- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Times on its decision not to endorse Gov. Andrew Cuomo or challenger Zephyr Teachout in the Democratic primary for governor.

Aug. 26

More than four years ago, while announcing his campaign for governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo stood in front of the Tweed Courthouse in downtown Manhattan and said Albany’s antics “could make Boss Tweed blush.”

New York had had enough corruption, he said, and he was going to put a stop to it. “Job 1 is going to be to clean up Albany,” he said, “and make the government work for the people.”

Mr. Cuomo became governor on that platform and recorded several impressive achievements, but he failed to perform Job 1. The state government remains as subservient to big money as ever, and Mr. Cuomo resisted and even shut down opportunities to fix it. Because he broke his most important promise, we have decided not to make an endorsement for the Democratic primary on Sept. 9.

His opponent in the primary is Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham Law School who is a national expert on political corruption and an advocate of precisely the kind of transparency and political reform that Albany needs. Her description of Mr. Cuomo as part of a broken system “where public servants just end up serving the wealthy” is exactly on point, but we decline to endorse her because she has not shown the breadth of interests and experience needed to govern a big and diverse state.

Why endorse no candidate in a major state primary? Here’s how we see it: Realistically, Governor Cuomo is likely to win the primary, thanks to vastly greater resources and name recognition. And he’ll probably win a second term in November against a conservative Republican opponent. In part, that’s because issues like campaign finance rarely have been a strong motivator for most voters. Nonetheless, those who want to register their disappointment with Mr. Cuomo’s record on changing the culture of Albany may well decide that the best way to do that is to vote for Ms. Teachout. Despite our reservations about her, that impulse could send a powerful message to the governor and the many other entrenched incumbents in Albany that a shake-up is overdue.

Governor Cuomo’s tenure has had important victories. He persuaded many reluctant legislators to expand the right to marriage to same-sex couples, making New York the largest state in the country to break down this civil-rights barrier through legislative action. He muscled through the Legislature one of the strongest gun control bills in the country, expanding the ban on automatic weapons and big ammunition magazines and requiring background checks for private gun sales. He brought in four budgets on time that led to a credit-rating increase for the state, raised the minimum wage and oversaw an increase in employment.

The budget efficiency came at a price, however. His first budget cut education by $1.5 billion, and later ones failed to give the schools what they needed. Though he pleaded poverty, he imposed an unnecessary property tax cap and refused to extend a tax surcharge on the state’s wealthiest. In January, he proposed yet another damaging tax cut, one that would largely benefit the wealthy and threaten more state services. He highhandedly dismissed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for a city tax on the wealthy to pay for universal prekindergarten, instead substituting a pre-K plan with far less guaranteed financing.

The most important failures, though, were in ethics reform. New York still has no comprehensive campaign finance system and has one of the highest donation limits in the country. Mr. Cuomo proposed a better system, but, when legislators balked, he threw up his hands and claimed there was nothing he could do. Where was the energy and determination he showed on marriage rights and guns?

Corporations and special interests can still give unlimited amounts to party “housekeeping” accounts. The rank partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts, which he promised to end, remains in place for a decade because he chose not to make reforming it a priority.

The worst moment of all came when Mr. Cuomo blocked the progress of the independent commission he set up to investigate corruption after the panel began to look into issues that may have reflected badly on him and his political supporters. As The Times reported in July, Mr. Cuomo’s closest aides pushed back every time the commission began looking at the governor’s own questionable practices, including a committee set up to support his agenda, which became Albany’s biggest lobbying spender and did not disclose its donors. Now a United States attorney is pursuing the questions the commission raised, including the ones the governor wanted dropped.

Mr. Cuomo says the purpose of the commission was the leverage it gave him to push an ethics law through the Legislature and that he disbanded the panel when the law, agreed to in March, achieved roughly nine of 10 goals. But the missing goal - a strong public finance system that cut off unlimited donations - was always, by far, the most important method of reducing corruption, a much bigger reform than the strengthened bribery laws he settled for.

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Online:

http://goo.gl/GeyndZ

The Poughkeepsie Journal on public education funding and eliminating inequities between school districts.

Aug. 24

Absolutely, New York state should take over more of the costs of education over time and do what it can to fund schools - and to level out the playing field so all districts can more easily provide quality instruction.

It would be hard for anyone to be against those goals. But a recent report by a labor-backed education group ignores certain facts in its contention that the state has essentially reneged on $5.9 billion in school funding in recent years.

The Alliance for Quality Education cites a 2007 court ruling and says after honoring that agreement for two years, “the state turned its back on students and began cutting funding from schools in 2010-2012.”

In that statement, the alliance simply ignores the fact that the state - like everything and everyone else - was dealing with the ramifications of a deep recession that led to revenue sources drying up and massive budget shortfalls. As the economy has bounced back, the state has increased education funding. And when you add up the money coming in from property taxes and other sources, you find that New York spends the most per capita in the nation on its schools, $19,076 per student.

Still, the alliance is correct that there still are terrible inequities among the school districts, that the state must do more to help “high-need” districts that have a lower property-tax pool and that struggle to close the achievement gap.

But spending is only part of the education equation. The state’s massive school system can take steps to save money as well, to focus more of the money on instruction and, say, lowering class sizes. Everything from pension reform to school and administration consolidations can help in that regard, but they are typically resisted. The state also must continue to make vast improvements to the controversial Common Core curriculum or scrap it and begin anew. And it needs a credible and strong teacher-evaluation process as part of this strategy.

As the alliance notes, in 2007 the state’s highest court did rule that New York was violating its constitutional obligation to provide every student with a “sound, basic education.”

But, while the ruling set financial benchmarks, it should be clear to everyone that a rigid court-imposed monetary figure doesn’t work for numerous reasons. For starters, it actually provides a disincentive for districts to be more innovative and look for ways to keep costs down. Moreover, the state has a range of legitimate, important concerns to address aside from education, including providing health services to the poor, cleaning up environmental messes and keeping roads and bridges from crumbling.

It’s essential that elected officials, not the courts, make the final determinations on these matters. This November, voters also will get another opportunity to promote schools if they wish by supporting a $2 billion bond initiative to improve school technology. Time and again, New Yorkers have shown they are willing to dig deep to support schools.

But they also know that “more money” isn’t always the answer and is never the entire one.

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Online:

http://goo.gl/OGmHBL

The Watertown Daily Times on the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and law enforcement tactics.

Aug. 24

The shooting death of a black teenager in a St. Louis suburb more than two weeks ago has focused the nation’s attention on tactics used by police officers to do their jobs. It is a conversation, frankly, that most of us would prefer not to have.

Many people want to continue believing that police departments across the country always have their best interests at heart. They see police officers as the good guys who do whatever they can to provide the maximum level of protection for the communities they serve. These individuals would rather not peer behind the curtain and see what goes on behind the scenes.

More Americans, however, have become increasingly suspicious of police power and how it’s carried out. Much has been made in the past few weeks about the militarization of many departments, leaving many to wonder if the boundaries have become blurred. Are officers abusing their authority and creating police states in certain regions?

Such questions have been posed recently in the north country. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department became the proud recipient last year of a 2008 International MaxxPro Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. The 21-ton armored car, with a price tag of $600,000, was offered to the department free of charge courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Except, what need would a rural sheriff’s department have for a vehicle designed to resist improvised explosive devices, enemy ambushes, land mines and chemical weapons? Law enforcement officials have said the MRAP would be beneficial in extreme cases such as a hostage standoff. This would reduce the risk of officers being shot while approaching the scene.

This is a reasonable response, although such situations in rural areas are rare. But this hasn’t stopped many law enforcement agencies from getting their hands on their own military surplus items. It’s as if no department - regardless of its size - can tolerate being the only one without the baddest-looking toys in its inventory.

There is much we don’t yet know about the tragic death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9. Police officials said he attacked officer Darren Wilson before being shot. But some witnesses said that Mr. Brown had put his hands in the air and was cooperating with the officer when he was killed.

That many black people view their relationship with police much differently than whites do should come as no surprise. The preponderance of white officers in mostly black areas is one cause of this problem.

The population of Ferguson, for example, is about 67 percent black and about 29 percent white. Of the 53 officers on the police force, however, only four are black. Having more members of this law enforcement agency who could better relate to the largely minority population may help ease tensions.

When one segment of our population decries the unequal exertion of police power, as has been going on lately across the country, we all need to pay attention and commit to make changes. After all, justice is supposed to be blind - not deaf and dumb.

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Online:

http://goo.gl/Mv00hl

The Oneonta Daily Star on the execution of journalist James Foley by Islamic militants in Syria.

Aug. 21

It is known by two four-letter names: ISIL - the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and ISIS - the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. We could readily come up with different four-letter words to describe this army of insanely zealous Middle East terrorists, but we will settle for this one:

E-V-I-L.

There can be no ambiguity about those who on Tuesday proudly exhibited a video of their beheading of American journalist James Wright Foley. There are no two sides in an evaluation of these awful men who carry out public executions and crucifixions of innocent people who refuse to convert to ISIL’s perverted version of Islam.

There can be no toleration of so-called militants who are carrying out genocide against Yazidi men, women and children, burying many of them alive. In one 17-day period in June, more than 1,000 civilians were killed. ISIL arrogantly distributed photographs of dozens of young men being shot by firing squads.

As journalists, we feel a special bond with Foley and recoil at the obscenity that was his execution, but you didn’t have to share his profession to be nauseated by the beheading and ISIL’s threat to murder another journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, unless President Barack Obama abandons efforts to stop ISIL’s tyranny.

“Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers,” a visibly shaken and angry Obama said Wednesday. “Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. . They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shi’a, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion.

“ISIL speaks for no religion,” the president said. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day.”

After our long, painful contributions of blood and treasure in fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are clearly a weary country with little desire to be bogged down again with our troops on the ground in the Middle East.

Just the same, when innocent American citizens are so brutally and ruthlessly murdered, and we hear threats from these ISIL madmen that they will take their brand of terror and bloodshed to our shores, then we cannot sit idly by. The most powerful nation on the planet cannot allow itself to be cowed or blackmailed.

“We will be vigilant,” said Obama, promising to “extract this cancer . and we will be relentless.”

Whatever it takes. Evil doesn’t go away by itself.

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Online:

http://goo.gl/eE3fQG

The Buffalo News on President Barack Obama using executive orders while Congress remains gridlocked.

Aug. 22

At least one obvious conclusion may be drawn from a recent story examining President Obama’s increasingly aggressive use of executive orders to enact his agenda, and it is this: Government is broken.

Whether Obama’s actions are part of that or a consequence of it - the answer is probably both - is irrelevant to the larger problem. Washington does not function and the only thing to do about it is elect better people - something that voters seem strangely loath to do.

And yet, the evidence is clear. As one story in Tuesday’s Buffalo News showed, Obama is - or is perceived to be - distant from members of Congress, even those of his own party. Without the glad-handing, arm-twisting abilities of an FDR or a Ronald Reagan, his ability to persuade Congress to act on his agenda has been curtailed.

That’s a problem, though hardly unique to Obama or insurmountable. Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and other previous occupants of the White House also had trouble working with Congress. Yet things got done.

Add to Obama’s weaknesses, though, the mood of a surly and indifferent faction of Congress that is focused only on two goals: cutting government at any cost and opposing Obama, who, for reasons good or bad, they despise. That’s the game-changer.

Previous Congresses, even in politically divided times, managed to accomplish valuable goals and find areas of common ground, even if sometimes unwillingly. A Democratic Congress cut taxes at the urging of Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton reformed welfare at the urging of Republicans in Congress. Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.

But Obama and this Congress, controlled by tea party Republicans in the House and greatly influenced by the threat - and chronic use - of filibusters in the Senate, have done almost nothing to find common ground.

The obvious example is immigration reform. Polls show most Americans, including Republicans, in favor of it. Obama has pushed for a workable compromise and, under bipartisan Senate leadership, a reasonable bill was crafted. But the House would have nothing to do with it, even blocking a vote on the legislation. What then, should be the president’s - any president’s - response? Throw up his hands or take what actions he can? The problems are severe, after all, and have developed crisis aspects, particularly in the number of children crossing the Southern border to escape danger in their own countries.

An executive order is not an ideal outcome. Perhaps a more persuasive president would have been able to negotiate better with Congress, but it’s doubtful. Tea party Republicans are a different breed: absolutist, and utterly unwilling to compromise.

Perhaps the system will work yet. Historically, when one party or the other gets out of line, voters give them a slap and they come back chastened, as Democrats did when Clinton was elected. Today, everything is out of line. Congress refuses to deal with serious issues, prompting Obama, for better or worse, to go it alone, raising all the risks that secret negotiations can threaten.

Will it all be enough for Americans to demand that their elected officials start dealing seriously with the serious issues before them? Frankly, it’s hard to be hopeful, but hope, right now, is about all there is.

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Online:

http://goo.gl/GvMFjP

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