- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Post-Standard of Syracuse on the state testing opt-out movement in New York.

Aug. 14

Over three years, the number of New York parents opting their children out of state testing has grown from a handful of dissidents to a movement of more than 200,000 students.

The movement caught the ear of the state Education Department. Now it’s time for parents to use their collective voices to move beyond refusing to allow their kids to take a test, to helping them meet the higher educational requirements needed to get into college or succeed in a career.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia made it clear during her announcement of the student state test scores that higher standards, and the tests to measure them, are here to stay.

In a state where 1.1 million students in grades 3 through 8 would normally sit for English and math exams, about 20 percent refused to take them this year. That’s a four-fold increase from the previous year. The number varied by district with some districts reporting upwards of 70 percent of their students sitting out the test.

The state says the students refusing were more likely white, from wealthier school districts, and were slightly more likely to score among the lowest on the previous year’s tests.

Opt-out parents complain that the tests are too difficult and the emphasis on testing puts too much stress on children.

The state heard them. Earlier this year, it switched test preparers and promised teachers they would have more input on test questions.

And, Elia said educators haven’t done a good enough job of explaining to parents why the tests are so necessary. As the state moves to higher standards, the tests provide valuable information on how well individual students are doing, how well teachers are presenting the information, and where districts need to provide more training or resources to help teachers in the classroom. All are important factors in helping kids meet the new requirements.

The opt-out movement has grown so large that it now threatens federal funding for schools. Federal law requires 95 percent of a district’s students take standardized tests. Districts face state and federal sanctions, including a possible cut in federal funding, if they don’t get enough participation. Who would make up the funding difference? Local taxpayers.

Teachers played a role in the boycott too. The state teachers union encouraged parents to keep their kids home in a protest over the governor’s education reforms, which include using test scores as part of teacher evaluations.

Parents, you’ve made your point. The state heard you. Now, it’s time to turn your focus to help your kids rise to the higher standards. But we won’t know how well the kids are doing unless you let them take the exams.




The Times Union of Albany on the cost of misconduct by public officials.

Aug. 18

Capital Region taxpayers in just one week have gotten a glimpse of the price tag for misconduct by people in uniform - well over $3 million in just three cases. And in one instance in Saratoga Springs, a citizenry that has to pay the bill doesn’t even get to know what it is.

If there’s one consolation in all these cases, it’s that no one died as a result of this official misconduct, a tragic end we’ve seen in too many incidents around the state and nation in recent years. But sexual harassment, roughing people up, and arresting them on flimsy charges are hardly minor matters. And cutting a check to make the victims whole doesn’t begin to address the underlying problems.

Any one of these episodes is disturbing enough:

The city of Troy is expected to pay $60,000 to Archie Davis, a former Hudson Valley Community College football player, to settle a civil rights case in which he claimed that he was slammed into a truck, punched while he had his hands behind his back, and Tasered during his arrest by three officers - for jaywalking and resisting arrest (Resisting arrest? For jaywalking? What’s wrong with this picture?) One officer was disciplined - for lying to internal affairs investigators about losing Mr. Davis’ phone.

Lora Abbott Seabury, who formerly served as a Rensselaer County Jail sergeant, was awarded more than $3 million for the pension she would have received if she hadn’t been hounded out of her job by a group of co-workers at the jail known as the “Boys Club.” A court further ordered Rensselaer County to pay her more than $580,000 in lost wages. An administrative law judge for the state Division of Human Rights found that superiors did nothing about the sexual harassment she endured.

Saratoga Springs taxpayers will foot the bill for the arrest of Adam Rupeka, who was pulled over by former police officer Adam Baker, pepper sprayed, roughed up, and arrested after he gave the officer the middle finger. How much this will cost taxpayers is a secret - the city says the settlement contained a confidentiality agreement. The officer resigned.

The incidents offer several lessons for law enforcement and public officials. High on the list is the value of investing more money in training - and in retraining. We realize that police and correction officers often deal with difficult, belligerent people, and that can take its toll - a sense of isolation and an us-versus-them mentality, perhaps, or a worldview in which any push-back, even a question about a jaywalking ticket, is seen as disrespect or aggression, or misplaced camaraderie that tolerates inappropriate behavior, as we saw at the Rensselaer County Jail.

As unsettling and unflattering as these revelations may be, the answer is not to ignore them or to cut secret settlements with victims. That doesn’t assure the public that officials are facing up to problems in the ranks. Quite the opposite: It feels a lot like covering them up.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on the future of Social Security.

Aug. 13

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act 80 years ago today, many thought it had no chance - that it could never endure a few years, never mind decades.

But they were dead wrong, and the trust fund has, in fact, become an essential part of the financial picture for not only seniors but disabled workers, widows and children.

Yet, Social Security faces severe challenges. And the longer lawmakers wait to make changes, the harder it will become to maintain the program as envisioned.

None of this is new; it has been known for decades that Social Security would start facing more pressure as the baby-boom generation retires and more people start collecting benefits while a smaller percentage of Americans work and pay into the system.

For decades, through several presidential administrations and various changes in Congress, federal leaders have irresponsibility failed to address the problem. And if you don’t think there is a high cost for the strident political climate of our times, think again. Too many challenging and complicated issues are kept on the back burner because of the gridlock.

The solvency of Social Security affects everyone. The program is the main source of income for millions of retirees and is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages, with workers paying half and their employers paying the other half. But the country has a numbers problem: About 50 years ago, there were more than five workers for every person receiving Social Security. Today, there are fewer than three and, under current projections, there will be about two workers for every person getting benefits in 20 years.

This trend line is unsustainable. Options are clearly available, but they will require federal lawmakers to show political courage and leadership. And the strategies don’t have to be as radical as privatizing the system, as some Republican leaders suggest. Instead, the federal government should start by making tweaks to the system, including raising or lifting the cap on wages above the $118,500 mark. If the payroll tax were applied to all wages, the great majority of the projected shortfall would be wiped out. Over time the retirement age for full benefits likely will have to rise again.

Changes to Social Security have happened before. In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill had legendary fights. They would bicker and snicker at each other, but they also knew there were times when it was imperative to come together for the good of the country, to make concessions and cut big deals. With Social Security, the president and Congress agreed to increase the retirement age and delay a cost-of-living adjustment. But some protections were added as well, including increasing benefits for disabled widows or widowers who aren’t at the age of retirement themselves.

Nowadays, too much pandering is done on the issue, but there will come a time when our nation’s leaders will have to act.




The Wall Street Journal on Donald Trump’s immigration proposal.

Aug. 17

Republican critics of U.S. immigration policy have long claimed that they welcome legal immigrants. That claim is going to be tested now that Donald Trump has unveiled a policy outline that would deport millions and sharply restrict all immigration. Mr. Trump is bidding to make the GOP the deportation party.

The presidential candidate released his outline on Sunday to great applause from the GOP’s anti-immigration wing. The six pages lack policy specifics, but we’ll try to parse them because the Trump outline would be the most radical crackdown on immigration since the 1920s.

At least in 2012 Mitt Romney was only in favor of “self-deportation.” Mr. Trump wants to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to police the U.S.-Mexican border, track down undocumented employees and visa overstays, and raid workplaces. Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if his plan applies to all illegals, including kids, Mr. Trump said “they have to go.”

Are his police going to search from door to door to arrest 11 million people? How else will they be rounded up?

Mr. Trump says he would keep families together, which would at least spare the scenes of tearful mothers hauled away from their crying children. But Republicans may want to think twice before becoming the party responsible for piling onto buses entire families who are stitched into the fabric of communities. This is not a good political look.

Republicans may also want to ask whether Mr. Trump’s proposals fit with free-market principles. Mr. Trump insists that Mexico will “pay for” the wall he wants to build on the southern U.S. border, but even he seems to realize no sovereign state would do this.

So his fallback is to levy higher fines and fees on individual Mexicans, and he also wants to “impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages” sent to Mexico from the U.S. That was an estimated $22 billion in 2013, but how is Mr. Trump going to find out which remittances were from illegals? In any case remittances almost certainly reduce the flow of illegal immigration because they reduce poverty in Central America. Migration from Mexico slowed after Mexicans became richer thanks in part to Nafta and remittances.

Mr. Trump’s flight from economic sense includes increasing the prevailing wage regulations for temporary legal H-1B visas - that is, he’ll instruct private businesses how to compensate their workers. So will we now have a Republican version of the Davis-Bacon Act for immigrant employees?

For a man who has succeeded in business Mr. Trump seems to know little about labor markets. Thousands of U.S. employers depend on the flow of temporary seasonal workers. Mr. Trump seems to think that if those workers aren’t allowed to enter the U.S. employers will simply raise wages. But the Journal reported last week that crops across the West are rotting in the fields for lack of farmhands, despite offers of $17 an hour with benefits for U.S. workers.

A Guatemalan picking strawberries in Washington state doesn’t mean a native-born worker has lost a job. The increasingly integrated North American markets are not zero sum, and the most likely result of the U.S. immigration standstill is moving factories, businesses and farms overseas where labor is cheaper. Or some services will simply vanish in the U.S. as too costly to sustain.

If reducing illegal immigration is the objective, then Republicans should favor flexible guest-worker programs that make it easier for foreign-workers of all skill levels to enter and work in the U.S. The more such opportunities there are, the less incentive there is to come illegally.

Then again, Mr. Trump’s proposals betray that his real goal is to sharply reduce even legal immigration. For no apparent reason he would end automatic birthright citizenship for children born on American soil. This would require editing the Fourteenth Amendment.

He also calls for “a pause” in all immigration, for an unspecified period. This is the language of the zero-population growth left and the nativist right, and it is masked in rhetoric about falling American wages. “The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keep unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans - including immigrants themselves - to earn a middle class wage,” as the Trump paper puts it.

But American wages are not flagging due to immigrants. They are flat because of slow growth and bad economic policies. Immigration is essential to faster growth because it offsets an otherwise aging workforce, brings in new human capital and ideas, and raises the GDP of all workers. Even insular Japan has figured out that it will need guest workers in the future to grow fast enough to finance its aging population.

The good news in all of this is that Mr. Trump’s radicalism may finally smoke out a real immigration debate within the GOP. Many restrictionists have claimed only to oppose immigrants who break the law in coming to the U.S. Now we’ll see how many join Mr. Trump in calling for mass deportation and walling off America to all newcomers.

The last time Republicans tried this, in the 1920s, they alienated immigrant groups like the Irish and Italians for decades until Ronald Reagan won them back. If they want to lose in 2016, they’ll follow Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant siren.




Newsday on rules for truckers.

Aug. 14

At the heart of the highway crash that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan and three other passengers and killed another comedian is this: The truck driver who plowed into Morgan’s limo had not slept for 28 hours before the collision.

A federal investigation found Kevin Roper’s fatigue probably caused last year’s accident in a work zone on the New Jersey Turnpike. That makes all the more incomprehensible the U.S. Senate’s passage last month of a bill that would exempt some truck drivers from rules adopted in 2013 to set mandatory rest periods and limit the hours they can work. The rules reduced both fatigue and crashes. The Senate bill can’t become law.

The National Transportation Safety Board found other troubling issues: Walmart Transportation LLC, Roper’s employer, has no fatigue management program to monitor and help drivers, as recommended by the NTSB. Roper drove 12 hours from his Georgia home to a Walmart distribution center in Delaware to begin work and was 13 ½ hours into his 14-hour duty day when he plowed into the limo in a work zone. None of the limo’s passengers wore a seat belt and the limo company did not remind them of that requirement; the NTSB said their serious injuries were partly a result of not being buckled in.

Customizing the limo van left it with only one side door for escape or rescue, and that was rendered inoperable by the crash. It took nearly 40 minutes for emergency responders to cut through plywood panels in the limo’s walls to get the victims out.

Our roads are dangerous. We know that. Despite recent progress, more than 30,000 people still die in motor vehicle accidents in the United States every year. One in 7 die in crashes involving large trucks, like the one that smashed into Morgan’s limo. Many of us have had our own scary close encounters with these big rigs.

The NTSB report shows many areas where steps can be taken. But we should start with a step we should not take. Rules on work hours and rest for truckers must remain intact and enforced. Because chances are Morgan and his fellow passengers would have had an uneventful trip up the New Jersey Turnpike if Roper had gotten enough sleep.




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