Gambling addiction is a problem that is real and destructive — of individuals, families and businesses. People with gambling problems in Western New York have stolen even from churches to feed their compulsion. What is more, the problem is well-known and predictable, if not specifically who will be made to suffer, then that suffering is a guaranteed consequence.
New York takes in $3.2 billion a year from the state lottery, racinos and off-track betting. It devotes only $2.2 million annually for programs to address compulsive gambling.
What is more, gambling has become pervasive. As James Maney, director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, observed, "Gambling is more normalized now. It's not just the lottery or casinos. It's fantasy football. Sports betting. Internet betting. Every form of gambling has taken off, and we haven't done a great job of responding to it."
And, in Western New York, there are the three Seneca tribal casinos, located in some of the poorest neighborhoods of the state's poorest cities. New York makes money off of the gamblers in those places, too.
It's a calculated move. It's no secret that gambling offers easy money to governments or that it precipitates misery among some of its adherents. Given that formula, it is the state's obligation to do more.
And, in fact, it is about to do more, but only in connection with a significant expansion of legalized gambling. At the state's urging, voters last year approved the establishment of non-Indian casinos in New York. Four are authorized for upstate and they will pony up an additional $3.5 million a year for gambling addiction programs.
That will certainly help by more than doubling the state's contribution, but whether it is enough is doubtful. For example, New York's investment in problem gambling comes out to 11 cents per resident. Among the 39 states with publicly funded addiction programs, the average is 32 cents, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Pennsylvania spends about five times more per capita than New York does, while Iowa spends nine times more.
New York will point out that lottery money helps to fund education, and that's fine — assuming it really does — but socially helpful use of those revenues in no way excuses the state from funding programs that ameliorate the problems it helps to create.
New York is about to start doing a better job, as Steve Block, president of the New York Council on Problem Gaming, acknowledges. But the problems are also about to increase. The state needs to do better.
The Syracuse Post-Standard on the state's legal services for indigent defendants.
New York state's system of providing legal representation for poor criminal defendants goes on trial next week in Albany. Witnesses will testify about defendants who spend too much time in jail waiting for their overburdened lawyers, lack the resources to challenge the prosecution's expert witnesses and lose cases they might otherwise win with proper legal representation.
Onondaga County has a dog in this fight. It is one of five localities named in the lawsuit, Hurrell-Harring et al. v. the State of New York, filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Schulte Roth & Zabel law firm.
An NYCLU report issued last month detailed the failings of Onondaga County's provision of legal services for indigent defendants. In 2012, almost one-third of criminal defendants never saw their lawyers outside of court appearances. More than 1,600 defendants waited over a month to see their assigned defense lawyer. Defendants regularly appear at arraignments without a lawyer present.
What does Onondaga County have to say about that? "We take our obligation to provide indigent legal services very seriously," said Martin Skahen, the spokesman for County Executive Joanie Mahoney. He declined to comment on the specifics, citing the ongoing litigation, "but look forward to a full conversation at the appropriate time."
To be fair, the provision of indigent legal services is a poorly funded mandate from the state. In a 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright that states must provide lawyers for defendants who can't afford them. Two years later, New York pushed that responsibility onto its 62 counties, resulting in a patchwork of approaches with no uniform standards and grossly inadequate funding.
For decades, advocates have been begging the state Legislature, the attorney general and the governor to address this issue. A 2006 commission appointed by Chief Judge Judith Kaye found "an unconstitutional level" of legal defense that varied county by county. Last month, just before Eric Holder stepped down as U.S. Attorney General, the Justice Department issued a "statement of interest" urging the court to consider the structural deficiencies of New York's indigent defense as grounds for ruling in the plaintiffs' favor.
It's taken seven years for this lawsuit to reach trial. In its defense, the state argues that individual instances of poor legal representation don't add up to a systemic problem.
Baloney. In too many cases, New York and its counties are failing to live up to the spirit of the Sixth Amendment and the letter of Gideon v. Wainwright. They should admit this and settle the lawsuit now —- before a judge does it for them.
Safeguarding the due process rights of defendants is one of those unglamorous yet necessary tasks of government. New York should accept its moral, legal and fiscal responsibility to provide adequate legal services to all its poor citizens, regardless of what county they live in.
The New York Daily News on funding for bullet-proof vests for law enforcement officers.
Washington is so broken that Congress has slashed a program that should be bullet-proof: funding for bullet-proof vests for America's cops.
Sixteen years ago, Republicans and Democrats joined in helping local police forces purchase the life-saving equipment for the members of many departments, including the NYPD.
But over the last four years, Republican zeal to cut spending has trumped the party's claim to be the best friend law enforcement could have. Washington now sends the NYPD $0 for vests.
All told, the feds' program has helped provide more than 1 million bullet-proof vests to cops and correction officers. In 2012 alone, they saved 14 lives, according to the Justice Department.
Regardless, Washington has cut funding.
In 2010, the feds helped buy 193,259 vests nationwide at a cost of $37 million. This year, the number is just 51,910 — because funding fell to $19 million and the Justice Department now covers only one-third of a vest's price instead of half.
In 2010, New York State received $4 million and bought 23,307, with the city getting $1.5 million for 11,648 vests. The next year, the state got $1.7 million for 21,792 vests, and the city's share dropped to a half-million dollars.
By 2013, the state's grant had fallen to $700,000 for 2,621 vests, with the city getting nothing — since the Department of Justice directed money first to localities with less than 100,000 people and left larger jurisdictions to share whatever was left, which was naught.
Much of the blame falls on Tom Coburn, a Republican senator from Oklahoma who has taken misplaced pride in slashing even worthy outlays.
In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave bipartisan support to fully fund the vest program. The bill needed unanimous consent on the floor, but Coburn twice blocked it singlehandedly, including during National Police Week.
Spurred by the cutoff, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman drew on criminal and civil forfeiture accounts, which could have been used for other important purposes, to provide $2.8 million to buy 8,030 vests. The NYPD got 2,402 vests from a grant of about $700,000.
Schneiderman's very welcome move was necessary only because Republicans in Washington betrayed the safety of police officers.
Sen. Chuck Schumer has been trying hard to get the vest program back to full strength. He should not let up. There's hope because Coburn is retiring at year's end. Good riddance to him.
The New York Post on tax policies and the economy.
What does it tell you when the leader of the world's best known rock band has a better grasp of modern tax policy than those responsible for making it?
The front man for the rock band U2 got some people's Irish up after he defended the low taxes of his homeland. "Tax competitiveness has brought our country the only prosperity we've known," said the singer about the Emerald Isle. He's absolutely right.
After touring the world with U2, Bono's second career as an advocate for the poor — especially in forgotten Africa — has taken him to many spots not found on the standard itinerary for a rock band.
Unlike so many others, he learned: The best way for a nation to help its poor move into the middle class is to open up its economy and allow people on the bottom to benefit from the inflows of investment and the opportunities it brings.
Bono puts it well: "As a person who's spent nearly 30 years fighting to get people out of poverty, it was somewhat humbling to realize that commerce played a bigger job than development. I'd say that's my biggest transformation in 10 years: understanding the power of commerce to make or break lives, and that it cannot be given into as the dominating force in our lives."
Not that it makes him popular. Kind words about business make him suspect on the left, whose favored models seem to prefer perpetual dependency rather than the dignity of self-sufficiency.
Meanwhile, the European Union looks askance on anyone trying to compete on taxes, because it prefers a system where everyone's taxes are the same — sky high.
We don't often look to singers for economic advice. But in Bono's case, leave it to the rock star to hit just the right note.
The Poughkeepsie Journal on the government's surveillance programs in the U.S.
There is no question that either Congress or the courts have to do something about out-of-control surveillance programs in this country.
And, given the choice, it would be far more preferable for our elected officials to deal with this issue — and promptly.
With that in mind, it's refreshing to hear Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy say he is not only pushing a bill that would stop the National Security Agency from collecting the phone records of millions of Americans, he believes there is support for passage.
Of course, nothing will happen until after the Nov. 4 elections, but there is every good reason for Congress to back the so-called "USA Freedom Act." The bill, which has support from a diversity of organizations, would halt the NSA's outrageous methods of collecting phone records en masse and instead allow the agency to target only suspected terrorists.
Leahy has support of both Senate Republican and Democratic leaders, and the House of Representatives also has signaled its backing of similar legislation.
Congress and President Obama have until mid-2015 to do something before the NSA and other federal law enforcement agencies could lose their surveillance tools, under a provision of the Patriot Act anti-terrorism law.
Surely, the country has waited long enough. In fact, if Congress and the president can't get its act together on this soon, the court should impose its will to stop these clear violations of privacy against law-abiding people.
Conceptually, both the president and many members of Congress agree that there should be limits on these programs - and that there must be some type of judicial oversight. But, to date, they have not ironed out the details. Americans actually knew very little about extent of the snooping programs until they were leaked by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden.
While Congress considers its options, the federal courts are hearing arguments regarding these matters, providing another powerful reason why our federally elected officials shouldn't dawdle.
U.S. intelligence agencies need reasonable room to operate; they perform incredibly important tasks and a number of terror-related plots have been snuffed out since 9/11. But vital "checks and balances" shouldn't be lost in the process. As they stand, surveillance tactics are too arbitrary and sweeping. A reasonable compromise is achievable and must get done.