- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

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

The Times Union of Albany on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s solution to dealing with tainted campaign donations.

Oct. 11

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come up with a creative solution to dealing with some possibly tainted campaign donations: If the donors are convicted, he’ll make the money available to pay toward any court-ordered forfeiture.

It’s a pretty awful idea.

It’s as awful as Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s plan to give the money back to the donors, though not quite as awful as state Sen. George Amedore’s plan to just keep the money.

Here’s the problem: Last month, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused Alain Kaloyeros, president and CEO of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, along with some private developers and close associates of the governor, of corruption involving SUNY Poly and Mr. Cuomo’s upstate economic development initiatives. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has also brought state charges.

The developers include Steven Aiello, CEO of the Syracuse-area COR Development, who has given $70,000 to Mr. Cuomo’s campaign since 2010; Lou Ciminelli of Buffalo, who has donated $96,500; and Joe Nicolla of the Capital Region, who contributed $11,000.

Mr. Cuomo’s campaign plans to hold that money pending the outcome of the cases. If the defendants are convicted, it could go to pay any penalties they owe the government, his campaign says.

There are at least two problems with this idea.

First, Mr. Cuomo has decided not to include funds donated by their immediate family members, including spouses, money that adds hundreds of thousands more to the figures. It’s disingenuous to suggest that wealthy individuals don’t use spouses and children in order to get around limits on their individual donations. It’s the main reason, in fact, that campaign finance law includes family limits as well as individual ones.

Second, using the donations to help cover penalties these people might have to pay is essentially the same as giving it back. And one could argue they’ve already gotten value for their money. Mr. Cuomo’s office may claim that campaign contributions don’t affect government decisions, but it strains credulity to suggest that all the money that’s showered on officials like Mr. Cuomo isn’t given to at least get access and attention. If the charges brought by prosecutors are true, these businessmen got plenty of special treatment, if not from the governor, then from people close to him. This has all the appearance of a rebate for getting caught, which surely Mr. Cuomo does not want to convey.

A better course would be for Mr. Cuomo - and Mr. DiNapoli, and all the other officials who took money from these defendants - to follow the lead of Mr. Schneiderman, who is donating it to a Buffalo charity. Or they could send it to the New York state or U.S. Treasury. After all the turmoil these cases have caused, and with all the taxpayer time being spent not just on prosecution but on cleaning up the mess, that would qualify as a kind of justice of its own.




The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on building more affordable housing across New York.

Oct. 8

In another audacious display of dysfunction, Albany’s “three men in a room” are now “three men in three different rooms.”

That is how it appears, as housing advocates across New York wait in vain for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to come to agreement on how to spend about $2 billion for affordable housing development across the state. More than six months have passed, with no sign of resolution.

It is bad enough that this money is in the hands of these three men, rather than the entire New York state Legislature. But, the fact that the three men have not managed to do anything with the funds is even worse.

Every day that passes is putting thousands of people that much farther away from a safe place to call home.

There is a critical shortage of housing for people with low incomes throughout New York, including Rochester. The governor, once secretary of the nation’s Housing and Urban Development Department, understands the dire ramifications of this more than most political leaders.

That is why, in his State of the State address in January, Cuomo called for a $20 billion plan to address this need, as well as to boost programs for the homeless, over the next five years.

The amount allocated for affordable housing will allow development to occur at roughly double the pace it is now.

But, that hasn’t happened.

That is because a piece of the funding, $2 billion, passed through the state budget process with no details attached. No one knows where the new housing will be located, or who will construct it. Those sort of details were to be included in a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU. But first, Cuomo, Flanagan and Heastie had to actually come up with an MOU. Not a transparent way to conduct business, but typical in Albany.

It took a few months, but a clearly frustrated Cuomo finally released a document that he calls an MOU. It is actually more of a Memorandum of Cuomo, however, since no one else is acknowledging it.

“There currently is no agreement on the MOU, so there is nothing to sign,” Heastie’s press secretary told us in an email on Friday, stressing how passionate the Assembly speaker is about affordable housing.

Flanagan’s press office did not respond to our query, though we presume he too would tell us he is a champion for affordable housing.

But, the passion of these three men is not visible to the tens of thousands of children in our community who are growing up without safe and stable homes.

Their parents struggle to afford the rent, and that often ends with an eviction notice. So the families move, or they end up homeless.

In the process, these children repeatedly switch neighborhoods and schools, making it even harder to break the cycle of poverty that they are caught in. As we said in a recent editorial, affordable housing is a critical component to eradicating poverty in Rochester.

As much as this Editorial Board detests sending the three men into a room together with a pot of money, we are calling for that now. And they should not come out until they have a fair plan to begin building.




The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on Big Tobacco companies advertising through the mail.

Oct. 11

In the past few days, a number of local residents received in the mail a handout from Marlboro menthol cigarettes that includes two $2 coupons redeemable with the purchase of a pack each.

It’s interesting, because cigarettes are such hazardous products that the government has imposed stifling restrictions on advertising, leaving mail as one of the few practical options left.

The mailing invites readers to go to marlboro.com to learn more. There, readers find this message:

“Marlboro needs no introduction. After all, it is the largest selling brand of cigarettes on the planet. It prides itself on its rich history, having been launched in 1924 by Philip Morris.

“While it is popular among men worldwide, owing to the iconic Marlboro Man, Marlboro was actually marketed to women when it first came out. It quickly rose to popularity when it repositioned itself as a men’s cigarette in the 1950s.

“Whether you are a man or a woman, remember that you can enjoy the best cigarette in the world for less with Marlboro Coupons.”

It’s doubtful you could find many Marlboro men or women who wouldn’t give just about anything not to be.

It’s mostly the young, who haven’t yet figured out what they’ve gotten themselves into, who are glad they smoke. And young women were the target of a number of the local mailings.

The federal government, which knows all too well what smokers have gotten themselves into, has assigned the Food and Drug Administration the duty of quashing most tobacco advertising.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act imposes controls on advertising and marketing, mainly to spare young people from being lured into the habit. These controls are set to avoid conflicts with constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.

Among the provisions that are enforced, the FDA:

. Revised the warnings on cigarette and smokeless tobacco products to cover 50 percent of the front and back of all packages, including graphic images depicting the harmful effects of tobacco use.

. Prohibited terms such as “light,” ”mild” and “low-tar” that deceive users into believing cigarettes are safe.

. Banned outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.

. Limited ads to black-and-white and with no music, images or moving images.

. Banned brand sponsorships of sports and entertainment events.

. Banned free samples, sale of packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes and giveaways of non-tobacco items with the purchase of cigarettes.

Tobacco products have become such pariahs that it’s remarkable that outlets even agree to sell them. Some drug store chains have decided not to.

Surely, cigarettes have become so expensive that, for many, buying them requires giving up purchases of other needed or desired products.

So cigarette manufacturers are left with mail and few other choices. Our advice to recipients is to immediately place these ads in the trash bin.




The Amsterdam Recorder on the rash of threatening clowns that have been popping up around the country.

Oct. 8

For a brief moment, the clown hysteria was amusing, but like most things these days it’s gotten out of hand.

We can likely thank social media for the hysteria that has swept the East Coast regarding sightings of scary clowns. A report, whether true or not, of a menacing clown in South Carolina has grown like wild mushrooms, encapsulating communities from the Carolinas to Amsterdam.

The clowns have snuck up on children and school employees and have been spotted on people’s property and standing outside businesses. At Penn State University, students are out in the streets hunting clowns. In South Carolina, two residents fired in the direction of a wooded area where clown sightings had supposedly taken place. In Amsterdam, there have been reports of clowns near the Four Diamonds by Lynch Literacy Academy, in a Storrie Street backyard and running down Division Street.

A Connecticut school official said the reports of clown sightings are a result of social media spams, and evil clowns roaming the streets there are about “as real as the Tooth Fairy.”

We agree, but what is real is that the “threats” are costing time and money and wasting precious police department resources — all for what police are calling “no tangible threat.”

So things are getting out of hand — and as Halloween approaches, some educators and police departments are warning against wearing clown costumes.

We get it, some people just don’t like clowns. But the joke has gotten old and we’re afraid it will end not with a laugh, but with a tragedy.

So knock it off — don’t perpetuate the clown hoax of 2016.




The New York Times on Hungary’s ultimately invalid anti-immigration referendum vote.

Oct. 10

Hungary’s anti-immigrant referendum last week was declared invalid because less than half of the electorate turned out. But it is distressing that 3.3 million voters, or more than 98 percent of those who cast ballots, favored the proposal by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to reject European Union requirements that the country accept its share of refugees.

Mr. Orban, the autocratic leader of one of the right-wing parties stoking fears in Europe, spent $36 million in government funds and risked considerable political capital on the referendum. He was seeking a mandate to pursue his exclusionary policies and push the bloc to restructure itself to return more power to individual nations. He now says he will try to achieve those goals with a constitutional amendment. Voters should reject that approach.

There is no doubt that Europe and the European Union are facing a crisis, with terrorist attacks and a staggering influx of refugees at a time of high unemployment. The result is that many Europeans have lost faith in their government institutions and turned to populist movements or nationalist leaders like Mr. Orban who promise to protect their jobs, way of life and security by closing national borders and rejecting pan-European solutions.

European leaders clearly must do better at problem-solving and restoring that faith if the bloc is to survive. In March, they reduced the refugee tide by making a deal with Turkey, and on Wednesday they announced a deal with Afghanistan that would send tens of thousands of Afghans back home. But these are partial, temporary answers. Commitments to more equitably share the responsibility for millions of people fleeing conflicts are urgently needed.

Mr. Orban’s approach would put a unified solution further out of reach. The trigger for his referendum was a modest European Union plan to relocate 160,000 people throughout the bloc to relieve pressure on Greece and Italy, the main entry points for migrants. Hungary, which was a major transit point during last year’s migrant crisis, was asked to take 1,294 asylum seekers, a manageable number for a nation of nearly 10 million.

Officials in Hungary have stoked fears by describing the largely Muslim refugee population as a security risk. Mr. Orban framed his referendum as an attempt to defend Europe’s “Christian values.” There seems to be no recollection of how, in 1956, other countries welcomed roughly 200,000 Hungarians fleeing the failed uprising against Communism.

Last year, Mr. Orban built a razor-wire border fence to keep out those fleeing war, but he has been only too happy to admit other foreigners, mostly Chinese, who are wealthy enough to pay their own way. Many countries that have 55,000 unfilled jobs, as Hungary does, would welcome migrants, but Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, told The Times that his government is determined to fill those positions internally.

Nevertheless, while Mr. Orban and his supporters reject European Union efforts to solve the refugee crisis, they are not talking about leaving the bloc, which would deprive Hungary of billions of dollars in funding a year. Instead, Mr. Orban hopes to inspire the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia to join Hungary in rejecting the bloc’s quotas. European leaders seem disinclined to penalize Hungary now, but such a move may have to be considered seriously at some point.

Mr. Orban and other nationalists who are rejecting the liberal values of tolerance and free movement at the heart of modern Europe risk stirring animosities that less than a century ago led the Continent into world war.




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