Friday, December 27, 2013

Looking forward to the New Year

As I sat on my couch Thursday, staring at my Christmas tree, I had one thought in mind: “That thing’s got to come down.”


As much as I love Christmas, it’s passed. And every year on Dec. 26, I get itchy with the desire to pack up all the Christmas decorations and put them back into the attic until next November. What was a thing of beauty just a few days ago is now old hat and it’s got to go. On to the next thing.


What’s next? Why 2014, of course.


I’m a sucker for dates. I’m not sure why, but I remember dates. Holidays especially. I will remember this Christmas for years to come. Just like last Christmas and the ones before that. New Years? I remember exactly where I was, what I did and with who for New Years dating back 20 years. But even regular dates. I have a good memory for certain things. I guess that’s good. Maybe. Maybe not.


So Jan. 1, 2014 is a mere five days away. I have no idea what it will hold. But I plan to make it memorable. Just as I plan to make all of 2014 memorable. Of course, 2013 was memorable in its own right. Some good. Some not so good. And, frankly, there are things I forgot as soon as they happened — like what I had for dinner on any given day.


Why is it that I can remember Super Bowl XXV stats but can’t remember what I had for lunch. Heck, some days, I can’t remember if I ate lunch. At least when my daughters are home, I can ask them: “Hey, kids, did I eat today?” Usually the answer is “No, dad.”


So in 2014, I’m going to try to remember to eat. And maybe even try to remember what I eat. That’s a good goal, right?


I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never been one to make resolutions for the New Year. But I actually have some this year. For one, I resolve to get out of my comfort zone. I’ve been complacent and lazy in certain aspects of my life. No more. I’m going to get out of the house and remind the world what’s so great about Scott Leffler. Or maybe I’ll let them remind me. Probably the latter.


Last year in the column leading up to New Year’s Eve, I mentioned that I had lost a lot of weight. This year I gained some of it back. But I’m going to take it back off again. That’s not a resolution specific to 2014. I joined the YMCA in October and have been enjoying my regular visits.


I resolve to keep writing. I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, but I’m going to actually be one next year. It’s what I’m going to do with my down time. And by the end of 2014, I’m going to have a novel published. I said it here. Keep me to it.


I turn 40 next year. Kind of a big deal. I look back and have little to show for it save for two incredibly awesome daughters. That’s going to change. The year 2013 was the year of complacency. Next year is going to be the year of progress.


I’ll let you know next December how it went.

Scott Leffler is a dreamer. But he’s not the only one. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Working with others has its ups and downs

I’ve always considered myself a good team player. By myself, I can be a mess. But in a group, I truly excel. I think it’s because I want to do my best for others.

As an example, when my girls are home, the house is cleaned and I cook dinner every night. When they’re not around? Well, let’s just say that when they’re at their mom’s the dishes tend to pile up and my typical nightly meal consists of leftovers or coffee. Both if I’m lucky. In cases of extended absences, my oldest daughter will text me reminding me to eat. I usually head straight for the fridge as I text back my thanks.

Sometimes doing things by yourself, though, is the only way to ensure things get done as you had imagined they would. If you have a vision of how life should be, there’s nothing that will screw that vision up more quickly than sharing it with someone of a different mindset.

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, even though for the past few years the only thing I’ve written on a regular basis was this column each week. In 2013, though, I’ve joined forces with two other writers and we’ve really hunkered down to accomplish some things. We’ve had a lot of fun and we’ve written some cool material. It’s inspired me to push harder on that novel I always said I was going to write. And it’s kept me focused in times when I let the dishes pile up, if you know what I mean.

+Craig Bacon, +George Root and I have recently begun an experiment of sorts to hone our writing skills. One of us starts writing a story and then passes it on to the next, who adds to it and passes it on to the third. It goes around in a circle twice and then back to the original writer who finishes it off and fixes Craig’s spelling.

Our most recent work was something that I started called “Peppermint the Christmas Penguin.” It was meant to be a heartwarming tale of an unemployed Penguin living in Los Angeles and trying to land a job as a movie star and/or save Christmas. That’s how it started out at least.

I shipped it off to George who sent it to Craig and then back to me. By the time I got it back, I knew it was not going the be the holiday classic I had hoped for. By the time we were finished it was more Tim Burton than James Stewart.

See, sometimes even with the best of intentions, life just gets in the way.

But — the added challenge of trying to figure out how to write around the obstacles we create for each other (and the fun of writing each other into a corner) will eventually make us better writers. In a few years when we’re all promoting our best sellers, I’ll be able to afford someone to come do my dishes and remind me to eat.

Scott Leffler undergoes daily therapy sessions called “writing.” Sometimes he posts the results of those sessions to Twitter where you can find him @scottleffler.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Olympics, Mandela and freedom, oh my

Watching last Friday's episode of Grimm the other day, I was really happy.

Yeah, sure the episode itself was good. I've always like Grimm's Fairy Tales and the wesen are always cool. Especially that hot blonde Hexenbiest. But I digress. (already, I know)

No. The thing that excited me was the five golden interlocking rings under NBC's famous peacock logo. There's only 62 days until the 2014 Winter Olympics start. Did you hear me? Sixty-two days!

See, for me the Winter Olympics are like a Christmas on the Fourth of July. The Summer Olympics remind me much more of Thanksgiving. Of course, that's not a good thing from my perspective. But we've got years to worry about that waste of time. The Winter Olympics is in a mere 62 days.

Basically the Winter Olympics is a bunch of sliding -- skiing, bobsledding, luge, ski jumping, snowboarding -- and controlled slipping -- ice skating, hockey, speed skating, curling, and cross country skiing. Any nine-year-old boy has perfected every single one of these sports either on a hill in winter or on their parents' linoleum kitchen floor.

In other words, for two and a half weeks in February I get to relive my youth vicariously through Olympic athletes. In 62 days I'll be nine again. How could I not be excited?

•••

The funny thing is at 39, I'm not so good at controlled sliding. On my way to work from my girlfriend's house on Thanksgiving, I took a spill on some ice. Ended up in the hospital — for the second time this year.

I'm also not so good in the kitchen. Cooking a turkey over the weekend, I burned myself pretty good. Then I ran a serrated knife half way through my thumb. I should have gone for stitches but I refuse to go the Emergency Room twice in a week.

I'm still waiting to figure out what exactly it is I'm good at. When I do, I'll let you know.

•••

I’d be wrong not to touch on the passing of Nelson Mandela Thursday. The anti-apartheid icon and father of modern day politics in South Africa was 95 years old.

That said, I cannot do justice to his life, so I will simply share a quote:

"After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

Mandela finally climbed his last hill. But thanks to him, he left a path for others to follow.

•••

A new documentary called “Cash for Kids” delves into the saga that occurred in Pennsylvania during the tenure of one Mark Ciavarella, who used to be a judge and is now an inmate.

Ciavarella was convicted in 2011 of literally selling kids into the prison system in exchange for kickbacks from the privately run operation. In all, he netted $1.2 million in the scheme. And in the end thousands of convictions were thrown out.

I’m not going to judge the concept of privately run prisons, although I admit, I think it’s a bit peculiar. But I will remind people that power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Fortunately we live in a country with checks and balances and Ciavarella got his just desserts. Kind of. I don’t think 28 years is enough. He should have to serve 10 days for every day served by any of the kids he ever convicted wrongfully and sent away.

There is nothing more immoral than depriving someone of their liberty.

Or as Nelson Mandela would say, “There is no such thing as part freedom."

Scott Leffler would earn gold if there were an Olympic sport for injuring yourself. Sadly for him, there’s not. Follow his non-award-winning injuries on Twitter @scottleffler

Friday, November 29, 2013

Personally glad that the holidays are here

Santa Claus officially kicked off the holiday season yesterday when, at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, he smiled his smile and waved his wave. I was wide-eyed and smiling myself. And I will be for the next month.

That doesn’t mean I won’t complain, of course.

For example, as I went down Transit Road in Lockport Thursday afternoon, I took note of the stores that were open. Shame on them. I can understand a couple gas stations and a convenience store or two being open on Thanksgiving. But the dollar store? On Thanksgiving? Seriously? There’s no reason for it.

Personally, I think that gas stations and convenience stores should take turns being open on holidays … and charge at least double what they usually charge. There’s very little reason that anyone should ever need to purchase gas or groceries on a holiday. And if you do, it’s basically an emergency, right? So you get charged emergency prices. Just my opinion. I have lots of them.

Personally, I think that people that spend all their time complaining about government — especially local government — should be required to run for office. I hear all sorts of “great ideas” all the time while people are complaining about corruption or abuse or whatever. Sharing your idea publicly is great. Running for office would be even better. Quit whining and start doing.

Personally, I think that Republicans should stop fighting against Obamacare and start figuring out ways to make it better. Most would agree that it’s not a perfect system. But neither was what we had before. Rather than simply going back to the last imperfect system, it would be nice if Congress tried to come up with a more perfect one.

Personally, I think that we need to go back to driving school en masse and learn how to work a four-way stop. I know people are just trying to be nice when they wave you through. But I always come to a complete stop first. So if you just go when you’re supposed to, we’d all get through easier.

On a similar note: Personally, I think there are too many stop lights in Western New York. And yet, I don’t really like roundabouts. There was a town in Germany or something that took out all their stop lights, stop signs, etc. a few years ago. And they found that traffic accidents actually went down. I don’t understand why. But I’m all for it. I hate being the only car on the road and having to wait for a stop light.

Personally, I think that if you buy or rent a DVD or Blu-Ray disc you should not be forced to watch the previews if you don’t want to. Being made to watch advertising before you can watch the movie you paid for just seems unfair. That said, I often love the previews. But let me watch them when I want. Not before the movie I’m super excited about watching.

Personally, I’ll be watching practically nothing but Christmas movies for the next month. Because, you know, Santa waved at me yesterday and that was my cue.

Scott Leffler has opinions about everything. And because they're opinions, they can't be wrong. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Leave your politics out of my parade

The countdown to Thanksgiving is on. And while you may not yet have picked up your bird and all the trimmings yet, the fine folks from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade have been hard at work preparing for one of my favorite annual spectacles for nearly a year now.


Unfortunately for them even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. So why should an 89-year tradition (it skipped two years during WWII, which is why this is the 87th annual parade) involving New York City’s flagship department store, bands, floats, celebrities, balloons and all other manner of entertainment be allowed to be unscathed?


That must be the thinking of some ranchers from South Dakota and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, both of whom have decided that politics trumps tradition and kids around don’t need a morning of fun -- what they need is a sermon.


It’s somewhat odd that the parade is being hit from both sides. The ranchers were upset that a vegetarian, Joan Jett, was representing their cattle-driven state. As such, they petitioned to have her removed. Jett volunteered to move to another float to avoid the controversy. PETA, meanwhile is upset that SeaWorld exists. They intend to protest the parade route in response to Macy’s refusal to sink the aquatic theme park’s float.


The parade has never seen this type of controversy. And it never should. Shame on the ranchers. And even more, shame on PETA. How dare they ruin the only part of Thanksgiving many kids (and myself) actually enjoy.


Macy’s official statement concerning the protests says, “The parade has never taken on, promoted or otherwise engaged in social commentary, political debate or other forms of advocacy.”


And why would they? It’s a parade, for the love of God. It’s a distraction from the mundanity of life, it gives kids something to be excited about. And at the end, when Santa comes down 6th Avenue headed towards 34th Street, it marks, for many, the start of the Christmas season. It is the official kickoff of the “most wonderful time of the year.”


So how can PETA taint that? Why would they want to ruin the kickoff to Christmas? They’re willing to poison the otherwise happy memories of children in order to push their political agenda. Rather than kids saying, “hey, mom, look! Minions!” they’ll be saying “why are those people so angry?”


Maybe you think I’m overreacting but from my perspective, ruining the Thanksgiving Day Parade is tantamount to treason. Maybe even terrorism. Why not just have Santa get mauled by tigers at the end of the parade?


Thanksgiving afternoon I’ll be choking down some turkey. And later that night I’ll be working - as I do every Thanksgiving. But Thanksgiving morning, I plan on watching the parade and trying to avoid other people’s politics. I can only hope NBC focuses on the floats and avoids the flakes.


Scott Leffler loves animals. Especially served between two slices of bread with a side of potatoes. He also likes SeaWorld. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Something new and different

So apparently I have just too much time on my hands.

See, myself and two friends — +George Root and +Craig Bacon — decided we should start a writing troupe, if you will. We get together once a week and work on some grand projects.

BUT ... once a week just wasn't cutting it. So we started what I have referred to as a "round robin" writing project. One of us starts a short story. Then another adds to it. And then the third adds more. Back to #1, #2, #3 again. And wrapping up with the person who started the story.

We've finished our first one and offer it up for your perusal here.

The fun thing is the writer after you can follow your train of thought or completely derail it. You might think you know where the story is going, but get back something that you never expected. That happened with this first piece.

I hope you enjoy this. You'll see more soon. Very soon.

- Scott

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Some things just don’t add up

Math isn’t my thing. I’m more of a words guy. But I’m pretty good at simple arithmetic. I can add 2 and 2 just as well as the next guy. But some things just don’t add up.


Who does Rob Ford think he is, anyway? The mayor of Toronto admitted to smoking crack. He also admitting to buying drugs in the last two years. But does he resign in disgrace? Of course not. While many in Canada have suggested he go to rehab, he said “no, no, no.” Instead he’s going to run for re-election.


The vast majority of Torontonians — 72 per cent, in fact — call Ford's insistence on remaining in office after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine "not acceptable," according to a new Ipsos poll. Of course the only poll that counts is the one on election day. But still.


Does Ford think he’s the mayor of an American city? Say, Washington D.C.? It’s been said that only Nixon could go to China and only Marion Barry could smoke crack and get re-elected. Of course, Barry had a valid excuse. B**** set him up. It’s worth noting that America’s most famous crack-smoking mayor still serves on the D.C. city council.


Does Ford think he’s Charlie Sheen? The movie and TV star admitted in 2011 to smoking crack. While his crazy antics lost him his “men card,” he didn’t lose a step career-wise and actually picked up a lot of new followers through the ordeal. I rather imagine that Rob Ford hopes to be “winning” in the near future. Oddly, I note that Sheen tweeted something of a love note to Ford on Thursday (http://tinyurl.com/n93w95j) apologizing for the media portrayal of the mayor.


Really, I have no idea what’s going on up in Canada but it sure is fun to watch. Honestly it’s just fun to watch another country look stupid for a change.


Of course, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. of A. has gotten out of its own way. In fact, Obamacare is a number crunches dream — or nightmare, depending on whether you crunch your numbers from the right or the left.


According to an Avalere Health report released Thursday, a whopping 3 percent of those expected to have signed up for the Affordable Care Act exchanges have done so. In New York, it’s a mere 2 percent.


For all the effort the Republicans have put into thwarting Obamacare, they could have simply let it self destruct on its own. It reminds me of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” The world’s armies have no effect whatsoever on the invading aliens and their superior technology. But a simple cold? Humanity-1, aliens-0.


As I’ve stated before, I admire the theory behind Obamacare. I believe that we have every right to be healthy. But the implementation by this president has been horrific. And his “out-of-touch-ness” seems to radiate from everything he’s “involved in” lately. His motto should be “I didn’t know that” as he seems to be out of every loop in the beltway and beyond.


But hey, we only have three more years to deal with Obama and then we’ll have a new president who might actually make some headway on health care — like she tried to do 20 years ago. Unless she’s attacked by aliens before that. Or becomes friends with Rob Ford. But that wouldn’t add up, now would it?


Scott Leffler occasionally name drops in his columns for search engine optimization. Play Station 4, Iran, Andy Kaufman. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Taking issue with elections issues

Everyone should have voted Tuesday. But few of us did.

I was one of those who took the time to get out there and cast my ballot. It was kind of sad how little there was to actually vote for. Many seats in my city were uncontested. That seemed to be popular in many municipalities across Western New York.

Of course, I can’t blame people for not wanting to run for office. I wouldn’t want to deal with the pressure that comes from being an elected official. Aside from a small stipend, you mostly get paid in grief.

But it’s still sad only having one option to vote for. It’s not much of a vote. “Hey kids, do you want broccoli for dinner? Or broccoli?” Seriously. Not much of an option.

There were three “races” in which my only option was broccoli. I chose not to eat. I’ve made a habit of refusing to vote for any candidate who runs unopposed — no matter how much I might actually like that candidate. It’s my protest against the system, I suppose. Plus it saves ink.

My other frustration with the system is that each candidate can run on multiple lines. It’s called “fusion voting.” It should be called “the great scam.” Basically, major party candidates work their hardest to also secure their position on minor party lines. They have to do this because some people just won’t vote “Republican.” But they’ll vote “Conservative” or whatever.

As I told my friend Tim Schmitt from WLVL on Tuesday night, if you will vote for a candidate, but only on a line other than “Republican” or “Democrat,” you need to grow up. Your claim that “I’ve never voted Republican in my life” is juvenile. It’s like Bill Clinton not inhaling or “not having sexual relations with that woman, miss Lewinsky.” Really, you’re no better than Bill Clinton.

My last disappointment from this year’s election was the passage of Proposition 1, the referendum to allow casino voting in New York State. Although I have no opposition to casinos and generally think that anything that doesn’t infringe on others’ rights should be legal, I was offended by the way the ballot measure was worded, as well as how it was marketed.

The propaganda for the initiative pretty much said if you vote against it, you hate money and progress. So of course people voted for it. Well, at least the people who voted. Not that there were many of them.

Scott Leffler is a voter who votes. Vote for him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Friday, November 01, 2013

It's the holidays -- get over it

With October come and gone, it is, as far as I’m concerned, the holiday season. Or “the holidays.”

There are lots of holidays coming up. Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. Lots of holiday. So I find “happy holidays” to be an appropriate greeting this time of year.

Some people will tell me that I’m un-American for saying “happy holidays” because when Jesus wrote the Constitution, he declared that if you weren’t a Christian, you might as well just go back to Mexico … or something. At least that seems to be the gist that I get from people.

I’ve mentioned in this space previously that I’m a proud Christian. I’ve also mentioned before that my religion and my country are not as intertwined as some would have you believe. We are, after all, the great melting pot. Or at least we’re supposed to be.

If you take all your Halloween candy from yesterday and stick it in a pot and melt it, it doesn’t all become Snickers bars, no matter how much you might want it to. America is similar. If we’re truly a melting pot, then not everyone is going to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Christian. Which is good, since I have a thing for brunettes.

Bill O’Reilly will tell you that there’s a war against Christmas. That anyone like me who prefers to be inclusive by saying “happy holidays” is simply trying to subvert the founders’ Christian beliefs. He’s been on this kick for years and it gets more annoying every year.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. As far as I’m concerned, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when I’ll start decorating, put up the tree and switch to 24-7 Christmas music.

But loving Christmas doesn’t have to mean hating other holidays. Just as being Christian doesn’t mean hating other religions.

So let me be the first to say “happy holidays,” before someone in Congress gets the bright idea to make the phrase illegal.

Scott Leffler is a big fan of all holidays. Except Thanksgiving. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mobility needed for upward mobility

Let’s go to Delaware Park for the day, shall we?

I wonder what the best way is to get there. Let me cruise over to map.google.com and make myself a map.

Type type click. Lockport, NY to Delaware Park, Buffalo.

If I want to go by car, it’ll take 34 minutes to go 28.2 miles.

But what if I don’t want to drive? There are occasions when I want to go to Buffalo and not have to drive. Or more accurately, not have to drive home.

I could take the bus. It would take an hour and 48 minutes. More than three times the length of time it would take by car.

Heck I could probably bike there just as quickly. Fortunately, Google Maps can figure that out, too — with freakish accuracy, I might add. By bike it would take 2 hours even.

What about Metro Rail? If I add that to the equation, it shaves 34 minutes off the trip. But that’s assuming I catch it at the right time.

Of course, taking the bus assumes that I catch it at the right time. Or for that matter, the right day.

See, NFTA buses don’t run in eastern Niagara County on weekends. Which, ironically, is the best time to go to Delaware Park. It’s also the most likely time that I’ll want to go to Buffalo without having to drive home.

Welcome to Western New York, where having a car is pretty much a requirement. Where we have a train system that travels a whole six miles in a straight line in the city of Buffalo and otherwise our “public transit” is buses, which don’t run on weekends in my neck of the woods.

I have often joked that Western New York is still in the Bush recession. No … the other Bush. I’ve also wondered aloud whether part of the blame for that is our lack of mobility.

Stay with me here.

Let’s say you live in Medina and want a job in Buffalo. With no viable public transportation, you’re looking at a daily commute of 41 miles in 48 minutes if you take the Thruway, or 45 miles in just under an hour if you prefer to not pay the toll.

Assuming 20 miles per gallon, you’re also looking at a daily cost of $15 to get back and forth.

Most people aren’t going to want to deal with that frustration or cost. I mean, $75 a week just to get back and forth to work? So you either have to move to Buffalo or take a job a lot closer to Medina.

For all intents and purposes, Western New York is very segmented. You live in North Tonawanda, you work in North Tonawanda. If you switch jobs, you move.

What if we could live in one place and work somewhere else? It would enlarge the job possibilities for all of us. It would create more competition. And more economic opportunity. It would be good for employers and employees alike.

But with no viable public transportation, forget it. And with no plan by the NFTA to ever improve, we’re just going to have to be happy living where we work. And vice versa.

My question is, why are there no plans to improve? And why are we OK with that?

I understand wanting to be proud of where we’re from and defending Western New York when outsiders mock it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want to improve. We should all get together at Delaware Park and talk about it.

Just not on a weekend, OK?

Scott Leffler goes places. Just not via the NFTA. Follow his whereabouts on twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Budget deal nothing to get excited about

As much as I want to herald the dawn of a new spirit of cooperation in the budget/debt limit deal that Congress approved Wednesday night, I can’t help but feel like we’ve all been doubly duped.

The deal that was reached was pretty much what the Democrats had been offering all along. It was not a real compromise by any stretch of the imagination and it should have happened before Oct. 1. The 16 days of government shutdown were essentially for nothing.

That would all be bad enough on its own. But making matters worse, all the budget deal does is ensure that we’ll be back in the same place in three months since it only funds government through Jan. 15. As I heard many TV pundits say, it just “kicks the can down the road.”

The biggest problem with that, of course, is that it’s our can that’s getting kicked. Congress has pretty much just thumbed their collective nose at the American people. They have no real desire to lead. No desire to govern, either. Truth be told, I’m not sure what it is they desire to do.

So as a matter of fact, we’re just on a three month reprieve from the shenanigans that is the United States Congress. And when they bring the topic back up, there’s nothing to prevent them from shutting down the government again.

Rarely will I say that President Barack Obama said something brilliant, but on Wednesday, he really did, saying we can’t keep “governing by crisis.”

That’s exactly what our “leaders” have been doing. I’m not sure if they think that they work better under pressure. Or if they think that the crisis will force the other side to cave. Or if they just have bad time management skills. But something isn’t right down there in Washington.

The only thing worse than a late budget and government shutdown and nearing the brink on the debt ceiling is that some people in Congress wanted it to last longer.

In fact, my own congressman, Chris Collins voted no on the budget deal and released a statement explaining his vote.

“Tonight, the House voted to increase our national debt by over $300 billion without achieving a single spending cut. I could not, in good faith, vote in favor of this legislation which only adds billions to the credit card bill our children will be left to pay,” he said. “America has a significant and dangerous spending problem that most of Washington is content to ignore. On behalf of my constituents, I will not ignore this fact. Kicking the can down the road is what caused this problem and Washington has to muster the political courage to deal with it for the future of our country.”

I don’t disagree with Rep. Collins about the spending problem. I agree wholeheartedly, in fact. We spend way too much money. But I fail to see any leadership voting against paying bills we already have. And I can’t help but wonder if his vote was really “on behalf of his constituents.” Or more to the point, which constituents?

But hey, we elected him — and the rest of them, too. Maybe we should kick all their cans down the road.

Scott Leffler thinks that “congress” and “progress” are antonyms. Tune in next week when he finds a word that rhymes with “orange.” Also, follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

It's time to ask the right question about healthcare


Lost in all the political bickering over universal healthcare the past 20 years — from Hillarycare to Romneycare to Obamacare — is the most basic question of all concerning healthcare. Why isn’t it a right?

We’re told over and over again that healthcare is not a right. And we’ve simply come to buy into the notion that it’s not. The principle argument that healthcare isn’t a right is because it’s not in the Constitution. Those who would argue that are, of course, correct. But do our rights end where the text of the Constitution leaves off?

The Constitution was drafted as a blueprint for the operation of government. It didn’t really deal with rights. But Americans were hesitant to approve a new government that didn’t give them certain rights. So 12 amendments to the Constitution were drawn up. Ten of them were ratified and became our Bill of Rights, allowing for free speech, arms, privacy, due process, etc. Since then there have been 17 additional amendments, some dealing with rights and others dealing with the inner workings of the federal government.

But if you understand the basic beliefs of the American foundation, you’ll agree with me that the Constitution doesn’t grant rights. You can’t be granted a right. Rights are a social or ethical freedom or entitlement. They cannot be granted by man or government. Nor should they be restricted by the same.

So we have the right to say what we want. We have the right to protect ourselves. We have the right to privacy. Why don’t we have the right to be healthy? Or to be made healthy?

The Libertarian view of this — to which I typically subscribe — is that the rights granted in the Constitution don’t cost anything of others. Your free speech doesn’t cost anyone else anything. But demanding that someone else set your broken leg and put it in a cast costs someone else time and money.

The problem with that theory is that the 16th Amendment doesn’t grant a right at all. Instead it allows for the collection of income tax, setting the precedent that you can be charged a fee for living in America. So in order to maintain your rights, you might have to pay a price.

Back to the question, then: Why isn’t healthcare a right? At this point, it comes down to ethics and power.

The ethical thing to do is to take care of our fellow man. If someone has a broken leg and you have it in your power to fix it, an ethical person fixes it. The problem is that ethics and power are not good partners. And this country isn’t run by ethical people. It’s run by powerful people.

So when someone makes the argument to you that healthcare isn’t a right, what they’re really saying is that their money is more important than your health, your well-being. Now if that’s some guy in a bar, so be it. But if it’s someone creating laws, remember that when you go to the voting booth. Because if they’re willing to look you in the eye and brazenly tell you that their money is more important than your well-being, what might they do when they think you’re not watching or listening?

Scott Leffler is a thinker. Sometimes his thoughts differ from yours. It's OK, you have the right to be wrong. Follow Scott on Twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The whole country’s gone crazy


Former New York Yankees player and manager Yogi Berra was a magician with words. Some of his quotes are downright legendary. “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” Math was apparently not his forte. "Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours.” Or physics. "You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six.” This actually makes sense to me. As you can see, many of Berra’s quotable quotes are oxymoronic. Despite what it may sound like, an oxymoron isn’t a follower of Billy Mays. It’s a figure of speech that contradicts itself. My absolute favorite, though, has got to be “Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.” I’d like to think that Berra’s sayings were meant to be ironic. I hope he was smart enough to realize the humor in a saying like “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” But sometimes people say stupid things without realizing how stupid they sound. Such was the case Tuesday morning, when a Republican congressman discussed the fact that many Americans were having trouble signing up for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) because the exchange websites were flooded with visitors eager to learn more about — and possibly purchase — insurance under the healthcare program. “Seeing how poorly this has been implemented, I am surprised that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats are willing to shut down the government over a law that simply is unworkable, unaffordable, and increasingly unpopular,” Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp said. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert said it more succinctly. “Too many people signing up is always the surest sign that nobody wants it.” Except that Colbert was kidding. And I don’t think Huelskamp was. Republicans keep hammering the theme that they’re willing to shut down the government on behalf of the American people in order to do away with that dastardly Obamacare thingy that no one wants. Except that a CBS News poll released Thursday found that 72 percent of Americans disapprove of shutting down the federal government in order to smite the Affordable Care Act. Other recent polls offer similar results. So to simplify things: The ACA was enacted by both houses of Congress, signed by the president and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. The last presidential election was largely made into a referendum on Obamacare and the incumbent (Obama) won. And polls show that Americans don’t want it undone. So … what are the Republicans fighting for? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe they’re just crazy. Seems like the whole world is, lately. What was up with that woman who crashed the White House gates and then led D.C. police on a chase through the Capitol district? I’m sure we’ll get theories over time. I’ll bet one of them will be that she was a patriot just trying to do what she could to prevent the implementation of Obamacare. If that’s the case, Republicans may run her posthumously as a candidate for Congress in Connecticut. She’d probably win the primary. Yep. The world’s getting crazier all the time. Or as Yogi Berra would say, “The future ain’t what it use to be.”

— Scott Leffler is not exactly what you’d call a Yankees fan. But his father instilled in him a healthy appreciation of Yogi Berra. Follow his occasional oxymoronic tweets @scottleffler. And remember, "You can observe a lot just by watching."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

GOP denial of science is frightening


About 5,000 years ago there was a great Egyptian empire. They created some really cool things. They used pulleys and levers to create massive buildings and monuments. They used rope trusses to strengthen their ships. They made paper and pottery. Glassworks, medicine, and astronomical mapping were all commonplace. And some believe that they even had working batteries and electric lights. That was all thousands of years before the birth of Christ.

Other empires built on what the Egyptians did for a while. And then *poof* — suddenly technological advancement stopped. Hello, Dark Ages. Somewhere around the 5th Century A.D., people just stopped being smart. And then there was a point where being smart was absolutely frowned upon. Smart people were obviously heretics because God likes us stupid — or something.

Fortunately, we found our way. Art, architecture, and industry all advanced eventually and now we have computers and space ships and cures for all sorts of diseases. Knowledge is power. And it makes us better.

But alas, some out there think that knowledge is dangerous and technological advancement and scientific learning are something to be feared — or at least ignored. Those people, I have found — by and large — are mostly Republicans.

Yes, I’m picking on Republicans again this week. They just make it so easy.

I type in my Google search bar “Republicans deny” and the autocomplete gives me some very interesting options. The first five in order are:

• Republicans deny global warming
• Republicans deny science
• Republicans deny climate change
• Republicans deny funding for embassy security
• Republicans deny evolution

Trying the same thing with Democrats, nine of the first 10 options were either “God” or “Jesus Christ.” I’m not sure what that says about Democrats but at least they don’t deny science.

So my thought here is that if Republicans get their way, we’re headed back to the Dark Ages. We’ll be refusing technological advancements left and right while teaching our children the Bible in science class.

Personally, I am a man of faith. I believe that there is a God. I also believe in evolution. Not necessarily that we “came from apes,” as the anti-evolution crowd likes to say, but that we are not the same beings were were millions of years ago. Mind you, I think that “millions of years ago” existed and the world was not created a mere 6,000 years ago as some radicals would insist. And not only would they insist it, they would insist that my children be taught such drivel — in science class!

There’s nothing that says that you must choose between God and science. There’s room for both. But one is a matter of faith and the other is, well, science. One should be taught at home. And the other should be taught in school. Faith should be explored. While knowledge should be expanded.

What I want to know is how does “the Earth is flat party” keep getting elected? How dumb do you have to be to vote for someone who doesn’t believe that dinosaurs were real? Yes, I realize that not ALL Republicans deny science, but a Gallop poll from three years ago says that 52 percent of Republicans polled believe in “strict creationism” and that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

And we elect these people to make decisions for us …

Scott Leffler believes in dinosaurs, evolution and love. Also, Twitter. Follow him there @scottleffler



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Looney GOP keeps playing same Tunes


Shouldn’t there have been a point at which Wyle E. Coyote — super genius — realized that maybe he wasn’t actually that bright and was never going to catch and eat the Road Runner?

Over the course of about 50 cartoons, that stupid coyote devised more and more elaborate plans to catch his nemesis — or on a few occasions, Bugs Bunny. On a few occasions, the coyote was actually able to catch the Road Runner briefly, but he always got away.

The coyote was always his own biggest enemy, oftentimes falling prey to his own traps and looking foolish in the end.

In his book “Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist,” Chuck Jones said that there were certain rules to the Road Runner/Wyle E. Coyote cartoons which he and the writers strictly adhered to. One of those rules was that “The Coyote could stop anytime — if he were not a fanatic.” According to the book, "A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim."

Jones also said that the coyote should be a sympathetic character. He wanted us to want him to catch that Road Runner. He wanted us to feel bad when he fell off cliffs. Or dropped a boulder on his own head.

I guess I should have read the rules when I was a kid because I didn’t feel bad for the coyote. I never wanted him to eat the Road Runner. Just like I never wanted Sylvester to eat Tweety. Or Tom to eat Jerry. Or the dog to get the best of Foghorn Leghorn. Or … well, you get my point.

I just got increasingly angry with the coyote for being such a numbskull. I mean, how many times do you have to make yourself look stupid before you realise that you look stupid? Can we agree that 50 times is enough? What about 40?

Allow me to introduce you to House Republicans — super genuis.

Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act was signed into law three and a half years ago — and more importantly since the GOP took the House in 2011 — there have been 40 separate votes to essentially kill Obamacare.

In fact, a story in The New York Times stated that the House has spent as much as 15 percent of all of its time on the floor focused on repeal. Fifteen percent of Republican congressmen’s salaries over that time cost us about $17 million, based on numbers from the Congressional Research Service.

But they’re hoping that the 41st time will be the charm. They feel that they’ve devised a newer, bigger, better, faster, Rube Goldberg machine that will drop everything they need into place and allow them to finally get their way with that stupid Road Runner … er, Obama.

This time they’re offering up the entire economy in exchange for Obamacare, threatening to allow the U.S. to default on its loans unless the Democrats willingly give up their prized healthcare reform.

We’ve been here before. The GOP has threatened to shut down government on a number of occasions. They’ve even succeeded a couple times. But just like the Road Runner, the government always seems to get away in the end. Just as it will this time.

Is there going to come a point where House Republicans realize they look stupid spending all their time focusing on one bill that’s now been law for three and a half years while refusing to do anything to actually fix the healthcare system, help the economy, or the long forgotten middle class?

"A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim."

Maybe not.

Scott Leffler loved Looney Tunes growing up. And as an adult. He also thinks that most cartoons are smarter than House Republicans. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler. Beep. Beep.




Thursday, September 12, 2013

Some things should just be avoided


I have no idea what’s going on in Syria. I’m not sure what’s going to end up happening. But I know that the whole ordeal bugs me. I know that I’m not in favor of bombing another country in response to their (allegedly) gassing their own people. Killing people in retaliation for them killing people makes no sense to me.

Yes, as I’ve pointed out before, I’m a peacenik.

I thought that Piers Morgan put it best the other night following President Barack Obama’s speech.

“Isn't the message to other brutal dictators, 'when you slaughter your people, don't use gas,’” the CNN host asked.

That’s been one of my points all along. Dead is dead. People who die from Tomahawk missiles are no less dead than people who die from Sarin gas. So I don’t see how we can claim the moral high ground.

My advice to my congressman: Stay out of Syria unless you have reason to believe that Syria wants to come here.

•••

I was downright annoyed Wednesday as I scrolled through my social media feeds.

The only thing worse than the sunny-day patriotism on my Facebook and Twitter feeds on the 12-year anniversary of the attacks on America was the open use of the national tragedy to score political points.

How dare some people use the death of thousands of Americans as an excuse or reason to sound off on matters completely unrelated.

Look. I get it. Some people hate Obama. And Muslims. And anyone else who doesn't look, talk, act and dress like them. That's not a valid reason for people to make a fool of themselves. They're embarrassing themselves and our country. And in short, these people are why the world hates us.

•••

I have — at times — some obsessive compulsive characteristics. For example, I cannot walk past my mailbox without checking it. No matter what time, day or night. And no matter how many times I walk past it.

Once a day — at most — my OCD pays off and there’s mail in the box. Thursday afternoon it paid off at about 3 p.m. when I had a catalog selling Christmas decorations.

Now, I love Christmas. Always have. I’m sure I always will. From the day after Thanksgiving until Dec. 25, I listen to Christmas music, eat Christmas cookies, gaze at my beautifully lit Christmas tree and basically bask in the glow of the season of good will.

But from Dec. 26 until Thanksgiving day, I steer clear of Christmas. I cringe when I see Christmas decorations in January — unless they’re on the clearance shelf. And I equally cringe when I see them in September.

I’m guilty, as my family knows, of whistling Christmas tunes in July. It’s a signal that I’m particularly happy. But it’s an unintentional reflex, not something I plan out.

Now, I understand that in order to get people to buy their Christmas stuff in order to wrap presents in time, they have to order them early enough. But September? It’s just too early.

Scott Leffler is frequently random and usually annoyed. Both are easily seen on Twitter where you can find him @scottleffler.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I should have avoided Facebook

The only thing worse than the sunny-day patriotism on my Facebook and Twitter feeds is the open use of a national tragedy to score political points.

How dare some people use the death of thousands of Americans as an excuse or reason to sound off on matters completely unrelated.

Look. I get it. You hate Obama. And Muslims. And anyone else who doesn't look, talk, act and dress like you.

That's no reason to make an ass out of yourself. You're embarrassing yourself and your country. And in short, you're why the world hates us.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Obama’s politics opened up can of worms


President Barack Obama pulled a bit of political genius out of his magic hat when he sought Congressional approval to use military action in Syria, putting the onus on Congress to decide whether we should go all “America” on their … posteriors.

In doing so, he climbed up on his stump and used the bully pulpit to tell Congressional leaders that if they didn’t go along with his plan to use force in the Middle Eastern country, we’d look weak. Congress never likes looking weak and as such will likely approve the measure overwhelmingly.

Right?

Well just hold on a minute there. There’s a large contingent of Congress that is opposed to military action in Syria, mostly for legitimate reason — but some for political purposes of their own.

As of the writing of this column, no less than 14 members of the House of Representatives have said that if Congress disapproves of military action and the president goes through with it anyway — which he has said he may — that they’d consider that to be an impeachable offense.

So would I.

At first I was impressed with the president’s decision to ask Congress for permission to use force. It is, after all, what he’s supposed to do according to the Constitution. I thought, “Wow. How refreshing to see a commander in chief who follows the law.”

Then the politics occurred to me and I realized that he wasn’t so interested strict Constitutionalism as he was in spreading the blame for a military action that we just plain shouldn’t be involved in in the first place. If Congress says yes, then no matter how poorly it goes, he can say, “But you told me to!” If he acted without asking then the blame is completely on the White House.

Congressman Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, put out a press release Tuesday night stating “It is not the time for Americans to be subjected to the potential of yet another unwinnable overseas war.”

I agree, but would add that it is never the time for such an action. Especially if we’re not being threatened. And we’re not.

Some would say that if we allow Syria to get away with mistreating their own people, we could have another Hitler on our hands. It seems to me that that line of thinking has embroiled us in countless “wars” and “peacekeeping efforts” over the last seven decades, stretching our resources thin and diminishing our resolve.

If Higgins — a liberal Democrat in a very safe district — isn’t going to support intervention on behalf of his Democratic president, then who will? Maybe the GOP. Maybe no one. The vote is yet to come.

One other note on President Obama’s use of the bully pulpit: It kind of makes him look like a bully. If he succeeds in convincing Congress to go along with him, we’ll all look like bullies. And if that happens, our latest military intervention will do nothing more than create more enemies.

Scott Leffler is a peacenik. He lives in Lockport with his hedgehog, who also opposes war. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.


Sunday, September 01, 2013

Blowing the dust off the forum ...

Back in the day ... when I was but a wee lad ... this website had a pretty active forum ... complete with posts, replies, arguments and drama ...

I'm not looking to revive the drama aspect, but I thought I'd post a few things to the forum and see what turns up.

First attempt - a poll on the ongoing crisis in Syria and what you think the U.S. role should be in the regain - specifically in regards to the president saying we need to take action against the Syrian government for using chemical weapons against its citizens.

So please take a minute and vote. Or take two minutes and comment, too.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Can’t get away from the news


I’ve been on vacation since last Friday.

As part of that vacation, I intended on unplugging from work completely. Since work is the news, I have tried to not pay attention. I don’t want to go into unintentional copy editor mode. I don’t want to be driven to think of a local angle for an international story. And I don’t want to mentally plan follow-ups to unanswered questions I may have.

I’ve never understood when I try to talk to people about a current events topic and they make a claim that sounds something like, “I don’t pay attention to the news.”

How is that even possible? I’m even more perplexed by it after the last week — as I intentionally tried to not pay attention to the news and was bombarded by it nonetheless.

Case in point: There I was minding my own business Monday night. Just sitting on my porch watching the drama that is my neighborhood, texting the girl about life … and she says, “Topic change. Syria.”

Seriously? I don’t want to think about Syria. I’m on vacation. But foreign policy riles me up and I had no choice but to take the bait. And as such, we talked about U.S. foreign policy for an hour or so.

Second example: There I was minding my own business Wednesday morning. Just sitting on my couch perusing my Facebook feed … and I run across a local news story posted by one of my Facebook friends. No! I tried covering my eyes and not reading it. But it didn’t work. Suckered into the news once again.

There are numerous other examples, I assure you. But those were the most heinous.

When I get back to work on Sunday, I’ll have to first sit down and read a week’s worth of papers, catching up on all the things I undoubtedly missed. But I have a feeling there won’t be that many surprises. Because whether I want to or not, I’m constantly connected. Which, again, is how I don’t understand how people can say they don’t pay attention to the news.

•••

One other thought as my summer vacation comes to an end is that so do my girls’ summer vacations as they head back to school next week.

I know most parents have been counting down to kids going back to school and getting out of their hair, but I’m not really looking forward to it. It’s been nice to have them around the house when I’m actually home; working nights makes it difficult to spend quality time with “the kidses.”

So with school back in session and me back at work, I’ll start counting down to our next vacation — when I can hang out with the kids and try to ignore the news.

Scott Leffler is a news junkie and father to the most incredible daughters — listed in reverse order of importance. Follow him on twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Another encampment in the trenches


Thursday I went to the University at Buffalo to cover President Barack Obama’s speech about the rising cost of college education and his plan to fix it.

I have no intention of discussing the policy initiative as presented. You can hear all about it elsewhere and come to your own conclusion.

Instead what I’m going to do is give you my take of Thursday’s event and provide some details you may not hear elsewhere.

My day started at 6:45 a.m. — at least two hours earlier than I usually roll out of bed — hoping to get to the University at Buffalo well ahead of the 9 a.m. media check in time. I nuked a cup of coffee and sent a message to Heather letting her know I successfully landed my feet on the floor. I turned the water on in the shower and set the temperature at the right level. And I stared at the mechanism of my shower. “How do I get the water to come out of the shower head,” I thought to myself. It took me awhile but I figured it out. I’m so not a morning person. Keep in mind that I get out of work between 1 and 2 a.m.

Heather picked me up around 8:15 and we headed to Amherst — via Tim Horton’s, of course. We got to UB just shortly before 9 and found the media check in. Without asking for our ID’s, they handed us our official White House Pool press passes and sent us to the security checkpoint. Equipment to the left, pocket items to the right, and bodies through the scanner. They checked over Heather’s camera gear to make sure it was really camera gear. They checked over my cell phone to make sure it was really a cell phone. I had placed my extra large triple triple on the table. They didn’t check to make sure it was coffee. It didn’t occur to me until later how odd that was. Security is tighter at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport than at a speech by the standing president (or former president, if you check my column from Oct. 23.)

Inside there was much wandering. And kabitzing. The media is a funny bunch. We all want to be first. We all want to be best. And we all want the other outlets to fail miserably. But when we’re together we’re like dysfunctional cousins at a family reunion.

At my end of the media riser, we watched each other take selfies. We talked shop. We mocked whoever wasn’t in earshot. A reporter from the Olean Times Herald photobombed a selfie Channel 2’s Mary Alice Demler was taking. This lead to much discussion and group photos. It was a party atmosphere.

At the other end of the media riser it was all work and no play, Heather tells me. That’s where all the camera people were. Camera people apparently don’t kabitz. Or take selfies. Although I know better.

So we’re waiting. And waiting. And UB President Satish K. Tripathi speaks. Followed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Then UB student Silvana C. D’Ettorre. And finally — although only a few minutes later than originally projected — President Obama.

The crowd went wild. It was my third time seeing President Obama so I was all cool and professional. But really, it’s cool to see the sitting president. If you get the chance, go do it. It’s like the difference between watching a Sabres game on TV or at HSBC. There’s just something about the experience.

In three words, the president inadvertently dissed Congressman Brian Higgins and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. Those three words were “Mayor Brian Higgins.” Oops. After some jeering from the crowd, he fixed his error and make a joke at his own expense.

About two-thirds of the way through his speech, some idiot stood up in the back and yelled “Traitor!” followed by something unintelligible and then a second “Traitor!” He was hauled off.

I’d say it’s hard to believe that someone could be so openly uncivilised. But again, I know better. I have Facebook.

Following the speech, the president wandered out into the crowd, much to the chagrin of about a dozen Secret Service agents who all “whooshed” to POTUS’ side — apparently out of thin air. He shook hands. He held a baby. He posed for photos. He swaggered. And he left.

The media said our goodbyes to one another until the next big event, went on our merry way and reverted our trains of thought to being first and best.

Scott Leffler has seen every sitting president in person since Ronald Reagan. He’s always respectful. And he thinks you should be, too. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.