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Ground zero for news

What are the odds that Western New York would find itself at the center of the news universe twice within a matter of days?

There was, of course, the crash late Thursday of Flight 3407. The same day, an Orchard Park woman was beheaded in a grisly murder her estranged husband has been charged with.

The plane crash was front page news around the world. While it's taken a few days, the beheading has, as well. It was the second-most viewed story on the BBC's Web site when I checked Tuesday morning. CNN is among the other major news outlets that have given the story prominent play.

Interestingly enough, one major outlet that has not touched on the story yet, at least as of Tuesday evening, is the English-language edition of Al Jazerra. The only mention of the suspect comes in this story about his launching of a cable station featuring Muslim-oriented programming.

Elsewhere in the press, ugly stereotyping has surfaced because the accused is a Muslim. The head of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women has labeled it "apparently a terroristic version of honor killing." This from someone who I doubt knows anything about the case except what she's read in the newspapers.

The local Muslim community is dismayed over the murder and troubled by bigoted kneejerk reactions.

"Whenever a Muslim does something wrong, Islam goes on trial," said Nazim Mangera, imam of the Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier.

To those who have been so quick to point the finger, before we really know what motivated the killer, let me remind you that the biggest mass murderer in American history, aside from the perpetrators of 9-11, is a white male from Pendleton who was raised a Roman Catholic.

Not that I ever saw his religion, lapsed as it was, in the headlines.

As for the plane crash, The News has at least 10 reporters still working the story. Their focus -- what caused the crash, and could it have been prevented? Similar to what the National Transportation Safety Board is doing.  

Elsewhere on the Web, sites worth checking out are Live Air traffic Control, this New York Times topic page on airline crashes and this legal site dealing with the worst kind of ambulance chasing.


Des forges Finally, there is this tribute page to Alison Des Forges, posted by Human Rights Watch. It includes links to other online coverage and links to some of her work on genocide. (The video above is from Democracy Now! The segment on Des Forges starts 1:45 into the clip and features an interview with Des Forges and one of her colleagues from Human Rights Watch.)

I can't say I knew Des Forges -- I interviewed her once by phone a long time ago on a topic I don't recall.

But I feel confident in saying that no one who ever walked the streets of this city ever did more noble work, and that this community is so much the poorer for her death.

If ever a soul deserved to rest in peace, it is Alison Des Forges.

A few angles on Flight 3407

The News has most of the angles covered, but I've found a few interesting tidbits on Flight 3407 worth sharing.

For a different perspective, check out a good online package from the BBC.

Salon has a feature called Ask The Pilot which deals with several aspects of the crash, including a good primer on icing.

Icing, which can occur both aloft and on the ground, is a common phenomenon. As most passengers understand it, icing is something that affects airplanes before they take off. You know the routine: sitting on the tarmac for an hour waiting for a snow-covered airplane to be sprayed down with strangely colored fluid. Parked at the terminal, an aircraft collects precipitation the way your car does -- via snowfall, sleet, freezing rain or frost. (Thanks to supercooled fuel in the wings, frost can form insidiously even with temps above freezing.) The delicious-looking spray (apricot-strawberry) used to remove it is a heated combination of propylene glycol alcohol and water. It melts away existing snow or ice, and prevents the buildup of more. Different fluid mixtures, varying in temperature and viscosity, are applied for different conditions ...

Potentially dangerous icing also occurs during flight. Under the right combination of moisture and temperature, it can form along the leading edges of the wings and tail, along engine intakes and propeller blades, as well as on windscreens, probes and various other surfaces. Left unchecked, heavy icing can damage engines, throw propeller assemblies off balance, and, just as it does on the ground, steal away precious lift. In a worst-case scenario it can induce a full-on aerodynamic stall -- the point when a wing essentially ceases to fly. Planes are most susceptible during takeoff and landing, when speed is slowest and the lift margins already slim. 

The Daily Beast, meanwhile, has a column from Clive Irving,senior consulting editor at Conde Nast Traveler, who specializes in aviation.

For some time now, the Safety Board—your mechanic—has been pressing the FAA to toughen the standards for testing an airplane’s vulnerability to icing. In fact, the board gives the FAA an “unacceptable” rating on icing questions. This all too familiar and prolonged difference in the standards held by expert crash investigators and the FAA regulators (who have been far too cozy with both airlines and planemakers) has a deadly cost.

The New York Times has a piece that many of us can relate to, even though it includes some cheap shots and a glaring inaccuracy about our housing market.

Beyond the loss of life, the circumstances of the crash have also struck a discordant note among some longtime residents for whom traveling in inclement weather is a fact of life.

Finally, for those of you who may have missed it, I live blogged the crash Friday with 38 updates during the course of the day on Inside the News. I want to highlight a couple of posts Steve Watson, our technology reporter, gave me on how Facebook and Twitter came into play. Both sites are worth continuing to check out. 

Update, 6:36 p.m. -- As social-networking has grown in popularity in recent years, it’s no surprise that thousands of people have turned to Facebook to express their shock and grief over the crash of Flight 3407. A number of groups related to the crash have popped up on the site today. Most visitors to the groups have left messages of condolence, often because they have a personal connection to the tragedy. 

Googling “facebook” and “flight 3407” brings up one of the groups. You must be a Facebook member to join the group or leave a comment, but even non-members can read the messages left on the “wall” of the group. Facebook members can search for flight 3407 on the site and find numerous examples.

Update, 2:39 p.m. -- Twitter users in Buffalo and elsewhere have relied on the service to post regular updates in the minutes and hours since the crash of Flight 3407.

The micro-blogging site has been a very good source of information on the crash, with links to news articles, photos and video. Most updates on the crash are tagged with the term "#clarenceplanecrash" to make it easier to follow the conversation.

You do not need to be a member of Twitter to view the conversation.

 

The pope has nothing on Joe Bruno

OMG! It's worse than I thought!

New York Times has a killer report on what the Senate Democrats are finding out as they assume the reins of power in Albany from the Republicans. 

They recently realized there are some 75 employees working at the Senate’s own printing plant, a plain brick building on the outskirts of Albany. On Long Island, they found a small television studio, which had been set up — all with public money, with two press aides on hand to help operate it — for the exclusive use of Republican senators to record cable TV shows.

Democrats also came across what they are calling the “Brunomobile,” a $50,000 specially outfitted GMC van, with six leather captain’s chairs (some swiveling), a navigation system, rearview camera and meeting table. Joseph L. Bruno, the former Senate majority leader who was recently indicted on corruption charges, traveled in the van after his use of state helicopters sparked a feud with the Spitzer administration.

Then there are the parking spots, always at a premium near the Capitol. Democrats had been given roughly one spot per senator — there were 30 Democrats last year — and guessed there were perhaps double or even triple that controlled by the majority. Instead, they have learned, there are more than 800.

And Democratic leaders must determine what to do about 45 workers toiling away in a building close to the Capitol who appear to have been engaged in quasi-political research for the Republicans.

Of course, the report has promoted righteous indignation from Dean Skelos, who, I guess, would have gotten the keys to the Brunomobile had the GOP hung onto control of the Senate.

Reports The New York Daily News:

Skelos called the article "dumb" and rejected the suggestion that employees were "hidden," insisting that anyone who bothered to read the spending reports regularly released by the Senate majority would have been able to see where the money was going.

According to the minority leader, who was egged on by the Post's Fred Dicker during an interview on Talk 1300 AM, the real story is how the Senate Democrats aren't living up to their pledge to be more fair and equitable in treating the minority now that they're in power than the Republicans were when they ruled the roost.

Belushi Folks, this might be the best food fight since Animal House.

(Somebody find me a video clip, please! I'm coming up empty.)

 

 

Lost opportunity on budget vote

Bill Stachowksi, Antoine Thompson and other Democrats in the local delegation are defending their vote last week in favor of the $1.6 billion package that closed this year's budget gap. To hear some of them tell it, they made tough calls; "painful decisions," as Thompson put it.

I think not.

The painful decisions, for the most part, were put off for another day. Making long-term fixes through structural changes in spending practices was largely overlooked in favor of one-shot infusions of cash and other such gimmickry.

But that's not the point of this blog post.

No, I want to talk first about the manner in which the Dems handled the vote itself.

Everyone in Albany has known for months that the budget was in the red and needed to be balanced. Paterson even called the Legislature into special session a few months back in an effort to find a resolution, but nothing happened.

When a deal was finally struck, the governor passed it along as an emergency measure, giving the Legislature cover to approve it with little public review and debate. Moreover, the Senate and Assembly Democrats shielded their deliberations during the course of negotiations with the governor by dealing with the matter in caucus, out of sight from the press and public.

This is just the kind of stunt that has prompted the Brennan Center at the NYU Law School to declare our state legislature the most dysfunctional in the nation.

Then there is the substance of the budget revisions themselves.

One could reasonably argue that WNY paid a disproportionate price and that our delegation passed on an opportunity to use some real leverage to get something for the region.

How did we pay a premium?

The budget plan hijacks college tuition increases, and a quarter of SUNY's enrollment is in WNY.

The budget package also took nearly a half-billion dollars from the New York Power Authority, a good chunk of which is the byproduct of profits generated at the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston and the proceeds of unallocated low-cost hydropower earmarked for WNY industry.

A lot of folkshave been hollering that more of the money generated by NYPA in WNY ought to stay here to promote economic development.

Seems like the Dems in the local delegation could have used that as leverage. But they didn't.

Robin Schimminger and Sam Hoyt hold leadership positions in the Assembly, where were they on all this? (I mean, before they met in private last week with officials from Uniland and other developers/political contributors intent on undermining meaningful reform of the flawed Empire Zone program.)

Stachowski and thompsonStachowski and Thompson seemed to be in a particularly good spot to leverage something, given the Dems' razor-thin majority in the Senate. (They're pictured here with Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Mayor Byron Brown.)

If the Gang of Three could hold up Majority Leader Malcolm Smith for their own self-interests, what's wrong with Stachowski and Thompson playing hardball on behalf of the region?

I mean, does Stachs owe Smith anything but a one-finger salute for being bypassed for the Finance Committee chairmanship? 

Why couldn't -- indeed, why shouldn't -- these two play the Senate Dems and GOP against each other in order to get something for WNY better than the back of Albany's hand?

Yeah, I know, party loyalty. Does anybody out there think party loyalty ought to take precedent over doing right by Buffalo, Lockport, Jamestown and all points in between?

I didn't think so. 

Chuck Schumer speaks volumes


Senators sometimes say the darndest things.

Chuck Schumer had this to say yesterday on the Senate floor regarding inserts into the stimulus bill.

"Let me say this to all of the chattering class that so much focuses on those little, tiny, yes, porky amendments: the American people really don't care."

Those are 27 words that say a lot.

Here's more in a New York Post story.

By the way, the YouTube clip above had 150,000 hits by 2:15 p.m. today. Who says the revolution will not be televised?

 

More on UB salaries

Well, yesterday's post certainly got a lot of people's attention, my traffic counter tells me. So let's delve a little deeper.

To recap, William Greiner, the former University at Buffalo president, is making $225,000 to teach one law course. And he's not the only former administrator turned part-time professor raking in big bucks.

Ub, hayes hallThis has been going on for some time. Back in 2005, my colleague Steve Watson did a takeout showing that 16 former administrators had returned to teaching at UB while retaining most of their pay. Their average salary was almost $170,000.

Some blog readers yesterday posted insightful comments, including the Answer Lady, who publishes a nifty blog about University Heights that recently dealt with the issue of high pay at U.B.

Said the Answer Lady:

In 2003-04 UB had 12 employees earning $200,000 or more in state salary, but by the start of 2005-06, that number had risen to 29. From SeeThroughNY – in 2008 there are 39 UB employees with salaries over $200K.

In 2008, there were over 500 people at UB making over $100,000 a year. Their salaries add up to $69,702,083 and this is before health insurance, Social Security and those cushy state pensions are factored in

Interesting.

In her blog post, the Answer Lady noted that relatively few, some 15 percent, of those making over $100,000 live in the city. She also trotted out Census data that shows the neighborhood around the Downtown Medical Campus, which has a major UB presence, hasn't trickled down to the neighborhood, where one in four residents live in poverty and one in five properties are vacant.

Several others who posted comments on my blog yesterday made good points. Lots of intelligent submissions, the kind I like to see. And thanks to the reader who tipped me off to the stories in The Spectrum.

There is a relatively new concept in journalism called "crowdsourcing"  which involves reporters turning to readers for assistance in collecting and analyzing information. It's based on the thought that "our readers know more than we do," which is quite true in the collective sense.

I'd like to start experimenting with crowdsourcing with baby steps like readers submitting links and informed comments. I guess we're already doing that. What the Answer Lady did above, looking up UB salaries on SeeThroughNY and then sharing her findings is a good example.

So, let's get to work, people. Anyone want to figure out the average salary of full-time professors at UB,   which I'm sure is a lot less than the former administrators I wrote about Monday? Or how about the number of staff at Buffalo State making over $100,000?

Update: A reader has culled this information from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Average salaries at UB:
Prof - 119,400
Assoc Prof - 83,300
Asst Prof - 66,600

Another reader provides this link to the data.

 

$225,000 to teach one class

William Greiner was making $235,000 as president of the University at Buffalo. He stepped down in 2004 and does a little teaching. Right now he's teaching one class at the law school and is making $225,000.

He's not alone. 

John Naughton, the former dean of medicine and vice president for clinical affairs, is making $310,263 as a professor, 12 years removed from his administrative posts.

Former Vice Provost Kerry S. Grant makes $174,254 to teach two classes. That's more than double the salary of the chairman of the music department he works in.

The Spectrum, UB's student newspaper reported these findings last week, along with a pretty weak comeback by school administrators in today's edition.

Reported the Spectrum:

At a time when students are facing sudden tuition increases and poor post-graduation career opportunities, some UB professors are raking in more cash than ever before for positions they no longer hold ...

 "These people are getting paid for positions that they no longer hold," said Gerald Finnegan, a professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance. "I'm sure they've done some very honorable things, but the whole process is very repugnant." 

 Gee, ya think?

 

Best -- and worst -- bang for stimulus buck

What's the best way to jump start the economy? That is, how to best fashion a stimulus package that's going to cost taxpayers upwards of $1 trillion at the rate Congress is going?

Let me share some data and two points of view, one establishment, one populist.

First, let's hear from Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's economics..com. His testimony before Congress last month included this assessment of the "bang for buck" of assorted elements of the stimulus package.

Spending Increases

Temporary Increase in Food Stamps $1.73
Extending Unemployment Insurance Benefits $1.63
Increased Infrastructure Spending $1.59
General Aid to State Governments $1.38

Temporary Tax Cuts

Payroll Tax Holiday $1.28
Across the Board Tax Cut $1.03
Accelerated Depreciation $0.25

Permanent Tax Cuts

Extend Alternative Minimum Tax Patch $0.49
Make Dividend and Capital Gains Tax Cuts Permanent $0.38
Make Bush Income Tax Cuts Permanent $0.31
Cut in Corporate Tax Rate $0.30

Other Tax Cuts

Refundable Lump-Sum Tax Rebate $1.22
Nonrefundable Lump-Sum Tax Rebate  $1.01

In a nutshell, the best stimulus involves giving money to the down-and-out. Cutting taxes for corporations and the rich provides much less oomph.

Or, in his words:

"The most efficacious spending includes extending unemployment insurance benefits, expanding the food stamp program, and increasing aid to hard-pressed state and local governments. Increasing infrastructure spending would also greatly boost the economy, particularly in the current downturn, as the economy's problems are expected to last for an extended period and most of the money will be spent on hiring workers and on materials and equipment produced domestically."

Elsewhere in his testimony, he said housing prices have dropped 20 percent and stock prices 40 percent over the past year. Ouch.

OK, on to the populist perspective and a Democracy Now! interview with David Cay Johnston, the retired Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter from the New York Times who lives in Rochester and spends part of his time teaching at Syracuse University when he's not writing award-winning books.

He's on board with the concept of targeting money for infrastructure and the unemployed. The most startling part of the interview was this:

"If you add up all of the bailouts that the Bush administration did in the fall, the investments, the spending and the guarantees, it’s over $8 trillion. How much money is that? It is more than all of the income taxes paid by all Americans for the entire eight years of the Bush administration."

It's also more than eight times the size of the stimulus package now before Congress.  

Johnston has a story in this month's issue of Mother Jones entitled "Fiscal Therapy" that is worth a read. Here's a taste of what he has to say:

Mother jones cover The cost of cleaning up the current mess will be a huge drag on the economy in the near term. But we are, at last, at a turning point; we have a chance to end the socialism for the rich that put us into this hole.

How? By, in effect, reverse engineering the debacle. Rewriting tax laws and financial regulations has been the principal vehicle for turning government into a subsidy system for the deep-pocketed and well motivated. It can work in reverse as well.

President-elect Obama has offered some interesting ideas to make the tax code more fair — but by and large, his proposals amount to tinkering around the edges, not the kind of serious restructuring previous presidents, most notably Reagan, undertook.

Here's another way to go. We can start by eliminating some of the most spectacular tax giveaways and move on to doable, efficient steps toward shoring up our biggest asset — not stocks, bonds, or houses, but people. Best of all, much of this won't cost a penny; in fact, it will raise billions for the big tasks ahead.

He goes on to offer a 14-point plan that's a thought-provoking read.

Buffalo victims of Bernie Madoff

A 162-page list of Bernie Madoff's clients turned victims has been filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Here's a searchable link.

Go to the box labeled "Find" at the top of the document, type in Buffalo, or where ever, and let the games begin.

The News reports today that developer Howard Zemsky heads the list of Madoff's local victims.




No way to eliminate state deficit

My quick take on the $1.6 billion-deficit elimination plan rubber-stamped by the  State Legislature:

Reform-Reschwarm: The deal was hammered out by Three Men In A Room, who then summoned our $200-million-a-year Legislature to ratify the agreement with no meaningful review or debate. Which is, sadly,par for the course.

No structural reform: Spending cuts account for only 23 percent of the package. The balance comes from tax increases and raiding the coffers of state authorities for one-shot infusions of cash. The plan does very little to address the structural problems of the state budget.

UB studentsSUNY students pay the price: The state will lay claim to 90 percent of SUNY tuition hikes that took effect this semester. That means this school year and next, students will kick in $184 million to help run state government, an average of $837 per student.

The SUNY schools in Western New York -- UB, Buff State, Fredonia, Geneseo and Alfred -- account for a quarter of enrollment statewide. That means our students are being forced to pitch in some $46 million, for which they'll get nothing in return, save for pride in knowing state employees enjoy some of the fattest pensions in the nation.

The mother of one-shots: The state is laying claim to a whopping $476 million in New York Power Authority funds. That accounts for almost one-third of the $1.6 billion plan.

Some $261 million of it comes from the authority's cash reserves, money generated by operating profits at the authority's power plants. Of course, most of the profits -- nearly two-thirds last year -- were generated at the hydropower plant in Lewiston and should have stayed in WNY before it ever made its way to NYPA's coffers.

The balance of the money the state has siphoned off to fund the deficit-elimination bill -- $215 million -- had been reserved to pay the federal government to take radioactive waste off its hands from two nuclear power plants it sold about a decade ago. The state has agreed to return the money if and when the feds finally take the radioactive waste off NYPA's hands.  

Legislature holds itself harmless: There are no cuts in the operating budget of the Senate and Assembly. Pain and suffering is for others, I guess.

Who voted for this: The vote went almost entirely along party lines. The Democrats in the local delegation who voted "yes" include Schimminger, Hoyt, DelMonte, Gabryszak, Parment and Peoples (Schroeder was excused from the vote) in the Assembly and Stachowski and Thompson in the Senate.

No Republicans from the local delegation voted "yes" and GOP lawmakers are hootin' and hollerin' about the deal. But rest assured, if it had been Dean Skelos, not Malcom Smith, who had cut the deal, most of them would have fallen in line.

Here's the complete tally for the Senate and Assembly.

If all this doesn't depress you enough, there are more details in this press release from the governor's office.

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