- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

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

The Albany Times Union on cleaning up the Hudson River.

July 7

For Capital Region residents, the notion of swimming in the Hudson River immediately conjures icky thoughts of diving into a sewer.

It’s really not that bad - at least not all the time. But when there’s heavy rain - about 90 times a year on average - aging wastewater treatment facilities in Albany and Rensselaer counties overflow, dumping millions of gallons of untreated sewage into our prized estuary. It’s estimated that in the Capital Region alone these “combined sewer overflows” result in 1.2 billion gallons of raw sewage pouring into the Hudson annually. This taints the water, rendering it unsafe for swimming, fishing and even for boating.

A study released last week by Riverkeeper, a Westchester County-based watchdog group that promotes the Hudson River cleanup, found we are heading in the right direction. Many parts of the Hudson River now have water quality that would meet federal safe-swimming guidelines, particularly after periods of dry weather. As a whole, Hudson River water quality has improved dramatically since the passage of New York’s Pure Waters Bond Act 50 years ago.

The Capital Region is doing its share and recently won the praise of Riverkeeper. After the first year of a long range plan to repair the region’s substandard municipal sewer systems, officials from Albany and Rensselaer counties are proclaiming significant progress.

The $136 million project, which aims to cut such sewage spills by 85 percent over the next 15 years, has already spent about $25 million for repairs and upgrades to local facilities. It covers Albany, Troy, Cohoes, Watervliet, Rensselaer and Green Island, which have about 150,000 homes and businesses.

Still, more needs to be done, according to the river watchdogs. We need better policing of the existing water quality standards by communities along the tributaries that flow into the Hudson. This will require restoration of staffing at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which has been cut by 30 percent over the past two decades. Citing a state comptroller’s report, Riverkeeper says the cleanup that is under way needs another $800 million in funding for community grants through the state’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Act.

We cannot let up in this cleanup of the Hudson River, which has been called one of the great environmental success stories of our time. The Capital Region’s role in this ongoing effort’s success is heartening. Adding to that is the upcoming completion of dredging by the General Electric Co. of PCBs in the river. The company is removing large concentrations of the poisonous compound that it dumped into the Hudson from its capacitor plant in Fort Edward from late 1940s through the 1970s.

This all means that, in the not-too-distant future, we can reasonably expect to have a river where people can safely fish, boat and yes, even swim. What a gift to the next generation. What a legacy for this one.




The Auburn Citizen on what prisons can learn from the Dannemora escape.

July 1

Now that the search for Clinton Correctional Facility escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat is over, the process of investigating what went wrong to allow these two convicted murderers to break out of a maximum security state prison is moving forward aggressively.

On Tuesday, just two days after Sweat was captured alive near the Canadian border and four days after Matt was fatally shot in a confrontation in Franklin County, state officials announced 12 CCF employees have been suspended in connection with the case. Among those 12 are three senior-level administrators. In addition to the 12 were the corrections officer and civilian employee who are facing criminal charges in connection with their roles in the escape.

The quick work to move this investigation forward and to keep the public updated is important, and we hope this sense of urgency remains in place even as the story loses the attention of the national media.

There’s also been the promise from state lawmakers to hold hearings into the entire matter, another good idea.

All of this digging into what went wrong at Clinton is necessary, not just for holding people accountable for mistakes that seriously jeopardized public safety, but also for ensuring that something like this cannot happen again.


And that’s why we also urge state corrections officials, the union for corrections officers, state lawmakers, the Cuomo administration and prisoner advocates to make sure the investigation of the Matt/Sweat escape does not stop at the walls of Clinton Correctional Facility.

This should be a call to action for a deep assessment of policy, procedures, facilities, technology and staffing practices and levels at every prison in the state.

With two prisons within the borders of Cayuga County, most readers have a family member or friend who works inside the gates of a state correctional facility.

It’s vital that we spare no effort or resource to making sure those places are as safe and secure as possible.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on improving the Affordable Care Act.

July 4

Now that the Supreme Court has affirmed another vital aspect of the Affordable Care Act, federal officials should see the wisdom and imperative of improving this complex and important law. They shouldn’t let this matter fester until after the 2016 presidential elections, as they likely are apt to do.

The country has seen enough time wasted on futile attempts to repeal the act. For years, that has pretty much been the Republican strategy in dealing with Obamacare, and it has gotten nowhere. In fact, Congressional Republicans have tried more than 60 times to repeal or defund the law, to no avail.

The Affordable Care Act is so far from perfect that making sound improvements shouldn’t be that difficult. But that doesn’t mean the act should be scrapped; no one ever should have expected this sweeping law to address all the country’s health-related concerns perfectly.

No one law ever could.

But the Supreme Court could have set back the cause dramatically by ruling in a way that would have jeopardized the health insurance of millions of Americans. Instead, the court ruled in favor of the legality of giving subsidies to all states - including ones that have not set up their own health exchange under the act - to help pay for coverage for people who can’t afford it and don’t have access to health care coverage through their job.

In the 6-3 ruling, the justices said that the subsidies that millions of people are receiving to make insurance affordable do not depend on whether they live with in a state with its own exchange, such as New York, or one being run by the federal government.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s majority. “If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

Congressional Republicans should pay heed to this clear, unambiguous ruling. They should focus on some of the good ideas they themselves have suggested over the years, including allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines and providing tax incentives for people to start health-care savings accounts. For their part, President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats must concede parts of the act aren’t working - or have been kicked down the road because they have proven too challenging to implement. The act, for instance, hasn’t addressed the cost-containment issue as once advertised, so looking at medical malpractice reforms, long-term care and prescription drug prices all should be included in the way forward.

But unraveling the health exchanges and plummeting the insurance market into chaos surely are not the answers. The high court has saved a potential disaster here, but making tangible improvement falls squarely on Congress and President Obama to focus less on rhetoric and more on identifiable solutions.




The Rome Sentinel on an easier tax system.

July 1

Presidential elections often are mired in factoids that amount to very little. However, Gov. Jeb Bush said something that captured our imaginations.

“You can fill out your tax return in Estonia online in five minutes,” Bush said.

Those who know Florida’s former governor know that he’s a policy wonk and as a moderate conservative this is exactly the sort of thing that fires his engines. However, given all the pain and suffering Americans go through every April is it really even possible that there is a country with such an easy tax system that it takes five minutes to file your annual taxes?

No, because as Politifact found, it often takes even less than five minutes for Estonians to file their taxes. “If you have only one, or maybe two or three, income sources, like a salary from your main job … five minutes may be even too long,”

Argo Ideon, the political and business editor at the daily newspaper Postimees AS told Politifact. “I have probably used just two minutes several times.”

Here are just a few things Estonian officials did to make this miracle happen: They have a simple tax system, a high level of accessibility to the Internet, and tax laws that allow the government to gather data from third parties in order to use it to “pre-file” each tax return. Essentially, Estonians log in, check to make sure the information the government has on file is correct and then hit send.

To be fair there are fewer Estonians - 1.3 million — than there are residents of Orlando - 1.5 million. And, while Bush’s point is well taken American politicians have tried and failed for decades to create a better tax system.

And there is a perfectly reasonable question about whether the trade-off for such a system is worth the reward. Should the government hold onto all tax data and “pre-filing” it for each citizen each year? Some Americans value their privacy over convenience while other might consider the loss of privacy worth the benefit of added convenience. It wasn’t just the Estonian tax system that impressed Bush, who visited the country and announced his presidential bid.

Estonia is considered one of the most “wired” countries in the world and people there use the Internet to interact with teachers, access their health care records, and even vote. “All of these things are an example of moonshot kind of thinking, going way beyond where you are,” Bush said. “That’s what I’ve learned from these trips and that’s what I think the United States needs a lot more of.”

An easier tax system and a better Internet infrastructure aren’t the kinds of promises that usually make or break presidential candidates but they could be welcome changes.




The Wall Street Journal on the elimination of trans fats.

July 5

The Food and Drug Administration recently moved to eliminate trans fats from the American diet, and food activists and the public-health lobby are claiming a historic victory. Yet this is a rare case of the Obama Administration regulating from behind. Markets had as much to do with the fall of trans fats as government did with their rise.

The FDA’s first restrictions on the use of partially hydrogenated oils as a major source of trans fats in processed foods - think Crisco shortening - give food makers three years to phase out the substance. Evidence began to accumulate in the early 2000s that trans fats were connected to bad cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases. Shoppers and diners concerned about health risks soon started to revolt against the fried and baked goods and the fast-food fare where they were prevalent.

Lo and behold, the food industry responded by changing their recipes and eliminating the oils from some 86% of their products. Trans fat consumption plunged by 78 percent over a decade, according to the FDA’s estimates, and is now well below the two grams per day that the American Heart Association says is the safe upper limit. The rare survivors of this purge are niche foods like microwave popcorn, frozen pizza and chocolate sprinkles, where trans fats are useful for improving taste and texture.

This triumph of market efficiency will only shock the activists who claim the big food corporations are dinner-party crashers that undermine U.S. nutrition. The truth is that this ultra-competitive and low-margin industry tends to reflect what people want. Note that - amid the fad for “unmodified” ingredients - General Mills is even dropping artificial colors and flavors from day-glo cereals like Trix and Lucky Charms, which no one would ever mistake for a farm-to-table meal.

If companies that disregard consumer preferences are unlikely to prosper, the irony is that government helped to introduce trans fats into the U.S. food supply. The mania over saturated fats in the 1980s was stoked by a series of studies out of the FDA and the National Academy of Sciences that linked those lipids to heart disease. Pressure groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest then targeted food manufacturers for “poisoning Americans” and promoted partially hydrogenated oils as healthier alternatives to lard, butter and coconut oil.

The “low fat” products that resulted often contained more salt and sugar - and trans fats - and thus were probably worse for eaters. The lesson, as always, is to beware government dietary advice other than moderation.

The FDA’s trans fat reversal removes a “generally recognized as safe” label, and the main beneficiary will be the trial bar that is trying to convert Big Food into Big Tobacco. “There is a real risk here that the ruling will open up the industry to class action and tort lawsuits,” says Jennifer Quinn-Barabanov, a commercial litigation expert at Steptoe & Johnson. Most manufacturers used partially hydrogenated oils at one time or another, and the FDA is removing a legal defense that this “was reasonable based on the available scientific research,” she adds.

Markets had ensured that most Americans must go out of their way to eat trans fats. Lawyers will be dining out on them for years to come.




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