ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Times Herald-Record of Middletown on a state public corruption commission holding its first meeting in secret.
The Moreland Commission appointed by Gov. Cuomo to investigate public corruption, especially in the state Legislature, got off to a rocky start last week when it convened for its initial meeting in private, with no notice to the public.
Because this is an advisory board, its executive director said, it is not covered by the state's Open Meetings Law.
It's not the first body at the state, county or local level to read the law that way. But New Yorkers do not yet have a very clear picture of just what this commission will be doing.
Even if initial discussion centered on specific allegations of illegal activity, which is extremely unlikely this early in the process, that talk could have gone on in an executive session as part of the first meeting.
The commissioners should have welcomed the chance to introduce themselves, explain what they hope to accomplish and give New Yorkers at least a hint of how they intend to proceed.
They can open their meetings to the public any time they want, even if they believe the Open Meetings Law does not apply to them.
Because much of what it hopes to accomplish will involve investigations similar to those conducted by district attorneys, the commission will not be seen doing much of its more-important work in public.
Fair enough, again.
Most people understand that publicity while such investigations are going on can tip off potential targets and otherwise compromise efforts to track down evidence.
Now, the commission has invited the public to take part in three hearings in September in New York City, Buffalo and Loudonville.
Commissioners want to get the public's advice in three areas: the adequacy of laws dealing with unethical behavior, the electoral process and campaign finance.
Those are related to, but not identical with, the commission's own description of its mission. That list includes a closer look at the laws on the books dealing with corruption and misconduct.
In New York, that may be the most important subject of all, because, for all those members of the Legislature who have ended up in jail, others pursue activities that might be considered illegal except for one thing: They make the laws, so they decide where to draw those ethical lines.
In addition, the commission promises to dig into the areas of campaign contributions and their disclosure, as well as the activities of those who lobby and the ways they influence legislation.
Along with that, the commission plans to look at how well state and local bodies responsible for enforcing all these election laws carry out their duties.
So we really are getting two for one with this commission. While its investigators look for criminal activity under the existing laws, the commissioners are asking the public to talk about how those laws should be enforced or changed.
Those changes, no matter how necessary, would still have to go through the Legislature to become law.
That might be the first question to ask at the public hearing. How will the commission accomplish that, when so many have failed for so long?
The Times Union of Albany on Gov. Andrew Cuomo continuing to take large campaign donations while urging finance reforms.
A million dollars a month is at once an impressive and excessive amount of money for almost any politician to raise, especially one still quite popular more than a year before what would seem to be a rather easy path to re-election.
Political contributions of $750,000 are simply excessive — not impressive at all — especially when they require that politician to suspend his admirable quest for changes to New York's campaign finance laws and instead take advantage of their loopholes.
So goes the re-election campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, reformer by day and prolific fundraiser by night.?There's hardly an incumbent officeholder anywhere in the country who doesn't need to weigh the corrupting influence of money in politics against the very real need to raise cash to pay the obscenely expensive price of running for office. Still, Mr. Cuomo's recent fundraising activities leave him especially open to charges of blatant opportunism and even hypocrisy.
And that, New York, is to our great political shame.
Mr. Cuomo's call for public campaign financing, along with substantially lower contribution limits and much more aggressive enforcement of campaign finance laws, already faces the well-funded wrath of a political establishment that cares little that elections are bought as much as they are won. But now the governor is alienating the people who ought to be his most steadfast allies in what counts as the ultimate good-government cause.
And who can blame them for their disappointment?
The revelation that George Soros made a $750,000 donation to the Democratic State Committee to aid Mr. Cuomo, making a mockery of what's supposed to be a $60,000 limit on gifts to any statewide candidate, is disconcerting to anyone who's both sincere about transforming New York's political culture. Same for hedge fund billionaire James Simons and his $1 million contribution.
Don't bother talking about the legality of what's going on here — namely, billionaires helping the Democrats use their so-called housekeeping account to pay for a $5.3 million advertising blitz promoting Mr. Cuomo. It's perfectly legal.
Yet the person who should be leading the fight to ban such high-rolling political spending is now badly compromised. All told, Mr. Cuomo has raised $5.9 million of the very "soft money" donations that he says he wants outlawed.
"The fact that the governor doesn't lead by example hurts the ability to get something passed. And this is the most brazen thing he's done that I have seen," says Bill Samuels of the New Roosevelt think tank, a former Democratic fundraiser turned reform crusader.
Music to the ears, no doubt, of Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos. He must be salivating at the idea of using Mr. Samuels' words against the governor when the battle for tougher campaign finance laws is fought anew.
It's tiring to hear the governor say that "you can only live within the system that exists" while he rakes in campaign cash that comes overwhelmingly in donations of $10,000 or more and takes advantage of a loophole that treats limited liability corporations as individuals when they make campaign contributions, even if they're controlled by one individual.
"I've worked very hard to change it; I'll continue to work very hard to change it," the governor says of a system that allows such fundraising.
We hope he does. But now it's clear that means campaigning against himself.
The Oneonta Daily Star on continuing U.S. financial aid to Egypt after the military overthrow of its elected government.
It can be hard to sympathize with recently ousted President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. The massive protests against his rule that filled Cairo's Tahrir Square in June were fueled largely by Morsi's repeated, ham-fisted attempts to undermine state institutions since being sworn in last year.
But for all his faults, Morsi was Egypt's legitimate president. And if the United States is truly committed to supporting democracy with more than just lip service, it can't turn a blind eye while a freely elected leader is driven from office by an army equipped with U.S.-made weapons and riot gear.
It's easy to see why Morsi wore thin on so many Egyptians — millions of whom signed a petition to have him removed last month. Newspaper and television reporters critical of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues have been threatened, sued and censored on his watch. He stacked Islamist partisans into key positions in government ministries — including those of education and information — and broke a post-election promise to appoint a woman and a Christian as vice presidents.
But the worst of Morsi's offenses was his November decree placing Egypt's constitutional assembly above judicial review and granting Morsi open-ended powers to "protect the revolution." Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council blasted the decree as an "unprecedented assault on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings," and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed el Baradei said Morsi had "usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh."
Clearly, Morsi should have taken the hint when protesters filled Tahrir Square with tent cities reminiscent of those that fueled Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in 2011. But unpopular rulers come with the territory of democracy, and ideally, the Egyptians would resolve their crisis internally — without a U.S.-equipped military force being the deciding factor.
"(Morsi) made some catastrophic mistakes, that must be said," said 26-year-old Mohamed Adel Ismail to al-Jazeera last week. "But my understanding of democracy is you allow him to rule and fail and then vote him out."
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, in visiting Egypt this week, said "we will not try to impose our model on Egypt," insisting he wasn't there "to lecture anyone" or offer "American solutions."
But to believe Burns is to ignore the billions of dollars Egypt receives in U.S. military aid, which has long been a thumb on the scales of Egyptian politics. President Barack Obama last week ordered the Pentagon to review such aid, and would do well to consider permanently reducing it, because the reins of power in Egypt could change hands quickly and unpredictably in the future.
The New York Times on a federal appeals court ruling one of its reporters must testify in a government secrets case.
An egregious appeals court ruling on Friday has dealt a major setback to press freedoms by requiring the author of a 2006 book to testify in the criminal trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with leaking classified information. The ruling and the Justice Department's misplaced zeal in subpoenaing James Risen, the book's author and a reporter for The Times, carry costs for robust journalism and government accountability that should alarm all Americans.
A federal district judge, Leonie Brinkema, was mindful of those costs two years ago when she ruled that a qualified reporters' privilege to protect confidential sources, grounded in the First Amendment, applies in criminal cases and declined to compel Mr. Risen to reveal a confidential source in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. employee. The 2-to-1 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which overturned Judge Brinkema's sound decision, relied on an overly sweeping reading of a murky 41-year-old Supreme Court decision that has been rejected by other federal appellate courts. The ruling also failed to respect the nearly universal consensus among states that there is a common law privilege for protection of reporters' confidential sources.
The third member of the panel, Judge Roger Gregory, got it right, calling his colleagues decision a real threat to investigative journalism. "Under the majority's articulation of the reporter's privilege, or lack thereof, absent a showing of bad faith by the government, a reporter can always be compelled against her will to reveal her confidential sources in a criminal trial," Judge Gregory wrote in a forceful dissent. "The majority exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of the press, and, in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free flow of information in our society." Judge Gregory found that the government has ample evidence to proceed with the prosecution without forcing a reporter to choose between protecting sources or going to jail.
The precedent set here is especially troubling since the Fourth Circuit, where the ruling applies, includes Maryland and Virginia, home to most national security agencies. If left to stand, it could significantly chill investigative reporting, especially about national security issues.
It was dismaying that the Justice Department issued a statement approving of the court's wrongheaded legal conclusion barely a week after Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced new guidelines that are supposedly designed to better protect the news media from federal investigators in leak cases. But the department also said it was "examining the next steps in the prosecution of this case." That should include withdrawing its demand that Mr. Risen testify about his sources.
This issue tests the new guidelines and their promise not to threaten journalists with jail for doing their jobs, except in "extraordinary" circumstances. If he has any intention to live up to that pledge, Mr. Holder should reopen the question of Mr. Risen's subpoena.
Newsday on the Rolling Stone magazine cover featuring Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Rolling Stone sparked a firestorm of criticism with its August cover, featuring a portrait of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tousled hair falls over the 19-year-old's forehead, not unlike handsome rock stars such as Jim Morrison who have long graced the magazine's cover.
Critics, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, contend that the photo glorifies the bomber. With iconic covers ranging from music stars to Hollywood sex symbols, Rolling Stone has defined "cool" for decades. And plastering "The Bomber's" face on a magazine not only lionizes a killer, they argue, but could inspire troubled individuals to follow his lead. Many retailers are refusing to sell the issue.
These reactions are understandable and the predictions possible in the wake of such a tragedy. In the end, however, intolerance of free expression and artistic license is a mistake.
Rolling Stone's cover is a direct challenge to its readers, to us all. The accompanying story elicits a painful self-examination by detailing — as a subheadline promises — "how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster."
Tsarnaev was by all accounts an average teen: He got good grades, captained his high school wrestling team, smoked weed and flirted with girls. He also happened to be good looking.
The furor has arisen, in part, because this is not how a monster is expected to look. Instead, Rolling Stone shows readers a kid and asks them a question: How could someone so young and with so much promise do something so horrible? That's why the cover is powerful, because not long ago — before he was radicalized, before the marathon and before the police chase — Tsarnaev used to be one of us.