Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
Obstruction provocations force Congress to hold President Trump accountable
New York Daily News
For months, Trump administration officials have shown the back of their hands to congressional attempts to exercise oversight. Tuesday, that obstinance was ratcheted up to a point that makes impeachment all but inevitable.
President Trump has no one but himself to blame.
Tuesday, the State Department announced that Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union and big Trump donor, would not be permitted to testify before the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment inquiry on the Ukraine affair.
Text messages disclosed last week reveal Sondland to be an instrumental figure in the machinations.
In a Sept. 9 text, our top diplomat in Kiev, Bill Taylor, told Sondland, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Sondland didn't respond for five hours — a period during which House committees announced probes into the administration's Ukraine actions and during which Sondland is said to have spoken to Trump.
Eventually, Sondland wrote back: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind."
Familiar phrasing? Two weeks later, Trump himself kept repeating it. Sondland was a man on White House-scripted message.
No wonder the president, preferring obstruction over what Sondland might tell Congress, admits to blocking a key witness from testifying before what he deems a "kangaroo court."
Democrats have subpoenaed Sondland. The White House responded with an eight-page letter full of non sequiturs and bogus arguments rejecting "cooperation" with the House. So be it.
When It Comes to China, Silence Is Golden
The New York Times
"Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."
Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted that message on Friday. It's a sentiment that should command broad support in the United States, and throughout the free world.
But the reaction from China, which does not number free expression among its cherished values, was swift and painful for the N.B.A. The shoe company Li Ning and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank ended sponsorship deals with the Rockets; Chinese broadcasters said they would not show Rockets games; the Chinese Basketball Association — led by the former Rockets star Yao Ming — suspended ties with the team.
"There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear," said Adam Silver, the league's commissioner.
Mr. Silver went on to add that he supported Mr. Morey, but "what I am supporting is his freedom of political expression in this situation."
The billionaires who control the lucrative basketball league, however, nearly tripped over themselves in their haste to abjure Mr. Morey's remarks. The N.B.A., like many large American businesses, is besotted by the opportunity to make money in China's expanding market. And the league once again made clear it is willing to obey China's rules to preserve that chance.
The owner of the Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, raced for the traditional refuge of international capitalists — the insistence that business can be segregated from political considerations. "We're here to play basketball and not to offend anybody," Mr. Fertitta told ESPN.
But it should be perfectly clear that playing basketball in China is political.
Last year, the N.B.A. staged a game in South Africa for the explicit purpose of celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela. When the N.B.A. goes to China, that's a statement, too.
It means that the N.B.A. has weighed China's human rights abuses against China's potential as a source of revenue, and it has decided that it can live with state policies like the detention of hundreds of thousands of Chinese Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.
The owner of the Brooklyn Nets, the Chinese billionaire Joe Tsai, took the opportunity to publish an open letter scolding Americans for talking about the affairs of other nations. He also mischaracterized the Hong Kong protests as a "separatist movement."
Mr. Tsai's suggestion that people should avoid "third rail" issues may well be good manners when visiting a foreign country, but Mr. Morey posted his tweet while visiting Japan — and on a website that is not accessible to the general public in mainland China.
The face of the Rockets, the point guard James Harden, issued a public apology on Monday.
"We apologize," he said.
For what, exactly, remained unclear.
Do the N.B.A.'s owners appreciate that their wealth is a product of the freedoms they enjoy in this country? Does Mr. Harden, the owner of a famous beard, know that Muslims in Xinjiang are not allowed to grow beards like his?
The N.B.A. has an undoubted right to set rules for its work force, but it cannot simultaneously claim to champion free expression — the value of which consists entirely in the right to say what others don't want to hear.
American executives and policymakers initially reconciled themselves to following China's rules by arguing that China's turn toward capitalism, and its exposure to the United States, would gradually lead toward democracy and a greater respect for human rights. They argued, in effect, that silence was the most productive form of criticism.
It should now be clear that silence is merely complicity, no more or less.
It is the moral price the N.B.A. and other businesses are paying for making money in China.
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Take a breath before regulating e-cigarettes
Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Not that we are fans of vaping, but a state Court of Appeals decision to temporarily block New York from enforcing a new prohibition on sales of flavored e-cigarettes is probably the right thing to do.
The stay was granted one day before the state planned to start enforcing 90-day emergency regulations banning the sale of most flavored electronic cigarettes. The decision also follows a state court's refusal last week to issue a temporary restraining order on the regulations approved in September by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. New York's prohibition covering flavored e-cigarettes and other vaping products except for menthol and tobacco flavors went into effect immediately. Retailers initially had two weeks to remove merchandise from store shelves.
Concerns over the safety of e-cigarettes, and particularly the effects of flavored e-cigarettes on teenagers, have been around for years. It wasn't until people began showing up in doctor's offices and hospitals with lung illnesses after using some e-cigarettes that the federal and state governments moved to ban flavored e-cigarettes. It turns out that research and investigation is pinning many of the illnesses on black-market vaping pods containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
A crackdown on the illegal THC-related products is warranted given that such products are largely the cause of the sicknesses among vapers. The public panic regarding this sickness shouldn't allow governors or President Trump to circumvent the legislative process regarding regulating a business that employs a growing number of people and which is helping people stop smoking cigarettes.
Lastly, governments are right to be concerned about the number of youth using flavored e-cigarettes given that so little is actually known about the long-term health effects of vaping. Health officials should gather the necessary information and perform the necessary studies before forming policies that effect people and businesses. The state has issued policy before completing the necessary research. Perhaps policies should be incremental before a total ban is even considered. Have Gov. Cuomo or federal officials considered regulating the amount of nicotine in flavored e-cigarettes to make them less addictive for children? Are there limitations on marketing e-cigarettes to teens, as there are currently for cigarettes?
It is disingenuous to ban flavored e-cigarettes without a full understanding of their impact on a person's health — while allowing stores to sell cigarettes, knowing full well that those are absolutely harmful to a person's health.
Government officials should take a deep breath and form a coherent plan to address both cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Toughen penalties for threatening mass violence
A bill to be introduced in the state Legislature that would be more definitive on the crime and toughen penalties for those caught making threats of mass violence against schools and other places where groups of people gather is long overdue.
It should be one of the first orders of business when lawmakers return to Albany in January.
The law is being proposed by state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-Marcy, and would create two new crimes for making a threat of mass violence toward the a school, college or university, place of worship, mass gathering of 25 people or more, or a business.
Specifically, the crimes would be:
First-degree making a threat of mass violence. It would be a Class D felony applying to anyone 18 years old or older. Punishment would be a $35,000 fine and a sentence of no less than three years in prison.
Second-degree making a threat of mass violence. This would apply to individuals under 18 years old. The crime would carry a $35,000 fine and a mandatory sentence of 10 days in a juvenile detention facility. Individuals over 18 who make a threat of mass violence against the school they are attending would be charged the same as someone under 18 years old.
Tougher penalties are needed. Not only is the current law ambiguous, but the penalties for lodging a threat are minor, little more than a slap on the wrist. The state's Penal Law does not explicitly define a threat of mass violence, Griffo says, and this bill would make it clear.
Just recently, police investigated three incidents at Frankfort-Schuyler Jr.-Sr. High School, two of which caused some disruption. The first was a threat discovered Sept. 20 toward the end of the school day. A student reported seeing a threat written on a bathroom wall in one of the middle school bathrooms. It resulted in a controlled dismissal after an initial lock-in-place when a perimeter search by police determined it was safe outside.
On Oct. 2, a student reported seeing a written threat in a high school bathroom that morning. The Middle-High School Building was evacuated to other buildings and students were dismissed at 11:35 a.m. A third bathroom writing was later determined not to be a threat. There was no interruption in the schedule for the school day.
Two juveniles have been charged in connection with the Frankfort threats.
Also on Oct. 2, police responded to Camden High School regarding a report of a threat written on a student's social media account. A 13-year-old juvenile was later arrested and charged with falsely reporting an incident, a felony, according to the Oneida County Sheriff's Office. Deputies found that the threat was not credible.
Students must be allies in this battle. If you see something that's not quite right, report it. Making threats is serious business. They prey on people's fears and cost taxpayer dollars, not to mention valuable time of everyone involved - including students whose days are disrupted while threats are investigated. Tougher penalties can send a message.
Griffo said he began working on this legislation shortly after Fahrudin Omerovic phoned in more than a dozen threats of gun violence to Utica College on March 5 and 6, 2018, prompting a campus lockdown and two days of heavy police presence at the college. He was found guilty in December. The former UC student was sentenced to a total of 12 years in state prison, six years on each of two felony counts of making terroristic threats.
Griffo's bill (S8312) needed a sponsor in the Assembly and Buttenschon agreed to it. It should be a priority when the new session unfolds. Such behavior must not be tolerated.
Task force should release draft of NY public campaign finance system
The Auburn Citizen
As New York state prepares to make $100 million available to help level the playing field for candidates running for state offices, time is running out for anybody to find out how the process might work and offer suggestions to help steer the plan toward the best result.
The state budget approved in April included a measure to provide matching public funds for small donations from citizens to candidates. The idea is to help counter the out-sized influence that a small number of wealthy donors can have in elections. To that end, a task force was created to come up with specific rules for how the money will be distributed. The group first met in August, and the deadline for ironing out the complexities involved is Dec. 1.
This week, the League of Women Voters, Reinvent Albany, the Brennan Center for Justice and other advocacy groups called on the task force to release a draft of what they have in mind and offer another chance for the public to offer feedback. We agree, and we urge our representatives in Albany to be vocal about pushing this issue to the forefront.
At the end of November, whatever rules the group comes up with will become law unless the Legislature meets before the end of the year to reject them. At this point, there is still time for the task force to be transparent about their work and put whatever plans they are considering up for public display. And an opportunity for feedback afterward can help make this system as good as it can be.
Campaign finance reform is a big step forward for New York — and it's been a long time coming — but if it is ultimately administered the least bit unfairly, it will have failed to live up to its potential to make our elections more fair.