- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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

The Jamestown Post-Journal on a proposal to allow property owners to make partial payments on their property tax bills.

March 15

In a perfect world every homeowner would be able to walk into their local tax collection office and write a check every year to pay their taxes.

As we all know far too well, ours is not a perfect world. Every year, there are people for whom writing a check in a large lump sum is daunting. The situation is especially difficult for those on a fixed income who have paid off their homes and pay increasing amounts in taxes every year. Eventually, they have to sell their homes before they are ready to because they can’t afford to make a large tax payment.



Kudos to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, then, for a proposal in his budget that would allow property owners to make partial payments on their property tax bills during the tax collection period. Cuomo recognizes that computers have made the previous prohibition on partial tax payments obsolete. He also recognizes that it is expensive to pay taxes in many parts of New York state and that government should be looking out for taxpayers. It’s proving difficult to simply decrease tax bills; allowing taxpayers to spread the payment over a longer period is a worthy compromise.

Jim Caflisch, Chautauqua County real property director, is right when he says partial payments will create problems for local tax collectors. Governments will have to figure out how to account for the partial payments and how to make sure they have enough revenue coming in to pay the government’s bills. Those concerns are valid and worthy of discussion; but they should not deter state legislators from approving Cuomo’s proposal. A little inconvenience on government is a price well worth paying to help taxpayers stay in their homes.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2mZ57Uo

The Auburn Citizen on strengthening New York state’s Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law.

March 12

New York state’s Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law have the same underlying purpose of ensuring the public has unfettered access to information about how governments operate. Both establish the foundation that unless covered by a list of specific exemptions, records and meetings are to be accessible and open.

But in the Cayuga County area and throughout the state, these laws are routinely ignored or blatantly violated. And unless someone is willing or able to either publicly shame the violating entity into complying or spend the money to take that entity to court, there’s little recourse for the victims of such violations. And those victims are residents who are kept in the dark about what their government officials are doing and how their tax dollars are being used.

As we enter the nationwide Sunshine Week public transparency education campaign, we join good government groups and other news organizations around the state calling for reforms to New York’s well-intentioned but ultimately flawed sunshine statutes.

Ultimately, we’d like to see these laws given a true enforcement component. Empower a state agency to investigate and issue citations to governmental bodies for violations of FOIL and Open Meetings Law. That exists in other states, such as in Pennsylvania where prosecutors can probe violations and press charges.

New York, unfortunately, appears several steps away from that kind of reform. In the interests of promoting realistic reform in 2017, we think an excellent step in the right direction would be for the passage of Assembly Bill 2750A/Senate Bill 2392A - and doing so this week with a quick sign-off by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

This legislation makes it easier for parties to recover legal costs when they successfully use the court system to compel a government to release information that it had tried to keep secret.

A huge flaw in FOIL that many governments use to their advantage is that it requires individual parties to file lawsuits if they believe the law is being violated and want it to be enforced. That’s daunting to many information seekers, a fact that many governments know. And even if someone is willing to sue for information, the court process can slow things down to the point that stonewalling has been effectively achieved.

A measure that would actively discourage such abuse of FOIL provisions is needed, and this proposed legislation is a good solution. We call upon all our legislators representing the Cayuga County area - state Sens. John DeFrancisco, James Seward and Pam Helming and Assemblymen Gary Finch and Robert Oaks - to support these measures and actively work to get them passed and signed into law.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2mNAdhf

The Glens Falls Post-Star on the firing of Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

March 15

In 2009, shortly after he’d been named U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara was shown evidence that a donor to Sen. Chuck Schumer might have taken part in bank fraud.

Schumer was Bharara’s former boss and the person who had put him forward for the U.S. attorney’s job. But Bharara pressed ahead with an investigation into the donor, just as, for the next eight years, he would press ahead with multiple investigations into the rich and powerful and well-connected.

In just the last couple of years, Bharara has indicted and won convictions of both an Assembly speaker - Sheldon Silver, a Democrat - and a Senate majority leader - Dean Skelos, a Republican.

When he was fired this past weekend by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Bharara was in the midst of an investigation into the fundraising activities of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. He was also in the middle of prosecuting corruption charges against former aides of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Bharara is a Democrat himself, but you cannot find a Democratic politician or power broker in New York who thinks he favors Democrats.

Bharara is a prosecutor’s prosecutor. He goes after bad guys, and he’s good at it. If you want to root out corruption, you cannot do better than him.

Across New York, the firing of Bharara has been greeted by disappointment from all sides.

Defenders of the Trump administration point out that other presidents have dismissed U.S. attorneys held over from previous administrations, which is true. But Bharara’s abrupt removal could have been made much less controversial if the Trump team had given him time to wrap up ongoing investigations or at least waited until a successor was approved to lessen turmoil in the prosecutor’s office.

And you have to look at Bharara’s firing in the larger context of his nonpartisanship, his record of convictions and assurances he had received from Donald Trump that he would be able to stay in his job.

Bharara has prosecuted a dozen current and former state legislators and more than a dozen other political power brokers. He has prosecuted international terrorists, drug bosses and money launderers. He went after a Russian arms dealer and a Turkish gold trader. He has convicted hedge fund traders and other high-rollers in insider trading cases. He has wrung big fines out of banks, enriching the state.

When Cuomo set up the Moreland Commission to look into corrupt political practices, then disbanded it, Bharara stepped in to scoop up the unfinished investigations. He has been the conscience of New York.

President Trump made political corruption one of the selling points of his campaign, with his “drain the swamp” motto. But he just fired the best swamp-drainer in the country. This rash act was too bad for Bharara, who has talked about his passion for his job. But it was even worse for New York, which needs a strong advocate for justice to oppose the wealthy and corrupt characters who, too often, end up running our state.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2nrWoYo

The Utica Observer-Dispatch on rejecting the American Health Care Act, known as “Trumpcare.”

March 15

And so, the rich get richer - as usual, at the expense of the poor.

That’s the way it’ll be if the American Health Care Act - dubbed Trumpcare - goes into effect.

No one with a conscience would even consider voting for it.

Sadly, many leaders in Congress don’t have a conscience.

Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, must be better than that. We urge her to stand up for the poor children in her 22nd Congressional District - and across America - and oppose this lame plan.

Earlier this week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 14 million Americans would lose health coverage next year under House Republican legislation being proposed to replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. That tally would rise to 21 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026. By then, the total number of uninsured Americans would reach 52 million.

Many of those would be children.

In a letter to members of Congress who head committees dealing with the new health care plan, The American Academy of Pediatrics said that thanks to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act, the number of children with health insurance today is at an historic high of 95 percent. The proposed AHCA would unravel that by gutting Medicaid for low-income Americans, many of whom are children.

“Medicaid has been a crucial source of health care coverage for children for over 50 years,” the AAP letter states. “Today, approximately 36 million children rely on Medicaid for their care each year. AHCA would end the federal government’s commitment to state Medicaid programs as we know it.”

The AAP states that the alteration in the structure of Medicaid will ultimately lead to reductions in enrollment, cuts to benefits, and decreased access to physicians.

This is not acceptable. It’s made even more unacceptable by the fact that the mechanics of it all throws our nation’s poor children, elderly and disabled under the health care bus while the rich reap rewards.

The plan includes $600 billion in tax cuts over 10 years, primarily benefiting wealthy Americans. According to The Joint Committee on Taxation, among the biggest cuts are repeals of two Obamacare surtaxes on the highest-earning Americans: a 0.9 percent payroll tax add-on and a 3.8 percent tax on net investment income for couples whose incomes exceed $250,000 ($200,000 for individuals). Repealing these would cost $275 billion over the next decade. The law would also cut other taxes, such as the tanning tax and excise taxes on insurers; drug manufacturers and importers; and medical-device manufacturers and importers.

Adds the American Academy of Pediatrics: “The proposal also makes other concerning changes to the Medicaid program. The bill phases out an ACA provision that moved more than half a million children from low-income families into Medicaid, offering these children guaranteed eligibility for public coverage and comprehensive benefits under EPSDT (Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment). Eliminating this provision will likely result in children of different ages within a single family receiving coverage from different programs, which is unnecessarily confusing and burdensome for vulnerable families.

“In addition, the elimination of the ACA Medicaid expansion will also increase un-insurance among young adults and parents, negatively impacting family health and stability. Finally, the AHCA would interfere with the ability of patients to choose their preferred providers in the Medicaid program based on criteria unrelated to their qualifications.”

The Republicans’ replacement plan is a train wreck. The bottom line is that if approved, it would increase the number of Americans without health insurance by 24 million and reduce the federal budget deficit by $337 billion by 2026. That hardly seems a worthwhile tradeoff.

Congresswoman Tenney, don’t sell out the poor children. Reject this lousy plan. It’s immoral.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2m08pr3

Newsday on the latest leak from WikiLeaks and the intentions of founder Julian Assange.

March 9

Like a bloodless villain in a vertiginous James Bond plot of surveillance and intrigue, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange alleged yesterday that the CIA has “lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal” of hacking tools.

The charge came two days after WikiLeaks disclosed that the CIA had tools allowing it to climb into an individual’s television set, smartphone or computer, essentially getting around any encryption security. Unlike previous WikiLeaks dumps of stolen information in the supposed service of transparency, Assange refused to release the actual software code that made the consumer electronic devices vulnerable. Instead, he ingratiatingly offered to work with technology companies to help them fix security flaws.

The companies should decline the offer to work with an organization that is seeking to undermine our nation - one that revels in stealing government secrets, violating individual privacy and working with the Russians. During the summer, WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff.

While Assange’s disinformation campaign is meant to sound the sirens of privacy, this is about a proxy war between Vladimir Putin and the United States, one designed to weaken our ability to keep our nation safe.

Assange’s claims - made in an online news conference from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he hides as a fugitive from accusations of rape in Sweden - are unverified but apparently authentic. The tech industry should waste no time eliminating these risks if they still exist. Maybe the CIA will help.

And if the CIA’s ability to do high-tech eavesdropping was compromised, it must be held accountable for losing these valuable intelligence tools, and possibly re-evaluate its dependence on outside contractors.

WikiLeaks, which on Tuesday claimed to have more than 8,700 CIA files and documents, says it obtained the trove from contractors who had access to it. The FBI is now investigating the unauthorized release of the information.

Just as concerning as WikiLeaks’ possession of the data, which it appears to have obtained a while ago, is the timing of the disclosure. On Tuesday, WikiLeaks made a point of saying the CIA has tools that can cover its tracks by making it seem that a hostile nation - read Russia here - is responsible for the espionage.

President Donald Trump has waged a pitched battle with the intelligence community since it disclosed that the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. There has been a cavalcade of media reports and congressional inquiries into contacts among Russia and Trump’s campaign and transition teams. Then last weekend, Trump claimed without evidence that his predecessor in the White House ordered the wiretapping of his Trump Tower telephones.

The timing of Assange’s disclosures suggests that his motive could very well have been to create the scenario that it is really the CIA, and not Russia, that is behind all these events.

Assange is not America’s friend. He is Putin’s stooge.

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Online:

https://nwsdy.li/2nncHZP

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