Editorials from around New York

September 27, 2017 GMT

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

The (Syracuse) Post-Standard on excess in the Trump Administration.

Sept. 25

President Donald Trump was elected on the promise he would “drain the swamp” in Washington. Instead, Trump has introduced some new creatures.

Exhibit A: Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price racked up $400,000 in private jet bills since May, Politico reported. Price’s spokesman is spinning it as a savings for taxpayers because the secretary is using his time more wisely than sitting in airports waiting for commercial flights. And if you believe that, we have some swampland in Washington to sell you. The HHS inspector general has launched an investigation. Price, meanwhile, has suspended his private flights while they are under review.


Exhibit B: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also has a fondness for travel. He requested a $25,000/hour military jet for his honeymoon to France, Italy and Scotland. Mnuchin said it was to ensure “secure communication” while he was away. His request was denied. That followed an Aug. 21 flight that Mnuchin and his wife took to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to check on the nation’s gold supply. (Don’t worry, it’s still there.) While they were at it, the “Moochin’ Mnuchins” took in the total eclipse of the sun. You don’t need special glasses to see that Mnuchin -- a Goldman Sachs veteran with a net worth of $500 million -- is experiencing an eclipse of ethics.

Exhibit C: Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt is spending $800,000 a quarter on a crew of around-the-clock bodyguards. Pruitt’s security detail of 18 people is three times as large as previous EPA administrators. EPA agents who investigate environmental crimes are being pulled off that duty to guard Pruitt. Sure, the guy is unpopular in some quarters because his main job is to dismantle the agency he leads. But the Secret Service-like protection is overkill.

And speaking of the Secret Service, the agency that protects the president and his large family is running on fumes. USA Today reported in August that 1,000 agents already had maxed out on salary and overtime for the year. At the time, 42 people were under agency protection, including 18 Trump family members, up from 31 under President Obama. Despite his relentless criticism of Obama’s fondness for golf, Trump travels to one of his golf properties almost every weekend; visits to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida cost an estimated $3 million per trip. The president’s adult children travel abroad frequently for business and pleasure. Donald Trump Jr. recently dropped his Secret Service detail, reportedly over privacy concerns. He certainly can afford private security.


This is government service. Check your sense of entitlement at the White House door.



The (Glen Falls) Post-Star on high school students and gender expression.

Sept. 24

School bus drivers need the authority to control their student passengers and keep their buses safe.

Teenage students need the freedom to define their own gender and sexuality in accordance with their deepest feelings about themselves.

Of these competing claims in the recent episode in South Glens Falls, where a bus driver kicked two transgender students off the bus because they insisted on sitting on the boys side, the students have the more compelling claim.

One way to think about difficult decisions is to compare worst-case scenarios, so let’s do that: Between 2004 and 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 54 school-age children died in accidents involving “school transportation vehicles.”

Those accidents may have included school vehicles less safe than buses, like vans, but as a rough guide, we can call it five students a year. Lots of factors contribute to school bus crashes, but it’s a good bet that distractions caused by student passengers are sometimes involved.

In 2015 alone, 2,061 teenagers ages 15 to 19 killed themselves. The teenage suicide rate has been rising, as has the overall suicide rate in the U.S. Many things can lead to teen suicide, especially mental health problems.

Teens who are struggling with their sexuality or their gender identity, or both, are especially vulnerable to depression and suicidal thoughts. In a 2015 study of transgender adults, 40 percent reported having tried to kill themselves, almost all of them before age 25.

If you look at worst-case scenarios, there is much more reason to fear teen suicide and to follow policies designed to prevent it than there is to fear fatal school bus crashes.

Teens are sensitive. They need understanding and support. Forcing transgender teens to make a public choice between the girls side or the boys side on a crowded school bus could be emotionally damaging.

Fortunately, in South Glens Falls, it appears the other students on the bus rallied to the side of the transgender students and asked the driver to leave them alone.

Fortunately, the school administration has also backed the students’ right to choose the gender they identify with.

So the students have not been isolated and humiliated, as so many teenagers have been in the past. The critical issue here is not whether the students are “really” male or female, however you define that, but how they feel about themselves.

None of us loses anything by allowing teenagers to question and explore their gender identity. But teens in that situation lose a great deal when people they count on for support withhold it. Teens can be emotionally wounded if they are criticized or rejected during a time when they are already doubting themselves, already feeling confused, vulnerable and isolated.

The situation in South Glens Falls could have turned ugly for the two teens kicked off the bus. It’s easy to imagine a time when, instead of showing support, their peers would have stayed silent in the face of discrimination from an adult authority, or even worse, teased the two who were singled out.

We have come a long way in accepting and welcoming people who are not stereotypically heterosexual, and that is especially true among young people. In a few decades, we have moved forward from being a society where many gays and lesbians felt the need to hide their sexuality to one in which same-sex couples are neither unusual nor remarkable.

We are moving along the same path of understanding and acceptance now when it comes to gender identity. The “sweet transvestite” character in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was transgressive in 1975. Now, many of us know more than one person who does not identify as the gender they were identified as at birth.

Returning to South Glens Falls, we don’t know what the driver was trying to accomplish by segregating the bus by gender. But we would suggest that, when he is having a problem with particular students, he deal with them and leave the rest of the kids alone.

We can’t see a good reason for separating a school bus into a boys side and a girls side, but we can see good reasons not to. School and state policy requires that students’ own gender identifications be respected. But more than that, our aim when it comes to interacting with teens questioning who they are should be, at the least, to do no harm. Let them discover who they are, and once they do that, let them be.



The (Middleton) Times-Herald Record on regulating medical marijuana.

Sept. 26

Modern medicine is, in many ways, miraculous. It is also, often, expensive. That’s why someone invented insurance companies to help pay for miracle drugs. This is especially helpful when public officials are lax in making sure the providers of the medicine don’t charge exorbitant prices for their products. Insurance can make medicine affordable for many more people, thereby more accessible. And maybe see a few more miracles.

However, when it comes to marijuana, a relatively new offering of modern medicine, that insurance option isn’t there. While 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes, under the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that the federal government still views it as highly addictive and having no medical value. Illegal.

While federal officials have refrained from enforcing the law in states that have legalized medical marijuana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has talked about cracking down on marijuana. The conflict between state(s) and federal law creates uncertainty. The result is that in New York, while insurance companies may pay for a doctor’s visit that discusses other topics but results in a prescription for marijuana, the insurers will not pay for the medicine itself.

What’s a state with a program and too few users to do? New York health officials have wisely, if belatedly, decided to rethink restrictive regulations placed on companies that provide the medicine as a way of making it less expensive and more accessible. Since the Health Department says just .13 percent of New Yorkers are cannabis patients, the evidence would support the move. That puts the state 21st out of 23 reporting states on per capita use, a dubious figure for New York, suggesting problems with accessibility.

The DOH recently held hearings on proposals to change the program. They include expanding the number of products producers can apply for approval to manufacture and/or distribute, including topical preparations and chewable and effervescent tablets and lozenges, and non-smokable ground plant material.

Currently, patient options include puffing on marijuana oil vaporizer pens, mouth drops, capsules, tinctures and nebulizers. The DOH is also considering allowing anyone seeking information on medical marijuana, say a prospective patient, to visit a production facility and learn about the process. Only patients and caregivers can do so now.

The DOH also promised to streamline and hasten its quality control lab testing for existing and new medical cannabis products as a way to help producers’ costs.

And, perhaps in an effort to get more doctors on board with the program, the state may offer a two-hour training program as well as the four-hour program, to become eligible to certify patients for medical marijuana. Only 17 practitioners in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties are listed on a DOH website.

The state tiptoed into the medical marijuana scene cautiously. It has since increased the number of conditions that qualify for a prescription. Now, it’s looking to loosen regulations.

As Jeremy Unruh, chief legal officer for PharmaCannis, Orange County’s registered provider, said, “We’re two years into the medical cannabis program being implemented in New York, and the sky hasn’t fallen.”

Someone tell Sessions.



The Staten Island Advance on changes in the Staten Island judicial system.

Sept. 27

News of a shakeup in the leadership of the Staten Island judicial system might not have rocked the world of most Staten Islanders, but it was a bombshell in the legal community here.

The abrupt resignations of Justice Judy McMahon from her position as administrative judge of civil matters of the court system, and Justice Stephen Rooney from his administrative position on the criminal side, was a surprise.

It happened in the wake of reports that Chief Clerk of the Supreme Court (now former Chief Clerk) Michael Pulizotto secretly taped conversations with Justice McMahon, Justice Rooney and a host of others within earshot of Mr. Pulizotto’s microphone.

Justice McMahon is said to have been the target.

As anyone might guess, Mr. Pulizotto’s actions did not endear him to many in the court system. “I’m afraid to talk to anyone now,” one legal wag told us in the aftermath. “You never know who’s packing a tape recorder.”

Within a day or so after the bombshell dropped, court officers led by Court Officers Association head Dennis Quirk, inflated a giant a rat - usually seen at non-union construction sites - with Mr. Pulizotto’s name prominently affixed to it, as well as the name of Forbes Irvine, facilities manager for the court.

The message was obvious.

For his part, Mr. Pulizotto alleges that Justice McMahon was verbally and emotionally abusive to him, and crossed a line into the criminal side of the doings of the court - a no-no because her husband, Michael McMahon, is the sitting district attorney.

Mr. Pulizotto has hired a controversial Staten Island attorney, Richard Luthmann, to represent him.

Judge McMahon is represented by another Staten Island attorney, the less flamboyant John Connors.

Justice McMahon is now presiding in a Manhattan court, and Mr. Pulizutto has also been moved to Manhattan but no longer holds the position of chief clerk.

The recordings, or some of them, said to have taken place over a two-year period, were handed over to the Office of Court Administration along with a 32-page memo -- a diary of sorts -- chronicling Mr. Pulizutto’s allegations.

To add intrigue to all of this, copies of those documents have found their way into the hands of people outside the OCA and are the subject of much rumor and speculation.

For our part, given what has been leaked during the course of this drama, we are hard-pressed to find a “smoking gun” that would hold Justice McMahon up to serious charges of unethical or criminal behavior.

What we do know is that Justice McMahon is a no-nonsense jurist who is said to be a very tough administrator in how she oversaw the courts on Staten Island.

“She’s tough, very tough, but she’s also a straight arrow,” is generally the description we have heard.

But, of course, there are said to be two years of tape recordings to which we are not privy. And that in itself could be an issue in this ongoing drama.

Retired Family Court Judge Daniel Leddy, now legal columnist for the Advance, maintains that Mr. Pulizotto himself was unethical in his surreptitious recording of unsuspecting legal personnel because without permission, such recordings are specifically barred by the Rules of the Chief Judge.

The situation is going into its fourth week and rumor and speculation abounds. We know how long “investigations” can take. But the Office of Court Administration needs to accelerate this one because the reputations of a judge, a clerk of the court, and frankly, the legal system on Staten Island is at stake.

The allegations went public the first week of September, as they should have. After all, if there was anything amiss in how the court system was managed here, the public should know about it.

But the public also has the right to know the findings, and the longer this situation is allowed to languish, the more tainted the court system will appear and the more muddied will reputations become.

If anyone was found to be unethical in the management of the courts, it must be disclosed publicly.

If the allegations are deemed unfounded, the OCA has that same obligation.

Reputations of people who have served this community dutifully for decades, from the courts to the district attorney’s office, are at stake.

Fairness is obviously the hallmark of the American judicial system. That system must be as fair to its own as it is to the public it serves.



The New York Times on the far-reaching effects of gun regulation.

Sept. 27

The majestic, though vulturous, California condor is once again soaring above the wilds. It was on the brink of extinction 30 years ago when the last 22 giant birds were captured in a desperate effort to breed them in captivity. There are now an estimated 450 condors, with 270 freely swooping and scavenging in California, Arizona, Utah and Mexico.

The condor population could not have rebounded if the California Legislature had not bucked the National Rifle Association and passed an enlightened bill to control what experts found to be the main threat to the condor’s existence — the use of toxic, lead-based ammunition by hunters. It’s a lesson in resistance that lawmakers in Washington should learn.

The state banned lead ammo near condors’ nesting grounds in 2008 because, there and elsewhere in the country, tons of fragments were poisoning millions of animals like the condors that fed off gunshot carcasses.

That success is to be followed in 2019 by a ban on the use of lead-based ammunition throughout California. Other states have partial controls on lead ammo, but California is the first to enact such a sweeping environmental protection in the face of the powerful gun lobby.

In contrast, the Trump administration, beholden to the N.R.A., quickly overturned a regulation the Obama administration had issued that would have banned lead ammunition and fishing tackle in federal wildlife refuges.

Even when it comes to measures that can harm humans, Republican representatives tend to be equally servile toward the gun lobby. In the House, they are selling what amounts to a marketing favor for the gun industry, proposing to repeal controls on the sale of gun silencers to civilians. Silencer controls were enacted as a public safety precaution in the gangland rat-a-tat of the 1930s, when law enforcement officials wanted to make it harder for killers to escape detection. The nation at that time also cracked down on easy civilian access to machine guns and hand grenades.

Sponsors are intent on making silencers more available to firearm enthusiasts as vanity “quiet gun” products to protect a shooter’s hearing, despite warnings that readily available silencers pose a heightened threat to public health and safety. In the “active shooter” era of modern America, police departments in dozens of cities and towns have been using new technology to track the sound and location of gunfire so police officers can quickly be deployed to trouble spots.

The proposal is expected to be voted on in the coming weeks as part of an omnibus “sportsmen’s heritage” bill. The measure would also make it more difficult for federal regulators to control armor-piercing bullets — a particular threat to police officers wearing bullet-resistant vests, far from the hunting grounds of sportsmen.

California stood up to the gun lobby and protected the condor. It’s pathetic that Congress can’t muster similar wisdom and courage on behalf of police officers.