Thursday, June 27, 2013

States should be free to govern themselves

I don't like being told what to do. I live life by my own rules and I answer to no one but myself. I like it that way.

I also have no need to tell others what to do. If your morals differ from mine, have a blast — as long as whatever you're doing isn't hurting me, who am I to complain?

The United States were founded on these basic principals: You do your thing and I'll do mine. And as long as your thing doesn't hurt my thing, I'll leave you be.

It's a standard tenet of freedom. It's libertarianism in it's purest form. It's not anarchy. Anarchy doesn't care if your thing hurts my thing. Anarchy is survival of the fittest at the expense of the meek. Libertarianism not only allows for, but promotes certain protections against the chaos that anarchy brings.

Back up a minute. Please note that I said "The United States were founded." Not "was" founded.

See, people seem to forget that in the rest of the world, "state" and "nation" mean the same thing. We're supposed to be 50 little countries with our own identities and customs who come together in times of need and have each others' backs.

But more and more the states have become nothing more than a bureaucratic arm of the federal government. Washington D.C. is the end-all-be-all and states have to ask permission to use the restroom — figuratively speaking, of course.

An example is the recent ruling by the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law enacted during the Clinton administration that allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed under the laws of other states.

Before I get into this, I'll remind you that I am an ardent supporter of same-sex marriages.

That said, the state of Texas — for example — is not required to allow licensed New York State drivers to drive on their roads. They do, mind you. But that could change tomorrow if they get a glimpse at how some of the idiots up here drive.

Sticking with driving, different states have different speed limits. Different states have different vehicle inspection requirements, emissions standards, etc. And if you're in Texas, you have to follow Texas law even if you're from New York.

Why then should Texas be forced to recognize your New York State marriage? Gay or straight?

If you're licensed to carry a gun in one state, that license doesn't carry over if you move to a new state. You need to get a new one. And if your new state doesn't allow that particular type of gun, you're S.O.L., if you know what I mean.

Same goes with dogs. There are some states where certain breeds are banned.

I own a pet hedgehog. Legal in New York. Illegal in Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii and Pennsylvania. And there's no reason to make a federal case of it — pun intended.

My thought is that if you don't like the laws in a certain state, don't move there. Stay with like-minded people and let other like-minded people comfort themselves.

Please don't make the slavery argument against me. Owning people is wrong on any level. It's not "immoral." It's just WRONG. It isn't a states' rights issue. And it gets back to "your thing" interfering with "my thing." And as much as I support same-sex marriage, there is no comparison.

Scott Leffler and his hedgehog live in beautiful Lockport, New York with his two daughters. Follow him on twitter @scottleffler

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Whatever happened to just journalism?

I tend to tell people I’m a writer — as opposed to calling myself a journalist. There are a few reasons for this but it primarily comes from me not viewing myself in any grandiose manner that would qualify me as a journalist. I just write things I think in this column and write things I know in the stories I occasionally write.

The other day I read a column by Jeff Jarvis — most recognizable, I’d imagine as a TV critic for TV guide — in which he states that all journalism is advocacy.

“The choices we make about what to cover and how we cover it and what the public needs to know are acts of advocacy on the public’s behalf,” Jarvis said.

I tend to agree to a degree but I think that Jarvis over-simplified matters. And I’d also state that calling something “advocacy” leads me to believe that the writer (or editor or producer or whatever) had a bias going into the story. To me the word “advocacy” is tainted from the beginning.

I suppose you could say that members of the media — I also refer to myself in this way from time to time — are supposed to be advocating for the truth. I also imagine that many do.

George Orwell, the author of “1984” and “Animal Farm” said that “Journalism is printing what others don't want printed. Everything else is public relations.”

He’s got a good point, too. As cynical as he was, he must have considered himself a journalist at some point in his life. But he was most certainly an advocate for the way he thought things should be.

I think a lot of the “news” people on television (and radio) are not journalists at all. They’re not even really news people. They’re talking heads. Or worse, they’re hacks pushing a political point of view under the guise of being journalists.

What’s wrong with “just the facts ma’am?” Why must the people in charge of disseminating information choose to be so selective with what they report? What they dig up? And what they hide?

Obviously there is a finite amount of space in a newspaper or time in a TV or radio broadcast, so there are going to be things left on the proverbial cutting room floor. However, I fear that too much of what’s cut is what should run. And too much of what runs should never have been published.

That is why this field of mine — media or journalism or whatever you want to call is — was told last year that only 40 percent of people trust us a great deal or a fair amount while 60 percent of people don’t trust us at all.

Maybe we should stop advocating and start reporting.

And I’ll just keep writing.

Scott Leffler has worked in the local media for over a dozen years. He has a degree in journalism. And another in Political Science. But in the end he’s just a writer with two beautiful daughters. Follow his tweets @scottleffler.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Are we all enemies of the state?

The United States Constitution defines treason as specific acts, namely "levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Thursday that the federal government has launched a criminal investigation and is taking "all necessary steps" to prosecute Edward Snowden for exposing secret U.S. surveillance programs.

Snowden’s crime — as you should be well aware — is exposing a secret surveillance program being conducted by the National Security Agency in which the government was (and likely still is) collecting millions of U.S. phone records along with digital communications stored by nine major Internet companies.

So basically Snowden is being investigated for calling out the American government for spying on law-abiding American citizens. He may be prosecuted for telling the American people that their government is sketchy.

I think it’s safe to say that that isn’t “levying War.” Nor is it “adhering to” our enemies. Nor is it giving them “Aid and Comfort.”

Unless of course, the American people are the enemies.

There’s been much discussion about whether Snowden was right or wrong in revealing what he learned while working as a sub-contractor handling computer networks for the NSA.

Is he a patriot? Or a traitor?

Those defending the PRISM program would say that in exposing the NSA’s methods, he has caused irreparable harm to their ability to conduct counter-terrorism surveillance. I’m sure they’d add something like, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you haven’t got anything to worry about.”

Those defending Snowden would say that the PRISM program far oversteps the bounds allowed by the Patriot Act and other provisions that have followed. I’m sure they would also argue that those provisions — including the Patriot Act — go too far to begin with.

Democratic Congressman John Conyers said, "It's my fear that we are on the verge of becoming a surveillance state.”

On the verge of? We’re there. And Congress approved it.

That’s another argument being made against Snowden — that what the NSA has been doing has been approved by Congress and is thus OK.

I don’t buy that argument either. For one, many people in Congress are stating that PRISM goes above and beyond the scope of what they have authorized. And secondly, just because the government decides that it’s OK for the government to spy on its people doesn’t make it so.

The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure, which is to say that unless specific reasoning is given and a warrant for said search is granted, the government needs to stay out of our stuff.

PRISM granted a blanket warrant to the government to search basically any digital means of communication we have. Not for specific people. Not for those thought to be terrorists. Everyone.

One of the founding principles of American government is that the government gets its power from the people and acts on those people’s behalf. The U.S. government exists because we say they should.

Where then does the U.S. government get the authority to spy on us — treating us all as though we’re the enemy?

And if the federal government has usurped its authority, so those in power still have a legitimate claim to that power?

Scott Leffler is probably being watched right now. If you can’t find the secret webcam and still want to know what he’s up to, follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

Thursday, June 06, 2013

State senate legalizes class system

If you feel at times that there is an us vs. them society in New York state, you’re not crazy. In fact, the New York state Senate just voted to make it official.

Far too often we see laws created that apply only to the common folks but which exempts certain people in society - the lucky ones, if you will. The state itself exempts politicians and bureaucrats from having to follow the same set of rules us “mere taxpayers” have to comply with.

And now the state Senate has passed a bill making it a felony to “harass, annoy or threaten a police officer while on duty” punishable by up to four years in jail.

Senator Joe Griffo, a Republican from Rome and the architect of the law said, “Police officers who risk their lives every day in our cities and on our highways deserve every possible protection, and those who treat them with disrespect, harass them and create situations that can lead to injuries deserve to pay a price for their actions.”

I don’t disagree that harassing a police officer should be a crime. Just as harassing your neighbor or anyone else should be a crime. I just don’t understand why it should be a special crime. We already have a charge for “obstructing official business,” don’t we?

I would also agree that creating situations that can lead to injuries should carry a punishment. Although that phrasing is a bit ambiguous. It’s not nearly as ambiguous as treating “them with disrespect,” however.

Basically, I don’t see a need for this law. It is feel-good legislation designed to remind us common folk that we’re not as important as the police. It’s far too open to the interpretation of the offended officer and could be very easy to abuse.

I mean, what’s disrespect? Is this column disrespectful because I think we should all be treated equally? Some will surely read it that way. And that’s the problem with vaguely written laws which are so open to individual interpretation.

Just as the NRA likes to remind us that there are enough gun laws if they’d only “enforce the ones on the books,” I think we should remind the state senate that the bill they passed is redundant to laws that already exist - for everyone.

I’d also like to ask them to make laws for everyone - and not certain laws for certain classes of people. There’s enough favoritism that already exists in the judicial system itself without codifying it from the get-go.

What’s next? Making it legal for judges (or doctors) to drive intoxicated? Making it legal for politicians to lie under oath? Making it legal for bankers to embezzle funds?

The whole point of having the rule of law is for those laws to apply to everyone equally. Otherwise all we’re doing is creating an oligarchy and slowly creeping towards a fascist state.

Scott Leffler is just an ordinary citizen. Well, as ordinary as anyone with a Twitter account. Find him there @scottleffler

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Beep Beep

I took some photos at Monday night's car cruise in Lockport. You can find a few of them online on the US&J's webpage.