Editorials from around New York
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
Group of 7, Minus Trump
The New York Times
One of the few concrete pledges to come out of the Group of 7 summit in Biarritz, on France’s Atlantic coast, was an aid package of $20 million for Brazil and its neighbors in the Amazon basin to fight fires raging through the rainforest. The sum was a trifle, given the scale of the fires and the size of the economies of the donors (the charity of the actor Leonardo DiCaprio separately pledged $5 million), but it was meant to highlight a more ambitious program of protection and reforestation in the works.
More noteworthy than the token action was the fact that President Trump skipped the session at which it was taken, which happened to be devoted to climate, oceans and biodiversity. Even more noteworthy was that neither French President Emmanuel Macron, the convener of this year’s summit and champion of action on the Amazon fires, nor hardly anyone else seemed to find this particularly disturbing.
In fact, they seemed relieved. Other American officials were there, said Mr. Macron, and it had never been his goal to challenge Mr. Trump’s climate denialism. In fact, he said he and the American president had a “long, rich and totally positive” discussion on the Amazon fires. Maybe they did, but by now Mr. Macron should know better than most that the Trump who likes being agreeable face to face can quickly turn mean at a distance.
That, in fact, was the real theme of the Biarritz summit in the third year of the Trump presidency, as described by Peter Baker of The Times: “Rule 1 at the G7 Meeting? Don’t Get You-Know-Who Mad.” Mr. Macron cautiously avoided trying to draft a joint communiqué, perhaps recalling how Mr. Trump pulled his signature off the one reached last year in Canada in a tantrum over something Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
Mr. Macron’s conciliatory efforts were not all in vain. One unexpected development was his announcement that Mr. Trump may soon have a direct meeting with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani. Mr. Macron and other European leaders have worked hard to ease tensions between Iran and the United States and to salvage what they can of the agreement they and President Barack Obama reached with Iran in 2015 limiting Iran’s nuclear potential.
Still, there were plenty of hazards at this summit. One was Mr. Trump’s keenness to get his pal Vladimir Putin back into the Group of 7, from which he was expelled over Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. Mr. Trump blames Mr. Obama for expelling Mr. Putin and said he “certainly” would explore inviting him to next year’s summit meeting, which the United States is hosting, perhaps at Mr. Trump’s Doral golf resort near Miami.
Mr. Trump also created some unease with seesaw statements on the tariff war with China, but the assembled heads of government bent over backward not to provoke his ire.
Boris Johnson, the disheveled newly installed prime minister of Britain who normally never balks at speaking his mind, provided the best example of Trump-fear. On the eve of the summit, Mr. Johnson strongly criticized those who support tariffs — read Mr. Trump. But in Biarritz, in front of cameras alongside the president, Mr. Johnson offered only gentle criticism of Mr. Trump’s belligerent trade policies, “just to register a faint, sheeplike note of our view on the trade war.”
And so it went. No tantrum, like the one Mr. Trump recently threw over Denmark’s refusal to sell him Greenland.
On the contrary, his tweets suggested he felt himself among kindred spirits. “The question I was asked most today by fellow World Leaders, who think the USA is doing so well and is stronger than ever before, happens to be, ‘Mr. President, why does the American media hate your Country so much? Why are they rooting for it to fail?’”
Unless one of the World Leaders confesses to saying this, it is probably another lie. The pity of the entire Group of 7 show was that it was part of a new normal in which the world’s major liberal democracies basically accept that they are out of sync with the president of the nation that should be leading their efforts to manage the world and its resources wisely and responsibly, but isn’t.
There may be no consensus on just how much damage is being done by the fires raging through the Amazon basin. But when countless fires are ravaging one of the world’s greatest rain forests, the threat is global. The president of the United States should be standing with Mr. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in demanding that the world address it.
Yet Mr. Trump’s decision to skip the meeting on the environment was treated as normal. It was left to the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, to express the forlorn hope that the American people would demonstrate the commitment to fighting climate change that was absent from their president.
There is no point in trying to change Mr. Trump’s mind about joining in the fight on climate change — “You can’t rewrite the past,” as Mr. Macron put it. Just don’t get him mad.
Destruction in the Amazon rainforest hurts the whole planet
The Amazon is burning. That’s hugely troubling for all of us.
The vast South American rainforest is our planet’s lungs. Its estimated 390 billion trees produce 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and suck immense amounts of carbon dioxide from the air. Besides being critical in the fight against climate change, the Amazon is home to indigenous people, incredible biodiversity and a vast array of known and still-unknown plant sources for drugs and other medications.
The horrific destruction in Brazil in particular — more than 41,000 fires have destroyed 4.6 million acres, 62 percent more than last year — is made worse by that government’s complicity. President Jair Bolsonaro, a hard-right populist who took office in January, has prioritized the desire of industries like mining and logging to milk the protected Amazon. And he has encouraged deforestation, which is up sharply this year. To clear land, farmers and ranchers illegally set fires, knowing they can break Brazil’s tough environmental laws, which are no longer enforced under Bolsonaro.
Global outrage and anger at home finally forced Bolsonaro to announce plans to send in 44,000 soldiers to help fight the fires. The world, too, has been rallying, with special firefighting planes and a $20 million pledge from the G-7 countries announced Monday at the conclusion of the group’s meetings in France.
But as the fight against the flames continues, the larger mission — persuading Brazil to stop destroying the rainforest — must be renewed. Between 2004 and 2012, deforestation was cut by 80 percent thanks to programs like the Amazon Fund, which was fueled by outside donations, primarily from the governments of Norway ($1.2 billion) and Germany ($68 million). Now both countries, upset that deforestation has risen sharply under Bolsonaro, have decided to cut back. This is unfortunate, though understandable. The Amazon Fund, or some similar successor, needs to shift its focus from rewarding Brazil for past successes to incentivizing more efforts to stop deforestation.
Pressure also could be applied by the European Union, via its new trade agreement with Brazil, by reducing purchases of beef and soybeans. The United States could act similarly. But our nation’s leaders, engaged in environmental attacks of their own at home, have been silent on the rape of the Amazon.
The G-7 leaders announced another agreement with other countries in the Amazon basin on long-term forest protection and reforestation and said it might be presented to the UN next month. That’s a good step. But the two deals were unveiled after a session on climate change that was skipped by President Donald Trump, the only world leader at the summit not to attend. Afterward, Trump insisted he was an environmentalist, a claim defied by his own actions and those of his administration. Our nation and the world would benefit if he matched his words with deeds.
The Amazon is too valuable to lose or shrink. It gives us air we breathe and medicines that keep us healthy and absorbs carbon that’s overheating the Earth. We all have a stake in keeping it alive.
When It Comes To The Taliban, Talk Is Cheap
Getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan would be quite a coup for President Donald Trump. It would give him a foreign policy advantage going into next year’s election — one no Democratic candidate could criticize.
But would it also be setting the stage for a bloodbath? Would it mean a return to the day-to-day brutality that was the Taliban regime prior to 2001? Of even more concern to Americans, would Afghanistan return to being a haven for Islamic terrorists?
Trump’s administration has been negotiating with the Taliban, who were ousted from Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America. Their unpardonable offense at that time had been hosting Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network.
But the Taliban had been engaged in vicious repression of their own people for many years. One example of their policies - stoning women to death for certain offenses against their rigid interpretation of Islam - is enough to show why the pre-2001 version of the Taliban can never be permitted to return to power.
U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has resulted in the deaths of about 2,400 Americans. More than 20,000 have been wounded. With the 20-year mark on our presence there approaching, many people here just want it to end.
That gives the Taliban - and Islamic extremists - an enormous advantage. To Trump’s credit, he has not yet announced a no-conditions withdrawal.
Political considerations may prod him toward trusting the Taliban more than he should, however. Being able to point next summer to an end to U.S. involvement would give Trump a tremendous boost among voters.
The Taliban know that, too.
Domestic politics needs to be removed from the equation, however. If the Taliban are allowed to regain power in Afghanistan, then resume their role as hosts for terrorists, a pullout now could be paid for in American blood later.
A terrorist attack provides an opportunity to test the Taliban. On that day, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 63 people and wounded 182 — men, women, children — at a wedding in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Taliban leaders condemned the atrocity as “forbidden and unjustifiable.”
Talk is cheap. If the Taliban are serious, they will cooperate actively with the United States and Afghan authorities in tracking down those responsible for the attack.
If they fail to do that, the Taliban will unveil themselves as no different than their predecessors in 2001. The ball, as we say, is in Taliban leaders’ court.
NY license plate fee smells like a money grab
New York state is reaching into your pocket again, this time for $25 to replace your license plates if they are 10 years old or older. Add $20 if you want to keep your license plate number. With more than 3 million old plates on the road, the fee is expected to generate $75 million in revenue in its first year.
Is it a money grab or a necessary expense? Frankly, it’s hard to tell. But given New York’s history of piling on the taxes and fees, you can see why the money grab narrative is winning.
We’ll sort of buy Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s explanation that the new plates are needed for the New York State Thruway’s switch to “cashless tolling” starting next year. If drivers don’t have an EZ Pass, the electronic tolling system uses overhead license plate readers to bill drivers for tolls. The system has an easier time reading dark numbers and letters on a light background, meaning fewer drivers will escape the toll, the governor said Wednesday as he opened the New York State Fair.
We don’t buy Cuomo’s excuse that the $25 fee is set by law. The law passed under former Gov. David Paterson in 2009 says the state can charge no more than $25 for new plates. But it could charge less.
If New York is going to make drivers turn in their perfectly good license plates, give us the new plates at cost.
Paterson abandoned the license plate fee after a huge public outcry. So far, Cuomo isn’t backing down. But the state Legislature has plenty of time to weigh in before the new fee goes into effect on April 1, 2020, the start of the next fiscal year. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, already introduced a bill preventing the state from charging a license plate fee when the design is changed. Kolb called it “another fee that makes everyday life a little more expensive for hardworking people.”
Meanwhile, the state ought to continue to replace peeling license plates for free. It’s not the driver’s fault that the plates are defective. The problem surfaced in 2015 and again last year, and yet the state kept renewing its contract with the old supplier of plastic laminate for three more years. We’re glad to see a new vendor will take over the job in September, hopefully with better results.
Cuomo said the fee was to cover the cost of the license plates. But does it really cost $25 to make them? Let’s just say we’re skeptical, given that the prisoners who make the license plates at Auburn Correctional Facility earn an average of 65 cents an hour. (Some civilians also work on the license plates; presumably they make a lot more.)
Fix early voting funding fiasco
The Auburn Citizen
County elections boards around the state last spring rushed to meet a tight deadline for submitting their early voting polling site plans, which will be implemented for the first time in the nine days leading up to the November general election.
The state Legislature approved early voting and the governor signed it into law a couple of months earlier, and the state budget put dedicated funds toward the program. So based on the guidance they were given about the funds they should expect, election boards around New York came up with their polling sites.
But then came a doozy of an email last week. The state Board of Elections notified county boards that the state Division of Budget was approving funds for only the minimally required number of sites. Counties may have to come up with their own money to cover any others.
That would include both Cayuga and Onondaga counties, where officials rightfully believed democracy would be better served in those geographically large areas with additional sites. But they were counting on the state to cover those costs. State officials had indeed promised that early voting would not add a new unfunded mandate to counties.
After a large, bipartisan backlash began to surface on Friday, the state budget office was trying to reassure counties that they are merely reviewing the funding requests for polling sites beyond the minimum to ensure equitable distribution. In all likelihood, that extra money will be approved soon.
It’s hard to know who to believe. Two agencies working under the governor ought to be on the same page, but they clearly are not. They should have been working together from the start of the implementation efforts, but clearly, they were not.
Our advice is for all of our county legislators and state legislators is to take no chances that this matter will clear itself up. They need to be loud and persistent with a message to the governor that this money must be used in the way it was intended — to expand voter participation without placing more burdens on local taxpayers.