- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

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

The Syracuse Post-Standard on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo including nuclear plants in his proposal to tilt the state’s energy mix toward renewable energy.

May 27

New York state’s response to Entergy Corp.’s announcement that it would close the money-losing James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Station probably won’t save FitzPatrick- but it may preserve three other Upstate nukes and prevent an economic meltdown in the region.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is including nuclear plants in his proposal to tilt the state’s energy mix toward renewable energy.

The administration’s Clean Energy Standard would require New York to get 50 percent of its energy from renewables like hydropower, solar and wind by 2030. That’s double the current amount of renewable energy produced in the state.

Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions would have to drop by 40 percent by 2030. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

Nearly one-third of New York’s power comes from nuclear plants - which also happen to emit no greenhouse gases. This gave Cuomo an opening to include Upstate nukes (Ginna in Rochester, FitzPatrick and Nine Mile I and II in Scriba) in the Clean Energy Standard. He wants to compensate the plants for producing greenhouse-gas-free power. He argues that the energy market doesn’t properly value this positive attribute, and puts nuclear at a competitive disadvantage to cheaper, GHG-intensive energy sources like natural gas.

Cuomo’s “zero emission credit” program for nukes would cost from $59 million to $658 million through 2023, according to estimates from the Department of Public Service. The average residential customer might pay under a dollar month, DPS estimates.

It’s a stretch to call nuclear “clean,” given the environmental costs of mining uranium, transporting it and dealing with its radioactive legacy for decades to come. So perhaps it should be called the “Carbon-free Energy Standard.” But Cuomo rightly argues that the state could not meet its greenhouse gas reduction target without nuclear energy in the mix.

There’s some question as to whether the state could meet its current energy needs. Nuclear also provides a steady, “always on” baseline of power for Upstate New York. It will take some time to bring enough renewable energy on line to replace that amount of generation.

While the Clean Energy Standard may provide a short-term boost in profitability for Upstate nukes, their longer-term viability depends on being able to move power from Upstate generators to energy-hungry customers in the New York City region. We urge New York state to accelerate its plan to increase transmission capacity from Upstate to Downstate. That also would boost the prospects for wind power in the North Country and help replace generating capacity should Cuomo succeed in shutting down Entergy’s Indian Point nuclear plant.

We also are sensitive to the plight of local governments and schools in Oswego County that depend on jobs and property tax revenue from nuclear power plants. State aid is cushioning the blow but that, too, is a short-term fix.

In the long run, Oswego County needs to diversify its economy beyond a handful of large employers. This should be a key goal of Cuomo’s $500 million in Upstate Revitalization Initiative.




Newsday on the Long Island Rail Road’s plan to add a third track.

May 26

Supporters of the Long Island Rail Road’s plan to add a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville were ready for outrage and uproar at six public comment sessions last week. But what they heard were sensible questions about how the project would be handled, how communities would be protected and how best to move Long Island forward. Even from those who had qualms, there was more constructive criticism than obstructionist rage.

About a decade ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority tried to sell a similar plan and was rejected. But times have changed. And the $1 billion project being pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes less from residents whose property abuts the tracks and offers more to communities along the line, including the elimination of seven dangerous grade crossings where trains frequently jam traffic.

At a recent meeting in Hicksville, a leader of a local civic organization said he objected to the original plan largely because it took so much private property, but he is far more open to this one, which does not. He wants the Hicksville station renovated, a project that’s been promised for years but was moved forward last Wednesday by Cuomo and the MTA. He wants the improvements done right, but fears they won’t be. He wants to know what will be done to solve parking problems at that station, the busiest on Long Island, when more trains are enabled by a third track. And he wants to know what will be done to entice crowds at the station to spend a little money with local merchants. These are good questions.

Another speaker talked about the dangers of the Bethpage grade crossing at Stewart Avenue, the deadliest crossing in the tri-state area, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, with six fatalities since 1975, and he had a different concern: When will the MTA eliminate the grade crossing there that is not a part of this project but has taken many lives? Again, a good question. Will the LIRR and the state eliminate these most dangerous crossings only when doing so dovetails with some other plan they need to sell?

Most of the angriest people demanded more specific plans. That’s a very reasonable request, but also a premature one at this point.

There were the usual cheerleaders, who said what we’d expect: the Island needs this third track for many reasons - to stay vibrant, to allow workers to come and go, to create a reverse commute that bolsters business development, to maintain property values, to make it a place young people don’t flee, and to reduce traffic. This is all true.

But an even grander vision about what this project and enhanced transit in general could mean to Long Island came from two high school students who take the train to Mineola to attend Chaminade High School, and farther west to attend games and cultural events in New York City, but often have few trains to choose from.

They imagine Long Island as a place where public transit would allow easy travel both on and off the Island, and within it. They imagine roads less congested because of those options.

That’s a Long Island that could thrive. Of late, more and more people appear ready to embrace that future.




The New York Times on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent comments about a federal judge.

May 31

Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy presents decent people everywhere with a dilemma: Sprayed with an open fire hose of schoolyard insults, locker-room vulgarities and bizarre policy pitches by the presumptive Republican nominee, they must make hard choices. Is this latest comment so outrageous, so much worse than all the others, as to require its own response?

Speak up too often and you risk sounding like a car alarm, so urgent and yet so familiar that residents no longer hear it. But don’t speak up often enough and you risk turning the unacceptable into the unremarkable.

At a rally in San Diego on Friday, Trump again steered his pirate ship into uncharted waters, firing off personal and racially tinged attacks against a federal judge hearing a case in which Trump is the defendant.

The judge, Gonzalo Curiel of the Federal District Court in San Diego, is presiding over a class-action lawsuit that accuses Trump University of defrauding and misleading customers who spent $1,500 for three-day seminars that promised to teach Trump’s secrets of success in real estate. Shortly after Trump’s rally, Judge Curiel ordered the unsealing of about 1,000 pages of the company’s internal documents. The release, which came in response to a request by The Washington Post, was standard procedure for a civil suit.

But Trump doesn’t do standard procedure. In a rambling, 11-minute stream of vitriol, Trump, who has attacked Judge Curiel before, called him “very hostile” and a “hater of Donald Trump,” and said he “should be ashamed of himself. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s doing this.”

One would think Trump, whose sister is a federal appellate judge, would know how self-destructive it is for any litigant anywhere to attack the judge hearing his or her case. But Trump is not any litigant; he is running to be president of the United States - a job that requires at least a glancing understanding of the American system of government, in particular a respect for the separation of powers. When Trump complains that he is “getting railroaded” by a “rigged” legal system, he is saying in effect that an entire branch of government is corrupt.

The special danger of comments like these - however off the cuff they may sound - is that they embolden Trump’s many followers to feel, and act, the same way.

For good measure, Trump added that Judge Curiel “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” False; the judge is from Indiana. But facts are, as always, beside the point for Trump, who reassured his audience that “the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs.” (Presumably he was not referring to those he has promised to deport if he is elected.)

In a masterpiece of understatement, Judge Curiel, who is prevented by ethical rules from responding directly to comments like these, noted in his order that Trump “has placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue.”

On Tuesday, Trump turned his fire back to the media in addressing news reports that he had failed to give a $1 million gift to a veterans’ charity as he had promised in January. He said the donation had now been made, called one reporter “a sleaze” and complained that the news media “make me look very bad.”

Trump has said so many irresponsible or dangerous things so often and in so many settings that there is a real risk that many voters will simply tune out and his campaign will somehow be normalized.

So it is particularly important to note when Trump’s statements go beyond the merely provocative or absurd and instead represent a threat to America’s carefully balanced political system. This is such a moment. It is not too late for Republicans who revere that system to question how they can embrace a nominee who has so little regard for it.




The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on overlooked improprieties at elite sports colleges.

May 31

Among America’s elite sports universities, the competition for top-flight athletes has become so intense that all kinds of improprieties on campus have been overlooked.

That is a danger not only to the victims of those improprieties but to the very institution of college athletics.

At Penn State University, one of the iconic names in all of football - the legendary coach Joe Paterno - has been ruined because he failed to take action when Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys on the college premises.

The latest shame of a highly successful college program has fallen on Baylor University football. And, interestingly, the disgrace even transcends the coach, who himself has become one of the top names in the game over the past decade or so.

Baylor, in Waco, Texas, is the largest Baptist university in the nation. Its coach, Art Briles, has turned the Baylor Bears into a beast of college football, regularly ranking among the top teams in the country and one of the most exciting, high-scoring offenses anywhere. And Division I successes confer immense wealth on the successful.

But an external examination of the program, prompted by frequent reports of sexual abuse by football players against women on campus, has confirmed that, indeed, the reports are accurate. So Briles has been fired, and the president, Ken Starr, has been demoted.

You remember Starr - he’s the one who pursued charges against President Bill Clinton over his alleged affair with Monica Lewinsky while he was in office. The Clinton-Lewinsky debacle was the talk of the nation for many months, the subject of numerous “Saturday Night Live” skits and, currently, fodder for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The fact that someone of the caliber and background of Starr could fall with the Baylor program is an indication of the seriousness of the episode. The victims say the university ignored their complaints so as not to jeopardize the standing of the athletes. Quite a position for a college carrying the banner of religion to take.

For decades, schools have given a pass to some of their beclouded athletes, insisting that accusations were only the results of unsubstantiated and unprovable claims by women scorned.

As time passes, the truth of many of these accusations is coming to light.

The “wink and smile” in athletic departments is no longer the order of the day. What has been called a culture of rape at Baylor and other universities must be terminated. The profits from a famous sports program don’t begin to offset the losses of integrity and reputation on the campus at large.

Star football players must be held in no higher regard than any other student paying tuition and trying to earn a degree.

Colleges are in business to educate their students, solely. If a successful athletic program can coexist with that mission, only then is it a true win-win.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on Veterans Affairs wait times.

May 26

Sometimes - actually far too often - public officials say something so extraordinarily stupid that you have to stop and wonder what on Earth they were thinking.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald just provided a prime, outrageous example by dismissing the long waits at the VA and equating them to standing on line for a ride at Disney.

What a dreadful, misdirected analogy. Perhaps McDonald thought he was being clever by using “plain speak” to get his point across to his audience, but instead he came across as a condescending, out-of-touch bureaucrat. And the Disney reference wasn’t even the worst part. No, it’s the secretary’s apparent belief that wait times aren’t an important gauge to see how well we are doing by veterans.

“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important?” he said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast last week. “What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” McDonald said. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

That’s absurd. Wait times are an important metric and must be carefully scrutinized. For the record, Disney does keep track of wait times. But far more importantly, McDonald, a West Point graduate and former Procter & Gamble executive, was put in charge of the VA to clean up many problems related to veteran care. The VA has been beset by scandals, including the outrageous fact that tens of thousands of veterans have been enduring incredibly long wait times - and some facilities were actually covering up these deficiencies. The Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency, has put the VA on its high-risk list, citing the backlog, the falsified appointment records and inadequate computer systems among other shortcomings.

The VA has been overwhelmed, in part, by the number of returning military personnel from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, to its credit, the VA is handling more cases because there now is a recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder as well as an acknowledgement that older cases involving Agent Orange from the Vietnam War have to be addressed. But Congress and President Barack Obama also have put more resources into fixing the system, and veterans and the rest of the American public have every good reason to expect results.

McDonald has taken a verbal lashing for this Disney comment, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, calling it “outrageous and completely inappropriate.”

Yes, it was. But far worse has been the persistent problems at the VA - and the country’s inability to make better progress.




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