ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Times Union of Albany on the end of the 2013 legislative session, corruption and dysfunction.
Well, New York, here's your state Legislature, getting ready to pack up for the year. Good riddance to Albany, these people are effectively saying, after a session marked by corruption and dysfunction.
Yes, they can claim a few accomplishments. The first days of January brought a post-Newtown gun control law that made New York safer. April brought a scandalously overdue increase in the state's minimum wage.
And the almost three months since then? High-profile arrests of several legislators have overshadowed a state government that's been spectacularly successful in neglecting the people's business.
The women's rights agenda that brought a brief but unmistakable tone of idealism to the start of the legislative session is in peril. Salvaging Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan now requires surrendering to the politics of the unacceptable — giving up on making sure a woman's right to an abortion is protected by state law, and settling instead for passage of a Women's Equality Act that is incomplete without this.
Campaign finance reform worth the name — that is, with a provision that provides matching public funds for serious candidates for state office — seems doomed, too. That makes Mr. Cuomo one more governor who made a show of changing the culture of state government but couldn't deliver.
The typical end-of-session frenzy, by all accounts, looks as if it will produce half a loaf, if that. Deals on a referendum to bring full-scale casinos to the state and a tweaked version of the governor's plan to give tax breaks for business development on university campuses still leave a great deal of urgent business undone.
Mr. Cuomo's penchant for holding back details of his lofty proposals played into the hands of the Senate Republicans, who despite being in the minority clearly control the chamber, and thus can block his more progressive and reformist ideas, particularly abortion rights and campaign reform.
Mr. Cuomo is justified in responding to the Legislature's failure to address its ethical breaches, and to the Republicans' defense of the ethical status quo, by naming a special commission under the Moreland Act that will target legislative corruption.
But Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos couldn't pull off this obstruction alone. Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, made it possible. Mr. Klein and his little cohort need to ask themselves what they got out of their power-sharing alliance with Mr. Skelos when the price of maintaining it was turning their backs on their supposed commitment to progressive politics.
And the rest of us?
We need to ask why New York has to settle for less than a full loaf. It's not like these legislators are 18th-century farmers who need to leave Albany and return home to tend to their fields. They're getting what amounts to full-time pay, at a minimum of $79,500.
Legislators need to stay here — to pass real campaign finance reform, strengthen abortion rights, protect transgendered people, broaden the rights of farmworkers, and make marijuana laws more fair.
Leave now, and voters may wonder why they bother to send them back.
The Poughkeepsie Journal on lawmakers working out a plan for non-Indian casinos in parts of New York.
After some late-minute shuffling that would make an expert blackjack dealer envious, the state has produced a vision of sorts for casino expansion in New York.
It's been a painful process, but the deal is far from done. Voters, too, have to sign off on the plan, which calls for four casinos in three upstate regions — and the opportunity for up to three more, including downstate, seven years down the road. The last-minute lobbying and political negotiations were intense. It produced a not-unreasonable blueprint that, in the first round, most likely will lead to two casinos being built in the Catskills area and one each in the Southern Tier and Albany regions.
The Catskills is the logical place for casinos for a variety of reasons, including its proximity to the New York City market and its ability to keep more money from going to the neighboring states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. What's more, once a place of famed resorts catering to tourists, the Catskills has several places that would be perfect for readaptable use as casino sites. That includes the Nevelle in Ulster County — and, significantly, County Executive Mike Hein and many other lawmakers are in favor of that effort. The old Concord Hotel near Monticello in Sullivan County is considered a front-runner to land a casino. Another Sullivan County location, next to the former Grossinger's hotel complex in Liberty, also will be in the running.
But first things first. The state Constitution forbids building casinos in places beyond sovereign Native American land. So the state has to amend the Constitution to move forward and needs approval from the public at the ballot box in November to do that.
Largely to appease the state's existing racinos, Cuomo and legislative leaders made other changes to lessen the negative impact on those operations. But these modifications also could benefit New York taxpayers, because they increase the percentage of revenue private casinos will have to pay to the state to operate.
Cuomo also deftly reached agreements with three Indian tribes to give them gambling exclusivity in western, central and northern New York.
Yes, the state's efforts here have been laborious and, at best, only remotely transparent. But they have been far better than earlier plans to build casinos in ways that would have skirted the state Constitution. Fortunately, the state repeatedly got rejected by the courts and/or the federal government when trying to do so.
Through a siting panel, the state would have to identify the specific locations of casinos and must take into consideration any local government opposition — or support. Voters will determine the fate of what happens next, and that is exactly how it should be.
The New York Post on reaction to NSA leaker Edward Snowden and his travels overseas.
Only a few days ago, both left and right were telling us former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was a champion of freedom. It turns out, however, that the man supposedly making his stand for truth, justice and the American way has escaped an extradition request from the US — with the help of two of the world's most authoritarian nations, China and Russia.
We don't expect Snowden's flight from Hong Kong will change any minds on the left, where anyone who does anything to bring down a US anti-terror program automatically becomes a hero. But we wonder about those on the right.
When Snowden popped up in Hong Kong making public classified information he had stolen, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul declared, "Mr. Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy." Likewise, pundit Glenn Beck tweeted, "The NSA patriot leaker is just yet another chance for America to regain her moral compass and set things right." Even Jim Sensenbrenner, the GOP congressman who wrote the Patriot Act, said, "No, I don't agree," when asked if Snowden was a traitor. Some are now scrambling to clarify such remarks.
Certainly Snowden's arrival in Moscow on Monday ought to be a bracing clarifier. Yesterday we also learned that he took the job as an NSA contractor specifically to gain access to the classified documents. We would have thought it obvious that a nation cannot protect itself from terrorists if people entrusted with sensitive, classified information are free to make it public regardless of the oaths they have taken or the damage it will do.
For years conservatives complained about liberals who mindlessly opposed any anti-terror effort simply because George W. Bush was for it. It's no better if conservatives do the same just because Barack Obama is in office. If there is genuine whistle-blowing to be done — and let's be clear, Snowden has produced no evidence of any illegality — let it come to Congress for investigation and hearings, in closed session if necessary.
Now think about the countries involved in Snowden's flight plan: China. Russia. Cuba. Venezuela. Ecuador. Last we checked, these are not run by regimes known for either their respect for privacy rights or a transparent security apparatus.
But they make perfect partners for Edward J. Snowden.
The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on improving Veterans Administration care for women in the military.
For generations — actually, for the first 230 years of our nation's history — women were virtually shunned by our military. By custom, and finally by order, that has changed. And so, too, has the way the Veterans Administration has provided care for women veterans.
In the early history of the United States, women had to sneak into the military by disguising themselves as men. There are many well-documented cases of this in the Revolution, the Mexican War and Civil War.
In World Wars I and II, thousands and thousands of women served, mostly as nurses or in behind-the-front-lines roles. All of those roles were crucial to the war effort, but the situation painted an obvious picture of a military far more dependent on male efforts than female.
Last January, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, under urging from military brass, at last declared that women would be allowed to serve in the infantry and other fighting units alongside men. Several have performed valiantly, winning the highest commendations for daring in battle.
Right now, women account for 14 percent of our nation's military — more than 200,000 members.
Unfortunately, in spite of the record clearly proving that, as in every other workplace, women belong shoulder to shoulder with men, there have been far too many instances of sexual harassment and even sexual assaults.
The VA was slow in reacting to these realities.
Women rarely reported the incidents for fear of retribution or being deemed weak. When they would report to a VA hospital for counsel or treatment, they were obliged to enter premises again dominated by men. Sometimes, the verbal abuse would be repeated.
That is no longer the case, as the VA in upstate New York has opened a hospital devoted exclusively to women veterans. Responding to the plight of the women who were undervalued while in the service and again upon getting out, the VA now offers them all types of treatment and openly invites discussion of previously unmentioned atrocities — even from decades ago.
The hospital is especially attuned to patients who suffered sexual trauma while on duty. A story in Monday's Times Union of Albany detailed how women are encouraged to reveal their histories of sex abuse while in the military so they can be addressed, both physically and psychologically.
The military has not been proud of the way it has incorporated women into side-by-side service with males. Even the man hand-picked by the military to rout discrimination was himself charged with sexual abuses.
The country has a long way to go before it can truly say it welcomes women into the Army, Navy and Air Force and respects their contributions in the same way it does men's.
Post-military facilities such as the VA's near Albany will accelerate the process substantially.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on the U.S. House failing farmers and the poor by not passing the Farm Bill.
The nation's agricultural industry continues to operate in a vacuum after Congress last week failed to approve a new Farm Bill. The nation's poor, too, await word on how deeply into federal nutritional subsidy programs the bill will eventually cut. Evidently, it can't be deep enough for many conservative lawmakers.
The House rejected by nearly 40 votes the $955 billion, 10-year bill, which proposed to cut more than $20 billion from federal spending on food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. While many Democrats were prepared to hold their noses and support the bill, the last-minute addition of GOP amendments that would have added additional burdens like drug testing to those receiving food stamps understandably eroded that support.
Less understandable is how dozens of conservative Republicans declined to support the bill because food-stamp cuts weren't deep enough. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of poor Americans — children, seniors and veterans among them — who would have seen their piddling food subsidies cut further.
Unable to decide how hard to kick the poor, lawmakers defeated a measure that would have extended crop insurance programs, established farm subsidies and eliminated $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers whether they plant crops or not.
In New York, thriving agricultural markets including fruit, vegetable and livestock operations, dairy farmers and Finger Lakes wineries are among those left hanging.
House Speaker John Boehner will need to exert some leadership or hang up his gavel. The Farm Bill was formerly a bipartisan five-year exercise in give-and-take lawmaking. Like similarly once-routine congressional responsibilities — raising the nation's debt limit, voting on presidential nominees — it has become an exercise in partisanship.
The nation's farmers deserve better. To say nothing of the nation's poor.