- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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

The (Glen Falls) Post-Star on gun control.

Oct. 8

Gun control laws could prevent massacres like the one that just happened in Las Vegas, and a police encounter that unfolded this week in Fort Edward shows how.

Local police had heard about a man threatening a dog with a rifle, and Chief Justin Derway went to a home on Culvert Street, where Devin A. Pratt was standing in a driveway, holding an AR-15-style rifle.

Derway confiscated the rifle, because under New York’s SAFE Act, certain semi-automatic rifles with military features are illegal.

Derway wasn’t sure Pratt’s rifle was illegal, but he suspected it was, and after checking, Fort Edward police issued a warrant for Pratt for felony criminal possession of a weapon.

In the meantime, officers heard that Pratt had been making threats, including threats to kill Derway.

Pratt was not known as being unhinged. He is a longtime member of the Bay Ridge Volunteer Fire Company in Queensbury and has been serving as its vice president. The department’s chief called his actions “out of character.”

Pratt says his rifle is legal and says he didn’t threaten to kill Derway. The details of the confrontation are in dispute, and we do not know exactly what happened.

What we do know is that an angry man was standing in a public street in one of our local communities with an assault-style rifle in his hands.

But, because of New York’s SAFE Act, the situation was less scary than it could have been. Pratt’s rifle was taken away, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. These things happened because of our state’s gun control laws, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the strictest in the country.

In Nevada, meanwhile, a middle-aged man people thought was a regular guy was able to amass an armory of 47 guns. He smuggled 23 of them into his suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, 12 of them rigged with a device that allows a rifle to act like a machine gun so it can fire hundreds of rounds a minute.

The guns were legally acquired, and so were the devices - called bump stocks - that transformed them into machine guns, even though machine guns are illegal.

Stephen Paddock operated in secret, and police had no hint of the impending danger when he checked in to the Mandalay.

In New York, because of our stricter gun laws, Paddock would not have been able to amass such an arsenal. Nevada has some of the most lax gun laws in the country, in contrast. You can openly carry guns around. You can go to shooting ranges and fire fully automatic weapons, just for fun.

We cannot shut off every opportunity for unhinged people to inflict harm on others, but we should block the easy avenues to mass murder. Congress may soon take a very modest step in that direction by outlawing bump stocks.

But in light of the epidemic of mass shootings, our country needs to have a broader conversation. Police officers need tools to identify potentially dangerous people before they act.

The SAFE Act isn’t popular in this region, because some people feel it impinges on their liberty. But public safety requires the sacrifice of liberties. You’re not allowed to drive 100 mph on the Northway, no matter how much fun you feel it would be.

We can help officers nationwide identify and stop mass killings by regulating weapons the killers could use. New York has started on this task. The entire country should take it up.


Online: https://bit.ly/2yc5a52

The (Middleton) Times-Herald Record on relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Oct. 11

Just days after coming back from a trip to Puerto Rico to assess hurricane damage and relief efforts, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney … echoed what many on the island have been telling reporters. The federal response, especially the effort needed to restore the island’s power grid, has been woefully inadequate.

A few hours later, the news from Puerto Rico was even more alarming. The latest estimate of those without power had risen to 90 percent, an increase from just the day before, and the long-term estimate is that power will not be fully restored for at least six months.

With so much happening in the world, from NFL protests to mass shootings to Hollywood scandals to separatist votes in Europe, not to mention the continuing struggle to recover from devastating storms in Florida and Texas and the coming effort to rebuild after what is most likely to be the worst fires in California history, there is a danger that the needs of Puerto Rico will fade from the headlines and the 3.4 million American citizens who live there will be abandoned.

That’s why Maloney and others who have been critical of the administration response are right to keep up the pressure, to continue pointing out how the kinds of logistical and financial help so quickly available elsewhere are even more necessary now in Puerto Rico.

The most crucial need centers on the power grid, an aging system more or less destroyed by the storm. As Maloney pointed out, while thousands of trucks and crew members from utility companies were able to descend on Texas and Florida within days, Puerto Rico is still waiting for the necessary help weeks later. While he said that the Army Corps of Engineers was going to double the number of repair trucks available, that still would bring the total to only a few hundred, far short of the number helping other damaged communities.

It is not an exaggeration to say that restoration of power is the key to survival on the island. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the hospitals where generators supply power and sometimes stop working, where medicine is running low while the number of patients arriving, many with diseases contracted from the contaminated water, which is another byproduct of the disaster, increases. The death toll, which President Trump used to illustrate the success of his administration’s response and approach, is steadily climbing. As one family member said at one besieged hospital, “You can’t get sick now.”

We know that President Donald Trump is a bully. We see evidence several times a day. Now it is time for those who admire that quality, who cheer him on when he takes on those who have irritated or opposed him, to urge him to become a bully for a good cause, for the restoration of civilization in a part of the United States.

As Maloney put it, “What the president of the United States should be doing is convening those executives of those power companies, convening the Army Corps of Engineers, and cracking heads until people are out there stringing wire and getting the lights on.”


Online: https://bit.ly/2gd8yG3

The (Auburn) Citizen on issues with the Cayuga County biogas digester and public access to information.

Oct. 8

The Cayuga County biogas digester belongs to you.

The $10.5 million energy and agricultural waste management project was funded by local, state and federal taxpayer dollars, including about $1.5 million that came directly from Cayuga County government’s savings accounts. The legal owner of the digester is the taxpayer-supported Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District, and it still owes most of that local project money back to the county.

And that means they owe it to you, the people who pay taxes and fees in the county.

Despite the clear financial interest that residents of Cayuga County have in this facility on County House Road in Sennett, the district insisted for the past six months that the public is not allowed to know the financial details of a rent-to-own deal it struck to turn the digester over to a private energy company.

That was the district’s stance throughout the administration of a state Freedom of Information Law request The Citizen initiated in the spring.

But then this newspaper hired a lawyer to fight for the information. And the district, working hand-in-hand on the request with the energy company it’s doing business with, quickly backed down.

Today’s front-page story about the financial terms of the digester agreement is an example of a hard-fought victory for the public’s right to know.

But it’s also an example of a glaring weakness in the laws that are supposed to protect that right.

The Citizen is a financially successful newspaper company with a large corporate parent that has a mission to practice public service journalism. When a government agency is clearly violating open records laws, Cayuga County’s daily newspaper has the means and the will to fight for information on behalf of the public.

But not every newspaper company - and certainly not every resident - can afford to hire a lawyer to convince a government agency to follow the law if they are being illegally stonewalled.

That’s why we’ve advocated for putting more teeth into New York’s Freedom of Information Law. As it stands now, far too many agencies deny access based on the assumption that the information requester won’t spend money to take them to court.

One way combat that is to make it easier for seekers of public information to recover legal costs from government agencies when the requester sues and wins in court. The state Legislature has passed a bill that does that, but they need to get it to the governor for his review, and he needs to sign it into law.

Unfortunately, as of last week, the bill had not yet arrived on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk. A similar lag has happened in the past, the result was a last-minute veto of a measure that’s clearly in the public’s best interest.

We urge our state delegation to start getting pushy with this measure. State Sens. John DeFrancisco, James Seward and Pam Helming, and Assemblymen Gary Finch and Robert Oaks have all claimed to be champions of sunshine laws. Now is a time when they can show true leadership on the issue and work to bring more light to government in New York.


Online: https://bit.ly/2yjc9cl

The New York Times on the Trump administration’s changes in climate policy.

Oct. 10

The Trump administration formally proposed on Tuesday to roll back yet another of President Barack Obama’s efforts to position the United States as a global leader in the fight against climate change. The move, though widely anticipated, was deeply disheartening. In March Mr. Trump ordered Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which was aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. Mr. Pruitt, a climate denier closely tied to the fossil fuel industry, was only too happy to oblige - boasting to an audience of Kentucky coal miners on Monday that the plan was dead and that “the war on coal is over.”

All this is infuriating on several levels.

It repeated the same false narrative that congressional Republicans have been peddling for years and that Mr. Trump’s minions are peddling now - that environmental regulations are job killers, that restraining greenhouse gas emissions will damage the economy, that the way forward lies in digging more coal and punching more holes in the ground in the search for oil.

It reaffirmed the administration’s blind loyalty to dirtier energy sources, ignoring the pleas of corporate leaders who know that economic momentum and new investment lie with cleaner sources of energy, and fear that without innovation their costs will rise and their competitive edge over foreign countries will be lost.

It repudiated the rock-solid scientific consensus that without swift action the consequences of climate change - widespread species extinction, more devastating droughts, more Harveys and Irmas and wildfires like those now raging in Northern California - will become more likely.

I remember the “good old days,” before we cracked down on pollution, particularly coal-based power plants. I recall when a “clear” day was…

It offered, on a human level, more empty promises to the frightened miners who keep showing up to hear Mr. Pruitt say that coal is coming back, when any comeback is unlikely not because of regulation but because of powerful market forces favoring natural gas and renewables.

And it gave us another reminder that Mr. Trump is hellbent on abdicating the leadership on climate change Mr. Obama worked so hard to achieve - first with a suite of regulatory measures and then by making an emissions-reduction pledge at the 2015 Paris climate summit meeting strong enough to induce 194 other nations to sign on to what had all the makings of a historic global agreement.

Under that agreement, nations submitted voluntary pledges to curb their emissions in the near term and to ratchet up their efforts in the future; the idea was to limit the rise in global warming to well below two degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. To that end, Mr. Obama promised that the United States, which accounts for one-fifth of the world’s emissions, would lower its emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The administration later published a report sketching out various technological pathways to cutting emissions 80 percent or more by 2050.

Then along came Mr. Trump, who in March ordered the destruction or delay of nearly every building block that supported Mr. Obama’s pledge - rules aimed at increasing fuel efficiency of cars and trucks; rules aimed at limiting emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells; rules aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of appliances; and most important of all, the Clean Power Plan. Not long afterward, Mr. Trump commanded his secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, to reverse Mr. Obama’s efforts to limit oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters and on sensitive federal lands, a task to which Mr. Zinke has fallen with great enthusiasm and which, if successful, will further increase the carbon emissions the world is trying to limit.

Given all these orders, Mr. Trump’s decision in June to withdraw from the Paris agreement, though deeply demoralizing to the entire world, seemed in practical terms almost superfluous.

Some experts say that all is not lost, that it is still possible for the United States to hit its Paris targets. Aggressive state and local policies as well as market forces and technological improvements have already reduced emissions about 12 percent below 2005 levels. These include a huge switch to gas from coal, which once supplied more than half the country’s electricity and now supplies only a third; the steadily dropping cost of wind and solar energy; and more efficient vehicles, buildings and appliances. Further progress along these lines, without any federal help, could yield a total emissions reduction of 15 to 19 percent. One particularly bright note is that many states, including California and New York, are already moving ahead of the targets set by the Clean Power Plan.

Those same experts, however, also concede that federal help is crucial, both in limiting emissions from existing sources and in promoting alternative fuels and new technologies. This administration shows no interest in either. Mr. Pruitt, in fact, used the occasion of his triumphant dismissal of the Clean Power Plan to say he would love to get rid of the federal subsidies that have been and remain vital to the development of wind and solar power, while saying nary a word about the lavish subsidies for the oil industry.

Like some of Mr. Trump’s other rollbacks, the power plant decision will be fought in court by some states and by environmental groups. The E.P.A. is required by law to regulate carbon dioxide emissions in some fashion, but so far Mr. Pruitt has not proposed a substitute plan. The betting is that if he does, it won’t amount to much, surely not the closing of any coal-fired plants. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s measures lie in tatters, along with Mr. Trump’s claims to leadership.


Online: https://nyti.ms/2zgHLx6

The Journal News on the importance of inclusivity.

Oct. 10

A young black woman’s hairstyle was termed as “too urban” by her boss and she was told to change it or lose work. The boss even went so far as to “mansplain” some hair-care tips for her.

That it happened at a store called Banana Republic just adds to the ridiculousness of the whole scheme. (The term, coined by American writer O. Henry, has been shorthand for a small country run by a dictatorship that exploits a working class.)

This embarrassing episode happened to Destiny Tompkins, a 19-year-old SUNY Purchase college student, at The Westchester, a toney mall located in diverse White Plains. Local media, including lohud, picked up the story after she told of her shock in a Facebook post that went viral.

Who wouldn’t feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed at being called unkempt? Who wouldn’t be hurt and feel unwelcome after being told, in so many words, that you don’t know how to care for yourself in a way that’s acceptable and hygienic? That you don’t meet societal norms?

Around the same time, executives at Dove and parent company Unilever were scrambling to fix another faux pas exposed on Facebook. The company apologized profusely for a recent Facebook ad touting its body wash by showing a black woman eagerly pulling off a brown shirt to become a white woman in a beige shirt.

Many (white) people grouse at the term “white privilege,” but these incidents make it pretty clear that general society often sets “white” as the norm. And being the default - the assumption of “normal” - provides an advantage in all aspects of life.

Some reminders come in the form of “microaggressions,” even cloaked as compliments or praise. Too often, statements of “otherness” and exclusion are overt and aggressive. Examples of how people are told they cannot or do not meet the “norm” include:

Being told that you look “urban” and “unkempt” because of a style worn mostly by women of color - a style that takes hours to achieve and helps maintain healthy hair.

Being told that clean skin is light skin.

For its part, Dove’s explanation portrayed the misfire as more about bad execution than derision or exclusion. The ad was not intended as a “before” and “after,” the company said. Rather all the women were intended as “after,” or the ideal.

Dove apologized Saturday following outcry over an advert it published to Facebook that many considered to be racist. Time

As for the Banana Republic manager, who may have been following orders or thought that he was, it’s kind of hard to believe he wouldn’t think that requesting a young woman re-do her hairstyle was out of bounds.

Banana Republic is hardly the first company to run into trouble in translating the appropriate “look” for workers. Consider the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling, 8-1, against Abercrombie & Fitch for its inflexible interpretation of its “look policy” that led to a young Muslim woman losing out on a job because she wore a head scarf. That, the court found, is “disparate treatment” because of an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Upon reflection, Banana Republic said in a statement that “this situation was completely unacceptable, counter to our policies, and in no way reflects our beliefs and values.”

The takeaway from these recent events: Think about inclusiveness and acceptance before taking action. We should also call out insensitivity when we see it, and actually listen to each other when that happens.


Online: https://lohud.us/2yhHSKm

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