Editorials from around New York

February 21, 2018

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

The Post-Standard on the push for gun reform by American high school students.

Feb. 20

Don’t look now, America, but the kids who populate our high schools and middle schools — the generation their elders tend to write off as self-absorbed, entitled and glued to their phones — are singlehandedly changing the terms of the national gun control debate.

And we couldn’t be prouder of them.

They are accomplishing something nobody else — not presidents, not victims, not parents, not survivors — has managed to accomplish after a mass shooting incident. They refuse to be placated by “thoughts and prayers” from their president and representatives in Congress. They won’t be hushed by “this is not the time.”

They want Congress and the president to act on gun control. They will wage a children’s crusade to get it.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, lost 17 classmates and teachers last Wednesday when a troubled former classmate opened fire with a military-style weapon. Between funerals and hospital visits, outspoken students are holding rallies, appearing on national television and organizing a national “March for Our Lives,” to be held March 24 in Washington, D.C.

“If all our government and president can do is send ‘thoughts and prayers,’ then it’s time for victims to be the change we need to see,” MSD senior Emma Gonzalez said Saturday in a speech that went viral.

The teens can’t vote yet — watch out, 2020 — so they must convince adults to join their cause. Persuasive arguments and righteous anger help. So does their willingness to “call B.S.” on the adults who mouth pious words but don’t take meaningful action — who fail, again and again, to protect children and teachers in their schools.

Check out President Donald Trump’s Twitter stream to see how the kids, steeped in social media, are talking back to the tweeter-in-chief. They aren’t having any of the president’s self-serving narrative linking the Russia probe to their tragedy.

These survivors are old enough to speak and think for themselves. They aren’t first-graders, like the Sandy Hook kids. The Parkland kids grew up knowing about Columbine. They practiced lockdown drills to prepare for the eventuality of a school shooting. They know how to make themselves heard. And, most importantly, they are not yet beaten down by the cynicism and pessimism that keeps the gun control debate from moving forward.

You can hear the optimism in Gonzalez’s pledge “to be the kids you read about in textbooks - not because we are going to be another statistic about mass shootings in America but because ... we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

Online: http://bit.ly/2HBOYw6


The (Middleton) Times-Herald Record on President Donald Trump’s response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia indictments.

Feb. 19

There was a strong whiff of desperation in the air around Mar-a-Lago this past weekend. Also a lot of tweeting, but no golf, at least not for the golfer-in-chief.

Donald Trump apparently spent much of the weekend watching TV in his room at his Florida resort, advised by staff that playing golf a few days after 17 people were fatally shot at a nearby high school would not convey compassion. Not that his smiling thumbs-up at the hospital where he visited with survivors did that either.

Confined to his room, Trump took to Twitter to do what he usually does: a) defend himself against allegations or insinuations of wrongdoing; b) attack those who do not rise to his defense.

The craw stuck in his Twitter throat was — is — Russia. Specifically, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s stunning and strategically shrewd indictment last week of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for interfering on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 presidential election. The detailed account of well-funded Russian efforts to spread phony news on social media, intended to bolster Trump, hurt his opponents and divide Americans, effectively put to rest Trump’s mantra of “fake news” with regard to charges of Russian interference.

Indeed, even Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, said that the indictments provided “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia had interfered in the election. In other words, the United States has faced a serious national security threat for several years. Still does. Trump has steadfastly referred to the charges as a “hoax” and denied any suggestions of collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who announced the indictments, said that they do not say the Russian efforts influenced the outcome of the election or that any Americans were aware of them — and when it was noted that low-level Trump campaign aides were “unwitting” participants — Trump jumped to claim: “NO COLLUSION.”

Actually, as it was later pointed out to him, the indictment says no such thing. As Rosenstein said, this is simply another step in an ongoing investigation of a foreign power’s efforts to sway an election. More to come. It’s the kind of thing presidents - especially presidents who are innocent of any wrongdoing and serious about their duty to protect the very foundation of the republic — are expected to respond to with leadership.

Instead, Trump whined about McMaster’s comment and used the shooting incident to criticize the FBI, saying it failed to follow-up a lead on the alleged Florida shooter because it was focusing on the Russia probe. The latter managed to be both insensitive and incompetent.

A competent leader could express anger at the FBI’s mistake with regard to the shooting suspect and ask for a full report on what happened rather than using it to criticize the Russia investigation. He could receive Mueller’s indictments as a reason to impose sanctions on Russia - that Congress has overwhelmingly approved and he has signed on to - rather than using them to claim legitimacy for his presidency.

Instead, what emanated from Mar-a-Lago was typical Trump: angry, vindictive, defensive, misleading. It’s always all about him. With regard to leadership, he’s fake news.

Online: http://bit.ly/2EYaYmb


The Niagara Gazette on repairing local roadways.

Feb. 18

We feel your pain.

We really do.

Anyone who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle pretty much anywhere in Niagara County these days runs the risk of running into a gaping hole in the road.

″’Tis the season,” so they say.

After weeks of battling one of the region’s steadier winters in terms of frigid temperatures and snowfalls, motorists in places like Niagara Falls, Lockport and North Tonawanda have once again been forced to master the art of the pothole dodge.

Snow-covered roads are giving way to digs, cuts, breaks and giant pits in the roads in many places.

Taken at too high a speed, the journey can at best be of the bone-rattling variety and at worst cause serious damage to a person’s motor vehicle.

It’s annoying, maddening and frustrating all at the same time.

On the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal’s Facebook page, we asked readers to tell us what they thought of current road conditions and which roads they thought were the worst.

The request generated more than 80 comments, and counting.

It tells us what we know as we drive around ourselves — Old Man Winter has not been kind to local roads this season and, try as they might, local road crews are struggling to keep up with all the holes.

There are several factors that contribute to the sad conditions of our roadways. Weather is certainly one. The freeze-thaw cycles our area has seen this winter have obviously taken a toll.

“Hot patch,” the preferred, longer-lasting material used by crews in the spring and summer, is not available this time of year because asphalt plants are not open. As a result, road maintenance crews in places like Niagara Falls, Lockport and North Tonawanda rely on “cold patch,” an asphalt mixture that is placed in holes and tamped down, as their primary tool for pothole repair. It is a fix, although it is also considered more of a temporary one.

Staffing also comes into play where patch crews are concerned. The more people on the job, the more holes maintenance departments can fix. Of course, personnel costs money and, in the case of municipal governments, the cost is covered by you, the local taxpayer.

As is the case in any department, public works and road maintenance supervisors should do their best to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their resources.

Filling potholes and patching roads should be no exception.

Seasonal challenges aside, if they don’t know already, officials across the county need to make sure road repair remains a priority right now.

It’s clearly a priority for residents who pick up the tab for running local governments.

In fairness, there should be some appreciation at least of the factors involved in fixing roads this time of year.

Pothole repair is truly a never-ending job, and often a thankless one.

Let’s remember: The people who patch the roads have to drive on them too.

As painful as it is to say it, potholes come with the territory, making them tough to avoid this time of year.

Online: http://bit.ly/2EU6wor


The Journal News on the New York state’s investment in child care programs.

Feb. 21

We embrace the state’s Legislative Women’s Caucus and its strong advocacy on issues of concern to women and families, including the need for real investment in quality child care. But will the state actually spend anywhere near what’s needed to ensure early childhood care that could save tons of money down the road?

In December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation, promoted by the Women’s Caucus, to create a task force charged with getting a handle on the need for child care statewide, the availability of child care and what it will take to improve New York’s sorry, fractured “system” for assisting working-poor families.

Finding and paying for decent child care is a challenge for many middle-class New Yorkers, but can be the make-it-or-break-it factor for working-poor parents trying to hold onto jobs and keep their families together.

The state provides child-care subsidies for more than 200,000 children a year. But only the poorest working families are eligible — and fewer than 20 percent of eligible families actually get the subsidies. The subsidies are administered by counties on what is essentially a first-come, first-served basis. “There is no culture in New York of making sure that families that need child care the most will get it,” said Ruth Goodman, a social worker at the Mount Kisco Child Care Center, one of six child-care advocates who met with the Editorial Board to explain New York’s child-care maze.

Many eligible families don’t even know about the subsidies. For those who do apply, the system seems designed to frustrate families that need it most. Parents must be working and have a child-care provider lined up before they can apply for a subsidy — even though many need that subsidy to afford the day care, which helps them be able to hold down a job.

The soon-to-be-appointed New York State Child Availability Task Force has a great opportunity to redesign the entire subsidy program with clear and sensible eligibility rules, plus statewide standards for obvious needs like communication and waiting lists.

The bigger question, of course, is how many families should be eligible for state-subsidized child care.

Consider this: In Westchester and Rockland counties, a single parent with two children can earn no more than $40,840 to be eligible for a subsidy. But the average annual cost for infant care at a licensed program in the Lower Hudson Valley is about $20,000. That single parent cannot possibly afford child care for one child, let alone two.

With such strict eligibility standards, and far too few dollars available to meet even the needs of those families that are eligible, Westchester’s 750 licensed child-care centers and Rockland’s 320 centers are regularly facing mothers and fathers in dire straits. “I am constantly counseling low-income working parents who cannot keep up with their invoices,” said Andrea Bogin, director of Campus Fun and Learn, a licensed center on the campus of Rockland Community College.

Many day-care centers are unable to turn desperate parents away and enroll their children at huge financial losses, leaving many centers in an ongoing state of budgetary crisis.

“Parents must be working and have a child-care provider lined up before they can apply for a subsidy — even though many need that subsidy to afford the day care, which helps them be able to hold down a job.”

Many middle-class parents, and perhaps some working-class parents, may ask why the state should subsidize child care for some when they found a way — perhaps by shuffling children among relatives or relying on unlicensed babysitters to make due. Advocates, who know the working poor and their struggles, offer a convincing argument: relatively small state subsidies today will reduce the need for much larger public programs down the line.

Young children in poverty often develop academic, social and medical challenges that (low paid) child-care workers are trained to identify. Children up to 3 years of age are eligible for a range of federally funded interventions and therapies that can greatly reduce the likelihood of children winding up in expensive special-education programs in public school. And greater social and academic success in school will lead to better outcomes, and less government intervention, through the stages of life.

So there’s a lot at stake. And yet, New York State spends a ton on K-12 education and higher education, but a comparative pittance on child care and early education.

The state spent $593 million last year on child-care subsidies for the working poor, but cut that amount by $7 million this year. That led to the Legislative Women’s Caucus taking a stand and beginning to enlist the support of women statewide. Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, took a leading role as chair of the Assembly Committee on Children and Families, sponsoring legislation to produce the new task force on child care. “We do have a crisis,” Jaffee told the Editorial Board. Also attending the meeting were: Jane Brown, executive director of Child Care Resources of Rockland; Kathy Halas, executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester; and Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers.

Cuomo proposed a $7 million increase in funding for next year to make up for this year’s cuts. But advocates are asking for a $100 million bump to make child-care a reality for many more. New York needs a real handle on the child-care need statewide in order to determine appropriate spending. That’s why the task force is so important.

An assertive Legislative Women’s Caucus is a welcome development in a state capitol too long dominated by men.

Online: http://lohud.us/2EKXNWF


Newsday on dysfunction in the Trump administration.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Swamp Tours. Step lively, your boat is leaving.

Destination: Washington.

Before we push off, we want to show you a video of campaign speeches by President Donald Trump. It contains his promises to hire the best people, drain the swamp, root out corruption, and end self-dealing by Washington elites, as well as his repeated assurances that he knows how to run things.

It was a setup. The tour will show you a federal government mired in dysfunction, straining to work, and populated by people engaged in the same behavior Trump vowed to exorcise.

Case in point: our first exhibit. Yes, empty chairs. They represent the 225 key jobs requiring presidential nomination that still have no nominee. That’s more than one-third of those positions. They include critical posts like three undersecretaries and 10 assistant secretaries in the State Department, as well as ambassador to South Korea, of all places.

The vacancies mean some work is going undone and some people are doing double duty. The first portrait you see is of Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The second belongs to David Kautter, who is both acting commissioner of the IRS and assistant secretary of the Treasury. Yes, those are all full-time jobs. And, yes, the IRS should have its own focused leader as it grapples with the new tax code.

On a good note, James Carroll is now acting national drug czar — more than a year into the tenure of a president who agrees the opioid epidemic is a crisis. That’s because Trump’s first nominee, Rep. Tom Marino, withdrew from consideration after reports that he had championed legislation that made it more difficult for the Drug Enforcement Administration to enforce drug laws. We’ll be talking more about the quality of some nominees later on the tour. As for Carroll, this is his fourth job in the administration, following stints in the White House counsel’s office, as budget office general counsel and deputy chief of staff.

That brings us to our next exhibit — this revolving door. The White House turnover rate of 34 percent in Trump’s first year is more than triple what it was under Barack Obama, double the previous record held by Ronald Reagan, and higher than all five of Trump’s predecessors. Effective governance is nearly impossible under these conditions.

Trump is difficult and unpredictable, making the White House a home of paranoia, confusion and frustration. Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, No. 3 in the Justice Department, resigned in frustration because four of the 13 divisions she supervised remained unstaffed and she was unwilling to be tainted by any White House efforts to derail the independent counsel investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

Finding competent people willing to work for this president has been difficult, and some nominees and hires have been clearly unsuitable. It’s bad enough there’s no permanent head of the Census Bureau as the critical 2020 count looms. But Trump’s nominee for deputy director, who would actually run the census, was a terrible choice who finally withdrew last week. Politics professor Thomas Brunell, who wrote a book arguing that competitive elections are bad for America, would have politicized an office previously manned by nonpartisan career civil servants. And he’s not Trump’s only unqualified or unsuitable nominee.

Heath Hall, acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration tasked with ensuring railway safety, resigned recently after reports that he also was working as a public relations consultant in Mississippi — as train-related accidents and deaths rise. A nominee for a district court judgeship could not answer basic law school questions during his confirmation hearing. Trump’s nominee for chief scientist at the Agriculture Department had no academic credentials in agriculture or science and ended up withdrawing after he was linked to the Russia investigation. He was just one of many nonscientists nominated to science positions. And Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Barbados and other Caribbean nations tweeted fringe conspiracy theories and false attacks on Trump election opponents.

White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned after his two ex-wives alleged he had beaten them. The episode also revealed the White House’s difficulties with the national security clearance process. Porter didn’t have such permanent clearance. Nor do more than 30 people who started serving on the day of Trump’s inauguration, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House counsel Don McGahn, the traffic cop for such security clearances.

Now we come to our showcase of people who were confirmed, only to undermine Trump’s clean-and-drain mantra. Keep your hands inside the boat. The water is placid but the gators are ferocious.

There under the moss is Scott Pruitt. The Environmental Protection Agency head likes to fly first class while his staff flies coach. The EPA cites security concerns; Pruitt says it’s a “lack of civility” that creates a “toxic” environment. One $36,000 flight on a military jet from Cincinnati to New York allowed Pruitt to catch a first-class flight to Rome. A round-trip between Washington and New York cost $1,641.53 for Pruitt while a staffer in coach paid $238.40. This is public money, folks; he works for you.

Travel issues are a cancer in this administration.

Look to the right. That’s Ryan Zinke. The interior secretary’s several charters include a $12,000 trip to give a motivational speech to Las Vegas’ new pro hockey team, owned by a campaign contributor.

Here, in the weeds, is Steve Mnuchin. The Treasury secretary used a government plane to fly him and his wife to Kentucky in August — to see the gold in Fort Knox, he said, not for the ideal vantage for the solar eclipse. Earlier, Mnuchin asked for a military plane for his European honeymoon. That was denied. An analysis last fall said his use of military planes cost $804,242; the bill for commercial flights would have been $22,667 at best.

Lurking behind him is Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. His agency’s inspector general found that Shulkin’s chief of staff changed the language in an email and made false statements so that travel expenses for Shulkin’s wife for the couple’s 10-day $122,000 European trip would be covered. The report also found that Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament worth thousands of dollars, and that more than half the trip was spent visiting castles and other sightseeing.

That empty cage on the riverbank used to house Dr. Tom Price, the former Health and Human Services secretary. He cost taxpayers at least $400,000 by chartering private jets for official business instead of flying commercial. That was only one of his issues. Price also owned more than $100,000 in stock in pharmaceutical and medical companies, businesses within his HHS purview. He resigned in September after Trump expressed his dissatisfaction.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald also lived in that cage. She resigned, too — over news last month that she had bought shares in a tobacco company after her appointment. Besides the conflict of investing in the leading cause of preventable death, she also owned stock in pharmaceutical and health care companies, which forced her to recuse herself from testifying before Congress on cancer and opioids.

Look, deep in that mangrove is Ben Carson. The Housing and Urban Development secretary let his son and daughter-in-law help organize and invite people with whom the couple had potential business dealings to a HUD listening tour Carson conducted in Baltimore.

That’s the end of our regular tour. For an extra small charge, you can switch boats and visit the scores of lobbyists now working in positions to regulate — or not — the very industries for which they used to work. You’ll discover that Trump gave more waivers of ethics rules to White House staff in his first four months than Obama did in eight years. This as much as anything belies Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.

Folks, complaining about ineptitude, dysfunction and feeding at the trough is not partisan warfare. Democrats and Republicans are calling it out. It’s another swamp, of Trump’s own making.

Whether you choose to continue your tour or end it here, please remember to fill out the comment card you were given with your ticket. Be sure to answer the question at the bottom:

Is this any way to run our country?

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


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