Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
The Daily News on Rikers Island
Mere months before fast-tracked public hearings and votes on four skyscraping new jails meant to replace benighted Rikers Island, Mayor de Blasio admits his grand plans need rethinking.
For starters: An expensively drafted concept for a tower where Manhattan’s Marriage Bureau now stands got scrapped as infeasible. Instead, the current Tombs are to triple in size to 50 stories, infuriating so much of Chinatown that the mayor paid a peace-making visit last week practically pleading for neighbors to demand their price in community benefits.
It’s what the mayor won’t admit yet that will cost the close-Rikers cause in the dearer currency of credibility: He’s counting on borough jails even smaller than those in the already optimistic blueprint proposed by a commission headed by retired Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman - so they’ll total around 5,000 inmates, rather than roughly 8,000 now. To get there, the state needs to pass criminal justice reforms that are carefully calibrated not to endanger public safety.
De Blasio helped make this mess. Rather than putting the five jails in five boroughs roughly proportional to the numbers each now sends to Rikers, the mayor ruled out Staten Island and divided the total by four.
Council politics put a Bronx site two miles from the courthouse, amid another knot of furious neighbors.
Rushing flawed plans too fast will only ensure Rikers Island remains open for many years to come.
The Leader-Herald on a proposed handgun bill
A newly proposed handgun bill proposed by state Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, isn’t practical.
The bill would allow authorities to search social media and internet usage for any “red flags,” similar to those that have preceded some mass shootings. Permit applicants would have to consent to provide investigators with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat passwords so agencies in charge of background checks, like sheriff’s offices, could check the past three years’ worth of social media content, both public and private. A year’s worth of internet search results from Google, Yahoo and Bing would also be required for investigators to skim through, in search of red flags.
Investigators would have to look for defamatory content - such as racial slurs, discriminatory behavior or biased language against those of different genders, sexual orientations, religion, age and disability - threats against the health and safety of others, talk or acts of terrorism, and other issues deemed necessary by the New York State Police.
Counties would have to spend a lot of money each year to hire enough staff to perform such investigations, and, as Gerace says, the background check process is already exhaustive. The law is also duplicative because, in New York state, making certain types of threats is already a crime that prohibits those convicted of making such threats from owning a gun.
There is a bigger problem with Parker’s legislation than simply being unfeasible. A strong argument can be made that the legislation infringes on the First Amendment right to free speech as well as the Second Amendment rights to bear arms. Who decides what material is offensive and what isn’t? Who oversees the overseers? In a state like New York, who makes sure the government isn’t overstepping its bounds? Some determinations must be left up to a judge, not a local overseer who may be prejudiced against a particular type of applicant.
Too often, there has been ample evidence on social media that a shooter planned a horrifying act of violence. We can understand, then, legislators’ desire to prevent these types of issues. There are avenues to do so simply by reporting these things to police. Some states have laws that allow civil gun seizures if a judge agrees that a person is a threat. For instance, prohibitions against domestic abusers having guns make sense to us.
There is an interest in keeping guns out of the hands of those who would do harm. Parker’s proposed legislation, however, is not the best way to do so.
Security measures will have to work around the rights of liberty enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
The Wall Street Journal on the Federal Reserve
Public officials who try to calm nervous financial markets with soothing words rarely succeed, as Steve Mnuchin learned Monday. The Treasury Secretary tweeted Sunday that America’s six largest banks told him in telephone calls that they had “ample liquidity” for lending and operations, and stocks promptly fell nearly another three percent on Monday.
Trading on Christmas Eve was thin and markets closed early, but maybe bank liquidity isn’t what investors are worried about. Stocks have fallen four straight trading days since the Federal Reserve again raised its benchmark interest rate and signaled no change in the pace of its quantitative tightening. Since the Fed’s announcement at 2 p.m. Wednesday, the S&P; 500 had fallen 8.2 percent and the Dow Jones average by 8.1 percent through Monday.
Equity prices fluctuate, and the U.S. economy continues to grow, if more slowly heading into 2019 than in 2018. The Fed is obligated to focus on the real economy rather than the stock market, which has had a good long run. But the market reaction to the Fed’s decision has been negative enough to warrant some soul-searching inside the Eccles Building.
As we argued during President Trump’s search for a new Fed Chairman, the traditional debate about monetary hawks and doves isn’t helpful in this post-crisis era. The Fed is engaged in the unprecedented experiment of simultaneously unwinding its balance sheet and “normalizing” interest rates. Various sages may think they know how this is going to turn out, but we don’t. The wise course in this period is to pay close attention to current market signals - not merely lagging indicators like GDP and the jobless rate - and proceed with caution.
Mr. Trump complicates matters, as ever, with his criticism of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Apparently he has nominator’s remorse. But then anyone in Mr. Powell’s seat would have the same difficult task navigating the exit from nearly a decade of zero interest rates and record bond-buying.
The Fed Chairs who put Mr. Powell in this predicament were Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, who let their monetary experiment roll on for so long. They declared premature economic victory, though they presided over average growth of a meager two percent, increased inequality by pushing up risk-asset prices, and built up financial risks that may only become obvious now that the Fed is unwinding their policies.
The point is that a decade of extraordinary monetary exertions has consequences that are hard to predict. The Fed should be neither hawkish nor dovish, but watch real-time market signals and not follow some predetermined dogmatic path laid out by the Fed staff.
The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on package thieves
It’s shocking to learn how low some humans will stoop to compromise others to advance their own situations.
Speaking of stoops, porch pirates are a recent example of that point.
As has been reported in various media this season, thieves who will steal recently delivered packages right off front stoops - “porch pirates,” as police are calling them - are on the increase.
Thieves have rarely shown resourcefulness. Usually, they just wait until somebody else comes up with an idea and then climb aboard the bandwagon. Such is the case with porch pirates.
UPS, FedEx or another service go to doors with a parcel. If it won’t fit in the mailbox or between the doors, the drivers oftentimes leave it on the porch.
Some despicable sneaks, with nothing better to do and no conscience, are patrolling neighborhoods for packages that haven’t yet been taken inside. They grab the parcels and head for cover.
(backslash)Mind you, that person, utterly devoid of moral sense, has no idea what’s in the package. It’s just there. It belongs to somebody else but might prove remunerative somehow if swiped.
Believe it or not, that has become a frequent-enough crime to earn its way onto network newscasts and the pages of newspapers all over the country.
The onus is partly on the package sender or recipient - if you don’t want it left on the stoop, you can give the delivery service specific instructions.
A UPS driver we spoke to told us his rule of thumb is “Out of the weather, out of sight.” A good rule.
Some people are making use of porch surveillance cameras - if thieves dare to dart up and make off with a package, they never know whether they have been caught on video.
And Amazon, which bills itself as the world’s largest mailer of packages, has teamed up with police in Jersey City, N.J., and other locations, in taking the battle to a higher level, which is yielding greater optimism for favorable results.
The two units have combined to plant packages containing GPS devices on porches. When the thieves grab a box and scurry off, they’ll be taking with them an instant announcement of where they are where they’re going.
These kinds of initiatives by the good guys are encouraging and very promising.
They put theft into the realm of extremely risky, since the crooks not only don’t know what they’re stealing, they have no idea whether they’re being recorded or tracked while doing it.
Without proactive steps such as cameras and plants, we will all eventually pay the price, as costs of the things we buy may increase to make up for losses due to theft.
It also points to another wisdom in shopping locally: If you’re carrying the package home instead of having it delivered, it stands a much greater chance of getting and staying there.
Newsday on President Donald Trump
For a nation to be great, it must be stable. For its people to be content, they must believe that their institutions are trustworthy and competent. But the events of this week exposed the nation’s growing instability under the increasingly incompetent and untrustworthy President Donald Trump and his administration. The United States needs and deserves better. This week alone:
-A federal judge refused to sentence former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and said of his conviction for lying to FBI agents about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, “Arguably, you sold your country out.”
-The Dow Jones Industrial Average saw its worst weekly plunge since 2008, at least partially because of Trump’s trade war and uncertainty over a potential government shutdown.
-Trump’s acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, lied in claiming that no Department of Justice official had suggested he recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
-Defense Secretary James Mattis quit, and in a startling letter to Trump, he repeatedly implied the president was alienating America’s allies and enabling its enemies.
-Trump announced that U.S. forces in Syria would come home because the Islamic State has been defeated (it hasn’t) and that half of our 14,000-strong U.S. military force in Afghanistan would come home, too. The unexpected new policies flustered and terrified American military leaders and our Kurdish allies, and delighted Vladimir Putin and the despotic leaders of Turkey and Syria.
-Trump swung wildly over whether to shut down the federal government over the wall at our Southern border.
The nation has a defense secretary who is leaving, a conflicted acting attorney general and a departing White House chief of staff. The president, whose job it is to corral this chaos, is indulging in a Twitter-frenzy of braggadocio and nonsense. Donald Trump promised to make America great again. Right now, he’s just making it angry and unsettled.
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