Albany Needs to Lead Anti-corruption Fight

David Paterson

A joint session of the New York Legislature is seen at the State Capitol Building in Albany.

When it comes to national politics, New York State has always been one to lead the way.

So many nationwide standards that have now become normal life began with Albany making the charge to reform. In 1984, New York was the first state to require all people to wear seat belts when riding in their vehicle. In 2003, New York became the third state to ban smoking in nearly every restaurant, bar and workplace. And in 2011, New York became the fifth state to legalize gay marriage.

The empire state has sent six U.S. presidents to the White House, with a New York businessman and former senator currently making their own bids. One of the current senators is the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate and one of its current Republican congresswomen is the youngest female ever elected to the House of Representatives.

More recently, the state has become a growing foundation in many issues we hear so much about — gun control, minimum wage, Common Core, hydrofracking, teacher tenure, police brutality and medical marijuana.

However, one of those issues that we hear so much about isn’t one to tout about—political corruption.

In a 2015 poll by Monmouth University which asked Americans what state they thought was the most corrupt, New York was the top choice. A 2014 Washington Post article cited a report by the University of Illinois at Chicago, stating that New York had the most total federal public corruption convictions out of any state between 1976 and 2010. And these were before this past year’s historic convictions of the second and third most powerful men in the state—Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos—convictions that will rock the state capitol for a long time to come.

It is unfair to say New York is the most corrupt state for sure. There are too many factors and numbers involved. However, we can agree not many states have both of their chamber leaders resign and convicted just weeks apart. And until last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was investigated for his sudden shutdown of the Moreland Commission—a panel that would probe into corruption in the state government—an action which U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara ruled wasn’t criminal. Many still have their doubts however.

Why all the corruption? We can attribute it to the same old two ingredients that make up crookedness—money and power. Silver was found guilty on Nov. 30 of receiving kickbacks through secret arrangements with two law firms. Skelos and his son were convicted of using the lawmaker’s authority to score a job that paid his son thousands of dollars a year for which he hardly showed up for. Many state lawmakers have resigned in the last ten years because of scandals due to loopholes in campaign financing.

So, it’s not surprising what the culprit is. What is surprising is that even after Silver and Skelos, the state legislature continues to put campaign finance, outside income and ethics reform on the back burner. In a Feb. 10 article by The Washington Times, Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan is quoted as saying “[New Yorkers] want economic development, they want a chance to have good economic opportunity for them and their families… Do some people talk about [corruption]? Yes. But it is way at the bottom of the priority list.”

Now, there is no doubt that jobs are a crucial issue in the state. However, New Yorkers have made their point time and again that weeding out political malpractice needs to be on the table. A recent Siena College poll found that 89 percent of New York voters think Albany corruption is a serious problem. And they should. Both Silver and Skelos’ fundamental defense was that their actions were “business as usual in Albany.” Something is seriously wrong with government when criminal acts are deemed acceptable.

“Way at the bottom of the priority list” just doesn’t cut it. If the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one, the second step is recognizing where the problem is.

“You think no one knew Sheldon Silver was corrupt before he was put in handcuffs? Not a chance,” Preet Bharara said in a recent visit to Albany. “Good people knew, and yet they didn’t do anything.”

The fabric of the legislature is a priority that needs doctoring now—because only then will lawmakers be able to function in a moral matter and only then will voters trust them to work on crucial issue like jobs and many other things. After all, you can’t make a good cake with rotten eggs.

Now, there will always be money in politics. And there will always be those in office who use their position for personal gains. But Albany now has a chance at a turning point.

And it’s a chance that must be taken. Only then can other states look to New York once again and see the progress its made in a campaign to clean up Albany—and begin working on their own.

Maybe because of New York, just like when we climb into a car now and instinctively buckle our seat belts, we can someday look at a clean government and say “Can you believe we didn’t used to have these?”

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

 

Should the Past Count On College Applications?

College-ApplicationThe past haunts all of us. It haunts us even more when it’s on paper. A criminal record on paper will affect one’s job hunt, loan requests, college applications—oh wait. Not so fast.

College applications ask perspective students dozens of questions, but only one is increasingly coming under fire.

Many high schools and colleges are questioning the necessity and fairness of requesting any disciplinary reports on college applications. In December, the school board in Syracuse voted to no longer share disciplinary information with colleges when asked on the Common Application or elsewhere.

“How many times should a student pay? You make a mistake when you’re a ninth grader and it hurts you when you are applying to college?” is what Syracuse superintendent Sharon Contreras told The Associated Press.

One of the big questions here is how much weight do these reports factor into whether a student is accepted to that school or not. A 2015 study by the Center for Community Alternatives found that roughly three out of four colleges and universities collect high school disciplinary information, and that 89 percent of those institutions use the information to make admission decisions.

Now, one can’t exactly blame their reasoning for asking about a student’s past offenses. With the events of Virginia Tech, Arizona State and Oregon’s Umpqua Community College becoming a bigger part of our reality, it appears more than logical for universities to do a little bit of playing safe. They want to know who they are letting inside their walls. Of course, just because a student punched another in ninth grade does not mean they will take a gun into a building and take 31 lives.

But is denying students for these reasons make a campus any safer? Who’s to say someone like Seung-Hui Cho could be accepted without any disciplinary history? It’s simple—we don’t know.

The other big question here is what are these students being reported on? According to The Associated Press, the reports from Marist University in Poughkeepsie have turned up “everything from private school students suspended for not pulling up their socks to cheating, cyberbullying and felony convictions.”

We are entering an era where we are really starting to look closer at the actual crime compared to the sentence. We see this all the time in the news with President Obama pushing the “nonviolent crime” injustice factor in our court system. It may be the same for students applying for college. Does it seem reasonable to literally prevent someone from pursuing their aspiration as a teacher, engineer or doctor just because they didn’t pull up their socks?

And it goes further than that in terms of actual context of the crime. Say someone in ninth grade is caught with drugs in school. Then say by the time they are a senior, they are completely sober and have started a school-wide program or speaking tour, advocating against drug use. That someone sounds like they could be an extremely good student in college. But the scars of the past can hide that happy ending.

All that being said, education is the road to our future and discipline is the road to education. In no way should any wrongdoing by a student be thrown out the window. Not only does that not help the student who did the crime but discredits students who have a clean record. Whether it was a one-time fight or a school year of cyberbullying, one thing is clear—there was a misdeed done.

And they should be taken seriously because this isn’t the 19th century with a teacher and a yard stick. In high school and college, I unfortunately witnessed many of my peers get away with a lot of things they shouldn’t have—many times over. As an example, with the Internet now a necessity in high school and college, plagiarism is one of the easiest misdeeds to commit and one of the hardest to identify. It is a zero tolerance offense—and should never be taken lightly at any education level.

If students feel their past is an unfair negative reflection on their future, the first step to changing that is to accept it. Only then will they be able to grow from it.

In order to ensure a fair system, not only do we need to determine how criminal acts impact one’s chances of getting into college and determine the context of that act, but more importantly, we need to ensure we raise the youth to learn from their mistakes, not find ways around them.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Why I’m Not Worried for a Trump or Sanders presidency

Bernie Sanders

When you go on Facebook or Twitter or just engage an actual conversation, there’s a good chance that somewhere along the line you’ll hear someone say that they’re going to “move to Canada” or just “leave the country” if Donald Trump is to win this year’s presidential election. Many have said the same about Sen. Bernie Sanders if he overtakes Hillary Clinton’s lead.

It’s become a satirical staple in recent contests. I remember everyone telling me their moving plans in 2008 if Barack Obama became president. Well, he was elected—twice. And I don’t remember seeing any mass Canadian migration.

So no, the coming election will not force you to start packing your bags—unless you’re South Carolina in 1860—the only time a certain candidate’s election did make people leave the country. Oddly enough, that president that caused so many states to leave the nation at that time is now ranked the best president in U.S. history by most polls.

Now, that isn’t to say people don’t have their justified concerns about the two candidates at hand. Trump is criticized for his erratic behavior and Sanders gets lots of dirt for his economic policies. And both of them have gotten enough comments on their hair.

They are the outsiders that have defined this anti-establishment election so far. But they are in no way the first outsiders to be a heartbeat away from the presidency and if either wins, they wouldn’t be the first ones to be president. And if both are indeed “mad men,” they wouldn’t be the first ones to reside at Pennsylvania Avenue either.

Herbert Hoover was a president who was simply unable to see the true impact that the Great Depression had on the average U.S. citizen and struggled to take means to correct it. Ulysses S. Grant, one of the most popular men in the country at the time, praised for his victory at the end of the Civil War, appointed cronies who abused their power over two full terms. James Buchanan essentially helped begin the Civil War and many of his actions during his term were on the borderline of treason. And in the case of Richard Nixon, who was so popular that in 1972 he won the most electoral votes out of any president with the exception of Ronald Reagan and George Washington (he only failed to carry Massachusetts and D.C.), well, we all know what happened to him.

We’ve voted in alcoholics, gamblers, slaveholders, power abusers, presidents who were impeached, presidents with extra-marital affairs and many who have flat out undeniably lied directly to the American people. What’s more interesting is that many of those who represent some of the titles just mentioned are some of those many of us think were tremendous presidents—Jefferson, the Roosevelts and Kennedy to name a few.

People hundreds of years from now will still look back at our worst and wonder “how did they get elected?” What’s more important is that they did—but the country survived.

We didn’t crumble. We didn’t stumble. And we certainly didn’t see anyone fleeing to the northern border. We have had mad men hold the most powerful office in the land many times and have experienced a civil war, world wars, numerous economic disasters and social unrest time and time again. The U.S. has been put through incredible tests—tests that have destroyed many republics, empires and civilizations long before our time—and tests with many different leaders at the helm.

But presidents come and go. So, should Trump or Sanders win the election in November, ready to set the world on fire, don’t immediately run to the nearest fire hydrant. But if either turn out to be mad—or anyone that ever runs for office for that matter—remember one of the greatest parts of our democracy.

There’ll be another election in four years.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

It’s a Shame We Mix Law With Politics

Antonin Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia participates at the third annual Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington in 2011.

It was 5:31 p.m. in the newsroom when I received the first news alert from the Associated Press that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died.

It was 6:56 p.m. when I received another alert saying that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that President Obama should not appoint Scalia’s replacement and it should be left up to the 45th president to do so.

It took just one hour and 25 minutes to take the death of an honorary 30-year veteran of the highest bench in the land and turn it into an explosive political firestorm that has already altered the presidential race, a firestorm whose repercussions will likely stretch as far as November.

Now, we’ve seen this before of course. We see it in every mass shooting. After the brief “thoughts and prayers” speech and moments of silence, we immediately are slammed by both the NRA and gun control advocates telling us what to do with our firearms.

This is not a mass shooting however. This is a Supreme Court justice. This is not a “lone wolf” who suddenly went on a rampage with an assault rifle. This is someone who is part of the few who represent the highest form of righteousness and justice in existence. They have the power to signify what is right and wrong for the country. And that’s something that just should not be politicized.

It’s fascinating how different we imagine judges versus politicians. When picturing a judge, many of us see the man or woman in the black robe who has power and a gavel and serves justice. When picturing a politician, lots of us see a man or woman in a suit or skirt who has power and abuses it and serves to fill their own pockets. But so many of them go through the same process, go to the same colleges and practice the same profession—and many times do both. Williams Howard Taft actually became Supreme Court chief justice after his presidency and actually swore Calvin Coolidge into the office of the president in 1925. 

Politicians obviously have the right to fight for their personal beliefs. That’s their job after all. But should it be a judge’s? McConnell is arguing that Obama would fill Scalia’s seat with a justice who would favorably lean toward his agenda.

His fear is not a desperate cry of partisanship. It is indeed legit. Perhaps one of the biggest dents in the American political system is the history of presidents using the justice system to pull the strings of their own policies. After losing his reelection to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, President John Adams went the route of preserving his influence by pushing legislation before his term was up that appointed six new federal circuits with sixteen new judges—basically stacking the courts with his own people before the opposition party came into power. Democrat Franklin Roosevelt pushed through the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, which granted the president power to appoint an additional justice to the court, up to a maximum of six, for every member of the court over the age of 70 years and 6 months. He did this after the court ruled provisions of the New Deal unconstitutional. There are those who say Republican President George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative justices on the bench, because of his youthfulness. He was only 43 at the time, and because judges are appointed for life, his age ensured a conservative judge would be on the panel for long after the Bush presidency.

So, this is feud over Scalia’s replacement shouldn’t be a surprise. We expected it. So we should expect Obama to nominate someone who leans left. And as any opposition party would do in the same circumstance, we should expect the Republicans in the Senate to try to put on the brakes a little bit.

But what should be expected, although it only can be in a perfect world, is that a president appoints someone to the Supreme Court for their knowledge, experience, and contribution to justice—and in turn, that judge holds up to those characteristics.

Only in a perfect world would we commemorate a late judge for his ability to uphold the law instead of instantly beginning a brawl on how to replace him—making his position sound more important than the man’s life. Only in a perfect world can we thank a justice for doing what’s right instead of doing what’s right for the party.

But we weren’t in a perfect world when John Adams tried to stack the courts when the nation was only 24 years old and we aren’t perfect when Obama will have to appoint someone to replace Scalia in the age when the U.S. is the superpower of the globe. We never will be. It’s just a shame that something like law—the very thing that creates and defines politics—has to be a victim to the political disunity that currently defines us.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

What the Iowa Caucuses Mean For the Election and America

cruz-hillary-640x330It was a night of excitement, intensity, surprises and expectations. Monday’s Iowa caucuses have changed the direction of the 2016 presidential campaign, and yet we have to remind ourselves that this is just the first turn out of the gate.

Still, when Iowa speaks, it does so. And its effects are known throughout history. Here’s what we can see moving forward.

Trump is serious, but will others think he still is?

Monday night, Ted Cruz formally ended more than six months of proclaimed Trump dominance in the Republican race. While it was well established that Iowa would be a tossup for them, Trump had been leading narrowly in the polls. It was Cruz’s seductive appeal to the state’s Evangelists that most likely helped carry him to victory. Trump and Cruz were both known for their packed rallies and overly-enthusiastic fan bases, and there’s no doubt those will continue for Cruz. The question remains: Does Trump have voters or does he have fans? And will those fans or voters continue to pack the rallies now that Cruz has made him—well  a loser?

At the same time, we have to remember that we saw Trump place second in the Iowa caucuses, something probably nobody would’ve even begun to imagine when the billionaire announced his campaign this spring. What many shrugged off as a short phase has become one of the main focuses of the race. Iowa would be the true test of the life of that “phase.” Trump nearly won Iowa—which is the Republican establishment’s nightmare come to life. But they may have a new ally now.

Rubio may have been the winner of the night

While the real estate giant finished a few points short of Cruz, what surprised many was that he almost finished third—as Marco Rubio pulled an expected third place position, but much closer to Trump than many thought.

Like Trump, Rubio started out the race deep in the field, but has gradually rose to become the establishment’s attachment, long ago passing Jeb Bush—the once-favored front runner who is now all but forgotten.

Rubio has slowly started making more of a name for himself, and after his strong finish in Iowa and strong organization of campaigning in the primaries and causues yet to come, it is safe to say he is currently the face of the GOP establishment, and they haven’t backed down yet. After the Cruz and Trump mania that we’ve all known too much about for the last few weeks, it is clear that the establishment is alive and well and breathing through the lungs of the young senator from Florida.

Iowa is just never easy for Hillary

Speaking of establishment, perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ extremely tight race—now ruled as the closest in Iowa caucus history.

Determined not to repeat 2008 in which the leading Clinton actually placed third in the Iowa caucuses, she campaigned fiercely throughout the crucial state. And, it appears she was successful. She won—sort of.

In sports, they sometimes say that a tie is worse than losing. That may very well be in the case for Clinton. Though she is the official victor, it might as well be called a tie. By the numbers, Clinton only leads Sen. Bernie Sanders by two delegates at this time. Like Trump and Cruz, this was probably something not many saw coming six months ago.

Clinton was hailed as the front-runner and “likely Democratic nominee.” Just like in 2008, the tide may very well be turning for the Democrats. In her early victory speech, Clinton said she was “breathing a sigh of relief.” I don’t think I would be after results like that.

In primaries and caucuses, a loss can soften morality, but a virtual tie can bring hope—and ugliness. After a seemingly very quiet Democratic race thus far, I think we’re going to see things get shaken up a little more. Like Cruz, Sanders can’t be viewed as the underdog anymore. Like Obama eight years ago, Sanders came into the race as a long shot, and is now a force to be reckoned with. Despite her calm matter, it is clear Clinton knows this, as her campaign is moving on to Nevada and South Carolina and won’t focus much on New Hampshire—where Sanders is strongly leading in most polls. And with the addition, now with Martin O’Malley out, it means the preliminaries are over. Clinton and Sanders will go forward head to head, gloves off, in what may be another long bitter race to the Democratic nomination.

What does it mean?

If anything can be said about this election so far, it’s that voters are taking a brave new step. A victory for Cruz and serious foundations for Trump and Sanders clearly means that a good portion of Americans are tired of the career politicians and have a chance to change that and are taking it. We had perhaps the farthest right candidate win for the Republicans and a Democratic socialist virtually tie the other. The middle ground is growing barer this time around as many flood toward the outsiders. Many are tired of names like Clinton and Bush—names that have been a part of presidential elections for 36 years now.

Voters like what they see—different candidates with different backgrounds. And that probably won’t be going away anytime soon. But again, it’s still early in the game.

Now on to New Hampshire.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88