- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on new college campus policies on consenting to sexual encounters.

Dec. 6

Maybe this will help. At least it’s a step in the right direction.

For decades, college students had a wink and a nod governing their sexual conduct on and off campus. If the woman didn’t scream too loudly, convention said, it must have meant she approved of the groping male’s efforts.

Then, as the world started to put sexual misconduct into proper perspective, “No means no” became the standard.

That somewhat ambiguous code of conduct ordained that when a woman said no, the man should stop his advances.

In this era of multiple means of intoxication, however, women have been less and less able to mutter “No,” even when they meant it. Often, the man didn’t believe it anyway.

Now, following the lead of California, the State University of New York is kicking up the rules of men’s responsibility a notch.

The new standard is termed “Yes means yes.” It specifies that a woman must explicitly give her consent to a sexual encounter, or no consent is implied.

That means that the absence of her stated approval presumes an absence of consent, including when she is drunk, drugged or her judgment is otherwise disabled. That makes the assailant liable.

No more wink and a nod on this one. The law has a new set of teeth.

Does this mean campus rape will stop? Obviously not. As State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long of New York said in reaction to the legislation, “This new directive is not going to stop anybody who is going to rape somebody.”

Nothing the law can say will ever stop serial rapists. But this new approach may stop some of the people who are simply driven at the moment to go further sexually than the other person desires.

The law might have some negative consequences, of course. It could make it easier to prosecute a sexual aggressor who actually had received the OK from a “victim” who later thought better of her decision.

But those outcomes will be far outnumbered by interruptions of sexual assault if people truly understand that affirmative consent is required.

That education component will be a key element for campus administrations to consider. Programs should be developed to make sure the message gets to students.

Cuomo was right: Sitting still while helplessly reading the numbers and accounts of sexual assaults on campuses was unacceptable.

Sexual encounters are meant to be partnerships between consenting adults. They now are subject to expressed dual consent, as they certainly should be.




The Auburn Citizen on the need for campaign finance reform in New York.

Dec. 4

Expenses of nearly $1 million in the race for the 126th Assembly seat this year serve as further evidence of the need for campaign finance reform in New York.

When state Democrats decided to go after incumbent Gary Finch, supplying Diane Dwire with hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase television ads, Finch responded by raising and spending about a quarter-million dollars to fight back.

Most of Dwire’s war chest - $376,000 - came directly from the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee. All the spending gave the race a high profile in this area, and reminds us that most challengers don’t have the ability to get their faces on TV as much as Dwire did.

Compare that to Finch’s challenge by Barbara Abbott-King in 2008, when finance disclosure reports showed that in the weeks before the election that King had a mere $715 fund balance after expenditures of $3,177.

What a difference a rich benefactor can make.

The fact is that most challengers don’t have the good fortune of being taken under the wing of the state party the way that Dwire was and therefore aren’t able to mount much of a challenge against incumbents.

Thoughtful public campaign finance would help solve the problem and allow more people to run viable campaigns. A matching system for campaigns and greater disclosure of donors would help more candidates collect more money from average citizens rather than relying on the well-heeled and the well-connected.

Getting more candidates involved in the process - especially when they would have an actual shot at winning - would be good for democracy.




The New York Times on creating a system for independent prosecutors to investigate police killings of civilians.

Dec. 9

It is a long-established and basic reality of law enforcement in America: Prosecutors who want an indictment get an indictment. In 2010 alone, federal prosecutors sought indictments in 162,000 cases. All but 11 times, they succeeded.

Yet the results are entirely different when police officers kill unarmed civilians. In those cases, the officers are almost never prosecuted either because district attorneys do not pursue charges in the first place or grand juries do not indict, as happened most recently in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.

There are various explanations for this, but the most obvious is the inherent conflict of interest that exists for prosecutors, who rely heavily on the police every day. Cops arrest suspects; they investigate crimes; they gather evidence; and they testify in court, working essentially in partnership with prosecutors.

Whether or not bias can be proved in a given case, the public perception of it is real and must be addressed.

The best solution would be a law that automatically transfers to an independent prosecutor all cases in which a civilian is dead at the hands of the police. This would avoid the messy politics of singling out certain district attorneys and taking cases away from them.

The police should be among the strongest supporters of this arrangement because both their authority and their safety are undermined when the communities they work in neither trust them nor believe that they are bound by the same laws as everyone else.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York understands this, and he should come out strongly in favor of a law like the one some state lawmakers are already proposing. It is not a hard case to make, even though similar legislation has failed in the past, and action on this will be hard to achieve given Republican control of the State Senate in the next legislative session.

At the very least, Governor Cuomo can use his executive authority to empower the state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, to take over such cases from local prosecutors. Mr. Schneiderman asked for this authority on Monday, in a letter to the governor.

It does not require imputing ill motives to a particular prosecutor to perceive that, as Mr. Schneiderman put it, charging decisions are “improperly and unfairly influenced by the close working relationship” between prosecutors and the police.

The central issue, he said, is not whether a prosecutor is biased, but “whether there is public confidence that justice has been served.” Too often, in cases involving civilian killings by police, there is not.

District attorneys surely do themselves no favors when they change the rules specifically for police-brutality cases, spending weeks or months presenting reams of evidence to a grand jury whose only job is to determine whether there is probable cause to indict - a far lower standard than that of a criminal trial.

It is fair to ask whether the state attorney general is the most appropriate official to handle cases like these. For one thing, attorneys general are not as experienced in criminal litigation, but at least they do not work daily with the police department that might be involved in a killing.

Regardless of who takes on the role, the point is to enhance the prosecutorial independence in cases where deadly police misconduct is alleged.

Preserving the status quo is no longer an option.




The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on increasing the federal tax on gasoline to fund infrastructure improvements.

Dec. 6

It’s been hard not to notice: Gas prices have plummeted by more than one-third this year. For the first time in almost a decade, gas is selling for less than $3 a gallon.

That’s great news for consumers and for many sectors of the economy, but it also presents an opportunity for Congress to do something that would ultimately benefit both even more: Fix our nation’s decaying infrastructure through a modest increase in the federal gasoline tax.

Without such an infusion of money, the nation’s already deficient roads and bridges - rated D by the American Society of Civil Engineers - will become even more so.

In New York, for example, 23 percent of the roads are rated poor, 40 percent of the bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete and 45 percent of the major highways are congested.

A frightening report on the news program “60 Minutes” last Sunday spotlighted the problem, pointed out that in addition to the immeasurable number of roads and the 70,000 bridges that are structurally deficient, the damage also includes outdated airports and aging seaports that serve cargo ships and oil tankers.

These deficiencies compromise Americans’ safety and cost them billions of dollars annually in damage to their vehicles, wasted time and higher prices for goods.

In addition, fixing the infrastructure will fuel a resurgence in the economy. According to one estimate, every $1 billion spent generates 35,000 well-paying jobs.

Yes, the benefit of sharply lower gas prices - chiefly, consumers having more disposable income - would be muted a tiny bit if the gas tax were raised, say, 12 cents per gallon over the next two years, as a pair of U.S. senators proposed doing last summer, when gas was still at a relatively lofty $3.75 per gallon. Not surprisingly, the proposal went nowhere; it was an election year.

But now that the political dust has settled and prices have fallen so sharply, the timing couldn’t be better to solve one of our nation’s most critical problems in a manner that motorists can actually afford.

A 12-cent increase is surely not enough to alter anyone’s driving habits, but it would generate enough money to replenish the essentially broke Federal Highway Trust Fund, dedicated to transportation, infrastructure repairs and improvements.

Is there fat in the federal budget that could be trimmed and diverted to infrastructure repair? Of course. What government budget isn’t bloated? But in the past few decades - as the country’s roads, bridges, airports and seaports have rapidly deteriorated - neither Congress nor the president of any party has shown a strong inclination to divert resources from somewhere else to adequately address this imposing problem.

The gas tax increase would be dedicated to those repairs and therefore make them more likely to get done.

The gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon for more than two decades. If it had kept up with the relatively tame inflation over this period, it would be 12 cents higher - thus the motivation for the senators’ proposal.

An extra 12 cents would cost the average driver (12,000 miles per year) roughly $50 a year - less than $1 per week. But every dollar spent on road improvements saves $5.20 in gasoline, car repairs and productivity, helping reduce costs for consumers overall.

There’s yet another good reason to raise the gas tax now that prices have fallen: It will discourage consumers from switching back to the wasteful pickup trucks and large SUVs they always gravitate to when prices fall. (Indeed, this shift has already been documented in recent months.)

So ultimately, a higher gas tax would be good for the environment, consumers and the economy. Nobody wants higher taxes, least of all New Yorkers. But this one is necessary and affordable.

The window to pass an increase is open wider than it’s been for a long time. And with the subject of tax reform on a lot of lips in Washington, Republicans may even go along. They should.




The Buffalo News on the lack of transparency obscuring the influence of campaign contributions.

Dec. 8

Accountability and transparency are fundamentals of democratic government. If “the people” are supposed to be able to elect the government they want, then they need basic information about what the issues are and, just as critically, who is trying to influence them by donating money to candidates.

Politicians don’t want that, and from appearances, Republican politicians especially don’t want that. That’s a strange position for anyone who values American democracy, and particularly so for a party that has built its reputation around the concept of individual responsibility. What could any politician have against identifying who is giving them money?

That issue blackened this year’s midterm elections, as “dark money” permeated political campaigns. Dark money describes donations given under condition of anonymity to nonprofit agencies for the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate or issue. It allows donors to shield themselves from attention and also has the effect of shielding candidates from well-warranted suspicion that their support is being purchased.

Plainly, that is the intent of many wealthy donors. Politicians say high-dollar contributors gain only access, not automatic support, but if that is true, why do they resist rules that require those donors to identify themselves? What possibly could be the harm of identifying the source of an honest donation?

What is left - and what even conservatives have agreed upon in the past - is that disclosure is fundamental. It is, in fact, the least that can be demanded of America’s political class. If Americans can at least know who is donating to which campaigns, they can monitor their elected officials for favoritism.

But even that is now being painted as virtually un-American by sneering politicians whose only mission is to ensure maximum advantage for their party and their candidates. This is especially true of Republicans who are, once again, moving the goalposts - changing long-held positions to protect their interests and keep their constituents in the dark.




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