Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
The Post-Standard on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts at reform.
Eight years ago, Andrew Cuomo stood on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan - named for the infamous Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall - and vowed to end corruption in Albany if voters elected him governor.
Eight years later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is running for a third term, and Albany is swampier than ever. The governor has a short window to redeem himself on ethics before he faces the voters in November.
In the waning days of the Legislature’s session, which ends June 20, he can use his considerable powers of persuasion to strike a deal with legislators on meaningful ethics legislation. Does he have the will to do it?
All it really takes is will. For years, Cuomo threw up his hands over the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate, whose alliance with Republicans kept the GOP minority in power. Turns out, a meeting with leaders over coffee and cookies - and a challenge from Cuomo’s left by Cynthia Nixon - was all it took for Cuomo to orchestrate a reunion.
Cuomo talks a good game on ethics, proposing bills each legislative session that never go anywhere. Sure, the governor has advanced some incremental reforms, among them better disclosure of legislators’ outside income, and a constitutional amendment that voters passed last year to strip pensions from officials convicted of felony corruption. But the Joint Commission on Public Ethics he helped create is a watchdog that doesn’t bark. The governor’s handpicked Moreland Commission was supposed to go after public corruption, but he meddled with it and disbanded it within months.
Nothing Cuomo or the Legislature has done so far has made a dent in Albany corruption.
The former leaders of the Assembly and Senate stand convicted of corruption, along with dozens of their colleagues. Cuomo’s right-hand man, Joe Percoco, was convicted of corruption in February and awaits sentencing. Another trial involving alleged bid-rigging and “pay to play” contracts in Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development program begins this month.
Fighting corruption isn’t rocket science. The governor and the Legislature know what to do.
Close the “LLC loophole” that allows contributors to pour an unlimited amount of money into political campaigns. Ban “pay to play” by curtailing campaign contributions from state vendors. Create a “database of deals” to disclose the recipient of every taxpayer subsidy for economic development. Give the state Comptroller authority to vet SUNY contracts over $1 million and ban nonprofit affiliates from contracting on behalf of the state, the practice at the center of the recent corruption trials. (The bill, carried by Sen. John DeFrancisco, passed the Senate and awaits action by the Assembly.)
Neither Cuomo nor legislative leaders hold out much hope for anything of consequence to get done in the 11 days left in the legislative session, despite a long list of unfinished business. Our leaders should aim higher, and voters should punish them in November if they don’t.
Newsday on the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Worn, but not beaten.
That’s the fitting description the National September 11 Memorial & Museum provided for the large stones that will point toward the sky and mark a new pathway at the World Trade Center: a tribute to survivors and first responders who are sick or have died from 9/11-related illnesses. The new section of the memorial will be located in a grassy section of the southwest end of the plaza.
It’s been 16 years since first responders ended rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center. But in illness after illness, and loss after loss, the tragic impact of the months they spent at “the pile” reverberates in the ongoing suffering of tens of thousands of rescue and recovery workers, area residents and others who were exposed to toxins.
Nearly 70,000 first responders and more than 14,000 survivors receive monitoring, treatment and care through the World Trade Center Health Program.
The national memorial’s plan to acknowledge their plight, through a space called the Memorial Glade, is especially meaningful given the years those victims spent fighting for care and treatment. After all, it was 2006 when NYPD Officer James Zadroga died of a respiratory illness attributed to his work on the pile, and the Zadroga Act was proposed. But it wasn’t until 2010 that the act was passed. It became permanent in 2015.
The image of first responders, some of whom were already ill, in the halls of Congress, begging our nation’s leaders to help take care of them, still resonates. So do the stories of first responders still getting sick, still dying. As recently as May 26, David Levalley, a special agent in the FBI’s Atlanta office, died of complications from exposure to toxins from the trade center. A week earlier, retired NYPD Officer Scott Blackshaw of Huntington Station died of cancer; he had spent six weeks in the rubble. And South Huntington resident Mark Natale, also a retired NYPD officer, died of cancer on May 4. He had helped people escape on 9/11, and then stood guard near Ground Zero.
The new memorial at the World Trade Center plaza will pay tribute to Zadroga, Levalley, Blackshaw, Natale and thousands of others, to their strength, heroism and sacrifice, and to the debt we all owe them.
Worn, but not beaten.
The Niagara Gazette on combatting phone scams.
“Who is this?”
“Please stop calling me.”
Versions of this conversation are all-too common these days as people continue to be inundated with bothersome telephone calls from telemarketers, survey takers, bill collectors and, yes, scam artists.
While the first three groups may actually serve a genuine purpose, the final category - that of the telephone scammer - serves only to benefit those who are looking to make money by taking advantage of unsuspecting individuals.
These scams have taken many forms and have resulted in the theft of countless dollars.
Current laws and members of law enforcement have been unable to keep up with the seemingly ever-changing nature of these telephone scam artists who seem to be as brazen as ever as they exhibit less and less of what most members of society would consider civil or appropriate conduct.
While the suspects are still due their day in court and have only been accused, not convicted of any crimes, this week marked something of a breakthrough when it comes to attempting to bring telephone scammers to justice as, after an investigation, the New York State Attorney General and New York State Police announced the arrest of three individuals.
The three suspects are accused of overseeing an elaborate telephone extortion scheme that took advantage of 55 victims across Niagara, Onondaga, Kings, Nassau, Oneida, Madison, Oswego, Cayuga, Cortland and Genesee counties.
According to the indictment in the case, the suspects called victims and claimed that their close relatives were in car accidents and demanded money after suggesting the relatives in question did not sufficient insurance to pay their related bills. The suspects are accused of threatening to cause physical harm to the victims’ family members if the ransom was not paid, with at least one of the trio of suspects also claiming to be either a drug dealer or gang member in an effort to instill more fear into the targets. The indictment suggests some victims were told their relatives would be shot if they did not comply.
The details of this particular case sadly sound all-too familiar to people who have been targeted by dubious callers at the other end of their home, business and cell phones.
While previous scams often attempted to trick people into sending money, in recent years it seems the nature of the calls have turned darker and, at times, even violent.
It seems telephone scammers know no bounds as they have, at various points, posed as officers of the law, representatives from legitimate charitable groups, pseudo-representatives of made-up non-profits that don’t actually exist and, as shown in the above example, bad samaritans with bad intentions, drug dealers or gang members.
While tugging at the heartstrings of people who have wives, husbands, children and family members they adore is without a doubt one of the dirtiest tricks a scammer could employ, it is, unfortunately, very likely to be an effective one as well.
There’s some comfort in knowing at least that representatives from agencies like the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Police are keeping tabs on such activity, the reality is these sorts of calls keep coming and coming and coming and are likely to continue to happen even after perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted.
The best advice has now become old advice.
If you don’t recognize the call or are suspicious of its origin, hang up.
Never, ever, under any circumstances should anyone send money or financial information to individuals or organizations that do not seem on the up and up.
If you receive a call that includes threats from people demanding money or if you believe you have been victimized by a telephone scam, then contact the State Police at 1-800-GIVETIP.
It seems as though there’s no way to completely eliminate scam callers from our lives completely.
Being smart about what you say over the phone and reporting bad actors is the only way to stop these modern-day telephone thieves from reaping any benefit from their criminal activity.
The New York Times on reckoning with Facebook’s power.
When the government broke up the telephone system in 1984, the fact that AT&T could count most citizens as customers and that it was arguably the best-run telephone company in the world was not deemed compelling enough to preserve its monopoly power. The breakup would unleash a wave of competition and innovation that ultimately benefited consumers and the economy.
Facebook seems to be in a similar position today - only with far greater global reach than Ma Bell could have imagined. Facebook’s two billion monthly active users, and the way those accounts are linked and viewed by users and by third parties, have made it the most powerful communications and media company in the world, even if its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, insists his is a technology business.
And that power is being abused. As The New York Times reported Tuesday, Facebook shared data with at least four Chinese electronics firms, including one flagged by American officials as a national security threat. We learned earlier this week, thanks to a Times investigation, that it allowed phone and other device makers, including Amazon, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft, to see vast amounts of your personal information without your knowledge. That behavior appears to violate a consent order that Facebook agreed to with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011, after Facebook was found to have made repeated changes to its privacy settings that allowed the company to transfer user data without bothering to inform the users. And it follows the even darker revelation that Facebook allowed a trove of information, including users’ education levels, likes, locations, and religious and political affiliations, to be exploited by the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica to manipulate potential voters for its Republican Party clients.
Throughout its history, Facebook has adamantly argued that it treats our data, and who has access to it, as a sort of sacred trust, with Zuckerberg & Company being the trustees. Yet at the same time, Facebook has continued to undermine privacy by making it cumbersome to opt out of sharing, trying to convince users that we actually do want to share all of our personal information (and some people actually do) and by leaving the door unlocked for its partners and clients to come in and help themselves. Those partners have included 60 device makers that used application programming interfaces, also known as A.P.I.s, so Facebook could run on their gadgets.
In Facebook’s view those partners functioned as extensions of the Facebook app itself and offered similar privacy protections. And the company said that most of this intrusive behavior happened a decade ago, when mobile apps barely existed and Facebook had to program its way onto those devices. “We controlled them tightly from the get-go,” said Facebook’s Ime Archibong, vice president for product partnerships, in a response to The Times’s article. Yet a Times reporter was able to retrieve information on 295,000 Facebook users using a five-year-old BlackBerry.
A consortium of consumer and privacy organizations, including the Center for Digital Democracy, has already asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Facebook violated the consent order after the Cambridge Analytica disclosures. Facebook’s failure to protect users’ basic information from outdated devices is only more evidence that the company either can’t manage its data or can’t manage to care, despite Mr. Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony to the contrary. “I say this gently,” said Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, to Mr. Zuckerberg during his testimony. “Your user agreement sucks.”
Mr. Zuckerberg told Mr. Kennedy that he should have “complete control” over his data. The senator is willing to turn that into law. He and his colleague Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, have proposed rules to codify the right of consumers to opt out and keep their information private while giving them more control over it. More important, the senators’ bill would require “plain language” so there’s no confusion - not a big request, since the insurance industry did so years ago without any apparent harm.
The European Union has passed such legislation, called the General Data Protection Regulation, or G.D.P.R., which forces companies such as Facebook to do a better job shielding individual data. Facebook says it is willing to extend the G.D.P.R. to anyone who asks for it. Though why should we have to ask for what ought to be ours to begin with?
Competition might change the game. That so many internet users are concerned about their privacy may serve as an invitation for another company to challenge Facebook. T-Mobile and its renegade chief executive, John Legere, proved that the wireless phone hegemony could be attacked by a smart rival that sells transparency along with cellphone service. Prices for phone service retreated; service improved. Everyone still makes money. Some company ought to do Facebook the same favor.
At some point a government agency might be willing to break away some of its components and chop it down to size. After all, it’s happened before.
The (Middleton) Times-Herald Record on the rehabilitation of the Danskammer power plant.
At first glance, it might make sense to support the rehabilitation of the Danskammer power plant in the Town of Newburgh.
According to the plans outlined by the plant owner, the new “Danskammer Energy Center” would include a natural gas-powered turbine and a steam turbine to replace the existing four steam turbine generators. Instead of operating as a “peaking facility” providing power to fill energy needs at times of high demand, often when extreme weather increases the use of air conditioning or heating, it would provide a more steady source with a capacity of 525 to 575 megawatts instead of the present 511.
There is a good regional case to be made for that extra generating capacity because it would help replace some of what will be lost when the 2,000-megawatt Indian Point nuclear power plant closes in April 2021.
There is an even stronger local case to be made if the new plant can provide more funding for the town and the Marlboro School District which lost a considerable amount of tax revenue when the old plant first closed and then reopened at a lowered capacity.
And there may even be an environmental case to be made. The plant owners already have stressed that they will be using an “air-cooled condensing” system to reduce the need to draw water from the Hudson River, a practice that in the past has had detrimental effects on fish.
At second glance, however, there are questions, some narrow, most very broad.
The narrow ones should be familiar to anyone who has been following the saga of the Competitive Power Ventures gas-powered generating plant in the Town of Wawayanda. It came with loads of promises both made and implied that it would not have a detrimental effect on the local environment, promises that many local residents and many local officials now feel were at best inaccurate, more likely misleading. While there are many efforts to keep the plant from becoming fully operational, efforts that deal with environmental, legal and political issues, they all fall under the same category:
We would not have let this plant be built if we had known all that we know now.
So that should be the first hurdle that the Danskammer project needs to clear, a thorough and believable investigation with assurances and, even more important, interim measures so that the project does not get to that almost-completed phase when it is even harder to stop.
Much more important is the second hurdle, the justification for building anything reliant on fossil fuels at a time when New York state is committed to reducing that source and relying instead on wind, solar and hydro.
It will be hard to imagine Gov. Cuomo promoting this project because it would make his vows to have most, if not all, power in the state coming from renewables in the next decades that much harder to reach.
That also should be the prime consideration for the Public Service Commission. If it is serious about this transformation to alternative energy sources, then it will be difficult to support any plan going in the other direction.
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