Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I was sad to see that Molly Ivins had passed away Wednesday. She lost her battle with breast cancer. Long time readers here know that I have always enjoyed reading her column and her books. Creating a link to her Creators Syndicate column was one of the first things I did when I started this blog.
Her sharp wit and biting insights made politicians uncomfortable and readers rejoice. Whenever you read one of Molly's columns you could count on her to take a larger than life problem and reduce it to the things that mattered most to you. Her writing made people understand that politics wasn't something that happened to other people, that it was important for everyone to pay attention to what the scoundrels in Washington were up to. She never let anyone forget that it was the American public that should hold power over politicians, not vice versa.
I'll miss reading her column. I'll miss her calling George Bush "Shrub" and skewering inflated windbags like Rush Limbaugh. Most of all I'll miss her independent voice telling the truth amidst a sea of media personalities that only care about pandering to their audiences.
Her last column is available here and her books are for sale at any decent book store. You owe it to yourself to give her a try.
This is an opportunity for Mayor Williams to forcefully address the crime problem that has been plaguing the city. The city has made great strides lately in re-inventing itself as a smaller community that has much to offer. However, the high murder rate last year coupled with the brazenness of criminals will effectively halt any real potential for growth.
City Prosecutor Jay Macejko, at the request of Mayor Jay Williams, compiled the traffic data and is analyzing why traffic stops declined so much over the years. Macejko said traffic interdiction must be a priority because such stops often turn up guns and drugs.
Williams agreed and launched a 30-day zero-tolerance traffic crackdown after a woman and three men were shot to death Monday night on the South Side. All available officers will be enforcing rules of the road.
“Any incident involving a gun is a potential crime of violence,” Macejko said. “Minor traffic stops often recover a gun or a person wanted on a warrant.”
Through his involvement with the Youngstown 2010 program and his implementation of a plan to demolish vacant housing within the city the mayor has shown that he understands how to organize a plan to address an issue. Unfortunately for him, he is seen as strangely silent on the issue of crime. One would have thought the murder that took place last year at a pee wee football game would garner the response we are seeing now. The residents of Youngstown deserve to know that their mayor is doing everything within the scope of his power to keep them safe. Finally, it seems as though that is happening.
This may be the last chance the mayor gets to prove he can deal effectively with crime. If this proposal results in the arrests of criminals committing minor crimes before they can commit larger ones, then he will have succeeded. The results will be measured in a reduced number of murders and other violent crimes. If this plan is not taken seriously and the urgency dropped after a week or two, the public will lose faith in his ability to lead. This would be a disaster not only to Mayor Williams's political career but a blow to a city that is desperately trying to remake itself into a better place.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Sony BMG Music agreed Tuesday it violated federal law by not telling consumers CDs sold by the company contained digital rights management (DRM) software that monitored user listening habits to send them marketing messages.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Sony BMG agreed to allow consumers to exchange the CDs embedded with the DRM through June 31 and to reimburse consumers up to $150 to repair any damage caused by the software.
Sony BMG also admitted it failed to inform buyers the CDs limited the devices on which the music could be played and restricted the number of copies that could be made.
This is great news to a lot of music lovers. This link leads to the settlement website with instructions on how to submit your claim and which CD's are affected.
Friday, January 26, 2007
I found this video on You Tube of Bruce Springsteen performing the song "Youngstown" at Stambaugh Auditorium on his The Ghost of Tom Joad tour. If I remember correctly, he played one show with very little advance notice. People still talk about it today though.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
In November 2004 city residents endorsed the plan by agreeing to a 1/2 percent increase in the local income tax. This income tax applies only to active wages, which is to say it applies to those residents working and not all forms of income. In other words, retirees are safe from the tax increase. In addition, the 1/2 percent increase applies to all workers. There is no credit afforded those workers who work outside the city.
The plan was well written and far reaching in its scope. The city used the additional revenue to build a new public safety center to replace the dilapidated police station that had become hazardous, fixed the roof on the municipal building, funded new equipment and safety upgrades for the police and fire departments and planned on replacing police cars and a fire pumper truck. There is a comprehensive plan to resurface streets, purchase a street sweeper and replace street signs. In addition, the city planned for waterline and sewer replacement as well as other equipment and upgrades for the light and water systems.
The downtown area has seen extensive renovation. New sidewalks, curbs and lighting have helped transform the downtown area into an inviting, well maintained area. Most importantly, the city was able to secure a $400,000 grant through the State of Ohio's Comprehensive Downtown Revitalization Tier Two program in order to improve the look of the downtown area. This grant assisted 3 business owners with interior improvements and allowed 30 more to make facade improvements. The overall effect is a downtown with a clean, updated look that is inviting to customers.
The city has seen some growth just two years into the plan. A new Walgreen's recently opened at the corner of Main and Liberty. A new suite of business offices opened on Youngstown-Hubbard Rd. that is home to a law firm and an investment firm.
Finally, the community approved a 23 year, 0.5 mill bond issue in November 2006 to build three new schools in the district. The $18.6 million dollars generated will be combined with a $38 million dollar grant from the state to provide for a complete revitalization of the school district's facilities. These new buildings will have state of the art facilities, be climate controlled and more secure than their current counterparts. Students will benefit from learning in a clean, comfortable environment.
This capital improvement plan was well written and lays out exactly what goals city government hopes to accomplish, including how much revenue is expected to be collected and where and when it will be spent. It provides a year by year account of when equipment will be purchased, when buildings will be constructed and when streets will be resurfaced. Such planning keeps city residents fully informed of what the local government wishes to accomplish and how they are progressing. This planning and follow through convinced city residents to back the plan with the aforementioned income tax increase and school bond issue. Hopefully these improvements accomplish the goal of growth by attracting new business and residents to a forward looking community that is planning on success.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Anger over the handling of teacher contracts, funding for new schools and most importantly, the decision not to re-hire the high school football coach led to a disastrous school board meeting. Click here for the Tribune-Chronicle's coverage. Basically, the board decided not to issue another contract to the coach and he and some supporters became upset. Tempers flared at the meeting and people began swearing at each other. It was a fine example of small town politics from a community that absolutely refuses to learn from past mistakes.
The school board seems bent on self destruction. They have a peculiar rule that says residents may only ask questions at school board meetings if they are submitted in writing five days in advance. Ludicrous? You bet. It seems even more crazy once you realize that Brookfield is very close to receiving funding this summer from the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission for renovations or even a new building. Brookfield would be responsible for about 35% of the cost. In Hubbard this past November, voters authorized a bond issue to build three new schools under the program. The school board educated voters and worked with the public to explain what the increase in taxes would be for. The Brookfield school board, in contrast, seems to be making things as difficult as possible so that when the subject comes up, no one will trust them to manage anything as important as a multi-million dollar grant.
Residents, too, seem eager to ensure that everyone sees the township as populated with poorly mannered bumpkins who don't understand civility. What did anyone think was going to be accomplished by yelling and raising such a ruckus at a school board meeting that it was adjourned early and taken into executive session? Was everyone really unaware that newspaper reporters were in attendance? What did the assembled residents think the paper was going to say about their conduct? Acting out at a school board meeting does not accomplish anything. Pressuring them to do the right thing with your presence and questions will get results. Taking their seats away from them at election time will do even more.
Brookfield politics have always been feisty. They've always been a smidgen embarrassing. However, it is too important to receive this funding for new schools for the public to see the school board as anything other than pragmatic guardians of the public trust. The time has come to set aside petty differences and do the best job for the welfare of the students. They need a safe and comfortable environment to learn in. The number one job of the school board is to make sure every opportunity is seized to accomplish that. It's time for everyone to take a deep breath and remember why they are involved with the school system in the first place.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
This is the site responsible for the feed: http://www.steelvalleywebdesign.com/gyma/livefeeds.php
Monday, January 15, 2007
By AMANDA SMITH-TEUTSCH
CYBERSPACE -- With public discussions around the town square being a thing of the past, more and more people are turning to blogs to share their views, ideas and opinions.
Blogs, short for ‘‘Web logs’’ take many forms: some writers use them as a form of online diary, chronicling their daily lives. Others use them as political soapboxes to disseminate their platforms on everything from the war in Iraq to minimum wage and national candidates.
Locally, many bloggers write about the benefits of living in the metropolitan Youngstown-Warren area, as well the ins and outs of local politics.
‘‘I was in grad school in the Netherlands, and it is long and cold there in the winter,’’ said John Slanina, who as ‘‘Janko’’ on the i will shout youngstown blog. ‘‘As I went around in my studies, I saw many examples of how other communities are incorporating urban development and economic design into their cities. I thought it would be a neat way to communicate what these other cities are doing.’’
On his blog, Slanina interviews local people who are working towards the betterment of the area, and collects various news articles and Internet tidbits focusing on of interest to the residents of Youngstown. A graduate of Youngstown State University’s Scholars program, he now holds two masters degrees and is working as a technology-based development consultant in Columbus. There’s a community of former Youngstowners, he said, that he stumbles on to wherever he goes.
‘‘There’s an ex-pat Youngstown community, that while they’re not physically in Youngstown, they still care passionately about the place, and they want to see it succeed,’’ he said. ‘‘Often, people don’t want to leave, but they’re forced to.’’
The blog has helped network people in the city trying to work towards positive change, he said, and those ex-patriots who see viable ideas elsewhere. There will be no criticism or pointing out what’s wrong with the area, he said.
‘‘I want to promote the area, and stay fairly positive,’’ Slanina said. ‘‘Stay realistic about what’s going on, but to talk about the benefits of still calling Youngstown home.’’
Mike Prelee of Hubbard began his Tales from the Rust Belt blog two years ago, after a friend who wrote a technology blog helped him set up a blog of his own. A political science graduate from YSU who know works in transportation, he late at night when his two children - ages three and 18 months - are asleep.
‘‘Its a little bit of commentary about local politics and national politics, with a bit of satire thrown in,’’ he said. ‘‘I had one satire post where I ‘interviewed’ (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il.’’
He also touches on local news concerns, analyzing and proposing solutions to Youngstown’s problems while keeping away from a negative spin, he said.
‘‘Youngstown has a bad reputation,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s called one of the most dangerous cities. But there are good things about it too. I want to have a fresh voice out there, on things that can be done better,’’ Prelee said. ‘‘It’s easy to complain and criticize. But if you choose to live here, there must be a reason. Everyone has to make a contribution to improve (the area).’’
Others use their blogs not to highlight area improvements but to offer personal opinions and interests. Jill Zimon, of Cleveland, blogs on topics of interest to Northeast Ohio residents as well as the general-interest topics of parenting, education, law and politics on her Writes Like She Talks blog.
‘‘I started a blog because I wanted to make myself sit down and actually write. I have scraps of paper everywhere with ideas on them - different shapes of napkins, bills, where ever I can find a scrap of paper.’’
A freelance writer and full time mom, Zimon said she enjoys watching as traditional media outlets begin to use the new technology.
‘‘There are newspapers out there that are finding ways to use new media,’’ she said, using blogs and audio files of interviews. One posted a podcast of interviews of editorial board meetings that lead to endorsements, she said, offering readers insight into how the editorial process.
Zimon took part in a ‘‘Meet the Bloggers’’ roundtable interview of several statewide and regional political candidates recently.
‘‘The group invited anyone and everyone to the sessions,’’ she said, ‘‘anyone who was willing to take part in the informal conversation.’’
The resulting transcripts and podcasts were valuable tools for voters, and the total downloads for the "Meet the Bloggers" series now numbers over 63,000, she said.
‘‘It gave an up close and personal sense of the candidate,’’ she said.
Friday, January 12, 2007
Except, as we all know, there were no WMD to be found. No nuclear program, no stockpiles of Mustard Gas and no Anthrax. There is more Botulism in Beverly Hills than there was in Baghdad.
After the invasion came the declaration of Mission Accomplished. Flowers were lain at the feet of the soldiers liberating Iraq and a new government was swiftly formed. Peace reigned. No wait, that didn't happen either. Instead, it became nightmarishly clear almost immediately that post-Iraq planning was inadequate to the task. Donald Rumsfeld's invasion on the cheap was turning into a very expensive occupation.
Before the war began, President Bush was warned by Secretary of Defense Colin Powell regarding Iraq that "If you break it, you bought it". In other words, he was responsible for whatever happened in Iraq after the invasion. Secretary Powell was the man who instituted the doctrine of overwhelming force during the first Gulf War. His plan during that war utilized 500,000 troops to evict Hussein's military from Kuwait. Rumsfeld thought it could be done on the cheap with 150,000. To an extent he was correct. That's all it took to overthrow Hussein's regime. However, one has to assume the brutal insurrgency that followed and continues to this day would have been less successful if the number of troops in country had been closer to what Secretary Powell and General Norman Schwartzkopff used in 1991.
So now we find ourselves with a war won, a dictator executed and an insurrection that threatens to not only tear Iraq apart but damage the United States in a way that will take a generation to repair. Almost four years have gone by since the initial invasion and the President has suddenly figured out that there are not enough troops on the ground to provide security in Iraq.
The argument goes that we must fight the extremists in Iraq so that we do not have to fight them here. It is a ridiculuous statement and I refute it by saying the criminals that attacked us on September 11th were given haven in Afghanistan, not Iraq. If we had commited fully to Afghanistan in 2001 we could have secured that country by capturing the forces of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Instead we are now in a position where we are propping up two infant governmets, we are still chasing the terrorists who attacked us and still fighting the Taliban. The terrorists would never have been able to establish a base of operations in Iraq under Hussein's regime. Not only would he not have allowed it but our Air Force controlled the Northern and Southern parts of the country under the no fly zones established in the wake of the 1991 war. Invading and occupying Iraq was a blunder that will cost us even more lives and money now that President Bush has decided to increase the effort.
Any sane person is stymied by the terrible options available to deal with this mess. We are in a country we shouldn't be in, fighting a war that shouldn't be fought and now we find ourselves responsible for a population that cannot decide if they want us in their country or not. The down side to pulling the troops out and leaving is that we leave behind a weak government that is vulnerable to Islamic extremism. If it falls Iraq could become a breeding ground for new terrorists. Young children could be taught that Americans killed their families and grow up to become a new generation of Jihadists. Iran could subtely control the country as Syria did Lebanon for two decades. Staying and commiting more troops gives us a chance to prevent that future but it will cost lives and billions of dollars with no guarantee that the effort will succeed. It is madness to think that an acceptable solution can be salvaged from this.
So Colin Powell's warning from 2002 rings in our ears. "If you break it, you bought it". You know who owns this mistake? Everyone who voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004. Every Democratic Senator and Representative who voted to authorize the Iraq invasion on Oct.11, 2002. Every person who was afraid of being labeled unpatriotic if they questioned why we were invading a country that had not attacked us. Every journalist who failed to ask the tough questions when the invasion was announced. Every person whose sense of patriotism went no further than slapping a yellow ribbon on the back of their SUV. Every person who watched TV instead of going out to vote. In short, every person in the country owns this. This was our mistake. It doesn't matter that polls now show 70% of us don't support the president or his war. It certainly doesn't matter to the Iraqi's killed in the invasion or to those that live in darkness because we can't keep the electricity on in Baghdad for more than six hours at a time.
We elected this President. Twice. So we broke it and now we have to buy it. And we have. We have paid enough. No more parents should have to bury their children or bring them home maimed. This military has done all it can and it has done so with honor and pride. Most of us will never know what it means to sacrifice as these men and women and their families have. We owe it to them to let them lay down their arms and come home.
Who knows? Perhaps the Iraqi government will find the strength to stand on their own and claim their country for themselves. We will deal with the outcome either way.
Going forward we need to think harder about ways to preserve the peace. We need to think harder about ways to solve problems without relying on force. The military trusts us to elect leaders that will only put them in harm's way as a last resort and we have failed. We owe it to ourselves to do better than we have.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Regardless of Youngstown's ability to hire and pay for new police officers, the city does have other options to increase the police presence:
- Use statistics and computer modeling to determine where and when high rates of criminal incidents occur. The department should be able to plot trouble spots on a map, identifying what businesses have had problems and from which addresses criminals are operating.
- Use the county sheriff's department to deter crime by being visible in the area. Currently the sheriff's presence in the county seems to be in the outlying townships, especially those that do not have their own police department.
- Outsource as many mundane tasks as possible to private companies. A comprehensive evaluation of exactly which duties these could be would have to take place.
- Work with the Ohio State Patrol to increase DUI checkpoints in high traffic areas such as Market St., South Ave. and Glenwood Ave. at times when criminals are most likely on the road. This provides an opportunity to remove drivers under the influence as well as locate those who are wanted on outstanding warrants.
- Work with the current neighborhood block watch organizations and try to establish new ones. This gives officers a source of information they can tap when crimes occur. Residents know who the trash on their block is. If they are organized they will feel emboldened enough to help.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
It could be the modern culture's pre-occupation with instant gratification. Education takes patience and determination. Those youths dropping out want to have the trappings of success but don't understand what it takes to get the cash and cars they covet. This article in the Vindicator covers the subject in much more depth than I can. Instead, I want to focus on the advantages the Mahoning Valley offers to anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort to achieve not only a high school education but higher education. After all, a college degree may be worth an extra 1.9 million dollars in earnings over the course of a lifetime than a high school diploma alone.
Youngstown benefits from having many opportunities for higher education nearby. This includes not only academic schools but trade schools offering certification in a number of vocations. Until I compiled the following list I had no idea so many higher education opportunities were so close:
- Youngstown State University
- Kent State University Trumbull Branch
- Penn State University Shenango Branch
- The New Castle School of Trades
- Casal Aveda Institute
- Academy of Court Reporting
- De Vry University
- Raphael's School of Beauty
- Trumbull Business College
- TDDS Professional Training
- Westminster College
- New Castle Beauty School
- Thiel College
- Mount Union College
- Slippery Rock University
It takes determination to finish high school in less than perfect circumstances but people do it every year. Whether the goal is to be a plumber, a doctor or a lawyer there is a school on that list that can help anyone achieve it. And every profession they provide training for is in need somewhere.
What about the cost? People everywhere work part time and get grants and loans. The truly needy qualify for grants that will cover almost all education expenses. For everyone else, there are loans. Click here for the link on how to get started. The government figured out a long time ago that funding a few years of education is cheaper than providing welfare relief for generations.
One way to fight crime is to reduce the excuses people make for illegal behavior. There is no reason to settle for being a pusher or a thief when there are other opportunities. Dealing and stealing are conscious decisions. Simply saying school is hard doesn't excuse anyone from selling dime bags on street corners. Sitting down and figuring out whether you want to crack some books and tough it out for a few years to get a profession or whether you want to worry about some thug gunning you down for your territory should be a no-brainer.
School is hard. Studying and learning is hard. Graduating is hard. However, the pride that everyone is looking for is in the accomplishment. There is respect in gaining a degree or a certificate stating that you are an expert in your field. Those who hold people back from gaining that pride and respect are the failures.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
32 people. The youngest was only a year old and the oldest was 62. These people were shot, stabbed and beaten to death for a variety of reasons although none were good enough to take someone's life. The responses to this number have been many; the more optimistic cite a drop in the rate of 8% (35 in 2005 compared to 32 in 2006), the more cynical express thankfulness for having a trauma center in the city to treat serious injuries but overall people are angry.
I hear them calling the Ron Verb and Robert Mangino talk radio shows on WKBN. I read their comments on various area blogs and discussion groups. I saw them protest downtown after the shooting at the pee wee football game. People want action. They want more cops on the street, they want the jail open to full capacity and they even want federal troops in the city. These folks aren't stupid. They know how much money is being spent in Iraq and then look around in disgust at their own city. They know businesses are moving because of crime and they know their taxes are too high.
The frustration is understandable. Youngstown has an award winning plan to revitalize itself. It has a new convocation center that is a success, it has an independent mayor and thanks to the elections in November it has statewide recognition with the election of Marc Dann to the Attorney General's office and Ted Strickland to the Governor's seat. Overshadowing all of this is the Morgan Quitno ranking of Youngstown as the ninth most dangerous city in the United States and a murder rate that is 8 times the national average of 5.6 per 100,000 people.
Reducing that murder rate isn't as easy as it seems though. The majority of people killed are being killed because they are involved in the drug trade and they are involved in the drug trade for a variety of reasons. It is those reasons that need to be attacked if the murder rate and crime overall is to be reduced.
A number of things need to happen if Youngstown is to see any headway in the fight against violent crime:
- First, Mayor Jay Williams needs to make an emphatic statement about where his administration stands on crime. The deafening silence emanating from city hall on this issue only increases the frustration felt by the residents of the city.
- Second, a plan needs to be drafted. This plan needs to have original ideas and unique solutions. Doing the same old thing will not engender more favorable solutions.
- Third, the population of the Mahoning Valley must be open to new ideas and supportive of those implementing them. It is simply not acceptable to complain about the problem and then criticize someone for trying something new.