- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

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

The Times Union of Albany on the minimum wage increase for some fast-food workers.

Aug. 2

Last week on this page, we criticized a proposal to raise New York’s minimum wage for taking far too long to implement. It turns out we made a mistake in the figures we used.

But that error doesn’t change our point. This proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over six years (three years in New York City) for fast-food workers is inadequate, and needs to be accelerated and expanded.

Our error was in stating the minimum wage keeps even single, full-time workers in poverty, and that the proposal from the Fast Food Wage Board would keep them in poverty for two more years outside New York City. The federal poverty level for 2015 is $11,770 for a single person, $15,930 for a two-person household, and $20,090 for a family of three. So, a minimum wage worker who labors 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, does break the poverty level for a one- or two-person household, earning $18,200.

Our mistake was in using the income guidelines for WIC, the nutrition program for women, infants and children, which provides food and other assistance to low-income mothers and kids. WIC has higher thresholds - $21,775 for a single person, $29,471 for a family of two.

But consider this: It will take six years under the current proposal for a single mother to barely exceed the WIC threshold. She’ll also be eligible for several years for food stamps. It would be cynical to suggest that a single mother who can’t afford to adequately feed herself and her child doesn’t meet a moral definition of poor.

Which brings us back to the inescapable point - that this slow phase-in would leave many minimum wage workers dependent on public assistance for years to come. Not just in the multibillion dollar fast-food industry, but throughout the workforce.

So here are just two questions for Acting State Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as they weigh this proposal:

How poor do you think it’s acceptable for a full-time, private sector worker in New York to be?

And for how much longer?




The Poughkeepsie Journal on New York’s energy plan.

Aug. 1

Energy plans are compiled and forgotten in New York, but it’s time for the state to stick with one and see it to fruition.

A long-term strategy is essential - for people, for businesses, for the economy and for environment.

Typically, there are hopeful talks of “changing the paradigm,” of moving to a smarter, more enlightened and efficient system. But then those plans die, a victim of state leadership changes, lobbying efforts and bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that make progress difficult - if not impossible.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has unleashed new proposals, and they include sharp ideas, such as providing incentives so consumers can use technology to reduce energy costs. The recently released New York State Energy Plan also has promising concepts to include citizens’ groups wanting to take a more active role. The plan astutely gives credence to the notion of municipal control and local development of energy resources.

In fact, the Rosendale-based Citizens for Local Power - which has battled Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corp. rate hikes and has continued to questioned the state’s energy polices - offered heaps of praise for what the state is suggesting.

“Our communities want more local control over energy - and this is what the NY Energy Plan foresees,” said CLP co-director and spokesperson Jen Metzger.

The Cuomo administration also has called on utility companies to generate electricity from many small energy sources linked together. The state recently awarded an array of grants for so-called “micro-grid” projects, including in the mid-Hudson Valley. They include a joint proposal between the Village of Wappingers Falls and the Town of Poughkeepsie, and a separate one for the Stewart International Airport. The idea is to create small-scale generators from various energy sources and connect them to the electrical grid of local utilities.

The state also needs dependable transmission lines so that the cleaner energy sources in Canada and the North Country, such as hydropower, can make their way throughout New York, ultimately alleviating the energy bottlenecks that exist in and around New York City.

One of the goals is to reduce peak demand, a timely idea considering the heat wave we are currently experiencing. And, yes, the plan sets lofty aggressive goals to reduce climate pollution and expand renewable energy.

The Cuomo administration also has made considerable investments in solar energy through tax breaks and other initiatives, but the results have been uneven, at best. For instance, the state can point to the fact that installed solar power generation has tripled since 2011. But the state also has sunk considerable sums of money into a solar-panel manufacturing plant in Buffalo that has been beset by secrecy and problems.

Taxpayers ought to keep in mind that traditional forms of energy have led to water and air pollution, massive environmental cleanups and all sorts of health hazards that drive up medical costs and reduce our quality of life. Yet all these forms of energy, including oil and coal, have been subsidized for decades by tax dollars.

The state must set the bar far higher for any tax incentives, ensuring a better return on investment and getting energy from the cleanest sources available. For the foreseeable future, a solid mix of energy supplies will be needed, but the state must continue to pivot away from filthy, aging power plants to more alternative fuels from various sources.




The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on Planned Parenthood.

Aug. 1

While the enduring debate over abortion - and the right of a woman to have one - will not end any time soon, there is finally one thing that all sides can wholeheartedly agree upon.

The procedure should not be considered a “business opportunity,” casually discussed by providers over lunch.

But this point of agreement, and the significant good that could come from it, is being casually tossed aside by those who have long been intent on eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Rather than demanding an investigation into the whole process of providing fetal tissue for medical research, understandably outraged abortion opponents are hellbent on one thing: stripping Planned Parenthood of more than $500 million in federal funding. Whether this effort is ultimately successful or not, it is shortsighted and wrong.

The videos that have surfaced, depicting Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal tissue donation the way Pep Boys’ employees might talk about auto parts, are very disturbing. The callous tone of these videos, even though exacerbated by selective editing of the full video, is inexcusable.

But like so many other deplorable events, this one offers a real opportunity for positive change.

Planned Parenthood is not the only provider of abortions. If it disappeared tomorrow, abortions would still occur, and life-saving medical research using fetal tissue would continue. While the scientific community is searching for an alternative to fetal tissue, one has yet to be found.

The Planned Parenthood videos underscore the need for national discourse about the lack of oversight when it comes to buying and selling fetal tissue. Issues of pricing and profit, which hit at the heart of our country’s moral fabric, are being ignored. Suppliers of fetal tissue can legally make tens of thousands of dollars off some samples, obtained after being discarded by a hospital or other facility that performs abortion.

This is a “gray and musty” area according to the director of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

A concerted effort to dust off these concerns and bring them into the light would be a testament to our nation’s humanity. It would remind people, like those in the Planned Parenthood videos, that this is not an issue to be considered without enormous gravity and respect. Parents who agonize over a decision to have an abortion, as well as people who are heartbroken when anyone chooses abortion, could take comfort in the knowledge that we - a capitalistic nation - have clear limits.

Instead, some opponents of abortion have responded to the videos by using them to heighten the furor over whether taxpayer dollars should fund Planned Parenthood. While the organization provides abortions, it is not allowed to use federal funding for this purpose. Instead, that money provides a broad range of women’s health care services, primarily to low-income females. This is where they go for prenatal and postpartum care, immunizations, breast and cervical cancer screenings, family planning, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

The debate over whether or not to cut funding for these services should center over issues such as the ability of these women to find and afford health care elsewhere.

Using the inflammatory videos as a way to skirt that essential debate - while avoiding serious discussion about the demand and supply of fetal tissue - will, in the end, likely end up hurting far more people than it will help.




The Wall Street Journal on climate change.

Aug. 3

Rarely do American Presidents display the raw willfulness that President Obama did Monday in rolling out his plan to reorganize the economy in the name of climate change. Without a vote in Congress or even much public debate, Mr. Obama is using his last 18 months to dictate U.S. energy choices for the next 20 or 30 years. This abuse of power is regulation without representation.

The so-called Clean Power Plan commands states to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030. This final mandate is 9 percent steeper than the draft the Environmental Protection Agency issued in June 2014. The damage to growth, consumer incomes and U.S. competitiveness will be immense - assuming the rule isn’t tossed by the courts or rescinded by the next Administration.

States have regulated their power systems since the early days of electrification, but the EPA is now usurping this role to nationalize power generation and consumption. To meet the EPA’s targets, states must pass new laws or regulations to shift their energy mix from fossil fuels, subsidize alternative energy, improve efficiency, impose a cap-and-trade program, or all of the above.

Coal-fired power will be the first to be shot, but the EPA is targeting all sources of carbon energy. As coal plants have retired amid seven years of EPA assault, natural gas recently eclipsed coal as the dominant source of electric power. This cleaner-burning gas surge has led to the cheapest and fastest emissions plunge in history, but the EPA isn’t satisfied.

Thus the new rule’s central planning favors green energy sources like wind and solar. The plan expands their quotas and funding, while punishing states that are insufficiently enthusiastic. The EPA estimates renewables will make up 28 percent of U.S. electric capacity by 2030, up from less than 5 percent today.

The rule is the first step in a crescendo of climate-change politics that Mr. Obama is planning for his final days. In September he will commune with Pope Francis on the subject, and then jet to Paris in hopes that his new rule shows enough U.S. progress that the climate treaty conference in December will reach some grand accord.

As for the home front, the point is to bull-rush states into making permanent changes to their energy systems. The investments and lead times in new power plants and transmission lines on this scale are generational. Yet state compliance plans are due in September 2016, and most of the carbon reductions must be complete by 2022.

The White House and EPA know they are distorting the law beyond recognition and that this rule will be litigated for years. But they figure that if they can intimidate the states into enacting as much change as fast as possible, a legal defeat won’t matter because the outcome will be a fait accompli.

The Supreme Court did give EPA the authority to regulate carbon emissions in Mass. v. EPA in 2007. But that was not a roving license to do anything the EPA wants. The High Court has rebuked the agency twice in the last two years for exceeding its statutory powers.

“When an agency claims to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power to regulate a significant portion of the American economy, we typically greet its announcement with a measure of skepticism,” the Court warned last year. “We expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast economic and political significance.”

Congress did no such thing with the Clean Power Plan, which is a new world balanced on a fragment of the Clear Air Act called Section 111(d). This passage runs a couple hundred words and was added to the law in 1977, well before the global warming stampede. Historically Section 111(d) has applied “inside the fence line,” meaning the EPA can set performance standards for individual plants, not for everything connected to those sources that either produces or uses electricity.

When the EPA rule does arrive before the Justices, maybe they’ll rethink their doctrine of “Chevron deference,” in which the judiciary hands the bureaucracy broad leeway to interpret ambiguous laws. An agency using a 38-year-old provision as pretext for the cap-and-tax plan that a Democratic Congress rejected in 2010 and couldn’t get 50 Senate votes now is the all-time nadir of administrative “interpretation.”

Meantime, states can help the resistance by refusing to participate. The Clean Air Act is a creature of cooperative federalism, and Governors have no obligation to craft a compliance plan. The feds will try to enforce a fallback, but they can’t commandeer the states, and they lack the money, personnel and bandwidth to overcome a broad boycott. Let’s see how much “clean power” the EPA really has.

The states have good reason to avoid collaborating in a scheme that will result in higher prices for consumers and business as the EPA mandates are passed down the energy chain. The plan also endangers electric reliability, and the strains to the grid could lead to brownouts or worse. The EPA added a reliability “safety valve” in the final rule as a concession that these risks are real, but this offers little protection in practice.

This plan is essentially a tax on the livelihood of every American, which makes it all the more extraordinary that it is essentially one man’s order. Mr. Obama’s argument is that climate change is too important to abide by relics like the rule of law or self-government. It is an important test of the American political system to prove that he is wrong.




Staten Island Advance on the Iran nuclear deal.

July 31

Secretary of State John Kerry may have let on more than he intended to when tried to persuade skeptical members of Congress to approve the agreement he and other diplomats hammered out with Iran earlier this month.

Mr. Kerry told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday as he testified on Capitol Hill, “If Congress does not support the deal, we would see this deal die - with no other options.”

The way he frames the choice is telling. He, President Obama and other backers insist that approving the gravely flawed agreement that negotiators from the U.S., Iran and five other nations came up with after 20 months of talks in Vienna is the only chance to get such a deal. In other words, the very idea of such a “landmark” agreement happening justifies support for it.

And so the alternative - no deal at all - is unthinkable to Mr. Kerry and other diplomats who have been obsessed with achieving such a pact with an openly hostile regime.

These would-be “peacemakers” seem to view the actual terms of the agreement as secondary and even irrelevant to the mere fact of attaining it amid the great difficulty involved in doing so. That dubious accomplishment itself is sufficient for them to declare success.

That reflects their own narrow priorities, not the priorities of Americans or others around the world who see Iran’s regime for what it is: A fanatical and dangerous theocracy which has sworn unyielding enmity for the United States, Israel and the West for nearly four decades, and has done all it can to foment terrorism and unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Yes, the good people of Iran may yearn for democracy and freedom and normal relations with the rest of the world, but the ruthlessness of the regime that rules their nation should be the focus of U.S. policy-makers, not Kumbaya fantasies of a peaceable Iran.

Clear-eyed lawmakers in Congress - and we certainly hope Sen. Charles Schumer will be among them - see that Iran’s government has pursued this “historic” deal, not because it desires peace and nuclear stability, but because the regime wants out from under the tough sanctions that have held its dreams of regional supremacy and global influence in check for years.

Those clear-eyed members of Congress also see that, far from renouncing nuclear weapons, Iran seeks to use the $150 billion or so freed up by the lifting of sanctions to bolster its bid to become a economic and military player.

What’s more, Iran’s effort to develop a nuclear arsenal is only slightly curtailed under the terms of the agreement, not halted. The Iranian government would still be allowed to keep some of its centrifuges and produce some enriched uranium, and, according to the agreed-upon framework, Iran itself would have to assent to inspections of its facilities with nuclear potential on a case-by-case basis.

Moreover, the deal has an expiration date between 10 and 15 years hence. Iran can then fully take the wraps off its nuclear capability, which it undoubtedly will spend those 10 to 15 years advancing. All this is a far cry from the administration’s previously stated goal of “dismantling” Iran’s nuclear program altogether.

Essentially, Iran can and will pretty much keep doing what it has been doing, but, if the agreement goes through, without the burden of sanctions. So what good is this deal? No wonder Iran signed the agreement.

No, Mr. Kerry, there is another option. Make no deal and keep regarding the Iranian regime, as long as it lasts, with deep suspicion.

The fact that Iran already has a limited nuclear capability, as Mr. Kerry noted, doesn’t change that fundamental dynamic.

Yes, eventual war with Iran is possible and that’s scary, but that was always true. This one-sided deal won’t change that hard reality. Iran is what it is, and wishful thinking, in the name of seeking peace, won’t make it otherwise.

As Rep. Daniel Donovan said in a letter to Mr. Kerry, “There is no threat graver than the world’s most dangerous regimes arming themselves with the world’s most dangerous weapons. The recent cries of ‘Death to America!’ and ‘Death to Israel!’ emanating from rallies led by Iran’s clerics… should serve as a clear reminder: A regime committed to our destruction and that of our closest ally in the Middle East cannot be allowed the tools and infrastructure for developing atomic weapons.”

We commend the president, Mr. Kerry and others involved in this protracted diplomatic effort for their effort and their idealism, however naive, but in keeping their eyes solely on the prize - a diplomatic legacy for this administration - they’ve lost sight of the true nature of the people sitting across the bargaining table.

We urge Mr. Schumer and other Democratic lawmakers to put loyalty to the administration aside, see this agreement for what it is and vote against the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

To borrow Mr. Kerry’s terminology, this deal deserves to die.




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