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Lessons learned

   Deep editorial thoughts, from the Buffalo News Opinion shop, about teaching in school and learning in politics.

- Sherrod in the vortex - Buffalo News Editorial
   The Shirley Sherrod moment was one that had to come -- for better and for worse. The lunatic frenzy of false accusation, gutless overreaction and shame-faced comprehension represents the inevitable collision of some of the most powerful and elemental forces of American society: racism; the media; broken Adamneitherami politics; and the power of the federal government, reaching right into the White House, home of the nation's first black president.
   Sherrod was dragged into a vortex of insanity not of her own making. An African-American and an official in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sherrod was portrayed as a racist in a maliciously truncated video that made it appear as though she had once denied her full energies to a white farmer in difficulty. ...
   Yet in between release of the edited version and the full one, Sherrod was fired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, criticized by the likes of Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and even the NAACP chapter to which Sherrod had made her speech. Vilsack, O'Reilly and the NAACP have since apologized -- as has President Obama -- and Vilsack has offered Sherrod a new job in the Agriculture Department. He said he wants his agency "to learn from this experience."
  
   Related
:
- Public expects 'gotcha' reporting - Dubuque [Iowa] Telegraph Herald Editorial
- Faster Than a Speeding Blog - New York Times Editorial  
- Another lie from the right - Leonard Pitts/Miami Herald/Buffalo News
- You’ll Never Believe What This White House Is Missing - Maureen Dowd/The New York Times
- Civil Disagreement: The Sherrod affair - The Seattle Times  
After Shirley Sherrod, who needs context? - Alexandra Petri/The Washington Post
   How does the saying go? "A little knowledge is a ... thing." I'd look it up, but I'm on deadline.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Homework on education

- Fixing education - Buffalo News Editorial
   Something transformative happened recently in Washington, D.C. -- something with potentially large impacts on jobs, health care and the economy. And it didn't happen in the White House, the Senate or the House.
   It happened in the District of Columbia's school system, after years of negotiations between administrators and the teachers' union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
   A new contract, approved in a 3-to-1 vote by the teachers, shifts the focus from teacher protection to student improvement in ways unions have resisted for years. Some hope it will become a model for the future; others fear it will.
   Related:
- D.C.’s Groundbreaking Teachers' Contract Will Boost District’s National Prominence - Newsweek
- Rhee dismisses 241 D.C. teachers; union vows to contest firings - The Washington Post
- Evaluation of teachers overhauled - Mary B. Pasciak /The Buffalo News


- Reconsider school districts - Buffalo News Editorial
   The standard reply to the suggestion that New York State taxpayers would save a bundle if only some of their 700 school districts would consolidate is, "You first."
   New Yorkers' heads tell them that the state has too many school districts, often small ones, supported by high property taxes that would be even higher if it weren't for the giant amounts of state aid that also come out of taxpayers' pockets. But our hearts are often loathe to let go of the many smallish districts that provide at least the illusion of local control.
   That's why it makes sense, as two Democrats in the State Legislature have proposed, to form a commission that would look at all of the state's school districts and come up with a set of reforms that would hit everyone, all at once.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Mission: Un(ac)countable

   The best minds of the Buffalo News Opinion section today turned their attention to intelligence. And gardening.

- Confused intelligence - Buffalo News Editorial Board
   You just might remember this: "As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."
   Of course, if "Mission: Impossible" leader Jim Phelps were operating in the real world of 2010, instead ofSalt the TV universe of the late '60s and early '70s, it would be more than likely that no U.S. government official would have to "disavow" anything. Officials truly might not have a clue what their own government espionage teams were up to.
   In an overwhelming series of reports that began Monday, the Washington Post outlines the astounding growth of the American intelligence apparatus in the years since the terrorist attacks of 2001.
   The Post was able to document at least 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies, scattered among at least 10,000 locations across the country, now working on some aspect of counter-terrorism, intelligence and homeland security. It was also able to count the construction of 33 top-secret building complexes -- spies always work from "complexes" -- in the Washington, D.C., area and the awarding of top-secret security clearances to 854,000 people.
   Didn't get yours? It's probably lost in the bureaucracy someplace.

   [Photo from the new spy movie "Salt," barely related to the topic at hand. Though it does provide a way to get a photo of Angelina Jolie on my blog. Also, her father, Jon Voight, played Jim Phelps in the movie version of M:I, starring Tom Cruise, who was once slated to be the star of "Salt." It all fits.]

   Related:
- The Geek Labyrinth - Fred Kaplan/Slate
   The point, or one of the main points anyway, is that this Top Secret world has expanded so quickly, with so little control, that nobody knows its costs and boundaries; nobody can keep up with all the information going in and coming out. That's the irony: The expansion took place primarily to improve the intelligence networks, to make it easier for all the various intelligence agencies to integrate their efforts, and thus to "connect the dots," so that patterns can be discerned in random data and terrorist plots can be detected and stopped in time.
- The overgrowth of intelligence programs since Sept. 11 - Washington Post Editorial 
- 'Secret America' report raises accountability concerns - Dallas Morning News Editorial
- A failing grade for 'Top Secret America'  - Thomas G. Mahnken/Foreign Policy
- Dumbing down intel - Ralph Peters/New York Post
- Bloated intelligence apparatus is not too smart - Doyle McManus/Los Angeles Times

   This show needs a theme song. I've got it:

  

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

A good walk, sprouted

- A great weekend for a walk - Buffalo News Editorial Board

   Sometimes, things creep up on you. One day you plant a seed, next thing you know, you’ve got a garden. Or, in the case of Buffalo, a garden walk.
   This weekend is Garden Walk Buffalo, a terrific event that has blossomed from just 29 gardens in 1995 Gardenwalk to more than 350 this year. It’s the largest free garden walk in the country, and while that is a remarkable feat on its own, what it has done for Buffalo and the rest of Western New York is even better.
   First of all, the idea has spread, around Western New York and the nation. Growing out of Buffalo’s success, 18 other garden walks have sprung up around Western New York. So did the National Buffalo Garden Festival, successfully wrapping up its first year.
   Some 73 garden writers, including bloggers, visited Buffalo this month to check the scene for themselves. When they left, according to one leading tourism official, they took with them “a profound appreciation for this community’s beauty, creativity, neighborliness and self-reliance.” ...
   When people come here, they are stunned at what we have and what we too often fail to appreciate ourselves. Just last week, journalist Cokie Roberts identified Buffalo (correctly, in our opinion) as “one of the most beautiful cities on Earth.” Yes, we’ve got it and, with the developments under way in Buffalo, we’ll be getting more.
   Garden Walk Buffalo is a component of our “it,” and not an insignificant one, either. Check it out for yourself. If visitors are coming to Buffalo to appreciate the beauty of its gardens, shouldn’t those of us who live here do the same?

   Related:
- An A to Z guide to Garden Walk Buffalo - Susan Martin/The Buffalo News
- National Buffalo Garden Festival headlines a summer of tours
- Buffalo Garden Walk: a neighborhood make-over - Susan Reimer/The Baltimore Sun
- Buffalo dreamin' - The Daily Dish/The Atlantic
- Garden walks a world apart: Buffalo, N.Y. - The San Francisco Chronicle

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News   

 

Finding energy.

   Buffalo News Opinion section editorialistias today celebrate the growing use of alternative energy to power buildings and the release of some human potential in New York public schools.

- Boost alternative energy - Buffalo News Editorial
  As the millions of gallons of oil spilled and the billions of dollars of corporate and taxpayer assets spent in the Gulf of Mexico attest, the fossil-fuel economy is no cheap fix.
   The large-scale development of alternative sources of energy has been put off for decades, largely on theSolarpanels belief that they are somehow more expensive than the petroleum-based powerhouses we have relied on since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. And, measured in the most shortsighted ways possible, they usually are.
   If nothing else, solar energy, wind energy and the like are often seen as economic losers because their profits will not accumulate to the same powerful and well-connected corporations that we are accustomed to paying for our wasteful lifestyles.
   At the same time, the pollution that is the unavoidable byproduct of a carbon-based economy -- from the strip mine to the smokestack -- is not generally figured into the prices we pay per gallon, or per kilowatt-hour, or even per thousand cubic feet. Those costs show up in our taxes, our health care bills and other things that are detrimental to our quality of life -- such as the need to police the world and protect ourselves from petro-financed terrorism. ...
   Solar and wind energy ... may cost us money now in taxpayer subsidies or higher cost kilowatts. But those price tags can only come down as the technology advances and adoption becomes more widespread. And those price tags are much more likely to be complete, with none of the asterisks or hidden charges that come with fossil-fuel power.
   Energy should be like that. Clear as sunshine. Transparent as wind.

   Related:
- Reckless calls at Deepwater Horizon - New Orleans Times-Picayne Editorial
- BP should share research about impact of oil spill - Biloxi [Miss.] Sun Herald Editorial 
- Oil slick - Santa Rosa Press-Democrat Editorial
   But even if the leak has been controlled, the catastrophic effects of BP’s myriad failures will continue for a long time.
- Seafood safety - Dothan [Ala.] Eagle Editorial
- Oil giants form joint oil-spill-fighting venture without BP - MarketWatch
   Four of the big five Western oil majors have formed a $1 billion nonprofit joint venture aimed at combating future oil spills, possibly to head off stricter offshore-drilling rules.
- New York Power Authority's Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project and 100 MW Solar Photovoltaic Initiative.   
 

Those who try hardest

- Help for special-ed athletes - Buffalo News Editorial
   It’s too late for Jordan Maliken. But the efforts by, and on behalf of, the former Amherst Central High School student-athlete will make it possible for others in his situation to take full advantage of what New Maliken York high school sports programs offer.
   Maliken, who has since graduated from Amherst Central and moved on with his life, was denied the opportunity to run with his school’s track team for a fifth season even though, as a special education student, he was readily accepted as a student for a fifth year of high school.
   Now the state Board of Regents has unanimously voted to change the rules so that district superintendents may permit fifth-year special education students to continue participating in certain sports just as they continue with their education. ...
   The Regents have correctly recognized that this alteration — call it the Jordie Rule — should not result in schools cooking themselves unfair advantages by hanging onto star point guards or skilled quarterbacks for another year of eligibility. Any school that tries that should be slapped down, hard.
   The new rule is not about cheap wins. It’s about rewarding those who try the hardest.

   Related:
- Fifth-year disabled students can play sports - Michelle Kearns/The Buffalo News 

- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Storm in a port.

   The Buffalo News Opinion page editorializes on the latest controversies to dog the Erie Canal Harbor and the happy return of the Empire State Games to Western New York.

- Crunch time - Buffalo News Editorial
   Impatience with waterfront redevelopment bubbled over this week with a new initiative and a new demand, both of them understandable but unwise.
   One was a move by the city and harbor developers to bribe the Common Council to do the right thing -- Canalsidefense abandon an earlier bad idea to impose a development-discouraging living wage requirement on a small development parcel designed as a restaurant, retail and entertainment zone. The Council should reject that based on logic, not on a proposed $1 million per district package that may or may not be spent to seed long-term neighborhood growth.
   The second was Rep. Brian Higgins' demand [letter] that Bass Pro either sign or cut bait within 14 days. The idea of a deadline is appealing, but 14 days is an artificially short span given the lack of any specific alternative at this point. Higgins, who has done more than anyone to win funding and push Canal Side along, speaks only generally of bridges and infrastructure, or office relocation to the district.
   That's not a specific enough alternative to warrant resetting the clock to zero on the Aud site, and may not be necessary given Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. President Thomas Dee's contention earlier this month that Bass Pro would finish lease reviews and sign by mid-August.
   Related:
- No Bass Pro would be best for waterfront - Donn Esmonde/The Buffalo News
   Despite what some officials of little faith believe, there is a Plan B: Develop, step by step, our waterfront resource. Finally build a cross-channel bridge. Put in streets and sidewalks, with bars and restaurants in canal-era buildings. People will come. They already come, drawn by the water and the historic site, without so much as a hot dog stand there.
- Bass Pro is surely no silver bullet - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
- Bass Pro outlines plan for Pyramid's development 'like an amusement park' - Memphis Commercial Appeal
- Still no Bass Pro Shops, but a chunk of land changing hands anyway - Bakersfield Californian 

   Really, this is all we're trying to do:

 

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Games show

- Let the Games begin - Buffalo News Editorial
   Welcome, friends, to the Empire State Games, Buffalo style. Western New York is full of athletes and visitors today, competing or cheering as the state’s best athletes gather for the first Empire State Games Empiregames in two years.
   That’s part of what makes this event unique to Buffalo. The games were canceled last year as the recession dried up the state’s revenue stream. The same would have happened this year but for the remarkable generosity of one of Buffalo’s many civic-minded corporations.
   Recognizing the value of the games to the state and the region, First Niagara Bank stepped into the breach, putting up a $500,000 donation—largest in the games’ history — and challenging other businesses to do their part. They did, and because they did, Western New Yorkers have the chance to attend today’s opening ceremonies and other events and do their part to welcome these athletes.
    Related:
- Empire State Games are a symbol of pride - Ralph Galanti/My View
- A shining example - Buffalo News Editorial 5/1/10  
- Empires rise again - Buffalo News sports coverage 

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Two done deals: Financial reform and police districts

   Today's Buffalo News Opinion section editorials look at a pair of done deals. One brand new that will need a lot of massaging and overseeing. One 15 years old which, probably, doesn't.

- Finance faces reforms - Buffalo News Editorial
   The deed is done, and it needed doing. It may take several years to find out if it was done right, but there are reasons to like what is in the financial reform bill that Congress approved last week, with hardly Tolesdoingnothing any Republican support at all.
   That fact, of course, is something to dislike -- intensely. It is as though Republicans in the
House and Senate weren't there when the economy collapsed two years ago.
   They wanted nothing to do with fixing the obvious defects in the nation's groaning regulatory system, just as they wanted nothing to do with health reform. Rather than contribute to a desperately needed repair -- it was the entire national financial infrastructure that was threatening to collapse -- they merely tried to obstruct. It was shockingly irresponsible.
   Which is not to say that the bill is ideal. Indeed, it is not even done, since
what Congress has approved is a framework that will be completed over the course of months and years as rule-makers design regulations to complete the structure. ...
   The devil, of course, will reside in the details. A lot of work remains, which opens the door to mischief as well as to thoughtful, important oversight. Rule-makers need to take this job seriously, resisting industry efforts toward weak regulation and insisting upon vigorous but balanced rules.
   Related:
- Reform, Part II - Louisville Courier-Journal Editorial
   Anyone who remembers those terrifying weeks in the fall of 2008 should insist upon strong, effective rules. Indeed, the long-range need may be to toughen the reform law.

- Financial reform bill a victory for consumers - Springfield Republican Editorial
- Bank bill bodes ill for economy - Northwest Florida Daily News Editorial
- They call it Wall Street ‘reform,’ but it isn’t - San Francisco Examiner Editorial
- Economy dealt another blow - Orange County Register Editorial
- Congress Passes Financial Reform - New York Times Editorial
- Financial reforms represent a solid step forward - San Jose Mercury News Editorial
- Poor little CEOs - Daniel Gross/Slate
   The government's giving them everything they want, yet still they whine.

- Precincts or districts? - Buffalo News Editorial
   City Police Commissioner appointee Daniel Derenda’s expressed back-to-the-future preference for police precincts rather than districts would open a host of problems, ranging from the need for more facilities to theories of community policing to the cost to study a possible reversal of the district reforms of prior administrations.
   The comments came during Common Council confirmation hearings on Mayor Byron W. Brown’s appointment, and they should not anchor that debate. The city can’t afford such changes, and at this point the precinct theory should remain an abstract issue less important than the qualifications discussion that has delayed the Council vote.
   But the delivery of police services does deserve frequent review. For now, the district structure still makes the most sense. ...
   Creating more precincts is the antithesis of modern policing, which emphasizes mobile officers out in the streets and not working out of neighborhood precinct houses.
 
   Related:
- Why the secrecy? - Buffalo News Editorial

   Whether you are policing Wall Street or patroling Main Street, a policeman's lot is not a happy one [updated]:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

It's a jungle out there...

   Oh, brave new world, that has such awful, racist, sexist, violent, sniping creatures in it.

- End of anonymous commenting stirs debate - Margaret Sullivan/The Buffalo News
   A few weeks ago, I wrote about The News' plans to change our policy on readers' online comments. The gist is this: Beginning Aug. 2, we will no longer post anonymous comments. If you want to comment in TheLogo-comments News — both in print and online — you'll have to give us your real name and hometown.
   Since then, the response has come fast and furious. The New York Times, CNN, the Boston Globe and Canada's CBC radio network have covered the decision, which seems to be the first of its kind for a metropolitan daily paper in the United States. ...
   The move has touched off the hot topic of anonymous Web flaming.
   Plenty of criticism has come our way — and some kudos, as well.
   The naysayers (many of whom, interestingly, prefer to remain anonymous) are blasting us for what they see as noxious free-speech violations and an effort to protect our evil political agenda. The Internet, as they see it, is a place where anything goes. Limiting that is a sin against free expression.
   The supporters, by contrast, are relieved that the astonishingly hateful and venomous commentary on news stories ("It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots," writes Gene Weingarten in a column that ran today) will likely be restrained once people have to identify themselves. They are hoping for a measure of civility, without the loss of wide-ranging discussion and diverse viewpoints....
   Those who are working on the project here recognize that there will be some bumps along the way. We also know that, like so many ventures on the Internet, this one is something of an experiment. We've tried the other way, living in the anonymous Wild West world, for more than a year, and are ready for something else.

 - Policing the Web’s Lurid Precincts - Brad Stone/The New York Times
   Ricky Bess spends eight hours a day in front of a computer near Orlando, Fla., viewing some of the worst depravities harbored on the Internet. He has seen photographs of graphic gang killings, animal abuse and twisted forms of pornography. One recent sighting was a photo of two teenage boys gleefully pointing guns at another boy, who is crying. ...
   David Graham, president of Telecommunications On Demand, the company near Orlando where Mr. Bess works, compared the reviewers to “combat veterans, completely desensitized to all kinds of imagery.” The company’s roughly 50 workers view a combined average of 20 million photos a week.

- Judge orders Lynchburg newspaper to divulge poster’s ID - Danville Register Bee

   Speaking of the Wild West:

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