Editorial Roundup: New York

Auburn Citizen. June 14, 2022.

Editorial: Conduct an independent review of New York’s COVID-19 response

As New York officials prepare to put together a report on the state’s COVID-19 response, a coalition of good-government groups is urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to reconsider its request to have an independent commission conduct such a review.

Hochul has reportedly ordered an internal review by the state health commissioner and other administration officials, but Reinvent Albany, Empire Center for Public Policy, Common Cause New York, League of Women Voters of New York State and New York Public Interest Research Group said they previously reached out to the governor with an even better idea: form an independent, expert-led commission to do the job.

Specifically, the groups recommended the following:

• Include independent experts.

• Include public hearings and meetings.

• Guarantee full access to state records and data.

• Publish a public final report.

We agree that an independent, comprehensive analysis is in order. In the span of a few months, New Yorkers went from tuning in for daily briefings on the pandemic to having an embattled administration that began avoiding the public. There were mixed signals coming out of Albany that made it more difficult for county health departments to properly coordinate their efforts; businesses struggled to keep up with ever-changing regulations; and the public was often unsure of how to gauge the risk of going about their daily activities. Along the way, about 70,000 New Yorkers died. There are a lot of questions about what went right and what went wrong, but the most important thing is to be better prepared for the future.

We agree that what is needed is an external review rather than an internal one. It’s important for the public to be able to trust that any published findings were not in any way swayed by bias. The report will need to be objective if it’s going to have any value. The key is for it to be a truly independent review that isn’t created or influenced in any way by people in state government. It should be trusted to people with expertise on public health policy related to infectious disease, not politics.

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Advance Media New York. June 12, 2022.

Editorial: Patients are suffering. Fix NY’s medical cannabis program

The legalization of cannabis for recreational use has perversely harmed the people who have used the drug for medical purposes for years. Many patients are unable to obtain medical marijuana because of bureaucratic and technology failures within state government.

Reporting by Cannabis Insider’s Brad Racino last week detailed the difficulties patients encounter when they try to fill a doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana. He wrote:

“Frustrated patients – some suffering from depression, anxiety, migraines, and the effects of chemotherapy – are stuck with long delays to enroll in the medical program and are unable to get the care they need. Instead of adding patients, New York is watching them bail, with some resorting to the gray market.”

Racino documented problems with patients waiting weeks or months for medical cards from the Office of Cannabis Management, only to find that the cards don’t work; a broken data management system that has been down for three weeks and counting; and the unexplained closure of a delivery service that served rural patients, forcing them to drive long distances to get their drugs.

The result: Patients are suffering needlessly. OCM’s assurances that they are working to solve the problems plaguing the medical marijuana market are cold comfort to them.

Some aren’t waiting for New York to get its act together. They are acquiring marijuana on their own, from illicit sellers. Perpetuating that underground economy works counter the state’s efforts to create a legal cannabis market. The number of registered patients dropped 12,500 from January to June, to 124,000. New Jersey has 130,000 registered patients with a population less than half the size of New York’s.

This is just the latest problem with New York’s medical marijuana program. Ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo reluctantly signed it into law in 2014, after years of dithering. He insisted on strict controls to prevent abuse of the drug – so strict that it was extremely hard for patients to obtain it. There were too many rules, too many delays and too few dispensaries to serve the state’s population.

The rollout of New York’s recreational cannabis industry also has been rocky. Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in March 2021, creating the Office of Cannabis Management to oversee all aspects of the drug’s cultivation, production, sale and distribution – including the medical marijuana program. The governor hemmed and hawed over naming directors for the agency and a Cannabis Control Board — until scandals forced him to resign in August. A month later, Gov. Kathy Hochul finally made those appointments to get the recreational industry rolling at last.

OCM took its eye off the ball of the medical marijuana component of its mandate. It needs to focus on fixing those problems and expanding access.

The Hochul administration also needs to stand up a key pillar of New York’s cannabis industry: equity and social justice. The criminalization of marijuana and over-policing of minority communities exacted a heavy price. Communities harmed by the war on drugs are supposed to be first in line for business opportunities created by legal cannabis. Yet, as Racino reported, “The OCM’s chief equity officer position, as well as a 13-member advisory board meant to aid the OCM and Cannabis Control Board, are vacant more than eight months after the agencies held their first public meeting.”

So what if there are some vacant chairs in the bureaucracy? The lack of a chief equity officer means there is no one tasked with making sure social justice and equity concerns are fully aired and incorporated into the rules as OCM writes them. That position needs to be filled yesterday.

Creating New York’s recreational cannabis industry is a complex task. Delays and missteps have already put it behind schedule. The medical marijuana program is collateral damage. Fixing it is the responsibility of OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander. The 124,000 patients who use medical cannabis in New York – and more who could benefit from it — are depending on him.

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Dunkirk Evening Observer. June 13, 2022.

Editorial: ELECTION Reflecting on fast fall of Jacobs

The stunning fall from grace for Rep. Chris Jacobs usually only happens when a crime has been committed or some sort of physical impropriety has happened.

To see a sitting Congressman, soon to be representing a safe congressional district with all the advantages of an incumbent, be forced to pull out of a race in less than a week is startling, particularly given the circumstances.

Jacobs’ political support dried up at the public mention that he would vote for tougher federal laws limiting access to body armor, raising the age to buy high-capacity semi-automatic weapons to 21 and support to ban weapons “like an AR-15.”

The backlash against Jacobs was swift and loud. Republican support evaporated almost overnight. Within a week, Jacobs was forced to abandon his bid for the redistricted seat formerly held by Rep. Tom Reed.

To be clear, the solutions Jacobs and many Democrats have espoused will not likely solve the gun violence problem facing the nation by themselves. Focusing on guns and social media companies, as the state Legislature did at the end of its legislative session, without focusing the same attention on mental health and the societal factors that are driving some people to perform such unspeakable acts of horror as the mass shooting in Buffalo or the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. But a convincing case hasn’t been made to conservatives why they should accept limits that criminals refuse to accept, nor why they should compromise when underlying problems are allowed to fester, untouched by government policy and, in fact, often made worse by government policy.

There is broad national support (74% of all respondents regardless of political party) to raise the age to buy any gun to 21 years of age, according to a Qunnipiac poll released this week — including 59% of Republicans who responded to the poll. Ninety-two percent of poll respondents regardless of political party favor background checks for all gun buyers. There is division on an assault weapon ban — 50% supported such a measure while 45% oppose it. Also of note, when Americans were asked about the main cause of mass shootings, 40% pinpointed mental health issues and 19% said the availability of guns.

Jacobs’ fall was shocking, but taken in context it shouldn’t be surprising. He forgot mental health, which is half of the gun violence equation, during his remarks.

As we assess a path forward following a particularly sorrowful month, we must look at the gun violence problem holistically rather than simply as a matter of guns. We may get a lot further that way.

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Jamestown Post-Journal. June 11, 2022.

Editorial: Chris Jacobs’ Stunning Fall Shows A Holistic Approach To Gun Violence Is Needed

The stunning fall from grace for Rep. Chris Jacobs usually only happens when a crime has been committed or some sort of physical impropriety has happened.

To see a sitting Congressman, soon to be representing a safe congressional district with all the advantages of an incumbent, be forced to pull out of a race in less than a week is startling, particularly given the circumstances.

Jacobs’ political support dried up at the public mention that he would vote for tougher federal laws limiting access to body armor, raising the age to buy high-capacity semi-automatic weapons to 21 and support to ban weapons “like an AR-15.”

The backlash against Jacobs was swift and loud. Republican support evaporated almost overnight. Within a week, Jacobs was forced to abandon his bid for the redistricted seat formerly held by Rep. Tom Reed.

To be clear, the solutions Jacobs and many Democrats have espoused will not likely solve the gun violence problem facing the nation by themselves. Focusing on guns and social media companies, as the state Legislature did at the end of its legislative session, without focusing the same attention on mental health and the societal factors that are driving some people to perform such unspeakable acts of horror as the mass shooting in Buffalo or the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. But a convincing case hasn’t been made to conservatives why they should accept limits that criminals refuse to accept, nor why they should compromise when underlying problems are allowed to fester, untouched by government policy and, in fact, often made worse by government policy.

There is broad national support (74% of all respondents regardless of political party) to raise the age to buy any gun to 21 years of age, according to a Qunnipiac poll released this week — including 59% of Republicans who responded to the poll. Ninety-two percent of poll respondents regardless of political party favor background checks for all gun buyers. There is division on an assault weapon ban — 50% supported such a measure while 45% oppose it. Also of note, when Americans were asked about the main cause of mass shootings, 40% pinpointed mental health issues and 19% said the availability of guns.

Jacobs’ fall was shocking, but taken in context it shouldn’t be surprising. He forgot mental health, which is half of the gun violence equation, during his remarks.

As we assess a path forward following a particularly sorrowful month, we must look at the gun violence problem holistically rather than simply as a matter of guns. We may get a lot further that way.

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New York Post. June 11, 2022.

Editorial: End all New York mask mandate madness, forever

Is New York’s COVID mandate madness finally cooling down?

Tuesday, New York state and the MTA axed their requirements for agency employees to get tested weekly if they’re unvaxxed.

More crucially, Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday announced the end — finally — of the insane, cruel and utterly anti-science mask mandate for the city’s youngest kids.

All with good reason: The data on “public health” efforts like this are unambiguous. Mandates on masks or anything else have no significant effect — good or bad — on COVID outcomes at the city or state scale. They only add onerous requirements to people’s everyday life and work, empower Karens in the public and private sectors and jack up costs for taxpayers (the MTA’s employee-testing program cost a cool $100 million).

Some are even more harmful, like the toddler mask mandate. It caused behavioral and learning problems left and right.

The axing of these idiotic rules may be a sign that New York’s electeds and other officials are starting to reckon more seriously with a reality already recognized by any sane person.

On the other hand, Gov. Kathy Hochul refuses to end the public-transit mask mandate, leaving LIRR and MetroNorth commuters to envy their NJTransit peers. On the subways, meanwhile, we’re seeing a steady growth in civil disobedience, which means her stubbornness is undermining the rule of law.

We’ll grant that Hochul and (especially) Adams haven’t been as ridiculous as many in their party would like. They began unwinding restrictions at the end of last year, though Hochul seems to wait for months of clear data before admitting reality, and Adams pays far too much heed to city health czar and COVID-theater aficionado Ashwin Vasan, at whose feet can be safely be laid the absurd advice for everyone to still mask up indoors.

Crucially, they avoided returns to restrictionism (despite clickbait-for-COVID-hysterics stories in the likes of The New York Times). Schools stayed open statewide over the objections of the teachers unions; there was no resurgence of the absurd vaccine passport system that helped keep the city and state mired in COVID panic for far too long.

As Adams rightly put it, if every new wave makes New York “move into shutdown thoughts (and) panicking, we’re not going to function as a city.”

That’s all the more true since wide-scale testing has been revealed to be worse than useless: Recent survey data suggests that the city’s testing regime alone missed 1.3 million cases in just the first quarter of this year. Then again, case counts haven’t said much about the actual threat for a long time now, even though too many public-health authorities (and the Times) keep treating rising counts as omens of doom.

What public health officials need to be concerned with — and always should’ve been — are deaths and hospitalizations. Both have stayed low for weeks (for months in the city) and are now indisputably (even according to Vasan) trending down.

Why? Because the pandemic is over. Immunity (from vaccines and prior infection) is near-universal. The virus is mutating to become less deadly over time, as routinely happens with pandemic diseases. (It’s what evolution favors since killing the host is bad for the bug, too.)

So the state move on compulsory testing is long overdue. As is getting rid of the NYC private sector vax mandate (which already has a huge hole in it for celebrities).

We still need to hear the mayor and governor shout from the rooftops that we’re never, ever going back to restrictionism. New York can’t fully heal until it’s clear COVID theater is over for good.

END