- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

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

The Poughkeepsie Journal on New York’s need for more teachers.

June 9

Despite the massive hue and cry over the education system’s stunning failure to implement new curriculum and testing standards, the public understands the importance of strong schools - and great teachers.

Voters have largely supported school budgets at the polls. And the overwhelming majority of people likely would agree that teachers don’t have it easy. Nowadays, there are more distractions than ever, and educators are under mounting pressure from administrators and parents to ensure learning is occurring even when outside factors - most importantly a student’s family life - have major impacts on success or failure.

Many teachers, though, would be the first to say their profession is incredibly rewarding. They rightly point with pride to the students they have helped along the way and who are now successful in their own right.

But, as the two most powerful education officials in the state recently told the Poughkeepsie Journal, the state needs more teachers. There is, in fact, a looming shortage that must be addressed. A SUNY panel recently projected that the need for teachers in New York will grow by 6 percent in the next six years.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher have been teaming up to talk about the challenge, to cite strategies they are putting in place, and to push for other initiatives that can help.

They are banking on what is dubbed the “TeachNY” campaign, a drive to recruit students from across the state into teaching, and to promote and elevate the status of the profession. They say the state needs to improve teacher-preparation programs for those considering or getting into the profession as well as strengthening professional-development strategies to retain them.

Obviously, the uproar over the Common Core roll out as well the state’s attempts to finally have meaningful teacher evaluations have caused consternation and concerns and perhaps have made some students reluctant to pursue a career in education. The state, frankly, still has to work out many of those details. But the importance of good, quality teachers could never be underestimated. Raising awareness about this need and employing strategies to increase the ranks are not only laudable but essential goals as we consider the future of education in New York.




The Daily News on free speech at the City University of New York.

June 12

In an era when censorship is sweeping college campuses, City University is considering a robust freedom of speech policy that needs additional strengthening.

The draft policy restates a principle that should need no restatement at any institution of higher education: CUNY “is committed to academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas and expression of all points of view.”

Emphasis must be on the word “all.” Across the U.S. students and faculty, often supported by cowering administrators, have deemed some opinions as not only unacceptable but immoral; have barred or shouted down speakers, and demanded “safe space” protections from words and ideas held to be traumatizing or oppressive.

At some schools, Huckleberry Finn and Donald Trump are equally unwelcome.

Intended to serve as a remedy for straitjacketed expression, CUNY’s speech policy helpfully states that “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even offensive.”

The policy adds that “civility can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however disagreeable or offensive they may be to some members of the University community.”

While the aim is dead on, the tenor of the times demands more. The University of Chicago’s model fully reinforces what must be reinforced, guaranteeing “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn,” and protecting ideas that many may find “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.”

The Chicago standards, adopted by Princeton and Purdue, explicitly bar obstructing invited speakers; the CUNY draft does so only passingly.

Thus, the proposed rules must be more full-throated and explicit. A second thrust, on campus demonstrations, needs greater rethinking.

While upholding the right to protest - except where protesters harass, threaten or interfere with others - the proposal calls for limiting demonstrations to designated areas on campus.

Time and place restrictions on protests must be narrowly drawn and give demonstrators reasonable ability to be heard. Additionally, it is highly doubtful that CUNY could prohibit a silent march on campus byways that does not interfere with the comings and goings of others.

Similarly, the policy calls for corraling the media into a pen if a newsworthy event happens on a campus. Government may not confine the press so as to prevent it from doing its jobs except in true emergency situations.

Still more, government may not keep the press distant from an event while allowing the general public to approach more closely.

The grade for CUNY’s free speech policy: B-. A grade of A is still possible in the finals.




The Post-Standard of Syracuse on the deadly mass shooting in Orlando.

June 13

The Orlando terrorist attack was tailor-made to deepen all of our deepest disagreements: about gun rights, about gay rights, about religious freedom, about American culture.

That 49 people are dead and 50-plus more wounded by a gunman inspired by ISIS are tragic facts. But this tragedy cannot fundamentally alter the course of our nation of 300 million - unless we let it.

We must not be cowed by lone-wolf terrorists who take advantage of our free society in order to attack it. The greater danger to America is if terrorist incidents like Orlando turn us against one another and curtail our freedoms.

There are troubling signs of this already.

As many communities celebrate Pride Week, gathering places for the LGBT community are on high alert for copycat attacks. Syracuse is beefing up security for Pride Week activities. A heavily armed man was intercepted Sunday on his way to pride parade in West Hollywood, California. New York City police are stationed outside the Stonewall Inn, site of the 1970 riot that gave birth to the gay rights movement.

Muslim communities in Florida and elsewhere are bracing for a backlash similar to what happened after 9/11.

The presumptive presidential nominees of both parties, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, wasted no time making political hay out of the tragedy. In major speeches Monday, each attacked the other’s strategy for dealing with terrorism and ISIS. Trump even suggested that President Barack Obama had something to do with the Orlando attack - a baseless and repugnant claim.

While our hearts break for the victims and their families, Americans’ lives must go on. Vigilance is important, and we must support the FBI and other organizations to hinder, disrupt and remove those who would do us harm. Sadly, there will still be those suicidal terrorists bent on destroying others who will slip through the net. We must not let the terrorists chip away at the values of our free and tolerant society. Only then will they have won.




The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on the lack of gun legislation following mass shootings.

June 13

It is taking on a life of its own, this horror known as “the mass shooting.” How many of us, reeling from the massacre in Orlando, are left wondering if it is too late to stop this monster? It is too big. It is too contentious. It is too unpredictable.

It has a cold-blooded indifference for American lives, preying on innocent school children, ambitious college students and devout churchgoers. It slithers into movie theaters, holiday parties and gay nightclubs, piling up victims of all ages and ethnicities.

It feeds on prejudice, hate and hopelessness, and poisons us with prejudice, hate and hopelessness when it strikes. It breathes a dark cloud of fear, which has spread across our entire country. And, it has gained an imposing accomplice: the United States Congress.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have given this beast the freedom it needs to expand its deadly quest. As a whole, our lawmakers have shown virtually no leadership in addressing this horror. In other countries, such as the U.K., Australia, Japan and Germany, the shock, grief and anger that follows mass shootings has resulted in very effective legislation to reduce it. Not in America.

Here, the legislators who could help reduce mass shootings hide behind the misrepresentation or misunderstanding of our constitutional rights. They are so afraid of upsetting powerful lobbyists, that they are failing to protect less mighty citizens. They fire off strong rhetoric as if it has the force of a bullet, while refusing civil debate and productive compromise.

This lack of bravery in our nation’s capital has left us with the feeling that there is nothing we can do but wait for the beast to strike again. So that is what we do.

We wait for 49 people to be killed at a nightclub in Florida. We wait for 9 people to die in a South Carolina church. We wait for 9 people to die at a community college in Oregon. We wait for 14 people to be killed at a party in California.

We wait for 12 people to be killed in a Navy yard in Washington, D.C. We wait for 12 people to be killed at a Colorado theater. We wait for 27 people, most of whom are young children, to be killed in an elementary school in Connecticut.

We wait for 10 people, including a baby, to be killed during a shooting spree in Alabama. We wait for 13 people to be killed at an immigration center in Binghamton. We wait for 13 to be killed at an Army base in Texas. We wait for 32 college students to be killed in Virginia.

We all know that there are many parts to this beast, including guns, mental health, terrorism, bullying and prejudice. We are becoming increasingly divided over which part should be controlled, to the point where even simple conversations at the office or around the dinner table easily become heated. Our leaders should be working together to examine the entire beast, and unite the nation around reasonable solutions.

While you are waiting for the next mass shooting, let Congress know it must act now.




The New York Times on the need to end the threat of AIDS.

June 13

The world has made so much progress in reducing the spread of AIDS and treating people with H.I.V. that the epidemic has receded from the public spotlight. Yet by any measure the disease remains a major threat - 1.1 million people died last year from AIDS-related causes, and 2.1 million people were infected with the virus. And while deaths are down over the last five years, the number of new infections has essentially reached a plateau.

The United Nations announced a goal last week of ending the spread of the disease by 2030. That’s a laudable and ambitious goal, reachable only if individual nations vigorously campaign to treat everyone who has the virus and to limit new infections.

The medicines and know-how are there, but in many countries the money and political will are not. Besides shining a spotlight on the disease, it’s crucial that wealthy nations like the United States continue to pony up generously to underwrite what must be a global effort. Donors and low- and middle-income countries need to increase spending to $26 billion a year by 2020, the United Nations says, up from nearly $19.2 billion in 2014.

While still high, deaths attributable to AIDS are down 36 percent from 2010. That is largely because many more people are receiving antiretroviral drugs - 17 million people in 2015, compared with 7.5 million five years earlier. These medicines allow people to live near-normal lives and greatly reduce the risk of transmission to others.

But while some countries like South Africa (once a disaster zone) and Kenya have made tremendous progress in increasing treatment, many people who need the lifesaving therapy do not have access to it. Only 28 percent of those infected in Western and Central Africa were being treated in 2015, according to a recent United Nations report. The numbers were even lower in the Middle East and North Africa (17 percent) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (21 percent). In some countries, people who test positive are told to come back when they get sick because of budget constraints, says Sharonann Lynch, an H.I.V. policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders. Many never return.

In other places, it can be hard to even reach people who need drugs because of war or the lack of a functional public health system. And many who need help are unwilling to come forward because they fear being ostracized or worse because they are gay, use drugs or are engaged in sex work. Discriminatory laws and attitudes in countries like Nigeria, Russia and Uganda have probably forced tens of thousands of people who need help into hiding.

In some countries, infections have actually increased, which helps explain why progress has plateaued over all. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, for instance, 190,000 people became infected last year, up from 120,000 in 2010. And while the number of deaths is way down, the number of new infections was flat or down modestly over the same five-year period. This was also true of the United States, where an estimated 44,073 people were diagnosed in 2014, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published data, down from 44,940 in 2010.

These numbers do not argue for complacency, but instead for more vigorous public health campaigns, increased access to condoms, clean needles for drug users and prescriptions for pre-exposure drugs. There is still no cure for AIDS. But there are many ways to minimize its deadly consequences.




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