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A simple economic concept is back in fashion

     Bartering is an almost universal activity that harkens back to the pioneer days in this country, when trappers would trade beaver pelts for milk or moonshine.

     Perhaps the gold standard of bartering, in recent years, was the young man who turned a paper clip into a house in just 14 trades. (Visit http://oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com/ for details.)

     It's only getting easier to barter today because of the growth in Internet-based trading services and in formal barter exchanges that have popped up across the country.

     Craigslist and other Web sites make it less difficult for people to find potential trading partners and to find exactly what they're looking for.

     The barter section of the craigslist site in Buffalo is getting a decent amount of traffic.

     One woman, for example, was trying to trade design or marketing work for repairs to her sewing machine. She hadn't gotten a barter offer in response, but she has traded a coffee and end table for some steaks and chicken from a meat distributor.

     Many of these trades are on a one-for-one basis, but exchange networks offer companies the chance to trade excess inventory or services for needed supplies or specialized work.

     One of the largest, IMS Barter, is making a push into the Buffalo area after buying out a rival firm that had a presence in Western New York.     Experts say bartering should only grow in popularity as the economy sours because people will look to make a buck go further and trading is one way to do that.

     One thing to keep in mind, however, is that barter income does need to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

     Do you think bartering will ever become a mainstream economic activity? Have you ever bartered, or do you barter regularly? And what's the weirdest trade you've ever made?

     -- Stephen Watson

"Troopergate" still dogging Spitzer

Nearly two weeks after Eliot Spitzer resigned from office amid a tawdry, embarrassing call girl scandal, another controversy that was dogging the governor has yet to disappear.

Dubbed Troopergate, Spitzer was accused of using the State Police to spy on his arch-rival, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and his use of state aircraft to go to political events. The allegations over the smear campaign got even messier as Spitzer denied his involvement in the political plot against Bruno and one of Spitzer's aides testified otherwise.

The Albany County District Attorney and the state Attorney General have both said there's no need to pursue criminal charges against Spitzer since he's gone.

But some, Republicans and Democrats alike, say it shouldn't be swept under the rug.

What do you think? Has Spitzer paid enough of a price over his call girl scandal? Should investigations continue? Should he face criminal charges or have to pay civil fines if found guilty?

-Maki Becker

Is there a slot for Moxie Mania?

Play-O-Matic, an Atlanta amusement company, has picked Buffalo as headquarters for its pitch to bring Moxie Mania video games to New York State, showing the game to city officials and legal counsel for the State Liquor Authority The SLA would have to approve them before they go into bars and taverns.

The company won't describe the game, but officials in Ohio say it sounds an awful lot like Tic Tac Fruit. That's the Play-O-Matic electronic game that flourished in Ohio for three years before the legislature and governor outlawed them as slot machines.

Moxie Mania is no slot machine, Play-O-Matic officials say. But then, they said Tic Tac Fruit was not one either. And the pay off for Tic Tac Fruit, by the way, was less than Las Vegas slot machines.

Whether it's a game of skill, as the company contends, or a game of chance, as Ohio argued, does it make any difference? Should they be allowed in bars? 

   - Michael Beebe

Why can't Eliot Spitzer be prosecuted in Troopergate

   

   ALBANY … Former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer was directly involved in a campaign to smear his chief political rival last year, the Albany County district attorney revealed Friday in a 20-page report that directly contradicts Spitzer's past claims about the scandal.

   Calling Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno a "piece of .‚.‚.," Spitzer ordered his aides to release records about his use of state helicopters to an Albany newspaper shortly after the 2007 legislative session ended last June … and after several high-profile policy priorities of the governor were rejected by Bruno.

   Details about Spitzer were revealed in testimony before District Attorney David Soares by Darren Dopp, who served as the recently resigned governor's communications adviser and was one of his closest aides over the past decade.

   But the report concludes Spitzer broke no laws.

   "To the extent that there may be "misconduct, non-feasance or neglect,' considering the recent, unforeseeable resignation of [Spitzer] and other senior aides, the DA does not have a statutory vehicle to address this matter," the report concludes.
   … Tom Precious

'They totally let us down'

   Feeling angry and betrayed, the parents of the kindergartner allegedly fondled by a teacher's aide at Discovery School 67 are speaking out.

   In an interview with The Buffalo News, the couple said the case was badly mishandled  from the start. Police were not notified until nearly four months after the incident, and neither were they.

   The parents said School 67 Principal Carmela Botticello acted indecisively when the alleged incident was reported to her by a teacher last November.

   They question whether Joy Trotter, fired as human resources director for mishandling the district investigation, actually conducted any investigation at all.

   And the parents describe as "a farce" Superintendent James A. Williams' claim that he signed for a certified letter from the boy's teacher last November, but passed it on unopened to an office worker to read and distribute to the appropriate department head. The letter detailed the alleged abuse.

   Only the persistence and courage of the boy's teacher ultimately brought the case to light, the parents said.

   "I'm absolutely disgusted," the mother said. "They totally let us down."
 

   -- Peter Simon

   

Doing business where the people are

   Is anyone surprised that drug dealers are thriving in the suburbs?

   It certainly wasn't news to police - who rounded up 36 people on a variety of possession and distribution charges Thursday. Nor was it shocking to those suburbanites who have patronized drug dealers - albeit in a more subtle way.

   What appears different in this case is how a suburban plaza parking lot has replaced the inner-city street corner as the place to score.

   --- Janice L. Habuda

Casinos roll the dice on glitzy amenities

     Casinos are racing to build luxury hotels, shopping malls and gourmet restaurants, and Indian-run asinos are chasing the same trend.

     Fine wines, steaks, massages and mud wraps are among the luxury accommodations either planned or available at the three casinos run by the Seneca Gaming Corp. in Western New York.

     But gambling revenue in Indian-run casinos in New York far outpaces money made on non-gambling amenities.
     Casinos in New York today look like Las Vegas before a 1990s evolution changed the strip.

     The proliferation of legalized gambling across the country Ñ from the growth of Native American casinos to the addition of slot machines at many race tracks Ñ has forced Las Vegas to change. Hotels, restaurants and attractions in Las Vegas have taken on their own prominence as a race to build giant resorts has transformed the industry there.

     Non-gambling revenue outpaced gambling revenue on the Las Vegas strip for the first time in 1999, said David G. Schwartz, author of "Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling."

     "The rooms and the restaurants are profit centers now," he said. "It used to be that they were loss leaders, where you would give away the food, give away the rooms, the expectation that you would make it up on the gaming."

     Schwartz pinpoints the beginning of the evolution in the Las Vegas casino to the opening of the Mirage in 1989. The casino boasted a range of amenities that included a rain forest and white tiger habitat.

     "This is the hook. This is the thing that gets them in the door. Nobody's going to come here just to play slot machines," Schwartz said. "That kind of opened the floodgates for, 'We've got to rethink the casino.' They figured out that there are people out there that will come to Vegas just for the food, the hotels and the rooms."
     What do you think Seneca Gaming casinos will look like five, 10 or 15 years in the future? What do you think of the amenities offered or planned for the casinos in Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo?

     -- Denise Jewell Gee

National Air Cargo faces new scrutiny

   A federal judge made it official Wednesday when he accepted National Air Cargo's guilty plea to a single felony and accepted $28 million in fines, restitution and payment to a whistleblower who first went to the government.

   Federal prosecutors did not charge Christopher J. Alf, the high-flying founder and sole owner of the Orchard Park freight forwarder, or any of his executives. But the government accused the company of changing delivery dates and delivering by truck when air travel was required.

   Now, however, National Air Cargo comes under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Defense. The sentencing sets in motion a Defense investigation into whether National Air Cargo can continue shipping war materiel to Iraq and Afghanistan and do other work for the government.

   Has National Air Cargo learned its lesson? Or should it be debarred from doing any work for the government?

   --  Michael Beebe and Dan Herbeck

Hitting the depths in University Heights

   The brutal beating of Michael Bliss last  weekend has  many in University Heights talking about crime and violence.

   Other college students and young people have been attacked in the neighborhood as well, including several gunpoint muggings of students. In December, a young man from Rochester was killed outside a fraternity fundraiser being held in the basement of a Winspear Avenue apartment.

   Some in the community blame  heavy drinking at local bars and house parties. Others point to a lack of investment in the community by  young residents of the neighborhood.

   Is there a way to stem the tide of violent crime in University Heights? Is there something students should do to protect themselves? Or is Saturday's incident a terrible, but random,
crime that couldn't be prevented?

-- Maki Becker

High-profile realtor's unpaid tax bills

   It turns out that Matthew Quagliano, the Hunt real estate agent whose signs pepper North Buffalo, not only did not pay his state income taxes … he was indicted on two felonies last week in Albany for failing to pay $20,750 … he also failed to file his federal income taxes as well.

   A story in today's Buffalo News shows that Quagliano failed to pay federal taxes for all but one year from 1996 to 2005. He owes the Internal Revenue Service $365,946.

   Or he owed that until late last year, according to his attorney, who said Quagliano settled his IRS debt. The payment is not yet reflected at the Erie County Clerk's office.

   Quagliano is not commenting, on the advice of his two attorneys, Joel L. Daniels and Michael P. Joy. Both, when asked why he failed to pay his taxes, said he was very busy, that he works long hours.

   Is that an excuse for not paying taxes?

   -- Michael Beebe

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