Monday, January 16, 2012


Redistricting continues to be an important issue for the people of New York State, as noted by the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice, as well as some recent editorials.

The Saratogian has the following to say:
Cuomo has waffled on redistricting. Initially he said he would insist on an independent commission to draw new boundary lines. With legislators reneging on their promise to voters to empower such a panel, Cuomo recently has reserved the right simply to veto any outcome he considers unfair. Too bad. The people of New York have no reason to trust legislators with a clear self-interest in drawing the lines to benefit themselves, much less those who have gone back on their promises.

And from the Times Union:
They’re watching you, Governor Cuomo. You, too, all you influential state legislators. The most civic-minded of New York’s citizens aren’t letting you off the hook when it comes to overcoming the same old partisan politics in redrawing state Assembly and Senate district boundaries for this fall’s elections.
Oh, they’ve compromised, these folks known as goo-goos — short for good government groups. They may even have cut the politicians too much slack, as the legislative panel known as LATFOR prepares to impose its vision for the political map of New York upon the public.
But, no, the public interest lobby isn’t giving up.
By now, legislative redistricting should be in the secure hands of an independent commission. That, if you’re keeping score, was what everyone from the governor to a huge majority of legislators campaigned on in 2010.
So now the goo-goos — organized as ReShapeNY, which consists of Citizens Union, the state League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group — offer a reasoned, last-ditch demand.
They want the district maps that LATFOR cooks up to be vetted by the sort of knowledgeable, independent-minded citizens who would be in charge by now, if only the politicians had lived up to their word.

Have you contacted your State legislators yet to express your opinion?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tax Loopholes

We believe that the state and nation could solved some of our financial difficulties by re-examining the various tax codes. Writing in the DealBook Column of the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin offers “An Addition to the List of Tax Loopholes.”
Here’s another little-known group of tax code beneficiaries that he might want to add to the list: day traders and speculators who buy and sell futures contracts.

For years, futures contracts, which are essentially bets on the price of commodities, stock indexes and the like, have received a more favorable tax treatment than stocks. A trader who buys and sells an oil contract in less than a year — even in a matter of minutes — pays no more than a 23 percent tax on the profits.

Compare that with the bill for flipping shares of Google, General Electric or even a diversified mutual fund in the same time period. Those short-term investment gains are treated like ordinary income, meaning the rate can run as high as 35 percent.

“There are so many ways to attack the logic of it,” Warren E. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said in an interview on Monday about of the futures tax break. “It doesn’t make sense.”

What does the tax loophole cost the federal government? Each year, the United States gives up roughly $2 billion in lost revenue, according to the Congressional Research Service, a federal agency.

That number may seem insignificant against the backdrop of the country’s $55 trillion state and local government debt, and federal debt which stands at about $14 trillion. But tax inequities like this start to add up when considered collectively. Based on data from the Office of Management and Budget, the United States could put another $20 billion in its coffers over 10 years if it taxed the investment gains of hedge funds and private equity executives as ordinary income. The so-called carried interest is treated like capital gains, which is taxed at a much lower rate. The corporate jet break amounts to about $2 billion to $3 billion in a decade.

Perhaps the tax break on futures contracts wouldn’t be so irksome if it simply helped farmers protecting the value of their corn crops, airlines dealing with the rising cost of oil or even individuals hedging the risks in their portfolio.

But the biggest beneficiaries seem to be day traders and speculators. Long-term investors account for only 20 percent of the activity in the commodities future market, according to a report published last week by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the industry regulator.

When I called Robert Green, a tax specialist whose clients include traders on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the hub of commodities futures contracts, he seemed genuinely taken aback.

“I’ve been dreading getting a call like this,” he said, apparently worried that any publicity of the tax break could put pressure on lawmakers to revisit the rule. “No one has shot something across the bow.”
The rest of the article is here.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Muslims in Western New York

The Buffalo News recently reported on certain activities of Muslims in western New York:
Law enforcement officials in this region met in a joint press conference with the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York and publicly recognized and endorsed the role MPAC-WNY is playing in the security of the United States.

These include:

* Conducting training sessions for law enforcement and other government personnel. The sessions have introduced the personnel to Islamic principles and to the diversity within Islam, as well as providing tips on interviewing and techniques for effectively engaging that community.

* Acting as an effective interface between the Muslim community and the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

* Initiating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation executive seminar training, which makes the FBI more effective by strengthening the relationship between the bureau and the Muslim community.

* Delivering presentations and arranging open houses at mosques to introduce Islam to the broader community.
The entire story is here. It is nice to see that the good things done by our Muslim brothers and sisters are getting some media coverage.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lack of civility

Religion News Service reported last month on a poll that showed Americans of all faiths see a civility problem in U.S. politics:
Whether they rally behind Fox News’ Glenn Beck to “Restore Honor” or Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart to “Restore Sanity,” Americans agree on one thing: our political system has a civility problem.

Four out of five Americans, regardless of party or religious affiliation, think the lack of respectful discourse in our political system is a serious problem, according to a PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll released Thursday (Nov. 11).

The findings echo sentiments expressed by a range of religious leaders, including Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and author of “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World,” and Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Alarmed by the 2010 campaign season, which 4 in 10 Americans consider more negative than past elections, Mouw, Gutow and others are calling for a kinder, gentler tone—even on hot-button topics like Islamophobia, homosexuality or abortion.

“We’ve had heated public debates before, but the level of discourse in this campaign and even following the campaign has been atrocious,” Mouw said, citing as an example Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to prevent President Obama’s reelection, as opposed to advocating for policy shifts.

“There’s a real hostility now, and Christians with very strong and more conservative convictions really don’t seem to be contributing much to a civil discourse and a calming of the heated discussions in the larger culture,” Mouw said.
The rest of the article is here.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010


The Times Union this week had an editorial that struck us as timely and important:
It was just a month ago that dozens of New York legislators were breezing to re-election by making campaign promises that included a vow to transform the culture of state government. These would be the last elections, they vowed, in which the boundaries of individual legislative districts would be drawn by the very assemblymen and senators representing them.

Now, they should deliver. So, too, should a lame-duck governor who has been such an outspoken advocate of redistricting reform -- urged on by a governor-elect who also ran on a platform of radically changing the ways of state government.

Governor Paterson should call the Legislature back into session at once, so that it can begin to take the necessary action to make the 2012 elections infinitely more fair. Lawmakers of both houses and both parties should vote to entrust the authority to draw legislative districts to an independent commission before lines are drawn anew in time for those elections.

Several versions of legislation to do just that have been proposed already.
To read those versions, go here.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

We Remember

Cathleen F. Crowley of the Times Union has a nice article about yesterday’s memorial service for Sisters Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan:
Laurene O'Brien, of Clifton Park, was a suburban housewife living the typical American life when she heard about the death of four women she never knew. It changed her forever.

"It made me no longer able to be in that peaceful, suburban-life journey," said O'Brien, who had once been a missionary in Peru. "It called me back to my roots, to why I had gone to Peru in the first place ... to be more mindful of the poor."

On Saturday, O'Brien and two dozen people honored the 30th anniversary of the massacre of three nuns and a missionary in El Salvador. The service, which was held at Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary at The College of Saint Rose, was sponsored by The Commission for Peace and Justice of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

In 1980, Sisters Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan were serving the poor in El Salvador during a time of civil unrest. On the way home from the San Salvador airport, they were stopped at a roadblock and taken to a remote location where they were tortured, raped and killed on Dec. 2, 1980.

The rest of the article is here.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Agency adds to AIDS services

From the latest issue of The Evangelist, the newspaper of the Albany diocese:
Catholic Charities AIDS Services of the Albany Diocese now serves patients with no medical insurance.

The agency was among 41 organizations that received grants from the AIDS Institute of the New York State Department of Health to provide supportive services to persons living with HIV and AIDS four months ago.

With a grant of $140,000, diocesan Catholic Charities has been able to expand its supportive case management services, add psychosocial services in rural areas of the Diocese and hire a Spanish interpreter to accompany patients to medical appointments. An annual grant of more than $180,000 will start next spring and last for four years.

Catholic Charities AIDS Services has been helping residents in 11 counties of the Diocese since the start of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Services have included intensive case management, community outreach and service access, emergency financial assistance and personal care items.

The rest of the article is here.

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