- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

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

The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on cheap sustainable energy.

July 17

New York state has always been around the front of the line when it came to signing on for inexpensive, sustainable power. That trend continues today.

According to a news release from Gov. Cuomo’s office, the production and use of solar energy increased more than 300 percent between 2011 and 2014.



The national average during that span was 146 percent.

And the North Country’s increase has led the state.

The cause for pride in that statistic is obvious: Using traditionally produced electricity from coal- and oil-fired plants is expensive, exhausts finite supplies and makes our nation reliant on foreign sources, some of which are anything but cooperative partners, for our energy.

And, as important as any of these considerations is the fact that digging for coal and oil violates the environment. Americans conduct spirited debates every time an energy company asks for permission to drill for oil or natural gas.

In the North Country, we have a history of seeking - and finding - alternative energy sources.

For decades, the communities of Plattsburgh, Rouses Point, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake have been the beneficiaries of electricity produced from the St. Lawrence Seaway Project.

Plattsburgh at one time claimed the lowest electricity rates in the nation, thanks to a long-term contract for cheap hydropower. Those rates are now not nearly as attractive as they used to be, but they still yield monthly electricity bills that are the envy of virtually all New Yorkers.

Wind power is established in the North Country, as travelers through areas of Clinton and Franklin counties can see. Magnificent windmills gracefully spin, cranking out megawatts that contribute to New York’s energy profile with little of the negative consequences some had forecast.

So it comes as no surprise to us in this region that New York is in the front ranks of the use of clean, affordable and sustainable energy.

According to the news release, a total of 314.48 megawatts of solar electricity was installed across New York by the end of 2014. If that number doesn’t mean anything to you, the percentage should: We are twice as productive in this regard as the average of the rest of the country.

The North Country’s solar capacity has increased 573 percent during that three-year period.

Cuomo credits his $1 billion NY-Sun initiative to build solar projects for the activity. As an ancillary benefit, thousands of jobs have been created.

And the future looks as bright as the past. A Clean Energy Fund has been proposed to invest $5 billion over the next 10 years in clean-energy programs.

We in the North Country treasure our environment, and we need and appreciate economical energy. We have proven we can have it both ways.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1g4Ut7Y

The Poughkeepsie Journal on empowering the state’s attorney general to investigate, prosecute officers involved in unarmed civilian deaths.

July 21

While it falls far short of a permanent solution, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is responsibly wielding his authority by granted the state’s attorney general power to investigate and prosecute police officers involved in the death of an unarmed civilian.

The governor’s order comes on the heels of several high-profile and disturbing incidents between police and unarmed citizens, including last year’s death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old unarmed black man who was placed in a chokehold-like maneuver by a white officer. This horrific incident came after national debate regarding a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., who wasn’t indicted in the August shooting death of black teenager.

The governor is taking the action to address “a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system,” and it’s something state lawmakers must keep in mind. State leaders failed to reach agreement on a more comprehensive and permanent law during the recently completed 2015 legislative session.

Under Cuomo’s executive order, police-involved incidents resulting in the death of a clearly unarmed civilian will automatically be sent to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office. What’s more, if there is a “significant question” whether the civilian was armed and dangerous, Schneiderman still has the discretion to step in. If the attorney general reviews a case but decides not bring it to a grand jury, he will have to send a report to the governor’s office detailing his reasoning.

The state District Attorneys Association has pushed back, questioning whether the directive could cause confusion and sully initial investigations by leaving local district attorneys in limbo until the attorney general moves to step in. The protocols must be exact and will require communication and coordination. But, for years, many legal and civil rights experts have argued that special prosecutors are needed in these cases because local district attorneys have close working relationships with their local law enforcement.

Using the attorney general’s office in cases involving police officers is a reasonable, realistic way to ensure objectivity and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

But the criminal-justice reforms in these matters shouldn’t stop there. Recruiting more minorities into law enforcement positions is imperative as well.

And the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, is suggesting courts release transcripts and documents from the closed-door proceedings if the grand jury does not indict in such cases. A judge would have the authority if reveal documents deemed in the public interest.

Lippman also has said it would make sense for a judge to be present during grand jury proceedings if the matter involves a violent incident between civilians and police.

These suggestions, too, would help restore confidence to the system while promoting a more open, accountable government.

The governor’s executive order is a stop-gap measure and must not be the end of the discussion.

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Online:

https://pojonews.co/1GCrY6B

The Albany Times Union on firearm background checks.

July 16

Dylann Roof, the man accused of gunning down nine people in a South Carolina church, should not have been allowed to buy a firearm. But he did, because of what the FBI admits was a series of errors in his background check.

That revelation no doubt will complicate any meaningful debate this latest massacre might spark in America on gun control - if it’s even possible to have such a debate in America these days. Gun control opponents will no doubt point to the errors to argue, once again, “We don’t need more laws when we can’t even enforce the ones we already have.” That tidy mantra greatly oversimplifies the issue of gun violence and the far-too-easy availability of firearms in America. But it is fair to say that poorly run gun control programs do harm the case for stronger laws.

As the FBI explains it, Mr. Roof underwent a background check after he tried to by a handgun at a store in West Columbia, S.C., on April 11. An FBI examiner found he had been arrested March 1 on a felony drug charge. She looked further to see if he’d been convicted, which would bar him from purchasing the weapon. But his record listed the wrong law enforcement agency for his arrest. She tried another department - also the wrong one. The prosecutor’s office didn’t return her call.

The gun dealer waited three business days, as required by federal law, and, hearing nothing back from the FBI, sold the gun to Mr. Roof.

Had the system worked, the FBI would have learned that Mr. Roof’s record showed he admitted to possessing a controlled substance, disqualifying him from buying the gun.

Clearly, the system failed here. But it’s hardly an indictment of the background check system, which has, since 1998, stopped 1.2 million gun sales to felons, dangerously mentally ill people, domestic abusers and others. What’s needed is for the FBI to determine whether there are any institutional gaps that allowed these errors to occur.

What’s also needed are federal gun laws that go beyond the extreme minimum we now have, making it possible for the purchase of a gun to be easier than getting a driver’s license in some states. Such laxness weakens tougher measures in other states like New York. One solution would be stronger deterrents to gun trafficking, which is not a federal crime. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed to make it one, with stiff sentences for knowingly selling guns to people who aren’t allowed to possess them, or lying on federal gun transaction records. There are other significant gaps that could and should be closed, such as the lack of a national standard on background checks for private sales, gun shows, and long guns.

Such improvements in the law face an uphill fight as it is, without the added burden of failures in the current system. The only way to deal with the argument, however oversimplified it may be, that we can’t have better gun laws until we enforce those we have is to do just that, and disarm the opposition.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1GCqYPU

The Oneonta Daily Star on Bill Cosby and sexual consent.

July 17

The testimony from Bill Cosby that has recently come to light paints an extremely unflattering portrait of the once-beloved actor and comedian.

In the 2005 court transcript, Cosby said he obtained seven prescriptions for the sedative quaalude with the intention to give the drug to women with whom he wanted to have sex.

It’s clear that doing what Cosby is accused of - giving a woman drugs, and having sex with her when she was incapacitated - is wrong.

Just as wrong, for example, as a young man slipping a “date rape” drug into a woman’s drink at a college party so he can have his way with her.

Both of these egregious examples are easy to weigh in on.

“A man who wishes to have sex with a woman does not ply her with prescription sedatives, date rape drugs or excess alcohol to get her to say yes,” wrote Megan Carpentier in a recent column for The Guardian. “A man like that uses substances to prevent her from saying no, because he doesn’t care if she says yes.”

But what about situations where the line of consent is more gray? What about when both parties are intoxicated? What about when a person feels pressured into having sex, but doesn’t speak up or offer any resistance?

What do we actually mean when we talk about “consent”?

For New York’s college students, the answer to that question has been clarified - somewhat - by a new law.

“Affirmative consent,” the law reads, is “a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.”

This is worrisome to some, like Marie Eisenstadt of Syracuse.com, who writes, “What if you had to ask if it was okay to put your hand on the other person’s butt during foreplay? What if you had to ask again before touching her breast?”

But Eisenstadt’s scenarios are somewhat far-fetched. The law does not require specific verbal consent for “each nibble and caress,” as she writes. Rather, it states that: “Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in sexual activity.”

Are there still gray areas under this law? Without a doubt. What constitutes “clear permission” to one person may not to another.

But the concept that “silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent” is an extremely important one that strikes at the heart of what has previously been problematic in so many sexual assault accusations and cases.

There is nothing any law can do to avoid “he said-she said” cases, where it would range from difficult to impossible to figure out what happened between two adults alone in a room.

What this law will do is make it clear to students that anyone who is too out of it to consent should not be a party to any sexual activity - a message Cosby may have ignored.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1IefgMn

The New York Times on a fishing moratorium at the North Pole.

July 21

Fishing at the North Pole may seem ludicrous to a world raised on the notion of the top of the world as a deep-frozen wasteland, but at the rate the Arctic Ocean is melting it may not be long before fishing trawlers can operate in waters that have been inaccessible for more than 800,000 years.

So it was a good idea for the five nations that have territorial claims around the Arctic Ocean - the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark - to put a “No Fishing” sign on the high seas portion of the central Arctic until full scientific studies have been conducted.

The declaration to prevent unregulated fishing in the central Arctic acknowledged that fishing beyond the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the coastal states is not likely to start in the near future. But it is not too early to take precautions: The annual “State of the Climate” report by the American Meteorological Society disclosed the highest average sea surface temperatures on record last year, with especially high temperatures in the Northern Pacific.

It’s a good idea, too, because the agreement by the five nations signed in Oslo last Thursday provides a template for the kind of cooperation that is critical as the melting ice opens vast new commercial possibilities, including shipping lanes and access to deposits of oil, gas and minerals.

The fishing moratorium does not prevent the five nations from fishing in their own territorial waters (the United States has banned commercial fishing in its exclusive economic zone off Alaska’s North Slope since 2009), nor is it binding on other countries, Asian or European, that are watching the great northern thaw with interest. But the declaration explicitly invites other countries to join in the process of developing fishing regulations when commercial fishing becomes possible in the central Arctic Ocean.

The United States, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the eight-nation group that is supposed to promote cooperation around the top of the world, has made protection of the Arctic from the consequences of climate change a top priority. Given the rapid changes in that region, the fishing ban hasn’t come too soon.

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Online:

https://nyti.ms/1Kkon4G

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