- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Daily News on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policy regarding deletion of emails.

March 2.

As state attorney general, Andrew Cuomo saw for himself how helpful emails could be in exposing truth and bringing wrongdoers to justice.

Incriminating emails written by stock analysts made Eliot Spitzer’s reputation as the sheriff of Wall Street.

Scheming emails revealed the role of Gov. Christie’s aides in jamming traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

Now, as governor, Cuomo wants to be rid of emails across the whole of state government with super speed. His aides say it’s just a matter of efficiency.

Of what kind, we ask.

The governor’s policy of having state agencies delete emails after just 90 days is a violation of the people’s right to know how officials handle government business - and a recipe for cover-ups.

Cuomo must reverse the policy immediately. The government must preserve emails just as if they were old-fashioned letters on paper or printed memos. Those are not rapidly shredded. Emails should not be rapidly deleted.

The fact that the governor’s executive chamber began 90-day email purges in 2007 - before Cuomo took office - is no excuse. He made the call to extend the 90-day rule to all executive agencies, a decision made public in 2013 and now being fully implemented.

Still more, emails are cheaper to store than paper records. The state’s email system allots 50 gigabytes of storage for each user - enough to hold 30 years’ worth of messages, according to the watchdog group Reinvent Albany.

While the governor’s aides insist the 90-day rule is commonplace in the private sector, it’s way out of line in the public sector.

The federal government generally holds onto routine emails for as long as seven years. When the CIA recently proposed erasing emails of ex-employees after three years, the agency took heat for being too hasty.

The policy of the New York State Archives calls for retaining correspondence related to policy developments - a category that would cover a big chunk of state emails - for at least two years.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to wonder why Cuomo - knowing full well the power of email for holding government accountable - would move so aggressively to wipe it out.

What’s the hurry, governor?




The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for improving state parks.

March 4

It would be nice if New York was swimming in money so that it could afford to invest in extras.

But legislating is about setting priorities. And unfortunately, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money on sprucing up state parks should not be one of the state’s budget priorities right now.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week released details of his 5-year, $900 million investment in the state’s vast park system that includes infrastructure upgrades, new construction, expansion of trails and parking areas, and other improvements.

He cites the popularity of the state’s parks and the growing annual attendance, as well as their potential to bring in revenue by attracting tourists.

All true. Parks are great. But have they really deteriorated to the point where major capital investment can be justified in the wake of the state’s other needs?

What needs, you ask?

The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers, gave the state’s roads and bridges a grade of D+, saying New York needs $3.6 trillion in upgrades by the year 2020. Not billion. Trillion.

Nearly 12 percent of the state’s 17,422 bridges are considered structurally deficient and 27 percent of them are considered functionally obsolete. About 23 percent of the state’s 16,311 miles of major roads are in poor condition, costing New York motorists $5.7 billion per year in extra vehicle repairs and other expenses - or more than $500 per driver. New York’s school buildings need $2.1 billion in infrastructure funding, according to the report.

The report also recommends $22 billion in wastewater infrastructure upgrades over the next 20 years.

And we haven’t even discussed the state’s deficient dams and levees, hazardous waste sites in need of cleanup, or the aging seaports, rail system and airports. You can’t get to parks if the roads and bridges are falling apart and your car is in the shop.

Have you seen all those school buses parked in front of the state capitol this week? They’ve been full of educators. They’re not protesting the condition of parks; they’re upset about underfunded schools. How high on the list of priorities should schools be? Ask the Schenectady school superintendent, for starters.

But infrastructure and education are just two key priorities.

The other day, the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina-based conservative think-tank, ranked New York dead last in the country in terms of freedom. Half the state’s score was based on tax burden and government spending, including welfare payments, food stamps, housing assistance and other grants and subsidies. Dead last.

Under the governor’s plan for parks, Spa State Park will get $7 million to add a new classroom, improve picnic areas and pavilions, and to expand and improve trails. The John Boyd Thatcher Park in Albany County is getting a new visitors center.

Nice? Yes. Necessary? You judge.

There’s no doubt that parks contribute to the quality of life here in New York and do serve as a tourist attraction.

But the taxpayers are not a bottomless pit of money, and the state should do what it can to maintain existing facilities as best as it can with current funding. It also should leverage private donations and grants into upkeep where possible.

A nearly $1 billion taxpayer investment into parks at a time when this state has so many other more pressing needs is a luxury we just can’t afford.




The New York Times on the Israeli prime minister’s speech in Congress.

March 3

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel could not have hoped for a more rapturous welcome in Congress. With Republicans and most Democrats as his props, he entered the House of Representatives to thunderous applause on Tuesday, waving his hand like a conquering hero and being mobbed by fawning lawmakers as he made his way to the lectern.

Even Washington doesn’t often see this level of exploitative political theater; it was made worse because it was so obviously intended to challenge President Obama’s foreign policy.

Mr. Netanyahu’s speech offered nothing of substance that was new, making it clear that this performance was all about proving his toughness on security issues ahead of the parliamentary election he faces on March 17. He offered no new insight on Iran and no new reasons to reject the agreement being negotiated with Iran by the United States and five other major powers to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.

His demand that Mr. Obama push for a better deal is hollow. He clearly doesn’t want negotiations and failed to suggest any reasonable alternative approach that could halt Iran’s nuclear efforts.

Moreover, he appeared to impose new conditions, insisting that international sanctions not be lifted as long as Iran continues its aggressive behavior, including hostility toward Israel and support for Hezbollah, which has called for Israel’s destruction.

Mr. Netanyahu has two main objections. One is that an agreement would not force Iran to dismantle its nuclear facilities and would leave it with the ability to enrich uranium and, in time, to produce enough nuclear fuel for a bomb. Two, that a deal to severely restrict Iran’s ability to produce nuclear fuel for a decade or more is not long enough. He also dismisses the potential effectiveness of international inspections to deter Iran from cheating.

While an agreement would not abolish the nuclear program, which Iran says it needs for power generation and medical purposes, neither would walking away. Even repeated bombing of Iran’s nuclear plants would not eliminate its capability because Iran and its scientists have acquired the nuclear know-how over the past six decades to rebuild the program in a couple of years.

The one approach that might constrain Iran is tough negotiations, which the United States and its partners Britain, France, China, Germany and Russia have rightly committed to. If an agreement comes together, it would establish verifiable limits on the nuclear program that do not now exist and ensure that Iran could not quickly produce enough weapons-usable material for a bomb. The major benefit for Iran is that it would gradually be freed of many of the onerous international sanctions that have helped cripple its economy.

While no Iranian facilities are expected to be dismantled, critical installations are expected to be reconfigured so they are less of a threat and the centrifuge machines used to enrich uranium would be reduced. Iran would be barred from enriching uranium above 5 percent, the level needed for power generation and medical uses but not sufficient for producing weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Absent a negotiated agreement, Iran will continue with its program without constraints.

Mr. Netanyahu also denounced Iran’s Islamic regime and the danger it poses to Israel and to regional stability through its support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Shiite militias in Baghdad, rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran’s behavior is often threatening and reprehensible, and that is precisely why Mr. Obama has invested so much energy in trying to find a negotiated solution. But a major reason for Iran’s growing regional role is the American-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq, which Mr. Netanyahu supported, although he was not prime minister at the time. Even after a nuclear agreement is signed, some sanctions connected to Iran’s missile and nuclear programs will remain in place.

Despite his commitment to negotiations, President Obama has repeatedly said he would never let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon and if an agreement is not honored, he would take action to back up his warning. Mr. Netanyahu obviously doesn’t trust him, which may be the most dangerous truth of this entire impasse.

The response in Congress suggested considerable opposition to a nuclear deal. But a new poll by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development shows that a clear majority of Americans - including 61 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of Democrats - favor an agreement.

Congress must not forget that its responsibility is to make choices that advance American security interests, and that would include a strict and achievable agreement with Iran. If it sabotages the deal as Mr. Netanyahu has demanded, it would bear the blame.




The Times Union of Albany on the U.S. Supreme Court case involving the Affordable Care Act.

March 3

The Supreme Court this week will begin considering whether some obviously sloppy wording in the Affordable Care Act is cause to overrule the equally obvious will of the Congress that passed it.

The importance of King vs. Burwell cannot be understated. If the court uses a technicality to effectively destroy a law that has done so much, it would mark a breathtaking act of judicial activism. It would also mean the end of affordable health care for millions who now have coverage only with the help of government subsidies.

And it could well mean the end of Obamacare - with its opponents offering no clear plan to replace it.

At the heart of the case is a contention that the tax credits that help people pay for health insurance are not supposed to be available to everyone. Rather, plaintiffs argue - based on seven words in the 961-page law - those tax credits are available only to those who obtain coverage “through an exchange established by the state.”

When one looks at the entire act, it’s clear that’s an unintended contradiction. The law was designed, as its first section states, to provide “Quality, Affordable Health Care for All Americans.” The credits were a key to that.

If a majority of the mostly conservative court agrees with the plaintiffs, it would be disastrous for Americans, starting with 7 million people in 37 states who obtain their coverage through the federal exchange, rather than through exchanges set up by states.

That, however, is just the beginning. The ACA has broadened Americans’ access to health care, keeping people on their parents’ policies till the age of 26, and barring insurers from dropping people because of pre-existing conditions. There are also signs - albeit still inconclusive ones - that the act is helping to “bend the curve” in slowing the growth of health care costs. Everyone benefits from that.

Opponents of the ACA criticize Congress for trying to overhaul one-sixth of the U.S. economy in one complex bill - the implication being that such a thing could not be done overnight. In fact, it wasn’t done overnight. The law has been phasing in for five years. It’s Obamacare’s opponents who hope to undo it overnight.

Leaving America with what?

In talking with congressional candidates in this region in recent years, we heard much opposition to Obamacare from Republicans, but no coherent plan to replace it. Nor have we heard a credible plan from the GOP congressional leaders. In fact, most politicians say they would keep many aspects of the law - like keeping young people on their parents’ policies - but not the underpinnings that make such benefits affordable.

In passing the ACA in 2010, Congress sought to balance affordability and fiscal responsibility. Surely the originalists on the high court, who fancy themselves able to read the minds of the Constitution’s framers from a distance of more than 220 years, can see a mere five years into the past. If, that is, they want to.




The Watertown Daily Times on the president’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline bill.

March 3

The image of freight trains engulfed in flames following accidents has prompted federal officials to explore the option of mandating stricter safety requirements for railcars transporting oil.

Tougher rules may benefit communities affected by train derailments down the road. But the prospect of trains leaking crude oil while being consumed by fire should have inspired President Barack Obama to reconsider his recent veto of a bill passed earlier this year by Congress to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to go forward.

Mr. Obama said he rejected the bill because federal agencies need more time to study the issue. The problem with his argument is that he’s been dragging his feet on this this for more than five years while it’s been under government review. Just how much time does the president believe needs to pass before he has sufficient information to make an informed decision on this proposal?

Concerns expressed by environmentalists over the Keystone XL pipeline are valid. Oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada, is one of the dirtiest types there is and requires a more complicated refinement process. And we as a society must start moving away from our reliance on fossil fuels as they significantly contribute to climate change.

But the Transportation Department sent a draft of proposed rules last month to representatives of the Obama administration to tighten safety rules for trains transporting oil. It’s clear, then, that government officials realize that oil will be transported throughout the United States one way or another. If Mr. Obama is considering advancing this proposal for stricter regulations, he also must admit that killing the Keystone XL pipeline won’t stop the transportation of crude oil one iota.

The only question left, therefore, is how to do this in the safest manner. There is substantial evidence to show that pipelines are a much safer way to move oil from one point to the next.

It’s not that pipelines don’t come with their own risks. But statistics show they don’t have nearly the risks that trains or ships have.

With the frightful potential of another environmental catastrophe, Mr. Obama’s position falls apart at its origin. He’s looking for a way to make the transportation of oil safer, yet he vetoed a project that moves oil in the safest known manner. What’s wrong with this picture?




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