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Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:


The Wall Street Journal on Europe navigating the Iran nuclear deal

Feb. 5

European diplomats have convinced themselves that they must abide by the flawed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran to demonstrate their credibility. Their latest attempt to keep the deal alive despite U.S. opposition shows otherwise.

Behold the special-purpose vehicle, unveiled last week by the European Commission and Europe's three signatories to the 2015 deal. The SPV, now christened the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchange (Instex), is supposed to allow European Union companies to keep trading with Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Instex will do this by managing complex barter transactions to avoid running afoul of sanctions the U.S. re-imposed last year when it withdrew from the nuclear deal.

The EC, Germany, France and the United Kingdom are clinging to the flawed agreement out of fear that Tehran might start developing the nuclear weapons Tehran intends to develop eventually anyway. They also hope to demonstrate European independence from American economic influence.

Yet already Instex is shaping up to be a major flop. To ensure it doesn't run afoul of Washington, it will facilitate only trade in humanitarian goods not covered by U.S. sanctions. Most large companies are likely to avoid trading via Instex in any case, for fear of legal problems in Washington if Iran misdirects the proceeds.

Talk about pointless. European leaders are well aware that much of Tehran's dangerous behavior isn't addressed by the JCPOA, including Iran's conventional-weapons proliferation and its efforts to destabilize neighbors via terrorist proxies. Dutch authorities say Iran was involved in plots to kill two opponents of the regime in 2015 and 2017. Denmark and France have accused Tehran of plotting bomb attacks on regime critics on their soil.

This argues for Europe joining Washington in a new, tougher approach to Iran that relieves sanctions only after substantial proof of better regime behavior. With Instex, European governments are committing themselves even further to diplomacy that prizes the JCPOA process over serious results. So much for credibility.


The Times Herald-Record on the assisted suicide bill

Feb. 4

New York legislators have approved several major bills in the first month of this session because most had overwhelming public support and had been artificially held hostage by a thin Republican majority in the state Senate.

Gun control, election reform, women's reproductive rights, the Child Victims Act, the Dream Act — all reflect the sentiments of most New Yorkers and all are either already law or merely awaiting expected approval by the governor.

Still to come are two major issues that have public support and will take time because of their many details. Few seem to doubt that adults will be able to legally use marijuana by the end of the session. The only thing holding back that legislation is the need to get the details right when it comes to enforcement and detection for public safety.

A state health plan is less of a sure thing. While there is no influential lobby opposing the legalization of marijuana, there is a lot of money ready to challenge any legislation that would be perceived as a threat by insurance companies. This legislation also has to work within a fractured national framework, making it more vulnerable to legitimate concerns about cost and coverage.

But there is another controversial matter that is likely to come up this session, one which has in the past attracted an odd assortment of supporters including progressives and libertarians and which has as much, if not more, of an emotional component than any other issue legislators face.

That is the issue of aid in dying or, to be more specific and accurate, physician-assisted suicide.

The rationale behind the movement is simple. Someone who is on artificial life support, often a ventilator to breathe, has the right to have that support removed with a quick death the most likely result. Someone in pain from a terminal illness with no hope of recovery, someone with no hope of resuming a normal life, does not have the right to take medication that would result in a similar quick death.

One is in some senses passive, removing life support and letting nature take its course. One is in some senses active, speeding up the course of nature.

With all that in mind, the website WebMD conducted a survey of New York physicians and found significant support for physician-assisted suicide with 56 percent in favor, 26 percent opposed and 19 percent neutral. The survey was conducted by email to a sample weighted in favor of those doctors likely to deal with patients with terminal illnesses. The results are worth considering and will be much more representative than the testimony we can expect from any legislative hearings where each side will bring in only those who agree.

Perhaps the best next step is a bill introduced by Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, for the state Department of Health to study the issue and deliver a report to legislators by the end of the year including information from governments that already allow physician-assisted suicide.

This is a good first step to help assure that when legislators do vote, they do so having informed both themselves and the public.


The New York Times on the Venezuela crisis

Feb. 5

The tense standoff in Venezuela between Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó has morphed into something far larger than a contest for power between a failed leader still supported by parts of the army and die-hard leftists, and a young legislator propelled to the front by popular demonstrations. In part because of the Trump administration's all-in support for regime change, the crisis has become a dangerous global power struggle. That's the last thing Venezuelans need.

There is no question that President Maduro must go, the sooner the better. Heir to the socialist rule of Hugo Chávez, he has led his oil-rich country into utter ruin. Its currency is useless, basic foods and medicines have disappeared and more than three million people have fled, fomenting refugee crises in Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador. The only solution is an interim government under Mr. Guaidó, who as the head of the National Assembly has a legitimate claim to the presidency under the Venezuelan Constitution. It would lead to new presidential elections and a flood of emergency aid.

Pope Francis said Tuesday that he was willing to help mediate an end to the conflict if both sides agreed. He said he had received a plea from Mr. Maduro to help start a new dialogue.

"There needs to be the will of both parts," Francis said. He suggested beginning with small concessions from both sides, working toward a more formal negotiation.

In hopes of a peaceful resolution, many democratic governments have thrown their support behind Mr. Guaidó. Twelve Latin American countries, the Organization of American States, Canada and more than a dozen members of the European Union have so far crowded into Mr. Guaidó's corner alongside the United States, recognizing him as the interim president. Mr. Maduro's primary backers are Russia, China, Iran, Cuba and Turkey.

These are not entirely alliances of the like-minded. As in any geopolitical struggle, disparate interests are at play, and many include a suspicion or fear of President Trump's motives and potential means. For the hard-core conservatives in the Trump administration, Mr. Maduro is the failed standard-bearer of the scourge of socialism in Latin America and the beachhead for Russian, Cuban and Chinese influence. Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to rule out a military option.

The prospect of a proxy war that could spill over Venezuela's borders horrifies most Latin American leaders, as well as Canada and the Europeans. The Lima Group, which brings together Canada and a number of Latin American countries with the aim of finding a nonviolent solution to the Venezuelan crisis, held an emergency meeting in Ottawa on Monday at which it unequivocally rejected any foreign military intervention. "This is a process led by the people of Venezuela in their very brave quest to return their country themselves to democracy in accordance with their own constitution," declared the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, in a statement echoed by most Latin American and European supporters of Mr. Guaidó.

In Mr. Maduro's camp, the motives are also mixed. China has huge loans out to Venezuela but has kept a low profile in the struggle, perhaps in the hope of cultivating a relationship with Mr. Guaidó, should he prevail. Turkey's increasingly authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long embraced Mr. Maduro as a comrade against Western, and especially American, hegemony. Russia has been his strongest supporter, channeling billions in aid and arms to Mr. Maduro, and has been most vocal in warning the United States to stay clear.

It is very much in American and Western interests to free Venezuela from such unholy alliances through negotiations between supporters of Mr. Guaidó and Mr. Maduro. But the goal must be to do so in order to give the long-suffering Venezuelans a chance to freely choose their government and start the arduous task of rebuilding their economy, not to score a victory in an ideological struggle.


The Times Union on the cost of carbon

Feb. 5

The operator of New York's power grid is considering a pricing system that accounts for the "social cost of carbon."

The step is one among many needed to stave off a looming global catastrophe.

The drumbeat of distressing climate-change news keeps coming. The latest: a report saying the Himalayan mountain range will lose two-thirds of its glaciers by 2100 if carbon emissions continue at the current pace.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, as the report released Monday is known, is another reminder of the need to address climate change in real and meaningful ways. We do not have the luxury of inaction.

So New Yorkers should be encouraged by a proposal by the nonprofit in charge of the state's power grid that would attempt to build the "social cost of carbon" — in other words, the harm it causes to infrastructure and public health — into the price consumers pay for power. New York would be the first state to adopt the approach.

The idea behind the New York Independent System Operator plan is simple: By adding to the cost of electricity from fossil fuels, the state would make it less competitive and would speed the shift to renewable energy sources such as wind and sun.

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Yes, the plan stings consumers a bit, at least in the short term.

In 2022, the average New York power bill could increase by about $20 annually — a modest cost, given the severity of the climate change threat. But by 2030, if the adoption of cleaner technologies goes as planned, the program could actually cut power costs.

Lower bills and a reduced climate impact: What's not to love?

Slowing the planet's warming will require other changes, of course, and a solution won't come from government alone. Addressing the problem requires a broad reassessment of consumer habits and the climate-damaging choices we casually make.

The fight against climate change requires national action too, including implementation of a federal carbon tax that will, like the NYISO plan, encourage the transition to renewable energy by punishing use of fossil fuels. Such a plan must include dividends to cover any increased costs to American households.

As a so-called "Green New Deal" takes shape, there's another idea to consider: import fees that charge foreign manufacturers for the carbon impact of their products. The adjustments would leverage American buying power to force global changes and reduce concern that fighting climate change domestically puts the county at a competitive disadvantage.

There is some bipartisan support for these ideas and other market-based solutions. But it is also true that the Trump administration has been hostile to even conceding that the climate is changing, let alone addressing the crisis. That's not going to change.

But as polls show rising voter concern about climate change, Republicans should know that inaction puts them in political peril, including in the 2020 presidential election.

There's a greater worry: Continued inaction is likely to costs us the planet as we know it. Our children and grandchildren will wonder why we couldn't be bothered to do more — even shell out just a few bucks a week to pay for the shift to cleaner energy.


The Leader-Herald on a second North Korea summit

Feb. 6

President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un are planning a second summit meeting. The date and place have not yet been arranged.

But the question the two will discuss is clear: Is Kim keeping his pledge to dial back on North Korea's runaway militarism?

North Korea already possesses nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, though Kim's arsenal is extremely limited in comparison to what the United States has as its disposal. Any such capability in Kim's hands is dangerous, however.

Alternating between periods of name-calling and chumming it up, Trump and Kim say they are agreed Pyongyang's buildup needs to stop. Trump himself holds out hope for "denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.

Convincing Kim to do that may fall into the category of fairy tale. But how far will he go?

Trump seems to believe Kim is sincere. But the dictator, like his father and grandfather before him, may be playing the rest of the world for suckers. The entire dynasty has been a continuing story of pledging peaceful intentions, reaping economic aid, then building new weapons.

If Kim is playing the old game, it will come as no surprise.

Events such as summit meetings are beloved by national leaders the world over. But Trump should bear firmly in mind that his next meeting with Kim will have virtually no concrete meaning.

What is important is not what Kim promises — but what U.S. intelligence agencies determine he is really doing.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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