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Editorials from around New York

August 15, 2018

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

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The Times-Herald Record on the crackdown of voter fraud

Aug. 14

There’s an old joke with many variations but the general pattern is the same. A guy finds someone doing something odd, asks why and gets the explanation that it’s to keep the bears away.

But we don’t have any, comes the reply.

See, it’s working is the response and everybody laughs.

Keep that in mind when considering the latest attempts by the Trump administration and many Republican governors and legislatures to cut down on an equally imaginary threat — fraudulent voting.

It’s not only no joke, it’s no problem.

The most recent evidence comes from the same people who were sure that if they looked hard enough and long enough and spent enough money they would find what nobody else ever has been able to.

The voter integrity commission launched with great fanfare to investigate claims of massive voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election quietly disbanded with the leaders hoping that nobody would ask for details. But people did and documents were released and they showed what every person who has ever done any research into allegations of voter fraud has found consistently.

It’s not there.

Researchers have found that an occasional person has used false identification or other deception to cast a vote. And it is important to note that in many of the cases that have been documented, a person did produce documentation, just not their own, which means that the present push to require such papers is not likely to cut down on behavior that is almost nonexistent to begin with.

The most comprehensive inquiry into allegations of voter fraud was conducted by Justin Levitt, a professor with Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. As he has explained, in 2008 in relation to a voting case before the U.S. Supreme Court, he examined every single allegation and found 31 documented incidents. While that might be enough to sway an election in a very small village in an off-year, it is important to note that those 31 come out of, as he explained in an op-ed piece, “general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014.” In the general and primary elections alone during that time, there were more than 1 billion ballots cast.

So it comes as no surprise that the latest Republican effort to find fraudulent voting has come up empty. As Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said, the documents show there was a “pre-ordained outcome” and drafts of a commission report included a section on evidence of voter fraud that was “glaringly empty.”

All of this should expose the efforts in several states to impose more restrictions on voting and the efforts by the Department of Justice to reverse the course under the Obama administration and support states as they purge voter rolls and make it harder for people to register and vote.

In the meantime, we do know about attempts to sway elections, attempts being waged by very sophisticated hackers from Russia. Yet the Republicans who control Congress just this summer rejected a call for more money to provide better cybersecurity, the kind that can detect and defeat real attempts at manipulating elections.

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

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The New York Post on letting Gov. Cuomo keep an eagle feather

Aug. 13

It’s hard to see any harm in letting Gov. Andrew Cuomo keep the eagle feather recovered on a long-ago family outing on Saranac Lake. But how to get around the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act?

That obscure 1940s federal statute prohibits non-Native Americans from disturbing, taking or possessing eagle parts, eggs or nests — including feathers. Violations can bring a year in jail or a $100,000 fine.

Yet Cuomo plainly could’ve held on to it safely . if he hadn’t told the tale of recovering it in earshot of an enterprising Associated Press reporter.

The gov was announcing a grant for the Village of Saranac Lake when he harkened back to that canoe trip on the lake: “Out of nowhere, from one of the islands, an eagle came out and like swooped down right next to us with this beautiful, graceful glide.

“And when the eagle was just about at (the) front of the canoe, one feather fell out. And we picked up that feather, and I have it on my fireplace to this day. It’s moments like that that are just gifts forever.”

Alerted to the legal issue, Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the governor was (understandably) unaware of the law, and would return the feather to the lake or donate it to a US Fish and Wildlife repository.

Seriously, though, it’s a feather — and one of clear sentimental value to the Cuomo family. Can’t President Trump issue a pardon and let the gov keep his little memento?

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

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The Wall Street Journal on the firing of former FBI agent Peter Strzok

Aug. 14

One year ago Robert Mueller kicked FBI agent Peter Strzok off his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The special counsel recognized his investigation would be compromised if he kept on his team an FBI investigator who exchanged text messages with a colleague blasting Donald Trump while supporting Hillary Clinton.

The bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility had recommended a demotion and 60-day suspension, but Deputy Director David Bowdich recognized this would be seen as a slap on the wrist when the FBI is fighting to re-establish a reputation for integrity. He overruled OPR and sacked Mr. Strzok.

Mr. Strzok reacted the way we’ve come to expect from FBI officials of the James Comey era: He set up a GoFundMe page and accused the bureau of caving to “political pressure.”

On cue, President Trump jumped in with tweets attacking his FBI nemesis. This is said to confirm Mr. Strzok’s charge that he was fired for political reasons. But this is surely a stretch, given Mr. Trump’s more or less incessant tweets complaining that his Attorney General and FBI director won’t do what he wants them to.

Most of the headlines imply that Mr. Strzok was let go solely because of his inflammatory text messages with FBI colleague and paramour Lisa Page. It’s true these are nasty and alarming: Mr. Strzok talks about the “smell” of Trump voters at a Walmart, and Ms. Page warns there could be consequences for going into the Hillary Clinton email interview “loaded for bear” if she ended up becoming President. Mr. Strzok also reassured Ms. Page he would “stop” Mr. Trump from becoming President.

Any reasonable person reviewing these texts would conclude that Mr. Strzok had a bias unbecoming of any FBI agent, much less one entrusted to lead investigations that affected the fates of both presidential candidates. In his defense Mr. Strzok told Congress that he never let his “personal opinions” affect “any official action,” and Inspector General Michael Horowitz conceded he found no direct proof that they did.

But proving that bias affected an investigatory decision is akin to proving point-shaving to throw a basketball game. It’s very difficult. In this context it’s worth noting the IG’s statement that the Strzok-Page texts “cast a cloud” over the whole investigation. The IG further noted he “did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over the following up on the (Hillary Clinton email) investigative lead discovered on the (Anthony) Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

The IG report deals only with the Clinton email investigation. The IG is still investigating the Russia investigation that Mr. Strzok also led. When he testified before Congress, Mr. Strzok refused to answer nearly all of the substantive questions. This is one reason America is still in the dark about crucial facts in that investigation, such as the role played by Justice official Bruce Ohr, whose wife worked for Fusion GPS, which paid for dirt on Trump campaign officials.

The FBI has been granted enormous law enforcement and intelligence power on the assumption that it demands a culture of truth. Restoring this culture, badly tarnished during the Comey years, is crucial for public trust. Much more needs to be done to restore that trust, but firing Mr. Strzok had to be done.

Online: https://on.wsj.com/2BdyA5C

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The Post-Journal on the Paid Family Leave legislation

Aug. 14

Quietly, with little fanfare, legislation made its way through both houses of the state Legislature to include bereavement leave as part of the state’s Paid Family Leave legislation.

Encouraging bereavement leave is important; few will argue that we all need time to grieve the loss of a loved one. Many businesses in New York state recognize the importance of bereavement and include paid time off for bereavement as part of their company policy. We don’t disagree at all with the state’s desire to make bereavement leave open to all workers or even to standardize bereavement leave across the state. Lumping bereavement in with the Paid Family Leave, act, however, is bad policy.

While we don’t necessarily think many employees would take the full 12 weeks of their paid leave for bereavement, the law doesn’t limit the time taken off for bereavement. There is a difference between caring for a loved one who is ill and grieving for a loved one who has passed away; the law should reflect those differences. Businesses have also raised concerns about vagueness in the law that leads them to believe employees may be able to take bereavement leave for family deaths that take place before the law takes effect. Finally, there is the way this law would interact with the state’s proposal to change the regulations that would govern when employees are called in to work unexpectedly. Since bereavement leave is rarely scheduled in advance, businesses could find themselves hit with both the absence of a valued employee but paying additional money to fill the shift — or have to leave the work undone until the employee returns to work.

As we said recently, sometimes good intentions lead to bad policy. This is one of those times. Gov. Andrew Cuomo should veto this legislation. It’s an election year, though, so we won’t hold our breath.

Online: https://bit.ly/2KVT7uV

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The Leader-Herald on the national debt

Aug. 14

With a national debt of $21.3 trillion, keeping the federal government’s spending within the limit of what revenue is taken in has become critical. Yet, after decades of warnings that needs to be done, political leaders have not found the will to make it happen.

Last week, it was reported the government ran up $76.9 billion in deficit spending during July. At that rate, the annual deficit may be the highest in six years.

How did that happen? Big-government liberals complain about last year’s package of tax cuts. They have reduced revenue, thus increasing the deficit, they complain.

Well, yes. But look at the numbers: Thus far this year, federal government revenue is up by 1 percent. But spending also has increased, by 4.4 percent.

So Washington is taking more out of our pockets, even with the tax relief that appears to have jump-started the economy. Were revenue the only factor, we would be making a dent in the national debt.

But as long as spending continues to increase at a rate faster than revenue growth — or, for that matter, growth in the economy in general — deficits will persist.

Last week’s report underlines a point made about the debt: We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.

Online: https://bit.ly/2OES0lS

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