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One father's view on a soldier who quit

  The Canadian House of Commons may soon take action on whether to let U.S. war deserters continue to stay in that country.

   There are a couple hundred Iraq War deserters, unlike the thousands who fled to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.

   These volunteer members of the American military say they deserted mainly because they do not agree with the Bush administration's reasons for going to war.

   So, whether you agree or disagree, we know why they fled north of the border.

   But what must their family members think about their actions?

  James Hart of Buffalo, the father of Patrick Hart, a resister from city's Riverside neighborhood, offers thoughtful, provocative and highly opininated insights to the issue.

   The temptation for some readers, no doubt, will be to write off Patrick Hart as a criminal who lacked courage to live up to the oath he took to defend thehis country. But keep in mind he served a year in Kuwait and could have been sent to Iraq at any point.

Here are James Hart's answers to our questions.

Many, many more Amherst trees will be felled

   With recent attention riveted on one neighborhood fighting to keep its storm-damaged trees, the fact is, the Town of Amherst has thousands more trees on its hit list.

   The Snyder neighborhood feels the pain of losing some of the biggest and oldest trees, but it isn't the only community in the town with trees that arborists have identified as liability hazards following the October 2006 snowstorm.

   What many residents want now is some assurance that their lost trees will be replaced.

   "We love the neighborhood and will miss the trees," said  Burroughs Drive resident Tim Carlo. "What is lacking is a strategic initiative for reforestation. I have yet to see one town official talk about how they will improve the tree situation. That is the true issue."

   A reforestation plan takes money that the town has yet to set aside, said Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson. So residents can expect to see some empty spots for some time.

  -- Sandra Tan

Combat vet has mixed feelings about new allies

  Disabled Army combat veteran James Raymond's case against a mobilization order to send him to Iraq is now a national story and details of it  are circulating the blogosphere.

   Raymond, a 26-year-old University at Buffalo student, says he is honored that the Western New York congressional delegation has taken up his cause to try and block the activation order.

   He does not believe he could adequately serve in a war zone, since his Afghanistan tour of duty left him nearly deaf in his left ear and with a bum knee.

   With the media attention, Raymond says he is not so thrilled over his cause being co-opted by liberal, antiwar factions, who are publicizing his case on their Internet sites and making him out to be against the war.

   Raymond says he remains patriotic and would return to active duty if he thought he would not be a liability to fellow troops and himself.

-- Lou Michel

A cautionary tale about hiring a home builder

   Ellen Tucker, executive director of the Better Business Bureau serving upstate, says people spend more time test-driving new cars than they typically spend checking out a home contractor or home builder with whom they might spend tens of thousands of dollars.

   And it's a tough business with lots of good, and lots of bad, contractors, she says.

   Others familiar with the industry say home owners must be careful not to extend money before the work is done. Let the contractor do the work, then pay him or her.

   Today's story is a cautionary tale. Home builder Steven Wisniewski was able to get lots of money from his victims before doing the work. And the story also shows that county and state prosecutors are not standing by waiting to pounce on dishonest contractors.

   Anthony Adamo and Brian Pacillo thought they did the right thing. They blew the whistle on Wisniewski to protect others.

   Then, nothing happened.

   What are your thoughts about the situation we described?

   --Matthew Spina

Bush seeks common ground with the pope

   WASHINGTON -- The pope and president did not mention the Iraq War during the enthusiastic
birthday welcome Bush gave Benedict XVI in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday. Instead,
the president reached for common ground in his denunciation of "the dictatorship of relativism" and his respect for human life.

   Bush referred to the "dictatorship" in his welcoming remarks. It is a favorite phrase of the pope's, meaning a cultural tendency to deny natural law, and reject rules about good and evil.

   The crowd of 9,000 invitees -- one of the largest ever brought on to the White House grounds -- applauded spontaneously when Bush said:

   "In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred and that each of us is willed, each of us is loved. And your message that each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary."

   As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope in 2003 was strongly opposed to the Iraq War, and remains so now that the conflict has entered its sixth year.

   Benedict and Bush may have discussed their differences during a 45-minute private talk in the oval office.

   A statement issued by the White House later said only that they shared "their common concern for the situation in Iraq and particularly the precarious state of Christian communities there and elsewhere in the region. The Holy Father and the president expressed hope for an end to violence and for a prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises which afflict the region."

    Invitations to the reception were among the most sought-after cards in town among conservatives and Catholics. The Rose Garden event and the pope's speech at the United Nations on Friday are the only purely secular events during his American visit.

   So Benedict stayed with generalities about moral discipline in his speech here.

   "Freedom is not only a gift," the pope said, "but also a summons to personal responsibility
... The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline,
sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate.

    "Freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must
constantly be won over for the cause of good. Few have understood this as clearly as the late
Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in
his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again,
that "in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation," and a democracy without values
can lose its very soul.

   "Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed
in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent "indispensable supports' of
political prosperity."

  --Douglas Turner

Remorse for abuse scandal comes as a surprise

   WASHINGTON -- For Catholics in the nation's capital, Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States is cause for celebration.

   But for Benedict, it seems, it's cause for contrition.

   "I am deeply ashamed, and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future," the pope said regarding the clergy abuse scandal in response to questions from reporters on his plane.

   Not long after that, Shepherd One landed at Andrews Air Force Base, and a crowd of cheering Catholics greeted the pope on his first visit to the U.S. as pontiff.

   The contrast was a jarring one, detailed in our story in Wednesday's Buffalo News.

   And it came as a surprise to me.

   I spent a good part of the day talking to Catholics who were preparing for the pope's visit. They all spoke with reverence about the pope and the church -- and not once did any of them bring up the scandal that was so obviously on the pope's mind.

-- Jerry Zremski

Truth teller or Buffalo basher?

Last fall, Harvard University economics professor Edward L. Glaeser created
a buzz when he wrote an article about Buffalo's decline for the urban policy
magazine City Journal. Titled "Can Buffalo Ever Come Back? Probably not - and
goverment should stop bribing people to stay there," the article traces the city's
rise, fall, and attempts at resurgence.
     The article urges the city to stop "wasting yet more effort and resources on
the foolish project of restoring the City of Light's past glory."
     Its first publication, and a subsequent one in The New York Sun newspaper,
sparked a lively Internet debate. Many charged Glaeser with arrogance. Some said
he misunderstood Buffalo's efforts completely. A few supported his descriptions of
and suggestions for Buffalo, while still others said his findings were old news.
     What's your take?

--Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Faceoff in Snyder has gnarled roots

   The tree-cutting faceoff on Burroughs Drive in Snyder is a small window into the strong emotions many residents have felt to some degree in Western New York neighborhoods hard-hit by the 2006 October storm. In this case, Amherst residents were so upset about their 80-year-old silver maple trees being cut down that  county officials felt tree-cutting crews needed sheriff's deputies to protect them.

   Some residents resigned themselves early on to the felling of storm-damaged trees that had managed to survive for generations, recognizing the danger that such huge, wounded trees can pose to property, vehicles and pedestrians. But others held on to  hope, fighting to preserve what is left of the trees' beauty and history even after tree doctors  pronounced them unsavable in the long run. As long as green leaves bud and bloom, as long as evidence of life exists, hope lives.

   Amherst town leaders find their sympathies for the residents warring with the need to protect the town against future liabilities, and the reality that if they wait too long to cut down trees that are dying, the town won't get reimbursed for the tree-felling expense from FEMA. The dilemma promises to drag on.

   --- Sandra Tan

Johns on the spot

   Police and law-enforcement agents raided four area massage parlors late last year. The operators are charged with forcing illegal immigrants to perform sex acts for customers at the businesses.

   But even though police know the identities of many of the customers of the massage parlors, only one has been charged with a crime in the case. And that's only because - as he later admitted to police - he took women outside New York State to work as prostitutes.

   Police in general don't make a lot of arrests for prostitution-related crimes.  It's rarer still for officers to arrest the customers of prostitutes. Data show that police in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Erie County and across New York are far more likely to arrest the escorts and prostitutes themselves than their johns.

   Some advocates say there's a gender bias at play here.

   But even police officials admit that they can't effectively address the problem of prostitution without going after the johns whose demand drives the industry.

   Members of the largely defunct Buffalo Prostitution Task Force say they'd like to see more enforcement efforts using undercover female detectives to target johns. And they'd like to restart the "John Schools" that offered an educational alternative to jail for men arrested for patronizing a prostitute.

   I'd like to hear what you think. Some people say if the laws are going to be enforced, they should be enforced equally between prostitute and john.

   Still others point to the example of Sweden, which recently made it a crime to buy sex but not to sell it.

   And finally a number of people say prostitution is a consensual crime between two adults that shouldn't be prosecuted at all.

   --- Stephen T. Watson

   

The economy takes center stage in Pennsylvania

   PITTSBURGH - It's the economy, stupid.

   And that means you, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

   That was the message plenty of factory workers - and Pennsylvania voters - brought to the downtown convention center here Monday, where Clinton and Obama continued their battle over the Illinois senator's comments that small-town voters are "bitter" and "cling" to religion or guns out of economic frustration.

   Out of 25 voters I interviewed at the event, only two thought Obama's comments were a major issue. Yet every single voter expressed grave doubts about the American economy as it enters a recession after years of factory closings.

   A plurality of the voters I talked to supported Clinton, saying she has the more detailed plan for boosting the economy and the proven toughness to get it enacted.

   As for Obama, many of those voters said they liked him - and would like him better once he actually had a track record of accomplishment on the federal level.

   So that's what the debate was about in Pittsburgh on Monday. It was enough to make me wonder: Why did all the TV shout show pundits spend the weekend shouting about Obama's comments - and did of any of them talk to any Pennsylvania voters before they started shouting?

  --- Jerry Zremski

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