- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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

(Albany) Times Union on the Trump Administration deregulating the railroad industry.

May 1

Common sense tells us it’s safer to have two people operating a train than one, but clearly the anti-regulatory mood in Washington, D.C., these days isn’t about common sense.

If it was, a rule to ensure that someone else is backing up a potentially sleepy or distracted engineer would not have simply vanished into limbo. This gift to the railroad industry is a threat to anyone who rides a train or lives or works near a rail track, which is a whole lot of people in this country.

A rule that was headed for enactment late last year under President Barack Obama would have required two-person crews on passenger and freight trains. The rule came about as a result of several high-profile crashes four years ago involving oil freight trains - one of which was laid to a lone engineer’s failure to properly set the brakes, leading to a runaway train that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic. A second crash involving one train pulling oil cars and another transporting grain had no serious casualties, thanks to the quick work of the grain train’s multi-person crew.

That same year also saw the fatal derailment of a Metro-North passenger train between Poughkeepsie and New York City when it barreling into a 30 mph curve at 82 mph. The lone engineer was found to have had undiagnosed severe sleep apnea.

The Obama administration came up with a straightforward enough rule: Require two people, not one, on the train crew. If an operator nods off, gets distracted, or forgets to do something essential, the odds of averting an accident would be better if there’s someone there as a back-up.

That, of course, costs more money, and the rail industry objects. It found a sympathetic ear in Donald Trump, whose Office of Management and Budget has withdrawn the two-person minimum rule. This is in keeping with a general hostility toward regulation, which Mr. Trump blames for holding back business. Ten days after taking office Mr. Trump issued an executive order that dangerously oversimplified his goal of streamlining federal regulations, requiring that for every one new regulation proposed, two existing ones must be repealed. It’s a ham-handed approach that presumes there are enough superfluous regulations out there.

What’s all the more frustrating here is the rail industry’s assertion that once a technology known as Positive Train Control comes fully on line, it could allow more flexibility to use one-person crews. Simply put, PTC can control train speed automatically and prevent high-speed crashes. The reason it isn’t in universal use is that the industry kept missing deadlines to install it, and Congress, under intense lobbying by the industry, kept changing the date, last moving it from 2015 to 2018; even so, railroads may be able to get extensions to 2020.

An industry, then, that dragged its feet on safety technology yesterday now uses the promise of that technology tomorrow to avoid safety regulations today.

Only in Washington could that pass for making sense.




The New York Times on President Trump’s relationship with authoritarian leaders.

May 1

The United States has long seen itself as a beacon of democracy and a global advocate of human rights and the rule of law. It has faltered, sometimes badly, undermining leaders whose views did not fit its strategic objectives and replacing them with pliant despots. Yet for the most part American presidents, Republican and Democratic, have believed that the United States should provide a moral compass to the world, encouraging people to pursue their right to self-government and human dignity and rebuking foreign leaders who fall short.

Like so much else under President Donald Trump, though, this idea has now been turned on its head and people are worried about the very survival of the values on which America built its reputation and helped construct an entire international system, including the United Nations. The latest example is Mr. Trump’s decision to invite Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, to the White House.

Though the Philippines is an ally and a democracy, Mr. Duterte is neither a democratic leader nor a worthy ally. For about two decades as mayor of Davao, he was accused of allowing death squads to roam the city and kill freely. Most victims were poor drug users and low-level criminals, but bystanders, children and political opponents were also caught up in the bloodshed.

After his election last year, Mr. Duterte took the killing campaign nationwide, effectively giving free license to the police and vigilantes. He has boasted about his tenure in Davao, and admitted to personally killing three kidnappers without trial. The mayhem got so bad that last week a Filipino lawyer formally asked the International Criminal Court to charge Mr. Duterte and 11 officials with mass murder and crimes against humanity over the extrajudicial killings of nearly 10,000 people over the past three decades.

During the last administration, Mr. Duterte disrespected President Barack Obama by calling him the “son of a whore” and threatened to abandon his country’s alliance with the United States for one with China. This is obviously not a man who should be welcomed to the White House.

Mr. Trump extended his invitation in a telephone call that was described as “very friendly.” Administration officials said the call was one of several the president made to reassure Southeast Asian leaders of America’s continuing commitment at a time when they were feeling neglected over Mr. Trump’s focus on China, Japan and North Korea. Administration officials said that Mr. Trump was looking to mend ties with the Philippines as a hedge against China’s expansion in the South China Sea. But there is no evidence that he consulted the State Department, or that the White House has done anything to prepare the groundwork for a Duterte visit. The normal way to mend diplomatic ties is to negotiate privately over months and have the process culminate in, not begin with, a White House meeting.

What is not in any doubt is Mr. Trump’s own authoritarian tendencies and his fondness for other strongman leaders who, like him, chafe at governmental checks and balances, including the courts. Mr. Trump reportedly admires Mr. Duterte’s aggressive rhetoric about fighting the Islamic State and cracking down on drugs. He has praised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for winning a disputed referendum that will give him vastly more power and invited him to the White House on May 16. He has already given a friendly reception to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who was barred from the White House after staging a coup four years ago and arresting thousands of political opponents. He has replaced harsh criticism of China with praise for President Xi Jinping, and in the past displayed a bizarre affection for Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

American presidents must work with foreign leaders of all kinds to advance the national interest. But Mr. Trump erodes America’s reputation when he uncritically embraces those who show the least regard for human rights, rule of law and democracy.




(Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle on the importance of small businesses.

May 2

Rochester’s former big three employers - Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Bausch + Lomb Inc. - have been the source of wistful memories and conversations for many a life-long Rochesterian. The shrinking of those companies that together employed nearly 51,000 people two decades ago mirrored a shifting landscape seen at some of America’s biggest companies.

Rochester and Monroe County’s economy may not be fueled by the traditional big three anymore but our local and state economic engine are cranking thanks to small businesses. From coffee shops to construction businesses and more, there were more than 451,000 small businesses in New York state last year, according to The Economic Impact of Small Business in New York State report.

Businesses with less than 500 employees - the sector that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) primarily defines as small business - provide nearly 3.9 million jobs in the state, while businesses with fewer than 100 employees (the measure used to define a small business under the state’s Economic Development Law), are responsible for more than 2.7 million jobs state wide. And here in Monroe County, there were 13,505 small businesses (under 500 employees) in 2016.

National Small Business Week serves as a reminder that small businesses are critical to our local economy. Now through May 7, it’s Small Business Week in Rochester and we encourage residents to patronize a new or familiar small business this week and beyond. Aspiring entrepreneurs can take advantage of this week by taking advantage of small business events and workshops planned this week. And established small businesses can use this week to tout their work in the community.

The importance of small businesses in a local economy are clear. When established, small businesses bring growth and innovation to a community. Patronizing a local merchant or business means revenue for a small business which in turn equal tax revenue, which support efforts of local government. And keep in mind that small businesses can grow into large businesses and perhaps stay in the community where it was first established.




(Utica) Observer-Dispatch on allowing alcoholic beverages in movie theaters.

May 1

Do you really need a beer when you go to the movies?

Some people think it might be nice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo does. He had originally proposed legislation in his state spending plan that would have allowed alcoholic beverages, beer and wine, to be sold to patrons of legal age with tickets for films rated PG-13, R or NC-17. But his idea was removed from recent budget negotiations.

Earlier this week, the Albany Times Union reported that Democratic Assemblyman Joe Lentol, of Brooklyn, has now introduced similar legislation. Lentol told the Albany newspaper that expanding alcohol sales in theaters also could be an economic development tool, particularly in upstate communities where smaller movie houses struggle to attract patrons.

The idea needs to be thoroughly explored before any decision is made.

First, it’s not likely that people would go to the movies to get drunk. If so, they have a problem. Beer and wine already are served in many theaters - the Stanley, for instance, where executive director Jerry Kraus said he cannot recall any instance where a patron became unruly due to alcohol.

The Motion Picture Association of America reports that admissions sales nationwide have remained relatively flat in recent years, and some believe beer and wine sales might be an incentive to boost attendance. Really? Our guess is that people go to the cinema to see the movie. If they want to tank up on beer or wine, there are better venues than the theater. If the Motion Picture Association of America wants to boost attendance, they might consider lower prices or better movies.

On the other hand, if properly controlled, selling beer and wine at the theater might not be the end of the world.

” … the reality is people aren’t getting up to go out and get a second drink,” said Joe Masher, president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “People don’t even like to get up in the middle of the movie to use the restroom if they don’t have to.”

True. Most theater-goers make their food and drink purchases before the movie begins. A steady stream of moviegoers bellying up to the concession stand for a brew seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, there would have to be strict controls in place for alcohol sales, a responsibility that could cause theater owners more headaches that it’s worth. For instance, how would managers prevent someone of legal age from purchasing alcohol and passing it off to a minor inside the dark theater?

That’s among many concerns of local lawmakers.

A bill to allow alcohol sales in movie theaters did pass in the Senate last term, but Republican state Sen. James L. Seward, of Milford, said no Senate legislation has yet been introduced this term.

“I have serious concerns with the concept,” Seward said.

His colleague, Republican Sen. Joseph Griffo, of Rome, said he didn’t support the legislation during budget negotiations because there were too many unanswered questions. He said he’s keeping an open mind and is willing to listen to the pros and cons. Likewise, Republican Assemblyman Brian Miller, of New Hartford, said he’s done some polling and found that young people want such sales but people in their 40s with kids have concerns.

One father with concerns is Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, of Utica.

“As a frequent visitor to movie theaters with my two young children, I have serious reservations about allowing these establishments to serve alcoholic beverages,” Brindisi said in a statement. “I am also concerned about the potential for underage drinking inside the theaters. I have heard from the liquor industry and the movie industry expressing their support for this but I have not heard an overwhelming call from the public asking for this, and it is the public I am concerned about most. Before I am willing to consider supporting this legislation, I would like to hear more public input from the community as to where they stand.”

The lawmakers all agreed they’ll need a lot more information before casting a vote. They must make every effort to get it.




(Melville) Newsday on stability in the national government.

May 1

With great power comes great responsibility.

When it comes to avoiding government shutdowns, that’s a lesson the Republican Party, suddenly running Congress and the White House and currently eligible to take pretty much all of the blame if things grind to a halt, appears to have learned.

Last week, moderate Republicans and Democrats agreed to a one-week spending extension to keep the federal government open. That gave them time to work up a funding plan through Sept. 30 that garnered broad agreement Sunday and should see official passage this week. In the long run, the lesson of this successful process, if leaders in both parties learn it, will revolve around the compromises that lead to a deal and the bipartisan effort that brought moderates together and shut out extremists.

This six-month, $1 trillion spending plan got President Donald Trump and House and Senate GOP leaders increased military spending of $15 billion, which was half of what they wanted. It got them increased border security spending, but Trump got nothing for a border wall or a deportation force. There was a symbolic cut for the Environmental Protection Agency budget, but the EPA kept 99 percent of its money.

Despite Trump’s call for drastic cuts worth $18 billion to domestic program, there aren’t any extreme changes. Planned Parenthood was not defunded. Obamacare subsidies to insurance companies that keep rates affordable for low-income customers were not axed. Threatened slashes to Community Development Block Grants that support programs including Meals on Wheels and heating aid for needy Americans were untouched. And the National Institutes of Health got a $2 billion increase to carry on important work that includes biomedical research, not the $1.2 billion cut Trump had pushed.

While President Barack Obama had the White House, the Republican Party was dedicated to obstructionism and the far right wing led the gridlock. In 2013, the last time the GOP shut down the government, the party paid the price in public disapproval. The same was true when the House GOP forced two shutdowns in the mid-1990s. For decades, such shutdowns, fueled by the right wing over spending and debt ceiling increases, have been threatened by the GOP with regularity. Now, even though the Freedom Caucus has said it will vote against this spending deal, no one is listening. Trump said he was “very happy” with it.

This last-minute deal-making is no substitute for the orderly budget and appropriations process that was once the norm. But in the best-case scenario, the specter of a shutdown may have reached the end of its run.

Americans expect their government to function. The GOP has a wing that doesn’t want it to. Now, with Trump, the Democratic Party’s most extreme leaders also want obstruction. But House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Trump, need to keep things running. That can’t be done without the help of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. That’s what horse-trading, compromise and negotiation are about.

In other words, it means a traditional, functional government of the kind that made this country great, and kept it great.




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