- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

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

The Auburn Citizen on needed reforms to New York’s medical marijuana program.

Aug. 31

Press releases from government agencies frequently contain a fair amount of spin, but state Department of Health’s Tuesday announcement about its medical marijuana program was an absurdly positive portrayal of a system that is badly failing to help people.

In announcing what it labeled as enhancements to the program, the health department also attempted to tout the success of how it has been implemented so far.

“New York’s Medical Marijuana Program has rapidly progressed, certifying more than 7,000 patients across the state and registering more than 675 physicians in just the first seven months,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

Three key pieces of information are left out of that statement. The more than 7,000 patients certified so far is out of an estimated 500,000 that could benefit from this program. The 675 registered physicians who can prescribe the treatment is out of about 80,000 statewide. And the seven-month time window ignores the fact that the law this program is implementing was signed in July 2014.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo was basking in the glory of signing this legislation, no one was saying that two years later, only 1.4 percent of the potential patients would be getting access to treatment that can help with a wide range of debilitating conditions.

We’re sure there’s many people in Cayuga County suffering from cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington’s disease. But as of mid-June, just 10 were officially registered for the New York program, and no physicians in the county are certified to prescribe it.

It is good that the health department has taken a few small steps to improve access. It announced Tuesday that nurse practitioners can now prescribe the treatment. This is an overdue change, but there also needs to be reforms to the law to include physician assistants in this pool of people who can be part of the health-care provider side of the program.

Another change DOH plans is to allow dispensaries to deliver the medical marijuana to patients’ houses, which is important given the lack of facilities throughout the state where they can get it now.

Unfortunately, on what we see as one of the biggest obstacles for the program - access to health-care providers who can prescribe the treatment - the health department is doing very little.

It will continue to require physicians to be officially certified via a state course in order to prescribe the treatment, a provision that’s an insult to the training and experience these professionals already have and likely an obstacle given how busy they can be. The DOH will also continue, for now, to keep the names of the practitioners who are certified a secret. The only way to know if doctors can prescribe medical marijuana is to ask them, and if they say no, hope they will share the names of doctors who can.

On the current lack of public information, the health department this week said it would merely reach out to practitioners to survey their interest in being listed publicly. That does nothing for the patient at this point.

On the whole, New York’s medical marijuana program is failing to live up to its promise, and we’re seeing far too little from Albany to believe things will change.




The Glens Falls Post-Star on ethics reforms signed into law last week that won’t curb corruption.

Aug. 31

While it is good to know that Gov. Andrew Cuomo can land the big fish in his personal life - note the 150-pound thresher shark he caught off Long Island this weekend - it is obvious the whale that is ethics reform has been far more elusive.

We are referring to the package of vanilla-milkshake reforms Gov. Cuomo signed into law last week.

But before we get to that, we want to remind readers that back in February, as the legislative session was getting underway, the governor endorsed five key reforms for state government:

Total disclosure of outside income for legislators, including who is paying the legislators, what the payments are and what connections they have to legislature/government business.

Constitutional amendment that forfeits public pensions to public officials convicted of corruption.

Requiring legislative expense money to only be used for actual or necessary costs.

Requiring campaign funds to be used only for campaigning and not for personal use.

Update campaign finance laws to include the strongest campaign finance disclosure requirements in the nation - including public financing of elections - and closing the LLC loophole through which millions of dollars are funneled into legislators’ campaign accounts.

Fast-forward to June when the Legislature passed what the Gotham Gazette - a New York City news outlet - called “a toothless, sure-to-fix-nothing ethics reform bill.”

In grand Albany tradition, it was passed in the middle of the night and with a message of necessity so that any review of the details by the public - or legislators, for that matter - was unavailable.

Gov. Cuomo’s office sent out a press release bragging of a five-point agreement meant to curb the power of dark money unleashed by the Citizens United Supreme Court case.

The final bill included:

Independent expenditure reforms

Pension forfeiture

First-time disclosure requirements for political consultants

Lobby disclosure reforms

Issue advocacy reforms.

Unfortunately, it solved nothing and condoned the ongoing culture of corruption. What was missing from this appetizer-laden legislation was the main course. There was no limit on outside income for lawmakers and no closure of the LLC loophole.

If you are wondering why that is important, you haven’t followed the political corruption trials of both Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver.

This latest legislation fails to fix any of the abuses that led to their fall, especially their ability to rake in millions in outside income without reporting what it was for.

The LLC loophole is just as problematic. Currently, corporations can only contribute $5,000 to a political candidate, but if you form a Limited Liability Company - which is done all the time - you are classified as an individual and can contribute up to $150,000. That kind of money will give you influence.

Not surprisingly, Gov. Cuomo has taken in millions for his own campaign war chest through this loophole.

But here is the real backbreaker: When the details were scrutinized further, it was discovered that the new contribution reporting details not only included political donations, but those to other nonprofits as well.

Common Cause, Citizens Union and the New York Public Research Group all contended that the new law placed “onerous” reporting requirements on nonprofits and charitable organizations instead of focusing on political corruption.

Five of the good government groups wrote the governor and asked him not to sign the bill.

But he did anyway.

Only in New York can an attempt to end corruption end in making it more difficult for nonprofits.

The ethics reform signed into law last week by the governor is not much different than the shark the governor reeled in over the weekend - it’s a lifeless trophy with no real benefit to anyone.




The New York Times on the need for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to distance herself from the Clinton Foundation.

Aug. 30

Does the new batch of previously undisclosed State Department emails prove that big-money donors to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation got special favors from Mrs. Clinton while she was secretary of state?

Not so far, but that the question arises yet again points to a need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.

Bill Clinton created the foundation in 2001 as a vehicle to fund his presidential library. He and his supporters have since raised more than $2 billion and pioneered initiatives ranging from fostering female-owned businesses in Haiti to lowering the cost of H.I.V./AIDS drugs in Africa. As the enterprise sprawled from water treatment to education to climate change, all three Clintons got involved, along with their network of longtime political advisers, former administration officials and business partners.

When Mrs. Clinton became secretary of state, the Obama administration tried to draw a line between the foundation, particularly its foreign-government sponsors, and her role. The new emails underscore that this effort was at best partly successful. “Pay-to-play” charges by Donald Trump have not been proved. But the emails and previous reporting suggest Mr. Trump has reason to say that while Mrs. Clinton was secretary, it was hard to tell where the foundation ended and the State Department began.

Mrs. Clinton became involved in State Department deals and negotiations that also involved foundation donors or board members. She prompted multiple investigations with an arrangement that allowed Huma Abedin, her deputy chief of staff at the State Department and now vice chairwoman of her campaign, to be paid simultaneously by the State Department, the foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm run by Doug Band, the former adviser to Mr. Clinton who helped create the foundation - and who sent emails to Ms. Abedin seeking favors for foundation donors.

The newly disclosed emails show that some foundation donors and friends, like Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin al-Khalifa of Bahrain, used foundation channels to seek access to Mrs. Clinton.

When Mrs. Clinton announced her candidacy, the foundation said it would stop taking contributions from foreign governments, except for contributions from Australia, Canada and a handful of European nations. Donna Shalala, the foundation president, says now that if Mrs. Clinton wins, the foundation will stop taking money from any foreign governments, corporations or citizens; American corporations and corporate foundations would also be barred. Contributions would be limited to American citizens, permanent residents and United States-based independent foundations.

Ms. Shalala and her team are examining the organization’s foreign and domestic programs to see which can be hived off and run independently, to avoid potential conflicts. They are consulting with foundation sponsors and partners to see which are equipped to manage various programs. The foundation may keep some domestic programs, such as one for early childhood education and another that addresses community health.

No decisions have been made about the fate or funding of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, a separate, affiliated nonprofit group known as CHAI that has Bill and Chelsea Clinton on its board. The initiative operates exclusively overseas, derives most of its budget from foreign sources and accounts for more than half of the foundation and its affiliates’ combined spending.

Mr. Clinton has said he will resign from the board of the foundation and the CHAI board if Mrs. Clinton wins the presidency. Simply closing the foundation, as even some Democrats recommend, could kill programs helping tens of thousands of people. While that’s unwarranted, the foundation could do much more to distance itself from the foreign and corporate money that risks tainting Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Its plans to restrict its funding sources only after the election will likely dog Mrs. Clinton.

A wiser course would be to ban contributions from foreign and corporate entities now. If Mrs. Clinton wins, Bill and Chelsea Clinton should both end their operational involvement in the foundation and its affiliates for the duration of her presidency, relinquishing any control over spending, hiring and board appointments.

Mrs. Clinton has said she intends to give Mr. Clinton a role in her administration. Cutting his foundation ties would demonstrate that he is giving any role he would have in the administration the priority it deserves. It would also send a signal that Mrs. Clinton and her family have heard the concerns of critics and supporters and will end any further possibility for the foundation to become a conduit to the White House for powerful influence seekers.

The Clinton Foundation has become a symbol of the Clintons’ laudable ambitions, but also of their tangled alliances and operational opacity. If Mrs. Clinton wins, it could prove a target for her political adversaries. Achieving true distance from the foundation is not only necessary to ensure its effectiveness, it is an ethical imperative for Mrs. Clinton.




The Wall Street Journal on the increasing federal budget deficit and expected increases in spending and debt as a share of the economy.

Aug. 26

As President Obama ends his second term, he’s leaving plenty of political parting gifts. The latest is a 35 percent single-year increase in the federal budget deficit, and a rising trajectory of spending and debt as a share of the economy. Hillary Clinton’s campaign promise of more “stimulus” spending next year suddenly looks a lot more politically problematic.

That’s the story you haven’t read from the Congressional Budget Office’s latest fiscal and economic outlook released this week. For the 2016 fiscal year that ends next month, CBO now forecasts that revenues will rise by only $26 billion while outlays will increase by some $178 billion. The federal deficit will therefore rise from $438 billion to $590 billion, the biggest deficit since 2013.

The revenue shortfall reflects the decline in corporate profits and slower economic growth; the second quarter was revised down to 1.1 percent Friday. Meanwhile, outlays will rise 5 percent thanks in large part to the automatic spending drivers of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (which has soared thanks to ObamaCare). Net interest outlays will rise 11 percent this fiscal year despite historically low interest rates as overall debt continues to increase.

As a share of the national economy, debt held by the public - the kind the Treasury must repay - will increase to 76.6 percent this fiscal year. That’s the highest share of GDP since 1950 when the debt burden was winding down after World War II. It was 52.3 percent in President Obama’s first year in office, and it usually is flat or falls during an economic expansion.

No such debt reduction is on the horizon now. Thanks to ObamaCare and his refusal to reform entitlements, Mr. Obama has set the federal fisc on an even uglier path long after he’s left for a tour of the world’s great golf courses. CBO says spending will keep rising and so will debt as a share of GDP - to 77.2 percent in 2017, 79.3 percent in 2021 and 85.5 percent in 2026. All of this assumes no change in current policy and no economic recession. The odds of the latter are close to zero.

One intriguing question is whether Mr. Obama has planned it this way. One of his abiding goals has been to reorient federal spending away from defense toward more income redistribution and social spending. He has achieved that to some extent during his eight years in office, but his spending wedge will grow even more pronounced as the years go on. Budget room for defense will shrink as the entitlement state expands. He is Europeanizing the U.S. military budget.

All of this also means that his successor will have less running room for fiscal expansion. These columns put a higher priority on promoting economic growth than on deficit reduction, and we’d support a pro-growth tax cut to restore a 3 percent growth path. But even a reserve currency nation like the U.S. has to worry when its debt to GDP ratio heads above 80 percent, especially if economic growth continues to be as slow as it has been during the Obama era.

Mrs. Clinton is promising a five-year $275 billion increase in spending for roads, bridges and airports, and her chances of getting that through a Republican House diminish as the deficit grows. The tax increases she is proposing would hurt growth and further reduce federal revenues. Donald Trump is promising to spend more on roads and defense than Mrs. Clinton while cutting taxes by multiple trillions of dollars over 10 years. The deficit would restrain his ambitions too.

Mr. Obama said he wanted to be the reverse Reagan, and in both slower economic growth and an expanding government fiscal burden he has succeeded.




The Utica Observer-Dispatch on a recent citizen naturalization ceremony and cherishing citizenship.

Aug. 28

- How many amendments does the Constitution have?

- The House of Representatives has how many voting members?

- If both the President and Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?

- What is ONE responsibility of a U.S. citizen?

- When was the Constitution written?

On Thursday, Aug. 18, the United States of America welcomed 31 new citizens during a naturalization ceremony conducted by U.S. District Court Judge David N. Hurd at the federal courthouse in Utica.

Everyone should witness such an event - if for no other reason than to renew their own commitment to America.

The five not-necessarily-so-simple questions above are among 100 civics questions that could be asked on a naturalization test candidates must take and pass before being granted citizenship. Many native-born Americans would probably struggle with it.

Our citizenship is precious and most of us came by it quite easily. All we had to do is be born here.

Immigrants and refugees must follow a tougher road.

Often that road began in a place far, far away. For centuries, people came to these shores in search of a better life - driven from their homelands by political, ethnic, racial or religious persecution. America was their sanctuary.

Here they found something very special - freedom.

Many of those who came here were our ancestors. They came from places like Italy, Poland, Ireland, Lebanon, Germany … with little more than the clothes on their backs and dreams for a better life. The sacrifices they made were more than we can imagine.

Many were children, separated - forever, in some cases - from their parents and other family members.

Many came during difficult times - world war, famine, depression - but they endured because the freedom they found here was the catalyst that drove them toward success. Generations that followed became stronger for it, and they built our communities into what they are today.

Now history repeats itself.

Today’s immigrants and refugees come from other places - Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burma, Haiti, Yemen, Pakistan - but they share the same dreams of yesterday. Their stories are not unlike those we see in the faces of faded photographs of our own ancestors. Their skin color, ethnicity and faith may vary, but America is their common denominator, providing a melting pot for a cultural stew that continues to feed and nourish a nation like no other on earth.

They are the faces of our grandparents and great-grandparents, with fears and frustrations tempered by newfound freedom. They wear smiles of hope - for themselves, for their children and for future generations.

The diversity is a gift because in our differences we find a commonality that is the foundation for America.

These new citizens, who on Aug. 18 pledged their allegiance to the United States, are new building blocks who will continue to strengthen our human infrastructure in ways we might not yet know. We have seen it before. We will see it again. Yesterday’s settlers are tomorrow’s leaders.

It is the never-ending story of America.

And if you need the answers to the five questions above, find one of our new citizens and just ask.




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