- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

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

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on increasing transparency and accountability in state government.

May 12

With former Albany powerbrokers Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos now safely tucked behind steel bars, New York state’s taxpayers should be able to sleep better at night. Instead, we are being kept awake by another investigation that threatens to unveil the serious mishandling of public funds, this time by people who are uncomfortably close to our governor.

As if that weren’t enough to keep us tossing and turning, top Monroe County officials are leaving tough questions about political shenanigans at COMIDA simply hanging in mid-air.

There is probably not enough Lunesta to go around.

Fortunately, New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has a great alternative to help us rest a little easier.

In his report released this week, “Unfinished Business: Fiscal Reform in New York State,” DiNapoli outlines several specific steps state lawmakers should take to help track how tax dollars are being spent. We urge the governor and state legislature to immediately get on board and begin implementing these measures before the end of the current legislative session.

Basically, DiNapoli wants to end any public spending that doesn’t come with a few checks and balances attached. You might be shocked by the amount of money we’re talking about. It’s not peanuts. Billions and billions of state dollars are being dispersed with little or no oversight. In many instances, DiNapoli himself is finding it impossible to follow the money trail.

As we are painfully aware, this situation has created the perfect environment for abuse, fraud or, at the very least, considerable waste.

DiNapoli is offering some practical fixes. Give his office the ability to review public authority spending, and require public authorities to provide more details about how they select and fund projects. Ban obscure spending, and require public funds be divvied up “through an open, competitive process with clear, measurable criteria.” Make the state budget something the average taxpayer can actually read and understand in detail - as opposed to its current format, which DiNapoli calls “impenetrable.”

It all sounds so, well, simple.

Yet, adopting these measures will dramatically increase transparency, accountability and, eventually, trust in our government.

Because, despite the sentencing of Silver and Skelos, there is little reason to believe that the statehouse has been swept clean of corruption. It seems like there could still be a lot of dust bunnies under the bed.




The Times Herald-Record of Middletown on transgender rights.

May 17

In what has been perhaps the most bizarre presidential campaign in this nation’s history, a bizarre diversionary issue has cropped up to grab the public’s attention.

Last week, the president of the United States found it necessary to issue a directive stating that public schools - all public schools - must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity. This White House acknowledgement of basic rights for transgender people was made necessary by the denial of such rights by the state of North Carolina.

That state’s Republican-controlled legislature has passed a bill that requires bathroom usage based on the sex stated on a person’s birth certificate. North Carolina’s Republican governor signed it and has defended it. Fear and ignorance, which have played a prominent role in the Republican presidential campaign, are also at the heart of this legislation.

“It’s about the perception that men that dress like women are pedophiles and they go into girls bathrooms looking to do them harm,” says Genna Suraci. “That’s like classifying all priests as pedophiles.” Suraci is the award-winning, longtime principal of the Career and Technical Center of Ulster BOCES in Port Ewen. She began her sex change transition from male to female in 2007.

“Nobody does this out of a fantasy,” Suraci says. “They do it out of necessity, out of a feeling that’s deeply rooted from when you’re born.”

The North Carolina law, as well as similar laws in Mississippi, ignore the fact that there is no evidence any transgender woman has assaulted a girl in a bathroom, the justification for the legislation. There is no issue.

Yet even in New York, which prides itself as a leader in protecting human rights, a bill outlawing discrimination against transgender persons in all areas of their lives, not just which bathroom they use, has been stalled in the state Legislature. Last week, the Assembly, controlled by Democrats, voted for the ninth time to outlaw discrimination against transgender people. The companion bill has never made it to the floor for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate

While Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed an executive order including gender identity in the state’s civil rights law, making it illegal to discriminate against transgender persons over jobs, loans, schools and public accommodations, a future governor could reverse that order, hence the bill.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Health Committee chairman and sponsor of the bill, said, “Transgender rights are human rights. It’s an embarrassment to New Yorkers that 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity, while (it) can’t even get a vote in our State Senate. While North Carolina and other states try to roll back progress by attacking transgender rights, New York should stand up for common sense, fairness and justice.”

Exactly. Politicians do have an obligation to respond to the concerns of their constituents, but transgender bathroom use has hardly been a major voter issue. Besides, there’s another obligation some politicians have apparently forgotten - to inform constituents of the facts on an issue and not merely respond to fear and ignorance with harmful legislation. It’s called leadership.




The Wall Street Journal on Donald Trump’s tax returns.

May 15

These columns warned Republican voters that Democrats and the media would make an issue of Donald Trump’s tax returns - after he was the GOP’s presumptive nominee - and that didn’t take long. This week Hillary Clinton began what is likely to be a campaign from here to November to claim the businessman must be hiding something.

Mr. Trump is helping the Democrats with his changing answers and obfuscation. In January the candidate said “I have everything all approved and very beautiful” and he hoped to release his returns “over the next three, four months.” He later said he couldn’t release his returns until the IRS finished auditing him, though the IRS says an audit is no barrier to public disclosure.

Asked this week by The Associated Press when that day would come, Mr. Trump said he didn’t plan to release them after all. After Mrs. Clinton and Mitt Romney criticized that statement, Mr. Trump fell back on the IRS audit excuse. Then on Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Mr. Trump said he didn’t think voters had any right to see his tax returns and that his tax rate is “none of your business.”

Mr. Trump added: “But I do say this. I will really gladly give them - not going to learn anything but it’s under routine audit. When the audit ends I’m gonna present them. That should be before the election. I hope it’s before the election.”

Keep in mind that it has been common practice since the 1970s for the presidential nominees of both parties to release their tax returns. Tax returns provide insight into a candidate’s income, charitable giving and tax-avoidance strategies. Mr. Trump says he thinks voters don’t care, but that’s a decision for the voters to make.

As for the politics, Mr. Romney paid a price for waiting until September 2012 to release his 2011 return. Hit man Harry Reid claimed he’d heard, while offering no evidence, that Mr. Romney hadn’t paid taxes for 10 years. That was surely a lie, but the press corps still gave him headlines.

Mrs. Clinton is also less than honest on the subject. In 1992 she and her husband appeared to be forthcoming after they had released their tax returns going back to 1980. But Americans later learned, after Bill Clinton was elected, that their 1979 returns included the windfall income from her miraculous cattle-futures trading in Arkansas. That story would have been highly damaging had it emerged before the election.

Mr. Trump may think all of this means he can resist this law of political gravity, and maybe he’s right. But neither Democrats nor the media will give up the tax-return issue now that he’s the Republican contender, and every time he’s asked about it will distract from the other messages he’s trying to deliver. The GOP voters who are nominating Mr. Trump can’t say they didn’t understand the Trumpian uncertainty they were buying.




The New York Post on long lines at the country’s airports.

May 17

You’re stuck in an airport-security line that’s just not moving, seemingly a mile from the scanners, worrying whether you’ll make your flight and if you have any hope of getting on the next one.

Relax, here comes a mime to entertain you! No, wait, it’s a “comfort animal” …

Yes, they’re adding insult to injury: Airports across the nation are hiring “entertainers” to calm the crowds left seething by Transportation Security Agency bungling.

Musicians in Atlanta, miniature horses in Cincinnati, “therapy dogs” at scattered other hubs and, yes, clowns in San Diego. (You just know some air-rage case is going to assault one of those clowns.)

Blame the TSA. It cut back on screeners this year in anticipation of the brilliant success of its PreCheck program - which naturally worked just as well as every other bright TSA idea for the last two decades. Cue record holdups at security checkpoints.

The TSA is, of course, blaming … you. “Individuals who come to the TSA checkpoint unprepared for a trip can have a negative impact on the time it takes to complete the screening process,” the agency sniffs.

Worse, complains the TSA, is that more people are traveling - as if that doesn’t happen every summer. Also, it notes, travelers insist on carry-ons, slowing everything down - another huge surprise.

The solution? That’s up to you, too: “Passenger preparedness can have a significant impact on wait times,” explains a TSA press release.

Which is laughable: Some TSA preparedness would be even nicer.

The TSA is asking for emergency funds to end the current crisis. But the Transportation Security Agency is a perpetual crisis - and it’s past time Congress looked to end it.




The Observer-Dispatch of Utica on tightening restrictions on over-the-counter medication.

May 17

Abuse of over-the-counter medication once again calls for tighter restrictions on a product that otherwise is safe and poses no risk of addiction. Imodium is used to treat diarrhea. But when taken in large quantities, users can become high because the medicine contains an opioid called loperamide.

“(Loperamide) works in the body no differently than morphine or heroin,” said William Eggleston, a pharmacist and clinical toxicologist at the Upstate New York Poison Center. “The only major difference is when you take it in over-the-counter dosing, you don’t absorb enough drug to get high, to get the opioid effect.”

Eggleston is the lead author of an article on loperamide abuse published recently in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. He said that to get high or to self treat withdrawal symptoms, users take anywhere from 50 to 300 tablets a day. That can have dire consequences because loperamide is a cardiac toxin when taken in large quantities, Eggleston said, and can change the way your heart beats. Abuse can produce deadly heart rhythms and might also cause fatal overdoses where patients stop breathing, he said.

Calls to the upstate poison center about loperamide rose from just one in 2011 to 15 last year and seven so far this year, Eggleston said. He suspects the numbers are even higher because not everyone shows up at the hospital.

To help stem abuse, Eggleston and others have recommended that Imodium be moved behind pharmacy counters like cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make methamphetamine. That would at least stop bulk online sales, he said, since nonprescription medications sold from behind the counter cannot be sold in bulk online.

Good idea. The sooner, the better.




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