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A big hotel, a tiny cell, and wine

   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News -- "Hotel plans revisited" -- notes with approval that J.W. Pitts Hotel Properties has resubmitted its plan for a waterfront hotel. The generic suburban/airport style that foolishly had been submitted along with the Pitts proposal to the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency has been replaced with a site-specific "Real Urbanism" design [left] that arguably complements nearby residential and office developments.

In terms of scale and site plan, the team’s proposal has been strengthened considerably. The Common Council should take a close look at this improved plan, and at how it fits into the entire scheme of future waterfront redevelopment, before charting any new courses for this Erie Basin hotel project.

   More on said project herethere and yonder.

   The second editorial -- "Widening stem cell work" -- approves of President Obama's order lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It holds much promise for finding cures for diseases and treatment for injuries.
   But, we argue, such research should be limited to the many embryos that are the by-product of fertility treatment. A proposal to allow the creation of new embryos specifically for such research should not become law.

   And, in the Another Voice and My View billets today, two servings of wine.

   In the My View column, Robin Bobowicz fights cabin fever with a wine tasting.

   In Another Voice, Rochester liquor store owner Joseph J. Pecoraro dissents from the News editorial that favored allowing New York grocery stores to sell wine.
   [Newsday and The New York Post are among other newspapers that agree with us on the wine issue. But maybe that's just because newspaper people feel a need for easy access to more alcohol.]

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer      

The Paragraph Factory

Hi, everyone. Charity and I will be doing another installment of The Paragraph Factory at 2 p.m. today, and this time we'll start with a reader's request that we discuss journalistic writing. Of course, that's just the start -- the chat will go wherever you want to take it.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day! This installment is dedicated to James Joyce. The UB library has the world's largest collection of Joyce memorabilia, including a first edition of "Ulysses," and the 2009 North American James Joyce Conference will be held here in June -- right around "Bloomsday," which gives this area yet another excuse for an Irish party.

See you at 2!

Strong and sunny

 The Buffalo News does not intend to die.

   The fact that that sentence even needs to be written is a stark example of how much things have changed. And not for the better.
   Sunday's Buffalo News Opinion pages began the annual observance of Sunshine Week with editorialsCornerstone that not only call for transparent government but also raise concerns about whether there will be enough newspapers, and newspaper reporters, to carry that information to you.
   The lead is "Keeping the media strong."  It explains how, even though there is a lot of news to write, and a lot of people still reading it, the ability of the writers to make money from the readers is quickly vanishing in an online world.

   Despite the occasional rant by a blogger, those problems are not tied primarily to perceptions of media bias. Papers with liberal or conservative editorial pages alike are threatened, and here at The News our monitoring tells us more people than ever before are reading our paper—although more and more of them are accessing it for free, online. The journalism isn’t broken. The business model is, and we’re working to change it—constantly improving our Web sites and designing specialty publications, for example.

   The second -- "Federal shield law needed" -- explains the need for laws that keep the government and its doings open to the people it is supposed to serve.
   And the Sunday Viewpoints cover story -- Jerry Zremski's "Out of the shadows" -- explains the history of Sunshine Week and outlines the possibility that things may be more open under the new Obama administration. 
   But, face it, without newspapers, the kind that do the real reporting and digging and comparing and contrasting and, on our pages, evaluating, it doesn't matter if all government doings are open. Nobody'd hear about them anyway.

   Other exortations on the importance of open government from:
- Ohio's Chillicothe Gazette: Closed-mindedness, while not the norm, breeds suspicion. Freedom of Sunshineweek information and open meetings, on the other hand, bring the light of day to the residents and help them make informed decisions.
The Arizona Republic's distinguished counsel, David Bodney, quotes James Madison: A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or both.
The Nashville Tennessean's Mark Silverman*: The best test of this administration's commitment to open government will be the transparency given the economic stimulus program.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer
   * Silverman's title is editor and vice president/content and audience development. An example of what we're all up against trying to figure out this brave new world.  

Bad idea. Good idea.

   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News -- "Bad timing on a bad idea" -- pokes state Sen. Antoine Thompson [left] for his proposal that would give state and local public employees two paid days off a year Senthompson for every school-age child they have so they can "participate in his or her child's education." Other bills would give public employees paid days off to donate blood or get a colon cancer screening. [Such time off is already offered for breast cancer and prostate cancer screens.]
   Text and other details of the bill -- Bill No. S1211 -- can be found here. [Be sure and tell it you want that bill number from the year 2009.] 
   Bad idea. Unless, maybe, the workers take unpaid time to volunteer or attend parent-teacher conferences. Then they'd not only help their children's education. They'd be helping the state pay for it.

   But noooooooo.
   Thompson, a Buffalo Democrat, isn’t proposing that state workers come anywhere near the sacrifice being made by those in many private companies and in public service in other states. He wants to give them another paid perk, right at the moment when the state is broke, scads of taxpayers are losing their jobs and nobody, nowhere, has as cushy a deal as those on the public payroll in the Empire State.

   But the second edie -- "A forward-looking deal" -- praises Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown for improvising a deal that will pay Maryellen Opalinski a salary for doing what she's devoted herself to doing anyway - providing constant care to her seriously injured life partner, Patricia A. Parete. Parete, of course, is the Buffalo Police officer wounded in the line of duty in 2006 and Opalinski is a nurse.
   It is a creative way around the outdated approach to employee benefits that excludes domestic partners who are unmarried only because the state won't allow them to get married.Schneegold

   In the neighboring real estate devoted to the My View column, Jim Schneegold [right] wonders why everyone seems to be treating him like an old person.

   And, in the Another Voice slot, Grace-Marie Turner, argues in favor of free-market solutions for health care problems.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer   

Roundup: Promises and threats

   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News -- "Stay within the law" -- lauds President Obama for (mostly) ending a corrupt Bush administration practice of attaching presidentia"signing statements" to many bills that were signed into law. Those statements, in the last regime, far too often amounted to a back-door Obamasigns veto, most often of laws aimed at limited the excesses and abuses of the Bush-led war on terror.
   Of course, now that the Obama crowd has seen how much their predecessors were able to get away with in that area, the rest of the country should be worried that they might be tempted to try it, too.
   This just in: The New York Times reports that Obama has already issued a big signing statement of his own, interpreting and, in some cases, basically erasing certain parts of the giant appropriations bill that just became law. 

      The second edit -- "Keep health options open" -- says that whether Obama's idea of creating a government-run health insurance program to compete with private sector insurance policies is a serious plan or a bargaining chip, it is not an option that should be given up too soon. It could be the way the government actually lowers health care costs rather than, as is usually the case, just raise taxes to pay them.

   [It's] as if you reported that your husband or wife has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom and the police, rather than set out to find the criminals, just give you the money to pay the kidnappers.

See also:
- ScrippsNews editorial on the signing statements: While this makes practical sense, it is hardly the clean break with the past that his supporters had expected.
The Waco Tribune: Hopefully this and future presidents will veto bills they don’t think are constitutional and can’t be enforced. Then Congress will have to muster an override or holster its legislation. To do otherwise with profligacy is to make a mockery of checks and balances and the whole system our forefathers crafted so well.
- Obama health care czarina Nancy-Ann DeParle waxes optimistic in The Boston Globe: As a participant in the 1993-'94 health reform effort, I can say that this time, it feels different already.
The New York Times agrees that Obama knows the questions, but is still waiting for the answers: His proposals, for all of their ambition, do not fully answer two central questions: how to cover tens of millions of uninsured Americans, and how to reform the health care system to reduce costs and improve the quality of care.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer 

Building. Planning. Dying.

   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News -- "Stand behind local hopes" -- argues that state assistance for economic development projects in Buffalo and Niagara Falls needs to go ahead, even in times of economic woes. Especially in times of economic woes.

   The taxpayers of the state of New York should not assist long-term economic development in Buffalo and Niagara Falls as an act of kindness. Or even as recompense for years of neglect.
They should do it as a way of balancing the state’s economic base, so that future dips, hiccups and disasters on Wall Street might be at least somewhat balanced by a Western New York economy, an economy that is in turn balanced across pillars of tourism, education, health care, green energy and agriculture, among others.

   [Gov. David Paterson, after some scary loose lips earlier in the week, said as much during a visit to Buffalo Thursday.]

   The second editorial -- "Establish planning board" -- supports efforts by members of the Erie County Legislature, and others, to create a county planning board to review the county's overall growth patterns and help the smaller communities build a logical set of standards that developers can count on when planning projects.

   All of which seems really kind of petty next to today's My View. Charles Burgin [left] remembers Charlesburgin the murder of his brother, 15 years ago, and what it says about life in modern urban America.

   To date, I have participated in more than 100 prayer vigils, assisting many families while also attending more than 100 funerals. I started seeing a pattern of disgust. Homicide after fratricide, the community would become temporarily enraged, then it was business as usual until the next murder. Unified leadership for “real” change is AWOL.

   And, in Another Voice, the president of the New York State Public Employees Federation, Ken Brynien, argues that the state should preserve its juvenile facilities.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer 



Top 50 news events in the Buffalo area

This took more time than I'd hoped, but your input to our earlier blog about the top stories in local history now has produced an expanded and updated list. We've gone from 36 to 50 in this admittedly subjective version, and we've added some long-lived events such as the Great Depression, Prohibition and WNY participation in World War II; continuous coverage of those events consumed prodigious amounts of newsprint, but the nebulosity of all that cost them in rankings that (subjectively) favor specific events.

Here's the new list. Feel free to comment, again. And thanks for posting on the earlier one!

1.  Opening of the Erie Canal (Oct. 26, 1825) *
2.  British burn Buffalo (Dec. 30, 1813)*
3.  President McKinley assassinated (Sept. 6, 1901)
4.  Cleveland Hill school fire (11 die, 19 hurt, March 31, 1954)
5.  Great Storm of 1844 (about 200 drown, Oct. 18, 1844)*
6.  Blizzard of ’77 (Jan. 28, 1977)
7.  Buffalo Harbor opens (April 13, 1822)*
8.  Attica prison uprising (9 hostages and 28 inmates die, Sept. 9-13, 1971)
9.  Paddlewheel steamer Erie burns off Dunkirk (more than 175 die, Aug. 9, 1841)*
10 .22-Caliber Killer  (September, 1980)
11. Flight 3407  (50 die, Feb. 12, 2009)
12. The Angola Horror train wreck (about 50 die, Dec. 18, 1868)*
13. Honeymoon Bridge collapse  (Jan. 27, 1938)
14. Financial Panic of 1837 starts with Buffalo property speculation collapse (1837)*
15. East Side propane blast (5 firefighters killed, Dec. 27, 1983)
16. Peace Bridge opens (1927)
17. Father Baker’s death draws 375,000 mourners (funeral Aug. 3, 1936)
18. Civil rights riots  (June 29, 1967)
19. Canal District fire (10 blocks burn, 700-800 homeless, Sept. 26, 1851)*
20. Love Canal (evacuated Aug. 4, 1978)
21. Pan-American Exposition dedicated (May 20, 1901)
22. Great Depression (1929-1930s)
23. Cholera epidemics of 1832-1834  (hundreds die in summer of 1832)*
24. Electricity transmitted Niagara Falls to Buffalo (Nov. 14, 1896)
25. WNY participation in World War II (1940s)
26. Bike Path Killer/Delaware Park Rapist  (2006)
27. Freighter-gasoline barge collision and fire kills 11 (Oct. 29, 1951)
28. Tim McVeigh/Oklahoma City bombing (arrest April 22, 1995)
29. Prohibition in WNY (1920s)
30. Grover Cleveland elected president (Nov. 5, 1884)
31. Vice President Millard Fillmore becomes president (1850)*
32. City schools desegregation (1972-1976)
33. Buffalo Bills first Super Bowl and “Wide Right” (Jan. 27, 1991)
34. Buffalo Sabres’ first Stanley Cup finals and the French Connection (1975)
35. Eagle Park dock collapse on Grand Island kills 37 (June 23, 1912)
36. Barnett Slepian/James Kopp abortion-related murder case (Oct. 23, 1998)
37. Schoellkopf power plant collapses (June 7, 1956)
38. Marchand murder case (artist and model scandal, March 7, 1931)
39. Cheryl Jolls kidnapping case (1961)
40. Oil barge fire explodes tanker, sinks fireboat on Buffalo River (July 27, 1928)
41. Lackawanna Six (2002)
42. Bucky Phillips manhunt (2006)
43. Michigan Avenue bridge destroyed by drifting freighter (Jan. 21, 1959)
44. Influenza epidemic (1918)
45. Buffalo Vietnam war protests at UB, (Feb. 24-March 21, 1970)
46. Erie County domed stadium dispute (1984)
47. Buffalo dockworker riots (1884)
48. Richard Long killing involves off-duty police (1977)
49. Adelphia telecommunications collapse and scandal (2002)
50. Canadiana riots (May 30, 1956)

* denotes dates before founding of The Buffalo Evening News

Roundup: That's a big budget

   Sunday's lead editorial -- "Huge problem, huge budget" -- isn't ready to wholeheartedly support President Obama's huge $3.6 trillion budget. Or its huge $1.75 trillion projected deficit.
   But it is ready to acknowledge that, given the depth and breadth of today's economic problems, Obamabudget something really big is necessary.

Bring on the debate. But make those who would say that Obama’s answers are wrong do so only by saying what would be right—for everything and for everyone. There is indeed a huge problem confronting America and, like the president, all those who would govern today must think nothing but big thoughts.

   The White House has given its budget proposals their own Web site.

And so on:
The New York Post: Don't be fooled: President Obama did not propose a federal budget yesterday. What he offered was a $3.6 trillion spendapalooza meant to usher in a new era in the nation's political and economic life.
Fortune columnist Anthony Karydakis: These are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures. Preaching in a robot-like fashion the principle of fiscal responsibility in the midst of the biggest crisis the U.S. economy has experienced in 75 years sounds pretty irresponsible itself, particularly when all that the critics have to offer as an alternative is tax cuts  
 The Wall Street Journal: President Obama is attempting not merely to expand the role of the federal government but to put it in such a dominant position that its power can never be rolled back.
New York Times Economic Scene columnist David Leonhardt: The Obama budget ... would sharply raise taxes on the rich, beyond where Bill Clinton had raised them. It would reduce taxes for everyone else, to a lower point than they were under either Mr. Clinton or George W. Bush. And it would lay the groundwork for sweeping changes in health care and education, among other areas.
The Detroit News: President Barack Obama's proposed budget outline assumes tax increases don't affect behavior. They do. It also assumes Congress will end its spending spree. It won't. If all of the programs in the budget plan become law, tax increases will affect more Americans than the high-income earners targeted in this proposal, and the economy will suffer.
Newsday: President Barack Obama gambled big Thursday when he unveiled his first budget. He treated taxpayers like grown-ups. His extraordinary candor about what Washington spends, and what he thinks it will cost to get the economy out of the tank and on course for a sound future, is refreshing.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer
[Ten points for guessing the pop culture allusion in the headline to this blog post.]

Wine sales in supermarkets

Gov. David A. Paterson hopes to capture more than $100 million in franchise fees by giving supermarkets and grocery stores a chance to expand their beer licenses to include the sale of wine. That gives supermarkets an opening they've sought for years, and has incensed liquor store owners who say that if they lose their exclusive right to sell what amounts to 60 percent of their trade, a thousand stores (of New York's approximately 2,600) will close and 4,000 employees will be out of work.

There are a lot of strong arguments here. Does this make economic sense? Would the competition be good or bad? Would consumers benefit from the convenience, or would hard-liquor purchasers be inconvenienced by store closings? What about the impacts on underage sales, or drunken driving? Is a liquor store license, which long has made store owners serve a state regulatory function, a form of property and is its current exclusivity a property right? What about supermarkets having one license for an entire chain, while store owners can only hold one license for one location? Would this help or heard New York State wine producers, agriculture in general, the state agricultural economy? And to top it all off, each side accuses the other of fighting dirty.

Today's editorial considers salient arguments and then, guided in part by experience in the other 35 states that allow supermarket wine sales, says go ahead and expand the market. But liquor store owners should get some concessions, too, such as removals of bans on sales of foods and such items as wine gift bags. If you can go into Tops or Wegmans and buy some wine to go with your cheese, you ought also to be able to pop into the local liquor store and pick up some cheese to go with your wine.

Harbor thaws; Republicans dither; dogs love

The lake is still frozen, but the harbor is starting to thaw.

   That's the lead of the lead editorial -- "Waterfront sees progress" -- in today's Buffalo News. It is happy about the fact that Buffalo's waterfront redevelopment is starting to move beyond the necessaryCanalsideRGB demolition and into a real planning stage.

   Buffalo should heed the recommendation of a new citizens advisory panel that development efforts should be guided by a clear long-term vision of what the waterfront should be.

   The second editorial -- "GOP needs to regroup" -- wishes the United States had an opposition party   Gopelephant with something to offer in the national debate about restoring the economy.

   Is the national Republican Party suicidal or merely confused? Either is possible, but the result could well be a generation spent wandering in the political wilderness.

   More hopeful is Jacci Reed's My View contribution -- "Dogs have taught me unconditional love".

   When all is said and done, my only goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog thinks I am. 

   More demanding is today's Another Voice column. Long-time educator Ann Lupo argues "Low expectations veil a pernicious form of racism"

I have taught “inner-city youth” and their teachers for more than 30 years. I know what they are capable of and what their parents can reasonably expect. High expectations lead to high performance.

--George Pyle/Editorial Writer


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