Editorials from around New York
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
The Times Union of Albany on the proposed rollback of greenhouse gas emissions standards
Denial won’t change the realities of global warming and climate change.
Millions of Americans of various religions and sects believe a great flood once wiped out nearly all of humanity as punishment for its sins. With equal fervor, many of those citizens refuse — despite hard evidence and scientific consensus — to accept that collective human activity can influence the climate.
That nearly religious zeal in denying the realities of global warming takes on new significance with the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back rules on greenhouse gas emissions. The Affordable Clean Energy plan, a name rich with Orwellian overtones, would reverse not only regulations meant to reduce carbon dioxide, but decades of efforts to promote cleaner air.
This gift to the coal industry would give some of the dirtiest power plants in the country a new lease on life, relieving them of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan’s mandates for deep cuts in harmful emissions, including a nearly one-third reduction in carbon by 2030, and a 90 percent cut in sulfur dioxide.
The policy would also slow the momentum toward clean energy alternatives. As of 2016, according to the Department of Energy, coal accounted for about 160,000 power generation jobs, compared with nearly 374,000 for solar, 102,000 for wind, and 2.2 million in energy efficiency.
But the debate over coal isn’t so much about numbers as it is about a political and ideological divide that the fossil fuel industry, its subsidized think tanks, and its beholden politicians work hard to cultivate and exploit. While most Americans believe global warming and human influence on it are real, a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 62 percent of Republicans say the threat is exaggerated, and barely half even believe the fact that most scientists say it’s occurring.
In a sense, then, many Americans treat this as a matter of faith, preferring the preaching of President Donald Trump to the analyses and warnings of scientists. But Mr. Trump does more than make false claims that global warming is a hoax; he uses the power of the presidency to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, to purge federal websites of information on climate change, and to roll back environmental regulations. Even under an administration out to censor science, the EPA acknowledges that the Affordable Clean Energy proposal will mean up to 1,400 more premature deaths annually by 2030, plus more cases of asthma, and more children missing more days of school.
It falls to states to push back, to continue promoting clean energy and sound health and environmental policies. And to sue, as New York and other states have, over each of the administration’s misguided policies. The effects of global warming — increasingly frequent violent weather, flooding, retreating polar ice and rising sea levels — don’t respect state lines.
Whether you believe in Noah’s Ark or anthropogenic climate change, there’s a warning common to both: Human beings are in this together — in sin or in folly.
The Auburn Citizen on New York state investigating misconduct claims against district attorneys
Next year, New York will become the first state in the country with a panel assigned to investigate prosecutors. It’s an idea not without controversy, and it needs to get off the ground in the right way if it’s going to be effective and fair.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law this week a bill authorizing the creation of an 11-member commission to investigate claims of misconduct against district attorneys and their assistants.
The commission passed the Legislature with bipartisan support — but that doesn’t mean everybody thinks it’s a good idea.
Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann joined the state district attorney’s association in speaking out against the measure, arguing that there are already mechanisms in place to safeguard trials. Prosecutors are subject to the attorney grievance process and overseen by judges who have the authority to keep evidence out of trials, dismiss charges and sanction district attorneys.
Advocates for the commission say that defendants need an independent panel to review their claims, and Cuomo said the law will root out potential abuses of power while providing a system of checks and balances for the legal system.
Even though oversight is already in place, we believe this commission has the potential to right wrongs in cases where people are prosecuted improperly. The state DA’s association said that a review of 2.5 million cases between 2010 and 2015 revealed 54 instances of misconduct. And while that is a statistically tiny number of cases, it is still 54 too many.
The legislation signed this week contains flaws that the Legislature will need to repair next year. As written, it would allow the public release of files concerning ongoing investigations. And the requirement that the Legislature name most of the panel’s members violates the separation of powers under the state constitution.
With points still waiting to be ironed out, this commission needs to be developed with nothing but fairness and justice in mind. And great care must be taken to ensure the development of a non-partisan panel. The ultimate arbiter of removing a district attorney from office will be whomever happens to be governor at the time, and elected DAs — and their constituents — need reassurances that prosecutors will not be targeted for the wrong reasons.
The New York Times on the convictions of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort
From the start of the Russia investigation, President Trump has been working to discredit the work and the integrity of the special counsel, Robert Mueller; praising men who are blatant grifters, cons and crooks; insisting that he’s personally done nothing wrong; and reminding us that he hires only the best people.
On Tuesday afternoon, the American public was treated to an astonishing split-screen moment involving two of those people, as Mr. Trump’s former campaign chief was convicted by a federal jury in Virginia of multiple crimes carrying years in prison at the same time that his longtime personal lawyer pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to his own lengthy trail of criminality, and confessed that he had committed at least some of the crimes “at the direction of” Mr. Trump himself.
Let that sink in: Mr. Trump’s own lawyer has now accused him, under oath, of committing a felony.
Only a complete fantasist — that is, only President Trump and his cult — could continue to claim that this investigation of foreign subversion of an American election, which has already yielded dozens of other indictments and several guilty pleas, is a “hoax” or “scam” or “rigged witch hunt.”
The conviction of Paul Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign for three months in 2016, was a win for prosecutors even though jurors were unable to reach a verdict on 10 of the 18 counts against him. On the other eight, which included bank fraud, tax fraud and a failure to report a foreign bank account, the jury agreed unanimously that Mr. Manafort was guilty. He is scheduled to go on trial in a separate case next month in Washington, D.C., on charges including money laundering, witness tampering, lying to authorities and failing to register as a foreign agent. Mr. Manafort faces many decades behind bars, although he will probably serve less than that under federal sentencing guidelines.
A few hundred miles to the north, in New York City, Michael “I’m going to mess your life up” Cohen stood before a federal judge and pleaded guilty to multiple counts of bank and tax fraud as well as federal campaign-finance violations involving hush-money payments he made to women who said they’d had sex with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen, who spent years as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and “fix-it guy” (his own words), was under investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, to whom Mr. Mueller referred his case. In April, F.B.I. agents raided Mr. Cohen’s office, home and hotel room looking for evidence of criminality on a number of fronts. Apparently they found it.
Mr. Cohen didn’t agree at Tuesday’s hearing to cooperate with prosecutors, but if he eventually chooses to, that could spell even bigger trouble for Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen has been involved in many of Mr. Trump’s dealings with Russia, including his aborted effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and could shed light on connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian officials involved in the 2016 election interference.
But back to Tuesday’s news. Mr. Manafort was not an original target of the inquiry by Mr. Mueller, who was appointed in May of last year to look into possible ties between the Trump campaign and efforts by Russian government officials to interfere in the election. But Mr. Mueller’s mandate authorized him to investigate any other crimes that arose in the course of his work. It didn’t take long. As soon as he and his lawyers started sniffing around, the stench of Mr. Manafort’s illegality was overpowering.
As a longtime lobbyist and political consultant who worked for multiple Republican candidates and presidents, Mr. Manafort had a habit of lying to banks to get multimillion-dollar loans and hiding his cash in offshore accounts when tax time rolled round. In at least one case, he falsely characterized $1.5 million as a loan to avoid paying taxes on it, then later told banks that the loan had been “forgiven” so he could get another loan.
He also enriched himself by working for some of the world’s most notorious thugs and autocrats, including Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Jonas Savimbi in Angola and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He helped elect the pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine, a job that earned him millions until Mr. Yanukovych was ousted from power in 2014.
Despite this mercenary history — or perhaps, more disturbingly, because of it — Donald Trump, while running on promises to clean up Washington, hired Mr. Manafort to run his presidential campaign, a job he may well have kept but for news reports that he was receiving and hiding millions of dollars from his work on behalf of Mr. Yanukovych.
What does it tell you about Mr. Trump that he would choose to lead his campaign someone like Mr. Manafort, whom even on Tuesday he called a “good man”? It tells you that Mr. Trump is consistent, and consistently contemptuous of honesty and ethics, because he has surrounded himself with people of weak, if not criminal, character throughout his career.
While the president has so far dodged questions about whether he will pardon Mr. Manafort, he’s already shown a willingness to make a mockery of the justice system with his pardons of unrepentant lawbreakers like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Dinesh D’Souza. Last year, the president’s lawyer dangled the prospect of a pardon to lawyers for Mr. Manafort and Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. If Mr. Trump were to follow through and grant clemency to Mr. Manafort, it would make his pardon of Mr. Arpaio look like the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
You’re forgiven if you’ve lost track of all the criminality, either charged or admitted, that has burst forth from Mr. Trump’s circles in the last couple years even as Mr. Trump has continued to claim that the investigation is a hoax, a pointless waste of taxpayer dollars. So here’s a brief refresher:
In addition to the prosecution of Mr. Manafort, the special counsel’s office has secured guilty pleas from multiple people, including Mr. Flynn and George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign, both of whom lied to federal investigators about their communications with Russian officials.
Others have pleaded guilty to identity fraud and making false statements. Mr. Manafort’s longtime associate Rick Gates also pleaded guilty and testified against his former boss.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mueller has charged more than a dozen Russian individuals and companies for their roles in a coordinated and deceptive social-media campaign aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and helping Mr. Trump’s. Some Trump campaign officials were unwittingly in contact with some of these defendants.
Mr. Mueller has also charged a dozen Russian military officials with hacking and helping to release emails of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The hackers first tried to break into Mrs. Clinton’s personal servers on July 27, 2016 — the same day that Mr. Trump publicly called on Russians to do exactly that.
And he has charged Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian associate of Mr. Manafort and a suspected spy, with obstructing justice.
As Mr. Trump rages on about the unfairness of the investigation, remember that Mr. Mueller has been on the job for just 15 months. For comparison, the Watergate investigation ran for more than two years before it brought down a president and sent dozens of people to prison. The Iran contra investigation dragged on for about seven years, as did the Whitewater investigation, which resulted in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Also remember we still don’t know anything about the ultimate fate of several other Trump associates who have been under Mr. Mueller’s microscope, including Roger Stone, Carter Page and Donald Trump Jr. (“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer”).
For a witch hunt, Mr. Mueller’s investigation has already bagged a remarkable number of witches. Only the best witches, you might say.
Newsday on federal prison reform
The tale told by incarceration statistics in the United States is staggering. The nation, with about 5 percent of the world’s population, has 21 percent of the world’s prisoners. African-Americans are incarcerated at about five times the rate of white people, often for drug-related crimes, even though study after study shows the two groups use and sell drugs at similar rates. Much of that disparity is due to unfairly harsh sentences levied against those convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine, whose use is more prevalent in the black population than the powder cocaine more commonly used by whites.
The federal prison system houses about 184,000 inmates, up from 65,000 in 1990. The increase is largely due to mandatory minimum sentences adopted in 1986. And 75 percent of released prisoners end up back behind bars within five years.
For years, a bipartisan consensus has grown around the idea of significant reform in the federal criminal justice and prison systems. The goal is to send fewer people to prison, keep the ones who are jailed in for shorter periods, and take concrete steps to prepare them to live law-abiding, productive lives in society once they get out, so they can stay out.
Now that consensus has a chance to become change, with much of the fresh momentum coming from President Donald Trump.
Most American prisoners are in state institutions, and the federal push is for ideas that are starting to work to reduce prison populations and recidivism at the state level. Trump recently held a summit with governors from states confronting prison and sentencing reform.
The first step is, aptly, the First Step Act, a bill that boils down to getting inmates prepared for life after prison and then getting them released. Passed with broad bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, the bill would provide $250 million for a five-year program to fund inmate education, job training and rehabilitation. Inmates who participate and succeed would be credited time toward early release or be allowed to transition more quickly to alternatives like home confinement and halfway houses. And in five years, we’d know a lot more about what works and be even better able to make progress.
The second step, which has garnered support in the Senate, involves shortening unreasonably long mandatory minimum sentences, often life, for some felony drug offenders, letting judges impose lighter sentences for nonviolent crimes, and reducing overly harsh sentences already levied in cases that involved crack cocaine.
The Daily News on improving New York City government
The Charter Revision Commission appointed by Mayor de Blasio in April is getting ready to put a few skimpy ballot questions on the November ballot and then turn into a pumpkin.
Hold up. There’s work yet to be done to improve city government — and the main mission for this year, blocking mischief by a City Council-dominated commission, is already accomplished.
So, mayor: Keep your commission alive another year and dig a little deeper. That will have the side benefit of blocking Council shenanigans in 2019.
By law, recommendations made by a mayoral panel trump those made by another. The second commission, which just kicked off, is dominated by nine appointees from the Council and borough presidents. It’s poised to do real mischief by supercharging local legislators’ power or beep power or mucking around with land-use approvals.
Such proposals would be de Blasio’s duty to thwart, by offering his own ballot items.
The case for keeping a mayoral commission alive is made stronger by the fact that de Blasio’s panel basically whiffed this year. Plans to consider okaying ranked-choice voting — whereby voters would put their primary picks in order from first to last, replacing costly, low-turnout runoffs — went nowhere. Same on improving the way Council districts are drawn.
All they’re offering is weak tweaks to the city’s campaign finance system. Lower contribution limits make some sense — but doubling public matching funds for citywide offices is a waste.
Keep the lights on for another year, to block the Council’s schemes and do better work. Two birds, one stone.