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Youthful indiscretion or terroristic threat?

   The New York Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union says that school and police officials completely overreacted  when they arrested and charged an 11-year-old middle schooler with "making a terroristic threat" by creating a hit list on a school computer of students and teachers she said she wanted to kill.

   They contend the sixth-grader should be subject to school discipline and should get the professional help she needs to deal with her emotions and anger, but she shouldn't be criminalized as a terrorist threat.

   Police officials respond that any school threats involving harm to other students can't be taken lightly in a post-Columbine world. They also said this girl isn't being "criminalized." She's heading to Family Court, a non-punitive court that will make sure she gets the help she needs.

   Are police and school officials overreacting or responding appropriately?


  — Sandra Tan

Getting tough on Empire Zone companies

  
   In December, Gov. David A. Paterson proposed changes to the state's Empire Zone program that would have ousted 2,000 companies from New York's main economic development initiative.

   The theory was, besides saving the deficit-ridden budget some money, to end the deep tax breaks for companies that don't produce enough jobs or investment. In short, he wanted more bang for the buck.

   The Empire Zone program began earnestly enough: create in blighted sections of the state special areas where companies would locate and, in return, get tax breaks, such as credits for number of workers hired or relaxation of sales taxes on equipment purchases.

   But then, like other state efforts, every corner of the state wanted a piece of the action -- including communities that could hardly be described as home to any blight. The benefits expanded and the costs soared. Meanwhile, some companies were getting tax breaks for jobs they would have created without the help from Albany. And others came far short of their job-creation promises.

   Now, the fight is coming to a head. Letters have streamed out across the state from Albany informing more than 1,600 companies that the benefits they have enjoyed for years could be about to evaporate.

   Critics of the new approach say Albany is unfairly changing the rules for companies in the middle of the game. Lost jobs will be the result.

   But critics of Empire Zones say they have enjoyed the largesse of corporate welfare without proper oversight for too long, and that an effort will now be launched in the next year to create and retain the kinds of jobs New York needs to grow its economy.

   -- Tom Precious

Bears are surprise visitors in metro area

At least three bears have been spotted in fairly populated sections of Erie County in the last two weeks.

One was struck by a vehicle and killed on the night of May 15, on the Aurora Expressway in the Town of Aurora.

Another was spotted multiple times last week and over the weekend, in Clarence and several Niagara County locations.

The third was struck and killed on the Niagara Thruway late Tuesday night, about three miles from the heart of downtown. That same bear apparently had been spotted in Cheektowaga early Monday.

Anyone seen any more bears in recent weeks, especially in the more populated areas? 

-- Gene Warner

Read the full story.

Is Sotomayor's confirmation a forgone conclusion?


   WASHINGTON — So often when a president picks a Supreme Court justice, Washington politics suddenly turns into something akin to Red Sox vs. Yankees. The two parties dig in and dig deep and argue that the nominee will either preserve and protect the Constitution or turn it into a paper airplane.

   But something different happened Tuesday, when President Obama nominated appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David A. Souter.

   Democrats offered the kind of praise you might expect — but key Republicans spoke cautiously about Sotomayor and their approach to vetting her.

   Sotomayor's confirmation will surely get more confrontational as her hearings and a Senate vote draw closer, but there was something striking about the subdued GOP reaction on Tuesday.

   It's enough to make you wonder: are Republicans afraid of enraging the huge and growing Hispanic population, which reacted with joy to the appointment of the first Hispanic justice?

   Or did Sotomayor somehow manage to sit on the federal bench for nearly two decades without
leaving conservatives much ammunition to use against her?

   —Jerry Zremski

More people think about leaving the Empire State

  
   The story of Nancy Bell and her two sons leaving upstate for more fertile grounds elsewhere in the nation is nothing new.

   The reasons, however, are more current: the newly enacted 2009 state budget, which between a rise in income taxes and future end of an economic development program that helps companies like the one run by the Bells. Together, the provisions in the budget were enough to convince Nancy Bell to move her small manufacturing company, Science First, from Buffalo to Florida.

   Lost is a company founded by her grandfather four decades ago. Also lost is the 21 jobs it now provides in Buffalo.

   What will it take for Albany to listen to the complaints of small business owners like Bell? People like her feel they've been asking that question for too many years, and now can no longer afford to stay here.

   Turns out she is not alone. A new poll out this morning by the Siena College Research Institute has found 11 percent of New Yorkers are seriously thinking about moving if the conditions in the state do not improve. Worse, 10 percent say they would like to move "as quickly as I can."

   Another 36 percent say they have no plans to move, meaning they aren't ruling it for the future, and 25 percent say they might flee once they retire.

   That leaves just 16 percent who say they will never move.

   The subgroup with the highest percentage wanting to move as quickly as possible? Younger people -- age 18 to 34 years old -- 14 percent of whom say they want out now. That would be the group just starting their careers or families. And 30 percent of upstate residents say they might move elsewhere when they retire.

   Turns out Nancy Bell is not the exception.

   --Tom Precious

 

Can Buffalo become the center of the world for high school kids?

    There's a new look at the area's high-end private high schools, and it has a lot to do with the world being flat.

   In small but increasing numbers, international students -- mostly from Asia -- are enrolling at The Park School, Buffalo Seminary and Nichols School.

   So far, the trend seems to have widespread benefits.

   The international students, who are largely motivated by the desire to attend prestigious U.S. colleges and universities, get a leg up by becoming more familiar with the English language and American culture.

   Local private schools get a welcome source of motivated students as well as tuition payments during challenging economic times.

   And local students benefit from the diversity that classmates from other countries provide.

   So far, the growth of international students has largely happened spontaneously. But both Park School and Buffalo Seminary are making more concerted efforts to attract students from overseas, and to expand their reach to parts of the world not yet represented.

   There is a growing sense that Buffalo can become a magnet not just for international college students, but for high school students as well.

   What is the potential? Can Buffalo, despite a tattered national image, become an international center for high school students?

  
   -- Peter Simon

Comparing struggles

   To those who would compare the struggles of homosexuals with the fight for racial equality, Bishop Michael A. Badger, pastor of Bethesda World Harvest International Church on Main Street, said this:

   "As an African-American, I don't have a choice in the color of my skin. I have a choice in whether I'm abstinent or not. I don't think you can compare the two."

   The comment echoes a common refrain among black clergy, who have been opposed to same-sex
marriage.

   But others have noted that discrimination, whether because of race or religion or gender or sexual orientation, should never be accepted and that clergy have a greater responsibility to speak out against it.

Co-pilot's red-eye flight preceded disaster

      WASHINGTON — If you think your commute is a bad one, think, for a moment, about the late Rebecca Lynn Shaw.

   Earning less than $25,000 a year at Colgan Air, the young co-pilot of the doomed Continental Connection Flight 3407 chose to live with her parents in Seattle — and commute to Newark, N.J.

   She did just that — on a red-eye flight, no less — the night before Flight 3407 plunged into a house in Clarence on Feb. 12, killing 50.

   You will not be surprised to hear that her attention span was not stellar on that fateful night. In fact, she seemed not to have noticed as the plane slowed to a stall over eastern Erie County.

   All of which raises a question or two.

   The next time you fly, how would you feel about hearing that the co-pilot had just flown in on the red-eye from Seattle the night before?

   And — my God — should this be legal?

   — Jerry Zremski

Final minutes -- not the final chapter


   WASHINGTON —There was plenty of drama in the National Transportation Safety Board auditorium Tuesday, but even more in a document that most of the people inside that room didn't see until later.

   Taking evidence in the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, the safety board only rarely mentioned the drama in the transcript of the fatal flight's final minutes.

   Here's a sample of what the pilot and co-pilot had to say:

   Talking about the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 — the plane he was flying —Capt. Marvin Renslow said: "You know what? Yeah, I tell you I'm getting a lot more used to it. Uh, I'm not saying I like it any better but I am getting used to it."

   And talking about flying in icing conditions, co-pilot Rebecca Lynn Shaw said: "I've never seen icing conditions. I've never de-iced. I've never seen any. I've never experienced any of that. I don't want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I'd've freaked out. I'd have like seen this much ice and thought oh my gosh we were going to crash."

   Renslow and Shaw also exchanged inappropriate banter after the plane descended below 10,000 feet, which is contrary to federal regulations.

   By the end of the day, the transcript and the testimony seemed to lay the blame for the crash on Renslow and Shaw.

   But wait. There are two more days of hearings still to come.

   And as one observer said after today's hearing: "It can't all be the crew's fault, can it?"

   -- Jerry Zremski

Flight 3407: Who's to blame?

   WASHINGTON — The first piece of advice I got from other reporters and aviation experts when I inquired about covering a plane crash was: "Watch out for people throwing sand in your eyes."

   Plane crashes are not just massive tragedies, they said. They're potential financial disasters for airlines and airplane manufacturers, who will do their utmost to minimize their role in any crash in hopes of minimizing their liability.

   Federal officials might throw sand in your eyes, too, if it turns out that lax federal regulations may have played a role in the crash as well, I was told.

   Three months after the crash of Flight 3407, the National Transportation Safety Board will begin three days of hearings aimed at clearing away whatever sand that might have been tossed in the past three months.

   I thought of that sand-in-the-eyes metaphor again this weekend when a friend said to me: "This was all the pilot's fault, right?"

   Well, is it, really, when there are indications that the pilot may have been tired, and that he may not have been properly trained?

   We'll know more starting today, but I wonder if you think that the question my friend asked might have been a sand-induced question.

   — Jerry Zremski

   Read the full story.

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