Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
New Boss May Test Voice of America’s Credibility
The New York Times
Founded in 1942, the Voice of America was never meant to be a megaphone for the American government. The concept was the opposite: A federally funded broadcaster would showcase American values around the world by offering unbiased news and a true picture of American life. That mission is enshrined in what the V.O.A. calls its “firewall,” which “prohibits interference by any U.S. government official in the objective, independent reporting of news.”
So it’s worrisome that the Senate confirmation of the Trump administration’s pick to head the V.O.A. and several allied broadcasters was followed by the resignations of the two top V.O.A. executives, both experienced, respected and independent journalists.
The people who listen to the news service around the world — more than 280 million in 40 languages and on every media platform — are, for the most part, people who can’t abide the propaganda of their rulers and turn to the world’s premier democracy to hear the truth. If they thought V.O.A. was also feeding them propaganda, they’d change the station, and probably their image of the United States.
The value of such journalism should be self-evident to any believer in the value of a free press. It is not to President Trump nor to his erstwhile strategist Stephen K. Bannon. It was Mr. Bannon, then head of the far-right website Breitbart, who more than two years ago tried to put his man, Michael Pack, at the helm of V.O.A. But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, first under Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and Trump critic, and then under the more Trump-friendly Jim Risch of Idaho, was in no rush to confirm Mr. Pack until something prodded Mr. Trump to launch an attack on V.O.A. two months ago.
In its evening newsletter then, the White House blasted the service under the headline “Amid a Pandemic, Voice of America Spends Your Money to Promote Foreign Propaganda.” The crime, as described by Dan Scavino, Mr. Trump’s social media director, was positive reports on how China had handled its coronavirus outbreak. Mr. Trump promptly picked up the chorus. “If you heard what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting,” he told a White House news briefing on April 15. “What things they say are disgusting toward our country. And Michael Pack would get in and do a great job.”
What evidently rankled the White House was a clip showing people celebrating the lifting of the lockdown in Wuhan, which accompanied a straightforward account by The Associated Press. V.O.A. officials were dumbfounded. “It just came out of the blue,” said Amanda Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning veteran of Bloomberg News, The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer, who announced her resignation Monday as director of the V.O.A. The deputy director, Sandy Sugawara, formerly of The Washington Post and United Press International, also resigned.
Ms. Bennett and Ms. Sugawara did not link their departures to the long-delayed confirmation of Mr. Pack, who becomes head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the parent organization of the V.O.A., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and some regional foreign broadcasters. In her farewell message, Ms. Bennett assured V.O.A. staffers that “Michael Pack swore before Congress to respect and honor the firewall that guarantees V.O.A.’s independence, which in turn plays the single most important role in the stunning trust our audiences around the world have in us.”
It may be that Mr. Pack will respect the firewall he is sworn to maintain. His past is patchy — he hired Mr. Bannon, an icon of the alt-right, as a consultant on two documentaries, including one about Adm. Hyman Rickover. He is also under investigation by the District of Columbia attorney general for possibly channeling money from a nonprofit group he oversees to his for-profit film production company. And he was confirmed along party lines. Before that, he had worked at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Council on the Humanities and served as president of the conservative Claremont Institute.
None of that confirms that if left to his own judgment, Mr. Pack would do Mr. Trump’s or Mr. Bannon’s bidding, especially if it meant flouting the V.O.A.’s legally mandated independence. What is certain, given Mr. Trump’s record and his statements about V.O.A., is that this is what the administration expects and will forcefully demand. Mr. Trump wants a bullhorn, not a diplomatic instrument, and he insists on loyalty.
The specter of turning V.O.A. into a propaganda tool of the White House should be frightening to all Americans, regardless of political leanings. America’s image abroad has already been battered under this administration, making an independent global broadcaster all the more essential as a voice of the integrity and fairness that are still at the core of American values.
The responsibility of the senators who confirmed Mr. Pack is not over. It is their duty to ensure that he does not violate the oath he took.
Imagine a different Coliseum-Hub ending
It’s hard to find a silver lining in the announcement that one of Long Island’s cultural centerpieces, the former arena for the New York Nets, and longtime home of the New York Islanders, Billy Joel, and so many more of our collective memories, is going dark.
It’s the latest blow in two decades of hard knocks, for Islanders’ fans, concertgoers, Nassau County and all who care about the region’s economic future.
Onexim Sports and Entertainment’s decision to close Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum indefinitely is not entirely a surprise, given the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty around future large gatherings. Before the pandemic, the arena, with new plans for the Hub that surrounds it, had been poised to return to relevance. That’s what makes the announcement deeply disappointing.
But, as Long Islanders have for decades, we continue to hope that the Coliseum — and especially the land around it — will be part of the Island’s future resurgence, one day home to a vibrant, economic center.
Nassau Coliseum has had a tumultuous 48-year history. It’s seen incredible highs — like Dr. J taking the Nets to an ABA title, four Stanley Cup championships, sellout concerts, the 2017 reopening, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s promise of the return of the Islanders for the 2020-2021 season.
But the lows have been tough to take. We’ve mourned the departure of professional sports teams and numerous failed attempts at renovation, rebuilding, and redevelopment.
The latest chapter is even more worrisome. Onexim, the current operator of the Coliseum, has owed the county rent since February, and faces $100 million in debt on the arena. Onexim must find investors who could attempt to reopen the venue, and become partners in the longer-term effort to develop the 72 acres of asphalt that surround the Coliseum — an effort led by developer Scott Rechler, with RXR Realty.
The Coliseum remains an important symbol, especially in the short-term. The right investment team could have the opportunity to reopen it gloriously, perhaps still with Islanders hockey there before the team’s new arena opens at Belmont Park. But much remains unclear.
Development plans, meanwhile, must move forward. Long Island’s needs before COVID-19 hit — from housing to workforce development to research and medical hubs — remain. In the post-pandemic world, new development is even more critical, for the county’s troubled finances, and the region’s economic comeback.
Rechler and his team are rethinking what, exactly, will be built. A massive reimagining of the Nassau Hub is necessary. Onexim’s decision, albeit sad, provides a chance to consider a blank slate where every possibility should be on the table, from finding a way forward with the arena as is, to repurposing it as something very different, to a Nassau Hub without a Nassau Coliseum.
The Hub needs leadership, ownership, imagination, and regional thinking, along with a partnership between the state, county, town, Rechler, and future investors. But we can’t give up. A dark Coliseum with weeds sprouting in the pavement’s cracks must not be the way this story ends.
Larger graduations can be done safely in CNY
The Auburn Citizen
On the 44th of 156 pages of the official state NYForward Reopening Guide, the following passage is worth a review in light of the current status of high school graduation ceremony restrictions:
“New York will reopen on a regional basis as each region meets the criteria necessary to protect public health. Just as COVID-19 impacted each state across the country — and each country across the globe — in a different way and at a different scale, so too does it impact different regions across our vast and diverse state differently.”
To a large degree, despite plenty of vocal criticism, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stuck with this plan for a phased and regionalized reopening. Five defined regions — including Central New York, which includes Cayuga County — this weekend have moved into the third phase of the plan, which requires 14 days to monitor key COVID-19 testing and tracking metrics to make sure it’s safe to expand.
This plan sets those five regions up for a transition into the fourth and final phase starting on June 26. That last phase includes arts, entertainment, recreation and educational services and activities. It sure seems like graduation ceremonies of any size, as long as social distancing and other safety measures can be in place, would fit the definition of a phase four activity.
But the governor so far has put graduations under a statewide umbrella. The latest guidance he provided was to allow outdoor ceremonies with 150 or fewer people, starting June 26.
That restriction on attendance is unreasonably low for high school graduating classes that are in regions on target to enter phase four in two weeks, especially when many of them have adequate outdoor space to spread large groups of people out. Auburn officials, for example, got out their measuring tape and crunched some numbers to determine they could hold a graduation ceremony for the whole class at one time and use just 25% of Holland Stadium.
We urge the governor to stick with his original plan and allow more high school classes to graduate together, in front of immediately family members, when the regional metrics show it is safe to do so.
Thanks, Gen. Milley, for reconsidering
Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Regardless of how you lean politically, what Army Gen. Mark Milley did a few days ago was reassuring.
President Donald Trump has been criticized by many — and, it needs to be noted, praised by others — for something he did after a night of civil unrest near the White House. You will have heard about his walk to a church that had been damaged by fire.
The president didn’t go inside the church but instead posed in front of it for cameras, holding a Bible. The message of the choreographed moment was clear: Trump wanted to tell people he is on the side of God and against the protesters, and that he has the military on his side.
Black Lives Matter protesters in a park near the White House had been cleared away by police and National Guard troops prior to the president’s jaunt. Then he and others proceeded to the church. Walking with him, wearing military fatigues, was Milley.
Afterward, Milley second-guessed his action. “I should not have been there,” he said. Walking with Trump and wearing the type of uniform often seen by troops in combat “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics,” the general added.
Milley is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That makes him the nation’s top military leader. He advises the president regularly.
But Milley seems sensitive to the fact that neither he nor anyone else in the military serves any president, though the person holding that office is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Instead, those in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and now the Space Force serve the Constitution and the American people. They take a solemn oath to that effect.
Those living in many countries understand that their fates are tied to how military leaders feel about civic affairs. Episodes in which heads of state have been removed in military coups have been common and will be so in the future.
It is vital, then, that we Americans feel secure from fear of military control, except in extraordinary circumstances.
Whether you support or oppose Trump, Milley’s concern with appearances is reassuring. It indicates that our nation’s top military leader — and no doubt many serving under him — take their oaths as defenders of the Constitution and the people seriously.
Lowering Fee May Help Downtown Restaurants During Tough Time
It would be interesting to see if downtown businesses interested in pursuing outside dining can afford to use the parklets being discussed by city officials.
Parklets are platforms that would be used on parking locations outside of a restaurant to allow the business to have more room to seat customers. The city is proposing a $75 permit for a parklet as well as a $200 charge for each parking space that would be used.
Compare Jamestown’s proposed fee with De Pere, Wisc., a city of about 25,000 people with a median household income of $70,500. De Pere charges a $100 fee.
The fee amount is important. De Pere’s median household income of $70,500 is roughly double Jamestown’s $31,875. That number is important as a measure of disposable income — it’s more likely that De Pere, with its higher disposable income, will generate enough diners to make the parklet pay for itself. That will likely take longer in Jamestown. Syracuse doesn’t have parklets per se, but is waiving its typical fees for Sidewalk Cafe Permits — which are $50 per season for less than 200 square feet, rising up to $300 for more than 1,000 square feet — to help its downtown restaurants.
The parklet idea is worth pursuing. Outdoor dining will help downtown restaurants seat more people and make more money. But we wonder about the logic of charging almost three times the amount when compared to a similar city using parklets.
The idea is to help local businesses during a tough time. Lowering the fee would help do that.