Credit: istock

The Poughkeepsie Journal on March 20 on amending the state constitution to allow casinos.

Over the last decade, state officials have tried a dizzying array of methods to have a casino built in the Catskills.

All of them have failed miserably. The state should have rethought its strategy years ago. But it has been stubborn.

Ironically, one of the ideas suggested more than a decade ago -- amending the state constitution to allow casinos -- was rejected outright as being too cumbersome and time-consuming.

Yet, each year, it looks like the most effective way to go, as long as the state goes about this in a smart, deliberative fashion.

A constitutional amendment would take time, requiring approval by two consecutive State Legislatures, then by voters in a statewide referendum.

But, if approved this way, it would provide a clean path, compared to the complete mess that has been made as state officials have tried to skirt the constitution that prohibits casinos unless they are on sovereign Indian land.

Gov. David Paterson was the last to try such an end-around, but he wasn't the first. In fact, soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the state found itself in a fiscal crisis as Wall Street struggled to rebound. Then-Gov. George Pataki and the Legislature set into motion a plan to have several casinos built in the Catskills, hoping to resurrect this once tourist-mecca area, to create jobs and to provide more revenues for the state.

But it was all for naught. Repeatedly, the state has been thwarted by the courts and federal government, in part, because it has been intellectually dishonest. It has attempted to cut deals with tribes whose reservations are far from the Catskills and, in some cases, out of state.

Paterson, in fact, pitched a deal that would have allowed the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans to build a casino and 750-room hotel on more than 300 acres in Bridgeville, Sullivan County. He was hoping this would be part of a broader land-claim settlement with the Mohicans.

Predictably, though, the federal Interior Department rejected the proposal; it said it had "concerns" whether the gambling compact signed by the tribe and the state complied with federal law. The department has said, repeatedly, that tribes shouldn't be allowed to build casinos just anywhere but, rather, in places where casinos could reasonably provide jobs to those on reservations, to help keep tribal communities intact if that were their wish.

But the state could end the tribal requirement by amending the constitution saying casinos are allowed in general. Last year, the state Senate passed such a reasonable bill that would have started the process of amending the constitution but, importantly, it would not have opened the floodgates for casinos everywhere. The legislation targeted certain counties that have a history of horse racing and/or tourism that would make them ideal for a casino. And the counties affected by the bill -- Tioga, Oneida, Saratoga and Sullivan -- also would have to pass their own referendum as well. That would be far more democratic than any other way the state has tried to get casinos built in certain places, including the Catskills.

Unfortunately, the Assembly never took up the bill. This latest ruling by the Interior Department demonstrates why the state should try again.

http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com

The Buffalo News on March 22 on local government opposition to Great Lakes windmill farms.

County leaders along the Great Lakes in New York are passing opposition statements to dissuade anyone from placing windmills off their shorelines. But just what are the county leaders opposing?

In practical terms, the project proposed by the New York Power Authority has years to go before any power-generating turbine would be cranking in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. It would first require environmental reviews by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers, and those reviews could rule out certain sites.

There is no proof, as yet, that windmills will disturb toxins on the Lake Erie floor, or that electrical cables will short out and endanger wildlife, or that shipping lanes will be blocked or sport fishing marred -- canards that the Erie County Legislature cited recently in its statement opposing offshore windmills. Erie County recently became, by one count, the seventh of the nine counties with Great Lakes frontage to oppose the Power Authority's proposal.

To hear critics describe the project, there will be so many windmills in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario, or both, that you wouldn't be able to turn around a boat. In truth, even a total 166 windmills -- the Power Authority's number -- would occupy a tiny percentage of either massive lake. No one can say, as yet, whether they would be visible from shore.

Further, the Power Authority has yet to fully explain the economic viability of its project because it has yet to announce its preferred developer. The developer incurs the costs it will need to recover by selling electricity to the authority and must figure how to operate among the threats that the lakes offer, winter ice being one.

Lawmakers in a number of counties are joining in the reflexive community opposition to a project that might -- emphasis on might -- mar lakefront views. But joining the naysayers because that's the safe political ground does not show leadership.

There will be a time to criticize the Power Authority proposal. To us, that day has not yet arrived. The detailed studies are not completed, the sites not selected. Meanwhile, this nation must start turning away from the fossil fuels that pollute the air and make us dependent on oil-producing nations that have the United States over a barrel. When the studies are done and more specifics known, there will be plenty for opponents to sink their teeth into. Until then, the opposition seems to be fighting only a symbol, not the facts.

http://www.buffalonews.com

The Times Union of Albany on March 20 on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

It was with a disarming candor, rather than his more typical bravado, that then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned at the outset of the war in Afghanistan that "there is no silver bullet."

Imagine the words Mr. Rumsfeld would have had to struggle to find to rally support for the war if he had any way of knowing it would last a decade.

It's crucial to first calculate and then appreciate both the length and costs of the Afghan war -- $336 billion and more than 1,500 American lives -- as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand demands to see a timetable for ending it, by 2014.

If that's in any way impractical or unreasonable, then President Obama will have to justify anew a war that was first waged to cripple the terrorist movements responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

That Ms. Gillibrand's call, echoing other Democratic senators, to bring home the troops within three years qualifies as news, and as a significant challenge to the Obama administration, speaks volumes about successive American governments and their inability to adequately define, let alone win, this ostensibly critical front in the struggle against terrorism.

This was a war, first, against al-Qaida and its supporters, the Taliban. The latter was toppled in the earliest days of the war, only to re-emerge as a viable threat to the new American mission -- achieving a sort of political stability that seems close to impossible in that primitive nation.

Ms. Gillibrand is able to speak, then, of an "endless war" without a trace of the hyperbole so common to the language of politics.

President Hamid Karzai's government should have taken responsibility for driving back the Taliban by now, just as Ms. Gillibrand wisely calls for the United States to confront the increasing threats posed by the Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan and elsewhere in Asia and Africa as well.

Even Mr. Karzai suggests as much, as he makes myopic claims about terrorist elements having been routed from Afghanistan entirely. Yet there has been enough progress by the U.S. and its allies in driving back the Taliban that the commander of those forces, Gen. David Petraeus, says the Obama administration can begin withdrawing from Afghanistan by this summer.

That, of course, is what Ms. Gillibrand is insisting upon. She wants the President to submit a schedule to fulfill his long-standing promise to at least begin to end this war.

Ms. Gillibrand has an impatient public as a convenient yet powerful ally.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the Afghan war is no longer worth fighting, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. That's a huge shift from two years ago, when a majority still supported the American presence in Afghanistan.

The wonder is that it took so long for the public to turn on a war where success has been so slow and scant.

http://www.timesunion.com

The Oneonta Daily Star on March 19 on social media and the earthquake in Japan.

Thanks to social media, showing your support -- or ignorance -- is only a click away.

The recent disasters in Japan have highlighted the ways in which social media has transformed our relationship to events that happen half a world away.

Most of that transformation has been positive. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan have dominated traditional media as well as social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook, where news updates mingle effortlessly with links to organizations offering aid, or ways for people to connect with their missing loved ones.

Unfortunately for humanity, these same tools have been used by a vocal few to express offensive, ignorant and inappropriate reactions to the disaster.

Some, like comedian Gilbert Gottfried, "Family Guy" writer Alec Sulkin, and rapper 50 Cent, should be savvy enough about their media images to know better. But that didn't stop them from making tasteless jokes (Gottfried and 50 Cent) or suggesting that the earthquake was somehow "revenge" for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II (Sulkin).

Sadly, Sulkin's take on the disaster was not unique. Bloggers collected screenshots of hundreds of Facebook posts expressing similar sentiments.

We're inclined to agree with Nick Greene of the Village Voice, who blogged on Tuesday, "It feels dirty to even acknowledge these idiots, but seeing that it is not socially acceptable to put people in the stocks anymore, they probably deserve the shame."

These outrageous comments, which are too offensive to reproduce here, likely represent a very small minority of Americans -- or, at least, we'd like to think so. Better, then, to focus on the vast numbers of individuals, organizations and businesses that have come forward to offer aid and support to the victims of the disaster.

Here, too, there are examples of the worst of human nature. As we saw after the earthquake in Haiti, pleas for aid are joined by warnings to avoid giving money to "charities" that are less than reputable, or that pass along little of the funds received to those truly in need. But the Internet can help here as well, offering ways to vet charities before you give a dime.

It is humbling to think back to recent threats of flooding in our area, or even to the floods of 2006, and compare those dangers to what the Japanese are facing.

We know from those experiences that our region is rich in kindness and humanitarianism; that even people with little to give will come forward to give what they can.

We remain hopeful that this is the spirit that will prevail, rather than the meanness and small-mindedness a few people have displayed.

Compiled by the Associated Press