Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
What John Bolton's Ouster Says About Donald Trump
The New York Times
Of the questions surrounding the defenestration of John Bolton as President Trump's third national security adviser — Did he jump? Was he shoved? — the least interesting is the question of who will succeed him on the parapet.
It's unlikely to matter much. Regardless of who has advised Mr. Trump on foreign affairs — generals and corporate tycoons, seasoned pros and amateurs — all have proved powerless before a zest for chaos that would have thwarted George Marshall.
Even when Mr. Trump has pursued worthy goals — trying to persuade North Korea's dictator to give up his nuclear weapons, negotiating with the Taliban so American troops can leave Afghanistan — his mercurial, impatient, crisis-driven approach has often backfired, no matter who was advising him.
His naming of Mr. Bolton as national security adviser in March 2018 was itself an instance of Trumpian chaos. Mr. Trump wanted to pursue an end to hostilities in Korea and Afghanistan and proved wary of conflict in Iran and Venezuela. Yet he chose a proponent of belligerence who disdains diplomacy, supports allies-be-damned unilateralism and thinks bombing North Korea and Iran is the best way to neutralize their nuclear threat.
Mr. Bolton supported Mr. Trump's worst instincts in leaving the deal that had constrained Iran's nuclear program. Then the president balked at a planned airstrike in June to retaliate for Iran's downing of an American drone. Mr. Trump has also expressed a willingness to meet with Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, a step that would be anathema to Mr. Bolton.
Mr. Trump has invested heavily in wooing Kim Jong-un, the autocratic North Korean leader, even stepping into North Korea with him from the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas in the second of their two meetings. Meanwhile, Mr. Bolton did his best to ensure America remained inflexible in demanding North Korea's complete denuclearization, and even skipped the Trump-Kim DMZ meeting. No matter. North Korea's nuclear activity has continued, and it recently launched short-range missiles, even as Mr. Trump continues to praise Mr. Kim.
Mr. Bolton told Mr. Trump that by supporting a popular revolt against the Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro, the president could lead that country to freedom. But Mr. Maduro remains firmly in power, and Mr. Trump has expressed little interest in doing much about that anymore.
In recent days, as talks between the administration and the Taliban over an American withdrawal from Afghanistan progressed, Mr. Bolton tried to keep Mr. Trump from agreeing to a peace deal. The president appears to have been more annoyed than swayed by Mr. Bolton, though he did scuttle a plan to meet with the militants at Camp David, for reasons that remain unclear. Mr. Trump said the talks were now "dead."
Unlike Mr. Bolton, whose abrasive personality prevented him from developing a close relationship with the president, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mr. Bolton's chief adversary in the administration, has shown a talent for pleasing Mr. Trump. Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo rarely spoke to each other outside of formal meetings, a toxic situation for two leading advisers.
Yet Mr. Bolton's departure seems unlikely to make the American national security apparatus any less dysfunctional, with many top positions vacant and allies confused about whom to deal with. Mr. Trump clearly likes things this way. The White House may be in turmoil, alliances may be trembling and adversaries may be seeking advantage, but that all just amounts to more drama, more suspense, more television coverage — all of it with Donald Trump at the center.
How to Think About Health Coverage
Wall Street Journal
The number of Americans without health insurance rose last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and Democrats say this justifies more government control. Yet the reality is more complicated_in particular, note that having a Medicaid card is no guarantee of great medical care.
The good Census news is that real median earnings of men and women who work full time and year round "increased by 3.4% and 3.3%, respectively, between 2017 and 2018." Some 2.3 million more Americans are working full time. The poverty rate fell 0.5 percentage points from 2017, to 11.8%, the fourth annual decline in a row.
Yet 8.5% of Americans lacked health insurance in 2018, up from 7.9% in 2017, the first increase since the recession, and this figure is getting all the media attention. Much of the decline comes from a dip in Medicaid coverage, and as a general rule you'd expect fewer folks to qualify for Medicaid as the economy improves and poverty declines.
But Census notes that overall coverage fell one percentage point for people in families that earn 300% to 399% of the federal poverty line, and 0.8 percentage points for folks above 400%. "During this time," Census notes, "the overall health insurance coverage rate did not statistically change for any other income-to-poverty group."
These are the folks we've written about many times: Americans who earn too much to qualify for ObamaCare subsidies but may have few alternatives. The left's solution is to reinstate ObamaCare's individual mandate that forces the middle class to buy the product anyway. This shows that merely having access to insurance doesn't mean it's valuable.
The decline in Medicaid coverage doesn't appear to be due to folks picking up insurance at a job, and the left is blaming the higher uninsured rate on Trump Administration policies including its rules on association health plans and short-term insurance options. But the point of association health plans is to make it easier for more small businesses to offer insurance to more workers. The rule is ensnared in court in any case.
The left is also flogging that uninsured rates are lower in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act than in those that didn't. This is presented as a reason to expand Medicaid.
Yet our contributor Brian Blase notes that, according to the Census report, the uninsured rate increased from 2017 to 2018 in states that expanded Medicaid among those who earn less than 100% of the poverty line. That means some who are eligible for Medicaid declined to sign up. Mr. Blase and Aaron Yelowitz also explained last month in these pages how Medicaid expansion has unleashed a surge of improper enrollment by Americans who don't qualify.
The larger point is that the only conversation the left wants to have about health care is how many Americans are insured, and that's so they don't have to answer for failures like Medicaid's narrow provider networks, high emergency room use rates, and more.
Democrats running for President talk about proposals like Medicare for All exclusively as "universal coverage," not about, say, how quickly you'll be able to see a specialist. Having that insurance card in your wallet will be small consolation as you wait for a knee replacement allocated by political discretion.
State Should Write Own Laws, Not Rely On Commissions
When New York's elected officials don't want to deal with a difficult issue, they create a special commission to decide the issue for them.
The last such commission — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Committee on Legislative and Executive Compensation — has now had two court decisions declare major parts of its work invalid because the commission exceeded its statutory authority. Thank goodness the commission's authorizing legislation was poorly written, or New Yorkers would be stuck with its shoddy work. The end result of the pay commission has been time and money wasted in court dickering over details that should have been hashed out publicly on the floor of the state Legislature. Not only were legislators unhappy with the commission's work, many members of the electorate were upset too.
Why should New Yorkers expect anything different from the special commission Cuomo created to rewrite New York's election laws?
The Public Campaign Financing Commission will operate much the same way as the pay commission — spend a few months working on changes to the state's election law and forward its recommendations to the state Legislature in December. If there are no changes by the end of the year, then the recommendations become law. It is likely many legislators will be unhappy with the commission's work, but unless legislative leadership decides to call a special December session, rank-and-file members of the Assembly and Senate will be left no option to have a say in election law changes other than to file lawsuits. At the very least, any special commission should be charged with forwarding recommendations to the state Legislature and governor for action during the next legislative session so that all of the public's representatives have a chance to have a say.
It's a poor way to do business. Changing election law can mean everything from creating publicly financed campaigns, ending fusion voting and essentially silencing the state's smaller political parties. That work should be done publicly, in open session of the state Legislature. It should not be foisted upon the public by a group hand-picked by the political machines with its outcome already largely decided before the group meets.
Reliance on special commissions is feckless and weak. The governor and members of the state Senate and Assembly were elected to take on tough decisions, not create special commissions to do the dirty work of governance so that our elected officials can feign disbelief and helplessness when the final results are unveiled.
The problems with Cuomo's primary proposal
The Auburn Citizen
In 2016, statewide voting in New York state took place five times: the presidential primary in April, the school budget and board election in May, the congressional primary in June, the state Legislature/local primary in September, and the November general election.
Not surprisingly, asking voters to come to polling places so many times in such a short period of time resulted in poor turnouts for a few of those elections.
Recognizing this, as well as the costs of running multiple elections, the state Legislature this year approved and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed voting reform legislation that consolidated the federal and state/local primaries into one voting day in June.
It was a common-sense move, but it came with some growing pains for county-level elections officials, political party committees and candidates, who saw their political calendars shifted significantly with little time to prepare. But they got through that process and now the general election is the full focus for the fall, and the calendar is set for the 2020 cycle.
At least that's what everybody thought until last week.
Cuomo, seemingly out of nowhere, began talking about a desire to combine the local/state/congressional primary into the president primary on April 28. "A state and congressional primary election held two months after a presidential primary is an unnecessary obstacle to voter participation," his communications director said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
Conceptually, the governor makes a solid case. But it's a plan filled with logistical problems and potential negative consequences.
A sudden shifting of the political calendar for 2020 could result in fewer candidates running for office, especially challengers to state Legislature incumbents. It takes considerable work to get on a state Legislature primary ballot. Hundreds of signatures from party members must be gathered for petitions that are filed to run for office. That work would become more difficult — especially in upstate New York — in the early winter, which is when it would need to take place for an April primary.
There's also the issue of the state Legislature's session calendar. Senators and Assembly members who are focused on campaigning in the middle of the legislative session are apt to be less productive at the job of legislating.
Finally, Cuomo's plan is timed badly. Absent a special session of the Legislature to get this done, it's hard to imagine how Cuomo's consolidation proposal could come together in time for 2020. And that's a self-inflicted problem. If the governor felt strongly about this issue, he should have made sure that it got done this year when the comprehensive voting reform legislation was being hashed out.
Survivors in the Bahamas are desperate for America's help
The Bahamas needs help.
Hurricane Dorian hovered for about two days over the archipelago of islands a hop from Miami, causing massive damage yet to be calculated. Dorian clocked in as the second strongest Atlantic storm on record, with winds of 180 mph and storm surges of 20-plus feet.
Houses disappeared under the Category 5 onslaught. Streets looked like rivers. The death toll is rising, and tens of thousands need medical attention. Rescue and aid efforts were hampered due to the violent weather, and the near-destruction of the paradisiacal tourist destination's international airport and ports. Small boats, water scooters, drones and helicopters are being used to help the victims.
The toll might even exceed that from Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Patrol deployed helicopters to help provide immediate relief, and U.S. Navy assets were ready to respond, too. That's good — but what awaits Bahamians might prove even more brutal.
Supply chains have been disrupted, laying the groundwork for shortages of much-needed food, water and medicine. With some 76,000 people in need, the UN World Food Program is providing eight tons of ready-to-eat meals. Weeks of chaotic recovery will be dangerous. We saw this in Puerto Rico in 2017, when secondary death tolls caused by the storm skyrocketed over initial counts.
Further aid is crucial during this period, and Washington must work quickly with international partners to shore up our reeling neighbor. That means more than retweeting weather reports. President Donald Trump should call for and support a coordinated international response.(backslash)
Hurricane Maria prompted an outpouring of support from New York State and City Hall, given Puerto Rico's tightly knit diaspora here. There hasn't been the same level of local support this time, but that should change.
Many disaster-relief organizations have kicked into gear. People should remember that cash donations are most helpful to quickly reach those in need. Watchdogs like Charity Navigator offer lists of reputable organizations.
Dorian has wrought a humanitarian disaster. Now is the time for Americans to show their humanity.