- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo News on the late Ralph C. Wilson Jr.’s donations to local causes.

March 31

Ralph C. Wilson Jr. didn’t just bring football to Buffalo, he added to its humanity. A recent News story outlining the numerous generous donations he made behind the scenes - from food and nutrition to cancer research to hospice services - makes that wonderful distinction.

Wilson, the Buffalo Bills’ only owner, cared about his adopted community in ways that are being felt after his death on Tuesday at age 95. He was a humanitarian, and that shows up in his behind-the-scenes efforts to improve this community on just about every level.

Those efforts date as far back as 1952, when he and his father started the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation. This dedication went on for decades, up to and including the Ralph Wilson Medical Research Foundation, founded in 1999 with his wife, Mary.

Wilson turned a $25,000 investment in the Buffalo Bills into a legacy for this community. But he also took great pride in giving back.

As Candace Johnson, deputy director at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said, Wilson gave more than $11 million to medical institutions. Roswell Park, she indicated, was the appreciative beneficiary of $2 million to fund innovative research projects as seed money. That was parlayed into another $10 million to $12 million for those projects.

The Wilsons were members of the “Circle of 10” - 10 individuals and families who each donated $1 million toward the $40 million cost of Roswell Park’s new Clinical Sciences Center.

Wilson’s generosity seemed to know no bounds. It stretched from his donations to the Hospice Foundation of Western New York to the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County to the Food Bank. His funding efforts went a long way toward feeding, clothing and comforting those in need. No accolades required.

Wilson was born in Columbus, Ohio, raised in Detroit and maintained a permanent residence in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. But there are likely many people who are just learning of Wilson’s devotion to a community he serendipitously stumbled upon in a calculated way to help build a franchise.

Even his critics, including those anxious to know whether the beloved team Wilson built will remain in Western New York, have to draw breath at the magnitude of this man’s generosity.

Indeed, strong communities are made of people who give back, in whatever manner they can afford. Wilson was able to afford a lot and he gave generously.

Through his extensive philanthropy, Wilson has defined what it is to live a meaningful life. Western New York will always be grateful to its adopted patron.




The New York Daily News on the state budget and education.

April 1

The dividends of Gov. Cuomo’s insistence on restraining state spending have paid off for New York City’s children with the money Mayor de Blasio needs to introduce universal pre-kindergarten to New York City.

It is only because Cuomo has tightly capped budget increases for four years that Albany had resources to fund pre-K while not only ruling out tax increases but cutting levies as well.

Cuomo has stuck to 2% annual spending increases while revenues have gone up at a faster pace, freeing up money for tax reductions and creating the discipline necessary to shift cash toward big-ticket, high-priority programs like pre-K.

The governor has forced local governments outside the city to live with the same spending cap, and the result has been the slowest growth in tax hikes in decades - with no noticeable reduction in services. Too bad Albany exempted City Hall from the limit. The mayor would be wise to voluntarily follow the same path in budget policy.

De Blasio deserves credit for driving pre-K up the public agenda. The onus now falls on him to deliver the high-quality program that he has vowed to produce in the very short time between now and September.

Success will create a legacy accomplishment - and the wise lesson that Cuomo meted out on the wrongheadedness of trying to raise taxes on the wealthy will fall into the shadows. The mayor must not fail.

Quite unintentionally, de Blasio also triggered a landmark elevation of charter schools. His anti-charter campaign rhetoric and then his budget and policy moves in office appeared designed to push the publicly funded, privately managed schools into eclipse.

When he threw 194 children at a highly successful charter school into an abyss, the blowback revealed that the public had no patience for putting ideology over the interest of kids. His poll standing plummeted and Cuomo stepped in to with legislation designed to “rescue” charters.

While de Blasio promised to protect the students he had just threatened, Cuomo’s reforms were more sweeping than anyone could have imagined at the start of the legislative session.

Not only will the mayor be barred from charging rent to charters that occupy space in traditional public schools, he will have to find room for them or provide funding for rented quarters. The governor also upped per-pupil state aid for charters and specified that they can participate in pre-K schooling.

Collectively, the measures establish that New York now recognizes charter schools as what they have always been: alternative public schools.

Opponents falsely paint charters as private preserves for the few. The United Federation of Teachers has led this chorus because most charters are not unionized, giving administrators enhanced freedom to hire, direct and dismiss staff.

No less a figure than Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver pronounced charters to be “nonpublic” as recently as 2006. Eight years later he is party to terms that bring charters clearly into the public fold. And, remarkably, the Legislature skunked the UFT’s anti-charter lobbying.

Cuomo’s four years of sound budgeting and his clear-eyed embrace of charters for giving kids a leg up while providing good examples for struggling public schools combined to produce great positives for education in New York.




The Watertown Daily Times on government spying and civil liberties.

March 27.

With the emphasis of government agencies on spying on everything that moves, and even some things that don’t, many civil libertarians are concerned that we’re becoming the police state that we as Americans loathe.

New revelations about the extent of the federal government’s domestic surveillance tactics reveal themselves periodically as a result of the information made public by Edward Snowden. There is a sharp debate about Snowden’s actions as a contractor for the National Security Agency: Will the documents he leaked end up being more significant for the huge breach of security their theft exposed or for the details they shared about how our government is acting?

Finding out how much information the government is attempting to learn about us has been disturbing, to say the least. But when viewed against the backdrop of what’s happening throughout much of the country, it can’t really be too surprising.

For years, major cities have used surveillance cameras to capture every moment visible to the astute eye. And now this Big Brother mindset is spreading through rural areas.

County and municipal police departments in the north country are using license plate readers to scan for vehicles that have been flagged.

The devices take photographs of the license plate and vehicle.

If the plate number has been marked as needing attention, officers may investigate the issue further.

What concerns groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union is what happens to these digital images once they have been captured. The ACLU believes that creating and storing the photographs jeopardizes people’s privacy.

In a Wednesday story in the Watertown Daily Times, local law enforcement officials said the information gathered has a very limited shelf life. St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells, Lewis County Undersheriff James M. Monnat, Jefferson County Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau and Watertown city police Capt. Cheryl A. Clark all said their agencies do not store the images taken.

This is comforting to know. But this attitude toward collecting information isn’t shared by some other departments.

“The Syracuse Post-Standard reported Sunday that Onondaga County keeps the license plate pictures in its database for a year, and that state police maintain their own database where information is stored for five years,” the Times’ story said. “According to the ACLU’s report, Dutchess County also retains license plate information ‘that has not been flagged as part of an investigation or incident’ for a year.”

Technology is making the security vs. liberty debate more complicated. We all deserve a measure of safety, and this places specific burdens on our community leaders to increase protection.

But we don’t want to feel like we’re being spied on every time we walk out the front door. Deciding how to balance the two competing interests has not become any easier.

In developing our surveillance state, perhaps we need to point the viewfinder in the other direction. The government should spend less time watching us, while we must spend more time watching it.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on U.S. relations with Russia.

March 27

When it comes to Russia’s outrageous acts of aggression and military intervention in Ukraine, the United States has had little choice but to move carefully, despite a lot of bluster being bandied about the nation’s capital.

The United States and a host of European nations must do their level-minded best to work together to impose meaningful sanctions on Russia. They must find a way to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that penalties will bring considerable financial pain to his country if he continues on such a reckless course.

President Barack Obama has said Russia is “on the wrong side of history,” and that is undeniably so. But that didn’t stop Putin from sending forces into the Crimean region of Ukraine, taking over operational control and propping up a hasty referendum for residents there to vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

Putin did so under the pretense that pro-Moscow Ukrainians in the region were “threatened” in the wake of violence and political turbulence in Ukraine. But Crimea also is home to Russian military bases, and Putin clearly has been concerned that Ukraine is forging closer ties with the European Union, an economic and political partnership among a cluster of countries.

Ominously, there is no guarantee that Putin will stop there.

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been meeting with their national security team and key international leaders to come up with best response. Various experts also have weighed in, suggesting everything from freezing overseas assets of Russian political and business leaders and imposing trade and investment penalties, to providing military and other assistance to Ukraine and bolstering U.S. military defense systems in the region.

Thus far, Obama has placed limited sanctions on Russia, including banning U.S. entry and freezing the assets of 20 high-level Russian officials. Predictably, some congressional Republican leaders are putting blame on Obama, saying he has been weak on foreign policy, but there are no easy answers here.

Surely, the great majority of Americans would not support any type of military intervention that could lead to an escalation and prove costly in so many ways. And even getting a broad agreement on tougher economic sanctions will prove quite difficult, since many European nations are dependent on Russia for energy supplies.

Obama also was hoping that more stabilized relations with Russia would help douse many other hotspots throughout the world, including stopping the civil war in Syria and halting Iran’s nuclear program, places where Russia has considerable influence.

Nevertheless, tougher sanctions against Russia are the way to go, and Obama should put as much pressure as possible on European allies toward that end.

Putin’s continued aggression could have staggering consequences. Stronger efforts at containment likely will have to override other important considerations.




The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh on the death of Westboro Baptist Church founder Rev. Fred Phelps.

April 1

The Rev. Fred Phelps was a role model - for how a person of faith should not behave.

Phelps died March 19 at the age of 84, and we hope his hate-spouting Westboro Baptist Church succumbs along with him.

The church directed much of its vitriol against gays, but it also raised ire across the nation by protesting at the funerals of U.S. military members.

People in the North Country were more familiar than they wanted to be with Phelps and his followers - who are, for the most part, family members - because of their two visits to Plattsburgh.

They came here first in 2005 to protest Plattsburgh being the first city in New York state to elect an openly gay mayor, Dan Stewart.

It’s possible that the Westboro contingent thought they would find support for their position in a small, rural community in upstate New York. Maybe they envisioned mobs of local people joining their protest.

There were mobs all right, but they turned out in force to line downtown streets and deliver a resounding message of tolerance. Citizens wore “Stop Hate” wristbands and displayed that sentiment on bumper stickers, shirts and store windows. They drowned out Phelps and his followers, washing away his despicable intentions in a cathartic river of peace.

It was a great moment in Plattsburgh’s history, a time when its citizenry showed they are not the backward, small-minded people that some like to paint us as, but tolerant, caring and ready to defend our community against outside agitators.

At the time, there was a push to ban Westboro protesters or have them arrested. The Press-Republican advocated for their right to free speech, even though we found their message so offensive. In the end, it was better that they were allowed to protest because it was such a unifying time for the community.

A smaller Phelps crew returned again in 2009 for a protest on Rugar Street related to a play at SUNY Plattsburgh and Plattsburgh High School’s Gay/Straight Alliance. Again, the community delivered a comeuppance. The Rev. Phelps himself didn’t show up on either visit.

The Press-Republican still receives faxed news releases from Westboro Baptist Church. They arrive several times a week, long diatribes in bold, black lettering. We take them off the fax and deposit them directly into the wastebasket, ignored by us as Phelps was by many.

He claimed he spoke in God’s name, but no religion espouses hatred the way he did. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus all have a basic, underlying message of love.

Yes, you can find evil people who claim to be followers of all those faiths. They are the people who go too far in the name of their religion. Fred Phelps was one of them.

He was a terrorist, in our view, who used outrageous methods to spread his loathsome message.

The world is a better place without him.




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