Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer here. Summer gone.

Ah, Summer, we barely knew ya.

As we turn the calendar over to September and make out last minute preparations to send our kids to school, we do so with a heavy heart, knowing that the calendar might say there's still three weeks left in Summer, but, really, it's over.

Earlier this year, I said, “This is the year that I cross more things off the list than not. This is the year that I refuse to let the warm months slip by. This is the year that I refuse to let life get in the way of living.”

I wish I could say I was successful in that. I wish I could say that I didn't let the warm months slip by. But 2010 was very similar to 2009 in that fashion.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I didn't do anything. Oh, I did plenty.

I went to Darien Lake with the kids, Toronto with a cute brunette, and took a nap in Delaware Park all by myself.

I ran into friends at the Allentown Art Festival, Canal Fest of the Tonawandas, and the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts.

A saw Pearl Jam at HSBC, Public Enemy at the Town Ballroom and George Thorogood at Artpark.

I enjoyed Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the Erie Canal and every vantage point of the Niagara River.

I ate tasty food at the Taste of Buffalo and drank tasty beers at the Buffalo Brew Fest.

Despite that laundry list of accomplishments, though, I still feel like Summer slipped by because this is Western New York, where we're blessed with summertime entertainment 24/7 and there's so much I didn't get to do.

I guess I'll have to stick around another year and see what I can accomplish in 2011.

Maybe my accomplishments will be of the laundry list variety I displayed above. By the way, that laundry list is abbreviated. There's just too much to write. Or maybe my list of accomplishments will be something more meaningful.

I'd love to improve our community. I'd love to find the magic bullet that makes everything all better. Or have a hand in removing the cancerous things that keeps us down.

What Western New York really needs is better leadership and vision. Less promises and more action. Less talk about the next great fishing store that's going to make everything better and more doing away with burdensome taxes and regulations that make it hard to keep afloat.

As much as I love our free concerts and festivals, when the summer ends, we're reminded that the problems we had in spring are still problems. Bread and circus might work in the warm months, but when the days get shorter, the circus leaves town and we remember who the real clowns are.

Summer is a great time to forget our problems and just go with the flow. But as the kids go back to school, we need to get back to work. We have an election coming up. Better start studying.

Of course, if you're content with just three good months a year, sit back and do nothing. It'll be festival season again soon.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the 17th ...

I’m a people person.

I like meeting new people and getting to know them. I like people who take an interest in getting to know me.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve met a lot of new people lately and am really enjoying the “getting to know you” process that inevitably occurs.

As a result, I’ve answered questions in the last week about where I live, what kind of movies I like, what my favorite bands are, etc.

One question I was asked, though, isn’t typically in the list with favorite color or the nocturnal habits of my hedgehog; “Which of the Constitution’s 27 Amendments do you want repealed?”

That question came to me via Facebook, the social website that has taken the place of real social interaction.

Specifically, the question was, “so which of the Constitution’s 27 amendments do you want repealed? Because that’s the thing about the tea party types — they want to return to the founders, who by the way did not prohibit slavery, or child labor, or cruel and unusual punishment. Ironically, limiting the powers of the federal government to only those specifically granted by the Constitution was not granted until the 10th amendment, so better not repeal that one ...”

I think the United States is the greatest country in the history of civilization, but that doesn’t mean that we’re perfect.

There are actually three amendments I’d repeal; the 12th, the 16th and the 17th.

For those of you without a pocket Constitution (in other words, everyone but Bob Confer), the 12th Amendment revises the presidential election process, the 16th creates the IRS and income tax and the 17th revises how senators are elected.

Of the three, the one I like least is the 17th because it is the one that most dilutes the states’ powers. You may recall I’m a huge proponent of states’ rights. Actually the conversation that brought on the question of what amendments I’d repeal was born with a discussion on the holy grail of states’ rights, the 10th Amendment.

Prior to 1913, United States senators were not directly elected. You wouldn’t find them on a ballot. They were appointed by the legislatures of the states themselves.

Over time, a movement grew suggesting that U.S. senators didn’t represent the people and eventually direct election won out.

The problem I have with the whole thing is that U.S. senators aren’t supposed to represent the people. That’s what the House of Representatives is for. The Senate is supposed to represent the states.

China has official representation in Washington, but the state of New York does not. It all seems quite silly to me.

As for the 12th and the 16th, I’ll tackle those amendments in the future. Maybe here in this column. Maybe on my blog at www.scottleffler.com, which you’re always encouraged to check out. After all, I do like social interaction, me being a people person and all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In opposition to hypocrites

Antidisestablishmentarianism.

It's a long word. One of the longest in the English language. Growing up it was one of my mother's favorites, although I have no idea why.

It comes up at random in conversation because it's fun to say … and it's a real word, unlike Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious. That said, Antidisestablishmentarianism has really outlived it's purpose, aside from being fun to say at parties.

It refers to opposing the removal of there being a state sanctioned church. What with the separation of church and state here in the United States, it really never meant anything here. It was an England thing back in the 19th century.

However, if you break it down, it can still hold meaning here and now. It could refer to those who are opposed to those who are opposed to the establishment. Anti-protesters, more or less.

And oddly enough, as much as I'm opposed to the establishment, I'm also an antidisestablishmentarianist, at least locally.

I have many friends in many political circles in and around Buffalo and Western New York. Democrats. Republicans. Liberals. Conservatives. Elected officials. Rabble-rousers and gadflies. They all think they're doing the right thing. And I respect them all on principle, even if I disagree with their intended goals.

There's one group I have the hardest time respecting, though. And that's those who comprise those political circles, but pretend not to. I don't like the players who tell you to hate the game, even though they're the ones making the rules for the game. They're simultaneously the establishment … and the disestablishment, profiting from the system while complaining about it. I won't specifically name any individuals or groups, but if you pay attention, you can likely come up with your own.

These people wear one hat on Monday, reaping the rewards of a political system that pays to be friends and family with the chosen few. And on Tuesday they go to luncheons, coffee clutches and town hall meetings deriding the system they themselves benefited from just a day before.

On Wednesday, they bemoan political strip-mining. And on Thursday plunder from the system, doing the very things they were complaining about one day earlier.

They write the laws then complain about them and tell you that there's nothing they can do.

They're not based in principle at all. They simply know how to work the system.

There are some people who complain because it's their only weapon. They go to town board meetings and speak their peace. They take their three allotted minutes and attempt to get their point across. To them, I say, kudos.

Others might disagree with that, saying that the complainers should be ignored unless they're willing to run for office and buck the system from within. Of course, those are usually the ones who are within the system, who have no desire to have the system bucked.

Be careful who you lend support to. Make sure they're doing what they say they're doing, and not simply talking out both sides of their mouths, like so many of the disestablishmentarianists.

This goes double for any elected official who complains about the system … or tells you they only have one vote and there's nothing they can do to help matters. Anyone within the system who tells you they're powerless ought to be stripped of the position.  

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Taking a bite out of TV

Some people abhor television. To them it is a brain-numbing device sent to destroy people's creativity.

I'm not one of those people.

Odds are you aren't either. Because – honestly – let's face it, most people love TV. In the United States, the average person watches 151 hours of television per month, according to the Neilson Group. That's three hours per day. Every day. For each and every American citizen.

Taking into account the people that don't watch any television, that means that some people have to watch 302 hours of TV per month to make that average work out. Six hours a day. Every day. Monday through Sunday. As though it were their job.

Now I'm not that much of a TV fanatic, but maybe you are. Maybe you live vicariously through the soap operas and sitcoms that get broadcast day in and day out. Maybe you can't get through a conversation without saying “Hey, did you see (fill in the blank) last night?”

I'm not here to judge. If that's how you roll, good for you. I'm just here to let you know that we might have something to talk about now. Because for nearly the last year, my answer was almost always, “No.”

I've been without my trusty TV for a while for a variety of reasons, none of which are pertinent to this column. I haven't seen local news. I missed every episode of the final season of Lost. American Idol escaped me. I've never seen Tosh.0. And I missed almost all of Shark Week.

Actually it was Shark Week that put me over the edge. I was planning on waiting until the start of the hockey season to subscribe to any sort of television service, but I couldn't take all the tweets and Facebook updates about Shark Week. I just couldn't stand not being in the loop. I felt like an outsider – the new kid in school who didn't get all the inside jokes.

So last week I caved about two months earlier than planned and got myself hooked up to the rest of the world. I reveled in the glory that is HD. And I sat gleefully on my couch watching as sharks ate things. And people. I watched some Saturday Night Live and some stupid show about the 10 dumbest partiers. I recorded some movies on my DVR. I even watched a sappy chick flick. Then I watched sharks eat things to cleanse my palate.

I've always been more of a computer guy than a TV guy. Usually I'd rather watch some stupid video on YouTube than sit in front of the television going through 227 channels trying to find something worth watching. And I'm sure I'll still spend more time in front of my netbook's 10-inch screen than my television's 37-inch screen. But now I have the option.

I doubt I'll watch my allotted three hours a day. Then again, I did just sit down and schedule four movies to record today. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, none of them featuring sharks eating people.

Too bad it's not Shark Month.  

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Winning with less (votes)

Sometimes when you ask a question publicly, you can be very surprised where the answers come from.

Last week I wrote about my thoughts on why Carl Paladino was running for office … especially knowing he was going to lose. I mean, why would someone do that?

A few short days after that question ran in the paper, I picked up the phone to find none other than Ralph Nader on the other end. He wanted to promote a visit he is making the Buffalo today in support of another gubernatorial candidate; Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

If someone knows about running uphill against the two-party system, it's Ralph Nader. He's run for president four times with no chance of winning. But as he explained to me there are victories that come from winning even when you lose at the ballot box.

“I'll tell you a few,” he said. “One is there are voters are conscience. They want to vote for someone they believe in. Not for the least worst of the two majors. And you always should have an opportunity for voters of conscience.

“The second is, you can't emerge full fledged if you're going to build a political initiative. You've got to usually start small. If you're not willing to start small, you'll never get bigger. That's the lesson of billions of seeds now fermenting in soil around the world.”

He went on to explain that in Hawkin's case there's a particular initiative that his candidacy is hoping to bring to the light of day. And that initiative, Hawkins and Nader claim, could close the state's budget gap and save hundreds of state workers' jobs.

The initiative is called the “Demand that New York State stop rebating the stock transfer tax to Wall Street.”

“Now this is an amazing situation where they collect $16 billion from the stock exchanges and then electronically rebate it immediately,” he said.

Nader said the working class doesn't get tax rebates on things they buy out of necessity, so there's no reason Wall Street should have their taxes rebated, especially since the tax that's rebated from the stock market is a fraction of a percent as compared to 4 percent state sales tax and approximately 4 percent county sales tax, depending on the county, of course.

Nader and Hawkins will be in Buffalo tonight to discuss the transfer tax rebate and Hawkins' campaign. Nader will also be signing copies of his new book, “Only the Super Rich Can Save Us.”

The event will be held at 7pm at the Dnipro Ukrainian Cultural Center, 562 Genesee Street in Buffalo. For more information on the event, call (716) 479-2351.

Noteworthy: Nader was not the only politician to respond to my column last week. Libertarian candidate Warren Redlich also sent me an email saying he liked the column, pointing me to his website (http://wredlich.com/ny) if I wanted to hear more about him.

“Maybe I can draw attention to some issues (like the budget instead of the mosque),” Redlich said in his email.

I'll share more from Hawkins, Redlich and other candidates who believe they can “win” without becoming governor (those not named Cuomo) in future columns.