- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 18, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Times Union of Albany on misconduct by police and public records

March 18

There’s an unfortunate new narrative out there, promoted most prominently by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, blaming our nation’s racial divide and the recent shootings of police officers on public officials who have criticized bad behavior by some police.

Mr. Giuliani, whose recent incendiary comments questioning President Barack Obama’s love of country belie his onetime stellar image as “America’s mayor,” describes an “atmosphere of unbalance” in Ferguson, Mo., since the August shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer. He attributes people’s distrust of police, evidenced by protests in Ferguson and elsewhere, to comments from members of the Obama administration and to the scathing report released last week by the U.S. Justice Department on the Ferguson Police Department.

By this convoluted logic, holding some police accountable for their bad actions fuels public distrust of all police, even the great majority who do their jobs faithfully and well. The president’s job isn’t to talk about problems, Mr. Giuliani reasons, but “to explain to the American people - and the world - that our police are the best in the world.”

And from that, it follows that it’s better to just keep details about the discipline of police officers secret. Which is exactly the law in New York.

Section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law exempts any personnel and misconduct records of police officers from public disclosure. Since its adoption in 1976, the statute has been extended to cover correction officers and professional firefighters. Only in rare cases, such as a federal civil rights suit, does the public learn details of police corruption and misconduct. Otherwise, taxpayers are often kept in the dark about misconduct their tax dollars support.

That’s why myriad advocates for open government, civil rights groups and various news media organizations want Section 50-a repealed. The need for a more open process to handle allegations of misbehavior by law enforcement officers was underscored in a report Sunday by the Times Union’s Dartunorro Clark. It provided stunning examples of how police in the Capital Region and elsewhere across the state were secretly investigated and disciplined for unacceptable and often illegal behavior, yet details were shielded from the public.

The report comes during national Sunshine Week, an annual observance in which those who support the strengthening of freedom of information laws raise public awareness and urge lawmakers to take action to make government more transparent.

Repealing, or at least substantially amending, Section 50-a would be a victory for the public and for efforts to build trust in police. It is not through the blind exceptionalism Mr. Giuliani espouses, but through transparency and accountability, that people will be assured that their rights will be upheld. That, not ignorance, is what will foster honest law enforcement, and respect for it.




The Post-Standard of Syracuse on the state’s education system

March 13

New York still spends nearly $20,000 per pupil, the highest in the nation, with little to show for it. Only one-third of the students in grades 3-8 are proficient in language arts and math. Too many schools are failing, with Syracuse being prominent among them. It’s clear the education system has to change before we lose another generation of kids.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tied reform to state aid. Pass his reforms and aid to schools goes up $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent. Maintain the status quo, and aid goes up $377 million or 1.7 percent, less than the rate of inflation. Neither the Assembly’s proposal to increase aid to $1.8 billion nor the Senate’s $1.9 billion increase are tied to education reform. They throw more money at a broken system. We support Cuomo’s reforms. What do we have to lose?

Some of the governor’s ideas are no-brainers: better training for new teachers, giving them a ramp to launching more successful careers; a longer probationary period before granting tenure; and the ability to fire ineffective teachers.

Cuomo also wants to change the teacher evaluation system (yet again) and turn failing schools over to a state receiver or a private company. Although this is a harder sell to the powerful teacher unions, we support these reforms, too.

Fewer than 40 percent of New York’s high school graduates are college or career ready.

The facts speak for themselves. Fewer than 40 percent of New York’s high school graduates are college or career ready and 25 percent don’t graduate from high school. Yet more than 95 percent of their teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective” under the current evaluation system. That doesn’t jive.

The governor wants the outcome of state test scores to play a bigger role in teacher evaluations. Teachers are all about evaluating their students. They use test scores and other means to grade students. So why are teachers so resistant to having their own performance evaluated based on data and metrics?

Here’s the challenge to teachers who complain that the governor is being unfair: Come up with a better, unbiased evaluation system.

Cuomo wants someone else - the state or a charter school company - to take over failing schools. And why not? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That defines failing schools. No more excuses.

As the governor seeks reform, however, he must also tackle school funding inequity. In 2006, the state’s highest court ruled that the state Education Department was not adequately funding schools, thus violating students’ constitutional rights to a sound, basic education. The state stopped the aid during the Great Recession. Syracuse makes the case that the state owes its $87 million under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling. With the economy back on its feet, it’s time New York made good on that promise.




The New York Times on the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

March 18

Israel’s election has done a lot to reveal the challenges facing the country and the intentions of the men who seek to lead it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outright rejection of a Palestinian state and his racist rant against Israeli Arab voters on Tuesday showed that he has forfeited any claim to representing all Israelis.

Mr. Netanyahu, with two years to go in his current term, called the election in December for reasons that are still unclear. He expected to win an easy victory and then ended up fighting for his political life in a bitter battle with Isaac Herzog, the leader of the new center-left Zionist Union alliance and son of a former Israeli president. With 99.5 percent of the ballots counted, the YNet news site reported Wednesday morning that Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had possibly won 30 seats in the Knesset and Mr. Herzog’s Zionist Union had got 24 seats.

While Mr. Netanyahu ended up with more seats, it is Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, who will decide which leader gets to cobble together the next coalition government, the norm in a multiparty state where no one party has ever won an outright majority in the 120-member Knesset. The process could take six weeks, and religious parties are likely to hold the key to victory, an asset for Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Netanyahu showed that he was desperate, and craven, enough to pull out all the stops. On Monday, he promised that if his Likud faction remained in power, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state, thus repudiating a position he had taken in 2009.

His behavior in the past six years - aggressively building Israeli homes on land that likely would be within the bounds of a Palestinian state and never engaging seriously in negotiations - has long convinced many people that he has no interest in a peace agreement. But his statement this week laid bare his duplicity, confirmed Palestinian suspicions and will make it even harder for him to repair his poisoned relations with President Obama, who has invested heavily in pushing a two-state solution.

Mr. Netanyahu added to the ugliness of the campaign when, during Tuesday’s voting, he said in a video on social media: “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.” This outrageous appeal to hard-line voters implied that only he could save Israel from its enemies, including the country’s Arab citizens, who represent 20 percent of the population and have long been discriminated against. There were signs that Arab Israelis were turning out in somewhat higher numbers, apparently to vote for the Joint Arab List, a coalition of four small parties.

Mr. Netanyahu’s demagogy further incites the rage that has torn the country apart. There were other inflammatory moments in recent days. Mr. Netanyahu claimed that nefarious foreign sources were trying to overthrow him and also promised to build more settlements, which most of the world considers to be illegal. Earlier this month, he made a subversive speech before Congress to castigate the Obama administration for seeking a nuclear deal with Iran, but that seems to have done little to enhance his support in Israel.

In his desperation, Mr. Netanyahu resorted to fear-mongering and anti-Arab attacks while failing to address the issues that Israelis said they were most worried about, namely the high cost of housing and everyday living in Israel. Although the economy has grown, the country has experienced widening income disparities and is now one of the most unequal societies in the advanced world.

Mr. Herzog made such domestic concerns a centerpiece of his campaign. While peace talks with the Palestinians were not a major focus of the Zionist Union campaign, or the election generally, he made clear that if elected he would try to restart negotiations.

Late Tuesday, Mr. Rivlin said he would work for a national unity government with Likud and the Zionist Union. It is difficult to see how Mr. Netanyahu could find enough common ground with any moderate faction to govern constructively.




The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on college campus sexual assault

March 13

Sexual assault happens on every college campus, and it is notoriously under-reported.

Those facts are irrefutable. Yet the situation has been allowed to persist for many years.

Now, a New York senator and governor are pushing similar initiatives to address the issue, with the state education system also taking steps.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has already led the charge in pressing for changes in the military related to sexual assault, has turned her attention to college campuses.

“Right now, some colleges and universities are more inclined to expel a student for cheating on an exam than for committing sexual assault,” Gillibrand said in statement.

A strengthened version of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act is earning bipartisan support, and Gillibrand called it “a new path forward to protect students by flipping the incentives and holding schools accountable.”

The proposed federal legislation would:

- Establish campus resources and support services for student survivors.

- Ensure that college staff meet minimum training standards to address sexual assault.

- Increase transparency so students, parents and the public have an accurate picture of the problem and how it is being addressed.

- Require a uniform student disciplinary process.

- Establishing tougher, more enforceable penalties.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is promoting an “Enough is Enough” strategy that has earned support from police, education and municipal officials.

His proposal would establish:

- A statewide definition of affirmative consent as a clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement between the participants of sexual activity.

- A statewide amnesty policy to ensure that students reporting sexual assault have immunity from certain campus policy violations, such as drug and alcohol use.

- A Sexual Violence Victim/Survivor Bill of Rights, which campuses would be required to distribute to all students so everyone knows their legal rights - including being able to report crimes to outside agencies like State Police - and how to access resources.

- Comprehensive training for administrators, staff, and students.

Both Gillibrand and Cuomo are addressing the big needs: uniform policies across all college campuses, better protocols for reporting sexual assaults, increased knowledge about rights and defined training requirements.

The State University of New York system has also taken steps to adopt a uniform sexual-assault policy.

We fully support that three-pronged approach - new federal, state and campus requirements - as the only way that real headway can be made against this type of violence, which has already shattered too many young lives.

Clearly defining what constitutes sexual assault and the resulting penalties could curb the number of attacks.

And it will certainly give victims more confidence that when they reach out for help, that is what they will get.




The New York Daily News on Starbucks promoting discussions about race relations.

March 17

Radiating grandiosity and condescension, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is asking the company’s 200,000 employees to write “Race Together” on every coffee cup they serve, and to use those cups to open a conversation about race with customers.

Who in need of a caffeine fix hasn’t hoped to engage in a spirited conversation about race with the person bringing her that coffee?

And what barista isn’t eager to share his surely well-considered feelings on the topic with the people he serves - you know, the ones who don’t respond when asked, “How are you today?”

Surely, other workers and customers in line won’t object if a spirited talk does ensue.

Schultz has described a dream that a CEO can make his employees engage in talk that will help heal America:

“I think we’re so much better as a people than are showing up in so many cities across America. So what if we were to write ‘Race Together’ on every Starbucks cup and that facilitated a conversation between you and our customers? And what if our customers as a result of that had a renewed level of understanding and sensitivity about the issue, and they themselves would spread that to their own sphere of influence?”

Well, Howard, what if you just got us coffee, we paid you money and left things there?

Then again, the Internet has exploded with hilarious suggestions for #NewStarbucksDrinks. A small sampling: Some of My Best Friends Are Black Coffee, Flat White Supremacy, By Any Beans Necessary. Malcolm Xpresso, Chocolate Lattes Matter and Tea Shall Overcome.

All you can do is laugh.




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