- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Post on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the now-defunct Moreland Commission.

Aug. 4

Gov. Cuomo’s consideration for taxpayers evidently knows no bounds.

Since US Attorney Preet Bharara sent a letter warning that some of the governor’s post-Moreland defenses may raise questions about witness tampering, we learned that the governor back in May hired high-priced criminal lawyer Elkan Abramowitz to represent his entire office. We also learned he’s paying Abramowitz out of his $35 million campaign fund.

This, says Abramowitz, is because “the governor doesn’t want to have taxpayers pay for this.”

It’s the second time the governor has invoked looking out for taxpayer money in reference to the now-defunct Moreland Commission. Those who accuse him of shutting the commission down because its investigations were getting too close to him and his friends have it all wrong, he says.

He did it to spare Empire State taxpayers “another expensive prosecutor’s office.”

Of course, there are still some inconsistencies. For example, how does the governor’s push to adopt statewide the city’s campaign finance model - six dollars from the taxpayer for every buck a candidate raises - square with saving taxpayers money? It would only add insult to injury if candidates were then to use these taxpayer dollars to pay their criminal defense.

Over the years, New York pols have used more than $7 million in campaign funds to try to keep themselves out of the pokey. By tapping into his campaign funds for a criminal-defense lawyer, the gov has put himself in the company of such convicts as former Sens. Carl Kruger and Pedro Espada, sleazy former Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Sen. Malcolm Smith, whose trial is pending.

Four years ago, then-candidate Cuomo pointed to folks like these in his pledge to clean up Albany. Today, he’s using their tactics to defend himself. So good to know it’s all for the taxpayer!



Newsday on a drug that can prevent transmission of HIV.

Aug. 1

More than three decades after the AIDS pandemic swept into New York and the nation to claim hundreds of thousands of lives, an amazing moment has arrived.

For the first time, a pill is available that can prevent transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, during sex.

Its name is Truvada - and it’s a key ingredient in the daily cocktail that has prolonged the lives of many who have already contracted the virus.

The startling news is that when those who are not infected take the pill once a day, Truvada has proved more than 90 percent effective in blocking the transmission of HIV, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The CDC issued guidelines in May for using the drug to prevent HIV infections.

Seizing this moment, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced a plan to use Truvada as a part of his strategy to cut new HIV infections statewide from 3,000 a year to 750 by 2020.

It’s an ambitious, trailblazing plan - and reaching the target will take an unflagging, collaborative effort.

But if that push can be accomplished successfully, officials say, the number of New Yorkers living with HIV would be reduced for the first time since the first cases were diagnosed in 1981.

Great strides have been made. In New York and the nation, HIV transmission via blood transfusions and from mother to child have been virtually eliminated, and new infections due to intravenous drug use have been dramatically reduced. With the success of antiretroviral drugs in treating HIV, the infection is no longer a death sentence. But there is no cure or vaccine. And the CDC estimates that nationally there are still 50,000 new infections a year.

New York, long the epicenter of the crisis, has a shot to become the first state to reduce AIDS to less than epidemic proportions by driving the number of new infections below the number of HIV-related deaths. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Besides Truvada, other factors have helped fuel optimism among public health officials. Since 2010, doctors in New York are required to offer HIV testing to all patients ages 13 to 64. Since April, written authorization for the testing is no longer required. Verbal consent is enough. Doctors and health officials can now share information to find patients who drop out of treatment. And the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover HIV screening with no out-of-pocket cost for policyholders.

The state’s plan includes identifying an estimated 22,000 people who are HIV positive but don’t know it, and ensuring that the 64,000 people who know they’re HIV positive but aren’t in treatment get anti-HIV therapy. And it involves securing access to Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, for HIV-negative adults at high risk - for example, men and women with HIV-positive partners, or who have sex with multiple partners.

The state has committed $5 million to the plan this year. The objective is to educate doctors about PrEP, and to push them to consistently offer testing. For the initiative to work, officials must communicate that this is an opportunity for an extraordinary public health triumph.

Anti-AIDS advocacy groups have been enlisted to reach at-risk people in places such as bars and clubs, where peer-to-peer conversations are the best way to spread the word about PrEP, and address unfounded concerns about side effects, which are minimal.

Medicaid and most private insurance plans cover the $1,300-a-year cost of the drug. And Gilead Sciences Inc., the California-based company that makes Truvada, has an assistance program to defray the cost if needed.

The state’s bill for HIV medication will likely grow before savings from averted infections are realized. And there is a risk that the availability of PrEP could usher in a return to unsafe sex - despite warnings that PrEP is not intended to replace prevention tools such as condoms.

But this is an opportunity to end the AIDS epidemic in New York, which not so long ago seemed an impossible dream.



The Syracuse Post-Standard on the death of James Brady.

Aug. 5

James Brady died Monday, 33 years after he took a bullet meant for President Ronald Reagan. Brady had been White House press secretary for 86 days when he and three others, including the president, were wounded by gunman John Hinckley. Brady was the most seriously hurt; his head wound resulted in physical and cognitive impairments that lasted the rest of his life.

Brady - deprived of life as he knew it by a $29 pawn shop special in the hands of a mentally ill man - channeled his depression and anger into activism. He pressed for legislation requiring waiting periods and background checks for gun buyers, and for renewal of a federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

He associated his name with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and in recent years spoke out after every mass shooting. He and his wife, Sarah, made a TV ad applauding New York’s gun restrictions enacted in the months after the Sandy Hook school shootings.

By remaining bravely in the public eye, Brady reminded Americans that freely available guns exact a cost. He paid it for 33 years.



The Watertown Daily Times on the federal Highway Trust Fund.

Aug. 4

Federal legislators have become so adept at kicking the can down the road that they can even do it when that can is the road itself.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate this week “solved” the insolvency problem with portions of the Highway Trust Fund by kicking in enough money to extend its life. This extension will last a whopping 10 months - yes, not even a full year.

Established in 1956, the Highway Trust Fund has three accounts: the Highway Account, the Mass Transit Account and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. The Congressional Budget Office has issued reports about the likely insolvency of the Highway and Mass Transit accounts, causing panic among federal and state officials over the potential loss of highway construction funds beginning in August.

The Senate approved a $10.8 billion extension by a vote of 81-13, the same bill that senators rejected earlier in the week. This bill included a provision to syphon $1 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund into the Highway Account.

“The Senate voted Thursday night for a House-passed measure to augment the federal Highway Trust Fund with an infusion of $10.8 billion from the general Treasury - enough to keep the fund solvent through May. The Transportation Department set Friday as the date the fund would no longer be able to provide all the aid promised from incoming gasoline and diesel fuel taxes,” according to a story Thursday by the Associated Press. “The bill now goes to the president.”

Federal taxes of 18.4 cents per gallon on regular gas and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel fuel provide the revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. But Congress has not increased these taxes since 1993. It has kicked in $55 billion since 2008 to keep it afloat.

The answer is to raise these taxes to ensure a steady stream of revenue. But who wants to raise taxes these days, particularly with an election just around the corner?

Congress also must address the fact that a good portion of these taxes improperly goes toward mass transit programs mainly in large metropolitan regions. So fuel taxes paid by Americans in rural areas are funding New York City’s subway system.

This latest measure does little but to postpone the debate over how to keep this fund alive until next spring. Then those on Capitol Hill will probably approve another short-term measure, and then another one, and then another one .

Making difficult decisions is part of the job for legislators. If we are to maintain this account as a source of revenue for vital highway projects, they’ll have to bite the bullet and increase the fuel taxes.

If they don’t, they’ll always run into these disagreements leading to last-minute deals. But there’s going to come a time when one of these disagreements will push beyond the eleventh hour, and the fund won’t operate as it’s designed. Then legislators seeking re-election will return to their districts and have to explain to construction workers why it’s a good thing that they lost their jobs and that our roadways continue to crumble.



The Gloversville Leader-Herald on the Medicare program.

Aug. 4

Many members of the House of Representatives want to forestall implementation of a proposal that would increase costs for the Medicare program, while forcing many older Americans to leave their own residences and go to nursing homes. To a reasonable mind, preventing the change seems the responsible thing to do.

At issue is a proposal to slash Medicare reimbursement rates to in-home health care providers by 14 percent. That would force many to go out of business. In turn, their patients would have to go to institutions such as nursing homes for care. That would cost the government substantially more.

A measure to stop the Medicare-cutting plan is called the SAVE Medicare Home Health Act of 2014. It has 24 co-sponsors - all Republicans. Not a single Democrat in the House has signed up in support of the measure.

If enacted, the bill would block implementation of the plan by the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama. Lawmakers in a president’s party often avoid opposing him. But in matters such as that at hand, taking that stance does a disservice to constituents.

Clearly, ultra-partisanship in Congress is not serving the nation well. As long as Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., control lawmakers in their party, that unproductive situation will continue.



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