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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Looking forward to a fulFILLING weekend

Aside from the incredibly odd weather, I must say this has been a very nice summer. Mind you, I’m not complaining about the cooler-than-normal temperatures we’ve had the past couple weeks. Anything over 80 makes for a grumpy Scott.

While the summer has been good, I have to say that this coming weekend is likely my favorite of the year. It’s filled with free food, friends and frollicking. Okay, maybe not frollicking, but I wanted a trio of Fs. I guess I could have said fun. But I think that is copywritten by McDonald’s.

Saturday I will make my apparently annual pilgrimage to the Do┼╝ynki Polish Harvest Festival at Corpus Christi Church where I will — for the third straight year — be one of the lucky ones judging the 6th Annual Buffalo’s Best Pierogi Contest.

Previous year’s pierogi have included standard sauerkraut, reuben, chicken wing, hot pepper, a cheeseburger pierogi (complete with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle), Kielbasa and cheese, a Japanese pierogi, beef on weck, Greek and more. It’s heaven.

Even without the gluttony of pierogi that I’ll be consuming, Dozynki is always a blast. Last year we went bowling at the Corpus Christi Athletic Club after I was done consuming my pierogi. It was fun. It was cheap. It was different.

If you’re looking to get out of town on Saturday, head on out to Superman Corner in Buffalo and have some tasty food and say “hi” while you’re there. I’ll be the guy loosening his belt.

But wait. That’s not all. If you act now, you get … the Taste of Lockport on Sunday.

Last year I was a judge at the Taste, as well, helping to judge the appetizer category. This year, they’ve switched things up on me and I’ll be one of the very lucky people judging the sandwich category along with Lockport Journal Sports Editor (and friend) John D’Onofrio.

Fortunately, we’ll be judging the food early in the day which means that I should have it digested well before the Taste is over so I can eat everything else.

Normally I work Sunday nights, but I took the day off so I could eat more. Lucky, lucky me.

To make a long story short  — too late? — I’m going to have a great weekend with food and people that I love. Hope to see you there. And if you’re not there, I hope you’re weekend is as happy as mine is sure to be.

Scott Leffler isn’t Polish. And he’s not originally from Lockport. But he’s going to pretend to be both this weekend — for the sake of the food. He’ll probably tweet photos of his gluttonous behaviors @scottleffler.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Is President Obama reviving the Cold War?

Like anyone over the age of 30, I grew up under an imminent threat of a nuclear holocaust brought upon by the big bad Russians.

I learned that the Russians hated us for our capitalism. And that their primary goal in life was to convert us all into communist socialist Bolshevik Leninst Marxists … or something. If they couldn’t do that, then they’d resort to the nuclear thing. I learned that if hid under my desk with my head between my knees, I could survive the bombs that were undoubtedly about to be dropped on my elementary school without warning.

Fast forward about 30 years and the Cold War has been replaced by the War on Terrorism. Russians have been replaced by religious extremists. They still hate us for our capitalism — or freedom, depending on who you ask. And duck and cover has been replaced by duct tape and plastic sheeting … in case of a Sarin gas attack.

So maybe it’s no wonder President Barack Obama seems hellbent on restarting the Cold War. It was much less stressful than the War on Terror.

I’m being somewhat facetious about the president bringing back the old Red Scare … but I have been shaking my head at some of his sabre rattling and posturing in his dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Just Wednesday, the White House announced that the president has canceled his Moscow visit with Putin next month. This is in response to a litany of issues the U.S. has had with Russia over the past few months, culminating in Russia offering asylum to Eric Snowden, who has become Public Enemy No. 1.

Obviously the most logical thing to do when you’re upset with someone is to refuse to discuss the things you’re upset about. Ask anyone who’s ever gotten divorced.

The president said earlier this week that the Putin administration occasionally slips into a “Cold War mentality.”

I think canceling scheduled meetings in order to emasculate the other party — which many political strategists have said is Obama’s strategy — is a return to a Cold War style of thinking.

What’s worse is that the political strategists I’ve read have been in lock-step agreement that Obama’s strategy is a good one. Apparently they miss the Cold War.

I, for one, would prefer that we show some leadership and learn to deal with people we disagree with instead of taking our ball and going home, which is pretty much the equivalent of what we’re doing here.

Scott Leffler is a Cold War kid with fond recollections of duck and cover drills. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

Friday, August 02, 2013

We are citizens -- not subjects

The NSA scandal rolls on and government types on both sides of the proverbial aisle continue to support this atrocity that turns the people of the United States from citizens into subjects — or should I say pets?

On Wednesday, the National Security Agency acknowledged that when investigating one suspected terrorist, it can read and store the phone records of millions of Americans. That’s a huge upgrade from the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, that’s for sure.

According to a story by the Associated Press, it’s quite easy for Americans with no connection to terrorism to unwittingly have their calling patterns analyzed by the government because of what’s known as “hop” or “chain” analysis.

The story said, “When the NSA identifies a suspect, it can look not just at his phone records, but also the records of everyone he calls, everyone who calls those people and everyone who calls those people.”

In other words, if a “suspected terrorist” ordered a pizza and you ordered a pizza from the same place, you are automatically in league with said “terrorist.”

Yes, I’m puttiing “terrorist” in quotes because I’m not entirely sure how the government defines terrorism any more. It used to be pretty black and white but these days everything is a shade of gray. I have a feeling anyone who ever protested anything might be in some database of being potentially a terrorist. This would include me.

Of course, the government has to watch out for itself — and moreover the people it was sworn to protect. But it needs to also watch out for the Constitution that it was also sworn to protect. And I have serious reservations about the Constitutionality of many of the ongoing government surveillance programs.

The problem with ignoring the Constitution and just doing whatever-they-damn-well-please is that in doing so, they’re turning the people of this country into mere subjects. Instead of power flowing up from us (via the ballot booth), it trickles down from Washington to us … in scant doses.

And just like the trickle-down economy is a complete fallacy, a trickle-down power structure is equally flawed. By the time it gets down to folks like you and I, the power is so diluted that it couldn’t run a flashlight, let alone a country.

I realize that there were also members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who are livid about the abuse of power in the NSA. I find that somewhat heartening. Unfortunately, they were outnumbered by those who believe that government is all-important and we aren’t.

Unless you’re content with becoming a subject — rather than a citizen — I recommend you make some noise and complain. But be forewarned, as I already said that I imagine all complainers are added to the top of the “terrorist” watch list.

Scott Leffler sometimes orders pizza with mushrooms. The NSA already knew that. And now you do, too. Follow his public tweets @scottleffler. For a more in-depth look at his life, get a job at the NSA.