Editorials from around New York

May 29, 2019

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

The New York Post on Robert Mueller’s recent Russia probe statements

May 29

In what he clearly means to be his final statement on his investigation, special counsel Bob Mueller still insisted on having it both ways. But the bottom line remains the same: It’s over. Democrats already have everything they’re going to have if they want to impeach.

Mueller is plainly peeved at how President Trump complained loudly and publicly about the investigation even as the White House cooperated fully with the probe. So his remarks Wednesday were salted with lines like, “If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

But he also wouldn’t, and won’t, say if he believes the president did commit a crime. He pointedly cites Justice Department policies that don’t allow charges against a sitting president, then drops the question of what the charges might’ve otherwise been.

And then preens about how even outlining those charges would be unfair, because Trump wouldn’t have the chance to face them in a court of law.

Here’s the thing, though: If Mueller’s team had been able to build a collusion or obstruction case against anyone else from the Trump campaign or the Trump White House, they’d have been free to press those charges in court, and even name the president as an unindicted co-conspirator.

So Mueller’s line about “insufficient evidence of a conspiracy” is just a nasty way of exonerating Trump’s team.

It also means that any obstruction would’ve been purely about the president’s actions, and only his, regarding an investigation that Trump never actually impeded. And one that the president always knew could never find collusion, because he knew he hadn’t colluded.

Beyond Mueller’s passive-aggressive digs, though, his message was another disappointment for Democrats, since it boils down to: I’m not going to help you drag this out.

That is, he’s not going to add a word beyond what’s in his 450-page report on the Russia investigation — not in future public statements, not in testimony. He’s had his complete say.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top committee chairmen have been walking a tightrope, appeasing the party’s “impeach now” wing with hearings meant to suggest they’re still digging into the details of Team Trump misdeeds — even as they avoid actually jumping to impeachment proceedings, because that’s clearly not what centrist voters want.

Getting Mueller to testify was to be the next scene in that show, and he’s just said: Count me out; my report speaks for itself and speaks for me.

He also shot down another part of the show — charges that Attorney General William Barr suppressed some key part of his findings. As Mueller noted, Barr released virtually the whole report as rapidly as possible. Nor did the special counsel fault the AG’s initial, brief summary of its findings.

And those findings remain what they’ve been for weeks now: Mueller’s team found insufficient basis for any collusion case, and couldn’t come to a conclusion on obstruction.

Nothing changed after Mueller’s press conference. Except this: Democrats can’t have it both ways — shying from impeachment but wallowing in endless investigations and testimony that create more noise without shedding any new light.

I’m done with my job, Mueller told the members of Congress. You should quit playing games, and do yours.

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


The Utica-Observer Dispatch on overuse of hiking trails in the Adirondacks

May 24

And so begins summer. Unofficially, anyway.

As Memorial Day weekend dawns, it is hoped that people remember its intent. Interspersed with parades, solemn ceremonies and cemetery visits is the kickoff of a season filled with our favorite summer activities. From backyard barbecues and water skiing to canoeing and church festivals, there is no shortage of fun.

One favorite pursuit on many lists is hiking - specifically in the Adirondacks. And why not? With this vast resource in our own backyard, hikes - both easy day treks and more challenging journeys - are plentiful.

But if you truly love the mountains, a word of caution: Hike responsibly. Overuse can damage the precious wilderness.

Recently, the Adirondack Council - a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park - published an illustrated analysis showing the damage being done to the forests, waters and wildlife in some parts of the park by overuse of the most popular public trails, especially during busy holiday weekends. The findings were similar to a report discussed last October by John F. Sheehan, the Council’s director of communications, with the O-D editorial board.

Sheehan said that while it’s good that people are coming to the Adirondacks, overuse is taking its toll - degrading the natural resources, threatening visitor safety and harming the wild character of “Forever Wild” state-owned land and waters.

The council’s latest analysis includes before-and-after photographs taken decades apart, at the same locations, showing how overuse and poorly maintained trails have resulted in worsening damage. For instance, from 1985 to 2005, hiker registrations for the primary trail up Cascade Mountain increased 27 percent, from 6,746 to 8,601. It’s estimated that in 2010, 12,000 people hiked this peak, and in 2016, over 34,500 people climbed the same trail.

The report also shows locations where redesign and proper maintenance have succeeded in protecting the environment, while improving conditions for visitors and boosting public safety.

The council says overuse occurs when the volume of hikers and wear on the trail exceeds the trail’s capacity to withstand erosion or damage to nearby vegetation and wildlife habitat. This results in water pollution down slope, loss of rare plant species and less suitable space for wildlife. It often conflicts with, or defeats, state management objectives for that section of the Forest Preserve.

“Some steps have been taken in response to symptoms of overuse in a couple of key locations, but a comprehensive plan is needed,” said Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.

A similar call out was made in the 19th century when Verplanck Colvin, a surveyor from Albany who was hired to map the Adirondacks, found unchecked logging that was resulting in erosion and other damage to the wilderness. Colvin persuaded the state Legislature to establish a commission on state parks to protect them. This led to the establishment of the Forest Preserve in 1885, and the eventual creation of the Adirondack Park in 1892.

People heeded Colvin’s warning and today, the Adirondack Park is a magnificent 6-million-acre playground that welcomes 12.4 million visitors a year. But we can get too much of a good thing. The council’s analysis is a wake-up call. Efforts to help mitigate overuse must be supported because unless we are responsible custodians of the wilderness, it won’t be there for future generations.

Wilderness preservation

National experts and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have said six best management practices are essential for wildlands management and to address overuse.

They are:

. Comprehensive planning.

. Expanded education and outreach (including teaching of Leave No Trace outdoor skills and ethics).

. Front-country infrastructure - suitable signage, parking and trailheads.

. Backcountry infrastructure - trails, markers, campsites, shelters where appropriate.

. Limits on use at some times in some locations.

. Additional staffing and funding.

(Source: Adirondack Council)

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


Newsday on the dangers of Mercury vapors

May 27

The fact that three Long Island school districts have discovered mercury vapor emanating from synthetic flooring in some buildings should be an alarm — alerting other districts to investigate their facilities, and for state officials to set appropriate exposure limits.

Mercury is highly toxic. It affects the nervous system and the brain, especially in children. In a pregnant woman, it can be transmitted to a fetus. Since it is heavier than air, mercury vapor tends to settle near the floor, and accumulates in rooms with no air conditioning or other ventilation. All of that is troubling since this kind of rubberized flooring, installed from the 1960s to the 1990s, was typically put in gymnasiums.

Long Island isn’t alone in confronting this problem. Mercury vapor from synthetic floors has been found in schools in New Jersey, Minnesota, Colorado, South Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Arizona. Generally, levels of mercury vapor in those states and in schools in Amityville, Merrick and Miller Place have been below exposure guidelines. But that only reveals another problem — the patchwork of standards set by different arms of the federal government and various states.

New York must set a limit for schools that works for kids, who are more vulnerable, and for teachers, whose exposure is greater. Legislation from State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) would set the number at 0.75 micrograms per cubic meter, the same standard used in Minnesota for yearlong exposure for gym teachers and students. It’s a good starting point for discussion and hearings. State officials also should offer practical guidance to districts dealing with mercury vapor, including advice to check whether concrete underneath the synthetic flooring is saturated with mercury.

Mercury is a risk our kids cannot afford to take.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2Mr4ZuW


The Glen Falls Post-Star on reactions to a musical about the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia protests

May 29

The decision by a local filmmaker to revise the script of his movie musical because of criticism from people who had not read it is an example of the hyper-sensitive cultural moment we’re living in.

We used to wait to see or hear an artist’s work before getting offended by it, but now we’re taking offense as soon as we hear the subject.

That’s what happened with Ben Rowley’s “Millennial,” a musical that was going to follow 10 young people as they heard about and reacted to the “Unite the Right” protest carried out by white nationalists and neo-Nazis on Aug. 11, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A story in The Post-Star mentioned Rowley’s project and said he would be using City Park in Glens Falls to film a scene. But negative reactions from people who were in Charlottesville on the weekend of the protest persuaded Rowley and his “creative team” to remove any reference to Charlottesville from their movie.

We’ve reached a censorious place where we allow uninformed public opinion to squash works of art still in the process of being created. Part of this is the bad influence of social media, whose users jostle to be the first to have something righteous to say. Part of it is the increasing public sensitivity to bigotry in all its forms.

A willingness to take offense at things that are offensive — like a march by tiki torch-carrying white supremacists who chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” — is a good thing. But objecting when artists decide to address sensitive subjects looks like an effort to show how excellent your morals are even when you have no idea what you’re talking about.

No subject — not slavery, not the Holocaust, not religion, not constipation (addressed at length in “Portnoy’s Complaint”) — is off-limits for art.

Imagine Mel Brooks making his pitch to Hollywood backers for a movie called “The Producers”: “It’s about a washed-up Broadway producer who’s been reduced to having sex with old ladies for cash. He gets this idea to stage a show so bad it will close instantly, so he can keep all the money investors have put up. The show is a Nazi musical called ‘Springtime for Hitler.’”

Lines from Brooks’ show-within-a-show are classics of absurdity, like this one: “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty/Come and join the nazi party.”

It wouldn’t be fair to compare any budding filmmaker’s work to Brooks’ farcical brilliance, and it sounds as if Rowley is aiming at something more serious. Young artists should be allowed to do their work — and make mistakes, too — without a crowd of would-be cultural arbiters judging their every word, or thought.

What an artistically constipated world we will live in if we allow the amateur critics of Twitter and Facebook to shut down movies before filming has even started!

We were taken aback when we read that Rowley was filming a musical about reactions to a neo-Nazi march, especially since the march was followed the next day by the murder of an anti-Nazi protester.

But in Charlottesville itself, a high school drama teacher, since the march, has been using drama to address racial injustice. Madeline Michel of Monticello high school is getting a special Tony award for her work in helping students write and produce plays like “A King’s Story,” about a teenager shot and killed by police, and ”#WhileBlack,” about racial profiling.

Theatrical works can be a powerful and effective way to address difficult social issues.

Who cares what the critics and carpers have to say? Some people will always be negative, and ignorance won’t stop them.

Rowley should forge ahead — maybe his film will be good, maybe not. Those judgments can be delivered when it’s done. But he and all artists should be free to pick their subjects and practice their craft without interference from people who claim, without justification, the right to control their work.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Kdw16o


The Syracuse Post-Standard on the money going into an unrealized business park in Onondaga County

May 28

Onondaga County should stop plowing public money into a failed dream to attract a major manufacturer to the town of Clay.

The Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency recently voted to spend $900,000 to buy 106 acres of land adjacent to White Pine business park. After the purchase goes through, the county will have spent $3.2 million for 445 acres of greenfield and wetlands off Route 31 and Caughdenoy Road.

The number that really matters here is zero - as in, zero tenants since the business park was created in the 1990s. No one is building big manufacturing plants in the United States anymore. For smaller manufacturers, there’s no shortage of vacant industrial space just waiting to be repurposed.

Adding more land to the Clay site is supposed to make it more marketable. But it doesn’t solve the business park’s main drawback: It’s nowhere near “shovel ready” for a manufacturer (if one could be found) to come in and immediately start building.

To make it shovel ready, the county would need to spend another $5 million to run a new sewer line, and then spend some more money to bring in power from a nearby electrical substation. Without a tenant lined up, all this work would have to be done on speculation, with no guarantee it would ever pay off.

Admit it: It’s never going to pay off.

On Thursday, County Executive Ryan McMahon touted the county’s “prudent fiscal management” for solid grades from bond rating agencies. There’s nothing prudent about sinking more money into this lost cause.

We said it seven years ago, and we’ll say it again: Cut your losses. Stop throwing good money after bad. Throw in the towel on the business park.

Online: https://bit.ly/2HJe6ms

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