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 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."