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An early start to school

   The actual start of the school year won't be much different next year, but you can bet there will be plenty of people unhappy with the prospect of starting before Labor Day.

   The reason, as outlined in a story in today's News, is that Labor Day falls as late as it possibly can, Sept. 7. If school wait to start class until two days later - as is the normal practice - they would not get enough instructional days in before the start of Regents exams.

   The different start date figures to affect not only teachers and students, but families that might traditionally take vacations during the final week of summer vacation.

   

Is star power trumping competence?

  WASHINGTON —  Sen. Caroline Kennedy, D-N.Y.

   Yes, we're getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here — but we might be seeing that phrase a lot in the coming years.

   Just when it seemed as if we might be through with celebrity senators from the Empire State, here comes the daughter of a slain ex-president and maybe the next generation of America's premier Democratic dynasty.

   Polls released Tuesday indicated that Kennedy, a 51-year-old lawyer from New York City,was the favorite of rank-and-file Democrats for appointment   to the next two years of the term of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is in line to become secretary of state.

   The appointment is in the hands of Gov. David A. Paterson, who surely knows that a Kennedy appointment would give New York another senator with star power.

   But this raises some questions.

   In the end, what good is star power?

   And why does New York keep looking for it when choosing its senators?

   -- Jerry Zremski

Twitter puts techno-savvy hearts aflutter

   When a colleague first told me about Twitter, Twitter, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

   Maybe it was the name that threw me off. Or the precious term used for a Twitter message: a "tweet."

   I wasn't alone in dismissing the value of a service that lets people send updates on their life to their entire circle of friends, business associates and acquaintances at once.

   The Boston Globe's Alex Beam sniffed at the idea in an August column headlined, "Twittering with excitement? Hardly."

     But, in the words of Bobby Darin, I'm beginning to see the light.

   As I report in today's Buffalo News story, Twitter isn't just for the self-indulgent, for people who have no unexpressed thoughts or for those who feel the need to keep the world informed of every minor event in their life.

   Big businesses and small businesses alike are getting onto Twitter, in hopes of using the social-networking site to reach potential customers and clients.

   And just about every major news organization has some sort of presence on Twitter to get immediate news flashes to readers.

   The mobility and accessibility of Twitter -- updates can be sent and received via cell phone -- is part of its appeal.

   Locally, tech-savvy residents are using it advertise events, seek information and promote their businesses.

   Heck, the entire Punaro clan is on Twitter: Dad Derek, Mom Amanda and 2-month-old Ariella. (Ariella types suspiciously well for her age, and perhaps has help from her parents.)

   Even the Boston Globe has come around. They have Twitter accounts that send out updates on the Red Sox and Patriots to their followers.

   I'd like to hear what you think of Twitter. Do you use it? How do you use it? Do you agree with Mr. Beam that it's overrated, or do you find practical applications?

   And if you're still not sure exactly how Twitter works, watch this Common Craft video for a good, basic understanding of the site.

   - Stephen T. Watson

 

Poverty is a relative measurement - particularly upstate

Many in Buffalo were shocked last year to learn the city was the second-poorest big city in the nation.

   U.S. Census data released then showed that nearly 30 percent of Buffalo's residents were considered poor, placing the city right behind first-place Detroit.

   Residents found little comfort this year when Cleveland climbed up in the big-city rankings, pushing Buffalo to number three.

   But new demographic data Census released today show there are dozens of mid-sized communities across the country experiencing the same -- or even worse -- pain.

   Take the City of Athens, Ohio, for example, where more than half of the residents were living below the poverty line when the new data was collected through the American Community Survey from 2005 to 2007.

   Look at the numbers for the City of Ithaca, or Camden, N.J., or Rexburg, Idaho, and you'll see numbers higher than 40 percent.

   Or Rochester and Syracuse, which both had just a slightly higher percentage of people living below in poverty than Buffalo.

   Analysts will warn that ranking statistics is tricky. The actual poverty rates for communities could be slightly higher or lower than the numbers show.

   Still, there is still little solace in the company.

The prospects for justice in a dangerous world

    John M. Granville, Jonathon M. Cote and Susan Elbaneh died this year, all in particularly unstable parts of the world -- Sudan, Iraq and Yemen, respectively.

      They died because they are  Americans -- like some of the more than 170 people killed in the recent horrific  assault by terrorists in Mumbai, India.

      Their deaths caused anguish to their family and friends in the Buffalo area.

   Will their killers face justice?

   Although U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn holds out hope the families of all three victims might see killers face trial, he also concedes a  harsh reality: "As an American, you can travel all over the world. But the sad part is, some of those places are very dangerous."

   

O.J. Simpson goes to jail

Seeing O.J. Simpson in jail house blues on the front page of the paper,  biting his lip and heading to prison, many people will see justice served at last.

Simpson's sentence of up to 33 years in prison officially was for a boneheaded Las Vegas holdup that he said was to retrieve items that belonged to him. However, it wasn't the memorabilia collector that news people were interviewing outside the courthouse. It was the father and sister of Ron Goldman, the Los Angeles waiter who was murdered almost 15 years ago, along with Nicole Brown Simpson.

Fans in Buffalo have long since adjusted to the loss of their great football star, but in light of more recent events, the question of "why?" remains. Why do so many athletes who seem to have it all also seem determined to throw it all away?  Plaxico Burress, Michael Vick .... Last spring, a rough count showed that more than 20 percent of the players on NFL rosters at that time had been arrested -- and that only counted those arrests while they were playing professionally.

Between players' behavior off the field and fans' behavior in the stands, professional football is turning into a whole new, and ugly, ball game.

An answer to why our gasoline is so costly

   Rep. Brian Higgins says he has the answer to why area motorists are consistently paying among the highest prices to fill up their cars.

   Western New York gasoline retailers are marking up the price of gas more than double the national average, he says.

   According to industry price snapshots, gas stations are tacking on an average of 55.1 cents per gallon, compared to the national average of 23.6 cents a gallon. The most profitable market in the country has been Jamestown, where the average margin has been 71 cents per gallon.

   Industry officials challenge the findings and say there have been times not long ago when local profit margins have been low and even non-existent.

   Of course, that's no comfort to consumers, who have been fuming about our relatively high gas costs for weeks.

Big Three bailout -- the devil is in the details

   WASHINGTON  -- So now, suddenly, the debate over the auto bailout seems to be all about details and options.

   At a six-hour hearing Thursday that often moved as slowly as a '74 Pinto, senators from both parties kept throwing out alternatives  to writing the $34 billion blank check Detroit is seeking.

   Options spelled out over the course of the hearing included a Treasury Department or Federal Reserve bailout using existing funds or a mandate that some of the recently rescued banks come to the aid of the auto companies.    Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested a two-tier approach in which auto companies would get immediate loans and federal oversight, and more money later if they meet preset conditions.

   So, which should it be?

   Or shall we take our chances and bet that Mark Zandi, of Moodyseconomy.com,  is wrong when he suggests that letting Detroit die would cost taxpayers several times more than any bailout?

   -- Jerry Zremski

A very avoidable tragedy

   Just what does it take?

   For Christopher Tulumello, crashing a vehicle into a tree last January apparently did not make enough of an impression.

   Neither did his impaired driving conviction.

   Sitting through a victims impact panel designed to impart the dangers of drunken driving apparently did not take.

   A revoked license did not keep him from getting behind the wheel of a pickup truck.

   Now, it's too late.

   Tulumello's mother calls him "a good kid."

   But prosecutors will press vehicular manslaughter, vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated charges against him as a result of his fatal hit-and-run Wednesday night.

   Worse, it's too late for Amanda S. Knowlton, 23, and her son, Isiah, 4, who police say were struck by the pickup as they crossed Main Street at LaSalle Avenue. Knowlton was killed and her son was injured.

   What more can we do to stop the Christopher Tulumellos around us — before it's too late.

   -- Patrick Lakamp

A crippled Detroit, making better cars

   WASHINGTON -- You wouldn't know it based on what the Big Three are telling you, but the quality of American cars is improving.

   In fact, U.S. vehicles top the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 quality ratings in the midsize car, large car, midsize SUV, large pickup and van categories.

   Such facts have not been stressed much in the debate over a $34 billion federal loan rescue for the used-to-be-Big Three. Instead, there's been much more talk about the concessions that the United Auto Workers must make and the corporate jets the auto executives flew to D.C. two weeks ago.

   But think about the following for a minute:

   "If [the American manufacturers] could go two more years without going out of business, they would be very competitive with the foreign manufacturers," said Karl Brauer, editor in chief at Edmunds.com, the auto web site. "But they can't go two more years without help from the government."

   So do comments like that make you rethink this idea of lending the U.S. auto industry $34 billion in taxpayer funds?

  -- Jerry Zremski

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