- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 11, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Post-Standard of Syracuse on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s response to the city’s infrastructure problems.

Feb. 10

“Fix your own pipes.”

That’s what Gov. Andrew Cuomo told Syracuse last week during a visit to the Syracuse Media Group editorial board. Syracuse and other Upstate cities should stop looking for a handout from the state to fix your infrastructure, he said, in so many words. Get your own economies going. Then you fix your own pipes.

It’s tough love from the head of the family of New York. Days later, it’s still stuck in our craw.

We get the gist of Cuomo’s message. There’s only so much money to go around. The governor can’t fix everything. Local governments have to take responsibility for securing their own futures. He’s working on the big picture, the governor says. We’re on our own for the rest.

It sounds simple. But is it?

It’s not as if the leaders of Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Utica, Auburn, Watertown, Plattsburgh and Binghamton have been sitting on their hands all these years, waiting for a savior. They’re patching the leaks in the boat while furiously bailing out water.

It’s not as if state government had nothing to do with the high taxes that drove away our jobs and our people. It did. The governor is trying to undo that through tax cuts and tax-free zones.

It’s not as if you could just snap your fingers and reverse decades of neglect from a Downstate-facing Albany. That’s going to take a lot more than tough love.

Cuomo is not blind to the neglect. He promised a billion dollars to Buffalo and plans to throw $500 million more to the tenacious Upstate region that wins an economic development cage match with four other regions. A half a billion dollars - that’s real money. Maybe it will be a game-changer - or maybe it will be like the countless economic development efforts before it. They sounded great on paper but didn’t get the economic flywheel in motion in the real world.

The governor is right about this: He can’t fix everything. It must be tiresome to be pestered for more, more, more by every elected official he meets. But he’s pestered for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: State government is where the money is. Even when times are tight, the state always seems to have enough for pet projects and political favors.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is a frequent pesterer. She drew up a whole plan based on fixing the city’s century-old infrastructure with money from the bank settlement windfall. It was pragmatic but uninspiring. Working infrastructure is the minimum expectation for a working city, not a road map to greatness.

Cuomo is on the other end of the spectrum, dangling tax breaks and tax-free zones to attract businesses without giving much thought to the things that will help them succeed. If a business came to New York for the tax breaks, why would stay if the toilets don’t flush and nothing comes out of the tap?

Politics is all about choices - until things start to fall down or cave in or blow up. Then you have no choice but to fix it. Miner is wising up, shifting to a more proactive approach to replacing old pipes rather than waiting for them to blow.

Cuomo can’t afford to be above such concerns if Upstate cities are to survive, let alone thrive.




The New York Daily News on political corruption in Albany.

Feb. 11

They’re running scared in Albany because New Yorkers have had enough of their rigged games and thievery.

Faster than you can say “Sheldon Silver in handcuffs,” the ladies and gentlemen of the state Legislature on Tuesday proclaimed their ardent desire for squeaky-clean government.

That’s what happened after the Daily News named 16 members of the Assembly and Senate as pulling down more than $100,000 a year without fully disclosing the sources of their incomes - and this page dubbed them Enemies of Reform.

Almost immediately, Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos declared: “We need full transparency and strong ethics laws that are modeled off of the best practices of 49 other states.”

On paper - full skepticism warranted - Skelos’ commitment is a stunning turnaround.

While reporting up to $250,000 in annual income from a law firm with a lobbying arm that’s active in Albany, Skelos joined Silver in waging a court battle to keep the names of his clients secret from Gov. Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission.

Now, Skelos says he is negotiating the ultimate in reform measures with the governor. In past such talks, legislative leaders wrote in so many loopholes that Silver managed to conceal his business dealings until the feds bagged him.

To fulfill his pledge of “full transparency,” Skelos must get unequivocally behind requiring legislators to reveal sources of income above set thresholds. Law clients and others who pay fees for services must be covered.

The same is true for Carl Heastie, the Bronx Democrat installed to replace Silver. Thus far, he has said only that he is discussing reform issues with Cuomo.

The governor has threatened to hold the budget hostage until the Legislature agrees to cap outside income or make full financial disclosure. Robust reporting requirements are the place to start.

Meanwhile, the 197 members of the Legislature who make less than 100 grand - if they have any outside income at all - must bulldoze the small number of big moneymakers who have hidden their incomes from scrutiny.

In addition to Silver and Skelos, the Enemies of Reform are:

Assembly members Aravella Simotas and David Weprin of Queens, Chuck Lavine of Long Island, Steve Katz of Westchester, Harry Bronson of Rochester, John McDonald of Albany, Frank Skartados of Orange County, Phil Steck of Schenectady County and Steve Hawley of Orleans County.

Also Sens. Michael Ranzenhofer of Erie County, Michael Nozzolio of Seneca County, Philip Boyle and John Flanagan of Long Island and John Sampson of Brooklyn (currently awaiting trial on federal embezzlement charges).

Given rising public anger, the stage is set for enacting historic reform in Albany. Skelos, Heastie and the gang must be forced to live up to their vows.




Newsday on the crisis in Ukraine.

Feb. 6

The spinning wheel of foreign crises these last few weeks has landed mostly on the Islamic State group and the Middle East. But Vladimir Putin’s continuing attempts to conquer Ukraine are back on top after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande made an emergency trip on Friday to meet with the Russian president.

The two leaders have failed to persuade Putin to stop his aggressive moves to annex several regions of the former Soviet satellite. And heavy fighting has caused more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes.

As Ukraine fights to survive, there are likely to be more economic sanctions imposed on Russia, as well as demands in Washington that more weaponry be sent to the beleaguered Ukrainian army.

Escalation is likely, peace is not.




The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh on income inequality.

Feb. 10

It’s a fact borne out by study after study: Children from higher-income families generally do better and go further in school than children from lower-income families.

Why? Many theories are advanced: Maybe it’s in the genes; maybe it’s because children in wealthier households are exposed to a background in which reading and learning are more valued; maybe wealthier kids have access to tools for learning earlier, such as computers, cultural outings and books; maybe poorer parents are simply too busy trying to make enough money to survive to spend as much time challenging their kids’ intellect.

But, whatever the reasons, there seems to be no question that kids from less affluent families have a steeper hill to climb to reach success.

Thus, it comes as little surprise that a recent study has concluded that students from wealthier families have a better success rate at graduating from college by age 24 than students from poorer families.

If you missed the Associated Press story in last Wednesday’s Press-Republican, it said the percentage of students from the lowest-income families - those making $34,160 a year or less - who earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24 increased only 3 points since 1970, from 6 to 9 percent, by 2013.

That lack of progress over four-plus decades is astonishing and should be a national embarrassment.

At the same time, college completion for students from the wealthiest families - defined as making at least $108,650 - has exploded, from 44 to 77 percent.

The rich get richer, in many ways. And, with college costs rising so fast, it’s difficult to imagine how this trend can be braked, to say nothing of reversed.

In reporting on the disparity, AP writer Christine Armario mentioned President Obama’s initiative in his executive budget to offer a free two-year-college education for everyone.

That could well be a start, as at least the highly accomplished students in two-year colleges would be identified and encouraged - maybe even subsidized - to achieve a four-year degree.

That, in turn, would improve the fortunes of families stuck in their seemingly inescapable income stratum. More education leads to better jobs and, hence, improved family income, study after study has shown.

But the price tag placed on Obama’s plan is $60 billion over 10 years, and it probably has little political promise.

So, assuming the Obama idea doesn’t get off the ground, what is the answer?

It appears that this is one study that demands another. What do America’s brightest minds think can be done about this?

Certainly no child should be born into unfulfilled potential with only scant hope for optimism.

America’s promise of equality for all requires action on this dilemma.




The Watertown Daily Times on vaccinating children.

Feb. 5

The political spectrum of presidential campaigning in the United States certainly took a turn this week toward irrationality, pandering and thoughtless comments.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama told a nationwide audience on NBC television, “You should get your kids vaccinated. I understand that there are families that, in some cases, are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”

That thoughtful presidential admonition came at the end of a week when the nation learned that 102 people in 14 states were diagnosed with measles. Immediately, the odor of a potential 2016 presidential political issue emboldened two potential Republican candidates to respond.

Speaking at Cambridge in England, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, “parents need to have some measure of choice” in vaccinations, adding that “not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.” Then while trying to cover his tracks, Mr. Christie said he had made sure his four children were immunized.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky joined the chorus saying that vaccines “ought to be voluntary.”

Vaccination has improved the lives of nearly every American. Too few people remember smallpox epidemics or the waves of youngsters with polio lying in hospital wards in the 1940s and 1950s with paralyzed limbs.

Few remember the teenagers who died in iron lungs at the Jefferson County Sanitarium on the top of the Coffeen Street hill. Too few remember how rubella vaccine stopped German measles and its threat of leaving male victims sterile. Few worried last winter when whooping cough killed very young children whose parents had ignored vaccination protocols.

Public health and public safety are a matter of common sense, not political campaigns. In a world of unfettered travel, those who choose to leave children unprotected from measles or polio by making ill-informed decisions are in effect saying it is all right with them if a child becomes infected with polio and lives the balance of life with a paralyzed limb.

In a free society, we have every right to question how appropriate are legislative actions that substitute individual choice with a government fiat. But the manner in which Mr. Christie and Mr. Paul approached this issue, emphasizing the desire for personal liberties rather than the sensibility of protecting children, gave credence to those who refuse to accept the overwhelming medical evidence that vaccines save lives.

These elected officials may believe their message is nothing more than, “You should be the one to make the choice.” But those in denial about the value of vaccines are likely to hear, “I’m a representative of the government, and I believe you should question the safety of immunizations.”

Mr. Christie and Mr. Paul are doing a disservice to America by trying to make a simple common-sense decision a political issue. Shame on them.



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