- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo News on education funding in New York state.

March 4

It is impossible not to feel the pangs of New York’s school districts as they cope once again with the prospect of reduced levels of state aid, a byproduct of the Great Recession whose aftereffects linger. The so-called “gap elimination adjustment” is, as the superintendent of the Depew Union Free School District observed, a nice term that really means the state is balancing its budget in part by sending less money to the state’s schools. There’s no disputing that.

The problem is that there is another side to the story and, as painful as the school districts’ plight is, it undergirds a more persuasive argument, namely that New Yorkers already pay more per student than residents of any other state for results that are largely middling. It’s true that the relatively small increases in state aid to education are putting some programs - and jobs - at risk, but it’s also true that spending even more is unlikely to make the schools notably better than they have been all along.

What is more, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo noted in a meeting with The News editorial board, what the schools really want is to return to the high point of their funding, from five years ago.

“Everybody in the world wants to go back to the high point before the recession,” he said. “I want my house to go back to the high point. I want my bank account to go back to the high point.”

No doubt the schools will get more than the governor has proposed, because they always do. That’s the system. Governors propose X, legislators demand Y and they compromise on X½. It’s the annual dance, but continuing it without acknowledging the fundamental problem won’t get to the heart of the matter.

Ultimately, the entire funding system needs to be re-engineered - taken apart and restructured in a way that emphasizes results, accountability and an appropriate balance between New Yorkers’ clear interests in paying teachers well while also respecting taxpayers’ bank accounts and protecting the state’s economy.

That’s a tall order in any state, but especially so in this one, where legislators cheerfully submit to union domination and where state labor law makes it almost impossible to win concessions at the bargaining table. Nevertheless, if New Yorkers are going to produce an education system that works and is affordable, those issues will have to be dealt with first. That means changes in the Taylor Law, which regulates public sector labor contracts, and the Triborough Amendment, which makes it in unions’ interest not to bargain at all when times are tough.

The prospects for such reforms are probably better than they have been in years but still not especially likely. Cuomo has shown - repeatedly - that he doesn’t mind shaking things up and he’s not afraid of crossing the unions, including the teachers unions, which despise evaluations such as Cuomo pushed into law. But it’s a fiercely complicated undertaking and lawmakers of both parties, but especially Democrats, have neither the stomach nor the interest in what would be a bloody political fight.

Someday, though, it will have to happen. The costs and funding of education in New York are no less dysfunctional than the rest of state government has been for years. Cuomo has made strides in fixing some of Albany’s problems, but repairing this one would require everyone to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The problem is, it’s easier just to walk around it - and easy is what Albany does best.

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http://bit.ly/NR1H0F

The Poughkeepsie Journal on an agreement between the state and IBM to maintain jobs in upstate New York.

Feb. 26

Appeasement.

Perhaps that is the best word to describe Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s strategy to stave off more IBM job losses in the Hudson Valley, including here in Dutchess County. As laudable and important as that goal is, the governor’s announcement is a short-term victory for the area. An agreement will apparently provide a reprieve for IBM workers in the area, and such a notion is surely better than seeing more misery and layoffs.

But the deal also should serve as another warning that the county needs a better plan to reinvigorate and diversify the economy.

Cuomo’s sweeping accord with Big Blue touches other areas of the state, including Albany and Buffalo, and is likely to have far more staying power in those places. The Hudson Valley must brace for these changes, though more details must emerge before the possible ramifications can be truly and thoroughly assessed.

The state does say the deal will preserve jobs in the Hudson Valley and expand the company’s high-tech footprint in New York. That last point is telling. Over the past decade or so, Dutchess County has been losing high-tech jobs, including those at IBM, while the state and IBM have partnered on a major investment at the State University of New York College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany. The nanocenter in Albany in recent years has branched out to include research and development facilities in other parts of upstate - in Utica; Canandaigua, Ontario County; and Buffalo.

This latest deal will see New York open a tech center in downtown Buffalo, with IBM committed to being its first tenant and bring 500 jobs there.

The state says IBM also is committed to keeping at least 3,100 high-tech jobs in the Hudson Valley through 2016, but that should provide only a level comfort to the Hudson Valley. For instance, it’s unclear what the pledge means in the context of IBM’s overall operations in the area. The company employs about 7,000 people in Dutchess County. But there were layoffs last year and another round looming, and the governor’s announcement didn’t provide a breakdown of what jobs would be saved - and what it means for those positions not protected by the agreement.

While IBM does not comment on staffing levels at individual sites, the state should insist on such disclosure in any tax-incentive deals awarded to IBM but has failed to do so.

In broader terms, the governor’s announcement solidifies the view that Dutchess County has to move along parallel tracks. One is in stark recognition that IBM still is the largest employer in the county by far, and anything that ebbs the flow of layoffs for a time helps the area. But the other track involves a cold-dose recognition that IBM has been reducing jobs in the area for years and that trend is likely to continue.

Other strategies that build on the area’s strengths in the biotech, farming and tourism industries, seek to lure other high-tech companies and aid small businesses and start-ups must be the focus.

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Online:

http://goo.gl/tcgQnr

The New York Daily News on the Iran’s efforts to boost its nuclear weapons program.

March 3

As Iran continues to advance its nuclear weapons program, President Obama and his allies seem to be negotiating against themselves - easing sanctions and volunteering concessions in exchange for talk.

This is a terribly counterproductive posture for American diplomacy.

The most recent slippage came from Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. Iran, she said last weekend, may need a small nuclear program for “practical needs,” and while she “would like there to be zero enrichment,” that is an “unlikely” expectation.

No. Iran, an energy-rich state, has no practical need for nuclear power. Zero. It is transparently negotiating to buy time to reach breakout capability to weaponize uranium, and such declarations make that outcome likelier.

When America betrays such lack of discipline, its allies are that much likelier to follow. In Jerusalem last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded resigned to seeing Iran continue to enrich uranium.

“We will take it step by step and see which compromises can be made and which are the ones that cannot be made,” she said. “We have set out on the path of lower enrichment, but enrichment does take place.”

Standing beside her, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, offered the sort of stark declaration that is the only sensible negotiating posture:

“The goal is to prevent Iran from having the capability to manufacture and deliver nuclear weapons,” he said. “I believe that means zero enrichment, zero centrifuges, zero plutonium, and of course an end to ICBM development. Because none of these elements - none of them - is necessary for developing civilian nuclear energy, which is what Iran has claimed that it wants.”

He continued: “We cannot have a world in which fanatic regimes, irresponsible regimes, have atomic bombs. We cannot afford to have that replicated by a regime that I say is the equivalent of 50 North Koreas - having weapons that could threaten not only the security of Israel and the security of Germany, but the security of the entire world.”

Heed those clear words. Use every ounce of leverage to force total disarmament.

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http://nydn.us/1dXRNRt

The Leader Herald of Gloversville on the Pentagon’s plans to cut U.S. troop numbers.

March 3.

Americans may be paying more for defense while getting less in troop strength, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hinted last week.

During a speech at the Pentagon, Hagel said plans are for the active-duty U.S. Army to be cut from its current 522,000 soldiers to as few as 440,000. The Army has not been that small since before World War II.

At the same time, Hagel said President Barack Obama wants to enhance the Pentagon budget. The Defense Department is scheduled to receive $496 billion next year - but Obama wants to add $26 billion to that.

Obviously, the cost of military hardware continues to increase dramatically. Just as plainly, however, the Pentagon wastes billions of dollars each year.

One way of reducing defense spending is to close more military bases in the United States, Hagel said.

What about overseas? Why, for example, do Americans continue to spend $2 billion a year to station 50,000 troops and Marines in Japan? Why is Japan allowed to benefit from that, while contributing just $200 million to the cost?

Europe, where about 70,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed, is a similar situation. Hagel and Obama should look at base closings - abroad.

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http://bit.ly/1f2d8IZ

The New York Times on U.S. relations with Afghanistan.

March 3

President Obama and NATO last week threatened to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by year’s end, given President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States.

Their frustration with Mr. Karzai is understandable. But the truth is, the whole exercise is theatrical. Neither the administration nor NATO wants to leave completely, and many neighboring countries want them to stay. So do many Afghans.

In a telephone call last Tuesday, Mr. Obama told Mr. Karzai that he had directed the Pentagon to plan for a complete withdrawal of American forces by the end of December. On Thursday, NATO defense ministers delivered a similar message. But Mr. Obama also made it clear that he is still open to leaving a limited force behind to conduct training and counterterrorism operations.

After repeated exhortations on the urgent need to complete an agreement, the new warnings were an acknowledgment of the obvious: that no deal will be signed until after Mr. Karzai leaves office. As he told The Washington Post on Saturday, Mr. Karzai no longer sees the war as Afghanistan’s war and considers Al Qaeda “more a myth than a reality.” He said he cannot sign the security agreement “without the launch of the peace process” between the government and the Taliban, which shows no likelihood of happening soon.

The presidential election in April is expected to require two rounds of voting and months of political jockeying before a victor emerges. It would have been simpler if Mr. Karzai signed the agreement when it was approved by a grand assembly of Afghan elders in November. Despite considerable effort, the Americans failed to persuade him, but they may have more success with the men aiming to succeed him. All have signaled that they would sign the accord.

In the meantime, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press that the possibility of the allies leaving is weakening the resolve of the Afghan forces and encouraging the Taliban to be more aggressive. Mr. Obama has added to the uncertainty by declining to settle on the size of a residual force and its mission. A force of 3,000 to 10,000 troops is under discussion, although Mr. Obama has now stressed that zero is also in the mix.

It is tempting to just be done with Afghanistan after 13 years of war. On the other hand, even after all America has invested there in lives lost and dollars spent, there are concerns about Afghanistan’s future if all troops are withdrawn.

These concerns include the possibility that the country would again become a haven for terrorists. And that, ultimately, would make it hard, politically and strategically, for this nation’s leaders to simply walk away.

United States intelligence agencies have predicted that without a continued American presence, Afghan security forces could soon collapse, with insurgents quickly retaking areas in the south and the east. The Afghans are capable fighters, but they need help maintaining equipment like helicopters and they rely heavily on American and international aid, officials say.

A study paid by the government and released in February by CNA Corporation’s Strategic Studies division said the Taliban is likely to gain strength after 2014, posing a threat to the government from 2015 to 2018, although significantly less so if American and NATO forces stay.

Mr. Obama has made extricating troops from Afghanistan a major priority. While it seems possible, even likely, that he will find a way to retain a limited force there this year, serious questions remain about whether the country will ever be able to stand on its own.

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http://nyti.ms/1jOPOUa

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