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Editorials from around New York

February 7, 2018

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

The New York Times on Dodge’s use of a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. in an ad.

Feb. 5

William Bernbach, a titan of Madison Avenue who died in 1982, said, “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.” The spinmeisters for Ram trucks must have taken Mr. Bernbach’s admonition to heart. With a Super Bowl commercial on Sunday that used as its soundtrack a sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years earlier to the day, they got the notice they wanted. Much of the reaction, though, amounted to a richly deserved thumbs-down.

The sermon was Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech, given in Atlanta in 1968 two months before his assassination. Everybody, he said, had this instinct — “a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first.” But it had to be harnessed, he said as he went on to equate greatness with service to others. Ostensibly, the Ram commercial was an appeal for people to serve. But who’s kidding whom? The goal was to sell trucks, with Dr. King’s voice as pitchman.

The sheer crassness led to instant condemnation on social media, including speculation about what might be next — maybe trotting out James Baldwin to hawk “The Firestone Next Time”? Critics were hardly mollified by word that Ram had the blessing of Intellectual Properties Management, the licenser of Dr. King’s estate. The estate has not always been his staunchest guardian against posthumous commercialization.

It might serve history a tad more faithfully to note other appeals that Dr. King made in that Feb. 4, 1968, sermon. For one thing, he was appalled by the way many people went into hock to buy vehicles they couldn’t possibly afford: “So often, haven’t you seen people making $5,000 a year and driving a car that cost 6,000? And they wonder why their ends never meet.”

While we’re at it, he also didn’t think highly of advertising gurus — “you know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion.” He continued: “They have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love, you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff.”

For that matter, Dr. King might well have been talking about a president a half-century in the future when he expounded on the need to rein in the drum major instinct, for otherwise it becomes “very dangerous” and “pernicious.”

I have a dream . . . of deep discounts and low prices. Only American advertising can sink to such despicable lows. Trump has given license...

“Have you ever heard people that, you know — and I’m sure you’ve met them — that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves?” he said. “And they just boast and boast and boast. And that’s the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct.”

In the sermon’s finale, Dr. King said that he thought about his own death and funeral. It led to these ringing words: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

He did not ask to be a huckster for a line of trucks.

Online: http://nyti.ms/2BHl75r

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Newsday on developments in Puerto Rico.

Feb. 3

Here is what is happening in Puerto Rico more than four months after Hurricane Maria slammed through the island: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still providing food and water, after mistakenly prompting fears it would stop. Tarps cover roofs across the island. Approximately a third of the population is still without power.

No power usually means no hot meals and no refrigeration. It means no air conditioning in tropical heat that is already breaching the 80s.

The island’s disaster was more far-reaching than some of the worst ever seen on the mainland. More than three times as many generators were provided by FEMA to Puerto Rico after Maria as compared with Hurricane Katrina. For the 3.4 million people who call Puerto Rico home, it has been an unconscionably slow recovery. The federal government must extend the true helping hand our fellow Americans desperately need.

The odds were stacked against the island long before hurricane winds swirled. A decadelong recession has prompted a stream of migration away from the island. With the economy faltering after a repeal of a federal corporate tax break, successive governments borrowed excessively and the island is now tens of billions of dollars in debt — which has led to a federal control board demanding austerity.

Mismanagement caused deep cracks in infrastructure. There were bad local decisions after the storm. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority chose not to immediately call in hordes of power workers via mutual aid agreements with mainland utilities. Instead, PREPA at first relied on Whitefish Energy Holdings, a Montana company, due to logistical difficulties and cost concerns, but this only delayed energy restoration. The mountainous terrain posed its own challenges.

Meantime, the federal response has been scandalously inadequate. It started with early logistical stumbles like delayed opening of ports, slowing the delivery of supplies. President Donald Trump obscenely overstated the island’s recovery when he visited in October and squabbled with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as she and others asked for more aid.

The inadequate response continues today with an omnibus $81 billion supplemental disaster-relief package that is stalled in the Senate. It’s hardly enough for Puerto Rico, but miserly when split with other disaster-struck areas such as Texas and Florida.

And the future looks dire: The Republican tax bill disadvantages Puerto Rico businesses compared with mainland ones, making it even more difficult for Puerto Ricans to get back on their feet.

New York has done more in many ways because of its bond with Puerto Rico. The Empire State has long been the heart of the Puerto Rican diaspora, particularly since hundreds of thousands migrated to the mainland in the 1950s. Puerto Rico has only a nonvoting member of Congress and does not vote for president, making New York politicians de facto surrogates.

New York’s efforts to get the power back on have been particularly helpful. New York power workers were on the ground within days of Hurricane Maria to analyze damage, and more than 450 New York State utility workers have helped restore power to more than 90 percent of San Juan area customers.

But the devastation requires a wider response. Today in Puerto Rico, you will find fallen trees aside major highways and still-broken bridges. Many storefronts are shuttered and traffic lights are dead, symbols of the scale of the storm and the slow return to normalcy. The disaster aid package should be approved immediately — including, at the very least, funding for the island’s Medicaid crisis, caused in part by the federal government contributing much less than it does for states.

Also needed: a waiver for the portion of disaster response for which Puerto Rico would be responsible after the first 180 days post-storm. That local cost-share was waived for Louisiana after Katrina. The legislation also must reform Stafford Act requirements, which stipulate that federal dollars be used largely on simple reconstruction. The federal government should build to a higher standard, trying to prevent this level of destruction from happening again. Puerto Rico in turn must marshal political will to modernize its electrical grid.

Beyond the bills, Puerto Rico’s economy needs help. The commonwealth needs some leniency as it seeks to restructure its debts. Why sow salt in fields that one day must be fertile?

There is hope for Puerto Rico.

Many Puerto Ricans see the disaster as an opportunity to rebuild smartly. Better bridges can span rivers, roads will be cleared and improved, and tourism will again flourish with New Yorkers and others hopping on cruise ships and flights, sustaining the economy as Puerto Rico rises.

But to do so, the island needs more help, and more recognition by Washington that these are fellow citizens, too.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2EKgDK0

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The Post-Standard on FISA court documents concerning Carter Page.

Feb. 7

Did federal authorities abuse their powers and mislead the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when seeking the court’s permission to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page?

A memo prepared by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, claims the answer is yes.

A rebuttal prepared by the committee’s Democrats claims the answer is no. Or, at least we are led to believe it does; that memo is still a secret.

Because of the veil of government secrecy, the public cannot judge the validity of the Nunes memo -- or President Donald Trump’s claim that it vindicates him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the presidential election. The Nunes memo, a scant four pages, presents an incomplete narrative.

We join The New York Times and the Yale Media Freedom and Access Clinic in calling on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to release all material in the government’s applications to wiretap Page.

Since we cannot trust our elected officials to tell the whole truth, the court must step in. When Congress and the president act in their own self-interest, the judiciary must act in the public’s interest.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 gave Congress oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies that want to wiretap suspected foreign agents and terrorists. The FISA law established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to decide whether to allow wiretaps based on the government’s evidence. The court acts in secret and only hears testimony from the government’s side. The release of warrant applications would be unprecedented in its 40-year history.

Yet these are highly unusual circumstances.

We have a House Intelligence Committee chairman who has abused Congress’s oversight responsibility by selectively releasing classified information to further the political aims of the president.

We have a president so eager to undermine the Russia probe that he declassified Nunes’ cherry-picked memo against the advice of his own FBI director and Justice Department. Trump claims the memo “totally vindicates” him.

We have intelligence officials who may (or may not) have abused their surveillance powers - but who can’t respond to allegations without further compromising classified information.

The Nunes memo attempts to discredit the warrants for wiretapping Page by alleging they relied on the Christopher Steele dossier - salacious opposition research about Trump compiled by a former British intelligence agent. The memo claims the court was not told the research was financed by the Hillary Clinton campaign, or that Steele showed animus toward Trump.

What the Nunes memo doesn’t say - and the warrant applications would - is how much the government relied on the Steele dossier, and whether there is other evidence justifying surveillance of Page. Surely, the FISA judges know if they were snookered by the government -- and should not remain silent if they were.

By declassifying the Nunes memo, the president broke the seal on the FISA court’s secrecy. Trump ought to declassify the Democrats’ rebuttal memo, too. But even if he does, the public will be forced to weigh one politically motivated document against another.

Release all the FISA records on Page. Let the people decide who’s telling the truth.

Online: http://bit.ly/2EaA7dV

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The (Middleton) Times-Herald Record on the New York Dream Act.

Feb. 6

The Assembly has passed the New York Dream Act which faces an uncertain future in the state Senate. As with any controversial issue, this offers the opportunity for enlightened debate and education or fear mongering and propaganda.

For New Yorkers, it offers an opportunity to understand the personal, political and public effects of our broken immigration system but only if those engaging in the debate and dialogue will stick to the facts.

Here are those facts.

The state Dream Act should not be confused with DACA, the policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, even though they affect the same population. The federal debate concerns the threat of deportation faced by young people brought into the United States as minors without legal status or a path to citizenship.

The New York Dream Act is much narrower, allowing young people without documentation to be eligible for financial aid for college.

They would have to graduate from high school and have the grades and test scores necessary to get admitted to college. With the state Dream Act, they would be able to pursue the American Dream. Without it, they would most likely not be able to attend college.

Not everybody thinks that it a good idea. Among the opponents is one Republican member of the Assembly, Brian Miller from New Hartford, whose opposition is typical. As he said after the vote, “Assembly Democrats are hell-bent on using our tax dollars to provide for illegal immigrants while residents struggle to pay for college decades after they’ve graduated.”

Illegal? These people were brought into this country as youngsters. Do we blame them for that, for keeping out of trouble, for graduating from high school, for having the grades and test scores to get admitted to college, for being a victim of a political climate that does not offer them any way to become citizens?

Miller does.

And what about those who do struggle to pay for college? The aid that the New York Dreamers would be eligible to receive is not being deducted from aid that went to or will go to citizens who attend college. But Miller and others who like to throw around that charge would rather confuse the issue. They are not proposing any drastic increase in financial aid, they oppose the governor’s plan to lower tuition at state colleges and universities and in general feel that New York needs to spend a lot less on everything.

As Miller puts it, “The state’s tax burden is due to the fact that New York has become the land of the handout.”

He knows very well that in a state with a budget as large as New York’s, allowing these youngsters to be eligible to apply for financial aid is not a financial issue. But it is an ideological one. It allows politicians to throw around the term “illegal” to help raise fear. It allows them to falsely frame this as a zero-sum game, pretending that the illegals win at the expense of the legals.

Young people with citizenship get nothing from his stand. Young people without citizenship also get nothing.

He gets votes.

Online: http://bit.ly/2EQl2LG

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The Niagara Gazette on a Niagara County historical study.

Feb. 2

It has been said that the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.

In a similar fashion, communities are judged, at least in part, by how they approach historic properties within their limits.

Many parts of Niagara County can boast about having treasured historical assets.

One of those communities, the City of North Tonawanda, recently held a discussion about the possibility of applying for grant funds to finish up a project started years ago. The now-stalled effort was once aimed at designating a trio of streets as part of a proposed historic district dedicated to homes built by the Lumber City’s so-called “Lumber Barons.”

The city’s historic commission agreed to work with a University at Buffalo graduate student a couple of years ago in an effort to complete a study of the properties. The work was never finished, which is why more funds are needed to get it back on track.

Rae Proefrock, a representative from the North Tonawanda Historic Preservation Commission, recently asked members of the city council to consider support for a new application for funds to help in completing the project. As she noted, the study would focus on the unique history and nature of 460 homes within the area, which would include Goundry, Tremont and Christiana streets.

“All those big, beautiful Victorian homes, most of them were built by the people who owned the lumber companies,” Proefrock said. “And within those buildings are the most beautiful kinds of wood you could image because (North Tonawanda) was the lumber capital of the world.”

Lumber City Development Corp. Executive Director Michael Zimmerman said the city applied for and received $3,200 in grant funds in 2015 to assist in the cost of the study and, he noted, that the money remains available.

He did, however, estimate that the entire project would likely cost closer to $20,000 to complete, hence the need to apply for another grant.

If successful, the designation would support preservation of homes within the district, some of which are among the oldest in the city itself. In addition, it could be a mechanism for homeowners to apply for and receive assistance in carrying out renovations. The aim is to help maintain the character and value of the properties and the district as a whole.

City leaders are understandably interested in getting answers to some questions and getting more information before they agree to move forward.

It’s always wise, whenever the expenditure of public resources or funds are involved, for officials from any city to do their due diligence. It is also important for city leaders to fully consider the interests of home and business owners in the area before offering final support to this particular endeavor.

It appears, on the surface at least, that this project offers the potential for positive developments in one of North Tonawanda’s oldest neighborhoods.

The homes built years ago by the Lumber City’s “Lumber Barons” are an important part of the community already.

Taking steps to ensure they are preserved for many years to come is a concept worth considering.

Online: http://bit.ly/2Eqxxj6

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