’s not the world in which we live. Combining foolishly loose standards with lax enforcement is a recipe for disaster.

Beyond the spiraling losses, allowing people to walk away from the cost of their education promotes a sense of entitlement and distorts the traditional value proposition for higher education. Instead of representing an opportunity with real costs and corresponding benefits, such as greater earnings potential, college becomes a right, granted without regard to the benefits of the underlying degree. Yes, education is of enormous value; but not all education is equally valuable. The government shouldn’t guarantee payment for degrees that simply aren’t worth the price.

The solution isn’t to ban student loans but, as Brookings recommends, to eliminate the loan forgiveness program altogether. Why should borrowing for college be treated differently than loans for homes, cars or health care? Allowing education loans to magically vanish after 10 years simply encourages consumers to shift borrowing from one activity to another. The smart play would be to pay off a car loan or mortgage, while maintaining the largest student loan possible – and leaving taxpayers on the hook.

In the midst of the last decade’s housing boom, easy financing helped drive prices ever higher. Policymakers responded to escalating prices with programs expanding subsidies and helping even more people to finance expensive homes. We know what happened next.

Today’s spiral of student loans, tuition increases and loan forgiveness looks eerily similar. Obama’s entitlement mentality only added fuel to the fire. His sudden call for restraint looks like too little, too late.

John E. Sununu, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, writes regularly for the Boston Globe. ]]>
Thu, 29 May 2014 17:30:53 -0400 John E. Sununu

Boston Globe

<![CDATA[ Frustration growing over campus rape ]]>
Such strictures, however, are long gone, and today my mother’s former school is convulsed by the initial failure of campus police to report the rape allegations of a student against three basketball players in March.

Campus rape certainly happened back when my mother was a student, but it was seldom talked about. Today, female students across the country are determined to bring it into the open and to hold schools responsible.

Many women have filed complaints against their universities for the mishandling of sexual assault cases. And American colleges are struggling to find the right approach to deal with the issue.

In April, the White House issued guidelines for how universities should handle reported assaults, and the Department of Education released a list of 55 schools, including four in New York State – Binghamton University, CUNY Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges – that are under investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints.

One reason colleges are struggling is that their disciplinary systems, typically consisting of panels of faculty, administrators and sometimes students, weren’t set up to deal with potentially criminal behavior.

For more than a century, higher education followed the doctrine of in loco parentis – Latin for “in the place of a parent” – as they attempted to enforce a Victorian code of conduct of the sort my mother knew.

The doctrine of in loco parentis was anchored in British and American common law, and under its principles, campuses were authoritarian enclaves in which faculty and administrators censored student behavior. That role began to buckle when university attempts to expel students for civil rights protests were rejected by the courts, and collapsed even further when the 26th Amendment granted 18-year-olds the right to vote. By the early 1970s, the weight of the sexual revolution and anti-war protests had combined to shift responsibility away from officials and onto the students themselves.

But the demise of in loco parentis left colleges in an uncertain and awkward position. If they now had little or no control over student conduct, what role should they play – if any – when students misbehaved? And what if students acted in ways that would be criminal in broader society? If a bar brawl off campus could result in an assault charge from local cops, what about a fight in the cafeteria? Drug use? Dealing?

The disciplinary systems of colleges, designed to deal with plagiarism and roommate spats, have proved utterly inadequate to deal with the more serious issue of sexual assault. Many women report feeling victimized a second time by their universities.

A female official at Columbia University asked student Emma Sulkowicz how the painful nonconsensual sex act she described enduring was “possible.”

Indeed, though the crimes at issue are considered among the most serious in the criminal code, the accusations are typically handled by campus administrators who are unlikely to have the sensitivity, forensic training or expertise required to investigate a possible sex crime.

“That’s what we’re forced into, and it’s absurd,” said David Lisak, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts at Boston who specializes in the forensics of non-stranger rape. “It wouldn’t be happening if we didn’t have a 1,000-year system of failure dealing with sexual assault.”

The shift from in loco parentis to benign neglect has gained particular scrutiny under the broadening applications of Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination on campuses. Rape and sexual assault were specifically cited in a 2001 Education Department legal manual about Title IX, said Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel at Victim Rights Law Center in Boston.

That followed the passage of the 1990 Clery Act, which requires universities to log crimes taking place in and around campuses. It also calls for sexual assault prevention and awareness programs for students and faculty.

But students and faculty are clearly growing frustrated with university responses. At Columbia last month, female students distributed a list of men they said were campus rapists. And Oregon psychology professor Jennifer Freyd wrote a letter saying campus police violated the Clery Act when they failed to log the March rape allegations.

Universities face an obvious conflict of interest as they try to handle accusations of sexual misconduct. Higher education is big business in the United States, and as Dartmouth University recently found, well-publicized cases of sexual assault can affect the bottom line. After the university received a high number of sexual assault complaints, its 2014 applications were down by 14 percent over 2013.

To be fair, the cases can be murky, often involving conflicting stories and large amounts of alcohol. Police and prosecutors are reluctant to take on cases in which the evidence is less than overwhelming. The prosecution of sex crimes has come a long way in the last 40 years, but the question is whether campuses will continue to lag behind.

One starting place would be to reduce binge drinking. Dozens of studies have found that brief interventions for risky drinkers can go a long way in preventing future benders. Some colleges, such as Colgate, have worked to employ them. Others are working to prevent sexual assaults. The University of New Hampshire teaches bystanders to intervene when partygoers become sexually aggressive by using such tactics as spilling drinks on potential predators or abruptly shutting off the music.

Such programs, and many others being developed, will allow colleges to focus on what they do best: educate students.

Gabrielle Glaser is the author, most recently, of “Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink and How They Can Regain Control.” ]]>
Thu, 29 May 2014 17:30:45 -0400 By Gabrielle Glaser

Los Angeles Times

<![CDATA[ Let’s remember Ben, but let’s not stop there ]]>
Many know of 5-year-old Ben Sauer’s cancer battle. Ben unfortunately died on May 13 from brain cancer. Even from afar, I know his life was way too short.

Ben’s battle brought out the best of Western New Yorkers’ spirit – including through the Blue4Ben and Blue Light for Ben campaigns. After news of his passing, thousands responded with prayers. Remembering Ben and praying for his family is important. But don’t stop there.

Dick Vitale isn’t stopping there. “Dickie V” created a cancer research grant in Lacey Holsworth’s name. Lacey was an 8-year-old girl from Michigan who died of brain cancer in April. Though most cannot do what he has, we all can – and must – do something.

Cancer researchers have found many of the major environmental factors that contribute to cancer, including smoking (lung cancer) and sunlight (skin cancer). Discovering more subtle cancer risks is harder. Yet many have concluded that evidence shows that our environment has a bigger role in cancer than previously thought. Consider this:

• President Richard M. Nixon declared the “war on cancer” in 1971. But childhood cancer has steadily increased since 1975. Cancers among teenagers and young adults are also more prevalent.

• Of the 80,000 synthetic chemicals now used, about 2 percent have been tested for having a carcinogen. Since 1976, five have been banned. So 98 percent have not even been tested. To state the obvious, you can’t regulate what you don’t test.

• A 2007 study by the American Cancer Society identified 216 chemicals known to cause breast cancer in animals: 73 are in food or things we buy, 35 are air pollutants and 29 are produced in large amounts annually.

• Our country’s main law governing chemical policy is the Toxic Substances Control Act. To say that it is flawed would be a compliment. The law’s hidden secret: It does not require a showing that a product is safe before being sold. That is nonsensical. So the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency often lack information about chemicals used in products, including foods.

• Since its 1976 enactment, the TSCA has not been significantly amended. Two bills – the Chemical Safety Improvement Act and the Safe Chemicals Act – were recently introduced to amend the TSCA to require industries to prove a chemical will not harm human health before it is used in a product.

We can’t all do what “Dickie V” did. But we can all push to change an ineffective chemical policy and help fight cancer at its core. Please encourage your representatives to amend the TSCA and monitor their votes. We owe it to Ben, Lacey, their families, ourselves and our kids.

Ronald D. Richards, a Western New York native who graduated from Lewiston-Porter High School and Fredonia State College, now practices law in Okemos, Mich. For his 40th birthday, he received a diagnosis of incurable brain cancer. ]]>
Thu, 22 May 2014 17:33:31 -0400 By Ronald D. Richards


<![CDATA[ ]]>
Buffalo’s curbside recycling rate increased when green totes were introduced in 2012, but leveled off last year at less than half the national average.

Year Rate

2011 6.6%

2012 10.2%

2013 10.8%

Note: Rate is based on paper, plastics and other

materials placed in recycling totes.

Source: City of Buffalo ]]>
Thu, 22 May 2014 17:33:27 -0400
<![CDATA[ ]]>
The national recycling rate for curbside collections is about 25 percent. Only one of the 10 largest cities and towns in Erie and Niagara counties approaches that average.

City or town Recycling rate

Amherst 24%

Clarence 17%

Hamburg 17%

Lancaster 16%

West Seneca 16%

Cheektowaga 13%

Town of Tonawanda 12%

Buffalo 10%

North Tonawanda 10%

Niagara Falls 4%

Note: Based on 2012 data. Rates are typically based on paper, plastics and other materials placed in recycling totes or bins. Criteria for materials counted toward the rate can vary among localities.

Source: Investigative Post research. ]]>
Thu, 22 May 2014 17:33:22 -0400
<![CDATA[ Buffalo has a long way to go to reach the national average ]]>
Recycling is an easier lift, but the city’s anemic program is plagued by fits and starts. City Hall took the major step of distributing green recycling totes to residents in late 2011. Last year, Mayor Byron W. Brown hired a full-time recycling coordinator.

But City Hall is otherwise batting 0 for 4 when it comes to building a successful program. As a result, the city’s curbside recycling rate has leveled off and remains less than half the national average.

How is City Hall coming up short? The City Charter does not require institutions and residents in one- and two-family houses to recycle, despite a state law that does. Nor does the city engage in key practices that have proven successful in boosting recycling rates elsewhere. There’s no education program, and money earmarked for that purpose is mostly unspent. Also, no effective financial incentives are offered to engage more residents. And the absence of a recycling mandate means no enforcement.

The curbside recycling rate – based primarily on paper, plastics and other materials residents place in the green totes – jumped from 6.6 percent to 10.2 percent the first year totes were used. The rate inched up last year to 10.8 percent.

That places Buffalo’s curbside recycling rate at less than half the estimated national average of 25 percent. Brown discusses a different set of numbers in proclaiming the city’s recycling rate more than doubled to 20 percent in two years.

“If you look at where we were in 2011 to where we are presently, we’ve made a lot of progress,” the mayor said.

But to show dramatic improvement, the administration last year started including materials not counted in the past, such as scrap metal that officials acknowledge is actually picked by scavengers. It’s also counting bottles and cans returned to stores for the 5-cent deposit, which state officials say should not be included in calculating recycling rates.

An investigative Post analysis found:

• Buffalo’s low recycling rate costs the city money. Trash collection services, mostly paid by the garbage user fee, lose $3 million a year. That deficit would be trimmed by about a third if the city recycled at a rate near the national average.

• The mayor and Common Council have failed to amend the City Charter to bring it in line with state law that requires all residences, businesses and institutions to recycle.

• The city has not reissued a request for proposals for a marketing and education program that Brown said was forthcoming in November 2012. City government has $472,106 designated for education and other recycling activity, but the funds have gone mostly unspent.

• The school system lacks a districtwide recycling program, although more schools are using green totes. Most continue to recycle only paper and cardboard.

• The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, the city’s largest landlord, is a month behind rolling out its recycling program.

While Brown answered general questions at an unrelated press conference, two staffers who oversee the recycling program declined interview requests, as did press secretary Mike DeGeorge.

The city’s recycling rate has fluctuated since the program’s inception about 25 years ago. The rate peaked in the mid-1990s at 14 percent before bottoming out about a decade ago at 7 percent. The current rate of 10.8 percent referred to in this story represents the percentage of waste collected that consists of recyclable materials placed in green totes, as opposed to garbage placed in blue totes.

There is a financial as well as an environmental cost to not recycling. The city has to pay to dispose of garbage in landfills, but gets paid for recyclables.

The city’s Solid Waste Fund has been running a deficit for years, in part because the garbage user fee hasn’t been increased since 1996. Absent an increase, about the only way to reduce the deficit is to collect less trash and recycle more.

Increasing the curbside rate from 10.8 percent to the national average of 25 percent would save the city about $1.1 million, Investigative Post estimates.

That estimate is in line with a 2012 study that found the city saves $70,000 to $100,000 annually for every 1 percent increase in the recycling rate.

“Even if we were to tie the national [recycling] average, we would still have a deficit,” City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder said last year.

The mayor and Council have failed to correct flaws in the recycling law.

“Most people don’t even know it’s the law. They think it’s voluntary,” said Sam Magavern, the founder of the Buffalo Recycling Alliance and a law professor at University at Buffalo

While the city doesn’t offer any direct incentives to recycle, property owners can save $25 in their annual garbage user fee if they opt for the smallest of three blue garbage totes. That could encourage recycling, but it’s not marketed that way and there’s scant evidence it does.

Another problem is the administration’s resistance to enforce the local law.

“Right now there are fines on the books for failure to recycle but they’ve never been used,” Magavern said.

Brown isn’t keen on such a tactic.

“We have really tried to stay away from enforcement,” he said.

One reason for the slowed improvement in the curbside rate is the failure of the mayor to follow through on a commitment he made 18 months ago to solicit proposals for an expansive education and marketing campaign.

“It was not stalled at all, we are perfecting the document,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, the administration is making little use of money set aside for recycling education and promotion. Its contract with Republic-Allied Waste provides the city with rebates worth $104,000 a year to promote recycling. Some $472,000 sits idle in a city account. Among the spending this past year: $6,100 for recycling containers in City Hall and $7,800 for fliers and T-shirts.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo School District and Housing Authority do not have complete recycling programs.

In response to an Investigative Post report, the Housing Authority committed to launching a recycling program that was to start in March.

“We are a little behind schedule,” said Modesto Candelario, the authority’s assistant executive director.

Plans call for the distribution of recycling totes to all 30 housing projects, which are home to some 7,600 low-income families and senior citizens.

Schools do not have a comprehensive plan. Most only recycle paper and cardboard. That means cans, glass, and plastics get tossed in the garbage. Sixteen schools use green totes, while 42 use dumpsters serviced by private haulers.

Susan Eager, the district’s director of plant operations, did not respond to interview requests. ]]>
Thu, 22 May 2014 17:33:18 -0400 By Dan Telvock

Investigative Post

<![CDATA[ Wasteful ways ]]>
A scruffy man who regularly pulls the bottles and cans out of the trash behind Hyde Park Ice Pavilion said his motivation is simple: “M-O-N-E-Y.”

That lesson is lost on officials in most of the largest cities and towns in Niagara and Erie counties, where recycling programs are largely an afterthought, an Investigative Post analysis has found.

Most of the localities surveyed employ none of the policies and practices considered essential to successful recycling programs. What they do is provide residents with recycling totes or bins, circulate a leaflet once in a while and hope for the best.

Some don’t even collect data from private haulers that pick up residential trash and recyclables.

As a result, curbside recycling rates lag behind the national average in nine of the 10 local cities and towns surveyed. Precise rates are difficult to calculate because of incomplete data and different reporting criteria, but it appears the curbside recycling rate is about 25 percent nationally versus about 13 percent locally.


VIDEO: Recycling efforts in suburbs are subpar


The failure to recycle has economic and environmental consequences. Investigative Post calculated that the 10 cities and towns surveyed would collectively save almost $2.2 million a year if they recycled closer to the national average.

“I think teaching people that it’s going to save taxpayers money is going to really resonate,” said Sam Magavern, a law professor at the University at Buffalo and founder of the Buffalo Recycling Alliance.

To gauge the effectiveness of local programs, Investigative Post worked with UB law students and a researcher with the Recycling Alliance to calculate curbside recycling rates for 2012, review city and town laws for compliance with the state mandate and determine if programs incorporate best practices that have increased recycling rates elsewhere.

Amherst, with a curbside recycling rate of 24 percent and rising, is doing the best job.

“We have gone all in for recycling,” said Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein.

On the opposite end, Niagara Falls is the worst, with a recycling rate of 4 percent.

“We have recycling in the City of Niagara Falls, but our compliance rate is very poor,” said Mayor Paul Dyster.

Other underperforming municipalities are the cities of Buffalo and North Tonawanda and the towns of Cheektowaga, Tonawanda, Lancaster, Clarence, Hamburg and West Seneca.

Here are the key findings:

• Curbside recycling rates, or the ratio of materials placed in wheeled totes or bins compared to trash cans, were substantially below the national average in every locality surveyed except Amherst.

• Laws in Buffalo, West Seneca and Cheektowaga don’t conform with state law that mandates recycling for all residents, businesses and institutions.

• Amherst is the only municipality that employed any best practices. Most of the rest have failed to make a serious effort to educate the public, offer incentives or enforce their ordinances.

• Most cities and towns have started providing residents with wheeled recycling totes in recent years. Recycling rates typically increase when totes are introduced, but usually level off without constant promotion and education.

“I think we could be doing a lot better,” Magavern said.

Recycling is the law

In 1992, localities had to enact laws that mandate recycling for all residents, businesses and institutions. But the laws in Buffalo, West Seneca and Cheektowaga do not comply. Laws in the two towns mandate participation only for residents. Buffalo’s law fails to mandate recycling for one- and two-family homes and institutions such as hospitals and schools.


VIDEO: Buffalo’s recycling program still struggles


Cities and towns that employ best practices usually have better success and achieve recycling rates as high as 75 percent. Successful programs often start with aggressive education and promotional campaigns. That’s not the case here.

“When you look at the other cities that have full-on recycling programs, they are spending money on it. It’s a priority for them,” Magavern said.

Clarence Supervisor David Hartzell said he would like the three waste disposal companies that serve residents and businesses to boost their education efforts.

“I think the town would even chip in,” he said, “but that doesn’t seem to be something on their agenda. I think that is kind of sad.”

Still, the town’s curbside recycling rate is 17 percent, second to Amherst.

“This is not 1950,” Hartzell said. “There is simply no excuse for municipalities and individuals to not recycle.”

Experience elsewhere has shown that providing financial incentives – ranging from coupons at local businesses to reduced user fees for trash collection – and enforcement in the form of warnings or fines increase recycling rates. But few cities and towns here employ such strategies.

Amherst and West Seneca have warned households for not recycling. But there’s no evidence of fines or other penalties being imposed in any of the cities or towns.

“We have a kind approach,” said West Seneca Supervisor Sheila Meegan.

Amherst has tried an incentive in the form of coupons to local stores, but Weinstein said it “hasn’t been all that successful.”

Struggling programs

Bert Donahue, who lives in Niagara Falls’ LaSalle community, only has to look at the Niagara River behind his house for evidence of his city’s poor recycling program.

“If you go out in that river you’ll see the cups, the glass and the cans,” he said.

Niagara Falls hopes to boost recycling while reducing its garbage through a program the City Council approved last month with Modern Corp. The launch later this year includes wheeled totes, an education campaign and eventually enforcement. Dyster said the goal is to reduce garbage collections by 10 percent and increase the recycling rate to 20 percent. Doing so would save the city $550,000 annually.

“The plan is to go with a very, very heavy education effort and then to issue like an oops tag,” Dyster said.

Buffalo last year hired a recycling coordinator – the only locality of those surveyed that has a full-time employee assigned to the task. The rest assign the work to someone with other duties, often the highway superintendent or public works commissioner, who, in North Tonawanda, didn’t even know how to calculate his city’s recycling rate.

Regardless, Bradley Rowles said the city offers a “Cadillac” recycling program that includes electronics, hazardous waste and demolition collections – materials residents don’t place in recycling bins but that get picked up and diverted from a landfill.

Then there is Hamburg, which doesn’t even collect recycling data. Hamburg Supervisor Steven Walters did not respond to an interview request; neither did Lancaster Supervisor Dino Fudoli and Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz.

Different approaches

One way to boost recycling is by replacing small bins with wheeled totes. Most localities studied already have or are beginning to introduce totes. West Seneca, North Tonawanda and Cheektowaga are among the latest to do so. But they limited promotion and education to ads in newspapers and fliers.

Despite this, Meegan said: “I know we have increased the awareness and people are thrilled about these new totes.”

North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt said the city this past year banked $15,000 in recycling revenue and avoided $65,000 in dump fees. But only 30 percent of the households have the new totes.

“Our goal is to make it easier, to encourage recycling, a little public education,” he said, “but certainly there’s room for our program to grow and get better.”

The Town of Tonawanda still has the older laundry-basket sized recycling bins. William Swanson, the town’s highway superintendent, said the town needs $1.5 million to make the switch to totes, “but there’s just not enough money right now.”

While most cities and towns surveyed dump their garbage at landfills, the Town of Tonawanda sends most of its garbage to Covanta, a waste-to-energy plant in Niagara County. There’s debate whether burning trash to create electricity is more economical and better for the environment. “It’s making energy, isn’t it?” Swanson said.

Recycling saves money

Cities and towns have a financial incentive to promote recycling. The localities that manage their own recycling and trash collection or contract it out to a private firm pay to dump garbage at a landfill or an incinerator. They get paid for every ton of recyclables. Costs and revenue differ from place to place.

Investigative Post estimated the 10 cities and towns collectively miss out on about $2.2 million in savings and revenue annually by failing to recycle at the national average.

“The more you recycle and the less you throw out, the more money you save for the taxpayers,” Magavern said. “That is a really important message.” ]]>
Thu, 22 May 2014 17:33:13 -0400 By Dan Telvock

Investigative Post

<![CDATA[ Police need proper training on First Amendment rights ]]>
What is particularly disappointing is that it continues to occur in my hometown.

While it might have been appropriate for the officers involved to ask those citizens to step back a few feet, if the officers reasonably believed they were too close, it was a clear violation of the photographer’s constitutional rights to be ordered to stop recording and delete his images under threat of arrest.

As stated in a decision by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, “A police officer is not a law unto himself; he cannot give an order that has no colorable legal basis and then arrest a person who defies it.” Threatening to do so is just as egregious.

Ever since 9/11, there has been a heightened awareness of anyone taking pictures or recording events in public. This issue has only been exacerbated by the widespread proliferation of cellphone cameras and the ability of anyone to post photos and recordings on the Internet. Many in law enforcement still have the erroneous belief that they can order people to stop taking pictures or recording in public.

Interference and, in some cases, arrests stemming from those actions have led to a number of court cases resulting in six-figure settlements, new policies and procedures and sometimes serious disciplinary actions against the officers involved.

In one such case that cost the City of Boston $172,000, the court stated: “A citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can be readily disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.’ ” And that is exactly what was happening in the two most recent incidents reported in the local media.

The U.S. Department of Justice has also taken note of these incidents and supports the position that the public and members of the media have a “coextensive” First Amendment right to record police officers performing their official duties in public.

The Department of Justice also stated: “The derogation of these rights erodes public confidence in our police departments, decreases the accountability of our governmental officers and conflicts with the liberties that the Constitution was designed to uphold.”

In another case that cost the taxpayers of Baltimore $250,000, the Department of Justice also said in no uncertain terms that “under the First Amendment, there are no circumstances under which the contents of a camera or recording device should be deleted or destroyed.”

In any free country, the balance between providing police protection with integrity and overzealous enforcement is delicate. It is one thing for officers to act when there is reasonable suspicion; it is quite another to abuse that discretion by chilling free speech and creating a climate of fear and distrust under the pretext of safety and security.

In a time of technology and terrorism, citizens and visual journalists throughout the world have risked and in some cases given their lives to provide visual proof of governmental activities. Sadly, what is viewed as heroic abroad is often considered as suspect at home.

It is therefore incumbent upon the Buffalo Police Department to do a much better job of providing proper guidelines and training for its officers regarding these rights. To that end, the National Press Photographers Association renews its offer of assistance, as we have to many other law enforcement agencies around the country, with the hope of avoiding similar situations.

Mickey H. Osterreicher is general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, counsel to the law firm of Hiscock & Barclay and a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. He has been a uniformed reserve deputy with the Erie County Sheriff’s Department since 1976 and was a photojournalist in print and broadcast news for almost 40 years. ]]>
Thu, 15 May 2014 16:38:41 -0400 By Mickey H. Osterreicher


<![CDATA[ The Polarized Court: Partisan divide damages justices’ prestige and Americans’ faith in law ]]>
That 5-4 split along partisan lines was by contemporary standards unremarkable. But by historical standards it was extraordinary. For the first time, the Supreme Court is closely divided along party lines.

The partisan polarization on the court reflects similarly deep divisions in Congress, the electorate and the elite circles in which the justices move.

The deep and often angry divisions among the justices are but a distilled version of the way American intellectuals – at think tanks and universities, in opinion journals and among the theorists and practitioners of law and politics – have separated into two groups with vanishingly little overlap or interaction. It is a recipe for dysfunction.

The perception that partisan politics has infected the court’s work may do lasting damage to its prestige and authority and to Americans’ faith in the rule of law.

“An undesirable consequence of the court’s partisan divide,” said Justin Driver, a law professor at the University of Texas, “is that it becomes increasingly difficult to contend with a straight face that constitutional law is not simply politics by other means, and that justices are not merely politicians clad in fine robes. If that perception becomes pervasive among today’s law students, who will become tomorrow’s judges, after all, it could assume a self-reinforcing quality.”

Presidents used to make nominations based on legal ability, to cater to religious or ethnic groups, to repay political favors or to reward friends. Even when ideology was their main concern, they often bet wrong.

Three changes have created a courthouse made up of red and blue chambers. Presidents care more about ideology than they once did. They have become better at finding nominees who reliably vote according to that ideology. And party affiliation is increasingly the best way to predict the views of everyone from justices to bank tellers.

It tells you more than gender, age, race or class, a 2012 Pew Research Center study found. And the gap between the parties is now larger than at any time in the survey’s 25-year history.

“Polarization is higher than at any time I’ve ever seen as a citizen or studied as a student of politics,” said Kay L. Schlozman, a political scientist at Boston College.

Supreme Court nominations were never immune from political considerations. But many factors used to play a role.

That is why Republican presidents routinely appointed justices who were or would turn out to be liberals. Among them were Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices William J. Brennan Jr. and Harry A. Blackmun.

But it has been almost 25 years since the last such appointment, of Justice David H. Souter in 1990. And it has been more than 50 years since a Democratic president last appointed a justice who often voted with the court’s conservatives: Justice Byron R. White, who was nominated by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

That timeline may suggest more ideological rigidity among Democratic presidents. But the number of opportunities played a role, too, as there have been twice as many Republican appointments since 1953. And Republican justices were until recently more apt than Democratic ones to drift away from the positions of the presidents who appointed them.

The new era arrived with the last retirement, in 2010. Justice John Paul Stevens, a liberal appointed by President Gerald R. Ford, a Republican, left the court. Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal appointed by President Obama, arrived.

Now, just as there is no Democratic senator who is more conservative than the most liberal Republican, there is no Democratic appointee on the Supreme Court who is more conservative than any Republican appointee. “It’s not coincidence,” said Lawrence Baum, a political scientist at Ohio State, “that the court is now divided along partisan lines in a way that hasn’t been true.”

The partisan split is likely to deepen, said Neal Devins, a law professor at William & Mary and an author, along with Baum, of a study examining, as its subtitle put it, “how party polarization turned the Supreme Court into a partisan court.”

Consider, Devins said, the eventual retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Republican appointee who sits at the court’s ideological center and joins the court’s four-member liberal wing about a third of the time when it divides along partisan lines.

“When Kennedy leaves,” Devins said, “it’s going to move the court a whole, whole lot to the left, if the president is a Democrat, or slightly to the right, if it’s a Republican.”

These days, candidates for the court are groomed for decades and subjected to intense vetting. They are often affiliated with the networks of conservative or liberal lawyers that have replaced more neutral groups like bar associations. And they are drawn more than ever from federal appeals courts, where their views can be closely scrutinized.

Confirmation battles have grown more partisan. With the exception of Justice Clarence Thomas, the five most senior members of the current court were confirmed easily, receiving an average of three negative votes. The four more recent nominees received an average of 33.

Once on the court, the justices surround themselves with like-minded law clerks, consume news reports that reinforce their views and appear before sympathetic audiences.

In their public statements, the justices reject the idea that their work is influenced by politics. They point out that their decisions were unanimous almost half the time in the term that ended in June, and that the roughly 30 percent of 5-4 decisions did not all feature the classic alignments of Kennedy joining either the court’s conservative wing or its liberal one.

But that was how most of the closely divided decisions came out. The conservatives won 10 times, including a decision striking down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act. The liberals won six times, including a ruling requiring the federal government to provide benefits to married same-sex couples.

There are notable exceptions, of course, starting with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s 2012 vote to uphold the heart of the Affordable Care Act.

But standard political science measurements of ideology, based on many thousands of votes, confirm the rise of a court divided on partisan lines.

The very question of partisan voting hardly arose until 1937, as dissents on the Supreme Court were infrequent. When the justices did divide, it was seldom along party lines.

There is room for interpretation in such assessments. But of the 71 cases from 1790 to 1937 deemed important by a standard reference work and in which there were at least two dissenting votes, only one broke by party affiliation.

“The dividing line in the court was not a party line,” Zechariah Chafee, a law professor at Harvard, wrote in a classic 1941 book.

Nonpartisan voting patterns held true until 2010, with a brief exception in the early 1940s, when a lone Republican appointee voted to the right of eight Democratic appointees. But the general trend was the same. Of the 311 cases listed as important from 1937 to 2010 with at least two dissents, only one of them, in 1985, even arguably broke along party lines.

That adds up to two cases in more than two centuries. By contrast, in just the last three terms, there were five major decisions that were closely divided along partisan lines: the ones on the Voting Rights Act, campaign finance, arbitration, immigration and strip-searches. In the current term, last month’s campaign finance ruling and this month’s decision on legislative prayer fit the pattern, too.

Many factors seem to contribute to partisan polarization on the court, including the people who work most closely with the justices.

Every year, the justices each hire four recent law students, mostly from a handful of elite law schools. They consider grades, recommendations and, in recent years, a political marker.

In the last nine terms, the court’s current Republican appointees hired clerks who had first served for appeals court judges appointed by Republicans at least 83 percent of the time. Thomas hired one clerk from a Democratic judge’s chambers, Scalia none.

The numbers on the other side are almost as striking. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Kagan hired from Democratic chambers more than two-thirds of the time. Justice Stephen G. Breyer is the exception: His hiring has long been about evenly divided.

When law clerks move on, their career paths seem subject to the gravitational pull of ideology. Clerks for justices appointed by Democrats work for Democratic administrations, law firm practices headed by former Democratic officials and law schools dominated by liberals. Clerks for Republican appointees often go in the opposite directions.

All of this is new, according to a detailed study in the Vanderbilt Law Review. “The Supreme Court clerkship appeared to be a nonpartisan institution from the 1940s into the 1980s,” it said.

Like the rest of the country, the justices increasingly rely on sources of information that reinforce their views.

“We just get the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times,” Scalia told New York magazine in September. He canceled his subscription to the Washington Post, he said, because it was “slanted and often nasty” and “shrilly liberal.” He said he did not read the New York Times, either.

“I get most of my news, probably, driving back and forth to work, on the radio,” he said. “Talk guys, usually.”

Before the political and social culture of Washington grew polarized, most of the justices moved in a mixed and often liberal milieu.

“The social atmosphere in Washington had a role in the leftward movement of some of the justices,” Baum said.

Those days are over, Scalia said. “When I was first in Washington, and even in my early years on this court, I used to go to a lot of dinner parties at which there were people from both sides,” he said. “Katharine Graham used to have dinner parties that really were quite representative of Washington. It doesn’t happen anymore.”

In a recent 10-year period, the justices made around 1,000 public appearances for which their expenses were reimbursed, which generally means they were outside Washington. They almost certainly made at least as many local appearances. But their audiences varied. Scalia, Thomas and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. have addressed the Federalist Society, a conservative group, while Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer spoke to the American Constitution Society, a liberal group. Sotomayor is a featured speaker at its national convention next month.

Kagan, appearing before the Federalist Society in 2005 when she was dean of the Harvard Law School, said she admired its work. But, she added, “you are not my people.”

Adam Liptak is the Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times. ]]>
Thu, 15 May 2014 16:38:17 -0400 By Adam Liptak

New York Times