Editorials from around New York
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
The Wall Street Journal on the bill to cut off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen
American Presidents have great constitutional leeway on foreign policy, but it isn’t unlimited, as Donald Trump is discovering on Saudi Arabia. A bipartisan Senate majority is trying to send a message to the Saudis and Mr. Trump that U.S. policy needs to include concern for values as well as national interest.
That’s the meaning of the Senate’s 63-37 vote last week to allow a debate to begin on a bill to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Sponsored by Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders and Utah Republican Mike Lee, the measure invokes the long forgotten War Powers Resolution to recall U.S. forces assisting the Saudi-led war within 30 days. Fourteen Republicans joined all 49 Democrats to send the bill to the floor for debate and perhaps votes on multiple amendments this week.
In its current form the bill would damage U.S. interests and weaken Mr. Trump’s ability to conduct foreign policy. Democrats passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973 over the opposition of Richard Nixon, who was weakened by Watergate. We believe it is unconstitutional, which is one reason Congress has rarely tried to invoke it and no President has recognized it as legally controlling.
Passing Lee-Sanders would cast the U.S. as an unreliable ally and Mr. Trump as a President who can’t deliver on his foreign-policy commitments. The Saudis have prosecuted the war badly with too much collateral damage. But U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen began under Barack Obama, and the Trump Administration has assisted the Saudis in trying to reduce civilian casualties. The U.S. recently stopped refueling Saudi aircraft fighting in Yemen.
Rather than yanking support wholesale, the U.S. could lean on the Saudis to negotiate a cease-fire with the Houthis while reducing Iranian influence in Yemen. The Saudis rightly see Iran trying to spread its influence via proxies in the Arabian peninsula. The U.S. could quietly help the Saudis intercept Iranian arms shipments to Yemen, including boarding ships. Such a commitment would do more to persuade the Saudis to negotiate than would an abrupt U.S. decision to cut them off.
The good news is that Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham are working on an alternative that would send a message to the Saudis without sundering the relationship. They want the Saudis, and especially the willful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, to know that the U.S. won’t ignore political murder. MBS, as the crown prince is known, was aware of the kidnapping and killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi even if he didn’t order it.
Mr. Trump wouldn’t be facing this Senate revolt if he had shown more disgust for the Khashoggi murder and hadn’t described the U.S.-Saudi relationship in crude transactional terms. We warned that his reductionist view of national interest risked losing control of his policy, and here we are.
The Corker-Graham details aren’t all available, and cutting off arms sales would go too far in our view. But perhaps there’s Senate language that doesn’t tie the President’s hands but warns MBS and Mr. Trump that U.S. support isn’t automatic if the Saudis continue to defy civilized norms. The House can block a Senate resolution this year, and Mr. Trump can veto it next year. But he shouldn’t ignore GOP Senators lest he eventually become as lonely on war powers as Richard Nixon was.
Newsday on pay raises for New York state legislators
When it comes to pay raises, our state legislators just want more money. The people, though, want corruption in Albany stopped. That cleanup has to start with a ban on almost all outside income for Assembly and Senate members. And strict limits are needed on extra stipends, called “lulus,” which leaders hand out in exchange for unquestioning loyalty under the guise of greater workloads.
What the people want ought to matter, and in the long run, it usually does. That’s a fact everyone involved in this wrestling match needs to keep in mind. Thus far, every effort regarding the commission examining the question of raises has been intended to thwart the voters, not serve them — including its creation by lawmakers and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this spring so lawmakers could avoid voting in their own hikes.
With the state compensation commission expected to wrap up its work this week, lawmakers could get the money they want without the people of New York getting the ethics reforms they deserve. That should not be allowed to happen. But the word is that it could, if at least three of the four commissioners agree on a raise despite Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins pointedly refusing to guarantee reforms.
Two commission members, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, were elected to exercise oversight of the honest and responsible use of the people’s money. If they and their fellow commissioners, SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall and CUNY board of trustees Chairman Bill Thompson, cannot force themselves to deny legislators and top state officials a raise, then any raise they authorize must be accompanied by a written demand for reform so strong it makes it clear that a refusal would be a travesty.
Here’s what’s fair:
—A pay increase, the first in 20 years, from $79,500 a year to approximately $120,000.
—An increase of the five-month legislating schedule to year-round.
—A strict limit on outside sources of earned income that both puts a hard cap on such earnings and limits the type of work legislators can do to tasks like teaching and writing. The raise should kick in only when the ban goes into place.
—A vast curtailing of lulus, currently received by about three-quarters of legislators, to just the few true leadership positions.
—An end to the loopholes on political contributions that let donors use shell corporations to kick in unlimited amounts of cash.
There is a clear method in state law for legislators to increase their own salaries and those of other top state officials. All they have to do is vote for it publicly and get the governor to agree. They demanded the creation of this commission specifically to evade that law and get pay hikes — without voting on the record and without passing reforms.
The commissioners need to side with the people, not the legislators. If they can’t bring themselves to deny the raises outright, they must at least make it clear what a stark betrayal it will be if the legislators deny the reforms.
The Times Union on George H.W. Bush
It’s hard not to be a bit nostalgic in marking the death of President George H.W. Bush. While we didn’t agree with many of his policies — nor did a majority of voters, as he discovered in his failed bid for a second term — that does not detract from our appreciation of a man whose public life was one of long and exemplary service and principled leadership.
That service started with his decision, on graduating from Phillips Academy, to postpone college and risk a privileged life to serve in World War II. A Navy pilot who flew 58 combat missions and received multiple citations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, he was the last modern president to serve in the military.
After attending Yale and earning a fortune in the oil business, he would return to public service as a congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and China, CIA director, vice president in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, and finally president himself.
That long record of service — and the understanding it brought of the realities of war and complexities of foreign relations — doubtless informed his decisions as commander in chief during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Aware of U.S. military might but also mindful that America cannot go it alone, he led a coalition of 35 nations against Iraq in response to its invasion of Kuwait — and subdued Iraq in just 100 hours. Against many critics who wanted him to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, though, he chose not to press into Baghdad. His restraint, regrettably, did not result in a sustained peace, and his mishandling of the war’s aftermath set the stage for conflicts in Iraq and the broader Middle East that continue to this day.
His presidency also marked one of the most politically perilous but intelligent policy reversals in memory — from his declaration as a candidate, “Read my lips: No new taxes,” to his acceptance of reality as a president who inherited Mr. Reagan’s deficits. His decision to raise taxes, along with a booming economy in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton, set the stage for federal surpluses and even federal debt reduction. The refusal by his son, President George W. Bush, and those who claim the conservative mantle today to learn from the failed tax-cut mistakes of the past unfortunately ended those hopes.
And it was no small thing that, as a former Republican president, he stood up to the National Rifle Association, whose pandering to anti-government paranoiacs and conspiracy theorists sank to new lows in a fundraising letter calling federal agents “armed terrorists” and “jack-booted thugs” out to “kill law-abiding citizens.” Mr. Bush, a gun owner and hunter, canceled his life membership with the group, condemning the letter as a “slander” against federal workers and saying it “deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country.”
If a theme runs through Mr. Bush’s life, it’s his willingness to put country and principle ahead of party and his own political survival. That sort of sacrifice doesn’t come around often. And can’t come again too soon.
The Adirondack Daily Enterprise on the School Bus Camera Safety Act.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, recently told the Buffalo News that Senate Democrats are “committed to breaking the Albany mold” and plan to be “sensitive to regional needs” when they take control of the state Senate in January.
If that’s really true, then Democrats in the Senate and Assembly will pass the School Bus Camera Safety Act. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, has passed the state Senate for the past several years only to expire in the state Assembly. The measure would allow school districts and school bus companies to install automated cameras to detect and capture images of vehicles that pass stopped school buses so that lawbreakers can be ticketed and fined. In states where the technology is already in use, reports indicate that the cameras reduce the incidence of these violations between 30 to 50 percent.
Again, this would only allow these cameras — not require them. But some school districts might see them as a valuable option.
In early November, there were several deaths and injuries of young children in four states over a three-day span. At least three of the cases involved reckless drivers who illegally passed the buses that had stopped to pick up the students. In their desire to avoid waiting a few seconds, those drivers caused catastrophe, injury and death.
“No parent should have to endure such a loss or even worry that the simple act of taking the bus to school could be so dangerous,” Young said in a news release. “Yet, statistics tell us that our children are at risk. Here in New York upwards of 50,000 cars each day illegally pass stopped school buses, endangering countless children in the process.”
If Gianaris is serious about breaking the old Albany mold, the School Bus Camera Safety Act is a good place to start.
The New York Times on Hungarian media and news
The world’s growing ranks of would-be autocrats should study Viktor Orban. Steadily, systematically, relentlessly, he has disabled any criticism or honest accounting of his imposition of right-wing, nativist, nationalist politics on all spheres of Hungarian life. His latest feat is breathtaking in its audacity.
Acting as if on a signal, more than a dozen owners handed over more than 400 news websites, newspapers, television channels and radio stations to a foundation formed and run by Orban loyalists. Most of the owners said they “donated” their outlets.
Obviously, it wasn’t philanthropy. The owners are pro-government oligarchs and allies of Mr. Orban. Some of them have been buying up independent media outlets in recent years and turning them into pro-government mouthpieces. It’s not hard to presume that the business owners were happy to do Mr. Orban and his party, Fidesz, a little favor, especially since their news outlets depended on government advertising and were making little money.
What Mr. Orban has managed to create is a media juggernaut that closely resembles Communist propaganda machines of old. The consolidation, if that’s the word, still needs to be approved by regulatory authorities, but they’re led by officials appointed by Mr. Orban. So is the Constitutional Court, should anybody consider challenging the transfers in the courts.
The nonprofit foundation that has suddenly become an enormously powerful government mouthpiece, the Central European Press and Media Foundation, was formed in August by staunch allies of Mr. Orban. In an email to The Times, a board member, Miklos Szantho, echoed a line from Fox News, claiming that the foundation would work to create a “balanced” media environment in Hungary by serving as a counterweight to “progressive” news outlets.
That’s a curious notion of balance, since more than 500 news outlets in Hungary today are pro-government, compared with 31 in 2015. Independent media organizations have been denied state advertising for years, often rendering them targets for acquisition by Mr. Orban’s friends. The most widely read opposition newspaper, Nepszabadsag, was shut down in 2016. Many of its staff members charged that the shutdown was the work of Mr. Orban.
Hungary is not alone in its assault on media freedoms — Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party is also trying to bring the media under its control. But Mr. Orban has been the trendsetter in his effort to build what he proudly describes as an “illiberal state.” His efforts have included active measures to spread his far-right ideology to the theater and other arts, to universities and other schools, and even to religion.
They have also included a crackdown on pro-democracy organizations and institutions like the Central European University, created to foster democracy by the Hungarian-American investor George Soros — a bête noire of Hungarian government propaganda — that is now being forced out to Austria, with a shrug from the Trump administration.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with academic freedom,” the American ambassador David Cornstein said last week of the showdown, advising Mr. Soros, “It would pay to work with the government.”
Mr. Orban’s behavior prompted the European Parliament last September to begin a process that in theory could ultimately strip Hungary of European Union voting rights for posing a “systematic threat” to the union’s core values. It will take a lot more than that to make Mr. Orban care.