- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on state government withholding information about oil train shipments in New York.

July 8

The government maintains information that it is the public’s right to know.

A lot of that information, the public wants to know. This is information the public needs to know. It’s about public safety. It’s about the environment. It’s about quality of life.

Eight environmental groups and The Associated Press last week filed Freedom of Information Law requests with the state Office of Emergency Management seeking details about shipments of explosive crude oil from the Bakken shale region. The fuel is shipped via trains on 1,000 miles of rail line across the state, through big cities like Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany, through small communities in Washington and Saratoga counties, and down through the Hudson Valley.

When there was leak of 100 gallons of fuel at the Port of Albany last month, officials didn’t bother to tell Albany County officials about it for the purposes of emergency response management.

The state has the details about the shipments of Bakken crude in its possession, including information about the exact routes and how much fuel is being transported. But the state, so far, has declined to share that information with its citizens.

It’s now mulling over the FOIL requests, and says it will respond within 20 days. That’s too long. A lot of bad can happen in 20 days. Just look at the other disasters in the U.S. and Canada involving this fuel to see just how bad. How could the state justify a delay of even one day in sharing this information with the public?

The railroad companies claim that releasing it could compromise the security of the shipments. Yet several other states, including heavily populated states like Florida and California, have released the information, apparently placing their citizens’ welfare above some vague security concerns. The attorney general in North Dakota, where this fuel comes from, said there is no legal basis for withholding the information. Why, then, would New York state officials refuse for one day to inform the public about the potential danger, much less wait three weeks just to decide whether to release it?

Fire departments and rescue squads aren’t the only ones that have a stake in knowing where this stuff is going and in what quantities. Residents and businesses along the routes and near the storage facilities have a stake. People who use the lakes and rivers and streams and land these trains pass over and through have a stake in knowing the potential threats to the environment. Motorists and others who share the rail lines have a stake.

Yet New York officials sit on the information while potentially thousands of gallons of this fuel literally pass through our backyards without us knowing anything about it.

It shouldn’t take a Freedom of Information Law request to get this information released to the public. All the state should be looking at is who needs to know this information.

And the answer is, we all do. Right now.




The Oneonta Daily Star on using law enforcement resources to combat marijuana growing as heroin and prescription drugs pose greater threats.

July 7

The Otsego County Sheriff’s Office is in the midst of its annual two-week marijuana eradication campaign.

We have no doubt that Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr.’s heart is in the right place, wanting his county to be free of illegal drugs, but we respectfully wonder if we can say the same about his brain when it comes to this enterprise.

With a surge in heroin and prescription drug abuse in our area, any major use of department resources to hunt down marijuana growers makes very little, if no sense at all.

The annual eradication efforts are scheduled in advance, Devlin said, and do not interfere with other drug busts or investigations.

How is that? If the sheriff’s office and other agencies are spending two weeks tracking down and arresting marijuana growers, they could be working on the area’s much more serious heroin and prescription drug problems.

While it is true that using or selling marijuana is against the law, one day it won’t be. There is a rising tide of public opinion for the legalization of pot, and it is only a matter of time until New York joins Colorado and Washington - where marijuana use is legal - and California, where it has been decriminalized.

There is no question, however, that heroin and prescription drug abuse are major threats to our youth and to society as a whole.

“We all know we have a huge heroin problem around here,” Devlin said. “But we can’t forget about other problematic drugs, like marijuana.”

But is marijuana really so problematic?

“I consider it a gateway drug,” Devlin said.

That theory means that if someone tries marijuana, it is likely to be a “gateway” to trying more-dangerous drugs.

Indeed, a person who smokes marijuana is more than 104 times more likely to use cocaine than a person who never tries pot, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

That could be partly because the seller of illegal marijuana is likely to be the seller of cocaine and heroin, too. That would not be the case if marijuana were legalized. If we are looking for gateway drugs, how about tobacco and alcohol?

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences wrote: “Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana - usually before they are of legal age. . There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

We strongly urge Sheriff Devlin to make 2014 his last annual marijuana eradication effort.




The Buffalo News on Central American children crossing the U.S. border and the need for immigration reform.

July 5

The din along the country’s Southern border is evidence of the need for immigration reform and an indictment of the House Republicans who refuse to negotiate a fair and sensible law that would serve both the nation and their dangerously out-of-touch party.

The scenes were shocking as protesters in Southern California mobbed three busloads of women and children, shouting “go home” and waving signs. The United States is facing a flood of children seeking safety from violence in their countries. They may be here illegally, but they are still children and deserved not to be treated with the ugliness that was on display in Murietta, north of San Diego.

Republicans are blaming President Obama, claiming his policy of placing such children with family members in this country is encouraging the influx. But the fact is a bipartisan law signed by President George W. Bush mandated those protections for minors fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

This week Obama said he would ask Congress for $2 billion in emergency funding to deal with the influx and for new authority to speed the return of the unaccompanied children to their home countries.

The better solution is an immigration reform bill that deals comprehensively with the issues, but House Republicans simply refuse. They claim, preposterously, that their reluctance has to do with fear that Obama won’t enforce the law. But the facts show otherwise. The administration’s record of removals of those who have entered or tried to enter the country illegally is far higher than any other recent president.

What is more, with tea party Republicans intimidating the House leadership, the chamber is flat unwilling to consider any kind of immigration reform that deals realistically with those already in the country by offering some kind of a pathway to legal status. In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats worked through the issues and produced a strong bill. It died in the House.

Yet Republicans themselves underscored the need for immigration reform after their 2012 loss to Obama. The party’s post-mortem said: “We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”

Speaker John Boehner blames Obama for the results of an out-of-date immigration law that he cannot persuade his party to fix. The price of inaction can be paid in many ways and one of them is the unexpected wave of children illegally making their way into this country.

Polls consistently show Americans supporting immigration reform. A June survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 62 percent favor allowing a path to citizenship. Another 17 percent said illegal immigrants should be able to become legal residents but not citizens.

Frustrated with the House’s intransigence, Obama has pledged to do what he can administratively to deal with immigration. Any responsible president would do the same, but what Obama can do on his own is limited.

The country was founded on the theory that intelligent people would compromise to find solutions to serious issues. In the absence of that compromise, children are among those paying the price.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on challenges facing new leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs

July 7

No one should envy the task ahead of Robert McDonald.

He is expected to take over as secretary of the shaken Department of Veterans Affairs, a massive government operation that is embroiled in an outrageous scandal and for years has been stymied by systemic delays in providing care.

It is hard to ascertain exactly how much difference McDonald can make and how quickly, but he must summon up all his considerable skills and powers to do so.

McDonald is a West Point graduate and most recently served as chairman of Procter & Gamble, a Fortune 500 company.

But running the Veterans Affairs is quite different than being in charge of a big corporation in the private sector. McDonald will need the right tools to do the job, including being able to replace, and fast, anyone who isn’t up to the solemn task of providing adequate medical coverage to veterans - or effectively overseeing those who are providing the care.

To that end, President Barack Obama said he is instituting rules so that anyone caught acting improperly - including falsifying records to improve wait times - will be held accountable. The policies will make it easier to fire administrators caught making such egregious decisions. While that is all fine and good, prosecutors also have ample authority to go after any criminal activity and they shouldn’t be hesitant to bring charges where appropriate.

So far, the worst part of the scandal involves the Phoenix VA hospital, where 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment. Yet it has been known for years the VA was severely backed up, with tens of thousands of veterans waiting months for appointments.

One remedy involves a two-year trial program, under which veterans will be able to seek private health care if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA facility - or have been waiting more than 30 days for treatment.

Congress will have to go further, including making sure the funds are available to more fully automate the VA medical system. It must have a realistic amount of resources to handle the influx of veterans it has been receiving and treating since the end of the Iraq War and drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold confirmation hearings on McDonald’s nomination, and he will have to win approval by the full Senate. The Senate should use this time not only to approve McDonald but to go over with him in painstaking detail, what he, the rest of the Obama administration and Congress would need to do to remedy this national outrage.




The Staten Island Advance on unevenness in the U.S. economic recovery.

July 3

No wonder there is joy on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones industrial average has traded above 17,000 for the first time ever. On Main Street, however, the mood is not yet joyous.

Issued on the stock market’s last trading day before the Fourth of July, a stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs report calmed worries about the economic recovery.

To be sure, there was good news in the numbers.

Robust hiring in June helped to drive the unemployment rate down to 6.1 percent, the lowest since September 2008 when the Great Recession burst the financial bubble in America.

Last month was the fifth in a row with job gains above 200,000, the best stretch since the high-tech boom of the late 1990s.

The Labor Department reported that a robust 288,000 jobs were added in June as employers accelerated hiring and shook off the impact of a harsh winter and chilly spring.

“The economy has built momentum,” said President Obama, calling for “economic patriotism” on Capitol Hill to limit partisanship during this mid-term election year.

Unfortunately, it’s not likely to happen.

Even though the economy seems to be headed in the right direction, millions of Americans remain disgruntled.

For good reason.

In the sixth year of the nation’s economic recovery, wages have yet to rise significantly. Average pay has increased just 2 percent a year during that span, roughly in line with inflation.

So most American workers - from Staten Island, N.Y., to Staten Island, Calif. - don’t feel any better off than they were during the worst recession in U.S. history.

The average hourly wage for private sector workers rose by just six cents in June to only $24.45.

Millions of people feel as if they are just treading water, trying to stay afloat financially during lingering hard times.

Others know well that sinking feeling.

Less than 63 percent of U.S. adults are working or looking for a job, compared with 66 percent before the recession.

The number of long-term unemployed remains above 3 million. That’s half of what it was three years ago, but the worry is that many people have stopped looking for work.

Even so, the good news should not be overlooked.

It’s clear that the nationwide drop in the jobless rate in June occurred because more Americans found work, not because job-seekers gave up looking.

In cities across the nation, where the recession decimated budgets, times seem to be changing. Local government payrolls have so far been rising strongly this year.

Factory jobs have risen for 11 months in a row; factories added 16,000 workers last month.

In June, retailers added over 40,000 jobs. Restaurants and bars employed 32,800 more people. Financial and insurance firms increased their payrolls by 17,000.

“This has now become a textbook jobs expansion - it is both broad and accelerating,” said Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research at CohnReznick, a consulting group.

More jobs mean more paychecks to spend, of course.

Which is good for both Wall Street and Main Street.






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