- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

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

The Post-Standard of Syracuse on DWI offenses in New York.

Aug. 26

If there’s anything harder than losing your child, it might be forgiving the man who took her away from you.

MaryJo Heitkamp-France has done that and more, opening the door to friendship with Keir Weimer to raise awareness of boating while intoxicated.

Weimer, who had been drinking, was at the controls of a boat on an Adirondack lake in the summer of 2006 when it crashed, killing 20-year-old Tiffany Heitkamp.

Now, Heitkamp-France and Weimer are teaming up to raise awareness of the dangers of boating while intoxicated. While it has become socially unacceptable to drive a car while drunk, boating and drinking often go hand in hand.

Before the boating accident, Weimer had two previous driving while intoxicating arrests in a motor vehicle. But because the law spells out different penalties for driving a car while intoxicated and driving a boat while intoxicated, he could not be charged as a repeat offender.

Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law would fix that. It would link drinking and driving offenses no matter what kind of vehicle was involved - a car, a boat or a snowmobile. The bill, sponsored by Sen. John DeFrancisco, has languished in the Assembly for eight years despite a push by Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli. Some Assembly members oppose raising the penalties for drunken boating and snowmobiling. So work out a compromise. The impasse has gone on far too long.

Weimer was sentenced to two to six years in prison and served 3½ years. He is now sober. Since his release from jail in 2011, Weimer often speaks publicly about the dangers of alcohol, especially to young people. Heitkamp-France has recently begun speaking out, as well. Together, they plan to lobby lawmakers to pass Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law.

If these two unlikely allies can work together, surely political opposites in Albany can do the same.




The Times Union of Albany on the secession movement in New York and its implications around the country.

Sept. 1

It would be easy to write off a secessionist movement in New York as just another quirky, quixotic quest by some disgruntled folks.

But government and political leaders take note: Around the state and nation are increasing signs that people of all political persuasions - right, left and center - feel left behind by a society that no longer works for them.

You can see it in the 200,000 or so New York parents who let their children opt out of standardized tests this past spring.

You can see it in the trajectory of Donald Trump’s improbable, divisive presidential candidacy, and in the enduring, if not quite as energized, Occupy movement. You can see it in dismally low voter turnout, and in the numbers of people who aren’t reflected in the unemployment statistics - the ones who have given up looking for work.

In short, a lot of people, in one way or another, are dropping out. They have lost faith in civic life, the economy, public education, and what they see as politics as usual.

Yes, some are going to extremes, as the Divide New York Caucus is doing with its misguided, misinformed proposal to create two New Yorks, one upstate, one downstate. Their purported effort, to free upstate from downstate’s domination, ignores how much upstate would suffer financially without New York City, which puts far more into the state’s economy than it takes. In calling for an end to unfunded mandates, it ignores, too, just how many essential laws are just that, from the criminal statutes that local police, governments and courts enforce to all sorts of environmental, health, construction, motor vehicle and other statutes and regulations.

And yes, some, perhaps even many, of those pushing these various agendas and protests hail from the fringes of the political spectrum. But when several hundred thousand students sit out tests with their parents’ blessing; when untold thousands, or tens or hundreds of thousands of gun owners refuse to register their weapons as state law requires; when millions of people don’t vote or turn to whatever anti-establishment candidate comes along - even one gaining endorsements from white supremacists - society has a problem. And so do those who are dropping out and encouraging their children to do the same.

It’s a problem for society because New York and America have thrived when their leaders and citizens have found a middle ground that solves problems and works for the most people possible. In the polarized void - a void that many politicians have encouraged - more and more disillusioned citizens have convinced themselves that the only solutions left are radical ones - like building a nearly 2,000-mile wall on the Mexican border, deporting some 11 million people, rewriting or suspending portions of the Constitution, forgoing school tests, breaking gun laws or giving up one’s right to vote.

Is it any surprise, then, that the next big idea to come along is to divide a great state in half?




Newsday on the migration crisis on the Mediterranean Sea and in Europe.

Aug. 31

The escalating crisis of migration unfolding on the Mediterranean Sea and now across Europe is heartbreaking and horrifying. The displacement is the greatest since World War II, and rising. So is the desperation of those seeking asylum, and the frustration of countries and communities that feel threatened or overwhelmed.

Even from these distant shores, each of us can understand what drives this exodus. It’s the same thing that drove many of our ancestors, and many of those now trying to enter and stay in our country. Above all other needs, people crave safety and security. From war. From persecution. From hunger. From repression. From poverty. From drought. Instability wracks much of our world, and so people seek to escape.

More than 2,600 have died this year crossing the Mediterranean. Dozens more have perished while being smuggled over land. More than 300,000 people have reached Europe. Italy and Greece are overwhelmed. Some countries, like Germany, France and Sweden, are trying to be accommodating. Others are not. The images are stark.

Hungary is building a fence topped with razor wire to keep migrants out. Stun grenades were fired in Macedonia. Some countries have engaged in racial profiling, others have said they will accept only Christian refugees. Xenophobic protests are increasing. And in Austria, dozens of beautiful coffins stacked like cordwood hold bodies that had been stacked similarly in a truck abandoned on the side of the road, the dead treated better than when they were alive.

The problem has been made worse by the inability, or refusal, of the European Union to respond cohesively. This crisis is a test for the unified Europe, which has no uniform protocol for screening migrants or granting asylum, nor quotas for how many migrants each country must accept.

Even those steps deal only with the symptoms of the larger issue - the lack of safety and security elsewhere in the world. And solving only the symptoms - whether in Europe, the United States or elsewhere - means ignoring to our detriment a lesson that must be learned. As the world indeed grows smaller, problems that fester elsewhere can easily and quickly become our own.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on the president’s climate change plan.

Sept. 1

President Barack Obama’s plans to reduce carbon pollution are tough, needed, and would go a long way to help protect the health of Americans and the environment for generations.

They also have virtually no chance of getting implemented as he envisions.

The president has stepped up and rather forcefully, saying “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future” than climate change.

And the specific of his plans are more stringent than the administration was suggesting just a year ago. The so-called “Clean Power Plan” would require power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels between now and 2030. The plan also calls for a faster transition to renewable energy sources during that time frame. States have until September 2017 to outline their plans for meeting the new standards.

Unquestionably, the plan will face legal challenges and much resistance from Republicans in Congress. And, even if were implemented as is, much of the tough compliance laws would go into effect long after Obama has left office. The next president would have to determine exactly how all this would get enforced.

But those practical and political realities do not, in any way, negate the need for action. A preponderance of evidence from climatologists has shown global warming exists - and that humans are contributing to the problem through carbon emissions. Melting glaciers, changing weather patterns and warmer temperatures all have been documented, and there will be a tremendous financial cost and other consequences to doing nothing.

The country must change direction on its energy sources, lessening the impact of dirty, polluting power plants and fostering alternative-fuel industries that can make quite a difference when it comes to environmental and health protection.

There are effective models out there, including in New York, which has joined other states in setting up a market-based trading plan - commonly called cap-and-trade - that allows plants to buy or sell certain emission allowances as long as overall goals are being met. These states are much further along to reaching the goals that the Obama administration is touting.

Nevertheless, many financial experts and environmentalists argue that by going much further - such as by implementing a tax on carbon-causing fossil fuels - policies can be used to wean industries away from traditional, harmful sources of energy production and to investments in renewable, cleaner power.

Obama’s push comes on the heels of many enlightened statements from Pope Francis on the subject of climate change and before a pivotal United Nations conference in December. More than 190 nations at the Paris conference will try to reach an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. At that conference, it would be refreshing to see the United States commit to being a true leader by example and push other countries to join the effort. Decades of rhetoric have gotten us nowhere.




The Wall Street Journal on college debt’s impact on the economy.

Aug. 28

For years we’ve warned readers about the burgeoning calamity known as student loans, and the latest news is that the debt bomb is hurting the economy as well as the federal fisc. New evidence from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia illustrates how subsidized student loans sap small business creation.

Student loans have ballooned tenfold since 1999 to more than $1 trillion, the authors note in a July report. Other consumer debt - mortgages, car loans, credit cards - dipped during the 2008 financial crisis, but student debt doubled from $547 billion in 2007, nearly all of it on Education Department books. The Philly Fed is the first to examine how mortgaging an education influences entrepreneurship.

Here’s the connection: Entrepreneurs borrow money to get rolling. But the average student-loan customer owes $28,000 and so some enterprising adults are loaded up with debt, even decades after graduation. Nascent business (with no employees) report capital of about $44,000, according to a recent survey; half comes from loans and lines of credit. Debt-financing, the Fed points out, is critical for expanding a business in the years following its founding.

Yet graduates have sunk too far into the red to amass more liabilities, and not even bankruptcy can liberate them. The Fed found that new firms with roughly five employees dropped 17 percent on average between 2000 and 2010 in counties where relative student debt grew by 2.7 percent. Pockets of the Midwest seem hardest hit, and much of this debt is saddled on middle-class students and families. The authors call the correlation “significant” and “economically meaningful,” which in academic publishing means “huge.”

One result is that students choose different careers, flocking to existing companies - if they manage to find a job in an economy in which more than half of parking lot attendants report some college experience. There’s no longer an incentive to plunge into the risk-taking that produces valuable and innovative companies. It’s fashionable to treat college as an Elysium promising higher earnings and eternal happiness, but the Fed research is the latest clue that many students would be better off without a degree. The 17 percent delinquency rate is another hint.

Less obvious is the damage to the economy. The report notes that small businesses create six in 10 new jobs, and make up about half of the private economy and 99 percent of businesses. This could slow as small business creation wanes, and there’s other evidence this is happening among young people. The Kauffman Foundation has reported that new entrepreneurs ages 20 to 34 fell to 23 percent of self-starters in 2013. That’s down from 35 percent in 1996.

The irony is that taxpayer-subsidized student loans have always been pitched as a way to improve the lives of students. Now it’s clear they’re hurting not only the taxpayers who underwrite them but the students they’re designed to help and an economy still hobbling along after a recession.




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