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Comments that get people in trouble

   As of about 1:30 Tuesday afternoon, the score was News Editor 489, Hack Writer 0. Comments, that is.
   From the Sunday Viewpoints section:

- Seeking a return to civility in online comments - Margaret Sullivan/The Buffalo News
   Some editors were sitting in a news meeting one morning not long ago, bemoaning the often outrageous,Sullivan_margaret intolerant and hateful online “comments” attached to stories on The News Web site, when News Business Editor Grove Potter uttered a simple but eloquent truth:
   “Let’s face it,” he said. “We’ve created a class of anonymous flamethrowers.”
   He’s right. We have. And shortly, we’re about to change that dramatically
- It’s time for news sites to stop allowing anonymous online comments - Rem Rieder/American Journalism Review
   Comments sections are often packed with profanity and vicious personal attacks. The opportunity to launch brutal assaults from the safety of a computer without attaching a name does wonders for the bravery levels of the angry.
 The anonymous back-stabbing of Internet message boards - Leonard Pitts/Miami Herald/Seattle Times
  It must have seemed like a great idea at the time.
- Anonymous comments part of online life - Michael Silence/The Knoxville News Sentinel
  The sanctimonious, high-brow bloviating by some Ivory Tower types is getting old - like half a decade old.
   On the heals of recently discovering the Internet (sarcasm intended), some are now hyperventilating about anonymous online comments.
   Hello? What do you think has been happening on talk radio for, oh, decades?
- Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster - Neil Swidey/The Boston Globe
   News websites from across the country struggle to maintain civility in their online comments forums. But given their anonymous nature and anything-goes ethos, these forums can sometimes feel as ungovernable as the tribal lands of Pakistan

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Two kinds of suicide

   A rather morbid theme to today's Buffalo News Opinion section editorials:

- Fixing the jail - Buffalo News Editorial
   For months, Erie County Executive Chris Collins insisted that there was nothing wrong with the County Holding Center  that was any of the federal government's business.
   Last week, Collins
agreed to fix many of the things that were seriously wrong with the Holding Center, in Holdingcenter return for a federal surrender on a point of law that he says will protect taxpayers from lawsuits that might otherwise be filed.
   Thus Collins can claim a political victory, and the people of Erie County gain some hope that the operation of their downtown lock-up will be the site of fewer inmate suicides
and the cause of fewer expensive lawsuits.
   The pact also stands, as Collins argues, as a good model for settling a handful of
other troubling charges against the county's correctional facilities.
   Taxpayers may be left to wonder why county officials were so willing to draw this line in the sand, exposing the county to high legal fees now and the threat of very expensive court orders later, rather than work more cooperatively with the
U.S. Justice Department and reassure the public that it took the spate of jailhouse suicides seriously.
   [Note that the Justice Department is hardly conceding anything. The headline on its press release is: Justice Department Obtains Sweeping Reforms in Suicide Prevention Practices at the Erie County Holding Center, Buffalo, New York to Protect Inmates from Life Threatening Conditions. So there.]

- Up in smoke - Buffalo News Editorial
   It’s not hard to feel some sympathy for the Seneca Nation of Indians as it awaits what amounts to a death sentence for its Internet cigarette business. The recent law banning the U.S. Postal Service from delivering cigarettes will hurt, and perhaps cripple, its operations.
   But sympathy isn’t the same as support. This was the right decision. Addictive, poisonous substances shouldn’t be available at the click of a button. That, alone, was sufficient reason to enact this law. ...
  Things change. Ideas evolve. Fifty years ago, doctors were advertising cigarettes on television. Today, we understand the severe social and individual costs of nicotine addiction. This is a change whose time has come.

   Of course, doctors used to make house calls, too:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Two [more] places reform is long overdue

   Today's Buffalo News editorials call for reform. But nobody's holding their breath.

- Too long a flight - Buffalo News Editorial
   Most people understand that government works slowly. The structure of our federal government was designed to encourage deliberation and, for the most part, it succeeds wildly -- at least in terms of the time Dotlogo it takes to get anything done. But 15 years?
   That's how long the Department of Transportation has been working on the urgent task of updating flight and duty regulations for pilots. Had it done the work more expeditiously -- say, in just 10 years -- perhaps Flight 3407 wouldn't have crashed in Clarence Center last year.
   But since the DOT didn't, and since 50 people lost their lives in the February 2009 crash, shouldn't that light a fire underneath the public servants charged with rewriting rules on pilot fatigue? Yes, it should, but that's not happening, either.
   Congressional Democrats and Republicans, alike, are demanding action from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose lame response to their prodding was straight out of the government handbook: "Safety is our number one priority and addressing pilot fatigue is a crucial step toward making our skies safer. This rule is under review and we're working as quickly as possible to put forth a proposal."
   Right. The check is in the mail. ...

- Creating the ‘new’ Democrats - Buffalo News Editorial
   The New York State Democratic Party is busy trying to change its tarnished—and competely accurate—image as a corrupt organization in the pocket of special interests. So it proclaimed during its nominating convention recently in Rye Brook and, indeed, it may have made a good start on that project by anointing Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo as its candidate for governor this year.
   But a change of governor will not, on its own, repair a broken culture. And judging by the comments of Speaker Sheldon Silver, Cuomo’s most earnest efforts are likely to be met by nothing better than indifference in the State Assembly. If the Democratic Party—not just Cuomo—is serious about transforming itself into an organization devoted to the needs of some of the nation’s most poorly served constituents, there are some marks they’ll need to hit—some tests of intent. Here are some measures of the party’s commitment to change: ...

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Good. Good. Good.

   A three-fer in today's Buffalo News editorial column. And all of them full of praise. Must be spring.

- Capitalizing on the Canal - Buffalo News Editorial
   New York's Erie Canal is not just something to read about in history books. It is still there, a sometimes beautiful, always valuable, waterway that, with other channels in the system, meanders along for more than 500 miles. ...
   The Canalway Water Trail, which the corporation hopes to expand in the future, pinpoints the spots where people can launch their powerboats or paddleboats into the historic waterway. For free. ...
   New York's canals are not an asset to be squandered. The new trail map is a welcome effort toward putting them to their highest and best use.

- Honors for City Honors - Buffalo News EditorialCityhonors
   We are so used to dealing with difficulty in this struggling city that we sometimes fail to appreciate the excellence within. There is a lot of it to be found, but the example we have in mind today is a component of the often-maligned Buffalo Public School District. City Honors has been recognizedagain — as one of the best public high schools in the entire nation. That’s something to cheer about.
   More below.

- Service in the public spirit - Buffalo News Editorial
   Something very public-spirited is happening at County Hall — something that speaks well of one of the region’s best known corporations. National Fuel has sent one of its executives, Jeffrey F. Hart, to serve as top deputy to Erie County Executive Chris Collins. The company will continue to pay Hart’s salary while Hart, himself, will donate his county salary to charity.
   The arrangement speaks well of all involved and represents a pattern that, carefully implemented, would be worth repeating in other levels of government.

   Newsweek also offered a list of the Best Movies About High School. This one was first:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Is he mad enough?

   Much punditry has been spilled on the question of whether President Obama is teed off enough at BP for The World's Worst Oil Spill. Viz:

- More action, better words - Buffalo News Editorial
   ... Some observers have lamented that Obama has not blown his preternatural cool and gotten angry Obamagulfspeech over the environmental disaster. But we probably wouldn't like it if he did, either.
   For one thing, grown men spitting in anger are seldom inspiring sights. For another, some of that anger would have to be directed, not at BP and its contractors, but at the American people for being so devoted to their unsustainably filthy habit of consuming energy like there was no tomorrow and expecting the government to somehow clean up the mess.
- BP—Blah Performance - Daniel Gross/Slate
   President Obama's Oval Office speech about the Gulf oil spill was almost enough to make you miss President George W. Bush. Maybe not the actual presidency of George W. Bush, but at least the platonic ideal of the presidency of George W. Bush—the MBA president, the chief executive as CEO.
The Boring Speech Policy - Gail Collins/The New York Times
   I was hoping for a call to arms, a national mission as great as the environmental disaster that inspired it. After the terrorist attack, George W. Bush could have called the country to a grand, important new undertaking in which everyone sacrificed personal or regional advantage for the common good. The fact that he only told us to go shopping was the one unforgivable sin of his administration.
Floating Above the Chaos - Tina Brown/The Daily Beast
   Obama seized the crisis, all right. But he praised people we've already lost confidence in -- and proved anew that the president doesn't know much about management.
- Democrats should show a little pride and purpose - E.J. Dionne/The Washington Post
   Why does it so often seem that Republicans are full of passionate intensity while Democrats lack all conviction?

   O.K. Here's a sampling of speeches about bad stuff that happened. Anger? Resolve? [At least they didn't wait 57 days.]



In fact, sometimes it works better if you do it with some humor:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Honoring the dead. Investigating murder.

   A somber tone to today's Buffalo News editorials:

- Honor the fallen - Buffalo News Editorial
   It is sobering to note that the graves at Arlington National Cemetery go back to the Civil War.Arlington
   It is disgusting to find out that the means of keeping records there does, too.
   Of course, no amount of antiquated technology or excuses about the increased number of burials going on there these days makes up for the news, ferreted out over many months by the Internet magazine and admitted last week by the Army, that at least 200 graves at the nation’s most honored cemetery had been mislabeled. ...
   It is a situation that violates not only every concept of common decency, but also Mr. Lincoln’s explicit promise to care for him who has borne the battle.
   It is a disgrace, and the Army should spare no expense, and brook no coverups, in making it right.

- Bullet points: OK microstamping - Buffalo News Editorial
   It’s a small idea. Admittedly so small that even its backers use the prefix “micro-” in describing it.
   But if it helps cut down on the incidents of gun violence in the mean streets of Buffalo, New York City and other parts of the state, it is a good idea nevertheless.
   An idea now moving through the New York Legislature, with the enthusiastic backing of many of the state’s mayors and law enforcement agencies, would require that to be legal in New York, semiautomatic pistols manufactured after Jan. 1, 2011, would have to include a technology called micro-stamping.

Update: The bill passed the Assembly, but later in the day was withdrawn in the Senate when it became apparent it didn't have the votes to pass.

No funny stuff today. Just a moment:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Reform East. Reform West.

   A couple of eddies today about reform, hoped for here and attempted there:

- Pass SUNY reform - Buffalo News EditorialSunylogo
   As Albany approaches its piecemeal adoption of the 2010-11 state budget, the twin fates of SUNY and the Western New York economy hang in the balance. Prospects for passage of a bill that would give the SUNY system greater independence appear iffy, but that worrisome fact merely calls for supporters to increase their efforts on behalf of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act.
measure, which would allow campuses to set their own tuition rates and encourage partnerships with private companies, has broad support around the state but runs into a hotbed of opposition in one key constituency: Democrats in the State Assembly

- Watch this California experiment - Buffalo News Editorial
    ... It’s a device called an open primary. Starting next year, every time California voters choose a member of their Legislature, vote for governor or other statewide offices or fill one of their 55 seats in Congress, they will dispense with the idea of two or more primary elections or party conventions and throw every hat into the same ring.
   Every candidate for a particular office will run in a primary election against every other candidate for that same office. The two top vote-getters go on to the November general election, even if they are members of the same party, or of a minor party, or of no party at all.
   The hope is that the open primaries will attract more voters than the relatively few party hearties who now show up for the undercard. That, supposedly, will make the selection process more representative of the electorate as a whole, and less likely to be supportive of the left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans who can dominate the process.
   The Sacramento Bee and the LA Times liked the idea.
   George F. Will and Ralph Nader did not.
   Is that what they mean by politics making strange bedfellows?

  -- George Pyle/The Buffalo News  

When science works, and technology fails ...

   A scientific bent to today's Buffalo News editorials:

- Expand DNA databank - Buffalo News Editorial
   ... Gov. David A. Paterson last week proposed another expansion of New York's DNA database, and Dna lawmakers should approve it. ...
   The goal of the proposed change, Paterson said, is to catch criminals, prevent crime and exonerate individuals wrongly convicted. It will do at least one other thing, as well: It will decrease the chance that an innocent person will be wrongfully convicted.
- Tighten measures for DNA database - Poughkeepsie Journal Editorial
   Expanding the database makes sense, but the state needs both the resources and a comprehensive plan to handle the consequences of that expansion. Otherwise, lawmakers shouldn't approve it.
- The Innocence Project

- Painful lessons in the gulf - Buffalo News Editorial
   Toward the end of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” as a platoon of white-shirted engineers were using the pinnacle of 1970s technology to communicate with the visiting space ships, one of the NASA-looking technicians was heard to mutter, “I hope somebody’s taking all this down.”
   We’re a long way from the end of the
gulf oil spill, an event that is unlikely to have an uplifting Spielbergian ending. But the engineers who work for the oil industry and for the government agencies that were supposed to be watching over their shoulders are making some progress in closing the pipe and cleaning up the mess.
   They are at least finding out a few things that don’t work. Somebody better be taking all this down.
- Obama administration should consider alternatives to its current drilling moratorium - New Orleans Times-Picayune Editorial
   The scientists and experts who opposed the administration's current moratorium said it is wrongly punishing innocent workers. They are right. That's why the Obama administration should replace this ban with measures that will improve safety without choking our economy.
- The joke's on us - Pensacola News Journal Editorial
   The Associated Press last week "capped" the gushing spill of information confirming the failure of regulation in an examination of BP's oil spill response plans. They included a 582-page regional plan for the Gulf and a 52-page "site specific" plan for responding to a spill from the Deepwater Horizon, the source of the current mess.
   To put it simply, the plans were a joke.
- Don't halt offshore drilling; make it safer - Dallas Morning News Editorial
   Accidents happen, but growing evidence indicates that this severe a catastrophe was preventable with better behavior by both BP and federal regulators. Let's be ready for the next one.
Insults Across The Water - Timothy Egan/The New York Times
   American anger has little to do with the island nation and everything to do with a multinational corporation that has appeared tone deaf and negligent

   "It's the first day of school, fellas:"

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

An icon for Buffalo

The first -- in fact, the only -- editorial in today's Buffalo News Opinion section:Twodiamonds

- Region deserves an iconic bridge - Buffalo News Editorial
   This is no time to be timid.
   Even though it may seem we've been planning forever for the needed new span between Buffalo and Fort Erie, we will only have one shot at building it. What we get for our pains, our tolls and our tax money should not be something we settle for, something we can live with. It should be something we can be proud of, can be inspired by, not only now, but for the decades to come.
   A city with a history built on building, and on building with excellence -- canals, grain elevators, unique buildings and grand parks -- not only deserves but has the right to demand that the most important public improvement project of our generation be a worthy successor to that inheritance. It is necessary for not just our commercial needs but also our civic pride, the engines that will inspire and equip us to face our other problems.
   As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan [right] exhorted the Common Council, in the early days of bridge Moynihan planning: "Think of the glory!"
   It now falls to the Bridge Authority, the binational governing body that operates the crossing, to overcome any sense that the long design and approval process should result in something like architectural exhaustion.
   Of the five design alternatives presented to the public in the last round of public comments, the one bridge that does not fully measure up is the arch style. The rest, all signature towers, are acceptable and the clear favorite in our corner is the two-tower diamond design [above]. It is a bold image that would provide both beauty to the eye and a symbolic "gateway" gesture of welcome to visitors and merchants sojourning back and forth between the United States and Canada.

   Lots of images and information from the Bridge Authority:
- Elevations and footprints here.
- Fly-by and drive-through animations of:

The three-tower needle bridge:

The three-tower diamond bridge:

The two-tower needle bridge:

The two-tower diamond bridge [our favorite]:

The three-arch bridge [the most popular according to public comments]:

  Comments and information from:
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins
- U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter
- Gov. David Paterson
- Audubon New York   
- National Trust for Historic Preservation

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Hitting our wallets. Saving our wilderness.

   Editorials from today's Buffalo News Opinion section:

- Another hit in the wallet - Buffalo News Editorial
   In the midst of New York's worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, the State Senate has voted to increase everyone's electric and gas bills. The Assembly is all but certain to follow suit. All of Nationalgrid which is to say, it's business as usual in the state capital.
   They haven't passed a budget yet, but they're on track to drive up the cost of living in this dysfunctional state. Who are these people? The 33 senators who voted for this assault on common sense — including
William Stachowski and Antoine Thompson, both Buffalo Democrats — are plainly seeking to curry election-year favor with the unions that will benefit from this legislation. More than that, they don't care a whit about what it does to the pocketbooks of rate-payers or the state economy in general. As we said: business as usual.
   On the other hand:
- Should NY Lawmakers Close Pay Loophole for Utility Companies? - Public News Service 
   Buffalo Assemblyman Sam Hoyt says some utility companies use contractors for such services as janitorial or security that pay less than eight dollars an hour. He says these regulated utilities can afford to pay workers a living wage, particularly when some of their executives earn millions of dollars a year.

- Designate the wilderness - Buffalo News Editorial
   Congress should support an effort by six conservation organizations, representing nearly 65,000 Pennsylvanians, to gain wilderness designation for parts of the Allegheny National Forest, that state’s only national forest and a natural area well within the reach of Western New Yorkers.
   The coalition is backing the Citizens’ Wilderness Proposal for Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest, a measure designed by Friends of Allegheny Wilderness in 2003. The proposal identifies 54,460 acres of wilderness-quality lands in the forest.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

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