- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Daily News on the proposal to hold a parade in Manhattan for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

April 14.

The war in Iraq, begun in 2003, is over. The war in Afghanistan, the longest military conflict in our history, will end in December.

Their ends look and feel different from those of many other conflicts the nation has endured. No peace treaties signed on the decks of ships, or banner headlines declaring victory, or warm embraces of those who fought them by a grateful nation.

We can change at least one of those facts - with a seismic outpouring of gratitude in the Canyon of Heroes, where America’s best have been honored over the generations. That was the brilliant idea suggested Sunday by Sen. Chuck Schumer and seconded by Mayor de Blasio.

Some of us know the names and stories of the 6,802 American men and women who have died in these foreign lands, or of those who have earned medals of honor and valor there.

The names and stories of those who have left us and returned to resume their places in our communities - numbering more than 2.5 million - are less commonly recalled. Of those, some 400,000 were deployed three or more times. Some 37,000 have been deployed more than five times.

Service, sacrifice. We mouth the words so often, we risk forgetting what they mean.

To say goodbye to your family - often to a new spouse, a young child. To travel thousands of miles to strange places. To be away for nine months, 12 months, sometimes as long as 15 months. To know as you do that you may not return, and if you do return, it may well be with wounds, visible and invisible. Thanking these volunteers takes many urgent forms: quality health care, including mental health care; educational assistance; job opportunities.

But symbols matter, too. They matter profoundly, especially for wars that have often driven political divisions among the populace at large.

So let New York City reach out to every soldier, sailor, marine and airman. Let them travel up the same path that astronauts and Olympians and heroes from previous wars have traveled. It will be ever more fitting for these veterans, for they will travel past the hallowed site, now being reborn, where terrorists launched their ignominious war on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 2,700 in the World Trade Center attacks.

Let them wave to cheering crowds and feel showers of confetti on their faces.

It is not the most we can do. It is the very least.

___

Online:

http://nydn.us/1gZTtdA

The Post-Star of Glens Falls on New York state’s tax cap.

April 11

When thinking about the tax cap as it applies to school districts, it’s amazing how easily the state usurped local control.

The political line on school budgets was always local people have control. Locally elected school boards come up with the budgets, and residents of each school district vote on them.

While it’s true this “control” is partly an illusion since much of a school district’s budget is mandated by the state, nonetheless, New Yorkers seemed over the years to value the influence they have over school spending.

But that influence was undermined by the tax cap pushed into place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Communities no longer get to vote up or down on budgets prepared by their elected representatives on the school board.

Instead, school boards are forced to come up with budgets that limbo under a tax cap established through a formula so complicated that no one can predict where it will be set.

The cap, which was sold as a 2 percent ceiling on the tax levy increase, is nothing of the sort. Sometimes it lands at 6 or 7 percent, sometimes at zero and, most often, somewhere in between.

Wherever the cap ends up, the local board must get under it or convince a supermajority - 60 percent - of voters to approve the budget.

Without much comment or dissent, the tax cap measure took away from communities the foundation of democracy - majority rule - when it comes to deciding on their school districts’ budgets.

The 60 percent barrier is difficult for school boards to get over, not only because it’s hard to win a supermajority on any contested vote, but because of the stigma attached to busting the tax cap.

Cuomo cleverly framed the debate to cast any school board exceeding the cap as irresponsible. This year, he is raising the stakes further by putting in place a property tax freeze.

Under the freeze, residents in communities where the tax cap is respected will be able to collect rebates on any increase in their property tax. But residents in communities where the tax cap is exceeded will not be able to collect the rebates.

We question the optimism of North Warren schools Superintendent Margaret Brady, who expects her school budget to pass even if it busts the cap.

Brady pointed out over the past 10 years, the district’s budgets passed with a supermajority. But those votes didn’t involve exceeding a tax cap, and voters weren’t throwing away a shot at a rebate.

What is Brady supposed to do? The budget she and the board put together increases the tax levy by a tiny 1.6 percent. The tax cap, however, is zero.

If North Warren’s school district leaders ask for $1 more in taxes this year than last year, they must get approval from a supermajority of voters.

North Warren’s residents don’t get to vote up or down on their local school budget. If the tax levy goes up even by $1, they have to vote the budget down or the state will punish them.

The situation strikes us as anti-democratic. State officials intruded into what used to be the territory of local voters.

It took a few years to clarify how the tax cap was going to work, but it’s clear now.

We shall see, in districts like North Warren, whether voters are willing to accept continued intrusions by the state or will in some cases vote to exceed the cap and take the consequences.

___

Online:

http://bit.ly/QnrY80

The Buffalo News on Internet security issues after discovery of the “Heartbleed” vulnerability.

April 12

The latest worry about security and privacy on the Internet revolves around a damaging computer bug called Heartbleed.

Heartbleed is a threat that exploits a flaw in the encryption technology that is supposed to protect our email, instant messaging and electronic commerce. For years we’ve been reassured that if we see a closed padlock and “https” in the browser address line, then information sent over that connection is secure from hackers. Now it turns out that is not true.

The security flaw has the potential to wreak havoc on untold numbers of people in the most subtle and not so subtle ways, as it went undetected for more than two years. Worse, while other intrusions leave tracks behind to let you know information may have been stolen, Heartbleed works without leaving a trace.

The bug creates an opening in the encryption technology known as SSL/TLS. It means hackers could have intercepted Internet traffic even if the padlock were closed. The problem affects only the variant of SSL/TLS known as OpenSSL, which happens to be one of the most common on the Internet. It’s a scary proposition.

Experts have recommended people change their passwords, but have been unable to agree on when they should do so. Some have said right away, while others cautioned patience until affected websites patch the flaw. For the truly cautious, change passwords right away, then again after websites are patched.

The confusion has some worried people spending a lot of time on the site LastPass, a password management company that set up various Internet tools where consumers can check specific sites to make sure they’re safe.

But it turns out there’s more to worry about than major Internet companies like Yahoo and Amazon. Now, security experts are saying the potential for damage could extend to the inner workings of the Internet and the plethora of devices that connect to it.

That could include home routers and printers that have OpenSSL, the system exploited by Heartbleed, built into their hardware. Many home routers are configured to block outside traffic, making it less likely hackers will spend the extra time needed to steal passwords, but the ubiquity of OpenSSL makes for some potentially astounding ramifications.

Major retailers were the targets of hackers during the last Christmas shopping season, and personal informations on tens of millions of customers was stolen. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says China is ramping up its cyberespionage against the United States. A Senate report in February said government agencies are ill-prepared to guard networks against even average-level hackers. Now we have the Heartbleed revelations.

This latest scare should help every one of us understand more clearly how vulnerable we are in this Internet age. Last year, President Obama signed an executive order to address some concerns. The order promotes increased information sharing about cyberattacks between government and industry, but fell far short of the need for tougher cybersecurity.

The Internet revolutionized the way we conduct our lives, which is why it is so important that it be made safe and secure.

___

Online:

http://bit.ly/1hI7Ady

Newsday on the condition of the nation’s highway infrastructure and the need for repairs.

April 11

The nation’s roads and bridges need intensive care.

One in three major U.S. roads is in poor or mediocre condition, and one in four bridges is either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

That disrepair costs motorists in broken vehicles and drives up the expense of freight, which increases the cost of doing business. That’s a drag on economic growth and the nation’s international competitiveness.

Unfortunately, the federal funding mechanism that pays for much of the roadwork also needs work. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is on the brink of bankruptcy. The revenue sources that sustain it no longer generate enough money to cover the maintenance that has already been authorized, much less all the work that actually needs to be done.

To feed the fund, Washington relies on the gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel, and a small tax on truck sales and truck tires. That raises 85 percent of the federal dollars devoted to roads, bridges and rail. In recent years, Congress has added a few billion dollars from general tax revenue.

Despite its critical function in keeping the roads in good repair, the gas tax has been unpopular since its inception in 1932 at a penny a gallon. Although Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton each signed big bumps in the tax, it is projected to raise just $39 billion next year. That’s short of the $53 billion in planned spending and a long way from the $170 billion a year the Federal Highway Administration says it would take to significantly improve the condition of federal highways and bridges.

Fuel taxes were last increased in 1993. Over that time, the miles vehicles travel per gallon has increased, resulting in more road wear and tear per gallon. And inflation has eroded the money’s purchasing power. If the tax had been adjusted with the cost of living, today it would be 29 cents a gallon on gasoline and 39 cents a gallon on diesel, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Surface Transportation Act, which sets federal highway funding, expires Oct. 1. So it will soon be crunchtime for Congress to reach a deal. Doing too little to reverse the slow rot would be irresponsible. It would also squander an important opportunity to create jobs.

There is no agreement on where the money should come from, but a number of possibilities have been floated.

Congress could raise the taxes on gas and diesel fuel. Each additional penny per gallon would raise $1.5 billion a year. But to cover the obligations projected for the trust fund solely by raising the tax would require a 10-cent increase, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That kind of hike in gasoline prices won’t go down easy in Congress or with the public.

President Barack Obama proposed another option in his dead-on-arrival 2015 budget. He would devote $302 billion over four years to surface-transportation improvements. The additional money would come from overhauling the corporate tax code. Unfortunately, federal tax reform won’t happen anytime soon. It would mean closing loopholes while slashing rates, and that would take more bipartisan cooperation than Congress is likely to muster in an election year.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) is quietly shopping a proposal to tap $2 trillion in assets that corporations have parked overseas. He wants Congress to allow corporations to bring that money home at a greatly reduced income tax rate of 5.25 percent - if they use an additional 9.75 percent to buy bonds to fund infrastructure projects. The deal should be permanent tax policy, rather than a one-time amnesty, to create a new revenue stream for infrastructure, Israel said.

There are even whispers about lifting the ban on new tolls on interstates. That’s not going to happen. The ban’s been in place since 1956, when the U.S. highway system was created under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The only exceptions are state highways that had tolls before they were absorbed into the national system, and a few unpopular pilot projects.

Congress has to find the money to rehabilitate roads and bridges. It can’t keep dithering while the country’s underpinnings crumble.

___

Online:

http://bit.ly/1eLaFnw

The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh on a national campaign to curb texting while driving.

April 11

A dramatic new TV ad about texting and driving should have an impact on everyone who sees it.

It’s part of an $8.5 million U.S. Department of Transportation campaign to try to stem the growing number of accidents caused by people who can’t wait until they pull over to use their cellphones.

If you haven’t seen the brief but powerful ad - which graphically shows a crash caused by a young woman checking a text message - you should check it out. And if you have kids, make them watch it, too.

You can find it at: http://is.gd/q4Zutd

The act of texting while driving is growing as cellphone ownership becomes pervasive, and it puts everyone on the road in danger.

In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says, 3,328 people nationwide were killed and about 421,000 hurt in crashes involving a distracted driver.

New York state has already taken some steps to try to reduce these kinds of accidents. Rest areas are now dubbed “text stops” by signs along highways like Interstate 87 that urge drivers to wait just a few more miles until they can pull over and safely text.

State Police are right now on heightened patrol for people using their electronic devices to talk or text. That includes using new, higher-profile but sneaky vehicles that let them see inside your car more easily. Drivers can’t as easily hide their texting in their laps anymore.

The points against driver’s licenses for distracted-driving convictions have been increased, and stiff fines are being doled out.

And starting Nov. 1, new laws take effect in New York that are aimed specifically at young drivers, who are among the biggest offenders in regard to cellphone violations. Starting then, young and new drivers convicted of a first offense of texting while driving will see their license suspended for 120 days. A second offense will earn them a one-year suspension.

Cell use while driving is a big problem across New York. During the last Operation Hang Up campaign, held for six days last winter, State Police issued more than 875 tickets.

Just this week, troopers investigated a crash in Oswegatchie, St. Lawrence County, that they say was caused by a texting driver. The 24-year-old Ogdensburg man drove his car off the south side of the road and into an earthen embankment. He told troopers he was texting while driving. He also was allegedly very drunk.

He was lucky not to be seriously hurt - and not to have seriously hurt anyone else.

It’s hard to say what it will take to make people leave their phones alone while they drive.

Maybe that shocking ad will help.

___

Online:

http://bit.ly/1m5plpd

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