- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

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

The Ithaca Journal on the need for upstate legislators to band together and demand state assistance to spark the upstate economy.

Feb. 26

Last month, we were part of a quickly assembled conference call with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and newspaper editors across upstate New York.

This was an unusual move for Cuomo, but he was eager to urgently lobby for his 2016 Upstate Agenda with those of us who live outside of the New York City sprawl.

Cuomo’s agenda, with infrastructure improvements and other spending designed to boost the economy, apparently is being met with skepticism by some in the Assembly and Senate - especially those from Westchester County and below.

The problem, Cuomo told us, is the absence of a strong alliance among upstate New York legislators. Those from the big city, Long Island and Westchester seem to band together more than our Assembly members and state senators.

During our phone call, Cuomo touched on parts of his agenda, including a Thruway Toll Reduction and Protection Plan intended to benefit drivers, businesses and farmers - who would not have to pay tolls if they are bringing goods to market.

Our intention here isn’t to analyze the agenda, other than to urge the governor and others to focus even more funds on developing jobs immediately rather than just in the future through incubators and seed-money programs.

What we want to do is endorse Cuomo’s plea for upstate legislators to get together - no matter what party - and become a powerful upstate bloc to make sure upstate gets what it deserves, and maybe a little more (to make up for being shorted in the past).

We are, after all, two states: North New York and South New York. No, not formally. But could two parts of one state be more different?

It is tiring to hear about the “booming New York economy” when the boom is booming only in and around New York City. Our upstate economies are barely holding their own or, in the case of the Southern Tier, lagging badly.

So no one should be surprised downstate legislators have a different view of the world than we have. This is only natural. There are no villains.

Yet our upstate legislators need to lock their arms together and demand state assistance to spark the upstate economy. Cuomo’s agenda goes far, but the upstaters’ agenda shouldn’t stop with the one Cuomo wrote.

More economic development. More jobs. More assistance and relief for existing businesses. More enticements to prevent businesses from moving out of New York and more bait to lure out-of-state businesses here.

Be relentless, legislators.

Speak as one and lead the upstate economy out of stagnation and decline. Look back one day on economic expansion and significant job growth, and say with pride: “I did that.”

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Online:

http://ithacajr.nl/1RGOJPb

The Albany Times Union on the need to reform state insurance regulations.

Feb. 29

When a fire or extreme weather damages a home, it’s common for the insurance company to dispute the amount of the claim - especially in New York.

New York’s consumer-unfriendly insurance laws give insurers an incentive to drag out the settlement process. That’s because claimants have to pay out of their own pockets when they need expert help to resolve a dispute. If they hire an architect or engineer to support their claim or a lawyer to fight the insurance company, those costs are effectively subtracted from the final settlement. The result: Even when they win, they are not made whole.

In 42 other states, the added costs of reaching a fair settlement can be tacked onto the insurance payout. In those states, insurance companies are motivated to quickly and fairly settle disputed claims, according to advocates for reform of New York’s insurance laws. Here, it’s often so difficult and costly to challenge a low-ball settlement offer that many consumers just take what money they can get and walk away.

Advocates of reform legislation introduced in the state Senate and Assembly say that’s why insurance companies that do business in New York are so profitable. They return only 43 cents on each dollar of collected premiums, compared to the national average of about 65 cents paid out to policyholders.

Some critics say allowing consumers who prevail in disputes to collect the added costs of settling claims, such as legal fees, would merely be a boon for the trial lawyers. But the advocates make the convincing argument that the mere potential for a lawyer to get involved in disputed claims would motivate the companies to reach quick and reasonable resolutions, and perhaps not make their customers jump through unnecessary hoops in the first place.

The recent increase in extreme weather, like the devastating storms Sandy, Irene and Lee, makes it even more important that the reform legislation becomes law. Many who had thought they carried adequate insurance actually ended up losing their homes because the settlements were not sufficient to rebuild.

Similar reforms are needed at the federal level to remove a loophole in the National Flood Insurance Program, which states that property loss caused by earth movement - even if it is the direct result of flooding - is not covered. That hurt thousands of homeowners who filed flood insurance claims after one or more of the storms.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, whose Long Island district was hard hit by recent storms, should let the proposed fair claims settlement law come to a full vote, and level the playing field for consumers.

Home and car owners faithfully pay their premiums for years with a simple expectation: that they’ll be covered when disaster or an accident strikes. New York should make sure insurers hold up their end of the deal.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1oYN6U8

The Watertown Daily Times on providing military personnel and veterans proper treatment and support for the health problems they experience from serving.

Feb. 27

For active-duty military personnel and veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder is often a debilitating condition.

One of the unfortunate aspects of PTSD is that those who endure it often believe the symptoms they experience are abnormal. They sometimes blame themselves for not being able to properly deal with what they witnessed in the field of battle.

But therapists wisely remind their clients with PTSD that they have it backward. The flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety they experience as a result of this condition are normal human responses to the horrors of war they have confronted, which are grossly abnormal. These symptoms are a body’s way of telling the individual that something is very wrong and they need help.

Mental health professionals know much more about diagnosing and treating PTSD than they did a few decades ago. So those who seek treatment are better equipped to work their way through the difficulties they endure.

A study conducted by researchers from the RAND Corp., however, shows that the military does not offer enough psychotherapy visits on a consistent timetable for PTSD and depression treatments to be effective.

So while the military makes treatment available, what it provides is not adequate to put those with PTSD on a firm path to recovery.

In their recently issued report, financed by the U.S. Department of Defense, RAND researchers said the best outcomes for people with PTSD came after four psychotherapy or two medication management visits within eight weeks of their diagnosis. But only about a third of military patients receive this level of care.

This is a sobering reminder that the men and women who put their lives in peril to preserve our liberties pay a tremendous price. We owe it to them to ensure they receive the proper treatment and support for the physical and mental health problems they experience as a result of their service.

We are fortunate that U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, is a member of the Armed Services Committee for the U.S. House of Representatives. She has shown herself to be firmly committed to maintaining the strength of our military and the well-being of its personnel.

We urge Stefanik and her colleagues on the committee to keep this RAND report in mind as they deliberate over the new military budget. Preserving the effectiveness of our armed forces and keeping our commitment to caring for those who serve in uniform depend on the Pentagon’s ability to pay for the treatment our troops require.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1QrLRXv

The New York Times on how the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might signal the country could soon be a more constructive partner with the West.

March 1

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was quick to boast about returns showing that his reformist and moderate supporters had done well in voting for Iran’s new Parliament and influential clerical council. “Kudos to the history-making nation of Iran. Let’s open a new chapter based on domestic talents & global opportunities,” he wrote on social media on Monday.

Although final totals for Friday’s elections have not been released, Rouhani’s allies posted a landslide victory in Tehran and solid results in other areas as well. If confirmed, these trends would be a serious setback for the conservative Islamic establishment, headed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and a significant endorsement of Rouhani’s policy of engagement with the West as reflected, most recently, in the historic deal limiting Iran’s nuclear aspirations in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Moderate candidates took all 30 parliamentary seats in the Tehran district; combined with gains in other cities, reformist and moderate forces could secure a majority in the 290-seat Parliament. Hard-liners could also lose their dominance over the 88-member Assembly of Experts, the influential clerical council that will choose the next supreme leader. The reformist gains are all the more remarkable because the deck was stacked against them. The Guardian Council, which vets candidates and is dominated by hard-liners, disqualified most of the reformists who wanted to run.

Iran is far from a democracy and the politics are complicated; many moderates in Iran could easily be considered hard-liners elsewhere. The hard-liners have a firm grip on the security forces, the judiciary and most of the economy and will for the foreseeable future. And despite the nuclear deal, Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East, its ties to Russia and its hostility toward Israel make it hard for the United States and its Western allies to have normal relations with Tehran.

But by tapping into the desire of Iran’s young people for economic growth, greater freedoms and an end to isolation, Rouhani is gradually reshaping the country’s politics. Whether Iran can become a more constructive partner with the West is at least now an open question.

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Online:

http://nyti.ms/1LV6MNl

The Wall Street Journal on how some presidential candidates could lead the U.S. into a trade war.

Feb. 29

Political leaders have made many mistakes since the 2008 financial panic, but by some miracle a trade war isn’t one of them. There are signs that this luck is running out, at a moment the world economy can least afford it.

The pace of global trade continues to tumble, an ominous trend for growth. Meanwhile, the U.S. may renounce its historic role as the anchor of the open international trading system. Both Democratic presidential candidates are trade skeptics, or claim to be. And the leading Republican, Donald Trump, would be the first avowed protectionist to lead a ticket since the 1920s.

Forecasters expect world GDP to grow by only 2.2 percent to 2.4 percent this year, and one reason is that trade flows are historically weak. Trade volumes have flattened among advanced economies and continue to shrink in emerging markets. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the trade slowdown since 2012 has subtracted about half a percentage point a year from the overall growth rate in the developed world.

The reason to worry is that trade growth typically outpaces GDP by a wide margin, as the nearby chart shows. After a post-recession rebound in 2010 to 12 percent, trade growth slipped to 7 percent in 2011, stagnated at 3 percent for the next three years and then fell below 2 percent for 2015 - well below GDP for the first time since 9/11. The 1987-2007 average was 7.1 percent.

Reviving trade is crucial to driving faster growth, yet the paradox of trade politics is that it is least popular when economic anxiety is high and thus trade is most crucial. And so it is now: Four of the remaining U.S. candidates claim to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Congress now lacks the votes to pass it.

The loudest voice of America’s new antitrade populism is Trump, who has endorsed 45 percent tariffs on Chinese and Japanese imports and promises to punish U.S. companies that make cookies and cars in Mexico. When Trump visited the Journal in November, he couldn’t name a single trade deal he supported, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

He says he’s a free trader but that recent Administrations have been staffed by pathetic losers, so as President he would make deals more favorable to the U.S., and foreigners would bow before his threats. “I don’t mind trade wars,” he said at Thursday’s debate.

He should be careful what he wishes. Trade brinksmanship is always hazardous, especially when the world economy is so weak. A trade crash could trigger a new recession that would take years to repair, and these conflicts are unpredictable and can escalate into far greater damage.

The tragic historic precedent is the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, signed reluctantly by Herbert Hoover. In that era the GOP was the party of tariffs, which economist Joseph Schumpeter called the Republican “household remedy.” Smoot-Hawley was intended to protect U.S. jobs and farmers from foreign competition, but it enraged U.S. trading partners like Canada, Britain and France.

As economic historian Charles Kindleberger shows in his classic, “The World in Depression, 1929-1939,” the U.S. tariff cascaded into a global war of beggar-thy-neighbor tariff reprisals and currency devaluation to gain a trading advantage. Each country’s search for a protectionist advantage became a disaster for all as trade volumes shrank and deepened the Great Depression.

Kindleberger blames the Depression in large part on a failure of leadership, especially by a U.S. that was unwilling to defend open markets in a period of distress. “For the world economy to be stabilized, there has to be a stabilizer - one stabilizer,” he wrote. Britain had played that role for two centuries but was then too weak. The U.S. failed to pick up the mantle.

From those economic ruins, FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull slowly rebuilt the world trading system in the 1930s, leading to the postwar Bretton Woods accords and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. A consensus emerged in both U.S. political parties that preserving a liberal trading order was in America’s national interest.

But maintaining this American leadership abroad for eight decades has required presidential leadership at home. The Constitution assigns express authority over foreign trade to Congress, but since Smoot-Hawley the legislature has delegated those powers to the executive, knowing its own weakness for populist temptations. Presidents of both parties have, with periodic deviations such as George W. Bush’s steel tariffs, fulfilled that obligation.

But since 2009 this presidential leadership has been diffident. As a candidate Barack Obama promised to reopen Nafta, and early in his first term he slapped a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires and endorsed the “Buy American” provisions of the stimulus. Once the President recovered his trade bearings, Mitt Romney promised in 2012 to sanction China for currency manipulation and even ran TV ads claiming that “for the first time, China is beating us.”

Trump is now escalating this line into the centerpiece of his economic agenda - protectionism you can believe in. And what markets and the public should understand is that as president he would have enormous unilateral power to follow through. Congress has handed the president more power over the years to impose punitive tariffs, in large part so members can blame someone else when antitrade populism runs hot.

The tools include so-called Super 301, which allows the U.S. to impose tariffs on countries that supposedly engage in unfair trade practices. Section 201 lets a president impose tariffs or limit imports on a finding by the U.S. International Trade Commission of injury to a U.S. industry. Section 232 lets a president declare that certain imports pose a national security threat. The Treasury can trigger punitive trade actions by declaring a country to be a “currency manipulator.” In an exchange with Bill O’Reilly on Feb. 10, Trump said that’s exactly what he plans to do. The Fox News host suggested a trade war is “going to be bloody.” Trump replied that Americans needn’t worry because the Chinese “will crash their economy,” adding that “they will have a depression, the likes of which you have never seen” in a trade war. He might be right about China, but the U.S. wouldn’t be spared.

The Trump candidacy thus introduces a new and dangerous element of economic risk to a world still struggling to emerge from the 2008 panic and the failed progressive policy response. A trade war would compound the potential to make depressions great again.

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Online:

http://on.wsj.com/1OPCKKS

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