Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
The Times Herald-Record on the power of the ballot
What happens in a system of checks and balances when there are no checks? The system goes off balance. To those who depend on the system, that can be an annoyance — "You didn't warn me to slow down and now I've got a speeding ticket!"
Or, if as happened last week, a temperamentally unsuited, clearly partisan judge, credibly accused of sexual assault and displaying a willingness to lie under oath, nominated by a president unfit for the office in too many ways to list, is confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court by two votes by a United States Senate half of whose members chose to ignore the disqualifying evidence and voted to solidly political power rather than to preserve the integrity of the court, it can be a threat to the very existence of that system. And to the people who have placed their trust in it.
The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was as ugly a demonstration of an out-of-balance system as has been witnessed by most Americans in their lifetimes. The fear of many, of course, is that Kavanaugh will now tilt the balance of the court to solidly conservative, with no "swing" vote, and affect many areas of Americans' life for decades to come. That is certainly possible, but it remains to be seen. What's more, history has shown that justices do not always vote as predicted. If not Kavanaugh, someone else may defy the conventional political wisdom on any given issue.
But that's the court's problem. Do the justices want to maintain a sense of credibility and non-partisan deliberation to give their rulings legitimacy and broad acceptance by the American people, or do they want to behave like the U.S. Senate?
In truth, the immediate and serious threat to the U.S. system of checks and balances created by the writers of the Constitution is not an out-of-balance-but-unpredictable Supreme Court, but an utterly predictable U.S. Senate, which has been off balance since Donald Trump moved into the White House. Actually, it started tipping in February of 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia died and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, declared the Senate would not even consider a nominee put forth by outgoing President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
McConnell made good on his word. A well-respected, moderate judge nominated by Obama was never considered. Trump, who has no political philosophy, hijacked the Republican Party, winning its nomination and the presidency. Our checks and balances have been sorely tested ever since.
Stuck with Trump, McConnell has used his position and Trump's hold on a vocal, angry power base in the Republican Party to make fear, anger, lies and bullying the new standard operating procedure in the Senate, will of the people be damned. The Kavanaugh hearing and the sham FBI "investigation" are perfect examples of that.
Unfazed and arrogant, McConnell says the furor over Kavanaugh will "blow over." It will be business as usual in the Senate. Of course, a majority of Americans, who don't share McConnell's or Trump's views, have the ultimate check to restore balance — their vote. It has seldom been more important.
The New York Daily News on New York City's property tax system
Hiding in plain sight, a profound injustice afflicts New York City, so woven into its fabric that it no neighborhood stands untouched and city government itself rests on its foundation.
Property tax assessments — yielding $28 billion a year and racing upward at more than 5% annually — fall on homeowners and (through their landlords) renters with such extreme inequity, and so little rhyme or reason, that a judge last month told Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo that the status quo may well not stand.
Watching the receipts grow and the inequities persist under a mayor who claims to care more than any of his predecessors about economic fairness, we consider it imperative to explain to New Yorkers, in language as plain as we can manage in this space over the coming weeks, the terribly tangled tax mess in which the city is trapped.
Where to begin?
Homeowners in working-class and majority-minority neighborhoods, from Woodlawn to Canarsie to Stapleton, routinely pay higher effective tax rates than well-off owners of Park Slope and Upper West Side brownstones, among them Bill de Blasio.
We're not talking about a little discrepancy on the margins; poorer New Yorkers in one part of the can be forced to pay, as a percentage of their property value, three, four, even six times what wealthier New Yorkers in another part of the city pay.
Homes that recently sold for the same price get tax bills thousands of dollars apart, even though their taxes are supposed to be based on property values. Hell if homeowners know how the Department of Finance determines those values.
Meantime, New York City taxes rental apartments more severely than any city in the nation, exacerbating our affordable housing shortage and driving up rents.
Ritzy co-ops on Park and Fifth Aves. pay a fraction of what humble outer-borough shareholders shoulder as a share of the price their property would sell for.
All of these inequities and more, the combined result of statutes passed over decades and more recent local decision making, run counter to the state Constitution and state law, which assure uniform assessments grounded in some semblance of market reality.
Since lawsuits have a way of clarifying priorities, de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson summoned a commission that's been holding public hearings in every borough (next up: the Bronx on Thursday).
The Legislature and governor own this problem, too, and need to do their share.
So maddeningly complex is the system, so many its perversions, that we will take our time spooling out the insanities and inequities one by one in future columns.
The mayor who aims to make this "the fairest big city in America," and a governor who talks almost as much about fairness, owe wronged taxpayers and tenants a vast debt.
The Daily Star on the Yemen War
Saudi Arabia's brutal, indiscriminate bombing campaign against rebels in Yemen has dragged on for three years with no end in sight, and it's time for the Trump administration to push for a negotiated settlement that could at least alleviate some of the immense human misery the conflict has caused.
The civil strife in Yemen, like that of Syria and Yemen, is rooted in internal rivalries that were left unresolved after the Arab Spring of 2011. What began as an effort to restore ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2015 has devolved in a crude effort to use airstrikes to punish civilians perceived as sympathetic to militants, who the Saudi-led coalition seems increasingly unwilling to confront on the battlefield.
The consequences of this policy have been dire: tens of thousands killed, 8 million civilians at risk of starvation and the world's worst cholera outbreak in years. But despite this human cost, Hadi's forces have been unable to assert their authority, even in regions ostensibly under government control.
The Saudi coalition has wrought such misery using U.S.-manufactured weapons, and it's fair to question whether their use does anything to enhance U.S. national security. It's also fair to question the wisdom of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision in August to vouch for the coalition's efforts to minimize civilian casualties, despite so much evidence to the contrary.
Pompeo's decision, in a report submitted to Congress on Sept. 12, lets the Pentagon continue aerial refueling of warplanes conducting the campaign for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Defense Secretary James Mattis went even further, claiming the coalition was "making every effort to reduce civilian casualties and collateral damage to infrastructure resulting from their military operations in Yemen."
As Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, and Todd Young, R-Indiana, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee noted in an op-ed for The Washington Post, giving our Gulf allies a blank check regarding civilian casualties in Yemen could potentially backfire on the U.S.
"We believe there is a moral imperative to do everything we can to ensure the Saudi-led coalition stops killing civilians," the senators wrote. "In fact, the indiscriminate targeting of civilians will only push more Yemenis toward Iran and its proxies — giving Tehran increasing opportunities to threaten Americans, our allies and our interests."
The window of opportunity is closing for a negotiated end to a conflict that has lingered since the ouster of 22-year dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012. Saleh never really left; his repeated attempts to regain power ended with his death in a December 2017 ambush. Hadi never really gained control, and the Saudi-led coalition lame-duck client ruler might be a necessary sacrifice for the conflict to be resolved.
In January, a U.N. expert panel said Yemen's divisions risked becoming permanent, warning: "Instead of a single state there are warring statelets, and no one side has either the political support or the military strength to reunite the country or achieve victory in the battlefield." Al-Qaida's Arabian Peninsula branch, widely considered one of the terrorist group's most dangerous arms, has thrived in the resulting power vacuum.
Yemen is at risk of becoming the sort of place where only terrorism can thrive, and U.S. policy only seems to be making the situation worse. Pompeo and President Donald Trump should instead use their leverage to nudge our Gulf allies toward the negotiating table and bring an end to this vicious conflict.
The Auburn Citizen on ballot reforms
For months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and primary challenger Cynthia Nixon engaged in a loud and often-bitter battle about progressive priorities and records.
A key player in the middle of that fight was New York's Working Families Party, a minor party that has traditionally backed Democrats in general elections. The WFP endorsed Nixon last spring and joined with her in delivering sharp criticism of the governor. The governor fired back at the party and used his political muscles to get some key organized labor voices to shun the WFP.
Then came the Democratic primary and Cuomo's resounding victory. Nixon, a registered Democrat, suddenly lost her desire to represent Working Families members in the general election. To get her name off the ballot line for governor, WFP had to find a different race without a WFP candidate. In this case, she will be on the ballot for a Democratically controlled Assembly seat, but Nixon will not be trying to win that race. In the meantime, the WFP abandoned its utter scorn for Cuomo and offered its newly created ballot line vacancy to the governor. Cuomo, who had blasted the party months earlier, accepted the line.
The result of all of this insider political trading will be a general election with the two major party candidates once again appearing on multiple additional lines, clogging up the ballot, drowning out legitimate minor party candidates and making the choices for voters more confusing.
This ballot manipulation practice isn't unique to the left side of the political spectrum. A similar convoluted process played out in the governor's race eight years ago with the Republican and Conservative parties.
Welcome to democracy in New York state, one of seven that allows so-called fusion voting. Unlike in most of the United States, major party candidates in New York can appear on multiple party lines in a general election and the results are determined by cumulative votes received on all ballot lines.
It's past time for New York to fix election law and make its ballots simple — and more ideologically pure.
Some may argue that fusion voting allows minor parties to have a voice, but that's not what these parties are doing when all they do is court favor with the major party candidates. And in recent years, the big major party players have further exploited the law by creating their own minor party lines.
There are some minor parties in this state — chiefly the Green and Libertarian parties — that don't play this game. They put up candidates enrolled in their parties and those candidates campaign on platforms that reflect their membership. Getting rid of fusion voting wouldn't affect those types of candidates, but it will lead to ballots that keep the focus on the differences among the people who are actually running for office.
The Niagara Gazette on the Federal Aviation Administration budget reauthorization
When it comes to transportation, be it by land, sea or air, safety should be a primary concern.
In the case of the airline industry, as families of victims of the Flight 3407 airline disaster have unfortunately come to know firsthand, commercial interests at times complicate what should be a common-sense approach to keeping air passengers as safe as possible as they fly to and from their destinations.
Thankfully, Congress has now taken steps to preserve safety and training requirements enacted after the Flight 3407 crash in Clarence.
House and Senate approval of a five-year budget reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration means those standards will be preserved for the foreseeable future.
While it is certainly a victory for local advocates of the Flight 3407 victims, it also offers wider protections for airline passengers everywhere.
The safety improvements were first instituted in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010.
Legislation passed by the House last week and the Senate on Wednesday will preserve the key measures gained by the Flight 3407 families requiring greater transparency for travelers flying on sub-contractor airlines and additional rest time and training requirements for pilots.
Other highlights of the FAA reauthorization bill that will improve safety and address consumer rights include: a prohibition on the involuntary bumping of passengers from flights after their boarding passes have been collected or scanned; a requirement that the FAA set minimum dimensions for passenger seats, including pitch and width; and the establishment of a new "aviation consumer advocate" position at the U.S. Department of Transportation to help resolve consumer complaints.
The legislation also requires that flight attendants receive a minimum of 10 hours of rest between duty periods and it addresses issues faced by passengers with disabilities, by requiring the DOT to develop an "Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights" that creates a civil penalty for damage to passengers' wheelchairs and mobility aids.
All medium and large U.S. airports, including the Buffalo Niagara and Niagara Falls facilities, will now have to provide private rooms for nursing mothers and baby changing tables in at least one restroom in each passenger terminal.
Family members and friends of the Flight 3407 victims have worked tirelessly to preserve the memory and legacy of their loved ones who were killed in that unfortunate crash all those years ago now.
Without a doubt, flying is a safer proposition thanks to their efforts.