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Commentary & Opinion

Blair Horner: New Year's Resolutions For 2016

As 2015 recedes into the rear view mirror, it’s time to take stock of the year; its achievements and failures.  And it’s a good time to look to the future.

Here are 2015’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good: There were some significant policy achievements at the state Capitol and in the nation.  The state broke a long-standing environmental logjam to reform and refinance its brownfields program, which offers assistance in cleaning up hazardous waste sites and then works to redevelop the land.  The state approved funding for the Superfund program, which funds the clean-ups of the most hazardous toxic waste sites in New York.  The governor and the New York City mayor also hammered out a deal to refinance the lifeblood of the city, its mass transit system.

The U.S. Supreme Court ended the legal debate over marriage equality, although the political debate continues.

The bad: New York’s reputation took a big hit with the unending political crime wave which has gripped the Capitol.  Three former Senate Majority Leaders, a Senate Deputy Majority Leader, and a former Assembly Speaker were all among those convicted of crimes.  While these all added up to an unprecedented political earthquake, what was more disturbing was the seeming disinterest by Albany’s ruling elite to tackle the problem of ethic reforms. 

The ugly:  Sadly, 2015 had some shockingly ugly events – most notably the terrible violence both at home and abroad.  Also, the tenor of American political discourse took an ugly turn with speeches attacking immigrants and others who seek asylum in the United States.

Ugly as well were the continued attacks on the science of climate change.  Leading political figures in the United States refuse to believe in the science documenting how the warming of the planet is the result of human activities – like the burning of fossil fuels.  These political figures have done much to undermine the strength of the possible global treaties to curb the emission of greenhouse gases. 

Opposing efforts to curb global warming is, in fact, the most violent act of all.  If the planet continues to heat up, many millions will face unnecessary disease, hardship, and violence.  Droughts will accelerate, exacerbating strife, triggering more violence and death.  Low-lying coastal areas will be flooded, forcing millions to move.

Opposing efforts to curb global warming will result in higher levels of air pollution, leading to sickness and disability for many.

If left unabated, runaway climate change could even threaten civilization itself.

How can those who lead, or wish to lead, the nation ignore such a threat?

Because they are putting their political interests ahead of those of the public’s interest. 

That is really ugly.

But there is hope.  Despite Congressional opposition, the Obama Administration was able to thread the needle and work out a global agreement to begin to tackle climate change.

Here in New York, U.S. Attorney PreetBharara seems to be intent to continue in his quest to clean out Albany’s political stables. 

Voters will go to the polls this year to elect a new President, a new Congress, and a new state legislature.  Perhaps voters will change things for the better.

New years offer new hope, a clean slate.  Here are some New Year’s resolutions for 2016:

1.  Combat climate change.  Unless we succeed in blocking the fossil fuel industry and developing non-carbon energy policies, millions will suffer.  And those who will suffer most are those in the world’s poorest nations – the people who have contributed the least to global warming and are most vulnerable to a changing climate. 

2.  End inequality.  The nation’s festering gap in equality of opportunity and civic participation has widened to a chasm.  It will be important to remove obstacles such as those to college, particularly for those of modest means, and to eliminate unfair and predatory financial policies. 

3.  Strengthen and expand our democracy.  From easing voter registration requirements, to demanding enhanced ethical standards for public officials, to opening government to those it is supposed to serve, there needs to be movement to enhance democracy.

It’s an ambitious agenda.  But that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for – hopefully these are resolutions that are shared by voters and those whom they elect.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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