- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

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

The Albany Times Union on ending ‘dark money’ in New York politics.

May 13

In New York, new Senate leadership should lead the way to close a corrupting loophole. Dark money is a term campaign finance reformers use to describe the unlimited sums of cash given anonymously to support political candidates or to promote specific public policy agendas.

On a national level, the secret funding can come from corporations, labor unions or wealthy individuals, delivered through an array of nonprofit political action committees. By law, super PACs, like the well-known Crossroads GPS founded by GOP operative Karl Rove, are barred from coordinating with a specific candidate’s campaign. Yet that and similar restrictions governing federal elections seem unlikely to be enforced in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Federal Election Commission’s chairwoman recently told The New York Times she has little hope that the FEC would support such enforcement in the race, in which a record $10 billion is expected to be spent. The problem is that the six-member commission, as set up by Congress, is divided along political lines. Either side can effectively thwart any enforcement action - a paralysis that critics say was intended by those who wrote the law.

Dark money similarly comes into play in New York. A 1996 advisory opinion by the state Board of Elections opened the floodgates for unfettered campaign contributions by recognizing limited liability corporations as individuals when it comes to campaign contribution limits. Since then, using what’s come to be known as the LLC loophole, individuals have skirted contribution limits by merely forming multiple LLCs, each one able to donate like a different person.

Thus, big political donors wield vast influence, because their money can determine who gets elected. The Times Union’s Chris Bragg reported Sunday that these big donors also often skirt disclosure laws through the use of out-of-state corporations.

And, as with its federal counterpart, the state Board of Elections is divided along party lines, suggesting that lawmakers really don’t want to change a system that has served their campaigns well. Last month, when a vote came up to close the LLC loophole, the board’s four members were evenly split. The status quo prevailed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has benefited more than any other politician from LLC contributions, claims he favors ending the loophole. Yet he did not push such reform vigorously in his 2015 budget proposal. While the Assembly approved LLC reform on Tuesday in a bipartisan 120-8 vote, the Republican-controlled Senate has historically refused to go along.

Now, with the Senate leadership change stemming from the arrest of Sen. Dean Skelos on corruption charges, the new majority leader, Sen. John Flanagan, could end this stonewall. He could demonstrate a commitment to reform by allowing a bill closing the LLC loophole, proposed by Sen. Daniel Squadron, to emerge from committee. And the full Senate should get to vote for fair elections, instead of those in which a few wealthy donors can slip millions of dollars through a loophole, and determine the outcome.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1ECfYST

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on changing the implementation date for new teacher evaluations.

May 10

Nearly all businesses and organizations go through some variation of the annual employee performance review, and tie the results to things like paychecks. For the record, however, there is no consensus in the management world about the best way to conduct this yearly exercise. There is continual dialogue over the most useful evaluation tools and measurements, as well as the ability of individual supervisors to effectively use them. Everyone grumbles, at least a little.

So, as the state Department of Education gets ready to introduce its draft version of a high quality evaluation system for teachers - in a politically fueled, emotionally charged environment - there is little doubt the plan will not be well received by all. And that’s probably putting it mildly.

So the question is, what should happen next? The answer is simple. Before ending its session in June, the state Legislature should do what is best for students and their families: Change the implementation date for new teacher evaluations from September 2015 to September 2016.

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said, we should have had a good system in place long ago. After years of discussion, we should not have reached a point where the Board of Regents, school districts, educator unions and teachers have so little time to react to or prepare for a new system. It’s disheartening that so little true progress has occurred. But here we are, and every one mentioned in the sentences above shoulders a portion of the blame. Kids do not.

What students deserve is a calm and constructive process whereby the adults in charge follow many of the same rules they do. They aren’t allowed to use name-calling or nasty rhetoric when they don’t like something a classmate does. They are expected to do their homework, be open to unfamiliar or contradictory ideas, and present well-researched opinions. They have to listen to one another speak, and are very respectful of all others. Regardless of socioeconomic status, their family’s political beliefs, or what their personal interests are - they have to play nice together and learn to compromise.

Some districts around the country, and the state of Massachusetts, have already developed and are using stronger teacher evaluation plans. These could serve, at least in part, as models for New York.

When changing the implementation date, state lawmakers should incorporate milestones to ensure progress toward the September 2016 deadline. This process should not drag on any longer without all parties working in unison, rather than silos, for a thoughtful solution. The practical implications of a new system, like training and staffing, need to be built into the schedule.

To all adults involved - show our kids what you’re capable of when you do your very best.

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Online:

https://on.rocne.ws/1REjIfB

The Wall Street Journal on how Harry Reid and Rob Portman are helping the decline of U.S. trade.

May 11

The Senate may vote as early as Tuesday in an attempt to overcome a Harry Reid filibuster of a trade-promotion bill, but Mr. Reid isn’t the only threat to President Obama’s top economic priority. Ohio Republican Rob Portman is still insisting on a currency amendment that could poison the entire bill.

The trade-promotion or “fast-track” bill is crucial to pave the way for concluding a pending trade agreement among 12 Pacific nations. Every President since the 1930s has had this power, which requires that Congress vote up-or-down on a trade deal after a suitable period for public and legislative review.

We told you last month about Mr. Portman’s killer amendment, which he tried and failed to attach to the trade bill in the Senate Finance Committee. Instead he and Chuck Schumer of New York attached it to a related but separate “customs” bill. But now Mr. Reid is insisting that the customs bill be merged with the trade bill, and Mr. Portman is also insisting that the currency provision be attached to the main trade legislation.

We’ve focused on Mr. Portman because he is a well-respected Senator who was a former U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush. He carries more than average weight on trade. But it’s important for Senators in both parties to understand that in this case Mr. Portman is abandoning his policy chops in favor of re-election politics.

Specifically, Mr. Portman is fronting for the auto companies and labor unions in Ohio. Ford Motor has long wanted to use charges of currency manipulation by foreign governments to trigger tariffs on foreign cars, and now a bailed-out GM has signed on. Mr. Portman has been lagging in the polls against Democratic protectionist Ted Strickland, and so the Republican who knows better is trying to neutralize opposition going into 2016.

The problem is that Mr. Portman’s amendment could take down both the trade-promotion bill and the Pacific pact. The House isn’t likely to pass it, which would make reconciling a House-Senate trade bill that much more difficult. The White House opposes the currency amendment on sensible grounds that U.S. trading partners aren’t likely to tolerate a provision that would let the U.S. punish them for currency movements that are often beyond their control.

Sharp exchange-rate moves are all too common these days, but they are mainly a function of monetary policy and capital flows. Japan_the particular target of Ford and Mr. Portman_has devalued the yen in the last two or so years. But this devaluation comes after years in which the yen was arguably overvalued against the U.S. dollar.

If the U.S. adopts currency movements as a trigger for trade punishment, other countries will do the same. Would the U.S. want Japan to slap tariffs on U.S. goods when the dollar weakens the next time the Federal Reserve eases monetary policy? Shinzo Abe, the risk-taking Prime Minister who is already taking heat for opening Japan to more farm goods and other competition, might decide to walk away from the Pacific deal if the Portman provision passes.

Mr. Portman claims his amendment uses measures of currency manipulation similar to those used by the International Monetary Fund, which the U.S. already endorses. But that’s not how we read his handiwork. The IMF uses a four-part test to judge manipulation: long and enduring current account deficits or surpluses; a large one-way currency intervention; accumulation of excessive foreign-exchange assets; and an IMF judgment about policy intent.

Mr. Portman’s amendment doesn’t mention current-account deficits or foreign-exchange assets, and the U.S. government alone would judge manipulative intent. The entire thrust of his effort is to reduce the threshold for using the currency excuse to impose tariffs or withdraw trade benefits.

As for re-election, Mr. Portman is dreaming if he thinks the United Auto Workers will embrace him in 2016. He can’t outbid Mr. Strickland as a protectionist. He has a better chance of winning if he sticks to his pro-growth principles and defends them on the merits the way he did in 2010.

The Senate trade vote is a test of whether the center of both parties can hold against protectionists on the right and left. Democrats must decide if they want to embrace Mr. Reid’s desire to make the Republican Senate look as dysfunctional as it was when he ran it. And if Mr. Portman persists in his brand of political currency manipulation, then his fellow Republicans should oppose him.

If the U.S. fails to adopt trade-promotion authority, or does it with damaging amendments, the world will note another milestone in American economic decline. In the Pacific especially, China will pick up the pieces to further its goal of regional and global strategic dominance, not prosperity-enhancing free trade for everyone.

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Online:

https://on.wsj.com/1QJbsJE

The New York Post on how motherhood is not a social construct.

May 12

In 1996, a physicist named Alan Sokal published an essay in a trendy academic journal called Social Text. Sokal argued that gravity “is a social construct” - meaning it is something invented by society rather than an immutable law of nature.

Sokal didn’t mean it. In fact, he wrote and submitted the article to Social Text as a test to see whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies” would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”

Social Text failed the Sokal test. It did publish the article.

Sokal’s hoax was a warning that academia’s embrace of post-modernism was leading it down the rabbit hole into the nonsense world of an Orwellian Wonderland in which, as in the case of gravity, down was up and up was down.

Well, it’s 19 years later, and Social Text has had the last laugh. We’re living in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter and the March Hare have won; the rest of us have lost.

Sokal came to mind on Sunday when the Boston Globe published an article by the president of one of America’s august schools of higher learning, Smith College.

The title of Kathleen McCartney’s op-ed: “Time to rethink our social construct of motherhood.”

In the body of the article, McCartney argues: “Motherhood is a cultural invention. It reflects a belief adopted by society that is passed down from one generation to the next.”

Unlike Sokal, McCartney’s not kidding. It should be unnecessary to point this out, but evidently it’s not, so here goes: Motherhood, literally understood, is the root of humankind_the wellspring of human existence.

By definition, it pre-exists society because there could be no society without people, and people could not exist without motherhood.

In this way, motherhood really is different from fatherhood, because while people could not exist without the seed of the father, children until very recently could not have survived infancy without a mother.

Unlike most other living creatures on earth, children are helpless for the first few years of their lives. The bodies of their mothers produced their nourishment and kept them from starving. And the care of their mothers was necessary to their flourishing.

Motherhood is the opposite of a social construct. Like gravity, its existence makes possible our existence. One might say, in fact, that everything besides motherhood that involves the raising of children is a “social construct.”

The job of “wet nurse,” the person who suckled a baby rather than the baby’s mother, is one of the oldest social constructs. The creation of a powder that substitutes for mother’s milk is a social construct. Schools are social constructs. Any and all forms of child care that do not involve the mother are social constructs.

McCartney is making an argument against the essentialism of motherhood because she wants universal child care and doesn’t want mothers to feel guilty about it.

She knows whereof she speaks, she writes, because she has done research which “demonstrated definitively that infant care did not disrupt the mother-child bond and that children thrived in quality child care.”

She is disappointed Americans have not fallen in line: “Earlier in my career, I believed solid research findings, like my own, would lead to policy change. I was wrong. Culture trumps data every time. Our romanticized views about motherhood continue to sow division and guilt.”

Telling mothers they do not have an essential bond with their children - that such a bond is being imposed on them by society rather than by the deepest mysteries of human existence - is itself a “romanticized view.”

Not of motherhood, but of the power of self-righteous academics to convince ordinary people of intellectualized nonsense backed by dubious, politicized social science.

The danger of over-intellectualization of this sort is an old one. In the 18th century, theologian George Berkeley famously argued matter itself does not exist - that physical objects only have physical substance because we imagine they do.

The biographer James Boswell told his subject, Samuel Johnson, there was no way to refute Berkeley’s claim: “I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it - ‘I refute it thus.’”

Perhaps those who are thinking of sending their children to Smith College might refute Kathleen McCartney thus - by sending them elsewhere. Anywhere else.

Alas, the problem is that this sort of thinking is a dominating force on American campuses.

Time for a revolution.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1L1WfjR

The Leader-Herald on how lawmakers should be held accountable for not holding others accountable

May 12

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is very conscientious about telling Americans, both businesses and individuals, they have to clean up their air emissions, water discharges, etc. But when it comes to cleaning up its own top management, “not so much” is being charitable.

One might have thought the 2013 conviction of former EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator John C. Beale would have been viewed as a teaching moment. Beale finally was caught after defrauding taxpayers of nearly $900,000 during a decade in which he claimed lengthy absences from work were because he was working undercover for the CIA. No one checked.

But last year, agency officials named Peter Jutro to head the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security - despite the fact 16 women - yes, 16 - had complained he sexually harassed them. Only after someone outside the agency, an intern at the Smithsonian Institution, complained was Jutro terminated from that job.

Members of a congressional committee heard that and other stories about misbehavior by EPA employees last week. “It is well past time for someone to be held accountable,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Well, yes. But federal bureaucrats have heard the same threats for years - and little ever changes. Perhaps lawmakers, too, should be held accountable for not cracking down on agency leaders who tolerate misbehavior and outright crime.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1zZNndh

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