New York Needs a Full-Time Legislature

Constitutional amendment establishing one should be supported

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For many of us, it’s the dog days of summer. So it is too for the New York State Legislature.

Its members are back in their districts — some not too far from the regular duties of lawmaking, but all of them a far cry from the cold January day when they reconvene in Albany for another legislative session.

They’ll talk of their big plans. They’ll pass another budget in secret. They won’t pass ethics reform. They’ll end the session in June with a flurry of rushed bills and then proclaim it as the most productive session they’ve ever had.

It’s the same short six-month song and dance we’ve ever known. But there are many, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who believe that song and dance should change.

And change, it should.

Earlier this year, the governor proposed that the state establish a constitutional amendment that makes the New York Legislature a full-time job. How fortunate for us that the option for a constitutional convention in 2018 happens to be on voters’ ballots this fall.

Speaking of voters, they strongly support the idea of a full-time Legislature. A February 2016 Siena College poll found that 60 percent of people statewide are on board — with good reason.

Elected legislative jobs are currently considered part time, meaning many lawmakers have side jobs back in their home districts. Most of them are at law firms and insurance agencies, but some also hold positions as musicians and ministers. It is important to know this, since many have made quite a stink in the last year about not getting a pay raise. Each lawmaker receives an annual $79,500 net pay, which for many, includes stipends. They haven’t received a pay raise since 1998 — and let’s be honest — that is indeed a long time without one. But when that $79,500 is combined with outside income, it’s doubtful that any legislator is really struggling to get by and is in serious need of a 47 percent pay increase, which was preposterously proposed last summer. Indeed, six state senators earned at least $100,000 in outside income in 2015.

A full-time Legislature would put an easy end to the pay raise debate. And a reasonable payment for full-time work would diminish any need for outside income.

By banning outside income, we eliminate a lot of avenues that eventually lead to corrupt politicians. It doesn’t require much thought to realize that a system where lawmakers spend half the year in other types of work can easily lead to conflicts of interest in how they govern, and lead to less-than-good intentions that cross legal borders.

The scandal that disgraced former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was the result of his outside work. And he made a lot of money in that outside work, including $4 million in kickbacks after he funneled some $500,000 in state grants to a Columbia University doctor who, in return, sent his patients to Silver’s law firm — which then paid Silver for the referrals. Silver also voted for state tax breaks for a real estate company, which then steered business to a law firm, from which he also received referral fees.

Silver’s not alone. A good portion of the corruption that has plagued Albany for the last decade has been tied to legislators’ dealings outside of Albany. And while a full-time Legislature certainly wouldn’t cure corruption overall, it would be a significant step in the right direction to do so.

Once outside income is eliminated, a full-time Legislature can improve the actual governing process. Our state’s politics won’t be defined by leaders hammering out all of the details of major legislation behind closed doors. Our governing won’t revolve around what’s in the state budget every spring. The two months between budget negotiations and the end of sessions won’t be a wasteland of legislative action. Then we won’t follow that period of inactivity with crunching deadlines in June where lawmakers pass bills that haven’t been properly vetted, or at times, even read.

Then maybe we won’t need to waste taxpayer money having “extraordinary sessions” that are meant to finish business that should’ve been finished during the time legislators had, like the one we had in 2017. And while it was work that needed to be done, that extraordinary session New York had this year was anything but extraordinary.

We have the opportunity next year to fundamentally transform how our state operates, for the better. Our elected representatives in Albany are doing what they like to call “public service.” While we appreciate those who sacrifice their time and effort to do that, a government in New York that doesn’t concentrate all of its time and energy on the government in New York does not live up to “public service.” Indeed, it is actually the biggest disservice to the public that can be imagined.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at http://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Trump’s Upstate New York Comments Are a Slap In the Face to His Voters

President’s supporters wanted him to change the region, not forget about it

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Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen at a campaign rally in Syracuse in April 2016.

During a recent visit by President Donald Trump to Youngstown, Ohio, Buzzfeed published an article with the headline “Youngstown Loves A Fighter, But Eventually Trump’s Spiritual Base Will Want Results.”

Although Trump didn’t actually win the city of Youngstown — despite his claim that he did — that region of the industrial heartland is really ground zero for his white working class support that propelled him to victory last fall. It’s an area that has been in economic decline for decades and has been slow to recover as the Great Recession fades further in the rearview mirror.

The same can be said for upstate New York. And just like the people in Youngstown, the people here who voted for the billionaire businessman because they thought he could revitalize the region expect him to follow through.

What they don’t want is to be told to leave.

That’s what the president said we should do during a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he said we should move to Wisconsin and leave our houses behind.

“You’re going to need people to work in these massive plants,” Trump said. “I’m going to start explaining to people, when you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave. It’s OK. Don’t worry about your house.”

The “massive plants” he is referring to is his recent announcement that Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant and Apple product supplier, will build a liquid crystal display factory in southeastern Wisconsin. The company plans to hire 3,000 people and claims its workforce could eventually grow to 13,000.

Good for Wisconsin, but why does that mean New Yorkers should move away? This is the same man who just a year ago, said “don’t leave Rochester! I’m telling you, I will bring [jobs] back so fast,” a message that resonated in New York’s Rust Belt-type cities like Buffalo and Syracuse and even more so in more rural areas of the state.

The election results indicated as much. His Democratic opponent unsurprisingly won the state’s 29 electoral votes, but Trump dominated the upstate region, carrying all but ten counties north of Westchester, many with overwhelming margins. In Oswego County for instance, where Barack Obama won by a convincing eight points just four years ago, Trump won by 23 points in 2016. He also won Cayuga, Seneca, Cortland, Madison, Niagara, Saratoga and a slew of other counties that went for Obama twice. He even won Broome County, which includes the city of Binghamton, which hadn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Upstate residents didn’t vote for Trump in those numbers just to have him recommend they leave the region just seven months into his administration. They voted for him because they are indeed “getting very badly hurt” and agreed with him when he said repeatedly during the campaign that the region was a “war zone” and “death zone.” They voted for him because they saw real potential in someone, who was himself a New Yorker, who could drastically change the current conditions of the region and provide the kind of help many people here have demanded for quite some time. Essentially giving up and asking people to move somewhere else is definitely not the kind of solution that his voters were hoping for.

Indeed, it’s almost ironic, given the situation. There were several states and cities vying for the Foxconn factory that Wisconsin will get. One of them was Utica, in Oneida County, another location in upstate New York where Trump won by a 20-plus point margin.

An LCD plant in Utica could’ve brought enormous economic benefits to the area, and Trump could’ve actually made it happen. But consequently, it’s a city that doesn’t lie within a swing state. That’s not to say Wisconsin is a swing state, but it’s a recent reliably Democratic one that Trump was able to flip because of his promise to revive American manufacturing in an area where many white working class voters have been displaced by a changing economy.

It’s an intelligent political maneuver, but one factory in Wisconsin is not going to guarantee that Trump’s voters will remain faithful in the next election anymore than telling upstate New Yorkers to pack their bags will.

It’s not just that many of his supporters here don’t want to leave. They want a reason to stay. Just like the people in Youngstown — or in Erie, Pennsylvania or western Michigan for that matter — upstate New York residents want to see results from this new president in upstate New York. And Trump’s invitation to relocate to a different state is not going to do him any favors.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at http://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Downtown Revitalization Is Not a Joking Matter

Gov. Cuomo’s jokes about awarding cities money aren’t funny or appropriate

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is good at raising money. He is also a master at backroom deal-making and pushing progressive legislation through a conservative-controlled chamber of the state Legislature. But it appears that as a comedian, the governor leaves much to be desired.

We were able to affirm that this week after Cuomo made comments about awarding more money to some of the state’s cities to fund revitalization efforts of their downtowns — comments that his office announced the next day were a joke.

Cuomo was in Hudson on Tuesday, a Columbia County city that will receive $10 million after being selected as the Capital Region Regional Economic Development Council’s winner of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, a statewide competition that awards $10 million grants to 10 municipalities — one in each of the state’s 10 regional economic development councils.

But while speaking, Cuomo then indicated his intention to sweeten the pot a little for cities that applied but weren’t included in the top 10 winners.

“What we’re going to do because we have so many good plans, we’re going to have just 10 first place winners that would receive $10 million,” he said. “We’re going to have second place winners also that win $5 million … We’re going to have third place winners that win $2.5 million, fourth place winners that win $1 million and a set of steak knives.”

Now, maybe the backend of that statement can help the argument that Cuomo was joking, but there were many, including The Associated Press in their initial report, that took the governor for his word that there would be runner-up prizes. In actuality, of the 104 communities that entered the competition, 94 will come away with no new funding.

Incredibly enough, this is not the first time Cuomo has made this “joke,” which may be why he thought people would receive it as one. Last year, when he was in Oswego to announce that the city had won the $10 million grant in the central New York council area, he said almost the same thing.

“There are second place winners that win $8 million. There are third place winners that win $6 million and a fourth place winner that wins a plaque and a set of steak knives,” Cuomo said. “You really don’t want to be the fourth place winner even though they are nice knives.”

According to The Auburn Citizen, the Cayuga County city briefly thought it still had a chance of receiving money even though Oswego had won the ultimate prize. Much to their disappointment, no doubt.

Even when clarified as a joke, it is still unclear just what Cuomo finds humorous about not handing out money that many towns and cities across upstate New York could probably really use for their aging downtowns.

Case and point: There’s a great recent article in The New York Times about Oneonta, a city that won the $10 million grant in that region during last year’s contest, and how officials there see revitalizing downtown as a way to keep young people from leaving for bigger cities to live in and work, among other reasons.

Oneonta, like Hudson, was lucky it won the grant, but there are many communities, both in those areas and across the state, that are suffering from the same problems and have the same objectives, and would gladly welcome any kind of state money to fulfil those objectives as much as can be done. Regenerating a downtown can help stimulate a city. Stimulating a city can help improve an entire region.

These contests were of the governor’s own making. He was well aware when he created them how valuable these grants would be to municipalities, so it is bewildering why he would treat them as if he’s teasing a bunch of dogs with different sizes of meat when only one will get meat at all.

If Cuomo is seriously considering a bid for the presidency in 2020, it would be ideal for him to wise up on what he finds amusing. It’s unlikely that many people in economically struggling small cities, particularly in upstate New York, would find an opportunity to breathe some life and blood back into their downtowns as something to joke about.

The only other thing New Yorkers should be seriously asking is this: Why does the governor seem to think all of these cities are in dire need of stellar steak knives?

Okay, that was a joke.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at http://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

County Lawsuit Is a Good Start to Battling Opioid Epidemic

Other measures to combat problem in central New York should also be considered

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It has been long believed —and well confirmed by studies — that there is a distinct relationship between high drug use and regions of the country facing significant economic hardship. That would explain why central New York is not immune to the opioid crisis that has gripped so many parts of rural America in the last few years. But now, lawmakers have made a momentous step in combating one of the most troublesome problems in the area.

Last week, the Onondaga County Legislature announced their plans to file a lawsuit against major manufacturers and distributors of opioid drugs. They join Oswego, Erie, Broome, Schenectady and several other counties in upstate New York that have taken similar measures in the last few months.

The suit is based on big drug-makers’ deceptive marketing tactics, citing thorough evidence that drug companies have presented studies to doctors that downplayed the addictive nature of opioids, which include heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs like oxycodone.

The suit specifically focuses on financial compensation, seeking to reimburse the county for any costs associated with opioid-related issues —which are mainly emergency medical services — but police departments, drug treatment centers, courts, foster care centers and others are also feeling the strain.

It is encouraging to see Onondaga County join the fight, and hopefully this action will incite more New York counties to start doing the same. They have to, because it’s a problem that has gone out of control in a very short amount of time and shows no signs of improving on its own. More than 3,000 people in New York died from drug overdoses in 2015, a 71 percent increase in just five years. And in the first three months of 2017, there were 29 deaths due to opioid drug overdoses in Onondaga County alone.

It’s time to hold someone accountable for all of that —and that’s what a lawsuit against big drug companies is an attempt of. These same companies were expected to generate more than $15 billion in revenue last year. We should demand some of that money be spent on curbing a crisis that they helped create.

Now, whether the Onondaga County lawsuit and others like it will be successful is different. We definitely face an uphill battle going against such powerful institutions, though it isn’t implausible. Just recently, Mallinckrodt LLC, one of the world’s largest makers of the painkiller oxycodone, agreed to a $35 million settlement in a Syracuse case where it was accused of supplying distributors, who then supplied pharmacies and pain clinics, with an increasingly “excessive amount” of oxycodone pills without properly notifying the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration over a three-year period.

It should be noted however, that while the settlement was a significant accomplishment in fighting the opioid epidemic, Mallinckrodt agreed to the settlement without admitting guilt. So the accomplishment was a morale boost and financial victory, but fell short of seriously addressing the main issue here.

To some extent, we could say the same about the Onondaga County lawsuit. As much as the action should be applauded, if it is successful, reimbursing the county for opioid-related expenses is merely something on paper. That by itself isn’t going to solve the problem of opioid addiction. That alone isn’t going to mend families that have been broken by overdose deaths.

It is also important to remember that drug companies don’t shoulder all of the blame for this epidemic, and therefore, aren’t the only ones responsible for stopping it. Different communities across the state are accepting that and coming up with solutions of their own. This spring, the city of Buffalo initiated its Opiate Crisis Intervention Court, the first of its kind in the country. It’s a system that offers more immediate help to those suffering from addiction, placing a bigger focus on saving lives than just punishment for a crime. Ithaca has been exploring the possibility of “supervised injection sites.” While that is highly controversial, it doesn’t hurt to explore what kind of options are out there.

It would be wise for Onondaga County and the entire central New York region to further explore different ways to address the opioid crisis in ways that are unique to the area’s specific needs. Sure, winning a lawsuit against drug companies would certainly be a helpful solution, one that cannot possibly be overstated. But that doesn’t mean that it is the only solution. Indeed, it is merely the beginning of one.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at http://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

New York Thruway Isn’t Ready For Cashless Tolls

Mass overhaul of highway’s roads and bridges should be the priority

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The old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I don’t think anyone would use that infamous expression when referencing the road conditions of the New York State Thruway. You’re probably more likely to hear things like “It was so rough I almost went off the road” or “I might need new suspension now.”

And while construction repairs and upgrades are quite regular on the 570-mile highway system, there is a lot of talk lately about a significant upgrade that actually has nothing to do with the road itself — cashless tollbooths.

Yes, the toll plazas that have littered the thruway since the first segment of the road was completed in the mid-1950s may be completely transformed in the next few years so only electronic money transfers can be used. All tolls would be paid for by either a motorist’s E-Z Pass or by photographing their license plate and receiving a bill in the mail.

The system has already been implemented in some densely populated downstate areas, like on the Tappan Zee Bridge between Rockland and Westchester counties, and is being planned in more New York City locations. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Transportation Department officials have pledged to expand cashless tolls upstate so that the entire thruway is equipped with them.

Now, there’s little doubt that cashless tolling is the inevitable future of the thruway. Other states have been slowly implementing similar systems — it is currently used on the entire Interstate-90 stretch across neighboring Massachusetts. And use of the E-Z Pass over cash has soared since they were introduced in New York in 1993. Cashless tolling would also cut back congestion at busy exits and interchanges, which would improve commute times and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accidents. Who can argue with that?

So, we’ll eventually get to that point. Gov. Cuomo is correct to assert that cashless tolling statewide is a matter of when, not if.

But the underlying question is this: Is that “when” right now?

The current conditions of the road clearly answer that question.

The cost of revamping all of the toll plazas along I-90 and I-87 south of Albany would be extraordinary. The current structures would have to be dismantled and replaced with gantries that need to be wired with electronic equipment and cameras. And there would need to be offices for people to process the license plates of vehicles that come through and send bills to those drivers’ homes.

The estimated cost? Anywhere between $500 and $600 million — an amount that, adjusted for inflation, is actually 10 percent of what it cost to build the entire New York State Thruway system half a century ago. A cashless system project on a 45-mile stretch of road from Yonkers to Orange County was by itself budgeted for $31 million.

While the long-term benefits of cashless tolls make spending that kind of money appealing, that money would be better invested in projects that are more necessary right now — mainly overhauling the system’s crumbling infrastructure.

The thruway is a rapidly aging highway that requires much more attention than it is getting. Mike Elmendorf, CEO of the Associated General Contractors, estimates that the New York Thruway Authority should be reconstructing about 100 lane miles and 30 bridges every year just to maintain the interstate in its current condition. And that isn’t happening. In a lot of circumstances, some major reconstruction projects turn into simple patch work, essentially putting more band-aides on, which will end up costing more in the long run once those band-aides can no longer do the job.

Since roads and bridges are taken for granted in our daily lives, it’s easy for us to forget just how dire their situation is. A 2015 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers’ New York State Council graded the conditions of different types of infrastructure in New York by using a simple report card-like structure. Bridges received a grade of D+ and roads got a D-.

Specifically, more than 50 percent of New York’s bridges are 75 years old, and 2,012 of them are classified as “structurally deficient” and require consistent maintenance or improvements to safely operate for freight and commuters. And one-third of New York’s major highways are considered to be in poor or fair condition.

The thruway is a valuable artery in that web of infrastructure needs. The Thruway Authority estimates it will need $3.4 billion to fund road and bridge upgrades over the next 20 years. The current construction in Onondaga County between exits 35 and 39 — a less than 10-mile stretch — alone costs $9.9 million.

Inadequate funding and modest construction work will only leave infrastructure further neglected, meaning certain bridges could be forced to close or become weight-restricted, which would cause much more traffic headaches and economic disruption to the region than toll plazas that still collect cash from motorists.

The bottom line is this. Cashless tolls aren’t going to be that useful if parts of the road that’s being tolled can’t be used. They may be the wave of the future, but ensuring a vital piece of road like the New York State Thruway remains fully functional and up-to-date is the more pressing matter of the present.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/WTVH CBS 5/WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, 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

Don’t Allow Public Corruption to Become Normalized

Overturning Sheldon Silver’s conviction sets a dangerous precedent

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Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is seen in New York City. Silver, who was convicted in 2015 on corruption charges, had his conviction reversed last week.

“Distaste.”

That’s the word of choice, it seems.

When the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in June 2016, Chief Justice John Roberts said “there is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that.”

McDonnell was found guilty in 2014 of receiving gifts, money and loans from the CEO of a Virginia-based company in exchange for governmental “official acts” that would favor the CEO and his business.  The court threw out the charges, ruling that the actions the governor took — mainly arranging meetings on the CEO’s behalf and attending public events for him — did not constitute an “official act.”

Since then, lawyers for former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have attempted to use that same argument to free the disgraced Manhattan Democrat who was convicted in 2015 of extortion and bribery and sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.

And now, they have won. Last week, a federal appeals court overturned Silver’s conviction.

“We recognize that many would view the facts adduced at Silver’s trial with distaste,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes told the press after the decision. There’s that magic word again.

At issue here isn’t Silver’s release by itself. It’s successfully using the McDonnell case as a basis to Silver’s appeal. That is “distasteful.”

McDonnell’s bribery charges involved, as Chief Justice Roberts called it, “tawdry tales, Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns.” Mr. Silver’s case is quite different. He was found guilty of funneling some $500,000 in state grants to a Columbia University doctor who, in return, sent his patients to Silver’s law firm — which then paid Silver for the referrals. He also voted for state tax breaks for a real estate company, which then steered business to a law firm, from which he also received referral fees. In all, Silver pocketed $4 million in kickbacks. The nature for Silver’s defense at trial was that those actions were “legal and normal.”

It should be noted that the evidence against Silver is still damaging and if prosecutors make a better argument in a re-trial, there’s a good chance Silver will still be sent to prison. And acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim has already announced his intention to re-try the former speaker.

But even if that’s the case, there are other convicted lawmakers who may now use the McDonnell decision to help escape. And that’s what’s most concerning. Take former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was convicted just weeks after Silver, of using his power to get his son a $78,000-a-year job to which he sometimes would not show up for. And when asked to actually come to work, he told his boss, “talk to me like that again and I’m going to smash your fucking head in.” Skelos’ lawyers have already made clear their intention to make the McDonnell decision central to their defense during their appeal.

The real consequence of the McDonnell case is that it significantly raised the bar prosecutors will now have to cross to successfully convict corrupt politicians because it significantly re-defined what it means to be a corrupt politician. And Sheldon Silver was the litmus test.

It appears now that an “official act” by a lawmaker that is deemed illegal will have to be an extremely formal action, like awarding a government contract to a friend. As a result, something like using the power of the speakership to fill one’s pockets with $4 million in kickbacks like Silver did could from now on be interpreted, as his counsel once called, “conduct that is part of the everyday functioning of those in elected office.” And arranging a high-paying no-show job for your spoiled son just because you’re the Senate majority leader, as Skelos did, could from now on be interpreted as a “normal father-son relationship,” which is what his counsel called it.

Essentially, what this means is that the McDonnell decision, amplified by Silver’s successful appeal, sets in place a dangerous precedent for corruption going forward, not just in New York but everywhere. It’s a solid defense that activity involving conspiracy, bribery, fraud, money laundering and abuse of power are not the illegal things we would normally view them as, but rather, a normal part of how our government operates. And normalizing corruption is obviously something we do not want — especially in a city like Albany where it runs rampant.

More frightening still is that politicians who have already been convicted of crimes wouldn’t be the only benefactors of this new precedent. Since Silver, a high-ranking state legislator with such a high-profile trial is now free — at least for the time being — it may embolden other members of the state government tempted by corruption to now take the risk of getting caught, knowing that they could use this case as an argument for their actions. And that includes the legislators of the future who haven’t been elected yet. We could very well be sentencing ourselves to a system of government with tentacles of corruption so tight around it that we may never be able to break them.

So, Judge Jose Cabranes, forgive us if the citizens of New York might find court decisions that set free our disgraced lawmakers “distasteful.” While the rule of law must be accepted, we have the right to be alarmed that the consequences of law can do the exact opposite of what it is supposed to do —ensure that the people get justice. Thanks to the decision regarding Silver, that justice the people deserve is being put on hold once again. And thanks to the McDonnell decision’s weight, it may never come at all.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/WTVH CBS 5/WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, 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

Mainstream Media Is Just Doing Trump’s Work For Him

Press isn’t doing enough to curb president’s claims of fake news

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Over the weekend, all mainstream media outlets were reporting that President Donald Trump now has a 36 percent job approval rating, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. It was the lowest rating of any president during their first six months in office dating back 70 years. As significantly low as that is, Trump is still more popular than the media outlets that reported those ratings.

An April Morning Consult survey reported that more U.S. adults trust President Trump’s White House more than the national political media. And a recent Harvard-Harris poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say the mainstream press is full of fake news.

Trump’s constant hostile behavior toward the press is religiously condemned by journalists and news offices big and small across the country. And it should be. But aside from editorials touting themselves as the fourth estate, those journalists and news offices have also done little to win back the trust of the American people that has been waning for decades. And in some cases, they only end up enforcing the idea that the media is only out to get Trump and bring him down. They are essentially proving him right, on accident.

That’s how the president was able to tweet out a video of a WWE broadcast that was edited to show Trump beating up a man with the CNN logo on his face. Sent from both his personal and @POTUS Twitter accounts, it was one of the president’s most-shared and most-retweeted posts ever.

CNN has been Trump’s favorite media punching bag lately amid the fallout of an embarrassing incident where the network had to retract a story related to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election. An article on CNN’s website reported that Congress was investigating a “Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials,” which cited a single anonymous source. The story was taken off the website and three journalists, including the executive editor in charge of a new investigative unit, resigned.

Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci, who was the subject of the story, tweeted the next day “CNN did the right thing. Classy move. Apology accepted. Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on.”

But not everyone was as gracious. Trump burned CNN on Twitter for the story and conservative commentators like Fox News’ Sean Hannity went wild with it, adding yet another monologue about what he regularly calls “the destroy Trump media.”

This time it wasn’t Trump himself lashing out at MSNBC anchors or sharing conspiracy theories that he read in The National Inquirer. This a mainstream media wound of their own doing, one that just gives Trump and his supporters more traction when they shout “fake news!” when a story unfavorable to the president is reported on in the future.

CNN credited the error to breakdown in standard editorial processes. Stories like those are usually reviewed by several departments, including fact-checkers, journalism standards experts and lawyers. And in this case, that reviewing process wasn’t executed properly.

The network can talk about its editorial processes all it wants to, but those who aren’t a member of the journalism industry are less likely to be forgiving. And CNN and other media outlets can tout themselves as martyrs of the First Amendment all they want to, but major mistakes like this one makes people more likely to feed into Trump’s argument that the press is dishonest and bias.

And unless serious change comes for the business, more mistakes like that will be made, especially if the industry continues to demand more with fewer people, further eroding public confedence in them. 

We’re setting ourselves up for that. Just recently, employees at The New York Times staged an office walkout after the company announced it would be significantly cutting the number of copy editors from its staff. Those employees understand that it is going to be incredibly difficult — dare I say impossible — to maintain the stellar editing process the Times has with so fewer people to review and scrutinize content.

The real danger here — and we’ve already seen it to some extent — is the day when “the destroy Trump media” gets it wrong so often that democracy-shifting and legitimate news stories about Trump or any other member of government are simply ignored by the public at large. For instance, the missteps by organizations like CNN have greatly damaged the coverage of the Russia investigation. And now we have the son of a former presidential candidate who at least entertained the idea of collusion with a hostile foreign power, which is a big deal, yet so many people are convinced it’s just more propaganda by fake news.

Journalists like to preach about the importance of a free press and its place in our republic. But that sacred constitutional right is only valuable if that same free press is trusted by those it was designed to protect. 

And right now, it’s not.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/WTVH CBS 5/WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, 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

Lake Ontario Flooding Response Could’ve Gone Smoother

Relief to victims was tainted with politics and blame game

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An underwater boat launch is seen July 2 at Fair Haven Beach State Park.

The 4th of July has a reputation for turning small communities along the southern Lake Ontario shoreline into bustling hubs of economic and recreational activity. The Green Harbor Marina and Campground in Orleans County “usually looks like Myrtle Beach,” its owner said. Now, 24 camping sites are flooded. Sodus Point had to cancel its parade and fireworks display. And the boat launch at Fair Haven Beach State Park, which is usually jam-packed with boats, trucks, trailers and picnickers, was this year an empty parking lot with barriers blocking a launch completely underwater.

It was a sad sort-of finale to a long, painful and expensive process to provide proper relief to homeowners and businesses after months of watching lake water flood their properties. And to many, this finale is only the beginning of the recovery.

The last few months, we have seen political pandering at its best and government at its worst. We’ve seen too much blaming and not enough resolving. And it’s those small communities along the southern Lake Ontario shoreline that have paid the price.

While they’ve been trying to minimize the damage, public officials from every governmental level have been looking for someone to find at fault for the flooding. The favorite target: The International Joint Commission (IJC), the organization that prevents and resolves disputes over water boundaries between the U.S. and Canada, and their handling of Plan 2014, an initiative to change regulations of the levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to help the ecosystem, shipping industry and recreation.

Plan 2014 was initiated in January, mere weeks before high water levels began to impact coastal areas. Yet it was an easy answer for Republican congressmen who represent constituents along the lake. Reps. John Katko and Chris Collins religiously opposed the initiative for over a year and sent several letters to President Donald Trump this spring asking him to withdraw the U.S. from Plan 2014.

“If you raise the lake level, which is what Plan 2014 did, you get devastation. A third-grader knows that,” Collins said in May.

The other thing you learn in third grade is that significant events seldom take place all at once, and due to only one reason. Plan 2014 was a project that took years to put together but has only been in effect since Jan. 6. By that reasoning alone, it’s hard to argue that Plan 2014 had been in place long enough to raise Lake Ontario to its highest level in 100 years.

Even if that argument had some traction, it is more than likely not the only reason for the lake’s historic levels. But that’s not politically convenient. Rep. Collins seems to think that the flooding wouldn’t have happened without Plan 2014, even with record rainfall this spring and recent high water levels in Lake Erie flowing in via the Niagara River.

For his part, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has spent less time focusing on Plan 2014 directly and more on the IJC itself. He sent what he called “one of the nastiest letters” he’s ever written to the IJC on May 28. In it, he suggested that the lake could’ve been lowered last fall because the IJC reported in July 2016 that water levels were unusually high and would remain so for months to come.

That letter reflected the governor’s ignorance of much of the affair, since lake levels last summer were actually lower than normal, not higher. The July 2016 news release Cuomo’s office referred to was actually dated April 2016, when water levels were high, but they dropped off when the summer drought began to wreak havoc on upstate New York. Cuomo’s accusations even rubbed our northern neighbors the wrong way, as a Canadian senator declared he was fear mongering and “spreading falsehoods.”

It is disappointing that Cuomo has spent so much energy writing nasty letters to the IJC and burning the organization in front of television cameras but almost hindered financial aid to those impacted by flooding — which people with eroded yards and entrepreneurs with closed businesses probably care more about at this point instead of who or what is responsible for it.

Yes, the governor promised around $7 million in funds this spring, but balked at a $90 million relief package that was passed unanimously in both the state Assembly and Senate in the closing days of this year’s legislative session.

The session ended with Cuomo considering vetoing the bill due to a lack of specifics on where the $90 million would be coming from. Cuomo eventually signed an amended package last week that gives $55 million in funding instead, though that amendment was only possible because of the state Legislature’s extraordinary session at the end of June, which Cuomo called to extend the New York City mayor’s control of its educational system, not because of unfinished Lake Ontario flood response business.

Still, some are worried the $55 million won’t be enough or that there will be complications and clashes over how the money is divided up. New York is also in the process of applying for federal aid from Washington, but some also worry the state’s slow and careful approach to that may cause it to be forgotten over time.

And with all the hot air that’s been produced lately, there’s been almost no talk about efforts to help prevent similar flooding from occurring again.

It’s too bad, really. The families and businesses along Lake Ontario will now get a better opportunity to get things back to normal, but how we got here could’ve gone much cleaner. If we need a reason to be embarrassed by government, look no further than the sandbags and closed boat launches that line miles of shoreline in central and western New York.

We should be thankful for the many people who have gone out and beyond in this crisis. For months, there have been many inspiring stories about hometown citizens and volunteers working round the clock to do what they could to stop the rising waters from damaging their neighbors’ homes and community hotspots. Decent human beings are usually capable of taking hard times in stride and pulling more than their usual weight when they need to, especially when it involves the place they love and call home.

If only our politicians could do the same.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/WTVH CBS 5/WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” byclicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Time For Term Limits in Albany

Restrictions on leadership posts would be a small step toward curbing corruption in the Legislature

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New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is seen in the Assembly chamber at the Capitol in Albany.

Surprise! The latest state legislative session in Albany ended with no ethics reform measures whatsoever. Hell, it had hardly even been mentioned since the session began in January.

That’s not to say there weren’t at least some efforts from some lawmakers small efforts, but at the rate the Legislature moves, we’ll take anything we can get.

One of those efforts came from the Republican-controlled state Senate. While several of its members face scrutiny over receiving stipends for leadership positions they do not actually hold, they overwhelmingly supported legislation that considerably restricts the powers of those same leadership positions.

Back in April, the Senate voted 49-9 on a bill that would place eight-year term limits on leadership posts in either legislative chamber, including the temporary president of the Senate, Assembly speaker, majority and minority leaders and all committee chairmen.

Bravo.

The bill died in the Democratic-led Assembly.

Boo.

Not only that, but this is actually the third time the Senate has passed similar legislation and the third time it has failed to go through the Assembly and come out the other side.

It doesn’t help that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has made no secret his disapproval of term limits in general, and has maintained that position in his two-and-a-half years as speaker.

“Term limits is not something that the conference supports,” Heastie said in December, referring to the Assembly’s Democratic majority.

Heastie’s standing on this issue is incredibly disheartening, given the reason Heastie is speaker in the first place.

His predecessor, Sheldon Silver, was convicted last spring on charges of extortion and fraud, just one legislator in a long list of Albany corruption cases in the last decade. He was found guilty of using his powerful position to pressure outside organizations with business before the state, or as former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara called, “monetizing” the speakership.

The former Manhattan representative had been a member of the Assembly since 1977, and was elected speaker in 1994, meaning he spent 20 years holding a heavy hand in what went on in Albany.

Many suspect that long of a time with so much power emboldened Silver to use the post to his advantage for his own financial gains. Term restrictions would ensure that a fresh face would inherit that powerful position and others like it at most every eight years, in an attempt to stop it from turning into a power center and corrupting its holder.

Silver is the prime example for a sound argument on term limits in the leadership and he’s hardly the only leader who’s faced corruption charges. When Heastie replaced Silver after his resignation, he vowed to work hard to change the system in Albany that leads to political misconduct.

Why he and other Assembly Democrats can’t see this as a way to do that is as frustrating as it is disappointing.

Speaking of changing the system, term limits wouldn’t just help prevent individuals from becoming entrenched in power, but they would help shake up the way power itself is cycled in the Legislature the cycle Silver, and now Heastie, are part of.

New York’s “three men in the room” form of governing is appalling and has been going on for far too long the three men being the Assembly speaker, Senate majority leader and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has put forward his own form of term limit legislation. Those three men essentially dictate all major legislation through secret negotiations and backroom deals, constantly leaving other lawmakers and the public in the dark until the last minute. A much more occasional rotation of people in those positions would give more legislators a voice in formulating state policy.

This ridiculous form of power brokering can itself be a contributor to abuse of power and create crooked politicians. Indeed, the last five (FIVE!) Senate majority leaders were all indicted on corruption charges and the most recent one even advocated for term limits.

The thing that makes term limits so necessary now is the explosion of careerism in New York politics in recent decades. State senators are now serving twice as long as they did in 1965 and the average tenure in Albany is now more than 10 years. This is mainly because incumbents have been able to quash most of their competition during elections in recent years. A good portion even run unopposed each cycle. In 2016, less than a handful of the more than 200 incumbents lost re-election.

Years and even decades in the Legislature can mean years and decades in leadership positions. And with no term limits, little or no chance of losing the seat and no other significant ethics measures, it leaves many avenues for bad intentions to go on undetected.

Well, there’s nothing we can do at the moment about the strength of incumbents. And there’s no significant ethics measures, nor a sign there will be any time soon.

However, what we do have is one legislative chamber willing to make term limits a reality. Maybe eventually it may be wise for us to consider term limits for all legislators, but restrictions on leaders would be a good start, and again, we’ll take what we can get.

On that, the Senate has done its job. Now it’s time for Democrats in the Assembly to do theirs.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/WTVH CBS 5/WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, 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

I Just Moved to ‘One of the Worst U.S. Cities to Live In’

Website’s ranking of Syracuse doesn’t say it all

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The skyline of Syracuse, New York is seen.

I had barely been a Syracuse resident for five days. It was the first hour of the first day of my new job here. I was scanning the website of CNY Central, the television station where I now find myself working at. And what’s the big headline I see at the top of the page?

“Website ranks Syracuse as one of the worst U.S. cities to live in”

Quite the glowing endorsement for your new hometown, isn’t it?

If I hadn’t spent my first 22 years of life as a central New York native and had no knowledge of the region at all, I probably would’ve been wondering: Luke, what the hell were you thinking?

The salt city was ranked by the website 24/7 Wall St. at no. 31 on its list of worst U.S. cities to live in with a population of at least 65,000. They were arranged based on things like crime rates, employment growth, attractions, educational attainment and housing affordability.

In regards to Syracuse, the website cited the city’s high poverty rate, struggling job market and cheap housing prices for its placement on the list.

Now, there are naturally going to be those who completely agree with the city’s standing and wonder why the hell someone like me would move here. Others would defend the city until hell freezes over — and if you’re here in late January, you may very well think that it had already.

I don’t think anyone denies that Syracuse has its problems — as every city does — or that its struggles are unique in upstate New York. Rochester was ranked no. 32 and Buffalo no. 22 on 24/7 Wall St.’s website, after all.

And that includes me. I’ve used this column to criticize the city and its way of doing things several times in the two years I’ve been away. I spent that time in the Capital Region as the Monday editor at a daily newspaper there, all the while making sure to keep close tabs on the latest news and politics of this area.

There’s a lot of things I would like to see change here. I would like to see special attention given to re-energizing the area economically. Yes, industry defined the city for more than 100 years, but what can we use to redefine it in the 21st century?

I would like to see a mass overhaul of the area’s aging infrastructure, including the reconstruction of Interstate 81 through the city done carefully and correctly.

I would like to see a more community-to-community effort to combat poverty and the heroin epidemic.

And maybe most importantly, I would like to see more reasons for 24-year-old recent college graduates like myself to move here and fewer reasons for others to leave, as so many people have done in the last few decades.

Yes, I wish some things here were different. But does that mean I think it’s one of the worst places in the country to live in?

It’s probably too soon for me to answer that question definitively. But I don’t believe my current opinion will change as the weeks and months here move along.

I’ve already had Hoffman hot dogs, been to Onondaga Lake Park and shopped at Wegmans. I get to work among a great collection of journalists — both veterans of the field who I grew up watching every morning while I ate my cereal and young professionals I’ve crisscrossed with in the New York media market since college who are now making a living. And there’s just something I like about the buzz of Destiny USA during the holidays and excitement around the New York State Fair at the end of summer.

All of that certainly doesn’t seem too bad to me.

Plus, statistics, studies and rankings of worst cities to live in are hardly the reasons we use to decide whether to live in Syracuse or not. And in case they are, try this one. Earlier this year, Syracuse was ranked no. 49 out of 589 cities for top places for recent college graduates to live in and work.

As a young media professional and new resident of the city, I think I like that one better.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/WTVH CBS 5/WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, 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