- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

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

The Glens Falls Post-Star on the need for a constitutional convention to fix the state Legislature.

Dec. 20

The back-to-back corruption convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos rattled Albany at about 5.0 on the Richter scale.

The city was shaken, but very little damage was done to the political infrastructure.

If anything, it appears the Legislature will return to business as usual.

Let’s take the reaction of the current Republican leadership in the state Senate.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island and deputy leader John DeFrancisco of Syracuse reacted with half-hearted shrugs, saying the laws on the books are obviously good enough to convict anyone of corruption, and there is really no need for change.

We were hoping for a little more passion on the subject from our local representatives, Sen. Betty Little and Sen. Kathy Marchione, but neither of the senators made even a mention of the Skelos verdict on their websites or Facebook pages. You might remember that both waffled on whether Skelos should remain majority leader after he was initially arrested.

But there are people speaking out.

Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program said, “The conviction of two individuals isn’t a permanent solution to Albany’s systemic rot. Real reforms - including a voluntary public financing system to enhance ordinary citizens’ voices, the closing of campaign finance loopholes and the lowering of contribution limits - must be enacted to ensure we don’t simply see a new Skelos and a new Silver take their place.” That seems like the direction we are heading.

We think “systemic rot” pretty much sums up the cesspool at the statehouse. Prosecutors have hinted that more arrests could be coming. Remember, eight senators from Long Island were subpoenaed during the Skelos investigation.

While Gov. Cuomo often talks tough on ethics reform, he is quick to pass the buck, saying it is the Legislature’s job to enact reforms.

What the state needs is leadership and action, and Gov. Cuomo is delivering neither.

There are some that have concluded the only possible way for the state to make significant changes in Albany corruption is through a constitutional convention.

Every 20 years, New York voters get a chance to decide if a constitutional convention should be convened to make changes to the state constitution. The last time there was a convention was in 1967.

New York has an especially dense constitution that is seven times longer that the federal document. That is good enough reason for a revision, but more importantly this is an enormous opportunity for voters to make changes.

“It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the state as a whole to reinvent state government,” Hank Greenberg, an attorney and the chairman of the state Bar Association’s state constitution committee told The Associated Press.

A constitutional convention would allow voters to decide if the Legislature should be a full-time body that would prohibit members from taking outside income while also closing the infamous LLC loophole for campaign contributions. Term limits could also be imposed.

If New Yorkers were to approve the constitutional convention in 2017, it would be held in 2019 and voters would get a chance to vote on the changes.

The reaction of the Senate leadership and the ambivalence of our own Senate representatives lead us to believe the only recourse for fixing Albany is a constitutional convention.

Until then, we will count on federal prosecutor Preet Bharara to continue his prosecutions. We believe he will have plenty of opportunities.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1PjQxyk

The Oneonta Daily Star on how the changes to the Common Core educational standards should be more than just in name.

Dec. 17

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

- Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Apparently, that which we call Common Core by any other name would smell as stinky, something readily apparent to members of the task force formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the wake of massive protests over the learning standards.

The panel last week recommended that New York state should rewrite and - importantly - rename the testing protocol that caused more than 20 percent of students to opt out of the April tests.

On Tuesday, the Board of Regents suspended the use of standardized test scores for teacher evaluations for four years, something that was recommended by governor’s Common Core Task Force.

The governor had called for a “total reboot” of the Common Core.

“The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready,” Cuomo said in a statement, “but it actually caused confusion and anxiety. That ends now.”

And none too soon, according to the teachers union offended by Cuomo’s State of the State speech in January in which he called the system for evaluating teachers “baloney” because most were deemed effective despite students’ low scores.

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who is expected to run for governor against Cuomo in 2018, cast Cuomo’s calls for overhauling Common Core as something of a foxhole conversion.

“It’s disappointing that the governor needed a task force to find out what parents, teachers and administrators have been saying all along - that Common Core has been a mistake,” the congressman told The Daily Star on Tuesday. “We should roll this back and start over.”

Give Cuomo credit for smarts in recognizing that anything that ticks off so many voters as the Common Core can form an impression that could easily last for three years. Voters, especially parents, can have long memories.

Clearly, local school officials have determined that the end of Common Core as we have known it is a case of addition by subtraction, and we agree.

“There is a lot of good to it,” Unatego Central School Superintendent David Richards said of the panel’s recommendations. “I like that it allows school districts to write their own curriculum and there will be a reduction in the testing. . I think they listened to parents, teachers, administrators and school boards.”

Delaware Academy Central School Superintendent Jason Thomson said he hopes that when the process is completed, more control will go back to the local districts so they can focus on teaching.

Any attempt to evaluate teachers and students based on any kinds of testing can be tricky, even when done fairly and wisely, which was obviously not the case in regard to Common Core.

Local input, and to a great extent, local control, will be the keys to whether the new standards are more successful than Common Core or whether the changes to an unpopular program will have parents wondering “what’s in a name?”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1OiXFG9

The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on the idea that peace is still worth striving and fighting for.

Dec. 22

As we navigate another holiday season roiled by unseasonable conflict and tragedy, we are reminded of one of our favorite quotes from a long-ago source that we’ve printed before.

We have watched atrocities that have taken place around the world, both lately and in the past half century.

It could lead a person to accept that the worst of us are getting worse and that we are witness to the most hateful and deplorable behavior of which humans are capable.

But a particular show of the iconic Jack Benny radio series reinforces that human cruelty on a grand scale was not invented by this generation and, sadly, must be combated, because it won’t go away by itself.

On Dec. 23, 1945, in the shadow of the end of World War II, Benny’s guests were British husband-wife actors Ronald Colman and Benita Hume, neighbors and close friends of the comedian.

At the close of the laugh-filled episode, Colman turns solemn and proposes a toast that may be inspirational today, as we approach America’s favorite holiday season.

These are Colman’s words:

“I propose a toast to the world. A world which has just survived the bloodiest and costliest of all human conflicts. A world which was so nearly led back to the dark ages of oppression and slavery by cruel, inhuman men who traded in greed and hate.

“It seems impossible that mankind could possibly endure more suffering than we have just endured, but it is possible, and it will happen if we lose sight of the lessons so bitterly learned.

“Let us remember that men everywhere are our neighbors, and their right to life and freedom is as precious to them as ours is to us.

“So here’s a toast to all the people in the world: May we, by working together for a lofty purpose and with God’s help, achieve the goal that mankind for 20 centuries has striven for: peace on Earth, good will to men.”

An estimated 75 million people from more than 30 countries are believed to have died in World War II, including 20 million soldiers.

Most of us throughout the world - but, sadly, not all - still cling to the ideals espoused in Colman’s words.

Conflicts that have come and gone or still persist in the Middle East and elsewhere remind us that peace may not be possible globally ever, in spite of the best efforts of the best people.

Ironically, it remains something we may always have to fight for.

But peace remains something worth striving for, even if we do have to risk everything to help it happen.

___

Online:

https://bit.ly/1SbDHTG

Newsday on the state of the economy following an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve.

Dec. 16

The increase in interest rates of 0.25 percent that the Federal Reserve announced on Dec. 16 marks the end of an era. It is the first increase in nine years and the first move of any kind in about six years, since attempts to kick-start the economy brought the rate down to just above zero in 2009.

In theory, the increase tells us the economic devastation that began with the implosion of the housing and stock markets in 2008 is over. Stocks have recovered losses. The housing market has stabilized. Unemployment sits around 5 percent, which is well within the normal range. Inflation and fuel prices are low. So why don’t we feel better, more financially secure, more hopeful about our future? Something fundamental has changed.

Some of the decrease in the unemployment rate comes from so many people retiring, dropping out of the job market, agreeing to work the same job for less or working in a lesser job. Many of the new jobs that sent the unemployment rate down from its 8 percent spike are low-paying service jobs. Overall, studies show median income nationally and locally has been stagnant for 10 years.

Even as we recover, we know that we might never get back these years of growth we had counted on, in retirement accounts and wages and home values. Many young people incurred tremendous college debt to enter a job market less promising than they’d expected.

And much of the overall financial recovery and benefits of low interest rates went disproportionately to the wealthy, who owned the recovering stocks and skyrocketing bonds.

The fear we feel is not that we haven’t recovered. It’s that we have, and this is as good as it gets. Hopefully, now that we’ve regained our equilibrium, we can reclaim our dreams.

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Online:

https://nwsdy.li/1Pl31Wy

The Middletown Times Herald-Record on funding health benefits for 9/11 first responders and the phaseout of plastic microbeads flowing into waterways.

Dec. 22

Most of the time, editorials are a call for some group or individual to do something, or to stop doing something. Often, the group or individual is connected to government. Congress is a frequent target.

Today is different. Today, the editorials acknowledge positive action on two dissimilar topics, both addressed in this space in September: 1) Reauthorization of the Zadroga Act, which funds health benefits for first responders to 9/11; and 2) banning the use of plastic beads in exfoliating scrubs, toothpaste and other beauty products. We called on Congress to do the first and New York’s state Legislature to tackle the second. Somehow, Congress managed to do both.

This is not a “well done” for Congress, because it actually missed the deadline for reauthorizing funding for the Zadroga Act, which expired Sept. 30. It took years of lobbying by first-responders (including hundreds of trips to the Capitol), repeated public shaming by TV host Jon Stewart and countless newspaper editorials for Congress to simply do the right thing. Actually, for Republicans in Congress, who were the only roadblock to permanently renewing the funding, to finally do the right thing.

On Dec. 18, Congress agreed to extend the health benefits for those afflicted with 9/11-related illnesses for 75 years, in effect for the rest of their lives. It also renewed the Victims Compensation Fund for five years to aid first responders too sick to work and their families. The bill was co-sponsored by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, both Democrats.

More than 30,000 responders have been afflicted with lingering illnesses, including several forms of cancer, related to the toxins they were exposed to at the site. On passage of the bill, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-Manhattan, said it well: “Our heroes deserve never to worry that their health care will disappear, or that their families will struggle because of 9/11.”

Being shamed into taking the moral high ground is nothing to be proud of, but those whose tireless efforts finally resulted in success deserve credit and the thanks of a grateful nation. A lesson in persistence.

With New York legislators apparently too busy watching the leaders of both their houses stand trial and be convicted of corruption, the matter of plastic microbeads flowing into our waterways didn’t gain much attention in Albany. Although Albany County legislators banned the beads, the state did nothing.

The beads, which are used in many beauty products, are too small to be filtered out by sewage treatment plants, so they wind up being deposited in the oceans, rivers and lakes. The beads attract toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, and are consumed by fish and other aquatic life, which mistake them for food. They can then be passed up the food chain to, well, us.

Some states, including California and Illinois, have banned them. Last week, a Congress not known as environmentally friendly acted for the whole country. It passed a bill to begin a phaseout in July of 2017. That’s the kind of surprise we like.

___

Online:

https://bit.ly/1RGvxDu

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