- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Post-Star of Glens Falls on the state’s ethics reform efforts.

April 4

In need of a tourniquet, the state is slapping a Band-Aid on the bleeding wound of public corruption.

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushing, the state budget includes an ethics reform package, but it is New York-style reform, meaning it is messy and riddled with loopholes. It addresses some smaller issues, like accountability for per diem payments, but fails to address larger ones, like the conflicts of interest that brought down former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Capital New York looked at 37 public scandals from the past decade and found that the new rules would have dealt with only one.

Cuomo has acknowledged the new rules fall short, but slams their critics as “absolutists.” He would like this law to be seen as a good start. It’s more of a step backward, because it lets the governor and Legislature claim to have cleaned up Albany, while leaving enough leeway in the law to allow corruption to continue.

Lawyers like Silver will be subject to new disclosure rules regarding outside income. The rules have wide exemptions, however, and if you’re a legislator who wants to take advantage of your position to make money, the way Silver did, the new rules won’t stop you.

What New York needs is to empower an oversight agency to monitor and investigate political ethics and public corruption. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics was supposed to be such an agency, but in classic New York fashion, it has been hobbled by its own structure and undermined by its own commissioners. Its acronym is JCOPE but it is referred to in Albany as J-Joke.

All you need to know about JCOPE is that Sheldon Silver helped set it up in 2011, and from then until he was arrested at the beginning of this year, Silver was able to run his various schemes right under JCOPE’s nose.

The reforms do not grant the attorney general power to pursue public corruption cases on his own, even though Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sought that power, and when Cuomo was attorney general, he sought it, too.

The reforms that were adopted include the use of swipe cards by legislators, to prove they were in Albany before collecting per diem travel expense allowances; and an agreement to work toward passage of a constitutional amendment that would revoke pensions for legislators convicted of felonies.

Count us among the underwhelmed by these reforms, especially in light of the need for dramatic action.

In the past decade, we have seen a state comptroller (Alan Hevesi), governor (Eliot Spitzer), two Senate majority leaders (Pedro Espada and Joseph Bruno) and Assembly speaker (Sheldon Silver) driven from office and/or indicted because of corruption or ethical violations or both.

On top of hitting for the cycle in crimes committed by elected leaders, New York has had dozens of its state lawmakers indicted over the past few years. We’re confident no other state can match ours in the breadth and depth of public corruption.

Given New York’s shameful record, much more than these weak new laws are needed. We need ethics reform that empowers an agency such as the attorney general’s office to initiate and pursue public corruption investigations, independent of the governor or Legislature. Until we have that, we will continue to suffer the destructive effects of political criminality.

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Online: http://bit.ly/1CfE9Fh

The New York Post on a group called Hedge Clippers.

April 7

Hedge Clippers purports to be a grassroots group opposed to hedge-fund heavies who’re supposedly out to buy control of state government.

In fact, the Clippers are a front for teachers unions and their allies, all determined to scare off hedge-funders who’ve set out to save education in New York.

That is, the hedgies’ real sin is their charity work - spending some of their dough to try to upend Albany’s education monopoly.

Most started by giving to charter schools - and some followed up with lobbying and campaign donations to fight union efforts to kill off the charters.

Hedge Clippers was set up by the Strong Economy for All Coalition - an umbrella outfit whose backers include the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the New York State AFL-CIO and Local 32BJ SEIU.

Clippers’ output is as suspect as its parentage. Thus, its “exposé” noted that hedge-fund “linked” individuals have spent $40 million in state campaigns over the past 15 years - with Gov. Cuomo having taken in $5 million alone.

Funny, though: Over that same period, the groups behind Hedge Clippers dropped $65 million into state campaign coffers. (More, if you count non-cash help.)

In the last five years, while the big bad hedge-funders gave $16 million, the forces pulling the Strong Economy For All strings dished out $22 million.

And the true imbalance is far greater - because union spending is devoted overwhelmingly to a single cause: defending and extending union power and perks.

But the hedge-fund outlays are spread across many more issues - including both selfish business interests and the particular social-conscience issues of the various individual donors, from gay marriage to prison reform to, yes, boosting charter schools.

Let’s be clear: Unions and their members have a perfect right to a voice in the political process. But not the only voice.

And the unions have whelped a host of fronts over the years to push their agenda without leaving clear fingerprints, from the Alliance for Quality Education to the vastly powerful Working Families Party.

Hedge Clippers is just the latest fake “grassroots” group - this one designed to smear an industry many of whose leaders want better schools for New York children.

As Business Insider reported last month, a secondary goal of the Hedge Clipper campaign is to make hedge-fund money “toxic” for Democratic Party candidates nationwide.

Which, of course, would make those candidates more reliant on union money.

Grassroots politics?

More like AstroTurf intimidation.

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Online: http://bit.ly/1Fls4PX

Newsday on banning armor-piercing bullets.

April 5

Banning armor-piercing “cop-killer” bullets shouldn’t be so controversial. Police shouldn’t have to face that sort of firepower. But opponents of gun regulation bludgeoned the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into submission last month on its proposal to ban 5.56 mm M855 “green tip” ammunition. Those are rifle rounds that can pierce bulletproof vests when fired from handguns previously not commercially available.

Rep. Steve Israel is mounting a rearguard action to prod the agency into reconsidering a ban. He’s introduced a bill to update the law by defining cop-killer bullets based on their ability to pierce body armor rather than the metals used to make them. The bill won’t pass, but he’s using it to rally supporters so the ATFE will know it’s not alone in its worry about the bullets. That’s the dismal state of the struggle for commonsense gun laws.

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Online: http://nwsdy.li/1yd5fRn

The Poughkeepsie Journal on federal regulations for electricity rates.

April 4

Profound, devastating mistakes were made before federal regulators had the bright idea to artificially impose a policy leading to higher energy prices in the area.

And the state has to bear the lion’s share of the responsibility. It has taken way too long for it to articulate a clear, comprehensive energy policy. That created an avoidable vacuum, providing an outrageous opportunity for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to be pushed to implement its own strategy - one that is greatly hurting the mid-Hudson Valley.

FERC has imposed a so-called “new capacity zone,” leading to higher electric rates with the stated intention to lure developers to build more power plants, primarily to serve the downstate area.

It’s an absolute affront to the mid-Hudson Valley, especially when you consider far better alternatives are available. They include focusing on fostering energy-efficiency programs that can reduce the strains put on the power grid during peak demands. And they also include improving transmission lines, which also would make the grid more effective while enabling existing sources of power upstate to tap into the lines and feed the energy-hungry downstate area.

But the state has taken way too long to get its act together. And, to date, the courts have callously upheld FERC’s decision, including a ruling handed down last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District.

Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corp., the state Public Service Commission and others have been fighting the FERC decision, and the area’s congressional representative has offered legislation to thwart FERC’s choices as well.

But, so far, nothing has worked. FERC’s detrimental policy has resulted in an approximate 6 percent increase in residential utility bills and as much as 10 percent for its large industrial customers.

The mid-Hudson Valley has not seen the signs of an economic recovery that other parts of the country have witnessed, to say the least. The cost of living here is high. Energy and housing prices are way above the national average. FERC’s policy runs counter to a far more progressive and enlightened strategy regarding energy creation and use. For all these reasons and more, the battle against the new capacity zone - on every conceivable front - must continue.

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Online: http://pojonews.co/1FfLeqg

The Post-Journal of Jamestown on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.

April 6

Too often, American service men and women make great sacrifices for seemingly unappreciative people in foreign countries. And too many of our tax dollars are spent defending countries that rely on the United States rather than their own resources.

And regularly, Americans - both those who go into harm’s way and those who provide money for our military - wonder what all the bloodshed and expense accomplished.

Afghan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani used part of his recent address to the U.S. Congress to answer that question.

Many people in his country understand they “owe a profound debt to the 2,315 service men and women killed and the more than 20,000 who have been wounded in service to your country and ours,” Ghani told lawmakers.

Then he listed what both military and civilian aid has meant to Afghanistan. A sampling:

“On Sept. 10, 2001, there were no girls enrolled in school in Afghanistan … Today, more than 3 million girls in primary schools … are learning to actively participate in the future of a democratic Afghanistan.”

“In 2002, when the allies built their first clinics, the average lifespan of the ordinary Afghan was 44 years. Today, it is over 60.”

“Our partnership with America and its allies has brought our country hope where we had none.”

Ghani had much more to say. But his remarks made it clear U.S. intervention and Americans’ sacrifices in Afghanistan were far from in vain.

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Online: http://bit.ly/1O94JHI

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