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Doing the right thing by our vets

   They answered the call. Now they need to be heard.

   Veterans Day was a reminder of the sacrifice made by so many on America's behalf. Thousands of veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars have come back emotionally damaged. I wrote today about Tonawanda's Denise Simmance, whose son Chris returned from the Middle East a broken man. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that fed a downward spiral of drinking, broken relationships and job loss.

   Despite several suicide attempts, his treatment by an overstressed Veterans Administration system is heavy on medication and light on spirit-healing counseling. Critics say that this is typical for emotionally damaged vets across the country, who need far more psychological counseling than they are getting. I think we need to repay our debt to them by making sure they get the care they need.

   -- Donn Esmonde

Washington debates the fate of General Motors

   WASHINGTON -- You won't see this posted on the side of any bus anytime soon, but GM's problems are HUGE.

   The company lost $2.5 billion in the third quarter and stands poised to run out of cash by the end of the year. Experts say that unless the government comes to the rescue of GM and other automakers, GM will run out of cash and be forced into bankruptcy by the end of the year.

   And that, experts said, would start a cascading collapse of the entire U.S. auto industry.

   "You'd see a domino effect," said Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group. "There goes General Motors, then there go the suppliers, then Ford. And this would not only affect the domestic manufacturers."

   Yet some lawmakers are reluctant to sign onto the bill Democrats are crafting to allow automakers access to upwards of $25 billion of the $700 billion that Congress set aside to rescue the financial industry.

   And they make arguments like that of Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee.

   "I have automobile plants in my district. They pay $25-$35 per employee per hour," Bachus said at a hearing this week. "I am sure that I am going to be asked, "Congressman I work at Honda or Mercedes, I make $40 an hour; why are you going to take my taxpayer dollars and pay it to a company who pays their employees $75 an hour?'‚"

   So if you were in Rep. Bachus wing tips, how would you respond?

   -- Jerry Zremski

Electronic billboards -- nuisance or revolution?

   Call it a sign of the times.

   With more than 1,000 electronic billboards standing by busy highways around the country, the TV-like screens are becoming commonplace.

   Starting as soon as April, Lamar Outdoor Advertising plans to flip the "on" switch for five LED billboards around Western New York highways.

   With their static, non-moving images, they look much like conventional billboards. Until the picture changes and a new ad takes its place on the screen, an event that happens every eight seconds.

   The image change isn't a distraction to drivers, the industry says, but billboard critics aren't convinced. They note that major studies so far have been backed by the outdoor advertising industry.

   Not everyone thinks the technology is inevitable. Knoxville, Tenn., has put it on hold while it ponders regulations. Closer to home, Orchard Park fought a costly legal battle to keep out conventional billboards, leaving it free of electronic ones.

   Do the signs attract the eye more than a regular billboard? Or are drivers too busy snacking, texting and fiddling with the radio to notice? 

   -- Fred O. Williams

    

Who will take the heat for state budget cuts?

   Budget disruptions experienced in other states, most notably California, have come to roost in New York State following the release Wednesday of Gov. David A. Paterson's plan to cut $2 billion in spending in the current  budget year.

   To hear those who rely on state funding tell it, the effects will be many: cuts in classroom and after-school programs, less access to care in hospitals and nursing homes, fewer housing options for low-income people, higher costs for college students, and less money for not-for-profit social service organizations.

   Critics find it say curious that a Democrat who railed against a proposed package of cuts by then-Gov. George E. Pataki in 2003  now, as governor, offers proposals that have been branded draconian and devastating. Paterson --  considered a fiscal liberal as a lawmaker -- now talks of ending Albany's record of freewheeling spending.

   Will lawmakers be ready to meet him at the table during next Tuesday's emergency session called to deal with the huge deficit?

   Senate Republicans on  Wednesday hinted that more information is needed and that they want to see Paterson's  plans for 2009 before cutting the current spending plan.

    Delay may be just what is planned by GOP senators, who lose seven decades of  dominance in the Senate as the majority party come Jan. 1.

   Why not let Senate Democrats make  the unpopular cuts? they reason.

-- Tom Precious

Rare disease claimed a Buffalo legend

   After all of these months, we finally know what caused former Mayor Jimmy Griffin's death --
Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, an extremely rare and always fatal disease, that kills its victims within just months.

   His family made the sad and shocking announcement Wednesday at a news conference at the Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst.

   They chose Wednesday because it was International CJD Awareness Day. Maureen Tomczak, who acted as the family spokesperson, also took the opportunity to thank the public for its support in the six months since her father died. She choked up at times as she spoke.

   The family also e-mailed a letter to The Buffalo News addressed to the public, naming some of the people and institutions who had supported the family during the former mayor's last days, including everyone at the Father Baker Manor in Orchard Park, the City of Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown, the Buffalo and Lackawanna Police Departments, the Erie County Sheriff's Office, The Buffalo Fire Department, the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne, the Rich family, Mike Buczkowski and the Buffalo Bisons and ECC President Jack Quinn.

   "Our father loved this community and you continue to show us why," the letter read.

   The family has started the Mayor James D. Griffin Fund for CJD Research at the Dent Neuroscience Research Center. For more information, go to www.dentinstitute.com.

   -- Maki Becker

A message to our blog readers

We interrupt these blog posts for a reminder of the rules for commenting on our Web site.

   The vast majority of the people who post on our Web site's blogs are courteous and thoughtful, and we appreciate the time they take to share their opinions and have their voices heard.

   However, the nastiness of some of the recent comments and the personal attacks from a select few have had a chilling effect on people who might otherwise want to take part in the online discussion.

  The blogs are intended to provide a forum for discussion, legitimate disagreement and energetic debate. They are not intended to provide cover for anonymous spitting matches and hate mongering.

      The rules, posted on each blog, read: 

   "Please use good taste, be respectful of other writers, keep comments relevant to the post and do not impersonate someone else. We are not responsible for the comments on this blog, but we reserve the right to remove any that are libelous, obscene, threatening, abusive, or otherwise offensive, and to block any user who does not follow these guidelines."

Reporter James Heaney had it right several weeks ago when he provided a similar notice on his Outrages & Insights blog:

   "As in print, The News reserves the right to control the content it publishes online. We are in the news business and are not interested in hosting an online food fight."

   

Auto industry goes begging in D.C.

   WASHINGTON -- The "Big Three" have become the weak sisters of the worldwide auto industry, and now it looks like you are all about to pay for their weakness.

   Congress and the presidents -- the one we have now and the one we'll have in January -- all appear to be moving toward an auto industry bailout, perhaps using funds already set aside to rescue the financial industry.

   No one knows yet how many billions of federal aid it might take to save General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, but it's likely to come in the form of long-term loans from the federal government.

   This comes after the AIG bailout, the Freddie Mac bailout, the Fannie Mae bailout and the financial industry bailout.

   Which raises the question: how many bailouts can the federal government afford?

   -- Jerry Zremski

An appropriate honor for Veterans Day

   Not every story I get to write on war veterans has a happy ending, but the story about 88-year-old Joseph J. Stefaniak of Grand Island certainly does.

   After 60-plus years, today -- Veterans Day -- he will receive the French Legion of Honor Medal in Veterans Park on Grand Island. (If you can make the ceremony, it's at 11 a.m. and the park is off Bedell Road by the library. Joe would love to see you).

   Known as "Little Joe," the high-spirited gentleman is thrilled to be receiving the honor, even if it's a bit late in coming. He helped defend a French town during the D-Day invasion in June 1944 and suffered a leg wound during the action.

   On another note, a story I wrote for Friday's Buffalo News regarding a national effort to get mental health professionals to donate one hour per week to help returning combat vets and their family members regain their footing has received a number of positive responses.

  Many folks in the mental health profession have asked how they can help.

  Here's the fellow you need to speak with:

   Thomas P. McNulty, president and chief executive officer of the Mental Health Association of Erie County. His phone number is 886-1242, Ext. 314. He will be holding a news conference with more details at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 2 at the Mental Health Association, 999 Delaware Ave.

   The story featured vets I have previously profiled who experienced difficulty getting services from the VA. It was time to revisit them and see how they were doing.

   Each time I write one of these stories, the families of vets and other vets contact me and encourage more coverage of this and other veteran issues. Others try to marginalize these vets as malcontents.

   As I've told VA officials, the stories are not done to poke them in the eye, but simply report the situation as seen through the eyes of men and women
who have gone to war and need help now that they are home and grappling with
civilian life.

    As for the Navy's newest ship, the USS Freedom, docking here this coming
weekend at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park at Erie Canal
Harbor, a number of folks have asked how they can get in on the limited number
of public tours.

   The best person to contact is Patrick W. Welch, director of Erie County
Veterans Services.

   He is helping arrange the ship's visit and can be reached at 858-6363. By
the way, he is also looking for volunteers to help show the crew members some
of Buffalo Niagara points of interest, including a stop at the appropriately
named Anchor Bar for some wings.

-- Lou Michel   

Brainstorming ways to combat poverty

   During a recent meeting of Buffalo News staffers to discuss our coverage of poverty issues, reporter Mark Sommer offered up an interesting idea for a story.

   How about a blueprint for attacking the problem of poverty in Buffalo?

   It was a tough assignment for a journalist, and even a tougher one for city officials and those who run the various agencies that try to help the city's poor.

   After talking to many experts, Sommer and Jonathan D. Epstein came up with a number of issues that must be addressed by any such blueprint. Here are a few of them:

   -- Early childhood education and enhanced after-school programs need to be available to more children, especially those from poor families.

   -- More job-training programs are needed, and Buffalo should try to put itself in the forefront of the effort to create "green jobs."

   -- Blighted, vacant buildings need to replaced by affordable housing.

  --  The city needs to stop squandering Community Block Grant funds on projects that are ineffective in the fight against poverty.

   Mayor Byron W. Brown has designated one of his deputy mayors, Donna Brown, to develop a comprehensive anti-poverty plan for the city.

   News readers have come up with some good ideas over the years. Do they have any suggestions for ideas that Donna Brown can consider as she formulates this
plan?

   -- Dan Herbeck

   

Some fire companies sit on piles of cash

   The men and women who put themselves in danger to fight fires, who climb into burning buildings to rescue the inhabitants, are heroes who deserve deep gratitude.

   That having been said, it doesn't mean that volunteer fire companies shouldn't face scrutiny of their budgets and spending.

   In Erie County, many volunteer fire companies build up substantial reserves with taxpayer money. Essentially, they bill taxpayers in advance for the replacement of vehicles and buildings, years down the road.

   That's cheaper than having to borrow the money, advocates say. But it rubs some people the wrong way. While town governments publicly discuss big expenditures before they happen, fire companies can make their decisions without public input.

   Should taxpayers have a better window on fire companies' spending?

  -- Fred O. Williams

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