- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Watertown Daily Times on ethics reforms in the state Legislature.

Feb. 11

The onslaught of indictments against New York legislators continued last week when U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch unsealed a 26-page indictment accusing Brooklyn Sen. John Sampson of lying to the FBI about his silent ownership in a liquor store business that had petitioned the state for special favors on a tax bill.

This is Mr. Sampson’s second indictment. Last year, he was charged with illegally helping himself to money in an escrow account that held proceeds from mortgage foreclosure sales. That money allegedly ended up financing a failed campaign for the job of Brooklyn district attorney.

And if observers needed an another reminder of Albany’s venality, Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. went on trial in Manhattan on Feb. 3 to answer charges in which Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Capers accused Mr. Boyland of being for sale to the highest bidder. Among many things, Mr. Boyland allegedly stole taxpayer money by filing false travel reimbursement documents to the Assembly. He is accused of openly soliciting bribes from just about anyone who visited his office.

Mr. Boyland and his crony Ry-Ann Hermon have offered a unique defense. “He never had any intention of doing what they wanted,” their defense lawyer Nancy Ennis argued. “He never gave them any political favors.”

And at least once he used his father as the bag man to pick up alleged bribes offered by the FBI.

No honor here except for homage paid to the cross of greed. No thought of voters, only coordinated, arrogant bribe-taking.

Sen. Sampson and Assemblyman Boyland are still sitting in the Legislature drawing salaries and accruing pension benefits even though they appear to be fairly fully occupied defending themselves from federal prosecutors. They have never done the people’s business, and they are not now.

This embarrassing storm hovers over the Legislature to which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has pointedly offered a plan that he argues should stem the waves of greed that eat away at the foundation of good government. While some of his proposals are extreme and may not be viable solutions, his dogged pursuit of reform is commendable.

In his State of the State address in January, he said, “That’s what ethics reform is. That’s why I was arguing for ethics reform last year, and that’s why I’m arguing for ethics reform this year. I propose new anti-bribery and corruption laws, public financing of elections, independent enforcements at the Board of Elections and disclosure of outside clients with business before the state.”

But the message falls on deaf years at the Legislature - just maybe because so many members are facing criminal ethics actions that they feel they are immunized against criticism.

While not all of the governor’s plan - especially public financing of elections - are viable, his insistence upon reforming ethics laws, redefining public corruption and disclosure of conflicts of interest is in what’s best for the state. We have been battling corruption, especially in New York City, since Boss Tweed ran the city in the late 1800s, and then 50 years later corruption led to aggressive prosecutions of New York City’s politicians by Fiorello H. LaGuardia and Thomas Dewey. After the progress of those eras, we have regressed to a state that seems to have a perverse ability to elect criminals to the Legislature.

It is time that the John Sampsons and William Boylands are thrown out of office and that their successors join fellow legislators, the governor and all New Yorkers in passing rigid anti-corruption laws with penalties so severe that public corruption will be eradicated.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/McdOFc

The New York Post on Gov. Cuomo’s criticism of the state Board of Regents.

Feb. 11

Gov. Cuomo calls himself “the students’ lobbyist.” This week, he earned the title.

On Monday, Cuomo blasted the Board of Regents (which oversees New York’s public schools) for moving to ease measures meant to hold teachers accountable for whether they are doing their jobs. He did so because the board was expected to OK a plan Tuesday that would have let teachers blame any poor performance by students on state proficiency tests on a supposedly sloppy rollout of the Common Core curriculum. The result would have been to make it even harder to fire ineffective teachers.

To his credit, the governor came down on the idea like a ton of bricks. He called it - rightly - yet “another excuse to stop the teacher-evaluation process,” which the Regents had stalled for years. The move, he said, “suggests the time has come to seriously reexamine” the board’s performance.

Guess what: The board back-pedaled, delaying action on the idea. Kudos to Cuomo: New York’s students dodged a bullet.

But the danger has not passed. The board will take up the issue again in April. And even though the board didn’t succeed in changing the measures, it has lowered the bar by putting off until 2022 the tougher test scores required for graduation. The board agreed to that one after misbegotten whines from some parents who evidently think it better to send their children into the world unprepared.

Cuomo bemoaned the limits of a governor’s power over the schools. He has a point, given that the Regents are picked by a Legislature controlled by Democrats, who are, in turn, in thrall to teachers unions. But governors aren’t powerless, as Cuomo proved this week.

As he said, the educrats have long fought any effort to hold them accountable. That’s not going to change. Which makes the governor one of the few leaders standing between New York’s students and the education blob that cares more about shielding teachers than teaching children.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1g7bNVw

The Times Union of Albany on reforming the nation’s immigration system.

Feb. 11

At least this time the discussion was honest: the failure of immigration reform is all about political power, not the best interests of people or the nation.

There was serious hope just a few weeks ago that House Republicans would, finally, come to the table on reforming the nation’s immigration system and creating a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally. And just like that, it was gone, with Republicans saying that they’d first like to see how the fall elections go.

Millions of lives kept on hold, again, all so some politicians can hedge their political bets.

If the sheer immorality of it doesn’t shame House Republicans, perhaps they should consider that this could be one of the most damaging things they’ve done to their party in years.

After Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2014 with the help of his callous talk of “self-deportation,” the GOP has been keenly aware that it needs to resolve an issue long laced with bigotry and jingoism if it hopes to win the White House in 2016.

House Speaker John Boehner also knows how badly his party’s image has been bruised in recent years by its near-constant obstruction of President Barack Obama’s agenda. The public is increasingly tired of a GOP acting like a sore loser out to stymie the Democratic president and satisfy an extreme political base.

For a moment, things seemed to be changing. Republicans came together with Democrats on a budget deal. The Senate forged a bipartisan immigration bill. Mr. Boehner publicly lambasted conservative purists for pushing Republicans to hold Congress hostage over issues on which they simply could not get their way.

And two weeks ago, House Republican leaders presented a draft of general principles for immigration reform. They were ready to talk about increased border security and enforcement, employment verification, a better visa tracking system, and a vague goal of some form of legal status for people who were “willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).” It was a starting point.

But there is not enough support in the GOP ranks for even that. Not under this president. Not if it looks anything at all like amnesty. Oh, and not until the midterm elections reveal whether Republicans retake the Senate. And if so, then what? Stonewall immigration reform even longer? Try to deport 11 million people?

Meanwhile, millions of people who, yes, came here illegally for a shot at the American dream will spend more months - or, more likely, years - in legal limbo. Just so a political party can see how the next election goes.

Well, it’s nothing if not honest. We can only hope voters will be as forthright about what they think of this.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1djZ01J

The Buffalo News on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts to reform how the military handles sexual assault cases.

Feb. 10

The coincidence of the two news stories could hardly have been more potent. On the front page of Monday’s Buffalo News was an article by Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski on the rising and well-deserved influence of Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., mainly on the strength of her persistent efforts to reform the way the U.S. military handles sexual assaults.

Yet a story inside the same edition documented the need, even in the face of continued resistance, for Gillibrand’s legislation, or a serious alternative. The story was replete with shocking details. At U.S. military bases in Japan, most service members found culpable in sex crimes did not go to prison. Their punishments were generally limited to fines, demotions, restriction to base or expulsion from the military.

In more than 1,000 records reviewed by The Associated Press, representing sex crimes reported between 2005 and 2013, the Air Force was the most lenient service. Of 124 sex crimes, the only punishment for 21 offenders was a letter of reprimand.

The inconsistency in dealing with sexual assaults is striking. In two cases adjudicated by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, accusers said they were sexually abused after nights of heavy drinking. Both had evidence supporting their cases. Yet, while one suspect was sentenced to six years in prison, the other was merely confined to his base for 30 days.

That’s why Gillibrand is on the right track in seeking to remove prosecution of military sexual assaults from commanders and give it to trained prosecutors. It’s why she is on the right track, despite protests of some in the military and in Congress that cutting commanders out would harm military discipline. Plainly, discipline is already out the window in these cases and military commanders have done little to close it, let alone give victims - women and men who are serving their country - assurance that their reports of sexual assault will be taken seriously.

What is certain is that this problem would not be receiving the attention it is today without Gillibrand’s relentless focus. That has caused some friction within Congress, but that’s fine. Some people in Congress cause friction by voting to shut down the government when they don’t get what they want; others do it by pursuing critical issues that go to the heart not just of our criminal justice system but also of the nation’s military readiness.

Many New Yorkers harbored doubts about Gillibrand’s selection to succeed Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate when Clinton resigned to become secretary of state. Gillibrand was largely unknown outside her Hudson Valley district and she was succeeding one of the world’s best-known women. But she has shown herself to be a fine selection, and perhaps one of the best decisions made by then-Gov. David Paterson.

Gillibrand should continue to push to remove discretion over sexual assault cases from the chain of command, which has shown itself to be both incompetent and indifferent. This is a crucial matter and Americans who care about the military, and the treatment of members who are sexually abused, can be grateful that Gillibrand shows no signs of backing off.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/NzHkFP

The Leader Herald of Gloversville on the U.S. economy.

Feb. 10

Manufacturing has rebounded in the United States, President Barack Obama assured us during his State of the Union speech. Not really.

Manufacturing barely expanded last month, in a sign that sector of the economy is far from as healthy as the president claims. During January, orders for new goods fell 13.2 points in comparison to the previous month.

And as Obama was well aware when he gave his speech, the economy as a whole is slowing down.

The nation’s gross domestic product grew just 1.9 percent last year, compared to 2.8 percent - still nothing about which to brag - for 2012.

Obama has been in office more than five years. No longer can he blame the weak economy on his predecessor. If he wants real improvement, he and liberals in Congress need to get out of the private sector’s way.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1kBXagz

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