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How were the bargains?

   Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving kickoff to the holiday shopping season, was closely-watched this year. With retailers posting their weakest October numbers in nearly 40 years, consumers readied themselves to scoop up unheard of deals offered by retailers desperate to get frugal shoppers through their doors.
     But, despite a healthy turnout, reactions to sales incentives were mixed.
     Did you brave the crowds on Black Friday? What did you find? Did the sales live up to the hype? Or did you find yourself wanting more?
     --- Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Casualties of war

Five days after Veterans Day, another veteran died. Next month, Edward Kielich, 86, formerly of South Buffalo, will be buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

Edward Kielich came home in 1946 but in reality his family lost him 64 years ago, on the beaches of Normandy and the battlefields of of France. The happy young man they sent to fight for his country in World War II returned as a ghost of his former self. The shell-shocked soldier spent the rest of his long life in a Veterans Affairs nursing home.

We salute Edward Kielich for the life he sacrificed so long ago, and in this Thanksgiving week, in this election month, in these troubled times, we remember all those others who served and are serving.

Credit card abuse at Niagara Falls schools

   A state Education Department audit whacked the Niagara Falls School District in 2004, warning its leaders they needed to tighten spending controls.

   But that apparently wasn't enough.

   State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli's office released a scathing audit of the district last month. It pointed out questionable financial controls by school officials.

   The Buffalo News recently reviewed some district credit card records, which revealed, among other things:

   --Superintendent Carmen A. Granto used his card to pay an average tip of 25 percent on meals, as well as $250 for a car ride to and from John F. Kennedy Airport.

   --Three school officials ate at Lewiston's Water Street Landing in July 2004 for $226.56 -- which included a $50 tip.

   --Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Bianco, Granto's sister, cashed in 10,000 frequent flier miles earned on school district and personal trips to pay for tickets for her mother and husband.

   Read the full story here.

   Granto recently announced he will be leaving the district on Dec. 22, six months earlier than he had previously said.

   He needs to spend more time working for his private consulting firm, he said.

   For a glimpse into what the state said in its most recent financial review, here's an excerpt taken from page 12 of the comptroller's audit:

   "The control environment, which is the foundation of any entity's internal control structure, sums up management's attitude about internal controls and creates an appropriate 'tone at the top.' It includes the integrity, ethical values and competence of the organization's people, and management's philosophy and operating style. When the control environment is strong, there is an expectation that everyone, including top management, will conform to established controls and avoid violating the public trust. At the District, however, the Board [of Education] assumed a more passive role in District governance, yielding much of its rightful decision-making duties and authority to the Superintendent and other District officials. The Board's lack of involvement in some cases, and lack of information and ineffectual monitoring in other cases, allowed District officials to overpay salary and benefits to themselves and various employees and to circumvent the controls that did exist. As a result, the Board and District officials have overspent or wasted District resources."

   What do you think about how the district spent its money?

   What about how things have unfolded in terms of Granto's future?

   Do you see things improving or regressing for the school district after Granto leaves?

Aaron Besecker

Spooked by the ghost of Christmas present

      Faced with the specter of a rapidly tanking economy, frightened consumers may have a tough time parting with the "green" for their holiday largess.

     Consumer confidence is down 23 percent in Buffalo from last year, according to Siena Research Institute.

   "There's this fear that even if [the recession] hasn't hit me yet, it's coming," says Arun Jain, professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo School of Management.

  Will your Christmas pudding be a thin gruel? Or will you hurl  those cautionary  humbugs to the wind?

Change is in the wind for nursing home industry

      The nursing home industry is one of the most regulated businesses in the nation. Their operation has become so regimented to control risks and costs that buildings look alike and virtually every decision is made for residents, from when to get up to what to eat.

   The regulations, although well-meaning, have combined with outdated payment system, to stifle innovation. There is little incentive to raise quality above minimum standards.

   Today, too many nursing homes offer a passionless, hospital-like service built for efficiency. It may have made sense decades ago, but now turns off people, struggles with high employee turnover and continues to experience quality problems.

   Against this backdrop, reformers in recent years have pushed for a radical rethinking of the long-term-care system known as "culture change."

   A smattering of nursing homes around the country, including Buffalo, have adopted a few aspects of the movement. Now, advocates in Western New York want to turn culture change into a regionwide initiative, making this community the first in the U.S. to attempt a transformation in elder care on a large scale.

-- Henry L. Davis

An ironic twist for debt collectors

  Buffalo is a center for debt collection companies, something that was supposed to work in its favor.

   The area has been called a good place to ride out the economic downturn, partly because of its many collection firms.

   It's true that maxed-out consumers have more debts than ever, but debt collectors aren't seeing good times.

   One Amherst-based company has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and other firms in the region say they're also feeling a squeeze.

   The reason is that the repayment rate of older debts is slowing down sharply. Households are forced to put off repayment as they face more pressing problems meeting their current bills.

   There may not be much sympathy for collectors … no one's talking about a bailout for this industry. But the debt collector's woes are an indication of the depth of the economic downturn.

   --- Fred O. Williams

GM's tale of woe comes up short on sympathy

   WASHINGTON  -- Bail-out fatigue has clearly reached the U.S. Senate.

   The Banking Committee spent four hours proving that point Tuesday, grilling the top executives of the Big Three -- or should we say, "Not So Big Anymore Three" -- about whether the $25 billion in loans they are seeking would really save them from their own failures.

   "I support efforts to assist the industry, not because their leaders necessarily deserve the taxpayers' help," said the committee chairman, Sen. Chris Dodd. The Connecticut Democrat noted that his constituents are furious that the auto executives are still taking home multimillion-dollar salaries while their industry is collapsing.

   And with friends like that, the auto executives must have been thinking: "Who needs Richard

   Referring to the bailout plan, Shelby, R-Ala., asked: "Will it be used to improve their business model -- which has been a failure --  product lines, or is this just life support?"

   And if you believe Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., life support is the last thing the American auto industry needs.

   "There may not be a need for three automakers," Corker said.

   So this has what the industry has come to. Half a century after a GM chairman said that what's good for GM is good for America, senators like Corker just don't believe that anymore.

   On the other side you will find GM Chairman Richard Wagoner, who warned that GM's failure would trigger  a "tsunami" that would wipe out its suppliers, its dealers, 3 million jobs and maybe even the remaining Big 2.

   So, who do you believe?

   --  Jerry Zremski

The fuel that prompts those intelligent fans to become rowdy

Maybe it's not exactly rocket science trying to understand the causes of rowdy behavior in NFL stadiums.
    Who would know better than the Hon.
Seamus McCaffery of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who once presided over the basement courtroom for Philadelphia Eagles fans arrested in Veterans Stadium.
    McCaffery has cited the triggers for the most outrageous fan behavior: “Anonymity, excessive testosterone and last, but not least, excessive alcohol.”
    No argument there, but maybe there's another factor to explain much of the rowdy behavior in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
    It's part of the culture and fabric of the game-day experience in Orchard Park, perhaps just as much a staple of Bills football as tailgating and a rabid crowd.
   While the Bills deserve credit for tackling the problem, it may be virtually impossible to root out most of the rowdy behavior, without banning alcohol inside and outside the stadium.
    And that's never going to happen.
... Gene Warner

Gambling that Moxie Mania is legal

   Moxie Mania … do you have it?

   The video gaming machines have been installed in 300 bars across the Buffalo-area. It's got its share of fans and regular players who have figured out the tricks to get the maximum payouts. But plenty of other people think it's a waste of time and money.

   The State Liquor Authority board is weighing whether the machines qualify as gambling devices. If they do, that means they're illegal and the machines will be yanked.

   The makers of the machines say they're legal, according to New York law, because they're games of skill and not chance.

   It's true that you can't just plunk some money into it, hit a button and hope for a big jackpot. Users have to play a fast-paced, complicated version of Tic Tac Toe in order to win any money. But they can win big.

    So what do you think? Is Moxie Mania just a juiced up slot machine? Or should they remain legal?
    … Maki Becker

Finding an organ donor on line remains controversial

   Julie Wolf, the 62-year-old director of a charity in Olean, needed a new kidney.

   Linda Padilla, the 61-year-old postmaster of Ellicottville, wanted to donate a kidney.

   The two met on the Internet on a web site that pairs strangers with patients who need

   They ended up best friends, as well as neighbors, after completing a successful transplant
in Buffalo.

   "I've been given a new life. It's awesome," said Wolf, who has been on dialysis for four

   Their meeting marks the first successful match at, which may be the first regional website of its kind in the nation.

   But the practice of soliciting living donors over the Internet remains controversial.

    … Henry L. Davis

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