- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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

The Gloversville Leader-Herald on New York’s teacher pension system.

Feb. 23

A recent report from the Empire Center shows the average New York state teacher who retired after working 30 years for the state’s public schools collected an average of $67,476 per year in pension income, which is not subject to state income tax or federal payroll tax. These pension recipients are also eligible for Social Security and often have free or low- cost health insurance.

The Empire Center, an Albany-based independent think tank, broke down the average New York state pension payouts by region. Recipients receive an average of $55,824 per year in the Mohawk Valley.

New York state’s teacher pension system is a generous retirement program out of step with the reality of the way most New York state citizens employed in the private sector live, work and, if they’re lucky, someday retire.

It’s an insult to taxpayers in our region that the average teacher pension payout exceeds the median income level in both Johnstown and Gloversville. This system is unsustainable and a prime example of the kind of uncontrollable spending that occurs when special interests like the state teachers union manipulate legislators in Albany through campaign contributions.

New York state should take a page out of the recent reforms being implemented by the U.S. military and replace the absurdly generous lifetime guaranteed pension program with a 401k program similar to the ones used by many companies in the private sector. The state also should require school district employees to contribute to the funds themselves at rates that track the contribution levels typical in the private sector in order to receive a matching contribution from the district. This system should be implemented for all new hires.




Newsday on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s water protection plan.

Feb. 18

It’s not possible to say or do too much when it comes to protecting water. So we welcome the water quality initiatives presented on Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Some of his proposals are new, some previously announced, some innovative, but all very much needed.

As usual, execution and follow-through will be critical.

The governor addressed one long-standing necessity by committing $6 million in state funds to study Long Island’s groundwater. There hasn’t been a study in years. Its scope is unclear but the study will include an analysis of chemical contamination as well as where saltwater is intruding into our sole-source aquifer, not only on Nassau County’s North Shore but across the region. It also should measure the size of the aquifer and how much water is being used, to check sustainability. It should watch out for emerging chemicals so we aren’t always reacting to something that already is a severe threat.

The study also should marry the two areas Cuomo identified as his most challenging - the environment and terrorism - by evaluating whether the Lloyd aquifer, our deepest and most pure source of water, should be considered a strategic asset that must be reserved as much as possible for emergency use, for example, in the event New York City’s water supply is disrupted.

But the study cannot be only a compilation of facts. It must be used as a tool to guide decisions and help make policy. Cuomo seems to get that. In his speech at Stony Brook University, he called it a blueprint for managing the resource.

But we wish he had addressed one of the most inefficient aspects of water management on Long Island - Nassau’s balkanized system of providing water. The county has more than three dozen water fiefdoms - a mix of municipal districts, commissioner-run special districts, private corporations and public authorities - each looking after its own narrow interests. Our water must be managed regionally because we all dip our straws into the same metaphorical glass. Ideally, that would be a single Long Island water authority. But we must deal in the realm of the possible. That means a Nassau water authority similar to the agency that provides water to most of Suffolk. Cuomo has championed consolidating special districts. This is a fight worth waging.

Other good steps announced by Cuomo include state testing of the Bethpage plume with results to be made public; that will help data-starved districts plan for the contamination that’s headed their way. The state also will build on a smaller Suffolk program by testing for contaminants at all 65 mulching facilities on Long Island, and will issue for the first time common-sense regulations for those facilities. And it will establish a rapid response team to deal quickly with drinking water threats around the state. It might be the first such team in the country, and shows that lessons from the debacle in Flint, Michigan, are percolating around the nation. Indeed, Cuomo also talked Thursday about how pipes can affect water quality.

Water is our most important natural resource. Cuomo’s plans build on the considerable momentum of the past year to protect it.

Let’s keep talking, and doing.




The Post-Standard of Syracuse on Apple’s privacy argument.

Feb. 19

Apple Inc. wants us to believe a court order requiring it to help the FBI break into the phone of a terrorist is a threat to everyone’s privacy. We’re not buying it. There is a narrower solution - one that may take some good old American brainpower.

On Dec. 2, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and wounded 22 at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California - a mass shooting inspired by ISIS. Farook and Malik were shot and killed by authorities later that day. Among the evidence they left behind was an iPhone 5C used by Farook. The FBI believes it may hold evidence important to the investigation. However, it can’t open the phone because it doesn’t have Farook’s passcode. Neither does Apple, which doesn’t keep passcodes. Authorities can’t attempt a “brute force” hack of the phone - using a powerful computer to try thousands of 4-digit combinations - because of a security feature that “wipes” its data after a certain number of wrong attempts at the passcode.

The FBI won a court order requiring Apple to write computer code to defeat the “wiping” feature on this particular phone. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a letter to customers, said the company will fight the court order because creating this code for one phone also creates a “back door” that compromises the security of everyone’s iPhones.

The technology industry and privacy advocates are leaping to Apple’s defense. They have legitimate concerns about government intrusion in our personal lives. However, those concerns are misplaced in this particular case.

First, the phone in question is not being searched against the owner’s will. It was not owned by Farook. It was owned by his employer, San Bernardino County, which consented to the search. Do you conduct personal business on your work phone? Don’t be so sure it’s private.

Second, the government has obtained a court order from a judge. It is not acting unilaterally or abusing its investigatory powers. If the government wants to do this again, with a different phone, it will have to demonstrate a compelling need for it to another judge. Or Congress will have to change the law to protect tech companies from this kind of request.

Third, the court order is specific to this phone. It exploits an existing vulnerability in this particular model of iPhone. The order allows Apple to keep the code in its own facility. If Apple is worried about creating a permanent “back door,” it should design the code to self-destruct or to work only with multiple “keys,” like nuclear missile launch codes. Once the phone is opened, the court isn’t asking Apple to “decrypt” the phone’s data; that is the government’s challenge.

Fourth, if Apple doesn’t write the code to open this phone, who’s to say some hacker in Russia or China will not? Who would you rather have it?

Fifth, as a society, do we really want to create spaces - physical or virtual - that search warrants cannot open? These places give criminals and terrorists a distinct advantage — and put their victims and law enforcement at a distinct disadvantage. Apple touts encryption and user privacy as a competitive edge. In a civil society, its technology comes with benefits - huge profits - as well as burdens.

Apple and the tech industry want to make this an argument about privacy. They should make that argument to Congress. It is not an excuse to impede a legitimate terrorism investigation, especially one where the device’s owner wants to comply.

Open this phone, Apple. And then anticipate in this new age, any tools needed to combat terrorism will require crafting unique code. We should not let Apple, or the other billion-dollar companies supporting it in this case, to decide how the nation will fight terrorism.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on student loan debt’s impact on the economy.

Feb. 18

It is no secret that college education costs are astronomical, and many graduates have been saddled with mounds of student loans.

Not only has the federal government been woefully remiss in adequately addressing the problem, outrageously, it has been part of the problem. Student-loan debt has topped $1 trillion in the country, and nearly all of it comes through federal loans. Solutions abound, and a good first one would be to allow borrowers to refinance their federal student loans at a lower interest rate.

Interest on these loans can run as high as 7 percent or more, though Congress has taken action to nearly cut that number in half for new borrowers depending on the financial markets.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and others have put forth legislation to give all borrowers a chance to refinance their debt at a lower rate, and students also would be able to refinance their private loans into the federal program.

Schumer, President Barack Obama and others also are pushing for considerable funds to enable students to attend college tuition-free. The federal government would pick up most of the tab, with the states also chipping in if they wanted to take part in the program.

That idea - however laudable - likely won’t fly as Congress would have to approve raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and/or impose a tax on transactions by hedge funds, investment houses and other Wall Street firms to pay for it.

Other, more simpler ways to cut college costs include seeing more students graduate on time (that is after four years) and making sure there is a more seamless transition so community-college credits are accepted at four-year colleges. Higher education institutions also should be offering more video and online classes, which can be particularly helpful for those trying to get a degree while holding down a full-time job or unable to pay college housing costs.

The solutions should be debated, but one thing is clear: Far more must be done to make a college education more affordable. Millennials and Gen-Xers, many of whom hit the job market at the worst possible time, are especially awash in debt and this is hampering not only their ability to save but to spend, to buy homes and to help grow the economy.

The student-loan crisis is, in essence, everyone’s problem.




The New York Post on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Feb 23

President Obama’s policy - well, his lack of one - when it comes to confronting America’s enemies was on full and embarrassing display Tuesday.

First, the president unveiled his long-delayed plan to close the terrorist-detention center at Guantanamo Bay, saying that keeping it open is “contrary to our values.”

It was dead before arrival. Even Democrats weren’t rushing to endorse it.

After all, just three months ago Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill that bans moving the detainees to the United States. (The Senate vote was 91-3.) And moving them here is the only way to close Gitmo.

Second, Secretary of State John Kerry conceded that his much-touted ceasefire in Syria, set to take effect Saturday, “may be” little more than what a Democratic senator called a “rope-a-dope deal.”

With Washington as the dope.

“I’m not going to vouch for this,” said Kerry. With good reason: It doesn’t cover ISIS, the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other terrorist groups - nor anyone who cares to fire at them. For months, Russia’s been bombing anyone it wants to while claiming to be targeting ISIS.

Plus, no one knows how (or even if) violations will be handled. The whole thing depends on the good will of Iran, Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin - who’s sure to continue airstrikes against anti-Assad forces.

The Gitmo plan is just as hollow - and with even less justification, despite the president’s repeated and dubious claims.

The remaining detainees aren’t “low risk” - those were mostly freed before Obama took office. They’re very much high-risk - like the five top Taliban commanders Obama sprang in exchange for Bowe Berghdal, who now faces court-martial for desertion.

On Tuesday, in fact, a Gitmo “alum” was arrested by Spanish officials, who said he was part of an ISIS recruiting cell.

Just more proof that when it comes to threats to the nation, this president lives in the land of make-believe.




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