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

Elon Musk Isn’t Taking It Anymore

Wall Street Journal

May 12

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is no Paul Revere. But his defiance of Alameda County’s shutdown order captures the frustration among businesses like Howard Beale’s primal scream in the movie “Network.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week allowed some non-essential businesses to begin to reopen, but six Bay Area counties including Alameda, where Tesla assembles most of its electric cars in the U.S., doubled down on their lockdowns.

“Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately,” Mr. Musk tweeted Saturday. “If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen (sic) on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.”

A decade ago Mr. Musk rescued and retrofitted an auto-manufacturing plant in Fremont that Toyota had abandoned. The plant now employs 10,000 middle-class workers, many of whom live in rural San Joaquin County where another Tesla factory has been allowed to operate amid California’s shutdown because it is classified as essential.

“This disparate (government) treatment is arbitrary and without a rational basis,” Tesla states in a lawsuit against Alameda County, pointing out that the infection and fatality rates in Alameda and San Joaquin counties are similar. Mr. Musk also argues that Tesla is an essential business because it makes electric motors and battery systems that are “critical infrastructure.”

“The County’s order violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it fails to give reasonable notice to persons of ordinary intelligence of what is forbidden under the law,” the lawsuit argues. He has a point, and arbitrary government distinctions about which businesses can stay open often seem to be based on politics rather than public health or science.

You can understand Mr. Musk’s frustration when Alameda County officials have allowed pot shops to stay open while shuttering his Tesla plant though the company has developed protocols to protect workers. Other governors including Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer have given the green light to auto plants run by Tesla’s competitors.

Mr. Musk dared Alameda officials to arrest him when he reopened Tesla’s plant Monday, and he may get his wish. We don’t encourage lawbreaking, but a legal test of disparate lockdown treatment might rein in the inner dictators who are appearing in many places in America in these pandemic days.



Remember When Trump Said He’d Be Happy to Share His Tax Returns?

The New York Times

May 13

On Tuesday, lawyers for President Trump appeared before the Supreme Court (hearing arguments again by telephone conference) to assert the claim that the nation’s chief executive is unaccountable to Congress or law enforcement authorities — that he is, in short, above the law.

The lawyers were trying to block three congressional committees and the Manhattan district attorney from getting access to years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns and other financial records, as well as those of his family members and companies. The House committees said they subpoenaed those records to help them address concerns over Mr. Trump’s possible conflicts of interest and to consider legislation relating to government ethics, banking and foreign interference in elections. The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., issued his own subpoena as part of what appears to be an investigation into possible campaign-finance violations by Mr. Trump and his aides both before and after he became president.

It’s useful to remember that these cases might not have been necessary if Mr. Trump hadn’t broken one of his first promises to the American people four years ago.

Back in 2016, candidate Trump said he would be happy to share his tax returns with the public, as every major candidate for president had done without hesitation for four decades. The only problem, Mr. Trump claimed, was that he was under audit — remember the audit? — and so he couldn’t share his returns at the moment. But soon, he promised.

Mr. Trump has been president for more than three years. He is campaigning for another term, and yet Americans are still in the dark when it comes to his vast web of corporate entities and how their finances and operations may influence his decisions as a candidate and president.

This isn’t an idle concern. Mr. Trump’s tax maneuvers have for decades skirted the edge of legality. In the end, the records may not show evidence of criminal misconduct. But a ruling by the Supreme Court that in essence gives presidents immunity from investigation and prosecution would be a grievous wound to the rule of law.

Mr. Trump lost both cases involving the House subpoenas in the lower federal courts, and no surprise: Congress has broad authority to issue subpoenas for all kinds of information. The president’s lawyers argued on Tuesday that the Democratic-led House is on a fishing expedition, acting like prosecutors and trolling for evidence that might hurt Mr. Trump politically.

But the Supreme Court has repeatedly approved congressional subpoenas so long as they have a plausible legislative purpose, even if other motives might also be involved. That’s a concept Mr. Trump should be familiar with; the “mixed motive” defense was a central element of his case for acquittal during his impeachment trial.

Mr. Trump has argued that responding to these subpoenas would distract him from doing his job. That’s a real concern, but Mr. Trump’s lawyers failed to make the case. Anyway, it hasn’t worked in the past: President Bill Clinton tried it in 1998, hoping to toss out a sexual-harassment lawsuit brought against him by Paula Jones. The justices ruled against him, 9 to 0.

President Richard Nixon got the same result when he tried to prevent prosecutors from getting his Oval Office tapes on the ground that they were protected by executive privilege.

Mr. Trump doesn’t have as strong a claim as either of his predecessors, since the records now being sought aren’t government documents possibly subject to privilege; and they aren’t even in Mr. Trump’s possession — they are sought from his accountants and bankers — so it’s not a burden for him to hand them over.

On the other side, Doug Letter, the lawyer for the House of Representatives, did a poor job of allaying the justices’ fears about Congress abusing its subpoena power. “At some point,” Justice Clarence Thomas said, “this thing gets out of control.” Mr. Letter offered no clear limit.

And what about the subpoena issued by Mr. Vance, the Manhattan prosecutor, who is an actual law enforcement authority? Mr. Trump lost this case in the lower courts, too — and then he appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling on the ground of temporary “absolute immunity.” In other words, arguing that there can be effectively no legal oversight of the president while he is in office. Could he shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and be immune from investigation or prosecution? Mr. Trump’s lawyers made this exact argument in a federal appeals court last year.

They lost then, but the central logic behind their effort is clear: Protect Mr. Trump now and set a precedent that future presidents are beyond the reach of the law while in office. Whether it is strong-arming the F.B.I. director to drop a criminal investigation into a former top aide, or conniving with his own attorney general to seek revenge against his enemies, or breaking the law to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine in the hope of damaging a political opponent — Mr. Trump believes, as he put it, “I can do whatever I want as president.”

Presidents have a difficult job. They may enjoy certain protections the rest of us don’t, including immunity from indictment while in office (though that is a matter of legal interpretation, not law). But that doesn’t mean they are free to ignore the law as they see fit. Presidents Nixon and Clinton both got that message loud and clear, from a unanimous court.

It’s doubtful that the court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., which is as polarized as it has been in a century, will see eye to eye. But Tuesday’s cases shouldn’t be difficult, and for a simple reason: Presidents are not, and cannot be, above the law.



Remote school a stopgap for NY students, not a solution

Syracuse Post-Standard

May 10

Parents, teachers and students had barely come to terms with the cancellation of the rest of the school year when Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped another bomb: Maybe, he mused, going to school in person is simply obsolete in the age of coronavirus.

The reaction from educators and parents was swift and fierce. Aides later walked back the governor’s ambiguous and tone-deaf inference that remote instruction could replace the face-to-face kind, saying it would be a supplement.

It can’t be a replacement. You know this if you are a parent with children learning at home for the past seven weeks, or a teacher trying to instruct those students. We see firsthand much is lost in translation from classroom to computer screen. It may be necessary to use remote learning as a bridge to returning to school full time, or when virus flareups close schools temporarily, but it cannot be permanent.

Kids need to go to school. And they need to go to school this fall, in whatever form the virus permits.

Despite good intentions, we can see that homeschooling is not going well for many students — most of all the ones lacking the technology to keep up, or having to share it among siblings. Special needs students are adrift. We also can feel how much being separated from their peers and mentors in a school community is damaging kids’ social and emotional well-being. They are increasingly sad, unmotivated and glued to one screen or another. Without support from teachers and counselors, stressed-out parents are struggling to keep it together.

The governor also knows that reopening schools and childcare settings are key to getting adults back to work. And yet schools are in the last phase of Cuomo’s four-phase plan to reopen the economy, alongside arts, entertainment and recreation. This is a major disconnect. Concerts and baseball games are not essential (as much as they make life more enjoyable). Education is essential.

We’re with Cuomo’s impulse to take the lessons from the coronavirus to “build back better.” What have we learned about schools? Inequities are magnified. Homes are not always ideal learning environments. Access to computers and high-speed internet varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, district to district and region to region. These are some of the issues New York needs to solve first, before it can lean on remote learning for anything beyond an emergency.

Which brings us to Cuomo’s decision to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google founder Eric Schmidt to “reimagine” education in the state. The governor should proceed with caution.

The Gates Foundation was instrumental in developing Common Core learning standards and teacher evaluations – top-down reforms that parents and teachers say did not incorporate their views. Schmidt’s company has deeply embedded its technology in schools, creating a generation of customers familiar with its cloud computing tools and raising serious student privacy concerns.

For all their talents and brains, we ought to recognize — and correct for — the bias of tech billionaires who see technology as the solution to every problem.

We ought to be wary of allowing Gates and Schmidt to design the future of public education in New York state. That needs to be an open, inclusive process that involves a broad array of parents and educational experts who know how children learn and how teachers teach. Strangely, the Board of Regents and New York State Education Department are missing in action. They need to get into the game.

For all his empathy, Cuomo’s comments about in-person schooling were out of step with what kids, parents and teachers are going through now. We’re on our last nerve. Tread carefully.



New York can better protect its nursing home patients, staff

The Auburn Citizen

May 12

State-mandated changes in the way nursing homes will operate under the threat of COVID-19 are an important and overdue step to protect the health of residents and employees, and the state will need to provide funding to help see it through.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday said that nursing homes in New York must begin testing staff members for coronavirus twice per week and that COVID-19 patients will no longer be sent from hospitals to nursing homes.

The guideline for patients is a reversal from an earlier directive that had patients who tested positive for COVID-19 being returned to nursing homes after hospital treatment, the theory in March being that as many hospital beds as possible needed to remain available statewide for the expected influx of coronavirus patients. Cuomo showed little to no willingness to be questioned on this plan at the time and the state failed to provide nursing homes with sufficient personal protective equipment to protect staff members.

Keeping hospital beds as open as possible may have seemed like the right thing to do at that time, but critics point out that the strategy likely exacerbated the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, where many of the state’s coronavirus deaths have been recorded.

Having said that, the state’s entire health-care system was thrown into a state of crisis with the arrival of the virus, and the focus now needs to be on what can be learned from that experience and what needs to happen to get things under control.

Perhaps testing should have started earlier for nursing home staff, but state and local health officials are now better able to get caught up on tests that initially weren’t widely available. And the state needs to step up to help provide PPE and testing for nursing homes to carry out the new mandates, not just for the short-term but for the the duration of this crisis.



We Have To Reopen The United States, Just Very Carefully

The Post Journal

May 13

If you are among those who have not lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 epidemic, congratulations. Perhaps you share the widespread opinion that the current “lockdown” of the economy should continue, to keep everyone safe.

How would you like the government to collect your share? That is, your share of what it will take to support those laid off or perhaps, fired altogether in order to keep many American businesses closed.

We’ll do the math for you: About 30 million people in our country have lost their jobs because of COVID-19. That leaves about 133 million working. For them to pay their laid-off neighbors even at a minimum-wage rate, each working person will have to chip in about $3,400 a year.

That is at the federal minimum wage. Some states are higher (California is $13, Washington state is $13.50 and — you guessed it — Washington, D.C. is highest, at $14).

So, again, how do you want the government to collect your share of supporting people without jobs because of the coronavirus shutdown?

Of course, we are not being serious. The government would never, ever attach the wages of those with jobs in order to support the unemployed. But support such as that through state unemployment compensation programs and the federal CARES Act has to be paid for, somehow.

Our solution in the United States has been to print more money. We call it deficit spending and, to date, it has increased the national debt to more than $25 trillion. If you have a calculator, you can determine your share of that. Sit down, first.

The bottom line is that the COVID-19 lockdown is unsustainable, and not just in the long run. We simply cannot afford to maintain an economy on the current basis.

Clearly, we have to reopen the United States. That must be done very, very carefully.

But it does have to be done.