Commentary & Opinion

Bill Owens: Graduation Speeches

Jun 23, 2015

This is the season for graduation speeches.  Looking at clips on TV of some of those speeches, I saw humor, guitar playing, famous people giving speeches, not so famous people giving speeches, inappropriate statements being made by a certain actor, in my view, all of which brought a question to mind.  Having given a few commencement speeches during my term in Congress, and most recently giving the commencement speech at SUNY Canton in early May, I wonder what the graduates and parents are thinking as they listen to these speeches.  Are they entertained?  Did they learn anything? More importantly, do they even remember?  Having attended my undergraduate and graduate commencement programs, and multiple graduation ceremonies for my children, I have no recollection who any of the speakers were except when John Lewis, a Congressional colleague spoke at my son’s graduation from Law School.  I wonder if my children do?  That is not to say that the speakers weren’t interesting and entertaining people, but most of us had other things on our mind.  Relief, exhilaration, a bank account that was going to be replenished, the ability to enjoy August and January again (that’s when tuition bills come).

Last week was a depressing one in Albany: the all-too-familiar gridlock resulting from partisan differences, pettiness and legislative dysfunction.  And while some of the issues that are stuck in the legislative morass are important – such as tenants’ housing costs – some would, if enacted, have a limited impact on many people.

Sean Philpott-Jones: X-ing Out Title X

Jun 18, 2015

Earlier this week, a US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations released its 2016 budget proposal for funding the Department of Health and Human Services. As part of that proposal, the Republican-dominated Committee recommended eliminating funding for the Title X family planning program.

With the so-called “deadline” approaching, questions regarding the P5+1 framework abound. Perhaps several answers will be available when the details are hammered out at the end of June, but, from all accounts, that is unlikely.

Stephen Gottlieb: Iranian-American Diplomacy

Jun 16, 2015

My wife and I are back from a reunion of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who had served in Iran, and a conference with some of this country’s experts about Iran.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Summer Camp Retrospective

Jun 16, 2015

When my children were younger, one of their most precious refuges from me and my wife was the Jewish summer camp that they attended.  It is one of several summer programs in our religious denomination that, for over half a century, have built lasting friendships, produced marriages, perpetuated the values of Judaism, and left kids with cherished memories well after they have grown up. 

Lawmakers are set to wrap up the scheduled end of the 2015 legislative session.  Typically, this week is “show time” for lawmakers – hundreds of bills are likely to be approved, many more will fail.

A famous American, Harry Selfridge, opened what is now a well-known retail store, Selfridges, in London in 1909.

One of his biographers is a professor Linda Woodhead, who earned a double first class honors degree in, of all things, Theology and Religious Studies. She's an expert on Christianity, neo-Hinduism and Islam.

Herbert London: The New BDS Challenges

Jun 10, 2015

A growing global pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel took on new proportions when the top executive of Orange, a leading French telecommunications company, said he would withdraw from the Israeli market if he could.

Stephen Gottlieb: Bernie

Jun 9, 2015

I have been an admirer of Senator Elizabeth Warren for many years, ever since she spoke here at Albany Law School some time back in the 90s. But I respected her decision not to enter the primaries to contest the nomination of Hilary Clinton. Obviously I never had to decide whether I would choose to vote for Warren or Clinton, but I came to the conclusion long ago that the candidates I liked best had no real chance of winning. So I have tried to keep my picks within the realm of the people I thought could win.

While New York’s political class has been focused on Albany as it heads down the homestretch for the 2015 legislative session, the US Supreme Court could have a huge impact on both the state’s policies and politics.

Michael Meeropol: Upward Mobility On The Decline

Jun 5, 2015

Last month (May, 2015) I watched a video of a discussion about childhood poverty at Georgetown University featuring President Obama, the head of the American Enterprise Institute (Arthur Brooks), and Harvard  University Professor Robert Putnam. 

Stephen Gottlieb: Democracy’s Future In America

Jun 4, 2015

The Court has now decided that states can stop judges but only judges from personally asking for campaign contributions. It left all the rest of its protections of economic privilege in place.[1] Corporations can use treasury funds to flood the airwaves with political ads. Donors can hide their contributions behind a variety of specialized corporate entities. The one-tenth of one percent of the wealthiest Americans can dominate American politics directly and through their domination of corporate treasuries.

Sean Philpott-Jones: There's Something About Caitlyn

Jun 4, 2015

Unless you've been living under a rock or on a social media fast these past couple of weeks, you've undoubtedly seen the pictures of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair.  No surprise that she appears in the June issue, the same month that celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride.

Recognizing the unwillingness of the Obama administration to assert itself in foreign affairs, the Chinese government has engaged in a major strategic effort to maintain sovereignty over the vast South China Sea, a body of water larger than the Mediterranean and an area long recognized as sea lanes under international law. Fifty percent of the world’s maritime trade in tonnage passes through this body of water. By any stretch, this Chinese gambit is reckless, breathtaking, dangerous, and imperial.

Watching Public Television’s recent National Memorial Day observance, that made reference to the awe-inspiring sacrifice of World War II veterans, in which this commentator was a participant for nearly three years of combat, one was of course, struck by the sheer immensity in numbers of those affected, both as casualties and hapless victims.  The format evoked multiple emotions of sorrow and pride.  But the sheer scope of projection still left this viewer wanting.  The story of America’s current world-wide involvement has increased the scope of our military might.  As the observance reached a climactic intensity, this viewer wondered at the lack of ardor in the on-site audience of thousands, ostensibly gathered to bear proud witness and emotional acclaim.  As past military leaders and those of government joined current commanders and leaders, to acknowledge fealty to a sacred debt, this veteran was aware of an immense expression of silence…and a vexing and voiceless question:  How and when will all who demand and who must respond to such a huge national sacrifice speak the single missing word: “Enough!?” and pledge an end to the senseless slaughter that maims and emasculates our most precious resource: America’s families and their members?

Oh brother! Oh sister!

Here comes the fund drive. We did amazingly well in run-up to the drive but now we all have to show our stuff. A lot of people put money into the locked box -- some because they want more regular programming and less on-air fund raising and some because they will be out of town.

Herbert London: The Debacle In Ambar Province

May 27, 2015

The Islamic State dealt a crushing blow to the Iraqi army in Iraq’s largest province (Ambar), including the city of Ramadi – once home to nearly half a million people. What this victory revealed is the fragility of the Iraqi army, despite vigorous U.S. efforts to train it.

Stephen Gottlieb: Money In Politics

May 26, 2015

For decades before the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, political scientists concluded that more money helped our democracy by increasing competition. They had also concluded that it did not disadvantage Democrats, who would hold their own in fundraising. Even after Citizens United, those conclusions still seem true. But those scholars did not address other ways that money changes politics.

David Nightingale: Robert Frost (3/26/1874 - 1/29/1963)

May 24, 2015

Long ago, looking for a particular physics text in a London bookstore, I found, not far from the "P"s for physics and philosophy, a Penguin paperback simply called 'Robert Frost' [Ref.2.]. Browsing through the book, I was completely taken. I really couldn't afford such, from my meager graduate assistantship, but knew I would have to buy it.

Karen Magee: Why Do The Rich Need More Tax Credits?

May 21, 2015

Two recent events — one political, one cultural — offer a glimpse into two worlds.

Sean Philpott-Jones: Patents Over Patients

May 21, 2015

At a press conference in New York City yesterday,  a group known as the Institute for Medicines, Access and Knowledge (I-MAK) announced that it was filing legal challenges in Argentina, Brazil, China, Russia and Ukraine to invalidate patents on the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi. That drug was developed and is sold worldwide by the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences.

Herbert London: Kerry And Putin Talk

May 20, 2015

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin met recently in what they euphemistically described as a kumbaya moment. Presumably there was a pledge to work together to resolve crises in Syria and the Ukraine, Secretary Kerry said neither side was seeking a “major breakthrough,” but instead they seek to keep “communications open,” this is “diplospeak” for resolution isn’t in the cards.

Stephen Gottlieb: Canadian Comparative Religion Case

May 19, 2015

I’d like to tell you about a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding religious education.[1] Quebec has a “mandatory core curriculum” which includes a Program on Ethics and Religious Culture, to teach “about the beliefs and ethics of different world religions from a neutral and objective perspective” as the Court described it. It “requires teachers to be objective and impartial” and “to foster awareness of diverse values, beliefs and cultures.” The court decided that freedom of religion required Quebec to allow a Catholic school, to teach about Catholicism from a Catholic perspective, but the Court held that the school nevertheless needed to present other faiths in a neutral way, a position that the school largely accepted.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Kayaking

May 19, 2015

As the summer approaches, I am beginning to think about one of my favorite activities:  kayaking.  I love kayaking so much, I would kayak every day, if not for one small impediment:  I am a lousy kayaker.

When Senator Skelos was arrested for alleged corruption on May 4th, a clock started ticking.  In previous arrests, Governor Cuomo would weigh in with a raft of ethics changes within a couple of weeks.  When former Assembly Speaker Silver was arrested on January 22nd, the governor waited until the Assembly sorted itself out and then gave a major speech to advance ethics measures on February 2nd – ten days later.

Bill Owens: 2nd Circuit Gets It Right

May 14, 2015

The Decision last week by the 2nd Circuit finding that the interpretation of the Patriot Act by NSA and the FISA Court was without the statutory basis with regard to mega data collection is the right outcome for our fundamental freedoms.

Herbert London: National Will And Foreign Policy

May 13, 2015

Despite the Marxist assertion that economic factors drive the forces of history, modernity offers a different response. Jacobins during the French Revolution argued that politics – understood as the quest for power – drives history. Here, too, history provides an equivocal response. It is in the warehouse of liberal dogma that if you have a democracy and a free market, the quest for historical justification is in the offing. Presumably these are the characteristics of a smooth running machine of state.

Stephen Gottlieb: Listening, Learning And Law Enforcement

May 12, 2015

Not long ago, I met the daughter of two of my wife’s high school teachers. Grant and Joyce Banks were legendary in Rutherford County. They traveled to the homes and met the families of every one of their students. Their purpose was to get to know and understand the circumstances of each of the people in their classes. They had no grading pad with them, just the warmth of their own personalities. When we got married, my wife took me to see them and we visited in their home. The last time I saw them was at my mother-in-law’s funeral – Mrs.

Ethics was, once again, Albany’s big news last week.  Another lawmaker, long-time Assemblyman Bill Scarborough, pled guilty and faces prison, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos joined his former counterpart Assembly Speaker Silver in having to defend himself against charges of corruption.