- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on SUNY easing access to applicants with criminal convictions.

Sept. 20

It’s all there in black and white: The mission of the state university system is to provide the people of New York high quality educational services with the broadest possible access. Yet somewhere along the way, applicants with criminal convictions saw their access shrink.

Recently, a report by the Center for Community Alternatives found that 62.5 percent of candidates for college did not complete the process when asked to disclose a prior felony conviction on an application. Why? Applicants felt discouraged about their chances and the supplemental information required of those who admit a criminal past. They felt the fear of being stigmatized.

Last week, the SUNY Board of Trustees recognized the ramifications of asking about felony convictions in the pre-admission process. Starting in 2018, the 64-campus SUNY system will remove the question from applications. After admission, students will only be asked to reveal a prior conviction if they are seeking on-campus housing, studying abroad or looking to participate in field experience or internships.

Not only was this vote a wise move, it was simply the right thing to do.

In June, the Obama administration started the Fair Chance in Higher Education initiative to reduce the barrier that people with criminal histories face while trying to get their lives back on track. Lest you think this is only an issue for an unfortunate few, think again. An estimated 70 million or more Americans have some sort of criminal record and that breaks down to almost 1 in 5 of all Americans and almost 1 in 3 Americans of working age.

It has been well documented that members of minority groups are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated. As such, minority students are more likely to be harmed by criminal history screening policies and procedures, report “Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition” found. This reeks of discrimination, even if it is unintentional.

The pre-admission inquiry into criminal history may seem necessary as colleges and universities work to ensure the safety of its students, staff and faculty. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that criminal history screening makes college campuses any safer. And as SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher noted in her memorandum to the Board of Trustees, there has been no spike in campus crime rates at colleges that have eliminated the pre-admission criminal history question.

Education can open doors to a better reality. It can lead to employment that can break generational poverty and disrupt the crime and serial incarceration that often accompany it. SUNY’s decision to ban the box will not only benefit the individuals hoping for a brighter future, it could be a boon for society at large.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on the state of New York’s public education system.

Sept. 17

As families with school-age children find themselves back in a familiar routine, New York is still struggling mightily to reconcile profound problems with the education system. Those stiff challenges range from implementing the controversial Common Core standards and getting curriculum better aligned with what actually appears on tests, to ensuring all schools have the necessary resources to teach children in the modern-day era.

To be frank, when it comes to educating children, there can never be enough resources. And that’s despite the fact New York already spends more than any other state on the effort. With that in mind, it’s imperative school districts make the most of those dollars and look for ways to be innovative.

The Poughkeepsie Journal recently published a story by our reporters and the USA Today Network’s Albany Bureau that also revealed the deep problems with the state-aid school formula, inadequacies that have existed for a long time. Those shortcomings or questionable priorities include using a formula that, at times, relies on out-of-date information and doesn’t do enough to help so-called “high-need” districts that have a lower property-tax pool - and that still struggle to close the achievement gap.

Legal cases about these issues have been kicking around the court system for more than a decade, including one involving small-city schools, such as the Poughkeepsie and Kingston districts. These problems need to be settled, but it would be far better for state elected officials - not judges - to do it.

In recent years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers have increased state funding and ended the so-called “Gap Elimination Adjustment,” which reduced state aid to schools during the recession. But the state aid formula itself could use an overhaul.

Spending, of course, is only part of the education equation. New York contributes $24 billion a year to schools, but it has not always seen a correspondingly strong return on this critically important investment. Everything from pension reform to school and administration consolidations could help the education system become more efficient, but they are often resisted. Consequently, even in an era of declining school enrollments, districts and taxpayers are feeling the crush of pension and health-care costs related to education.

Finally, perhaps the state’s biggest education challenge is what to do about Common Core. While changes have been made in this area as well, sharp concerns about “over-testing” children remain. Nearly a quarter of a million students refused to take New York’s standardized exams this year, and that number has been dramatically rising in recent years.

Despite all these challenges, good teachers will find ways to connect with students, and learning will occur. But the state has a solemn obligation to help create a much better environment, one that ends the Common Core confusion and addresses long-standing problems with inequitable funding.




Newsday on immigration policy and American ideals.

Sept. 20

The twin forces of immigration and migration have become increasingly vexing problems for the United States and much of the world.

Those tensions were sketched in sharp relief this week across the metropolitan area, where law enforcement officials are working to learn more about the suspect in the Chelsea and New Jersey bombings, a naturalized citizen born in Afghanistan; at the United Nations, where President Barack Obama yesterday warned world leaders not to succumb to the belief that people who look different corrupt the character of the countries that welcome them; and on the presidential campaign trail, where contenders have used these events to bolster their candidacies.

It’s been an extraordinary clash of real-life problems and philosophical ideals. And it has made clear that our nation must stay true to the ideals on which it was founded.

That doesn’t mean we should reject outright Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s contention that immigration security is national security. It is part of national security, and the long, stringent refugee vetting process has a good track record, but our security apparatus surely can be improved.

The father of Chelsea suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami, for example, apparently alerted law enforcement authorities two years ago about his concerns regarding his son, but the FBI cleared Rahami. Rahami also passed federal screening on return trips from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Separately, an audit by the Department of Homeland Security found that immigration officials mistakenly granted citizenship to 858 immigrants with pending deportation orders; they used different names or dates of birth in applying for citizenship, discrepancies not caught because their fingerprints were not in electronic databases.

The answer is to strengthen our processes, not resort to profiling and bans based on religion. We also must condemn Donald Trump Jr.’s comparison of Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles, three of which “would kill you” - a detestable attempt to equate Syrians fleeing death and destruction in their homeland with candy that might be poisoned.

Obama got it right when he pleaded for empathy for such people. He asked all of us to imagine the “unspeakable” happening to our families. The world, he noted, is more secure when we all help those in need.

People have every right to be nervous in these tenuous times, but that must not paralyze us. Obama was correct to decry populism that preys on fear and that longs for a simpler past “free from outside contamination.” In a swipe at candidate Trump, Obama said that such a nation which surrounds itself with walls would end up imprisoning itself.

More than 190 nations this week signed a declaration to accept more refugees, if they can, and to contribute more humanitarian aid, if possible. That’s weak and not binding. And it does nothing to address the conflicts that have displaced more than 65 million people, conflicts sometimes made worse by the actions of powerful outsiders like the United States.

Refugees, Obama said, can make us stronger. They have already. That bit of real life is powerful support for one of our ideals, the one that says we are a nation that welcomes those in need of a home. We might need to get better at doing that, but we must make sure our doors stay open.




The Journal News on the need to stay alert in the wake of bombings in New York City and New Jersey.

Sept. 20

What do you do if you see a bag left unattended, or something else that just looks odd, looks off? After multiple bombs were found - in Seaside Park, N.J., Chelsea in Manhattan and outside an Elizabeth, N.J., train station - law enforcement again reminds people to report suspicious activity.

What does that mean? According to the Department of Homeland Security, focus on the activity or behavior that’s odd - an open door in a facility that’s usually locked up tight; a vehicle where it’s not supposed to be; luggage or a package left unattended; a person whose behavior is unusually focused on security or other aspects of a building or space. Remember that concerns are raised by someone’s behavior, not appearance, dress, race.

If you see something, what next? Call local law enforcement - or 911 in an emergency. Look for law enforcement and report what you see. If you are confused by what you see, and don’t know what it means, call and explain. Local authorities can judge for themselves.

Bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami was tracked to Linden, N.J., after a bar owner who had been viewing news reports saw him sleeping in the bar’s doorway. The bar’s owner reporting Rahami’s presence to police.

Federal, state and city public safety officials said on Monday afternoon that they were not now actively seeking more people in the current terror probe. But that doesn’t mean we must stop being vigilant. The 36,000 members of the NYPD and all law enforcement professionals in and around New York City needed the help of the public.

The 2010 discovery of a bomb in Times Square reminds us that we are experts in our neighborhoods and daily environment, and our observations can make a difference. In that case, street vendors, including Navy vet Duane Jackson of Buchanan, just knew something wasn’t right about a vehicle parked in a no-parking zone. As he approached it, he saw smoke and alerted a police officer, averting a potential disaster.

On Saturday night in Chelsea, a bomb blast injured 29 people; all have been released from the hospital. Earlier that day, a pipe bomb erupted near a Seaside Park charity race; miraculously, no one was hurt. Later that night, a bomb went off outside the NJ Transit station in Elizabeth, and again no one was injured. When Rahami was spotted in Linden, the suspect began shooting, police said. Two Linden police officers were shot, but expected to make full recoveries. The suspect was also shot.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in New York City on Monday that his office and his New Jersey counterparts will “take a lot of care and a lot of time” to bring accurate charges that can be thoroughly prosecuted.

The specific definition of terrorism includes using violence and intimidation for political gain. Even though the particular motivation behind the weekend attacks remains unclear, officials say these attacks are terrorism.

New Yorkers know what they feel: We are terrorized, we are scared. But we are not intimidated.

As brand-new NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said Monday: “We always have to be in a state of alert.” We all have a role in keeping everyone safe, including ourselves and our loved ones.




The Wall Street Journal on China’s growing credit risk.

Sept. 19

Respectable financial analysts once derided the tiny coterie of “China bears” for warning that the country could face a financial crisis. But over the last year the risk of a bad loan reckoning has become conventional wisdom. While Beijing possesses the resources to shore up the banking system, its continuing efforts to stimulate growth with more lending are complicating China’s economic and political predicament.

The latest alarm comes from the Bank for International Settlements, the clearing house of central banks in Basel. Its latest quarterly review shows that China’s credit-to-GDP gap, which measures credit growth above a country’s long-run trend, is now 30.1 percent. Anything above 10 percent is usually considered a red flag.

The idea behind the ratio is that there is no specific debt level that causes problems in all economies, but a sudden borrowing spree is a good predictor of a crisis. It suggests a mania in which loans create the illusion of high returns, which justifies more borrowing. The U.S. credit-to-GDP gap breached the 10 percent level in 2007 right before the housing bubble burst. As Goldman Sachs warned earlier this year, “Every major country with a rapid increase in debt has experienced either a financial crisis or a prolonged slowdown in GDP growth.”

The speed of China’s borrowing was staggering as Beijing opened the credit taps to stop the effects of the global financial crisis from reaching China. Total debt in the economy zoomed to more than 250 percent at the end of last year from less than 150 percent at the end of 2007.

This is especially worrying because the ratio continues to climb despite Beijing’s decision last year to rein in wasteful investment and undertake supply-side reforms. The government promised to stop state banks from evergreening, the practice of making new loans so troubled borrowers can repay old ones. Such zombie companies were supposed to go bankrupt. Instead China has seen few defaults.

Beijing has a good political reason for its caution. Carrying out reform promises would slow growth, and every time that happens social unrest soars. The protests this year in the town of Wukan seem to reprise the violence seen there in 2011, the last time the economy went south.

In the past few months Beijing has encouraged the three policy banks to finance new investments by state-owned enterprises. Banks have also fueled a mortgage boom that has boosted property prices. While the central bank hasn’t cut rates or reserve requirements, it has used open-market operations to give banks more liquidity.

Government statistics show that the banks’ nonperforming-loan ratio is approaching 2 percent, an 11-year high. But even officials acknowledge that the real number is much higher. Banking analyst Charlene Chu has predicted that it could reach 22 percent. That would require Beijing to recapitalize the banking system as it did in the early 2000s.

Fixing the financial system could be much messier this time, due to the advent of shadow banking. The state banks have created a complex web of “wealth management products” that attract investors with higher returns than ordinary deposits. According to Ms. Chu, WMPs grew by $1.1 trillion last year, accounting for nearly 40 percent of total credit growth.

These short-term liabilities fund long-term assets, a mismatch that has exacerbated crises elsewhere. And many of the buyers are other institutions, reminiscent of the U.S. mortgage-backed securities in 2008. Savers don’t understand the risks, and banks have been forced to repay their principal when the WMPs fail. A run on these investments could cause serious unrest and erode middle-class trust in the government.

Beijing faces a daunting challenge of engineering a market-driven deleveraging of an economy that has become dependent on monetary and fiscal stimulus. Managing the inevitable political fallout could be as dangerous as the economic risks.




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