Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
The Times Herald-Record in Middletown on revising the SAFE Act.
Ever since its approval in 2013, the state has been divided over the gun control laws known as the SAFE Act.
Nothing new there.
And ever since the inception of the news cycle, the perfect time to avoid the notice of a maximum number of people has been late on a summer Friday afternoon.
Nothing new there, either.
But even those with low opinions of politicians and elected officials could be excused for pausing to wonder at the brazen act that took place last Friday, a dilution of the SAFE Act that apparently did not need to include the three partners who had always been assumed to be the participants in what passes for democracy in New York State.
Whether or not you think of the three men in the room who have ruled the state for so long as individuals, or whether you understand that the three represent distinct parts of state government — Senate, Assembly and Executive — what happened last Friday was educational.
Late on that July afternoon, a state senator and the governor announced that they had come to an agreement, something called a memorandum of understanding, to change a fundamental and controversial part of this controversial law. The state no longer was going to proceed with a database that was going to be used for background checks on ammunition sales.
Senate Democrats played no part. The Assembly was nowhere to be seen. Nobody could bother mentioning the original motivation for passing that legislation in the first place: the mass murder of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The only people who mattered, apparently, were the governor and Sen. James Seward, R-Otsego, who spoke for his party colleagues and his constituent, Remington Arms.
The governor — actually not even the governor himself but a member of his staff — stressed that the state had been having trouble setting up the database while the senator stressed the infringement that he felt this and all other parts of the gun control legislation placed on the Second Amendment.
No one was more eloquent in reacting than Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Kingston Democrat, calling the actions "clearly and unequivocally illegal" in terms of legislation and "shameful" in their attempts to bypass legislative and public debate.
As he noted, if the executive has concluded that this part of the law cannot be implemented, then he needs to bring it back to the full Legislature for amendment. If he has unilaterally decided that he cannot be bothered to enforce part of the law, then "there is another word for that — tyranny."
This would not be the first time that the governor has been suspected of such an approach to governing. But for Sen. Seward, a modest man who has long prided himself on his conservative values — most notably a respect for the law — this is new territory. For him and his new friend in Albany, the law is no longer the law, it's what they decide to say it is on any given summer Friday afternoon.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on the use of special prosecutors in police-involved shootings.
It's a matter of trust, not criticism.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has granted the state's attorney general power to investigate police officers who are involved in incidents where an unarmed civilian ends up dead. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman can also decide to step in on cases where there is serious doubt whether the civilian who was killed was armed or dangerous.
Shortly after Cuomo issued his executive order, police unions and the state District Attorneys Association argued it is unnecessary. They are wrong.
The governor's action was not taken to belittle the police, or condemn the previous criminal justice system — which put the state's 62 elected district attorneys in charge of prosecuting such cases. It was meant to help bolster public faith in both of the police and the system. In the end, community trust will help police do their jobs, and make the system work better.
In recent years, several high-profile incidents across the country have created what Schneiderman rightly calls a "crisis in confidence" in police and prosecutors, who work closely together on cases of all shapes and sizes. Many people are questioning whether that cozy relationship allows for fair and impartial decisions when cases involve police officers who might have done something wrong.
One of the most contentious examples took place one year ago in New York City.
On July 17, 2014, police officer Daniel Pantaleo was attempting to arrest Eric Garner, using what appeared to be a prohibited chokehold. Garner, who had asthma, repeatedly said he couldn't breathe. He passed out and died a few hours later.
A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, sparking anger and massive protests — particularly among minorities.
In his response, President Barack Obama announced there is concern "on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way. ... This is an issue that we've been dealing with for too long, and it is time to make more progress than we've made. And I'm not interested in talk, I'm interested in action."
Cuomo's executive order is what action looks like.
Our city's own police chief and union leaders have acknowledged that there is much work to be done in improving relationships with minorities in Rochester. Local minorities, in and out of the city, have repeatedly told us they don't feel like police or the system exist to help them. If a tragedy should occur involving a local police officer and unarmed civilian, an outside prosecutorial decision would likely carry more weight — and be less divisive.
Cuomo's decision could use some polishing. The idea of using a special, independent prosecutor in these cases would work even better if the appointee wasn't a high-ranking politician, whose decisions might be swayed by public opinion.
In addition, families and advocates say an executive order — which can be rescinded by the next governor — is not nearly as good as having permanent legislation. But Cuomo has indicated he will continue to work toward a more lasting solution, after being unable to pull it off during the recent legislative session.
So while it might be a small step, and hopefully one that won't have to be taken, allowing a special prosecutor to handle killings involving police is a small step in the right direction.
The New York Times on the deal with Iran.
The final deal with Iran announced by the United States and other major world powers does what no amount of political posturing and vague threats of military action had managed to do before. It puts strong, verifiable limits on Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon for at least the next 10 to 15 years and is potentially one of the most consequential accords in recent diplomatic history, with the ability not just to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but also to reshape Middle East politics.
The deal, the product of 20 arduous months of negotiations, would obviously have provided more cause for celebration if Iran had agreed to completely dismantle all of its nuclear facilities. But the chances of that happening were effectively zero, and even if all of Iran's nuclear-related buildings and installations were destroyed, no one can erase the knowledge Iranian scientists have acquired after working on nuclear projects for decades.
As described by Mr. Obama and other officials, the deal seems sound and clearly in the interest of the United States, the other nations that drafted it and the state of Israel. In return for a phased lifting of international economic sanctions, Iran will reduce by 98 percent its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which can be processed further into bomb-grade fuel, and reduce the number of operating centrifuges used to enrich that fuel by two-thirds, to 5,060. These limits mean that if Iran ever decides to violate the agreement and make a dash for a nuclear bomb, it will take a year to produce the weapons-grade fuel needed for a single bomb, compared with a couple of months now.
Many of the various restrictions in the agreement will be in force for 10 to 25 years. Some, notably Iran's agreement to constant and technologically advanced monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, will last indefinitely, as will its commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to never produce a nuclear weapon. Inspectors will have access to suspicious sites "where necessary, when necessary," President Obama said, and if Iran cheats, that will be detected early enough to respond, including by quickly reimposing sanctions or taking military action.
The deal nearly faltered on a demand by Iran and Russia that United Nations bans on the purchase and sale of conventional weapons and ballistic missiles be lifted immediately. But in the end, the accord requires that the conventional weapons ban remain in place for five years and the missile ban for eight years — assuming Iran abides by its commitments.
It is deeply unsettling that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel derisively dismissed the deal immediately as a "historic mistake." He, Republicans in Congress and most candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have opposed negotiations with Iran from the outset yet offered no credible alternative to a negotiated settlement. The Republican presidential hopefuls repeated that formula today — condemnation of the deal with no credible alternative to offer.
That said, no one should have any illusions about Iran, which considers Israel a sworn enemy; often condemns the United States; supports Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations; and aspires to greater influence in the region. Once sanctions are lifted, it stands to gain access to billions of dollars from accounts in international banks that have been frozen and from new oil exports and other business deals.
American officials say that Iran will get that money over time, and that its immediate priority will be to deal with pressing domestic needs. More important, many American sanctions will remain in place even after the deal is implemented, including those relating to Iran's support for terrorism and its human rights violations. The United States has to be extremely vigilant in monitoring how Iran uses those new funds and in enforcing those sanctions.
Agreeing on the nuclear deal is just the first step. Congress gets to review and vote on it. Powerful forces, like Mr. Netanyahu, have vowed to defeat it, and Mr. Obama may have to make good on his vow to veto any resolution of disapproval. It would be irresponsible to squander this chance to rein in Iran's nuclear program.
The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on Bill Cosby's Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Chances are you've never heard of Mitusye Endo.
And chances are you never would have, had it not been for a growing effort to have President Obama rescind Bill Cosby's Presidential Medal of Freedom.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is among those calling to have the nation's highest civilian honor taken away from Cosby in the wake of a growing body of evidence that he used drugs in order to have sex with dozens of women during his gilded heyday as "America's dad."
New York's junior senator has been a national leader in calling for greater protections for women, particularly against sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. military and on college campuses. This latest effort gloves with her overall campaign to improve the way women are treated in this country.
So what does someone named Mitusye Endo have to do with any of this?
Near the beginning of World War II, Endo was a 22-year-old living in California. But in the wake of anti-Japanese hysteria following Pearl Harbor, Endo — like more than 120,000 other Japanese-Americans — was stripped of her livelihood, her home and her family, and sent away to a government relocation camp.
But Endo didn't sit idly by and accept her fate. She was among a handful of Japanese-Americans who stood up and challenged the constitutionality of the mass detentions. Offered the opportunity for release in exchange for dropping her case, she steadfastly refused. Instead she remained held in camps for two years while her case made its way through the courts. In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Around the same time, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the camps closed and the detainees released.
Endo, who died in 2006, is an American hero. And why her name appears in the same breath as Bill Cosby's now is because there is a separate effort afoot to have her awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the same award many are now seeking to have taken from Cosby.
Bill Cosby made significant contributions to American society through entertainment, philanthropy, and his efforts to empower and educate blacks. But his disgraceful and potentially criminal conduct toward women in the wake of overwhelming evidence, including his own testimony in court, demands he forfeit his place of honor among the greatest American citizens.
Mitusye Endo was a hero to her gender, a hero to her race, and a hero to all Americans. Yet Cosby holds our nation's highest civilian honor and Mitusye does not.
How is any of this in any way right? And what message does that send?
Newsday on the exploration of Pluto.
Look closely. There's little Pluto, ready for its close-up.
The orphan of the solar system — unceremoniously booted in 2006 from the roster of planets for being a mere dwarf planet — is now the center of astronomical attention. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will fly tantalizingly close to Pluto today. The voluminous data and the photos New Horizons will send back -- with their potential for unprecedented detail and clarity — have scientists salivating.
Every aspect of this mission is awe-inspiring. New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever launched, is the size of a grand piano. In 9 1/2 years it has traveled 3 billion miles, so far that its signals take 4 1/2 hours to reach flight controllers at Johns Hopkins University. And, the spacecraft is still intact. So far. Pluto's moons and the space dust that orbits Pluto pose dangers.
This is a feel-good moment for an industry that has seen the failure of three International Space Station cargo ships — two American, one Russian -- in the past 10 months. The most recent was the explosion in June of an unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying supplies.
But it's bittersweet, too. The Pluto flyby is the final stop in NASA's mission to explore every planet in our solar system (Pluto wasn't downgraded until seven months after New Horizons launched). The New Horizons team hopes to push out to even farther reaches of the solar system after Pluto, but no grand new expeditions are on the horizon. The phase of exploration embodied by Mariner, Viking and Voyager is coming to a close. The future hinges on a debate involving budgets, risks, priorities, and the roles to be played by public and private enterprise.
As much as we still don't know about space, we can say this with certainty: Amazing discoveries have been made. The boundaries of our knowledge have been extended. Imaginations have been unleashed.
So let's celebrate New Horizons and the people behind it and what we will learn from this remarkable achievement. And let's salute Pluto, the celestial dog finally getting its day.