Published: 2017-08-30 13:38:04
Updated: 2017-08-30 13:38:04
Posted August 30
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
The New York Times on accountability for charities soliciting donations
It's admirable that Americans' first instinct when disaster occurs is to open their wallets and volunteer their time. Since this has never been a nation that relies wholly on government to take care of those in need, citizens' first impulse is to pitch in, whatever their politics or faith.
As the first images of suffering emerged from Houston, the flow of cash, food, clothing and rescue equipment into Texas seemed to rise in tandem with the floodwaters. Yet it's inevitable that not all this largess will reach Harvey's victims, or be well spent. For that reason, it is important for Americans to be as discerning with their money as they are philanthropic, avoiding scams and asking for greater accountability from trusted charities like the American Red Cross.
The Red Cross is the flagship of charitable institutions. It is also a master of promotion. After every disaster, its ads, celebrity testimonials and distinctive logo are everywhere, beseeching Americans to donate blood and money. This week Barack Obama became the Red Cross's latest Twitter pitchman, urging Americans to make a $10 donation by texting "HARVEY." During President Trump's televised update on the response in Texas on Tuesday, a Red Cross representative sat front and center. Corporations find donations to the Red Cross a ready way to demonstrate they care: The organization has already raised millions from JPMorgan, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Dow Chemical and others for its Harvey efforts.
This is all to the good, assuming the money flows to the right places. But after years of media reports documenting the Red Cross's disaster relief failures — including after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and the Haiti earthquake — some Americans instead are giving to smaller, local charities with a track record in Texas.
A 2015 investigation by ProPublica and NPR documented the Red Cross's glaring failure to account for how it spent the $488 million it raised in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, including such basics as how many people were assisted and how much money was spent on overhead.
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, Red Cross officials in Washington "compounded the charity's inability to provide relief by 'diverting assets for public relations purposes,'" ProPublica and NPR reported in 2014, citing an internal Red Cross report. During Isaac, a Red Cross relief truck driver named Jim Dunham described how supervisors ordered trucks usually laden with aid to drive around empty, for appearance's sake. Mr. Dunham characterized the Red Cross's relief effort as "worse than the storm." During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the organization was plagued by delays in distributing aid, amid profound disorganization on the ground.
The Red Cross is working to provide shelter and other aid in Texas; it is too early to gauge how well it is doing. The Red Cross is not, however, saying what specific steps it has taken to make sure that this time around donors can be certain that a vast majority of their contributions will go to the people whose plight moved them to give.
In response to multiple questions on Tuesday, including about what new accountability measures it has put in place, it issued only a brief statement that it was not "seeing any backlash" from donors.
Despite the Red Cross's enormous size and revenues ($2.7 billion in 2015), most of the disasters it responds to are relatively small, like single-structure fires. Its record on large-scale operations is spotty, and given the enormous amount it collects from Americans, the scope of its ambitions and the fact that a chunk of its budget comes from government agencies, there has been less accountability than Americans might expect emanating from its grand marble headquarters in Washington. In its most recent assessment, Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that evaluates charities based on their Internal Revenue Service filings, gives Red Cross three of four possible stars based on its 2015 filings, but only two stars for financial performance.
Everyone who responds to a disaster learns invaluable lessons that can or at least should be carried forward to the next one. Emergency crews fine-tune their operations; governments reassess funding priorities; home and business owners better protect their property. So it should be for charities, too. Groups like the Red Cross are stewards not only of enormous budgets, but of a more precious commodity: Americans' willingness to give.
The Gloversville Leader-Herald on increasing the debt ceiling
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin won last week's Stating the Obvious Prize when he predicted Congress will approve an increase in the government debt limit sometime in September.
Of course, lawmakers will approve a new debt ceiling. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth by both Democrats and Republicans, but it will happen. Both sides will accuse the other of being responsible for the government's unsustainable spending habit.
Republicans will insist something needs to be done about entitlements.
Democrats will respond that if we would just tax "the rich" more, we could afford even more entitlements.
But one could bankrupt every truly rich person in the country and do no more than postpone the day of reckoning on deficit spending. And as for new taxes on corporations, they already are so high that U.S. companies are moving to other countries.
At this writing, the national debt stood at $19.97 trillion. That works out to more than $165,000 for each and every taxpayer in the United States.
That was the good news. The bad news is that the government has used so many accounting gimmicks to hide the real debt that it probably totals somewhere around $67 trillion.
But it seems there is not enough political courage in Washington to do anything about spending. Need we remind you that just a few weeks ago, Congress failed to do something about a major entitlement, the expanded Medicaid program, which has been in existence for only a few years?
Unfortunately, Mnuchin is right. Sometime during the next few months, Congress will increase the debt ceiling.
That is one thing Washington can be counted upon to get done.
Newsday on recycling in Long Island
The Town of Oyster Bay has jumped on the single-stream recycling bandwagon. The more the merrier.
Single-stream recycling — the practice of using one container for all recyclables, and sorting them in a new kind of recycling plant — has been common around the country for years. Long Island has been late to the game. That's a big reason why the region still recycles only about 15 percent of its garbage, according to local industry experts, shamefully behind the national average of 34 percent.
And Long Island's figure actually has crept up as a handful of local municipalities have embraced the technology — most notably Brookhaven Town, which partnered with Green Stream Recycling on a single-stream facility in Yaphank in 2014, then signed contracts with Huntington, Smithtown, Southold and Southampton towns and some villages and school districts to accept their single-stream recycling.
It's time the rest of Long Island embraces single-stream. But Brookhaven's plant is the only one of its kind on Long Island, and it's maxed out; its capacity could increase if Green Stream gets the state permits it needs to expand its storage capacity and adds a second shift of workers. West Babylon-based Winters Bros., which won the Oyster Bay contract, plans to cart the recyclables to its facility in Shelton, Conn. That means big trucks generating more traffic and more wear and tear on local roads.
Long Island needs another single-stream recycling facility — hopefully, eventually, more than one. Such facilities can be difficult to site. Leadership in a municipality that has empty land or a spare building will be critical. Brookhaven, under Supervisor Ed Romaine, provided its own recycling center for the new plant. In 2013, New York City partnered with a private company to turn an old police impound yard in Brooklyn into a new recycling plant. Creativity also will be an asset; Winters Bros. built its Shelton facility in a former Wiffle ball plant.
These plants should be considered essential parts of our modern infrastructure — factories that take our waste and extract raw materials that are turned into usable products. They also generate jobs with solid wages for local residents. And building this kind of plant would allow a government to do what Brookhaven did — share services with other municipalities, the kind of action Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is pushing as part of a cost-saving plan.
By now, no one should need convincing of the value of switching to single-stream recycling. The evidence shows that recycling participation increases, governments save money, more of the stuff we mindlessly toss away is reused, less garbage is burned, and less landfill space is used, a critical factor on Long Island. Our governments and recycling companies must do a better job of educating consumers to make single-stream recycling a habit, and more must be done to increase it among businesses and multifamily developments.
We applaud the new leadership in Oyster Bay for embracing single-stream recycling. But we hope it's only one more step on the long road toward getting more of Long Island to recycle more of what it throws away.
The Wall Street Journal on the Labour Party's proposal for a "soft Brexit"
The Brexit news of the weekend is that Britain's parliamentary democracy is stirring back to life. The Labour Party's announcement that it will formally support a "soft Brexit" means Theresa May's Conservatives now face genuine opposition on Britain's most important policy debate.
Labour will push for a transition arrangement that would keep Britain within the single market and the customs union after March 2019, the party's Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, wrote Sunday in the Observer newspaper. Labour says such a transition should be time-limited to avoid what Mr. Starmer calls "a never-ending purgatory." But the party also favors a post-Brexit relationship with the European Union that encompasses cooperation on a range of matters beyond trade, including education, medicine and culture.
Mr. Starmer's proposal for the transition period contrasts with Mrs. May's approach. The Tory leadership is pushing for a decisive break from the EU customs union in 2019 to be followed by a yet-to-be-determined transition arrangement. Labour also supports deeper integration with the EU under a permanent Brexit deal than Tory Brexiters say they want.
Mr. Starmer's statement is a significant step for a party that has been as deeply divided as the Conservatives over Brexit. Far-left tribunes such as leader Jeremy Corbyn tacitly or openly support Brexit out of suspicion of the EU's pro-trade agenda, but they're at odds with their young, urban supporters who are pro-EU. Labour centrists such as Mr. Starmer are pro-EU, but their traditional working-class supporters were more likely to vote for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
Labour appears to be resolving these tensions by supporting a very soft Brexit. That means the party at last can start acting as an effective opposition to Mrs. May's government, which so far has enjoyed — and often wasted — the free rein it gained from Labour's disarray.
Either party can still win the debate over transition arrangements. The Tory approach would give Britain the flexibility to negotiate wide-ranging new trade agreements with partners such as the U.S. or Australia, which wouldn't be possible from inside the EU customs union. However, that entails significant disruption for businesses, and voters may come to prefer Labour's softer option if the Tories fail to deliver enough free-trade advances to ease the pain.
Most important, Labour is setting itself up to wage the Brexit debate over the effect on the British economy. "We will always put jobs and the economy first," Mr. Starmer wrote. This plays to Mr. Corbyn's most successful debating points in June's election, which spoke to voters' worries about jobs, wages and entitlements.
Tories should take this as a warning that they have to deliver a free-trade, economic-reform Brexit that benefits households, or their opponents will grab those votes in the next election. The Conservatives can benefit from the discipline imposed by a more organized opposition, but if they fail to get Brexit right, their political legacy will be a new government led by Mr. Corbyn.
The Syracuse Post-Standard on standardized test scores in New York state
The results of New York's standardized tests for third- and eighth-graders are out, and the news is good and bad. Statewide, scores rose incrementally across the board in English language arts and math, but only around 40 percent of New York students scored well enough to be rated "proficient." In Syracuse city schools, student performance also improved, but proficiency rates of 13.1 percent for ELA and 11 percent for math show the district still has a long way to go to raise achievement.
Proponents and opponents of standardized testing can (and will) debate what the numbers mean, how the tests affect what goes on in the classroom, and whether they are useful tools for assessing how kids and teachers are performing.
What often gets lost is the longer view: The more rigorous curriculum and testing regime came about in the first place because many of the young people coming out of our high schools simply are unprepared to succeed in college and in the work force.
We pay for that lack of readiness every day. Colleges spend vast sums of money providing remedial help to incoming students whose writing and math skills are not up to par. Employers in manufacturing and high-tech service industries scramble to find enough workers with the skills to learn and do the jobs they need to fill. Young people who can't cut it in college or the work force end up in low-paying, dead-end jobs, or have no jobs at all. The cost to them, their families and society can hardly be counted.
So, take the test scores with a dose of perspective. Our kids are developing skills and aptitudes that will help them succeed later in life. Of course, we wish progress was faster. September's eighth-grader will be a college freshman in 2022. It will be here before you know it.