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A shocking stat on African-American unemployment

   It's not a list that we should be proud of topping.

   Buffalo has the highest jobless rate for African-American men  among the nation's 35 largest cities, according to a study by Professor Marc V. Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

   A shocking 51.4 percent of black males in Buffalo are unemployed.

   Mayor Byron W. Brown said his administration has been trying to deal with the problem through the city's summer and winter youth programs.

   What other things can be done to increase the employment rate among African-American men?

Outlying communities left on wrong side of 'digital divide'

   Remember the annoying sound that dial-up Internet makes, that seemingly random and disturbing series of beeps and whistles and screeches that indicates a successful connection?

   While high-speed, always-connected broadband Internet covers most of the wired world, dial-up Internet remains more than a painful memory for large parts of rural Western New York.

   The lightly populated sections of the Southern Tier and elsewhere in upstate New York don't have reliable, low-cost access to broadband Internet.

   This puts these small towns and villages at a distinct disadvantage in the digital age, business owners, officials and tech experts told The News in recent interviews.

   Community leaders in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties say they believe they can market themselves to tech companies and telecommuters by touting their high quality of life and low cost of living.

   But, they say, relying on dial-up Internet, or costly and spotty satellite Web access, makes these communities less attractive to prospective businesses and residents.

   Cable and telecommunications companies often decline to serve these communities because they don't think they'll be able to recoup their investment.

   But community leaders are working to attract private and public support to expand broadband Web access to these rural communities.

   Can they succeed? Should the state and federal governments do more to subsidize broadband expansion into sparsely populated regions?

   And what do you think the high-tech future holds for rural sections of Western and upstate
New York?

   -- Stephen T. Watson

Upstate has big stake in battle for State Senate

   Each day, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent around the state by Republicans and Democrats for a prize with sweeping ramifications: which party controls the 62-member Senate.

   With a brief exception in 1965, Republicans have run the Senate since 1939. And Albany's culture of a two-party system in the Legislature is legendary among states.

   All that could end in November when Democrats have their best chance in recent years of winning the Senate. There are a half-dozen districts in play. The economy has tanked and Republican John McCain is lagging behind in New York, which could have its own effect on local races because of turnout.

   Here's the general gist of the arguments. Democrats say Republicans have had long enough to make things work. Look at the upstate economy, the Albany gridlock and an often right-leaning agenda on many social issues that Democrats say are out of touch with New Yorkers. The Democrats say they will, with their party's control of the Senate along with the Assembly and governor's office, be able to bring real change to the dysfunctional Capitol.

   Republicans say the kind of change an all-Democratic state house won't be good for New York -- especially upstate. The Senate under the GOP, now with a strong influence from upstate Republicans, is the chief watchdog for upstate, Republicans insist. Under the Democrats, New York City will even further dominate the Capitol's interests. Trial lawyers will rule, unions will expand their influence and taxes will rise, they say.

   The victor will get the usual perks: access to pork barrel spending, big staffs, a bottomless pit of campaign cash from special interests and a seat at the table with the Assembly and governor in deciding anything and everything that comes out of Albany.

   But the winner also gets an unenviable prize: getting to deal with the state's $1.2 billion current deficit -- which Gov. David A. Paterson says will only worsen -- and a deficit for next year that, as of now, could approach $9 billion. The winner gets to push through cuts
that will affect education, health care, transportation, the environment, parks, arts,
housing, farming, economic development, welfare programs and any of the thousands of entities
that rely on the state's $120 billion budget.

   For the winner, at least in the beginning, it may be a short celebration.

   -- Tom Precious

Tales from the Afghan front

   It's not everyday I get a chance to run a national development on the war in Afghanistan by local soldiers who have firsthand insight into how their ongoing experiences measure up to what's coming out of Washington, D.C.

   I had already written a story detailing what these local Guardsmen home on two-week leaves have experienced since deploying in late March to Afghanistan.

   And as you can imagine, it was a story of the wild roller coaster of war, with firefights, untimely death, and soldiers (some 300 Guardsmen from Western New York) trying to improve the lot of a society that fell under the violent yoke of theocratic zealots -- the Taliban.

  But when portions of a draft of the National Intelligence Estimate were made public and squared up with comments by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, editors at The News delayed publishing the story for one day in order to get reactions from the local soldiers, who are trying to make every precious minute home with their loved ones count.

   Graciously, Staff Sgt. James C. Parks and Master Sgt. Edwin Garris shared their insights on Friday, reacting to the dire warnings from Washington that Afghanistan could be lost if strategies do not change.

   First. Lt. Robert G. Ortt, unfortunately, was already on his way back to Afghanistan and unreachable.

   As citizen soldiers, who have lives beyond the military, it was refreshing to hear their very open opinions. They agree policies and approach need to change, if the mission in Afghanistan is going to succeed.

   More of what they have to say is in today's story.

   -- Lou Michel

The meltdown continues

   It just keeps getting worse.

   Even after emergency measures by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department, stocks continued to tumble.

   The Dow fell nearly 700 points … a loss of about 7 percent.

   "The story is getting to be like that movie Groundhog Day," Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. told the Associated Press today.

   "Everything we're seeing is historic," he added. "The problem is historic, the solutions are historic, and unfortunately, the sell-off is historic. It's not the kind of history you want to be making."

   As the markets continue to plunge, the people feeling it the hardest are those about to retire and who have just retired.

   Earlier this week, the House Education and Labor Committee heard from experts about the impact of the financial turmoil on retirement accounts.

   Jack VanDerhei of the Employee Benefit Research Institute told members of Congress that older employees "have more to lose in a significant downturn."

   He continued: "Research  has shown that a worker's age is a major factor in his or her ability to ecover from an economic downturn."

   I'm working on a story about how all of this is affecting real people here in Western New York.

   If you are someone who is nearing retirement or has recently retired and you're willing to be interviewed, please call me at 849-4418.

--Maki Becker

How is the financial turmoil affecting you?

   The phones have been ringing off their hooks the last couple of weeks at the offices of local financial advisers.

   "I'm getting a lot of calls," said Richard Schroeder of Schroeder, Braxton and Vogt in Amherst. "Most clients are so confused about what's going on."

   They're all asking, in one way or another, the same questions: "Am I going to go broke?"

   The question is especially pressing to people who are nearing retirement or have just retired, the advisers said.

   Anthony Ogorek of Ogorek Wealth Management in Amherst said he's gotten a number of calls from clients who were considering retiring soon to hold off.

   Panic among baby boomers of retirement age comes as the head of the Congressional Budget
Office released a jaw dropping report that retirement accounts have lost $2 trillion in the
past 15 months.

   In addition, the AARP announced that a study found one in five workers 45 and older has stopped putting money into 401(k) and other retirement accounts over the past year and that more than a third are considering delaying retirement.

   Have you made any chances to your retirement plans because of the recent financial crisis? Have you decided to delay retirement?

   If you're a recent retiree, have you had to change your portfolio or your plans for your retirement?

   Would appreciate hearing from you. I am working on story about how this financial meltdown
is affecting people like you.

  … Maki Becker

Albany helps Abu Dhabi firm set up shop

      Times are tough for New York. The financial crisis hitting the nation is having a disproportionate impact on the state, which gets 20 percent of its tax revenues from Wall Street activities.

   But the Paterson administration Tuesday announced it is going ahead with a controversial, $1.2 billion incentive package for a new computer chip manufacturing plant in Saratoga County -- one of the state's most economically healthy counties.

   A few things have changed since the deal was first hatched two governors ago -- in 2006 with then Gov. George E. Pataki. For starters, the state's budget is facing a worsening crisis, including a potential combined $10 billion deficit in the 2008 and 2009 budgets.

   And the major bankroller behind the plant has certainly changed. AMD, a California company, said Tuesday it is forming a new corporate structure -- with a new company, Foundry Co. -- to build the Saratoga plant. The majority owner of Foundry is a company owned solely by the Persian Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi, a state that defines "oil rich."

   Gov. David A. Paterson said the deal potentially will create a whole new high-tech industry for upstate, and reduce the state's reliance on shaky Wall Street revenues. And he said the state's embattled economy should be no excuse for not investing in an endeavor to bring new jobs to upstate.

   But there are questions. How will groups that rely on funding to provide everything from caring for Medicaid patients in nursing homes to college students who will see the impact of SUNY budget cuts feel about such a large incentive package to a wealthy Middle East-controlled company? What are the guarantees if the promised jobs aren't produced? And why couldn't the Paterson administration reopen talks about the incentives given the drastic change in the health of the state's finances from 2006 to 2008?

  -- Tom Precious

Canadian skyscraper a symbol of boomtown

   As you drive to the top of the South Grand Island bridge from the north, there are a couple of split seconds when you can see the Niagara Falls skyline in the rear view mirror and the Buffalo skyline out the front windshield, in about the 2 o'clock direction.

   For more than 35 years, the HSBC Center in Buffalo, at 38 stories high, was the tallest building you could see from the top of the bridge.

   Not anymore.

   It has been supplanted by a 58-story Hilton Hotel tower in Niagara Falls, Ont., 50 stories of which already have gone up on the growing Falls skyline.

   Most of the manmade gleam comes from the Canadian side, where a natural wonder and two provincially run gambling casinos have combined to push the hotel trade to unparalleled heights during the past dozen years.

   The American side of the Falls also has seen an uptick in the hotel trade, as demonstrated by the 26-story, three-year-old Seneca Niagara Casino hotel and several other projects.

   To be sure, there's still lots more work to do on the New York side of the Falls, though the Canadian side stands as a testament that a region can tie a big chunk of its economy to the tourism trade -- especially one that contains an international tourist destination.

   It's worth asking this question: are any planners and developers in Buffalo watching?

   -- Scott Scanlon

Women have gained, but is it still a man's world?

   When Nancy McGlen was a young political scientist at the University at Buffalo in the early 1970s, she was one of just two women out of 35 faculty in the department.

   A male colleague said he couldn't co-author a research paper with her because it "wouldn't look right," McGlen recalled. Another, older colleague once patted her on her backside in front of the department secretary.

   "I think it would be fair to say, like many women of that time, my status was impacted by the fact I was a woman," said McGlen, now dean of Niagara University's College of Arts and Sciences.

   Working women say things have improved a lot over the past few decades, but they still struggle to achieve full equality in the workplace.

   In interviews for today's article, women from a range of job titles and backgrounds said they've made advances, attitudes are better than they once were, but challenges remain.

   Discrimination that exists today is more subtle.

   Some women said it can be hard to succeed in a working world where many of the rules … written and unwritten … were set in place by men.

   Child care is still a big concern for women, who bear much of the burden of child-rearing, and the lingering pay gap between the genders remains an issue. Further, the economic woes of the past year have hit women as hard, or harder, than men.

   And the rise and fall of Hillary Rodham Clinton as a presidential candidate … and the attention-grabbing debut of Sarah Palin on the national political scene … presented mixed messages to women.

   We'd like to hear from women and men on these and other issues. What are your own experiences in the work place? Do you think women still are discriminated against on the job?

   Why do child care responsibilities still fall primarily on the shoulders of women?

   Does the glass ceiling still exist? Why are women more successful than men in school, but still less likely to rise to the highest positions in the business and political worlds?   

   … Stephen T. Watson


O.J. Simpson, convicted felon

  For better or worse, despite all his embarrassing and ugly trials and tribulations, O.J. Simpson probably still ranks as the biggest sports star in Buffalo history.

   And now, exactly 13 years after many Americans felt he got away with murder, Simpson is convicted of 12 felony charges in connection with a weird robbery and kidnapping case involving two sports memorabilia dealers.

   The 61-year-old former Bills running back and a co-defendant could face 15 years to life in prison when they are sentenced by a judge in Las Vegas on Dec. 5.

   A jury convicted Simpson and Clarence Stewart on Friday, 13 years to the day after a jury in Los Angeles acquitted Simpson in the stabbing murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ronald Goldman.

   Police said Simpson and several cohorts kept two sports memorabilia dealers in a casino hotel room in September 2007, and then robbed them. Simpson denied any wrongdoing but did not testify. Jury members deliberated for 13 hours. Simpson's attorney  plans an appeal.

   For longtime Bills fans such as Nancy and Don Flaig of Kenmore, the latest news about Simpson was seen as the latest degradation of a football hero they once admired.

   "He's no longer O.J. the football star, he's O.J. the criminal," said Nancy Flaig, who has had season tickets with her husband for more than 40 years. "Whether he got away with murder, I don't know. But he seems like another sports star who places himself above the law."

   Flaig does not think Simpson's name should be removed from the Wall of Fame at Ralph C. Wilson Stadium.

   "His name is up there for his athletic accomplishments. He earned that," she said. "But when I see his name, it makes me sad for the lives that were lost and the people he hurt. Kids in Buffalo used to look up to O.J."

   We wonder how other Bills fans are reacting to the latest bad news about a man who was once a Buffalo hero.

   … Dan Herbeck


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