- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Daily News on the $250,000 bonus approved for the president of the New York Racing Association.

Aug. 11

The board of the New York Racing Association has awarded President and CEO Christopher Kay a $250,000 performance bonus on top of his $300,000 annual pay for helming the trouble-plagued agency in charge of Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct.

That’s quite a purse for a lagging horse.

Kay has received an A-plus reward for his first year of leadership of a state-run group whose core business of racetrack betting is hemorrhaging money and which increasingly relies on video lottery proceeds that rightly belong to public schools.

NYRA’s board has expressed overwhelming satisfaction with its hire. But how, precisely, it measured Kay’s achievements on such measures as horse and rider safety, customer satisfaction and revenue remains mysterious.

Somehow, losing $5.2 million on horse racing in the first six months of this year, and netting income half that of the same period in 2013, counts as an exemplary accomplishment.

NYRA isn’t covered by a Cuomo administration cap on compensation for state-funded groups. But the spectacle of a board whose majority was handpicked by the governor and legislative leaders lavishing a supersize pay package on an executive veers off message, to say the least.

We don’t doubt that Kay, a private-sector veteran, may make a strong turnaround artist.

But what on earth makes him a half-million-dollars good?




The Poughkeepsie Journal on casino expansion plans in New York state.

Aug. 12

Last November, the public gave its blessings to the state to allow the dramatic expansion of casinos.

In late September, the public will get a chance to size up the specific proposals in the first round of that expansion and definitely should take advantage of that opportunity.

Interestingly, one of the public hearings will be held in Poughkeepsie, and it should draw wide interest; eight of the 16 casino proposals are for the Hudson Valley/Catskill region. There also will be public hearings in Ithaca and Albany, since applications also have been made for the Eastern Southern Tier and Capital regions as called for in the state’s casino initiative.

Before these public hearings, the casino applicants will make their presentations to the Gaming Facility Location Board in Albany.

In late fall, that board is expected to give casino licenses to four of the proposals, and it’s quite possible two of them will be in the Hudson Valley/Catskill region, so there is much at stake for our area.

The daylong hearings will be the only chance for the public to provide comment to the board. The gaming board said it wanted to pick venues and cities where there are no casino proposals but that are still within the licensing regions, which makes sense.

In this region, casinos have been proposed for Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties, but not Dutchess County.

The state has been touting the benefits of casinos, including job creation and revenues for both New York and the hosting communities. That is sure to be the case. The state will gain tax money from the slot machines, and 10 percent of that money will be split equally between the host municipality and host county. Another 10 percent would go to local tax relief; the rest would go to the state’s education system. The state’s effort is designed, in part, to keep hundreds of millions of dollars from going across its border to casinos in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

But there are bound to be negative repercussions too, most notably on the impact to roads and local emergency services. Critics also have raised concerns about gambling addiction and casinos leading to more crime in the area. What’s more, established performing arts centers, including the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie, want to make sure casinos don’t run roughshod over the entertainment business in their areas.

All this, and more, must be up for discussion - and dissection.




The Times Union of Albany on U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

Aug. 12

President Barack Obama faces the unenviable task of persuading a war-weary public that taking even limited military action against militants in Iraq is the right thing to do. Even more: It’s the necessary thing to do.

Even if we could put aside the specter of violent sectarian persecution and slaughter that the group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria represents, the threat that it could take over a strategic and, yes, oil-rich nation is simply impossible to ignore. At the same time, Mr. Obama’s early assessment that the solution to Iraq’s problems ultimately cannot be military is quite correct. American involvement needs to focus on encouraging unity governance and steer Iraq away from the sectarian policies that have alienated minority Sunnis and helped fuel militancy.

But selling all this to an American public - and to Congress, as Mr. Obama must and should do under the 1973 War Powers Resolution - will be no easy task. After President George W. Bush’s misguided war in Iraq, Americans are understandably leery of a return to that battlefront.

Multiple polls this year show most Americans - more than 70 percent in some surveys - don’t think that war was worth the price, a prevailing sentiment since 2006, according to Gallup. And in a Pew Research Center poll in July, 55 percent of respondents said they don’t feel the United States has a responsibility to do anything about the problems in Iraq - even if most people also say the problems today stem from the U.S. invasion and our subsequent withdrawal of troops. An overwhelming majority - 75 percent - feel that the main causes are religious and ethnic rivalries, problems the Iraqis must solve themselves.

Americans’ conflicted views are shown by a Quinnipiac poll in June. On the one hand, the poll found, most Americans don’t see the turmoil in Iraq as a matter of national interest, nor feel the U.S. should help the Iraqi government deal with militants. Yet 72 percent said that if Islamic militants take over Iraq, it’s likely that they will launch a terrorist attack on this country. That poll and others show modest support for airstrikes, drone attacks, or both.

Try basing a coherent foreign policy on all that.

Complicating all this is that crushing these militants many not be a desirable outcome either; it could strengthen Syria’s brutal president, Bashar al-Assad, who is dealing with that group in his own civil war.

What’s needed here is not large military intervention, much as hawks like Sen. John McCain recklessly urge, but a measured approach that diminishes the Islamic State’s threat while continuing to put pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom Iraqi President Fouad Massoum moved Monday to replace, to step aside and allow an inclusive government to form.

In other words, take military action without fighting a war. Encourage change without engaging in nation building. Indeed, an unenviable, and delicate, task.




The Buffalo News on Toledo’s recent water crisis.

Aug. 10

You have to feel for our neighbors across the lake in Toledo who were recently told not to drink city water because it was poisoned by toxic algae. And then you have to worry whether it will ever happen here.

High levels of cyanotoxin spawned by the algae blooms out in Lake Erie got into public water supplies in and around Toledo. Slack-jawed Great Lakes residents saw nearly inconceivable images of citizens in Ohio’s fourth-largest city, which is slightly larger than Buffalo, lining up behind water tank trucks for their ration of safe water.

Toledo residents were allowed to return to drinking, bathing and cooking in their own water last week, but they have to remain worried because conditions will favor the algae that produces the toxin until September. When the temperature, water runoff from land and winds are right, the problem will return. If not this year, then the next or the one after that, unless we act.

What happened in Toledo can be described as the warning canary in the coal mine. The toxic brew in the western end of Lake Erie must concern every lakeside community, and especially Buffalo, where much of the city’s renaissance is linked to its waterfront.

The fact that experts say such a water emergency is unlikely here is small comfort. Too much money and too much energy have been expended on cleaning up the lake over the past several decades to stand by and watch algae create a dead zone in the lake’s western basin.

We can start with the call by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., for federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations that would require every lakeshore community to monitor for toxins that come from the blue-green algae.

In Schumer’s words, “Toledo should be a wake-up call.” Congress should quickly answer his recommendation for the immediate distribution of money set aside in the 2014 Farm Bill to help farmers and factories reduce phosphorus and other pollutants that run off into the waters and fuel the development of algal blooms in Lake Erie.

The International Joint Commission, in its Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority report earlier this year, recommended governments on both sides of the border take action to drastically reduce the amount of phosphorous entering the lake. However, the commission has no enforcement authority, leaving it to government to provide solutions.

The Ohio legislature adopted recommendations urging farmers to greatly reduce the amount of phosphorus running off their fields, but did not order the reduction. The state should revisit those rules.

Startling fact: Exposure to the toxins can result in skin rashes and burns and liver and nerve damage. Even more startling: This isn’t the first scare.

Scientists who deal with the Great Lakes have issued warnings before, including when a giant bloom of toxic algae spread across Lake Erie in 2011. As T.J. Pignataro of The News reported, that bloom covered nearly 2,000 square miles of the lake from Toledo well into the central basin, reaching parts of the lake near Cleveland. And last year saw new developments, including toxins from western Lake Erie algal blooms cropping up on the Canadian shoreline unusually early, in mid-July. By last August, toxic algae was discovered for the first time in Presque Isle Bay in Erie, Pa., the farthest east ever and just 90 miles away from Buffalo.

Too close.

The City of Buffalo draws an average of 65 million gallons of water daily from the “Emerald Channel” at the end of Lake Erie and the start of the Niagara River. The county draws from two locations, 49 million gallons a day from an intake at Sturgeon Point and 22 million gallons a day from the Niagara River in Tonawanda.

Knowing that our water is safe is comforting, but what happened in Toledo shows how fragile the lake is. Concerted action must begin now to address the problem and ensure clean drinking water far into the future.




The New York Times on the crisis in Iraq.

Aug. 11

Nuri Kamal al-Maliki emerged from relative obscurity in 2006 when he was elected prime minister of the first government in Iraq formed after a period of caretaker rule. The best service he could perform now for his country would be to return to that obscurity as soon and as peacefully as possible.

Iraq is in mortal danger from a band of Islamist fanatics rapidly overrunning the country, and it desperately and urgently needs a unifying hand at the helm. Mr. Maliki is emphatically not that leader: on the contrary, he bears heavy responsibility for the current crisis by alienating Sunni, Kurdish and other minority groups and undermining the Army and other national institutions through cronyism and corruption.

One result was that the demoralized Iraqi Army fled in disarray in January when challenged by the radical jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, leaving behind vast arsenals of American-supplied heavy armaments that the Islamists are now using in their relentless advance.

Yet, now, when the Iraqi president has finally named a candidate from Mr. Maliki’s own party who is more acceptable to other factions, Mr. Maliki has angrily refused to step aside and has ordered Army and police units still loyal to him - many trained by the United States - into the streets of Baghdad. Adding a constitutional crisis and a potential military coup to the great danger already posed by the jihadists is madness.

It is far from certain whether the candidate nominated by President Fouad Massoum - Haider al-Abadi, a member of Mr. Maliki’s Shiite Islamist Dawa Party who is also the first deputy speaker of Parliament - can rescue Iraq. Reports from the field have been mixed. Kurdish forces recaptured two towns near Erbil on Sunday, following American airstrikes, but ISIS forces maintained pressure on towns and villages in northern Iraq, near the Kurdistan border, and were pushing eastward. The chances of rallying Iraqis against this threat will be greater with a new government.

The Obama administration began limited airstrikes against ISIS last week when the jihadists threatened the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region. But it has made clear that the United States would be reluctant to provide further aid - including, presumably, military assistance - if Mr. Maliki used his powers as commander in chief to thwart the political process. Secretary of State John Kerry said so on Monday, declaring that “there will be little international support of any kind whatsoever for anything that deviates from the legitimate constitutional process that is in place and being worked on now.”

President Obama, in a brief statement from Martha’s Vineyard, where he is on vacation, turned up the pressure on Mr. Maliki by welcoming Mr. Abadi’s nomination and urging “all Iraqi political leaders to work peacefully through the political process in the days ahead.”

Mr. Obama is plainly opposed, and rightly so, to involving the United States once again in a conflict he ardently hoped he had left behind when he pulled the last American ground troops out in 2011. He has insisted that the airstrikes he announced last week were only to protect American citizens and religious minorities, and he vowed that he “will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.”

Yet to give the Kurds and other Iraqis a fighting chance, the United States has no choice but to maintain pressure on ISIS from the air and supply the Iraqi Army with the arms it needs to get back on its feet. But, first, Iraq needs a legitimate government, which means Mr. Maliki should step aside.




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