- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on same-day voter registration.

Nov. 5

By the time the dust settles on the 2014 election and all the final absentee ballots drift in, New York state will most likely assume its regular place near the bottom of the nation’s voter-turnout lists.

One proven way to boost voter turnout is to increase the opportunities for people to vote. And the most proven way is by allowing same-day voter registration.

In states with same-day voter registration, turnout has increased an average of 10 percent, according to the United States Election Project, a University of Florida-based elections research organization.

Same-day registration boosts turnout in a number of ways.

Currently, New York requires that voters register at least 25 days before the election, shutting out many who don’t get interested in races until the end. That’s an unreasonable, unnecessary deadline.

Same-day registration would reduce some of the eligibility problems people have because of that deadline, as well as problems due to people changing addresses and forgetting to report the new information on time.

By allowing voters to register on Election Day, these voters’ ballots can be counted and their outdated registration information updated at the same time. Along with that, same-day registration reduces the need for provisional ballots. That means fewer ballots that need to be counted, reducing legal challenges, fraud, expense and inconvenience.

On Sunday, we endorsed against overly strict voter-identification laws that discriminate against poor and minority citizens. But that doesn’t mean we support lax identification requirements. Same-day registrants would still have to show the same identification currently required by the state, as well as sign an oath swearing to their identity. That oath requirement sounds a bit naive, until you remember how seriously the government takes voter fraud - which can be punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In addition, evidence in states that have same-day registration shows that it doesn’t increase the cost of an election and it isn’t unduly cumbersome on election staff. And it has shown that it helps reduce fraud and clerical errors.

There are other approaches designed to boost turnout, such as allowing people to vote early. But early voting has had only marginal success in boosting turnout.

Same-day registration, however, is a proven and efficient way not only to get more voters to the polls, but also to clear up inefficiencies and reduce fraud.

When New York lawmakers return to Albany in January, same-day voter registration should be one of their priorities.




The Poughkeepsie Journal on a local player winning the World Series with the San Francisco Giants.

Oct. 31

For Joe Panik and the Hudson Valley fans who have been joyously following him, it’s been a remarkable ride.

Just think of it: Earlier this year, Panik, a John Jay High School graduate, was in baseball’s minor leagues and a virtual unknown to most of the country. But he got promoted to the majors in June and quickly made a name for himself in the San Francisco Giants’ lineup. It’s not every “rookie” who gets to jump right in and make such an impression, especially for a team contending for a world championship. Panik wasn’t sitting on the bench or buried batting last in the order. Rather, the young second baseman became an integral player, quickly moving up to second in the batting order and finishing the regular season with a .305 average.

If his season had ended there, it would have been an outstanding accomplishment, with the promise of so much more to come. But Panik and his teammates were just getting started. He helped the Giants get through the playoff rounds and into the World Series where they faced the Kansas City Royals, a team with their own uplifting storyline, considering no one thought they could make it that far. The Giants and Royals gave fans an exhilarating World Series to remember, and Panik contributed with timely hits and defensive plays along the way. And he saved the best for last, making a snazzy catch and toss that started a key double play in the deciding Game 7 and allowed the Giants to capture the championship.

On Friday, Panik and his teammates were guests of honor in a massive parade in the City of San Francisco.

Back in the Hudson Valley, former teammates and coaches have reflected on his meteoric rise, saying he has worked hard and always kept an even keel as he pursued his dream.

What a wonderful story. And what a great end to a season that few baseball fans in this area are likely to forget.




The New York Daily News on Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate in the midterm elections.

Nov. 5

Like the dog that chased the car and finally bit a tire, the Republican Party must reckon with saying yes to lifting the country’s fortunes, rather than simply crying no to all things Obama.

If only the ascendant GOP had an agenda that was remotely up to the task.

The Republicans’ midterm gains in the Senate, plus an even tighter hold on the House, will undoubtedly squelch what little dynamism remains in a presidential administration that was built on hope and that has been stronger on oratory than performance.

With control of the Senate, the GOP power surge burdens Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, GOP White House hopefuls and Tea Partiers with the duty to chart the nation’s course for the next two years. Heaven help us.

The party’s constituent elements are neither united nor altogether rational. Too many approach governing with a near-theological faith that tax cuts plus deregulation plus repeal of Obamacare will snap America’s economic malaise - just you wait and see.

Then, too, the anti-Obama insurgents are surely aching for investigations into wrongdoing real and imagined, for obstructionism in the confirmation of presidential appointments and for the hollow symbolism of sending the President legislation that’s doomed for veto.

In that event, Republicans would fail to address an epochal transformation of work in the U.S. that is severely punishing paycheck earners.

Incomes are lower than five years ago. Companies are trading higher-wage jobs for lower-wage positions. Forced part-time work is all too common. Standards of living have taken a beating - except for those at the top.

While the Republicans have been more perceptive than Obama and the Democrats in stressing the need to goose economic growth, their program offers a grab bag of small-bore remedies, some of which have individual merit but all of which lack the collective heft to move the needle significantly on jobs.

More worrisome, the Republicans’ steep rightward tilt has all but ruled out three powerful economic catalysts: immigration reform, spending on public works like roads and transit and investments in scientific research and development.

Virtually all experts agree that immigration reform, notably including an open door for highly skilled foreigners, would drive growth. Yet border security mania and Tea Party opposition to granting the undocumented a path to citizenship are so strong that Obama is threatening unilateral presidential action, ill-advised as that might be.

At the same time, wielding outsized influence because of its readiness to challenge reasonable Republicans in primary elections, the Tea Party’s small-government zealots stand athwart putting money into infrastructure and research.

Smarter Republican heads must prevail. Now is not the time for gloating and payback. Now is the time for GOP leaders to take Obama’s diminishment as a cautionary tale.

Two years ago, the President came away from re-election with a 54% approval rating. But having run harder against Mitt Romney than he did in selling a second-term agenda, Obama’s mandate was uncertain.

Much the same is true at this hour for the Republicans. They have gained power by capitalizing on disenchantment with Obama rather than by rallying voters to their approach. It’s a short step from there to the cry, “Throw the bums out!”



The Times Union of Albany on the safety of freight rail cars transporting crude oil.

Nov. 3

As promised, Global Partners has weeded out any of the weaker freight rail cars that have been involved in the most significant crude oil accidents since the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, disaster in July 2013, which took 47 lives and flattened a town.

The reasons this has import are many, but this may be the most notable: An entity in the oil and rail industries involved in crude oil transportation has said it would take steps to make that process safer, identified a timeline within which to accomplish that goal and made it happen.

Global Partners, one of the companies at the heart of the North Dakota Bakken crude boom at the Port of Albany, did the right thing by upgrading to the sturdier tankers. But it’s long past time for the crude oil industry overall to take steps to give the Capital Region, and all the communities through which it ships its product, some semblance of trust in the safety of the trains, which roll through many of our communities and line up along Interstate 787 for the port.

The rail industry has spent some $47 million lobbying the federal government to delay implementation of “positive train control,” technology that can monitor trains and control their behavior to increase safety. An Associated Press report last year noted some 27 train crashes - which took 63 lives, injured nearly 1,200 and caused millions of dollars in damage - could have been prevented over the last decade had this safety system been in place. The National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending the system since at least 1990, and Congress mandated it in 2008. Yet, the railroads are still quibbling and seeking delays, with tacit support of the Federal Railroad Administration.

For the oil industry’s part, it continues to argue Bakken crude is hardly different than other light crudes. A Wall Street Journal analysis this year found otherwise: Bakken crude emits more combustible gases than oil from other sources. Earlier this month, New York state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens and Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald wrote the North Dakota governor in support of a proposal requiring oil companies to remove explosive gases from Bakken crude prior to rail shipment.

The industry further argues against having to replace its fleet of tanker cars, even though the weakest cars make up 70 percent of the fleet. It points to voluntary standards agreed to by rail and oil three years ago, saying that to change standards, a “comprehensive examination” - translation: lengthy wait - is warranted.

The federal Department of Transportation is taking comments on new rules it proposed in July to make crude oil transportation safer. Bureaucracy is slow, and the rail and oil industries are taking advantage, urging federal regulators to give them up to seven years to comply. For the people of Lac-Megantic and those living closest to freight lines here, that’s about seven years and a day too long.



The New York Times on student loan defaults.

Nov. 3

People who pay for college with federal student loans can avoid default when they fall on hard times by making lower payments - or no payments at all - until they recover financially. Borrowers who take out private student loans from banks and other institutions typically have no such option. When they lose their jobs or suffer other financial setbacks, they have little choice but to default, which, in turn, damages their credit histories and ability to borrow for other purposes or even to find a job.

Federal regulators and members of Congress have been pressing private lenders to adopt flexible payment plans like those available through the federal loan system to no avail, according to an alarming report released last month by the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Congress may have to step in and require them to do so.

Private student lenders are not required to disclose loan activity. But according to one estimate based on federal data, about 80 percent of students who graduated with heavy debt ($40,000 or more) just when the recession started had private loans. Jobs were hard to find, and the housing crisis had destroyed the home equity that parents might have tapped to help out. And some students who had planned on a modified payment plan turned out to be ineligible for that assistance. Complaints piled up. According to the ombudsman’s report, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau collected 5,300 complaints about private lenders during the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30 - a 38 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. Borrowers who sought lower payments were told that the payments were set and nothing could be done. In some cases, borrowers were advised to default and try to negotiate a deal with a collection agency.

Congress helped cause this problem in 2005 when it rushed through without debate a provision that makes private student loan debt virtually impossible to discharge through the bankruptcy process. (The same is true of federal loans.) Since then, lenders have had no incentive to work out arrangements with borrowers who want to pay but don’t have the means to do so under the original terms of the loan. Now it’s time for Congress to fix that error either by rescinding the bankruptcy provision or requiring lenders to create clearly advertised flexible payment plans in exchange for retaining it.

Beyond that, Congress should require of private lenders what it already requires of mortgage services, which must respond in a timely way to requests for a modified payment schedule. The aim is to help delinquent borrowers find a way to meet their obligations. Student borrowers should have the same chance.




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