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Take my village, please

   The title Hillary Clinton put on the book she wrote about raising children: "It Takes a Village"

   The title Andrew Cuomo could use for the argument he is making about lowering taxes: "Take My Village, Please."

   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News, "Change consolidation laws," supports the drive by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo [right] to change the conflicting, inscrutable and, in some  Cuomo2   cases, flat unconstitutional laws that get in the way of reforming or eliminating the estimated 10,500 or more units of local government scattered about the state. Those units include a plague of special service districts that were formed to do everything from field fire departments to clean up duck waste.

They may have all seemed like good ideas at the time, but they soon evolved into a cynical shell game. Shoving various public services off the books of towns and villages and into the laps of the myriad special districts allowed the mayors and supervisors to brag about how their budgets and payrolls were flat, while shifting the costs, and an uncountable number of patronage jobs, off to the districts.

     The News editorially supported the idea of Cuomo replacing Clinton in the U.S. Senate, when Clinton went on to become President Obama's secretary of state. But Cuomo's drive to reform government, coupled with his successful attacks on corruption in the student loan and health insurance industries, suggests that it was a lot easier to find a new senator than it would be to find another attorney general who would have the guts to take on these modern robber barons on behalf of the people of New York.

   We journalists tease Cuomo about preparing to run for governor, and a new Quinnipac poll indicates he'd have a great shot at the office if he were. But would it really be such a good application of talent to take the best lawyer we've got on our side and make him an overstretched administrator? And, given the budget pain and unending partisanship now suffered by Govs. Paterson, Schwarzenegger and Sebelius, among others, who would want the aggravation?  

Etc:
- The Albany Times-Union and Newsday share our view on Cuomo's local government reform proposals.
-  The Lundine Commission, more formally known as The New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness, outlines a lot of the problems Cuomo is on about.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer

Conservation and energy

   A greenish hue to Sunday's Buffalo News editorial page.

   The lead editorial, "Preserve more wilderness," congratulates Congress for adding more than 2 million federally owned acres to wilderness inventory, the highest level of protection in our law. And it calls for more such land to be so designated, specifically the 54,000 acres identified by experts in the Allegheny National Forest in western Pennsylvania.

  Vast swaths of the Western United States are owned by the federal government, a legacy of the days when they were territories governed directly from Washington. Thus it has been easier for large areas in those states to win wilderness protection. But back East, where greater urbanization puts even more pressure on fragile landscapes, even federally owned land hasn’t received the level of protection it deserves. More wilderness set aside in the ANF would help remedy that problem.

   The second piece, "Use power wisely," expresses hope that a small part of the federal stimulus package President Obama is about to sign is allocated to improving the nation's antiquated, and fossil-Powergrid fuel-dependent, power grid.

   Reformatting our grid to draw more and more of its power from the four ancient elements — earth (geothermal), air (wind), water (hydro) and fire (solar) — will require some big up-front investments. But in the long run, with significantly less dependence on petroleum, coal and natural gas, electric consumers should save money and allow time for another transition to take place without shorting anyone on the power they need.

Etc.:
- Allegheny National Forest official Web site.
Friends of Allegheny Wilderness.
- The Wilderness Society.
The Sacramento Bee also supports the wilderness bill.  
President Obama remarks on passage of stimulus package.
- The New York Independent System Operator, the state's independent wheeler of electric power.
The New York Renewable Energy Task Force report.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer

 

All about stimulus

   Economic stimulus and rescue plans dominate today's Buffalo News editorial page.

   The lead editorial, "Stimulus must reach upstate," argues: Voters here should be outraged if upstate in general and the Buffalo area in particular are shortchanged in economic recovery spending.

   The companion piece, "Add detail to bank plan," opines: A day spent acknowledging the problem and promising to do a better job than the last crowd did in solving it, which is what Treasury Secretary   TimothyGeithner Timothy Geithner [right] did Tuesday, was not the confidence-boosting act that Wall Street needed.
  
[Personal comment: Geithner seems to some to be far too cozy with the same Wall Street people and institutions that created this mess in the first place. In his reluctance to depose them now, he seems to be trying to avoid the great error of the Bush administration's war in Iraq -- the premature de-Baathification of the government and the disasterous dissolution of the nation's army.]   

   And today's Another Voice contribution, from the Western New York Healthcare Association, says to keep it simple: Make sure federal money meant for health care goes for health care.

Elsewhere:
- ProPublica , the interesting new independent investigative journalism Web site, justifies all the fuzzy commentary that's coming out right now by coming right out and saying that the full details of the stimulus plan have not yet been made public. ProPublica's best stab at those facts is here.
The New York Times: The [stimulus] bill is, for the most part, a step in the right direction. But political wrangling, including President Obama’s futile pursuit of bipartisanship, rendered it smaller and less focused than it needed to be.
-
Paul Krugman: Mr. Obama’s victory feels more than a bit like defeat. The stimulus bill looks helpful but inadequate, especially when combined with a disappointing plan for rescuing the banks. And the politics of the stimulus fight have made nonsense of Mr. Obama’s postpartisan dreams.
- The Plain Dealer's Kevin O'Brien: The real price of the stimulus will be individual liberty.
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  The Poughkeepsie Journal: The nation's economy has been taking a shellacking and needs a good jolt, but is this how the country wants to wind up on the hook for another $789 billion? With vague talks of a negotiated stimulus-package deal by congressional leaders and the president? ...With no public vetting that includes - at the very least - the actual language of the massive measure on the Internet for a few days before a final vote?
-
The Dallas Morning News: Unfortunately, the nearly $800 billion framework finalized Wednesday by House and Senate negotiators lacks the right mix of shock and awe.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune: It's disheartening that help for recession-rocked states was cast aside as somehow superfluous to a measure aimed at creating and maintaining jobs. State budgets are all about jobs. One way or another, more than $4 of every $5 Minnesota state government collects in taxes winds up in somebody's paycheck.
-
 The Orange County Register [on the Treasury plan]: So a problem created by reckless credit expansion is to be solved by expanding credit even more. No wonder the markets were not impressed.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer

Lincoln, Darwin @ 200

   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News is among the essays dedicated to the marvelous coincidence of today, the 200th birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin .

   While Lincoln’s ideas were political and Darwin’s scientific, both embodied a profound philosophy that helped to create the world as we know it: Humanity has the capacity to look around, take stock and, through reason and logic, decide for itself what is true. Taking old ideas on faith, whether about the inevitability of slavery or the immutability of species, is beneath us.

On Lincoln:
The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., is Abraham Lincoln central, with this clear-eyed editorial -- Today we see Lincoln as the man who unified this nation. In his day, though, there may have been no Lincoln2 more divisive figure. History has a way of smoothing out such wrinkles -- and a video of a suitably varied assortment of people reciting Lincoln's Gettysburg Address .
- The Indianapolis Star also has a video of a bunch of Hoosiers of all shapes, ages, colors -- and a couple of languages -- reading the address.
- The Calgary Herald reprints an editorial written to honor Lincoln's 100th birthday: It is doubtful whether any character that lives in secular history possesses the same appeal to the human heart as that of Abraham Lincoln.

On Darwin:
- Who better than the BBC to go, well, ape over the Darwin bicentennial, offeringDarwin this staggering multi-media Web site devoted to all things evolutionary.
- In The Washington Post, Rick Weiss admires what might have been Darwin's greatest skill: His willingness to say "I don't know."
-
 The New York Times' wonderful Op-Ed science writerOlivia Judson, admires Darwin the man: He was a humane, gentle, decent man, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend. Judging by his letters, he was also sometimes quite funny. He was, in other words, one of those rare beings, as likeable as he was impressive.
- The Los Angeles Times: But there is a malodorous skunk at this garden party: a movement rooted in American-style biblical fundamentalism that seeks to discredit Darwinism and undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools..

   Now, about the significance of great men and beards ...

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer

Looking forward, looking back

   Editorials in today's Buffalo News look forward with some hope and backward with some wistfullness.

   The lead, "Loan program is needed," argues that a new idea from Gov. David Paterson to help New York college students get lower-interest loans is a good one. And the least that could be done after the same administration has proposed raising tuitions and cutting grant programs for those same universities.
   More support for the loan program, called NYHELPS , is here and here.  

   The companion piece, "Music in motion, stilled," remembers the life and career of Lukas Foss, composer, pianist and, from 1963 to 1970, musical director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Foss    His work with the Philharmonic in new music programming and his combining of performers from the UB group and the Philharmonic in synergistic chamber music concerts at the modern art mecca of the Albright-Knox turned world attention to Buffalo.

   Buffalo News remembrances of Foss are here, here and here - with a companion blog entry here. More background and links on, where else, Wikipedia.
   The Buffalo reference in Foss' extensive New York Times obit falls into the thanks for the faint praise category: As a conductor, Mr. Foss held several important posts, or more precisely he took several minor podiums and transformed them into important ones. In the seven years he directed the Buffalo Philharmonic, from 1963 to 1970, he joined forces with composers on the faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo to raise the city’s profile as a center of musical experimentation.
   No wonder we don't get no respect.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer 

Getting a grip, at home and abroad

   Editorials in today's Buffalo News touch on a couple of news events that are relatively small, symbolic milestones on the way to what may be some real improvement.

   The lead, "CEOs earned pay cap," argues that the $500,000 limit placed on executive pay for companies that take federal bailouts in the future is not all that big a deal, but a useful statement about how Wall Street let itself go:

   If corporate boards and stockholders had been doing their jobs over the years, rewarding executives who built profitable corporations on strong foundations instead of attracting love ’em and leave ’em high flyers, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion at all.

   The second, "Iraq posts electoral progress," notes that while nobody won an overwhelming mandate in Almaliki the recent provincial elections in Iraq, the nationalist government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [right] did well enough to consolidate its power and help American troops find their way out.

Elsewhere:
- The Economist [Motto: "Only the ink is dry"] on the pay limit: In the long run, the more significant change may be Mr Obama’s decision to give American shareholders a vote on executive compensation, through a “say on pay” resolution. A vote is certainly more sensible than a crude government limit—especially if it is extended to all public companies, not just those bailed out by Uncle Sam.
- In The New York Times, the CEO of Netflix argues against the salary limit, but for much higher taxes on giant incomes: Then, the next time a chief executive earns an eye-popping amount of money, we can cheer that half of it is going to pay for our soldiers, schools and security. Higher taxes on huge pay days can finance opportunity for the next generation of Americans.
 -
The Toledo Blade [Ohio has the best names for newspapers]: He who pays the piper calls the tune. Now that the government has paid the pipers, the business executives have no complaint that Mr. Obama is making them face this music.
-
In The Baltimore Sun, a pair of academics points out that the nationalist outcome of the Iraqi elections shows how wrong so many supposedly smart people, including then-Sen. Joe Biden, were about how the country would never hold together.
The Wall Street Journal: The election is further evidence that President Bush and proponents of the 2007 surge were right on another point as well: to wit, that security would precede political reconciliation.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer  

Roundup: Focused on stimulus

   Today's lead editorial urges Congress to get on with passing a stimulus package. We'd prefer that the political pork be kept to an absolute minimum, but the most important measure of success is one that gets money out into the economy quickly.

   Before details of the prolonged and expensive postoperative rehabilitation are worked out, the doctor has to stop the patient from bleeding to death.

Elsewhere:
- President Obama is back on the trail trying to win support for his version of the stimulus.
- News Washington reporter Jerry Zremski outlines how the Buffalo area has so far failed to find many of its shovel-ready, stimulus-making projects on the short list for federal infusions.  Stimulusbills
- New York Times economics pundit Paul Krugman says the program now under discussion is too small and getting smaller due to pressure from the "the destructive center": The centrists, predictably, extracted a pound of flesh — not, as far as anyone can tell, based on any coherent economic argument, but simply to demonstrate their centrist mojo.
-
But Michael Tomasky, the editor of Guardian America, says the stimulus package is proof that Obama has already pushed the political center leftward:  I love the smell of stimulus spending in the morning. It smells like ... victory.
- The Burlington Free Press: Our policymakers must shed any notions that infrastructure is limited to bricks, mortar and pavement, and embrace the 21st-century reality that telecommunications, education and even health care are important part of our economic backbone.
-
The Leader-Telegram in Eau Claire, Wis.: Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature must take care to use the money as a one-time economic infusion, not to fund ongoing programs.
-
 The Scripps News Service: One solution to the impasse, especially given the jobless figures, would be to strip out only those provisions that directly create jobs, such as the $43 billion for infrastructure construction and those that directly protect the jobless, such as extended unemployment benefits, increased food stamps, health care assistance -- and fast track those to passage.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer
  

Vote Now on state budget fix

The previous blog entry, "Things are tough all over,"dealt with the rash of state budget problems around the country. Here's your chance to weigh in on what New York State should do about its own budget problems.


Things are tough all over

   You can run, as Paul Harvey always says, but you can't hide.
   A topic of editorial hair-pulling and hand-wringing across the country is the woeful state of state budgets. Much of it sounds sickeningly familiar to New Yorkers.
   Viz:

- The Buffalo News: State legislators acted quickly to close New York’s current $1.6 billion deficit this week. That’s where the praise stops. The way the lawmakers — or, more specifically, the Democratic Budget leadership — closed this gap was business as usual in Albany: dodge the tough decisions, hike taxes instead of cutting payroll, raid specific pots of revenue to bail out the general fund, ignore any need for structural reforms.
-
The New Haven Register: Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposed state budget is the type of extremely tough fiscal medicine Connecticut must swallow to survive a devastating economic slump. It reflects the unavoidable reality that the state’s tax revenue cannot support expanded spending.
-
The Detroit News: The governor called for what she termed "a comprehensive effort to dramatically change the shape and size of state government" to be headed by Lt. Gov. John Cherry. That's an important exercise, but it would have been more useful had it been done several years ago, not in the penultimate year of her last term in office.
-
 The Philadelphia Inquirer: One proposal that should be dead on arrival is [Gov. Ed] Rendell's plan to raise money for a college tuition fund by legalizing and taxing video poker machines in taverns and private clubs across the state. In football terms, this is a "Hail Mary" of budgeteering. It seeks to legitimize an illegal activity, one result of which would be to further drain the resources of low-income residents. [An idea expressed more, er, graphically, in a Scranton Times-Tribune cartoon.]
- The Santa Rosa Press Democrat: To attain a two-thirds majority — the threshold for passing a budget — members of both parties will have to break promises to allies. And, in the scorched earth custom of recent California politics, some of those allies already are threatening retribution.
-
The Las Vegas Review-Journal: The 2009 Legislature will be almost exclusively focused on protecting, restoring and expanding funding for public schools, higher education, welfare programs and public safety. But lawmakers should be equally focused on eliminating overly generous public employee retirement benefits and prevailing wage laws that were grossly unfair to taxpayers during flush times and are totally indefensible amid the worst recession in generations.
-
The Rochester (Minn.) Post-Bulletin: When Gov. Pawlenty released his budget proposal last week, he included Minnesota's share of the recovery package in his calculations, and we're more than a bit concerned that the federal dollars -- if and when they arrive -- might be quickly consumed as part of a short-term fix to our state's economic problems.

   Etc. Etc. Etc.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer

Roundup: Reform and deliver

   Today's Buffalo News editorials are on about the New York state budget, specifically its Empire Zone economic development program, and the federal budget, specifically the money problems faced by theGov_paterson U.S. Postal Service.

   The lead, "Careful reform needed", argues that proposals from Gov. David Paterson [right] to changethe rules of Empire Zone benefits, mostly tax breaks for new and relocated businesses, are a good idea for the future. New York has to offer such breaks precisely because its taxes are so high, and such a disincentive for new businesses to lcate here or existing ones to expand. But new rules cannot be imposed retroactively on businesses that have already made siting, investment and hiring decisions based on the old rules.

   But we cannot afford for our state to develop a reputation as an unreliable business partner, one that changes the definition of success depending on political whim. This is particularly true in New York, where high taxes and other factors require some positive effort to make us competitive with other regions.

Also:
- Gov. Paterson's press statement on the Empire Zone program.
- The Empire State Development page on existing Empire Zone rules and regulations.
NewsdayThe Albany Times UnionThe Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and The New York Post all attack Paterson and legislative leaders for their secretly reached budget agreement, one that fails to really cut spending or address the state's many structural deficit problems.

   The second editorial, "Deliver help to the mails", argues that Congress should not rush to approve the Postal Service's request to cut mail delivery back to five days a week from six. Even if the outfit, Usps losing all that business to e-mail and electronic bill-paying, is going broke.

   Any such change also cannot be made without a very open process and input from businesses and others on what day to skip would make sense for them, not just for the Postal Service.

   The USPS press release on the service's fiscal woes, and other steps it is taking or may take to address them, is here -- in, irony of ironies, PDF form.
   Elsewhere, opinions supporting the idea that mail delivery can be cut back to five days a week include those in The Miami Herald, the Racine [Wis.] Journal Times, the Fort Myers [Fla.] News-Press. Those opposed include the Walla Walla Union Bulletin and the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer

 

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