ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Syracuse Post-Standard on political corruption and public financing of campaigns in New York.
The latest corruption outbreak has spawned no fewer than four competing proposals to clean up Albany. Public financing of campaigns is at the center of three of them, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he's in favor. It is a concept whose time has come. When combined with spending limits and other electoral reforms, public campaign financing has the potential to disrupt Albany in a way that previous, half-hearted attempts to curb corruption have failed to do.
Public campaign financing will not cure all that ails the body politic. It cannot detect a larcenous heart. But it seems a relatively cheap and sensible step toward restoring confidence that state government — the Legislature, in particular — acts in the public's interest.
We do not endorse the idea lightly, or with a blank check. Politicians intent on gaming the system usually find a way. Also, there will always be more pressing spending priorities for taxpayer money. But when those priorities are thrown out of whack by the influence of big money on our politicians, something fundamental has to change.
Here's just one example: In the state budget just adopted, lawmakers and the governor left a $90 million hole in programs helping New York's disabled while preserving $420 million in incentives to the deep-pocketed film and television industries. A public campaign financing system is projected to cost the state up to $40 million a year — about what New York taxpayers gave ABC Studios to produce the TV shows "Ugly Betty" and "Cupid." If we value our democracy, we should be willing to invest in it.
Most of the public campaign financing proposals on the table call for a matching every $1 in small campaign donations with $6 in taxpayer money. Proponents say combining that with lower campaign contribution limits would encourage more candidates to run, amplify the voices of average voters and blunt the influence of big-money donors.
They cite New York City, where a small-donor matching system for local elections has been in place since 1997. They point to data showing that while candidates for state office raised only 6 percent of their campaign money from donors giving $250 or less, candidates for city office raised 37 percent of their cash from such small donors. Matching funds give candidates an incentive to engage more voters and hear their concerns.
It's not a perfect system. While public campaign financing increases the pool of small donors, there is little evidence it increases voter participation. Incumbents still have a fundraising advantage by virtue of having built up a campaign war chest. A well-heeled candidate can spend a fortune to get elected by opting out of public financing. And there's no limiting political contributions protected as free speech by the U.S. Supreme Court, so money in politics is here to stay.
For all that, public campaign financing has the potential to get more people involved in the political process — the best defense against corruption. It would give average citizens the means to run for office, create competition for entrenched incumbents and — over time — change Albany from the outside in. At least, it's worth a try.
The Auburn Citizen on Gov. Cuomo and the fiscal challenges facing New York's municipalities.
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner made serious waves earlier this year when she publicly challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo's efforts to help financially distressed municipalities throughout the state.
Miner was disappointed with the governor's budget proposal because it lacked a plan to help cities, counties, towns and school districts remove the increasing burden of mandated costs from state government while dealing with flat revenue sources.
The governor's biggest proposal to help in this area, a pension stabilization plan that reduces payments local governments must make now by essentially deferring them to the future, has received considerable criticism from Miner and others as a borrowing scheme.
But in a style typical of top Cuomo aides responding to any questioning of the governor, the executive branch's director of operations said: "If you're unwilling or unable to solve a problem in fiscal management in a city, there's a mechanism for that: You ask the Legislature to create a financial control board, and the financial control board will solve the problem for you."
The problem with that response is that the state has dozens of municipalities on the verge of insolvency — the idea of financial control boards fixing this major issue on a case-by-case basis is unrealistic.
And that's why it's encouraging to hear the governor himself last week say he now wants to have a broader discussion. "I want ... to talk about the larger problem of distressed communities and governments and how the state can help," he told a radio show.
That's a vague statement, to be sure. But it's a start.
The real move he needs to make is to take some concrete action. As others have pointed out, Cuomo is skilled at bringing people together to talk about challenges and helping them find consensus on solutions. He's held productive summits to help the state's yogurt and wine and beer industries.
It's time for him to put those skills in use by bringing together local government leaders from around the state to work together with Albany on helping communities navigate the tough path ahead.
The New York Times on U.S. policy and the civil war in Syria.
There was more horror in Syria over the weekend, where scores of bodies, most of them civilians, were discovered in a Damascus suburb. The victims are believed to have died in a weeklong offensive by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who seems to have no misgivings whatever about a slaughter, including the use of airstrikes and missiles, that has claimed more than 70,000 lives so far during two-and-a-half years of war.
Long after Western governments predicted he would be gone, Mr. Assad is hanging on even as his country unravels, deepening sectarian divisions, expanding the fighting across borders and forcing an estimated one million Syrians to flee to neighboring countries. There are increasing fears about whether the country can hold together, whether the fighting will destabilize its neighbors and whether, when all is said and done, extremist groups with connections to Al Qaeda who have been among the best anti-Assad fighters will emerge on top.
Eager to find ways to speed Mr. Assad's fall, or at least change his calculations, President Obama is edging, cautiously but appropriately, toward greater support for the rebels. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Washington would double aid to the opposition's military wing by providing an additional $123 million in "nonlethal" assistance like body armor and night-vision goggles. Some $385 million in humanitarian aid had already been committed.
The president has wisely resisted calls to supply American weapons and to intervene directly. He should continue to do so. Nevertheless, in recent months, the C.I.A. has helped Arab governments and Turkey airlift arms and equipment to the rebels and provided training. The agency also vetted rebel groups to ensure that only moderates receive those supplies.
Such caution makes sense, not least because the administration itself is not unanimous on whether more aid is a good thing. Mr. Kerry sees opportunities in the opposition, while Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned of the risks of deeper involvement with opposition groups whose loyalties to the West, and a moderate course, are suspect.
A weekend meeting in Istanbul of 11 countries committed to aiding the opposition sought to address some of those problems. Mr. Kerry said donor nations agreed to funnel all aid through the rebel military council to prevent it from falling into the hands of extremist groups. The rebels also renewed their promises to embrace minorities who have backed Mr. Assad, build a pluralistic government and forgo postwar reprisals.
Meanwhile, the European Union on Monday eased sanctions to allow European importers to buy oil from the Syrian opposition, which controls some territory with oil deposits. This may have little practical effect given the country's battered infrastructure, but it could boost the opposition's credibility and finances. The European Union should think twice about letting its arms embargo expire because that could open the door to Britain and France providing the rebels with lethal aid.
Assisting the rebels is not the whole answer. Mr. Obama and Europe should keep trying to persuade Russia to abandon its unconscionable support for Mr. Assad and to work cooperatively to stabilize the region.
The Buffalo News on the U.S. Supreme Court considering the legitimacy of patenting genes.
"Everyone has genetic predispositions that put them at greater risks for some disease. If a patent limits access to that information, you are making a decision about someone's life."
No truer words were spoken on a complicated issue that is being taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. The quote is from Kathleen Maxian of Pendleton, N.Y., who suffers from the late stages of ovarian cancer and, as reported, wonders if that is because of the policy of Myriad Genetics, which controls the patents behind two genetic tests that can detect a family propensity for breast and ovarian cancer. She did not receive the second of those two tests but, if she had, she said she might have had her ovaries removed before they became cancerous.
As outlined by News medical reporter Henry L. Davis, the Supreme Court justices have been grappling with the question about the legitimacy of patenting genes. It is a 21st century question that has far-reaching implications.
The answer ought to be, no. While that position could have its own deleterious affect on the progress of medical science and commerce, the idea of patenting nature is unpalatable and carries its own unforeseen implications.
In Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, the Supreme Court is examining Myriad's monopoly over human genes linked to a significant increase in the risk of breast and ovarian cancer for women. The Utah-based company obtained patents that give it the exclusive right to perform diagnostic tests for two genes that everyone carries: BRCA1 and BRCA2. The company charges a few thousand dollars for that test and, right or wrong, an individual would have to pay the price to have a peek at those genes.
The legal challenge says that the company's monopoly on the BRCA genes allows it to dictate the terms of testing. Doing so bars other laboratories from testing the genes, which in turn makes it impossible to verify the accuracy of Myriad's results.
But, the company and others contend, without patent protection it will be much harder for companies to bring innovation to market, which can take years and tens of millions of dollars. Basing a decision on the merits of commerce alone is bad public policy. Experts have written about the consequences of companies owning gene sequences, although there have been a long list of gene patents granted since the 1980s.
The Supreme Court's ruling will resolve two conflicting court decisions. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in 2010 that genes could not be patented. The following year, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed that ruling.
So far, the justices' debate has ranged from comparisons to tree bark and baseball bats to chocolate chip cookies. This case has drawn analogies as to what in nature, if extracted or altered, can be patented. Is an isolated gene akin to an ingredient in a kitchen pantry, as Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor suggested, or like a baseball bat that doesn't exist until being isolated from a tree, as a Myriad company lawyer suggested? Chief Justice John G. Roberts pointed out that baseball bats don't just spring from a tree upon sight. "You have to invent it, if you will," he said.
Allowing human genes to be patented by private companies is a slippery slope - one we've already begun to slide down. The continued downhill trajectory has too many pitfalls.
The Poughkeepsie Journal on the need for Congress to act on immigration reform.
They have failed to reach a grand bargain concerning the country's troubling finances. They have avoided any action on a comprehensive energy policy. They have scuttled any notion of gun-control legislation even as the carnage continues in U.S. streets.
Federal officials have done pathetically little right of late, mostly because Republicans and Democrats can't forge any compromises. But on immigration reform it can be different. And it must be different because, for the good of the country, Congress and President Barack Obama must make progress on something big and profound.
Stung by the results of November's elections in which they decidedly lost the growing Latino vote, Republican leaders have said they are willing to embrace comprehensive reform.
Eight U.S. senators — four Democrats and four Republicans — have been working on such a deal and, yes, it is far from perfect. Those long opposed to such a measure say it would bring into the United States too many unskilled workers who would compete for jobs with unemployed Americans. Those long in favor of sweeping changes say the parameters being discussed include too many impediments on the path to citizenship for those illegally in this country.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is one of the eight to craft the legislation, and he said succinctly, "No one gets everything they want."
Congress must ensure that, as this debate continues, the perfect does not become the enemy of the good. And the idea put forth is a sound one.
For starters, border security would be tightened. That's critically important because there already are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.
Secondly, those here illegally would get temporary legal status within six months of the bill passing if they meet certain conditions, but most would have to wait at least 10 years and pay more than $2,000 in fines and penalties before they could apply for a green card. In the interim, they wouldn't qualify for federal benefits and would have to learn English.
Creating a legal path is important too because there is just no worldly way the country is going to round up and deport all these people, even if it had the desire to do so.
As for the concerns about job competition, American unemployment has been high as a result of the recession, but there is no getting around the fact that many jobs — especially in the service industry — are hard for employers to fill.
The plan also would require employers to move gradually to an Internet-based system that enables them to verify through the federal government that a prospective hire is allowed to work in the U.S.
The so-called "Gang of Eight" senators have put forth a sweeping measure that deserves careful consideration and debate. It must not be bludgeoned, but rather dissected.
If better ideas emerge and some of the senators' suggestions get modified, so be it. But the country needs a broad change in its immigration policies. And the concepts the senators are proposing are an excellent place to start.