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Civility flies ...

   The clear-seeing thinkers in The Buffalo News Opinion corner have one eye on the sky and the other on the Gulf of Mexico. [We're professionals. Don't try this at home, kids.]

- Civility takes flight - Buffalo News Editorial
  Despite the obvious danger in deploying an exit chute on a just-landed plane -- an act that could have killed or seriously injured any airport worker who happened to be nearby on the ground -- JetBlue flight Stevenslater attendant Steven Slater attained star status after his notorious read-out of a passenger and precipitous descent from employment. [Flight attendant arrested after JFK ruckus - AP 8/9/10] 
   The action was wrong, but the frustration is perhaps understandable. And, as discussion over the ensuing days has noted, it cuts both ways. The skies no longer are particularly friendly, and civility all too often has been left at the gate -- literally, in an age when travel frustrations often peak at aggravating, terrorist-imposed personal inspections. [Buffalo airport using body scanner - Buffalo News 8/18/10] 
   Slater's initial surge of hero status among flight attendants and passengers -- even in cyberspace, with tens of thousands of Facebook fans within seconds of the news -- has been eroded somewhat by conflicting stories of just how he got a luggage-related forehead bruise and verbal disagreements during the flight, but his expletive-laced "take this job" PA announcement, made just before grabbing a beer, activating the chute and expertly sliding down, is now legend.
   Airlines should take careful note of this incident, however. The frustration at its roots, whether of flight attendants or passengers, goes beyond mere "incident" status. It's a change in the way flying is perceived and experienced, and it's part of a trend that could harm the industry.

   Related:
- Flight-attendant meltdown was hardly a surprise - Mitch Albom/Detroit Free Press/Buffalo News
   In the case of the flight attendant who went ballistic recently, had a “take this job and shove it” moment, then grabbed a beer, pulled the chute and went slip-sliding away, the only question I have is this:
   Why didn’t the passengers follow him?
- The real JetBlue heroes - Froma Harrop/Creators Syndicate/Buffalo News
- The quaint relic called civility - Leonard Pitts/Miami Herald/Buffalo News
- How did the friendly skies get so unfriendly? - Jocelyn Noveck/AP/Buffalo News

... Shrimpers sail

- Shrimpers head out to sea - Buffalo News Editorial
   Shrimp season lives. Long live the shrimp—at least long enough to make it from sea to stomach.
   The Louisiana shrimp season opened this month to reports of a clean, plentiful catch. While the aftermath of the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil leak poses many reasons to be cautious yet, it’s heartening that the thousands of fishermen who rely on this work for their living have been able to get back Shrimpcoastguard to it. [La. shrimpers reporting clean 1st day catch - AP/Buffalo News 8/16/10] 
   It wasn’t that long ago that the leak, which spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the gulf, was thought to have crippled an industry and, indeed, an entire region that depends on the water for its livelihood. Fishermen who had spent weeks helping to sop up the oil British Petroleum spilled went back to work on Monday and came back with optimistic reports about the quality of their catch and the waters in which they were fishing. That’s great news, though it comes with an asterisk.
   Those who had hoped that the oil had magically and mysteriously vanished need to temper that unlikely circumstance. Government officials are optimistically — or disingenuously — claiming that half the oil is “completely gone from the system” and that most of the remainder “is degrading rapidly or is being removed from the beaches.”
   But new reports suggest that the oil spill is a bigger mess than the government claims, with much crude floating deep below the surface, perhaps settling in a critical undersea canyon off the Florida panhandle. Public and private agencies need to proceed as though the oil remains under water. It’s not time to declare victory and move on.
   But at least the fishermen are back at sea. It might not have gone that way. We could have had multiple calamities that put thousands of them out of work and driven tourism-based businesses into bankruptcy. Much work remains to be done, but this is a better moment than most of us had envisioned.

   Related:
- The lessons of the BP gusher - Dalls Morning News Editorial
   It's amazing: After months of national anguish, an oil slick the size of the state of Delaware suddenly is nowhere to be found.
- BP must pay to restore nation's confidence in Louisiana's seafood - New Orleans Times-Picayune Editorial
- Rush to judgment - Gainsville Sun Editorial
- Hold government accountable for moratorium's harm - Shreveport Times Editorial
- Open season - Panama City [Fla.] News Herald Editorial  

   Shrimp boats is a comin'


-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Rethinking the mosque

   As Frank Rich points out, it is not a mosque, and it is not at Ground Zero. But lots of people have things to say about the Ground Zero mosque.

- Rethink the mosque - Buffalo News Editorial
... President Obama seems to be on the same side as the people. He picked the celebration of Ramadan Adamislamophobia to say it is the right of Muslims to build there, but later added fuel to an already blazing debate by refusing to say whether or not he thinks it is the right thing to do. That at least mirrors public sentiment; a Siena Poll released Wednesday indicated more and more people are following the issue, and that while most oppose the project (63 percent to 27 percent) most also think the developers have a constitutional right to build it (64 percent to 28 percent).
   We believe, too, that Muslims have the right to build the mosque -- but that it is not the right thing to do.

- Rush to condemn mosque leads nowhere - Douglas Turner/The Buffalo News
   Thanks to Obama, this is now a controversy that has no happy ending. If it is built at 51 Park Place, soft words about First Amendment religious freedom will be like ashes in the mouths of many who lost loved ones on 9/11.
   If it is moved or not built, America’s Muslim friends here and overseas will forever wonder if the controversy wasn’t another example of America’s storied history of righteous racial and religious bigotry.

 - Taking Bin Laden’s Side - Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times 
   ... the proposed community center is not just an issue on which Sarah Palin and Osama bin Laden agree. It is also one in which opponents of the center are playing into the hands of Al Qaeda.

- How Fox Betrayed Petraeus - Frank Rich/The New York Times
   Here’s what’s been lost in all the screaming. The prime movers in the campaign against the “ground zero mosque” just happen to be among the last cheerleaders for America’s nine-year war in Afghanistan. The wrecking ball they’re wielding is not merely pounding Park51, as the project is known, but is demolishing America’s already frail support for that war, which is dedicated to nation-building in a nation whose most conspicuous asset besides opium is actual mosques.

- Protests, Rhetoric Feed Jihadists' Fire - Jonathan Weisman/The Wall Street Journal
   Islamic radicals are seizing on protests against a planned Islamic community center near Manhattan's Ground Zero and anti-Muslim rhetoric elsewhere as a propaganda opportunity and are stepping up anti-U.S. chatter and threats on their websites.

- For Imam in Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act - Anne Barnard/The New York Times
   “To stereotype him as an extremist is just nuts,” said the Very Rev. James P. Morton, the longtime dean of the Church of St. John the Divine, in Manhattan, who has known the family for decades.

- Moral myopia at Ground Zero - Charles Krauthammer/The Washington Post
   Ground Zero is the site of the most lethal attack of that worldwide movement, which consists entirely of Muslims, acts in the name of Islam and is deeply embedded within the Islamic world. These are regrettable facts, but facts they are. And that is why putting up a monument to Islam in this place is not just insensitive but provocative.

- Sensitivities Don't Override the Constitution - Michael Kinsley/The Atlantic Wire
   It is like telling blacks or Jews that they have every right to move into the neighborhood, but wouldn't they really be happier in some other neighborhood, not too far away, where the neighbors' sensistivities won't be offended?

- Mosque Demagoguery Is Bipartisan - Rep. Ron Paul/AntiWar.com
   In my opinion, it has come from the neoconservatives who demand continual war in the Middle East and Central Asia and are compelled to constantly justify it.
   They never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for ill-conceived preventative wars. A select quote from soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq expressing concern over the mosque is pure propaganda and an affront to their bravery and sacrifice.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Questioning villages ...

   The ponderers in The Buffalo News Opinion corner have, over the past couple of days, considered the question of villages in New York -- quoting one of the world's greatest revolutionary minds on why people usually reject revolution -- and examined the manner in which cities are managed:

- The question of villages - Buffalo News Editorial
   Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
  -
The Declaration of Independence
   The voters of the Erie County villages of Sloan and Williamsville had a lot less at stake than the Founding Fathers, but they faced the same question of change -- and were not only unwilling to abolish Williamsville+voting+results+02 their accustomed form of local government, they were at a total loss to see what evils they were suffering on its account.
   That, not any self-confessed "fault" on the part of government downsizing crusader Kevin Gaughan, is the clear reason why those voters Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected motions to dissolve their respective village governments.
   Gaughan worked long and hard, and put up with insults, aspersions and even physical confrontations, as he carried his dream of smaller and fewer local governments to the two villages. But Tuesday, in elections marked by exceptionally high turnouts, the voters who had the final say said no, with those voting against the question topping 80 percent.
   [Opposition to change, unknown kills dissolution - Sandra Tan/The Buffalo News] 
   On paper, Gaughan's arguments make a lot of sense. New York is a crazy quilt of local governments, public authorities, special districts, school boards and the like.
   But people don't live on paper. They live in houses, on streets and in communities. They either like where they live well enough, act on their own to change it, or move. They generally don't like being told by an outsider, even a near neighbor clearly well-intentioned and as well-educated as Gaughan, that they don't know what's good for them.
   Gaughan's previous wave of voter initiatives, the one reducing the members of various town boards, was generally successful. But deciding that your town board can function as well with three members as with five is a far cry from the idea that your village government should not exist at all.
   Most great cities are made up of neighborhoods -- London's Bloomsbury, New York City's Chelsea, Buffalo's Elmwood Village -- that are thriving communities without need of municipal borders. And Gaughan's contention that communities such as Williamsville and Sloan could live on in the hearts of their residents, even as such municipal details as snow removal and sidewalk repair were devolved onto their respective towns, [Amherst and Cheektowaga] can't be disproven.  ...
   For any real reform to happen, Tuesday's results show, the state and its counties are going to need a more carefully thought-out, big-picture approach to dissolution and consolidation than blow it up now and figure it out tomorrow.
   Real reform might take the form of metro consolidation, of the type that has merged metropolitan areas from Toronto to Indianapolis into unified governments. It might look to dissolve towns, rather than villages, with counties taking over responsibilities for more rural areas and the more populated areas forming, or merging into, proper cities to provide proper city services.
   None of that can be accomplished without changes in state law, without leadership on the county and state level and without some clear picture, no matter how badly broken our current set-up is, of what the next generation of government will look like.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

... managing cities

- Decisions in City Hall - Buffalo News Editorial
   The importance of a chief executive officer surrounding himself or herself with extraordinarily competent department heads cannot be overestimated. Because large enterprises can't be managed by one person, AdamTMI the CEO's effectiveness in choosing smart, talented and efficient persons to provide support can be the number one reason for the success of a business -- or the success of a mayor, county executive or governor.
   There are tried and true practices for recruiting department heads. They are known, and proven to produce the best candidates.
   Mayor Byron W. Brown has ignored these practices in favor of a political one, and now he and the people of Buffalo are paying a high and unnecessary price for his failed actions. Karla Thomas must be removed from her human resources leadership post immediately, and the city must stop paying benefits to dead people, and Brown's approach to selecting department heads also must go.
   The prominent figure assisting the mayor is Steve Casey, a determined political operative who figures heavily in the selection of administration posts. That's dead wrong.
   To be fair, there are some very competent city department heads, and there are some in City Hall who say the appointment of Thomas was opposed by Casey, who apparently couldn't make his objections stick. There is little argument, though, that politics played the key role in her selection.

  Of course, things are tough all over:
- Bell city leaders approve reforms in wake of salary scandal - Los Angeles Times
- A Town Touched by Scandal Withholds Judgment - New York Times
- Integrity commissioner slams Ford - Toronto Sun
- Beatty talks to grand jurors - Detroit Free Press
- AG: No charges in City Hall e-mail purge - Boston Herald
- Probe claims zoning inspector embellished resume to get city job - Chicago Tribune

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Learning, but little teaching.

   From the Opinion corner of The Buffalo News, it occurs to us that it is good that Mayor Byron Brown is asking questions. And better than he isn't asking them in some Buffalo Public School classrooms - where apparently no one would be in a position to answer.

- Looking for ideas - Buffalo News Editorial
   In the category of "Be Careful What You Ask For, You Just Might Get It" comes the welcome announcement from Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown of a pair of official pipelines to gather public opinion on what to do with the city's crucial downtown waterfront.
   The mayor has set about filling the vacuum left by the announcement that the long counted-on anchor for Canal Side, Bass Pro Shops, is no longer interested in coming to Buffalo. Instead of continuing the recriminations about who deserves the blame -- or credit -- for that turn of events, Brown is opening the floor to public ideas about what should happen now.
   And not just from those interested enough, mad enough or stands-to-profit enough to come to a City Hall meeting. No, to voice your idea, just swing by the city's website -- city-buffalo.com -- or call the city's 311 information center. ...
   [Brown asks for public input on waterfront - Buffalo News 8/10/10]
   By opening these lines of communication, the mayor runs the risk of publicizing an idea or two that he won't like, or that sound good but that will get him in trouble when it proves unworkable. Fine. That's politics.
   The city is listening. Speak now, or forever hold your peace.

- Teachers aren’t teaching? - Buffalo News Editorial 
   If anything should rock the foundation of public education in Buffalo, it is this finding by a state-appointed review team: Teachers were not teaching.
   The teachers, one hopes, at least thought they were teaching, since they knew they were being Lafayette+high+school observed. Yet the observation cropped up repeatedly in assessments of seven schools: “Direction instruction was not observed.” Teachers relied on worksheets as the primary method of instruction at high schools, while students paid little attention, with their heads on their desks and sometimes with their eyes closed.
   [Big changes recommended at 7 schools - Buffalo News 8/17/10] 
   Other criticisms followed, but unless you are blessed with a school of self-teaching students, that one observation is enough to land a school on the list of the state’s worst, which is where the seven schools in this report find themselves. What is more, Superintendent James A. Williams says many of the problems observed in the seven schools repeat themselves in buildings across the district. ...
  These seven schools—Bennett High School, Burgard Vocational High School, International School 45, Lafayette High School [in photo], Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute, Riverside Institute of Technology and South Park High School—are the canary in Buffalo’s educational coal mine. They need to by turned around so that the whole district can thrive. That begins with teachers who teach.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

Getting the look. Finding the fair.

   The big thinkers in The Buffalo News Opinion corner think some more about the future of Canal Side and, before it's too late, have a fond thought of America's Fair.

- Getting the right look - Buffalo News Editorial
   The devil is always in the details. Canal Side’s leadership, in its understandable rush to locate a new HSBC bank building on the waterfront’s Webster Block in order to help keep a major employer in Buffalo, Hsbchongkong looked for its initial design concept to buildings erected in Manhattan more than a century ago to slaughter cattle, sheep and hogs.
   The Manhattan architect was not identified. His heirs probably would not want him identified. Buffalo needs better. ...
   Buffalo also is a city with a rich architectural heritage. Here, in the decades around the turn of the last century, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, H. H. Richardson, Daniel Burnham, Louise Blanchard Bethune and Eliel and Eero Saarinen produced some of their finest designs, work so superb that the city now is identified with excellence in period architecture. ...
   As Buffalo’s largest private employer gets larger and more dominant, as it will if it locates its regional headquarters here, it needs a new building with a design that will win recognition and acclaim. That’s what the bank received when it built its new headquarters in Hong Kong [right] not so long ago, and it is entitled to do no less in Buffalo. The opportunity to combine design and heritage is there on the waterfront; so is the challenge, and the bank and Canal Side should accept it.
   Other waterfront news:
- In Portland, Me., a New Business Plan/Efforts in Philadelphia to Save Showpiece Ships - The New York Times 

- Final days at the fair - Buffalo News Editorial
   The 171st Erie County Fair, which began Aug. 11 and runs through Sunday, offers a great way to celebrate summer. Western New Yorkers long have known this—it’s why the fair is an annual tradition, and one that it’s fun to introduce to newcomers....
   A fair-centered vacation doesn’t require plane fare, and with children 12 and under free it’s a great way to spend some family time. As far as “staycations” go, the fair is a winner. Enjoy your weekend!

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Come forward ...

Citygrillflowers

   It's view with alarm day in The Buffalo News Opinion corner.

- Disrespecting the dead - Buffalo News Editorial
   Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III had the nerve to do the right thing in the aftermath of the killings outside the City Grill in downtown Buffalo. Now, those who have information about what happened there need to screw up their own courage to do the right thing.
   [Officials cite factors in charging wrong man - Buffalo News 8/17/10] 
   Four people were killed Saturday and four others were wounded in what appears to have begun as a TextATip gang dispute, but law enforcement officials initially arrested the wrong person. As soon as that fact was confirmed, Sedita went to court to have charges dropped—and we mean as soon as. The original suspect, Keith D. Johnson, was released before dawn on Sunday. As of this writing, the search police are making for a suspect has not led to another arrest.
   [Police question person of interest in mass shooting - Buffalo News 8/18/10] 
   Like many others, we find it disturbing that authorities arrested the wrong man, but we cannot help but admire the forthrightness not to fiddle with the facts, hold the suspect a little longer and take your time acknowledging a serious error. Sedita and the police took the honorable route, and that’s worth acknowledging.
   Now it’s time for those with information about these shootings to do the same. Some, no doubt, fear for their safety, especially if this terrible crime is, indeed, gang related and could lead to even more retribution. Police need help. Anonymous information could be useful, but tips from those who know something and would be willing to testify are most important.
   [Gang dispute apparently sparked shootings - Buffalo News 8/16/10]
   The alternative is for those with information to abandon the dead and wounded—to say, in so many words, that their fates are not important; that spraying a marriage celebration with gunfire is acceptable in Buffalo. It’s not, and Sedita, along with ministers and others, is pleading with witnesses to come forward.
   [Services are awash in grief - Buffalo News 8/16/10] 
   “We desperately need people to come forward with information,” the district attorney said after charges against Johnson were dropped. “There were 100 to 200 people present during these shootings. There were many eyewitnesses . . . So far, only a few people have come forward.”
   Thank heavens for those few—those people who quickly saw the moral necessity of speaking out. More people need to follow that example. Like many poor cities, Buffalo deals with a crime problem, but for the most part, this is a city of good people. Some of them were at this party. It is time for them to speak up.

... go away

- Thomas should go - Buffalo News Editorial
   Enough is enough. Karla L. Thomas [resume] may be protected by Civil Service rules, but she is clearly not up to the job of running the City of Buffalo’s Human Resources Department. Having skirted the rules in hiring Thomas, it is now up to Mayor Byron W. Brown to begin the process of removing her.
   It’s not just that the city has paid out nearly $2 million for health insurance premiums on 152 dead Adamdeadpeople employees, although that is bad enough. The real problem is that Thomas was put on notice earlier this year about mismanagement of her department. Among other things, she was specifically put on notice in January of the likelihood that health premiums were paid for some deceased workers.
   [City paid $2 million to insure dead workers - Buffalo News 8/13/10] 
   Yet, a new audit performed by the office of City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo showed no movement on this important issue. In addition to paying for deceased workers, the audit also showed that the city made double payments for health insurance for up to 250 sanitation and water workers, resulting in an overpayment of more than half a million dollars.
   Thomas’ weak defense for insuring dead people — “Dead people can’t talk. And their spouses have little or no motivation to notify us . . . ” — was quickly knocked down by SanFilippo’s chief auditor, Darryl McPherson. Not only was he able to verify information for free on the Internet, there is also something called the Social Security Death Index, a database that can be purchased and used to quickly identify deceased workers.
   This isn’t the first time Thomas has responded to criticism dismissively. When auditors previously engaged her in detailed discussion about problems in her department, she complained about getting “TMI” — too much information. Thomas says the auditors mischaracterized her comment, but there’s no explaining away her lame excuse for not even trying to find out if the city was paying to insure employees who had died.
   [Amid ‘TMI’ firestorm, Thomas offers a spirited defense - Buffalo News 1/13/10] 
   Positions like Thomas’ exist because bosses can’t do everything themselves. They need to delegate. But there need to be consequences when supervisors don’t perform, and when those consequences fail to appear, the liability creeps up the organizational chart. That’s among the reasons that this problem is now the mayor’s. Going forward, and lacking a change in department leadership, problems in the department can fairly be considered to be Brown’s fault.
   For the sake of the taxpayers whose money is being wasted, Brown needs to act. Thomas, who has political connections to the mayor, may have other skills, but she is clearly not up to this job. Indeed, she got the job only after she was nominated by a search committee whose membership appears to have been rigged.
   As The Buffalo News reported on Monday [Brown skirted rules in hiring of Thomas], Brown nominated Thomas after a search committee — made up of political insiders rather than ordinary citizens, as it was meant to be — recommended her for the job. It was a bad decision, one for which Buffalo voters are paying a heavy price.
   The Human Resources commissioner serves a set term, meant to shield her from political pressure to hire and fire for inappropriate reasons. The only out is to make a case for removing her based on incompetence. The shoe fits. Thomas needs to take her leave so that Brown and the Common Council can find someone who knows how to run this critical city department.

Something to build a waterfront around

Arch 
   Buffalo's waterfront is looking hard for ideas. St. Louis' waterfront has attracted five huge ideas.
  
Maybe it would help if we had a contest for the best idea for the Lake Erie/Erie Canal Harbor waterfront, opening it up to developers from around the world, with the finalists put on public display.
   Of course, it helps if you've already got of one the world's most recognizable icons to build around.

- Finalists offer ideas for remaking Arch grounds, riverfront - Tim O'Neal/The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
   Mayor Francis Slay today enthusiastically praised the work of five finalist design groups that are hoping to reshape the downtown Riverfront.
   "We now can see what the world's most prominent designers have put onto images what we all have been thinking about," Slay said in opening remarks this morning next to the north leg of the Arch.  "I am fully committed to this project." ...
   Park Superintendent Tom Bradley called today "an exciting day for the National Park Service" and said the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial has always enjoyed a good working relationship with the city, downtown and the region.
   The arch was topped on Oct. 28, 1965. Organizers of the effort to redesign the archgrounds and extend the park across to the East St. Louis riverbank hope to have work completed by the toppings' 50th anniversary in 2015.
   After the brief remarks, the roughly 80 people who attended the ceremony went down the walkway underneath the Arch to see renderings from the five finalists.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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