AP NEWS

Editorials from around New York

October 24, 2018

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

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The Wall Street Journal on withdrawing from the nuclear arms-control treaty

Oct. 22

Donald Trump says the U.S. plans to withdraw from the 1987 INF nuclear arms-control treaty that everyone agrees Russia has been violating for a decade. Yet somehow this is said to be reckless behavior by — Donald Trump? Welcome to the high church of arms control in which treaties are sacrosanct no matter the violation.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty bans ground-fired ballistic and cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers and is an artifact of the late Cold War. Ronald Reagan and NATO deployed mid-range missiles in Europe in the early 1980s to counter Soviet deployments. After years of tense negotiation, Mikhail Gorbachev finally agreed to the modest INF accord on U.S. terms that traded U.S. missiles for Russia’s. This was hailed as a diplomatic triumph.

Yet when the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union collapsed over the next few years, nuclear arms control faded in importance. Which is the key point. Arms control didn’t make the world safer; the fall of the Soviet Union did that. Arms control tends to work when it is between countries that get along, while it fails with adversaries that can’t be trusted.

Enter Vladimir Putin, who has been developing a new medium-range cruise missile since the mid-2000s. The U.S. believes Moscow first tested the new missile in 2008, but the Obama Administration hid that intelligence from the Senate when it debated and ratified the New Start treaty with Mr. Putin in 2010.

The Obama Administration first went public with this news in 2014, and the State Department has noted Russian noncompliance every year. Moscow started deploying its new missiles in late 2016. This is in addition to a new ballistic missile Russia has tested that may be INF compliant only because it can travel slightly farther than 5,500 kilometers.

The question has been whether the U.S. was ever going to do something about it. The diplomatic impulse is to keep quiet about violations and work behind the scenes to prod an adversary to comply, but that clearly hasn’t worked. Mr. Putin wants the new missiles as a show of Russian power and as leverage over Europe in a conflict. Why would he give them up if the U.S. and Europe look the other way?

As he so often does, Mr. Trump has now broken this reverie by showing there will be costs to noncompliance. By pulling out of the accord, the U.S. would be free to develop a missile of comparable range to counter the Soviet threat. This would restore an element of mutual deterrence to the European theater. It also shows Mr. Putin that he can’t use a violation of one treaty to prod Mr. Trump to sign another, which was the hope the Russian expressed this summer at the fiasco summit in Helsinki.

Withdrawal also recognizes the emerging reality of other global nuclear threats. China isn’t a party to INF and has been developing its own medium-range missiles that threaten U.S. naval deployments and Pacific bases. The U.S. shouldn’t tie its hands against China in order to abide by a 30-year-old treaty that only the U.S. is honoring.

You’d think the arms controllers in particular would understand that doing nothing about violations undermines the rationale for new arms agreements. One reason the Obama Administration finally went public about Russia’s INF violations was to show the Senate that it would take potential violations of the Iran nuclear deal seriously. By withdrawing from INF, Mr. Trump is sending a similar signal with more fortitude to Iran and North Korea.

Yet the immediate response to Mr. Trump’s decision has been to blame him for daring to acknowledge nuclear reality. “The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability,” said a statement from the European Commission. But the instability is caused by Mr. Putin, and a new “arms race” won’t stop simply because the West chooses not to compete.

At least the Brits showed sterner stuff, with Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson noting that “it is Russia that is in breach and it is Russia that needs to get its house in order.”

Senate Democrats are also criticizing Mr. Trump, though these are the same worthies who have spent two years arguing that the U.S. President is a secret Putin agent. Once again, Mr. Trump appears to be adopting a tougher policy in response to Russian aggression than Barack Obama ever did.

Online: https://on.wsj.com/2PSg9q5

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The Niagara Gazette on the state’s debt collection crackdown

Oct. 22

Anyone who has ever dealt with the nuisance of bogus debt collection should be pleased by the news of a ban on such practices involving some of the worst purveyors of this form of illegal “business” that the region has ever seen.

A court order made public last week detailed the terms of the permanent ban against three area residents and their affiliated businesses which operated fraudulent debt collections businesses in Niagara Falls, Grand Island and elsewhere.

The court order containing the ban followed an investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission into the activities of Joseph Ciffa and Bonified Payment Solutions, Inc., Gregory MacKinnon and Angela Burdorf and Payment Management Solutions, Inc.

Prosecutors contended that three individuals and their affiliated firms engaged in illegal debt collection practices, including but not limited to threatening consumers with arrest if their debts were not paid and adding unauthorized amounts to the consumers’ debts.

Under the court order, all three defendants are permanently barred from working in the debt collection industry. All three are also required to collectively pay nearly $27 million in restitution and damages.

“We have zero tolerance for debt collectors who use illegal and unconscionable tactics to coerce payments, such as threatening jail time,” Attorney General Barbara Underwood said. “My office is committed to stopping these fraudulent schemes and preventing scam artists from taking advantage of consumers.”

As well it should be.

No one is immune, it seems, from the annoying phone calls at all hours of the day and night from individuals and companies that, in some cases, are only pretending to be legitimate debt collection agents or agencies.

Figuring out the difference between legitimate collections efforts and those involving the likes of the individuals and companies involved in this particular investigation can be difficult.

Knowing it is often the elderly who are targeted by such scammers makes the criminal activity that much more deplorable.

There’s a lesson in this case for all debt collection call recipients, regardless of their age.

There are standards that must be followed when individuals and firms are attempting to collect on legitimate debts.

Those standards do not involve the sort of tactics employed by Ciffa and company, including fraudulently presenting themselves to consumers as attorneys, officials working for law enforcement agencies or representatives of the court system and making false threats about consumers facing felony charges or being placed in jail if they fail to pay up.

In addition, investigators and prosecutors determined that the subjects of this probe did not provide information about supposed debts within the legally mandated five days of their collection calls, while also illegally adding unauthorized amounts to consumers’ debts.

It’s vile conduct that often resulted in financial harm to individuals who could least afford it.

It has also been going on for some time, according to prosecutors, who noted that Ciffa was involved in various debt collection businesses since at least 2013, and either ran or conspired to run illegitimate debt collection businesses from multiple locations.

It appears unlikely the victims in this case will be able to expect full restitution from the bad actors who were rounded up as a result of the work of state and federal investigators.

It is also, unfortunately, a sign of the times we live in, which means no one should expect those pesky and, in some cases, fraudulent debt collection calls to cease anytime soon.

Perhaps, thanks to the work of the state attorney general and the federal investigators, other people who engage in such practices will consider getting legitimate work once they understand there’s a possibility the government will get after them if they don’t.

Online: https://bit.ly/2q6oCdW

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The Leader-Herald on climate change

Oct. 23

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and when it comes to the health of the planet Earth, these are desperate times.

(A couple of weekends ago), the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report, saying we are already seeing the consequences of global warming and the only way to avoid catastrophe is to transform the world economy like we have never done before to reduce carbon emissions and slow the rise in Earth’s temperature.

We are talking about a world that will no longer be a pleasant place to live.

Far too much skepticism remains among the general public, but more specifically our political leadership is ignoring the problem.

President Trump’s response to the dire warnings from the IPCC was to say he would “definitely look at it.”

We also believe the national media shares some blame with inconsistent coverage and its inability to explain the consequences if the world does not act.

But ultimately, our crude headline is to grab your attention and hope it makes an impact.

The IPCC estimates we have 12 years to make drastic changes to reduce carbon emissions and slow the rise in Earth’s temperature.

The IPCC is considered the leading authority on climate science. Its report combines the expertise of 91 scientists and government agents from 40 countries around the world and references 6,000 studies and reports. This year’s report was its most dire yet and painted a picture that significantly worsens the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Yet many argue its findings are political in nature and they are telling only one side of the story. This is untrue.

The IPCC findings are a consensus of the 91 scientists who are experts in the field of climate change; the report is a middle ground they all can agree upon. Ultimately, their view is a conservative view and not a worst-case scenario. We should find that frightening.

The best-case scenario is a world where the quality of life is dramatically reduced for millions — our children and grandchildren — while governments across the globe battle economic and environmental calamities.

Considering the skepticism by so many American politicians and President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal, the United States is not prepared to address the issue in the coming years.

The Trump administration has taken an industry-friendly stance, weakening greenhouse gas rules and vehicle fuel efficiency as well as promoting the use of more coal, instead of less.

This is the opposite of what the IPCC says we should be doing.

“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency.”

The rise in global temperatures means more erratic weather patterns, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes and flooding that will become more ferocious with time. We are already seeing that.

Scientists predict as warming continues we will see more wildfires, shifts in growing areas for crops, more flooding, rising sea levels, ice melt, death of the coral reefs, more acidic oceans and thawing permafrost in the Arctic.

This will cost us trillions of dollars to address as our world becomes a less inviting habitat.

While the IPCC report holds out hope that we can still stop the warming, the changes we need to make are dramatic and would need to happen sooner rather than later.

Considering we can’t settle on a viable health care system, solving this problem seems impossible.

Scientists have estimated that warming cannot be more than 1.5 degrees C. We are currently on a track toward 3 degrees Centigrade by the end of the century, while reaching 1.5 degrees somewhere between 2030 and 2052.

That is just 12 years away.

“We need a World War II scale mobilization,” Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins told us this past week.

The IPCC says it is technically possible to avoid the most serious damage to the environment, but estimated it would cost $54 trillion. It also conceded it is politically unlikely, at least in this country.

We not only need the United States on board 100 percent, but every country in the world.

Consider what Popular Science said we would need to do.

“We would have to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere completely by 2050. To do this, governments need to change land use practices, make buildings more efficient, switch to clean energy sources, revolutionize manufacturing practice and change the way we get around.”

But even if we could do all that in the next few years, it would not be enough.

Popular Science says, “We also have to physically remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the climate models in the new report, every scenario that keeps global warming below 1.5 degrees C involved carbon capture strategies, which are currently largely theoretical or possible only on a small scale. To keep us from exceeding a 1.5 degree C increase, humans need to remove 1,000 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2100.”

And we need to invent a way to do it.

You want more bad news — global greenhouse emissions are expected to rise this year, not fall, and most countries are not on track to meet their Paris climate change goals.

The United States no longer has any goals.

Our children are looking at a future where the world will be a significantly worse place to live. It’s time to accept that fact and demand action.

Consider the ramifications if we don’t.

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

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The Poughkeepsie Journal on the state health exchange

Oct. 19

Despite the best and repeated attempts by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump, the Affordable Care Act is still alive, and soon the open enrollment process will begin in New York.

This is big, vital news for millions of New Yorkers who have come to rely on the state’s health exchange to get their insurance. While the overwhelming majority of workers continue to get their health benefits through their employers, New York has more than 4 million people on its state-run health exchange, called NY State of Health, and there are changes this year. State regulators approved health plan rates that will increase costs to individuals by an average of 8.6 percent. While individuals are facing much higher costs next year, rates will increase on average 3.8 percent for people who get their insurance through small-group plans provided by their employers, according to state officials.

Overall, none of this is as bad as it could have been. When health insurers put forth proposals to increase individual rates by as much as 24 percent, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told state regulators to reject these attempts. He had compelling reasons to do that. Insurers had estimated that about half of the proposed increases were attributed to the decision by President Donald Trump and Congress to repeal the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act without having an alternative plan in place. The mandate, which is still on the books until next year, requires many Americans to buy insurance through exchanges set up by the state or federal government or pay a penalty at tax time. Having more people paying into the health care system — especially younger and healthier people — helps provide the resources so insurers have can cover people with preexisting conditions. Moreover, people without health insurance tend to rely on emergency care — high costs that get passed on to those paying for health insurance and health care.

Obviously, the health care debate is far from over in this country — and in this state; fixing and expanding the health care law will prove imperative over time. The costs of inpatient care and prescription drug prices also will have to be addressed.

For now, the state will hold its open enrollment period from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, 2019, under the current system. But a comprehensive solution is clearly necessary, one that builds on the principles of the Affordable Care Act. What happens next will depend on the outcome of the November elections — both in this state and across the country.

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

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The Daily Star on the 2020 U.S. Census

Oct. 19

It may be 18 months away, but the 2020 U.S. census is still a top-of-mind topic for some.

The city of Oneonta hosted a roundtable discussion last week with local, state and federal officials to discuss opportunities and challenges ahead of the decennial count of population.

Accurate census data is critical to protecting New York state’s share of federal funding, as well as how that funding breaks down to counties and municipalities, said Linda Berk, a partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau. Beyond that, census data determines congressional representation. Threatening that accuracy is a question regarding citizenship that was pushed by President Trump’s administration and is being challenged in federal court.

Berk, Oneonta City Mayor Gary Herzig, and Richard Tobe, the New York State Director of Special Intergovernmental Projects, were among the participants at the Oct. 11 event at Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center.

“Every person represents money to the township, county and state,” Berk said. “We can’t afford to be under-counted.”

State Attorney General Barbara Underwood is among those who have sued to have the citizenship question, added by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, removed. The case is scheduled to be heard Nov. 5.

“The federal administration is changing the rules and there are worries about confidentiality. How can we assure people safety and confidentiality?” a participant at the roundtable asked. “Those living on the margins, do they want to sacrifice themselves so our county gets more transportation funding?”

That is a very good question. With the administration’s emphasis on tracking down immigrants entering and staying in the country illegally, and the fear that some here legally may be targeted, we can understand why those without citizenship may want to avoid the census.

Berk called it the “elephant in the room” that organizations are struggling with, admitting that the census cannot be done properly without a populace that trusts the process and this census runs the risk of being the “worst undercount in our history.” The onus is on municipalities and community organizations to “relieve anxiety and distrust” Berk said. She included that the privacy of census information is protected by law.

We, and many experts, believe the question would hurt states with high immigrant populations the most — states that often vote blue.

“The census from the very beginning was to know how many people were here, not which ones were citizens,” Tobe said.

Perhaps more vital to Oneonta, as well as Delhi, Cobleskill and the surrounding areas, is making sure there is an accurate count of student populations. Most students live in their college communities about nine months a year, but many students list their hometowns as the residence. This will skew population numbers away from communities that host colleges and universities, but uses resources determined by the census to support them.

Census challenges vary from region to region, Berk explained, which is why local involvement is imperative.

We are glad to see Oneonta is thinking about the census now. The embracing of technology of the census, with an online option, is also a benefit for many. But for many parts of the area, internet access is spotty at best. For this, Tobe suggested using local networks with computer banks such as libraries and schools. The questions can also be answered on the phone and a paper option will still be available.

We fervently hope the court will throw out the citizenship question. Our area has enough challenges to get an accurate count. Fear should not be one of them.

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

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