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A sampling of editorials from around New York

January 8, 2014
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on allowing broader use of medical marijuana than Gov. Cuomo plans.

Jan. 7

Say what you will about legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use — and voters in the states of Colorado and Washington have said yes — medical marijuana is, or at least should be, a much easier call. The dangers of abuse aren't the same and the benefits for patients are clear.

We're glad to see that Gov. Cuomo has changed his mind ("evolved," as he puts it) on the issue and decided to let some hospitals administer the drug for research purposes. We also hope this limited measure leads, sooner rather than later, to doctors being able to prescribe the stuff for every patient who needs it.

That broader approach would require approval by the Legislature. In fact, the state Assembly passed such a bill in June but the Senate has refused to consider it.

Cuomo, however, is using his executive authority here — and altogether properly, since there has been a law on the books in New York state since 1980 allowing the use of marijuana for medical research on patients with certain illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS.

Unfortunately that law, for a variety of reasons (mostly having to do with the fact that the federal government was threatening to prosecute doctors who prescribed marijuana), was basically forgotten. Until now, that is.

Societal attitudes about marijuana have changed dramatically in the past few years, and enough states have now legalized marijuana in some fashion (20 not including New York) that the Obama administration has withdrawn the threat of prosecution for those who prescribe or dispense.

It's good that Cuomo has opened the door, but the program will be limited to 20 hospitals. This will leave some patients suffering from painful, debilitating or even terminal illnesses without the relief they need and deserve to have.

The bill that passed the Assembly would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for such patients, and the governor and Senate should go along. It's the humane, popular (82 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of medical marijuana) and right thing to do.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1idq3Mc

The Poughkeepsie Journal on government delays getting relief money to people affected by Superstorm Sandy.

Jan. 2

Fourteen months after Superstorm Sandy crashed the shores of the East Coast and walloped parts of New York and New Jersey, too many people are still awaiting help.

They are awaiting long-promised checks from the government — money that is supposed to go directly to people struggling to rebuild their homes. The government must step up its efforts and fast.

The storm surge decimated beach shore areas on Long Island, New York City and New Jersey, and caused considerable damage throughout the mid-Hudson Valley as well.

Yet only a fraction of the federally approved money has been spent, in the latest example of government bureaucracy getting in the way of a timely cleanup after a natural disaster.

If you remember, Congress got off to a sluggish start in dealing with the cleanup of Superstorm Sandy.

Outrageously, it delayed the approval of money for a few months as federal representatives argued over what types of funding should come under the emergency disaster package and what should go through regular appropriations.

While the federal government still has major responsibilities when it comes to the cleanup, the states have to ensure the federal money they have been given is being handled wisely and in a timely manner.

Some relief money has been used to help victims living in temporary housing but rebuilding efforts also are critically important.

Both New York and New Jersey officials say they are making better headway the last few weeks and anticipate many more will be helped in the beginning of the new year.

There also have been some legitimate sticking points that will take time to sort out. For instance, the states are wisely resisting efforts to rebuild in every area that sustained considerable damage. That's because these areas have been damaged before by floods and other natural disasters, scenarios that likely will increase in the era of climate change. Some places must be left as natural buffer areas or turned into recreational areas, with landowners fairly compensated for their losses.

In other cases, people should have the right to rebuild as long as they are meeting new requirements, such as raising their structures, to qualify for federal flood insurance.

Nevertheless, such assessments must be made in a timely manner. Months of waiting should be long enough.

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Online:

http://pojonews.co/JFBb8Q

The New York Times on clemency or reduced punishment for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

Jan. 1

Seven months ago, the world began to learn the vast scope of the National Security Agency's reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe, as it collects information about their phone calls, their email messages, their friends and contacts, how they spend their days and where they spend their nights. The public learned in great detail how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices.

The revelations have already prompted two federal judges to accuse the N.S.A. of violating the Constitution (although a third, unfortunately, found the dragnet surveillance to be legal). A panel appointed by President Obama issued a powerful indictment of the agency's invasions of privacy and called for a major overhaul of its operations.

All of this is entirely because of information provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency's voraciousness. Mr. Snowden is now living in Russia, on the run from American charges of espionage and theft, and he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

Mr. Snowden is currently charged in a criminal complaint with two violations of the Espionage Act involving unauthorized communication of classified information, and a charge of theft of government property. Those three charges carry prison sentences of 10 years each, and when the case is presented to a grand jury for indictment, the government is virtually certain to add more charges, probably adding up to a life sentence that Mr. Snowden is understandably trying to avoid.

The president said in August that Mr. Snowden should come home to face those charges in court and suggested that if Mr. Snowden had wanted to avoid criminal charges he could have simply told his superiors about the abuses, acting, in other words, as a whistle-blower.

"If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time," Mr. Obama said at a news conference. "So there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions."

In fact, that executive order did not apply to contractors, only to intelligence employees, rendering its protections useless to Mr. Snowden. More important, Mr. Snowden told The Washington Post earlier this month that he did report his misgivings to two superiors at the agency, showing them the volume of data collected by the N.S.A., and that they took no action. (The N.S.A. says there is no evidence of this.) That's almost certainly because the agency and its leaders don't consider these collection programs to be an abuse and would never have acted on Mr. Snowden's concerns.

In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not. Beyond the mass collection of phone and Internet data, consider just a few of the violations he revealed or the legal actions he provoked:

— The N.S.A. broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year, according to the agency's own internal auditor.

— The agency broke into the communications links of major data centers around the world, allowing it to spy on hundreds of millions of user accounts and infuriating the Internet companies that own the centers. Many of those companies are now scrambling to install systems that the N.S.A. cannot yet penetrate.

— The N.S.A. systematically undermined the basic encryption systems of the Internet, making it impossible to know if sensitive banking or medical data is truly private, damaging businesses that depended on this trust.

— His leaks revealed that James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, lied to Congress when testifying in March that the N.S.A. was not collecting data on millions of Americans. (There has been no discussion of punishment for that lie.)

— The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rebuked the N.S.A. for repeatedly providing misleading information about its surveillance practices, according to a ruling made public because of the Snowden documents. One of the practices violated the Constitution, according to the chief judge of the court.

— A federal district judge ruled earlier this month that the phone-records-collection program probably violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. He called the program "almost Orwellian" and said there was no evidence that it stopped any imminent act of terror.

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation's security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That's why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.'s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it's why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden's vilification and give him an incentive to return home.

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Online:

http://nyti.ms/1dNMBSK

The Buffalo News on the need to address problems threatening the financial future of Puerto Rico.

Jan. 3

The United States must pay more attention to its Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. If not, the mainland must be prepared for a financial disaster in the territory.

Puerto Rico is coming closer to the financial brink with each passing day and now has an estimated debt of $70 billion, and growing rapidly. Its days of living large by borrowing to make up for bad investments and swollen public payrolls have taken a heavy toll.

A favorable tax credit that long attracted manufacturing to the island has expired, along with federal aid programs. A recession that began years before the mainland's has produced a nearly 15 percent unemployment rate that is propelling the biggest exodus from the island in decades.

Puerto Rico lost 54,000 residents, or 1.5 percent of its population, between 2010 and 2012. They are U.S. citizens who would rather take their chances trying to find jobs in the still-sluggish mainland economy. Those left behind have to grapple with skyrocketing crime.

Perhaps fueling the problem is the political push for statehood that doesn't seem to be gaining any ground, but adds more doubt to the territory's future.

Although its financial problems are similar to the crisis in Detroit, Puerto Rico is not a city and therefore cannot pursue bankruptcy. Moreover, Puerto Rico's constitution gives bondholders strong guarantees they will be paid before pensioners and public workers in case the government runs out of money.

There is reason for concern on Wall Street. Bond rating agencies have downgraded the island's bonds to one notch above junk status. Puerto Rico has a unique situation that its bonds have high yields and are exempt from federal, state and local taxes. Therefore, Puerto Rican bonds are held by three out of four municipal bond mutual funds.

Newly elected Gov. Alejandro Javier García Padilla raised the retirement age and pension contributions for public employees. He's tightened the island's belt, borrowing less money and slowly but steadily paying down debt. But will it be enough?

Without a change in direction, Puerto Rico's problems will become the mainland's problems. Congress will have to shrug off the complications of the island's political status and determine a way forward before it's too late.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/KvspKv

The Oneonta Daily Star on the Affordable Care Act and legal challenges.

Jan. 6

With the success of the Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare — anything but certain, it has become apparent that one class of Americans will benefit greatly.

Lawyers.

With lawsuits abounding from Republican state attorneys general, businesses, school districts and religious groups, among others, billings at some of the most prominent law firms in the country are likely to be substantial, indeed.

One suit, in particular, stood out last week. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor blocked the implementation of some of the health care law that would have made some religious organizations provide birth control to employees.

The request for a temporary stay until the case could be heard by the full court was made by the Little Sisters of the Poor's Mullen Home for the Aged, a Denver nursing home run by an order of Catholic nuns that serves about 100 low-income senior citizens.

The case is fascinating on several levels. For one thing, Sotomayor was appointed by President Barack Obama and is regarded as one of the court's liberals. She was part of the 5-4 majority that upheld Obamacare in 2012.

But, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz noted, Sotomayor is Catholic.

"The lawyers picked a brilliant, brilliant case to bring in front of Justice Sotomayor ... What could be more sympathetic to anybody, whether you're Catholic or not Catholic?" Dershowitz said Thursday on "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

"Justice Sotomayor grew up basically in the shadow of that kind of teaching — and these are nuns, who say they can't violate their own religious principles," Dershowitz said, adding that it won't be easy to predict what a Supreme Court with no Protestants, six Catholics and three Jews might decide.

While the anti-health care law side is rejoicing at the temporary partial reprieve for religious groups, the Obama administration on Friday insisted it's an unnecessary waste of the court's time.

U.S. District Judge William J. Martínez ruled that the Little Sisters group was exempt from the contraception mandate. It just needed to submit a form to avoid any health care law-related fines.

"With the stroke of their own pen, applicants can secure for themselves the relief they seek from this Court — an exemption from the requirements of the contraceptive-coverage provision — and the employer-applicants' employees (and their family members) will not receive contraceptive coverage through the plan's third-party administrator, either," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote in a motion to the Supreme Court.

Just having to fill out one form doesn't seem to us an unreasonable burden or violation of religious liberty.

But then, we're not lawyers ... or Supreme Court justices. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1dt3aQl

 
 

 

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