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Editorials from around New York

November 22, 2017
Associated Press

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

The Daily News on the new president of New York City Transit

Nov. 22

New York doesn't know Andy Byford from a hole in the ground. But the new president of NYC Transit had better get to know us, and the groaning city subways we rely upon, damn fast.

Byford comes to the hope-to-hell-it's-a-rescue by way of London, Sydney and Toronto, where he's credited with orchestrating a turnaround.

But nothing he's ever done comes close to running the 24-hour, 472-station, 6,000-bus behemoth that makes 8 million trips daily in the five boroughs. Nothing comes close to overseeing the lumbering, wheezing, hidebound $8 billion-a-year, 50,000-head bureaucracy that is supposed to keep New York moving and now too often doesn't.

We hope, nay pray, that the trust that Chairman Joe Lhota and the MTA board has placed in Byford is well-founded.

Job one for the new guy is also job three, four and 100: Get the trains running more reliably.

Doing that demands innovative ideas borrowed from other places, sure, but also a granular understanding of just how New York's nuts and bolts and tracks got so rusty, and how to fix them.

The city owns every station, every inch of track and every subway car and bus. But the state runs the show, and controls the purse strings.

And both have disinvested over the years.

Mr. Byford, lean on, call on, and cajole both governor and mayor. Tell them that you need more cash — ideally by tolling the East River bridges.

Tell them, and Lhota, that to stretch dollars as far as they'll go, you need sane work rules like one person to run a train, instead of two. Tell them that we must get the ancient signals upgraded, and not over the course of decades.

But the core of this job isn't talk or advocacy. It's management. Get to work, and show results quick. Otherwise, stand clear of the closing doors.



The Gloversville Leader-Herald on federal funding for the nationwide opioid crisis

Nov. 21

As incredible as it may seem, federal funds from one program meant to combat substance abuse are doled out based on states' populations, not the severity of their drug epidemics.

That is simply insane.

U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, both D-N.H., want to change that. They have introduced a bill to require that federal State Targeted Response Opioid Crisis Grants be awarded on the basis of need, not population.

The senators' states are the very worst hit by the opioid crisis, with death rates far in excess of other states.

Their bill should be approved immediately in both houses of Congress. This is a situation in which delay literally means death.



The Auburn Citizen on New York state's Freedom of Information law

Nov. 22

A bill that should soon be heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk would strengthen the rights of the average citizen to read public documents, so either the governor should sign it or the Legislature should override a veto.

The legislation in question would amend the state's Freedom of Information Law so that people could more routinely be awarded attorney's fees when a court decides that the information they had been seeking had been illegally withheld.

The change is an important one of behalf of the rights of the public. People should be able to look at most everything compiled by the government, but government officials are sometimes reluctant to cooperate when people ask to have a look at certain files.

As it stands, government agencies often deny Freedom of Information requests simply because they know they can get away with it. Knowing that the average person doesn't have the financial means to file a lawsuit when their appeal is denied, agencies all but dare people to go to the next step and get a law firm on their side.

A bill passed by the Legislature — in a combined vote of 197-1 — would remove that strategy from the government by making it easier to recover attorney's fees when a citizen prevails in getting an appeal overturned.

New York should be doing everything it can to make it easier for people to see government documents. This FOIL amendment will go a long way to helping make that happen.

The Legislature needs to get this bill to the governor now; to be honest, we're disappointed it hasn't already been delivered. When it does get there, we implore him to sign it without delay. If, for some reason, Cuomo decides to veto the measure, legislative leaders should immediately begin the process of voting on an override.



Newsday on Charles Manson

Nov. 20

As humans, we crave explanations for the evil we encounter so we can try to make sense of it. We never got that for Charles Manson.

Despite all the books and movies about him, all the songs and artwork and TV specials and essays and merchandise and internet fan sites, Manson remained as unknowable and inscrutable as he was in August 1969, when the "family" he assembled in Southern California went on a murderous rampage that took seven lives.

There have been many bizarre murders since then, but none has gripped us like the one orchestrated by Manson. The violence seemed random. The lurid details — drugs, group sex, ritual killings, words scrawled in blood — were irresistible. The banal elements were scarily commonplace — the single mother whose life of petty crime left Manson in foster homes and reformatories, the Dale Carnegie book that taught him how to influence people, the Beatles lyrics that inspired him, his failed attempts to become a rock musician. And the women who were his followers were familiar — middle-class misfits and loners from broken homes whom Manson knew how to seduce, abuse and control, and to persuade to murder again and again.

He was evidence that unspeakable evil can find anyone, and he inhabited our psyches as a real-world Satan. The cult of Manson was as much about our response to him as it was about Manson himself. And he haunted us for decades, creeping out from our subconscious every time he came up for parole. That won't end with his death Sunday.

Manson ultimately will be remembered for more than the awful violence of that hot August night. His most prominent victim, actress Sharon Tate, who was married to film director Roman Polanski, was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she was slaughtered. Her mother became a powerful spokeswoman for victims' rights and was instrumental in the passage of a law that allowed for victim impact statements in California, a right that has spread in some form to all 50 states.

But Manson's legacy mostly will be as a metaphor for evil incarnate and the uneasiness he instilled in us. Manson once said, "I am just a mirror. Anything you see in me is you."

It wasn't true, but the possibility was terrifying.



The Wall Street Journal on the U.S. Department of Justice moving to block AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner

Nov. 21

Does President Trump's right hand know what his left is doing? Despite the Administration's laudable regulatory rollback, the Justice Department on Monday intervened in the fast-evolving media and broadband markets with an antitrust lawsuit to block AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner. The lawsuit misconstrues markets and undermines the rule of law — whether or not it was inspired by the White House.

Start with the fact that the AT&T-Time Warner deal is a "vertical merger," meaning that the two companies operate in distinct markets and don't directly compete. Time Warner is mainly a content producer. AT&T, which also owns DirectTV, is mainly a distributor.

Justice last sued to block a vertical merger under Section 7 of the Clayton Act in 1977 in United States v. Hammermill Paper Co. It lost. Unlike horizontal mergers of businesses that directly compete, the government in vertical deals must marshal evidence to prove that vertically integrated companies would reduce competition and harm consumers.

In many of the two dozen or so vertical mergers since 1977 in which the government has raised antitrust concerns, Justice negotiated a settlement imposing behavioral remedies to blunt speculative anti-competitive effects. That includes its 2011 approval of NBCU's merger with Comcast in which it barred the cable giant from withholding its content from competitors. Justice hasn't said that the Comcast restrictions were insufficient to curb antitrust abuses, but it won't entertain such limits for AT&T and Time Warner.

Justice's odd antitrust theory is that AT&T "would use its control over Time Warner's valuable and highly popular networks to hinder its rivals." Supposedly AT&T would threaten to withhold Time Warner content from its diverse competitors to force them to pay more. Distributors who don't pony up would thus lose millions of customers, which Justice claims would sign up for AT&T.

No doubt AT&T and Time Warner wish they enjoyed that much market clout. But Time Warner accounts for less than 10 percent of broadcast and cable viewership while DirectTV makes up just 20 percent of the national multi-channel video programming market. CNN and HBO hardly provide invaluable or indispensable programming, and in any case Time Warner would be giving up hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue if it withheld its content from other distributors. As for raising prices, Time Warner can do that now if it can get away with it. Merging with AT&T hardly gives it more ability to do so.

Justice's even stranger claim is that the merger would "impede disruptive competition" from "emerging online competition." Emerging? That adjective will surprise Netflix, with its 110 million subscribers and more than two dozen original shows; or Amazon, with its original TV series and movies and its 90 million Prime members. Google this year launched an over-the-top streaming service that bundles 40 channels for $35 a month. These are large and thriving vertically integrated companies.

The reality is that competition in media content and distribution has intensified, and traditional pay-for-TV distributors including cable companies and DirectTV are losing customers. AT&T has 25 million video subscribers, down half a million this year. The largest cable companies boast fewer than 50 million customers. Acceleration in cord-cutting is harming content producers like Time Warner that charge cable companies per subscription and sell ads based on viewership.

Increased competition is forcing innovation and consolidation in business models. Deals between broadband and mobile providers have recently been floated to attract more millennials, more than half of whom stream videos on their phones. T-Mobile is nipping at AT&T and luring customers by offering free Netflix.

AT&T like Comcast wants to purchase content and use its ability to mine user data to better target ads at viewers. This could help the combined company better compete with Google and Facebook , which already draw 60 percent of digital ad revenues in the U.S. More ad revenues could also allow AT&T to reduce its prices, which could impel rivals to follow. All of this would make the market more competitive and offer consumers more choices.

So why is Justice rolling out dubious antitrust theories? Our guess is the populist politics on the left and right. Conservatives hate CNN, which Time Warner owns, and liberals hate big business in general. Mr. Trump, in his shoot-from-the-lip fashion, said in October 2016 when the deal was proposed that he'd try to block it. Thirteen Democratic Senators including Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and Bernie Sanders in January wrote a letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes fretting about the "consolidation in the telecommunications and media industries."

Antitrust Division Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, who lobbied for Comcast in 2010 and worked in the White House counsel's office earlier this year, said last year that he didn't see the deal "as a major antitrust problem." That's why his about-face since his confirmation in September is so curious and seemingly political.

Mr. Trump said again on Tuesday that "I've always felt that was a deal that's not good for the country," adding that "I'm not going to get involved. It's litigation." Yet uttering his opinion feeds inferences of political interference and a willingness to bend antitrust law in ways that undermine business confidence.

The good news is that AT&T plans to defend the merger in court, and a trial should be expedited given Justice's drawn-out investigation. Justice will have to demonstrate that AT&T's market power exceeds that of its various competitors and that it would use its clout to harmful effect. That's a high bar that Justice can't meet on all the available evidence.

A government defeat could set a healthy precedent that reduces Justice's leverage and latitude to restrict mergers using market theories that respond to populist politics rather than the rule of law.




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