- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

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The Poughkeepsie Journal on education in New York state

Aug. 6

Given their recent tortured history on a slew of issues, New York education officials aren’t exactly inspiring public confidence by messing up one of the most important aspects of their jobs - distributing money to school districts as intended.

But such a mistake has occurred, as the state Education Department acknowledged last week. In fact, the department incorrectly distributed $12 million in federal funds to nearly 1,000 schools in New York. Some of those schools got more than they were supposed to receive, some got less.

The department says it will recalibrate the federal aid funding to even out this matter and pledges to strengthen “internal controls” so something like this doesn’t happen again. The money in question is supposed to go to professional development for school staff and education enrichment.

Fortunately, for our area, the errors didn’t involve big piles of money. They ranged from $1,346 for Pawling school district to $28,101 for the Poughkeepsie school district. But, statewide, the mistake had deeper repercussions for larger school districts, with Buffalo being shortchanged $383,000 and Rochester being owed $317,000.

And for champions of traditional public education, there was an added insult to these miscalculations: The state awarded more than it should have to 275 charter schools in the process. Charter schools that owe the state money will have four years to pay it back.

Over the last decade, the state’s education system has given parents and students enough blows. The rollout of the Common Core initiative was disastrous, and state education officials are still trying to right that ship. As they do, they have greatly lessened the impact of the exams by not using them to gauge the overall performance of students and teachers.

On the broader funding scale, the governor and state legislators have their own issues when it comes to education.

School funding lawsuits have confounded New York for years and likely will well into the future unless elected officials take notice and actually fix certain problems. For decades, the state has struggled to see significant improvements among many “high-need” districts. Advocates say not enough resources are going to these schools, some of which are located in small cities such as Poughkeepsie. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that state’s school aid formula is overly complex, despite efforts to streamline it.

The state Education Department’s mishandling of this federal money can and will be corrected. But the mistake is also a stiff reminder of the larger work that remains on the education front - both in cycling through the crisis created by the implementation of Common Core and taking a profound look at education spending to ensure there is actual equity in the system.

Online: https://pojonews.co/2KBvHLi

The New York Times on Saudi Arabia and Canada

Aug. 6

Saudi Arabia and its crockery-breaking heir apparent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are, once again, opening up claims of advancing a more progressive future for the kingdom to doubt.

Faced with criticism from Canada over the treatment of two prominent human rights activists, Saudi rulers on Monday did the kind of thing that backward, insecure despots often do - they lashed out and penalized their critics.

Riyadh expelled the Canadian ambassador and announced a freeze on all new business with Canada, which counts Saudi Arabia as its second-largest export market in the Middle East. The Saudis also said the kingdom would withdraw from Canada the approximately 12,000 Saudi students on government-funded scholarships and family members and transfer them to other countries.

It’s not unusual for countries to balk at external criticism. But this Saudi retribution is unnecessarily aggressive and clearly intended to intimidate critics into silence. It’s the kind of move that, in the past, would have immediately elicited a firm, unified opposition from the West. So far, there’s hardly been even a whimper of protest.

Canada ran afoul of the Saudis when its foreign ministry called for the release of the women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, who was arrested last week, and her brother, Raif Badawi, who is in prison for running a website that criticized Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment.

In 2013, Mr. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes with a cane, 10 years in prison and a large fine for administering the site. He received the first 50 lashes in 2015, but his punishment was suspended, at least temporarily, after a video of the lashings drew international outrage.

Saudi Arabia has offered no explanation for why Ms. Badawi, whose activist-lawyer former husband is also in jail, was detained. But she has long campaigned against the kingdom’s guardianship laws, which prevent women from traveling abroad or obtaining certain medical procedures without the consent of a male relative.

The Saudis claim that the Canadian statement is “an overt and blatant interference” in its internal affairs, but that argument is specious. Mr. Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children have political asylum in Canada, and she became a Canadian citizen last month. And countries that care about human and political rights have a long history of speaking out, both individually and collectively, in defense of those principles and values that are enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the Charter and a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, whose mission is to strengthen the “promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.” Since ascending to power with his father, King Salman, in 2015, Prince Mohammed has encouraged foreign investment, granted women the right to drive, opened commercial movie theaters for the first time in 30 years and worked to soften the kingdom’s ultraconservative official school of Islam.

But he also has evinced an authoritarian edge, locking up clerics, activists and businessmen.

Under Prince Mohammed, the Saudis have also not been shy about speaking out about, or directly intervening in, the affairs of other countries, including Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar. Saudi Arabian officials lobbied against President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and have spoken out against President Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

On Monday, the White House refused to comment. The only reaction so far has been from a State Department official who spoke on background and equated Canada and Saudi Arabia as “both close allies,” even though only Canada is a member of NATO. The statement did not mention the Badawis by name, referred mushily to “internationally recognized freedoms,” and reported that the Saudi government had been asked to supply more information.

Mr. Trump has previously signaled acquiescence to, if not fondness for, the kingdom’s authoritarian ways. And the American president’s own attempts to bully Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, in June may make Prince Mohammed feel bolder about lashing out.

The administration’s passive response also represents a chilling abandonment of two activists whose unjust treatment has been acknowledged by the United States itself: Ms. Badawi received the State Department’s Women of Courage Award in 2012 in a ceremony with Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government agency, has a page on its website highlighting Mr. Badawi’s case.

Not even two weeks ago, the State Department held a much-hyped religious freedom conference, headlined by Vice President Mike Pence, that issued a lofty statement advocating the “recognition of universal human rights and human dignity.” It’s hard to take that statement too seriously so long as the White House remains quiet about these recent developments.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2OmcXlk

The Auburn Citizen on the proper use of a NY state grant

Aug. 8

Having been chosen for a $10 million state grant, Auburn has a real chance to make investments that will help shape the future of the city. But the recent celebratory speeches and visit by the governor mark the beginning of a process that everyone in the city can have a voice in shaping.

Auburn’s application in the competitive Downtown Revitalization Initiative lays out a number of proposals touching on tourism, health care, neighborhood redevelopment and the arts. But the fact is that application is merely a suggestion, because a revised list of specific plans now needs to be put together for final state approval.

And members of the public can - and should - be the driving force behind what makes it onto that list.

The mayors of Oswego, which won central New York’s award in 2016, and Cortland, the 2017 winner, said that some of the downtown investments eventually approved for their cities were not initially on their radar before being brought to the table in the process of refining their initial application. Same for Geneva, a 2017 winner in the Finger Lakes region.

Auburn officials were understandably disappointed to be left out during the first two rounds of grants, but the silver lining may be that they now have an opportunity to take a look at how things went in other communities. To that end, we encourage city hall officials to contact their counterparts in Cortland, Geneva and Oswego and pick their brains about what worked and what didn’t.

At this point, Auburn has about eight months to submit an updated plan to the state. In the meantime the city is required to host public meetings to hear what the people think. Local and state officials need to be diligent - and transparent - about this process so that the city can get the most out of every dollar - and make sure the projects being pursued are the ones the community wants most.

Online: https://bit.ly/2nmqqy9

Newsday on hostility toward journalists from the Trump administration

Aug. 2

High-ranking members of the Trump administration on Thursday rejected one of the president’s most frequent and damaging lies - the one about Russian interference in our elections.

The White House briefing by intelligence and law enforcement leaders was meant to dispel concerns of cybersecurity experts and election officials that President Donald Trump does not take seriously Russia’s attempts to continue its meddling in the 2018 midterms. But in stressing their efforts to protect the election, the officials said flatly that Russia did interfere in 2016 and, as FBI Director Christopher Wray put it, was continuing to work in “malign” ways.

It was a far better use of the White House podium than Wednesday’s debacle, when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to a question about threats to reporters from Trump backers by trying to show the media is fake news - with a thoroughly discredited claim that media reports in the 1990s led to a loss of important intel about Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks. The insinuation of blame was disgusting, and utterly false. Sanders continued her attack after the briefing.

The media assault orchestrated by Trump has incited his supporters, who are growing increasingly hostile to the press, as happened at an event Tuesday in Tampa. First daughter Ivanka Trump said Thursday that she does “not feel like the media is the enemy of the people,” but son Eric Trump and his father tweeted out support for the rough treatment. When asked point-blank on Thursday to declare that the press is not the enemy of the people, Sanders twice declined.

If this keeps up, someone could get hurt. The administration needs to speak with one voice and remind America that the press always has had an important role to play in holding accountable those in power, even the president himself.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2vL2BDW

The New York Post on Facebook reportedly asking banks to share customer data

Aug. 7

Apparently figuring its reputation isn’t bad enough, Facebook has been asking banks to share customer data - including bank balances and recent purchases. Enough, already.

Over the past year, the social-media giant has asked JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and US Bancorp, as well as Google and Amazon, to discuss a feature that would show users their checking-account balances, The Wall Street Journal reports. Facebook has also pitched the idea of sending fraud alerts.

The banks have declined, citing . their duty to keep customers’ data private. Yay - and duh, too.

Consumers don’t need Facebook snooping, however “helpfully.” And while financial institutions can likely make e-banking easier and more convenient (but still safe), bringing Facebook’s Messenger app into the mix seems beyond superfluous.

Anyway, Team Zuckerberg has a long way to go to restore trust, what with its ongoing “shadow profile” issues, not to mention the no-consent abuse of some 87 million Facebook users’ data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

We understand the company’s in a pickle just now - signs its profits are decelerating have slammed its stock of late. But really, it’s high time Facebook starts thinking about growth that isn’t based on a creepy stalker model.

Online: https://nyp.st/2M3AR8n

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