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To shrink or not to shrink? Your comments on urban renewal

On our show last week, we featured a look at the “shrinking city” of Youngstown, Ohio, where the municipal government is trying to manage the city on a smaller scale by diverting resources away from blighted areas and focusing on thriving ones. Our segment featured Youngstown’s efforts to demolish abandoned houses, close off unused roadways and allow the wilderness to grow over the land. But is shrinking the best way to help revitalize a city? Viewers shared an array of critiques and thoughts. On Facebook, Mark suggested selling abandoned lots instead of demolishing them:

As much as I love green space, I hate to see assets destroyed. If there are -any- potential users, I would favor selling the house intact for $25 instead of spending $10k(???) to tear it down and clean the lot, -then- selling that to the neighbor for $25.

On our website, commenter Lessik offered a more artist-friendly alternative:

Instead of tearing them down? Create a program for artists and musicians to buy them. We struggle, and are always looking for a friendly place. When I can’t sell my jewelry, I work construction. I’ll do it. A couple of years and you’ll have a revitalized town. You’re giving up …

But several others thought shrinking was necessary for a city like Youngstown. Facebook commenter and former Youngstown resident Bradley wrote:

I grew up in Youngstown and it’s kind of sad. My grandparents emigrated from the U.K. to work in the steel mills. Once they started to shut down many of the people I graduated high school with had to leave to find jobs.

The problem is that there are more houses there than people. You cannot even give them away and no one wants to move back because there aren’t any jobs. A family member just sold his parents’ 50-year-old house in a working class neighborhood for $14,000, less than the price of a car. It took two years to sell it!

If they didn’t tear down the houses they would become death traps and places for nefarious activities.

Commenter Kathleen agreed:

Sad to see the old houses go, but the fact is that the old industrial economy was dirty and unsustainable. I hope to see more and more local leaders step up to the plate like this, opening up more green space, setting people to work on community projects, and making communities greener, more pedestrian friendly, i.e. cheaper to live in, and building more public transport, fostering local agriculture, and densely managed amenities to attract new kinds of industry.

And Youngstown resident Gina supported the shrinking plan as well:

As a resident of the city, I applaud Mayor Williams for doing what should have been done years ago. Yes, it’s painful to watch so many resources wasted … but they went to waste long ago, and have been rotting and deteriorating for years. The longer the rot is left, the harder it is to clean it all up and not kill the city.

Others had thoughts on ways that shrinking might work outside of Youngstown. On Facebook, commenter Andrew suggested reusing existing infrastructure rather than expanding outward:

Though not a solution for single family plots, old high density residence/commercial properties could benefit from this same idea, though sell it to a partnership of businesses who can invest in combined high density housing, industrial and retail space. The solution must be to reinvent/reuse infrastructure that is already in place, and lessen the burden of having to expand infrastructure to new suburbs.

And David warned of how other cities might use less noble means to downsize:

While Youngstown, Ohio, might be letting remaining residents in blighted neighborhoods remain, other cities trying something similar will use eminent domain to clean up blighted neighborhoods. That’s the scary part for someone in poverty (a lot of us heading in that direction).

To shrink or not to shrink? Do you think cities hosting abandoned buildings and blighted neighborhoods are better off downsizing or focusing on reinventing that unused space? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter.

The legacy of Robert Gates: Your reactions

Last week, our essayist Jon Meacham saluted the long career of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a realist with a “steadying, sensible hand” who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Although Meacham credited Gates as a “wise, imperfect man who did the best he could in an imperfect world,” some of our readers thought differently of the Gates legacy.

Reader chuckv writes:

Cognitive dissonance tonight. Mr. Meacham must surely be aware that, from Iran-Contra to the bloody muddle that is Afghanistan, Gates is complicit in all of the homicidal corruption and deceit our country has inflicted on this poor world for many years now.

Gates is certainly not the slobbering, lying fiend that was Donald Rumsfeld, or the mean-spirited dullard that was G.W. Bush, but somehow that makes any reflection on his career even more troubling. Precisely because he is a man of parts — lacking only a moral compass if one is to judge from his participation in the killing grounds of Central America Iraq and Afghanistan — he must be held to a higher standard.

Gates tragically squandered his many admirable attributes. He is not a figure worthy of celebration.

Deb Schroeder counters this, saying that Gates did the best he could:

I think Gates has done a good job. At least as good as possible given the task. Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush were war mongers. They got us into the wars we now fight. I don’t know the goal. Afghanistan was originally to get bin Laden, took us awhile, but we did it. Iraq was another story, still don’t know what that was all about. When it is all said and done will we have allies in these two countries? Don’t think so. They are not like us. What was Obama to do? We were under-manned in Afghanistan and our soldiers were being  killed. As much as I would have liked to just remove troops from both countries, it was not an option.

Jan finds the direction of the U.S. military under Gates’ leadership to be the most troubling of all:

Mr. Gates was in power at the time when the military dropped all ethics and committed itself to torture; something John McCain also opposes strongly. I’m sorry but there is no way I would ever admire Mr. Gates for anything. The thought that he is admired in the Obama circles is far from comforting; especially given the fact that Obama escalated things in Afghanistan as soon as he got into office and has now gotten us entangled in Libya.

I’m sorry but I’m going to have to completely disagree with you on this topic.

How do you view Gates’ leadership of the military during his tenure as Secretary of Defense? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Osama bin Laden’s death: Your reactions

Photo: Flickr/Keith Lam

The abrupt late-night announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death brought an end to the September 11 mastermind’s longtime leadership of al Qaeda. “Justice has been done,” declared President Obama in a 10-minute address to the nation late Sunday night. Celebrations erupted outside the White House, in Times Square and at Ground Zero while people around the country kept one eye on the television and the other on their Twitter feeds. Osama bin Laden’s death carries with it an enormous amount of questions about the future of al Qaeda and the implications of the U.S.’s ongoing war in the Middle East. Global intelligence firm Stratfor declared that it “opens the door for the beginning of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, regardless of the practical impact of bin Laden’s death.”

While we’ve been covering the story at our news blog, The Daily Need, and via Facebook and Twitter, we’ve rounded up your reactions from the first few hours after news sites began to confirm that bin Laden, in fact, had been killed:

On Facebook, Kat was not completely satisfied with the al Qaeda leader’s abrupt death:

I think capturing him would have been better than killing him. Imagine there was not that option. I’d have liked to see a trial for justice to be served.

Commenter Steven heeded caution:

Be cautious, there will be retaliation around the world!

But another Facebook commenter, Marlane, was congratulatory:

I thought that THIS was the real “Mission Accomplished.” Kudos to our troops for doing it and our President for ordering that it was his top priority. Great teamwork!!

We asked readers via Facebook and Twitter what their initial reactions were to President Obama’s speech, delivered shortly before midnight on Sunday. On Facebook, Veronica declared it a crucial bookend to the decade after September 11:

I will always remember this speech when President Obama confirmed Bin Laden was dead and his body in U.S. custody; I’m 10 years older but he’s right: our generation has borne much but ‘justice is done.’

Joan responded to the idea of “justice”:

Justice has been served, I suppose, in the way it can be served in this world by humans. I don’t think, though, it’s ever really possible for justice to be completely served because justice is relative. In this case, as I see it, a horribly evil man, responsible for much destruction of human minds and lives, has been killed and removed from our midst, and I can’t help but see that as a good thing. There will be others in his place, but hopefully, bringing this key player will demoralize the organization — and also bring some respect for our president from “certain quarters” who have been disrespecting him openly from the get-go. As to Osama’s spirit, that’s between him and his God.

Naf highlighted President Obama’s emphasis that the war on terror was not to be considered a war on Islam:

I’m glad he said that “bin Laden was NOT a Muslim leader, in fact he killed many Muslims also.” That is true … bin Laden did not represent Muslims … just a small bunch of extremists.

And on our website, Guest5 echoed the sentiment:

To use a Churchillian phrase it might be the END of the BEGINNING but is merely the BEGINNING OF THE END!

Next are the Al Qaeda no 2 and 3 — the America convert in Yemen and Mullah Omar and his no 2 and 3 of the Taliban.

Having said that the Obama speech was the perfect blend of sorrow and aggression and making sure fighting Islam as a religion is not the objective.

This latter is critical as we abhor Muslims Killing Muslims (or anyone else because we are not attacking your faith) because of differing religious interpretations of the Koran.

On Twitter, our regular security contributor, Joshua Foust, offered a somber reality check on the cost of bin Laden’s death:

So what’s the ten year price tag for getting Osama bin Laden? It’s well over $1,000,000,000,000

Other tweeters brought in much more positive reactions to the question we posed at @PBSNeedtoKnow: “What did you think of President Obama’s speech on the death of Osama bin Laden?”

It was everything that it needed to be! — @caffeinehusky

it gave me chills. it was devoid of arrogance and was therefore more powerful because of its quiet dignity. — @ImmaculateEdits

Clear and concise. Guarded optimism. But what about Ayman alZawahiri, the brains behind the outfit? — @geraldwbrown

Politics aside, very proud of our President. –@SabotImages

In the wake of this truly historic moment in a nine-year war and a 30-year relationship between the U.S. and Osama bin Laden, how do you feel? Is this event truly a moment for celebration or is the fear of retaliation more palpable? What do you think is the next step for the war in Afghanistan, for al Qaeda and for the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Horse meat: No different from pork or beef?

Last week’s story on a Nebraska bill proposing the revival of slaughtering horses for food generated quite a flurry of strong reactions. Many readers found it easiest to express their emotions in just one word:

But the main point of tension seemed to be the ethics of consuming horse meat – how morally different is it, several people asked, from eating meat from a cow or a pig? On our Facebook page, Sarah questioned our sense of appropriateness when eating different kinds of meat:

How many of the people screaming about this eat pork? Pigs are demonstrably highly intelligent and sensitive, in many cases more so than dogs and children yet we gobble up bacon with no problem. What animals are appropriate to eat depends on culture. Ours has rejected horse meat as food. I personally would like to see us keep on that path, but it is interesting to see what animals we consider pets and what we consider food and the drastically different ways we allow them to be treated.

Another commenter, Jim, saw the economic benefits of allowing horse slaughter:

Horse is leaner than beef, tender and tasty. It is eaten all over the world already, to the tune of 700,000 tons annually. Staying out of the trade only serves to harm us economically. Why not give our farmers an alternate source of income to help lift up the economy?

And Lesa condemned the general killing of animals to solve an economic problem:

Reading this brings tears to my eyes. The idea that slaughtering horses is the solution to a human economic problem is so egocentric it shocks me. No animal should have to pay the price for what humans have done to ourselves; yet here we are debating at the state and federal level whether or not we want to kill horses for monetary gain.

Is horse meat on the same moral equivalent as pork or beef? Do you consider the Nebraska bill a viable solution to an economic problem, or a repulsive proposal?

Reader responses: U.S. involvement in Libya

President Obama’s decision to launch air strikes in Libya to enforce a no-fly zone has gripped news headlines all weekend. Although the president has stressed that American forces would only target Libyan air defenses before deferring back to the international coalition to maintain the no-fly zone, many people remain uncertain that the U.S. will maintain a limited role in the country.

Last week, Need to Know contributor Joshua Foust assessed the potential outcomes of intervention. “Choosing not to intervene carries unforeseen consequences; in many ways, the international community’s refusal to intervene in Rwanda in 1994 contributed to the Congo’s horrifying decade of conflict,” he wrote. “But intervening also carries extreme costs, and burdens all who participate with dependencies and responsibilities few have discussed openly.”

Many of our readers have echoed Foust’s tone of trepidation over whether to intervene. Before the U.N. passed a resolution to create the no-fly zone over Libya last week, Facebook commenter Ruth expressed ambivalence over the international community’s involvement in Libya:

Europe gets just about every drop of oil that comes from Libya, and all they did was wring their hands. I’m glad that President Obama didn’t get us involved in this, but … if the U.S. is not going to be the world’s policeman then there damn sure won’t be one, because no other country will do it.

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Are college sports worth the cost?

Last week we investigated the financial woes of public universities whose state budgets are forcing them to make painful cuts to the classroom. While administrations are cutting academic programs, faculty members and support staff, athletic programs at places like Ohio University remain intact, leaving students and the public to shoulder the cost of supporting the Division I teams through tuition fees and tax dollars.

While many of the viewer-driven discussions that followed focused on Ohio University itself, many more addressed the profitability of intercollegiate sports in general and the prioritization of athletics over academics. E. Copen questioned the fairness of supporting sports programs for others while receiving little in return:

I’ve never been to a sporting event and probably never will go. Why should I have to pay for someone else’s experience at a Division I school? Who is going to pay for my experience? Me and my $50,000 of undergraduate student loans.

Cgeorge_2010 echoed similar sentiments:

It really is sad that the average students aren’t eligible for most scholarships but the students who are good at sports can get a free ride. Some of these students don’t even do that well. I think a lot of our young people have been given this idea while growing up that if you are good in sports, you can get into a good college for free and then maybe the professional league will hire you and you can make millions. It is ridiculous that so much emphasis is put on sports and the average student suffers for it.

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Share your education ideas!

President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address highlighted the crisis in American education: Budget cuts, conflicts between teaching staff and the administration, and byzantine structural problems remain some of the biggest challenges in revamping our public schools. Fixing these issues requires the collaboration of teachers, parents and policymakers at the local, state and national levels.

But inside the classroom, it’s a slightly different story. The challenges are still there — trying to improve passing rates, preparation for the SATs, getting students interested in science and technology — but teachers throughout the country are coming up with their own innovative ways to help their students.

We want to hear more ideas. If you’re an educator and you have one practical idea that can be implemented in a classroom to help students, then take part in our Education Ideas project. Upload a video that discusses your idea to our YouTube channel, and we’ll pick some of the best ones to showcase on our website, and possibly our national broadcast.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Use a digital camera or video recorder to make a video that discusses your idea. Please don’t use any copyrighted content or images of students without parental consent!

2. Log in to your YouTube account (if you don’t have one, you can create one here) and upload your video.

2. Go to the Need to Know Education Ideas video:

3. Click on the comments field. A button should appear that says “Attach a response video.” Follow the instructions from there.

Looking for inspiration? Take a look at some of the ideas that have already been submitted:

Learn from successful schools
Pedro Noguera, sociology professor at New York University

Invest in parents
Zakiyah Ansari, parent leader with the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice

Study the brain
Sue Szachowiczk, principal of Brockton High School in Brockton, Mass.

Need more ideas? Watch the preview for our hour-long episode on successes in teaching, airing Friday, February 11. Then share your ideas with us and help inspire other educators.

Does the U.S. owe anything for its past?

“One of the things you see when you look at the history of Congo is that it’s a lot easier to destroy something than to build it,” said author Adam Hochschild in an interview last week with Alison Stewart. On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected leader, Hochschild discussed how the U.S. and Belgian governments quietly authorized Lumumba’s assassination amid Cold War fears. The coup that followed ultimately resulted in the 32-year rule of Joseph Mobutu, who “left the country as a wreck from which it is still not recovered.”

We received many strong reactions to the interview, not only over the U.S.’s role in Congo but over its involvement in the affairs of other nations as well. One commenter, Theo, noted:

“Since 1945, [the] U.S. has led or been in involved in over 50 coups that toppled democratically elected government all over the world. America is not neither a friend of democracy nor a practitioner. Today America supports many dictators in Middle East and other parts of the world. It is a shame that US talks so much about democracy, but always ready to destroy a democratic government.”

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‘Tiger’ parenting: Good for children?

Amy Chua’s new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” has skyrocketed in sales and public attention lately with the Wall Street Journal’s excerpt of some of the book’s most controversial pages on “Chinese” versus “Western” parenting. The article prompted a deluge of outraged reactions and debates in the blogosphere, with one thoughtful response piece from a “Western” mother — and even Chua’s own daughter spoke up in defense of the way she was raised. Last week, Chua sat down with Alison Stewart to elaborate more on her own evolution as a parent, emphasizing that “Tiger Mother” is “not a how-to book; it’s a memoir.”

Some of the heated discussion surrounding Chua and her views on parenting gave way to a broader conversation about which methods are effective in modern parenting. On our website, one reader, Denise, supported Chua’s strict policies and high standards:

Rules, expectations, lessons, molding: These are my takeaways from the few interviews I’ve heard with or read about Chua this week. She says we should assume our children’s strength, not tiptoe around their presumed vulnerability and fragility (I’m paraphrasing). To which I say, right on!

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