- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo News on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s priorities for 2015.

Jan. 20

As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his team put the final touches on Wednesday’s State of the State speech, Western New Yorkers should be listening for proposals on education, brownfields, the cost of government and ethics reform.

Cuomo should remain steadfast on his basic commitment to the Common Core Learning Standards and teacher evaluation process.

The governor’s consternation over recent figures showing that 96 percent of teachers statewide were rated either effective or highly effective despite miserable student achievement stiffened his resolve to improve the system.

In addition, the governor’s office told Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch that he will use his power over the budget to pursue legislation to fix underperforming school systems. And Tisch and Acting Education Commissioner Elizabeth R. Berlin recommended that the governor push legislation that would give the state broad power to remove and replace school boards in struggling districts.

Buffalo, as the Board of Regents stated in its letter, is the poster child for struggling schools. The district’s new School Board and administration need a chance to make improvements, but there also needs to be a mechanism for continuing failure to trigger state intervention.

After vetoing an extension of the Brownfield Cleanup Program at the end of the year, Cuomo will propose extending the program his way, with limits designed to end abuses by developers who misused the tax credits for high-end projects downstate.

The environmental remediation program has had wide-ranging impact in Buffalo, from RiverBend to the Medical Campus to HarborCenter to the NORAMPAC facility in Niagara Falls. And there is much more on the drawing boards that will never get built without the brownfields program. It’s good to see Cuomo on board.

The governor has spoken at length about the need to reduce the cost of government, including the many layers of municipalities and school and special districts across the state. But he also has fallen short of decisive action and, as News Albany bureau chief Tom Precious reported last March, on occasion has signed bills that have added to the number of local government entities. Consolidation efforts will have to have a solid push from the state if they are to succeed.

The need for ethics reform is obvious in a Legislature marred by arrests, accusations of misconduct and resignations. The measures agreed to when Cuomo suddenly terminated the Moreland Commission investigating corruption are not enough.

The State of the State speech conveys a governor’s vision. Improvements to education, the economy and ethics will be a good place to start.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1zu9RlA

The Post-Star of Glens Falls on efforts to protect Adirondacks lake.

Jan. 17

Adirondack environmentalists have sometimes had a tough sell when it comes to preserving and protecting Adirondack forests because the region’s forests are so extensive and to all appearances safe from encroachment by developers or overuse by tourists.

It’s easier to convince the public of the necessity of working to protect Adirondack lakes. Even though we are blessed with an abundance of large, lovely lakes, you could not describe their number as an oversupply.

The demand for lakeshore property is great, and the interest in lake recreation of various sorts- fishing, boating, swimming, camping - is steady. Only a small portion of the public is interested in trekking into the rugged Adirondack backcountry, but just about everyone enjoys a swim in Lake George or a boat ride along its beautiful 32-mile length.

Lakes are the key to Adirondack tourism and the second home market, which means lakes are the key to the region’s economy. That means any effort to preserve the health and beauty of our lakes is worth considering, and even a large price is worth paying if it will lead to a qualitative improvement in a lake’s ecology.

“The economy and environment go hand in hand,” said Eric Siy, director of the Fund for Lake George, recently.

That generalization is not always true. When businesses or housing developments are blocked from Adirondack sites by the region’s strict zoning rules, it may be good for the environment but bad for the economy.

But when it comes to the more limited supply and more fragile ecology of Adirondack waterbodies, we agree with Siy: Protecting lakes helps the local economy.

Everyone recognizes the value of our lakes, which is why everyone is signing on to cooperative efforts to keep them clean.

As Post-Star reporter Amanda Metzger has detailed in recent stories, a consensus has formed among the region’s political and environmental leaders that now is the time to pour resources into preserving the water quality of Lake George and other Adirondack bodies of water.

With help from the state and other Lake George groups, the Lake George Park Commission ran the first of a two-year boat-washing program last year, inspecting nearly 20,000 boats at six stations for invasive species.

The program was such a success that civic leaders from around the Adirondacks want to expand it to 20 more stations around the park placed near popular lakes and busy entry points.

A new group called Adirondack Lakes Association is bringing together dozens of small associations around the park that represent lakeshore property owners to work on lake management cooperatively.

“Prevention is key here. Prevention is a lot less costly than it is once you have an invasive and are trying to control it. So prevention becomes a key way to try and do something positive here,” said Ed Griesmer, president of Loon Lake Association.

Each lake association has worked, until now, on its own provincial concerns. But the lakes have an enemy in common - invasive species - and coordinating their efforts to prevent their proliferation will be more effective than each association waging its own fight.

It is encouraging to see so many regional groups signing on, but the state will be the most important partner in the fight against invasive species, because only the state has enough money to undertake a broad-based, sustained effort.

Regional cooperation of the sort happening now will be critical to persuading state officials to invest in a parkwide program. As important as Lake George is to the region’s economy, an effort limited to Lake George may not be considered a state priority.

A united front presented by Adirondack politicians and environmentalists in favor of an aggressive, annual effort to beat back the advance of invasive species will convince state officials to sign on, too.

Invasive species do not concentrate their efforts to survive and multiply on certain towns or counties. They spread without regard to borders, and we must fight them in the same way - regionally.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1sWa3Yq

The New York Times on free expression and the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices.

Jan. 18

The lead article in the first edition of Charlie Hebdo after the massacre at its Paris offices by Islamists claiming to avenge cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad - the edition distributed as an astonishing five million copies - raised a thorny, sensitive question. After thanking all those who had shown solidarity with the magazine, its editor in chief, Gérard Biard, asked a question that, he said, “torments us”:

“Are we finally going to rid our political and intellectual vocabulary of the dirty term ‘laïcard intégriste’?”

Loosely translated, those words mean “die-hard secularist.” What Mr. Biard was challenging was the argument that committed secularists like himself and the staff of Charlie Hebdo had essentially brought this tragedy upon themselves, and that there is, by implication, a sort of moral equivalence between deeply held secularist views and the “religious totalitarianism” - his words - that he and his staff loved to skewer.

Over the years, he went on, Charlie Hebdo and other champions of la laïcité - the secularism enshrined in French politics - had been assailed as “Islamophobes, Christianophobes, provocateurs, irresponsible, throwers of oil on the fire, racists” and the like.

Even as people lamented the massacre, he wrote, some of them offered a maddening qualifier: “Yes, we condemn terrorism, but…….” ”Yes, burning down a newspaper is bad, but….. We have heard it all, and our friends as well….”

Obviously there can be no “but” in condemning the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, or the ideology that encourages murder in the name of religion.

Irreverent magazines like Charlie Hebdo have been a fixture in Western societies for many years, and France has a strong tradition of such journalism.

The Internet, moreover, has opened the door to almost every level and form of expression.

Yet there are legitimate questions raised about freedom of expression in this tragedy.

In the wake of the terror attack, French authorities began aggressive enforcements of a law against supporting or justifying terrorism, including arrests of people who spoke admiringly about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. Not surprisingly, their actions have raised questions of a double standard - one for cartoonists who deliberately insult religion, when their cartoons are certain to antagonize Muslims at a time when anti-Muslim feelings are already at high levels in France and across much of Europe, and another for those who react by applauding terrorists.

The difference, according to French authorities, is between the right to attack an idea and the right to attack people or incite hatred.

The distinction is recognized in the various laws against hate speech or inciting violence that exist in most Western states.

As a consequence of World War II, France and several other European countries have laws against denying the Holocaust, and with a rise in anti-Semitism in France, authorities have actively sought to curb hate speech, like the anti-Semitic routines of a comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.

Freedom of expression is broader in the United States, but there, too, there are legal limitations on speech that involves incitement, libel, obscenity or child pornography.

But drawing the line between speech that is disgusting and speech that is dangerous is inherently difficult and risky.

In Israel, mocking Muhammad can bring a prison term, as it did for Tatiana Susskind, a Russian immigrant who posted drawings of the Prophet as a pig in Hebron in 1997.

She was accused, among other things, of committing a racist act and harming religious sensitivities, and sentenced to two years in prison. Laws like those in France against “words or acts of hatred” are based on what is often a subjective judgment. And any constraints on freedom of expression invite government abuse.

Tastes, standards and situations change, and in the end it is best for editors and societies at large to judge what is fit - or safe - to print.

That the tragedy in Paris has served to raise these questions is in no way an insult to the members of the Charlie Hebdo staff who perished.

Shocking people into confronting reality was, after all, what their journal - which they proudly called a “journal irresponsable” - was all about.

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Online:

https://nyti.ms/1547AQk

The Watertown Daily Times on freshman Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of northern New York.

Jan. 16

Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have periodically admitted that they need to focus more on accomplishing necessary tasks, such as passing comprehensive immigration reform.

But then they guide their caucus down the familiar path of obstruction and noncooperation. They often would rather receive the momentary cheer of the most extreme members of their base rather than taking useful steps to getting vital work done. It’s no wonder that the 113th Congress maintained appalling approval ratings for being so unproductive, and it looks as though the 114th Congress has no intention of improving this performance.

Sadly for the people of the north country, Elise M. Stefanik has chosen to begin her career in public service by aligning herself with the do-nothing portion of the Republican House membership. This follows on the heels of her campaign pledges to work across the aisle to resolve some of the nation’s most vexing problems, including offering help to farmers in Northern New York by reforming the guest-worker program.

House members voted Wednesday on several amendments to a funding bill for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The main amendment proposes to withhold all revenues from any effort to carry out President Barack Obama’s plan to protect about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Late last year, Mr. Obama announced he was issuing an executive order to shield these immigrants from deportation. This would give these individuals a specific period of time to go through the process and legalize their presence in the United States.

Mr. Obama said his action was necessary because House Republicans have steadfastly refused to do anything constructive in this area. After they lost the presidency and some House seats in 2012, GOP leaders vowed to reconsider their strategy and be more productive. But then they spent the next two years sitting on their hands when it came to immigration reform.

So whether you like what the president did or not, it was done in response to Republican inactivity.

GOP leaders seem more content appeasing those in the conservative fringe than doing their jobs.

They aren’t being paid to get nothing done, or at least they shouldn’t be compensated for this.

And despite their claims that they got the message of the 2012 election, they’ve once again reverted to being the Party of No.

The rallying cry among the extremists in the Republican Party is to identify every undocumented immigrant here, round all of them up and toss them out of the country. That such a plan would be outrageously expensive and is utterly unenforceable is of little consequence to its proponents. They prefer to wallow in the fantasy of a United States free of any undocumented immigrants than consider the reality that many of them are actually a net bonus for our nation.

And this is who most House Republicans, including Ms. Stefanik, have chosen to listen to when deciding how they’ll vote on this issue. Mr. Obama urged members of the GOP to work with him on an effective bill that would make his executive order unnecessary. But they chose to expend their energy on passing five amendments that are very unlikely to actually become law in lieu of coming up with a reasonable bill to reform our immigration system.

Ms. Stefanik could have sent a message to the House GOP leadership that most of these amendments do nothing to advance this issue forward. She could have signaled to her constituents here in the north country that she doesn’t want to waste her time on bills that have no chance of becoming law. She could have put her promises to work across the aisle and develop solutions to our many problems into action.

But she opted to get in line behind many of the Republicans who have spent the bulk of Mr. Obama’s presidency showcasing how their dislike of him is much greater than their love of our country. Next year when Ms. Stefanik returns to ask local voters to send her back to Capitol Hill, we truly hope she has something more to show for the time she has spent there so far.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1Emulvr

The New York Post on terrorist threats in Europe.

Jan. 17

The thought of ISIS terrorists in Europe, as officials now believe is the case, and the re-release of an Islamic State video calling for Muslims to murder Western police officers and soldiers underscore a grim reality: We cannot unilaterally end a war our enemies in the Middle East have declared on us.

Thwarting at least one attack in Belgium, officials say they nabbed dozens of suspected terrorists with ties to ISIS in several countries.

The video, meanwhile, urges followers to “strike their police, security and intelligence members,” specifically naming the United States, France, Australia and Canada as targets.

All this, after the Paris attacks by terrorists also linked to Mideast jihadists. And December’s attack in Sydney by an Australian who put an Islamist flag in a window. And a murderous attack on a Canadian soldier by a convert to Islam who police say wanted to travel to Syria to fight.

Last week, an Ohio man was also arrested for what the FBI says was a plot to launch an Islamic State-inspired attack on the US Capitol.

What these events ought to tell us is how mistaken it is to think we can end a war unilaterally - or buy our safety by ignoring the Middle East.

We are learning, the bloody way, that the Islamists are dead serious about their aims - and that the consequences of a “jayvee” terror outfit such as Boko Haram or ISIS gaining control over territory will eventually affect us, too.

That’s why American troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s why US forces are engaging our enemies, even after the official “end” to combat has been announced. Even as we try to disengage, our enemies make clear they have no intention of ending their war against us.

Now, in the face of a Middle East dominated by conflict between hopelessly unrepresentative Islamic regimes and savage Islamist terrorists, there have always been those who argue that the answer is to get out and let them kill each other off. At least we wouldn’t be caught up in the conflict, goes the thinking.

Turns out just the opposite is true. As we have withdrawn and our influence has diminished, radical Islamists have grown in strength.

And the wars they are waging in the Middle East have proved effective training grounds for those who want to learn jihad and bring it back to their homelands in Europe, Australia and the United States.

In short, we cannot wall ourselves off from the Middle East, no matter how tempting it might be to think so.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1zui2yo

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