Friday, December 12, 2014

Now that's what I call news

The other day the local television stations all reported news that we here at East Niagara Post chose to ignore. I stand by that decision and I'd like to tell you why.

The news event that we decided you didn't need to know about? A "winter weather advisory" was in effect for the northtowns and all of East Niagara. I considered writing something up about it and then changed my mind.

Weather stories, believe it or not, are some of our most viewed stories here at ENP and deciding against running the "winter weather advisory" story probably cost of several hundred page views for the day. But I felt it wasn't newsworthy. And I don't want to post flashy "Danger-Will-Robinson" headlines for non-news.

Basically, the National Weather Service was advising the greater-Buffalo area that there was likely to be winter weather, including snow. Not a lot of snow. Not heavy snow. Not blowing snow. Just, ya know, snow. In December. Not news. And we respect you too much to try to blow it out of proportion for the purpose of propping our statistics up.

Inversely, sometimes we are questioned about why we run certain items that others feel aren't newsworthy — specifically certain police items. The answer to that question is actually pretty simple: because a report was generated.

We decided at the very beginning to run every police item. Every one. If the Niagara County Sheriff's Office or Lockport Police Department makes available an incident or arrest report, we report it. Even the things that I personally think are trivial, like aggravated unlicensed operation and possession of marijuana.

So why do we report them if even I think they're trivial? Because we don't want to be accused of picking and choosing. Our credibility with our readers is of the utmost importance. And while a blanket policy of "publish everything" might not make the accused (or their friends and family) happy, it's considerably easier to adhere to than deciding on a case-by-case basis of what arrests are important and what aren't.

On a personal note, I might not have a fancy car or a mansion, but I have my reputation and our "publish it all" policy means I'll never have to worry about being accused of "playing favorites" with arrest reports. Because I assure you, I've known several people whose names we've published in the police reports — some who I consider to be friends.

To summarize: Snow in December is not news. Getting arrested is.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Rights and wrongs: a.k.a. 'Never read the comments'

General stupidity is at an all-time high. Thanks to the Internet — and fueled by Facebook, idiots have found that they’re not alone and so they’re coming out of the woodwork, propped up by other idiots. They’ve learned that they can say the most ludicrous, hateful things and someone will applaud their “bravery” in taking on such a position.

Worse than that, certain sentiments that have been hidden in society have bubbled up to the surface, feeling the time of their revival is now.

I’m a news junkie. I read the news all day. From other local media to the New York Times, Fox News and USA Today. I’m constantly scouring the web for information. It is my addiction. Well, it’s one of my addictions.

I need to learn to leave well enough alone, though. I need to learn to read the story and close my browser window. Instead I find myself scrolling down. Because just like the other idiots out there, I want to see that people agree with my particular take on things. I want my own position to be validated.

Almost without exception, it is. There are always people who say in the comment section pretty much what I was thinking. But then there are also people who say the opposite.

Now, I’m not talking about a story about ponies where someone says they like white ponies and someone says they like brown ones. Well … actually, maybe I am.

When did it become OK to be racist again? Racism has never quite gone away. But in my lifetime, I’ve never seen it so popular. I’ve never seen it so accepted.

The recent acquittal of Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner has given the dumb masses a license to proudly trumpet their white pride in a manner I’ve only seen on old newsreels from the 1960s. Some of it, of course, is thinly veiled.

And some of it isn’t racist, it’s simply authoritarian: the belief that those in power can do no wrong. Statements like “he shouldn’t have broken the law if he didn’t want to die” and “if he hadn’t resisted arrest, he’d still be alive” anger me as much or more than the blatant racism that I’ve seen.

I think we’ve all grown accustomed to the phrase “the United States is a nation of laws.” And that it is. But it’s also a nation of rights. In fact, it was a nation of rights before the first law was ever passed by Congress. One of those rights should be the right to not get choked to death by a police officer over a petty violation on a New York street corner — or anywhere else. We could simplify it by calling it the “right to breathe.”

Personally, I’m not a fan of laws. Well, mostly, at least. Laws are written to the lowest common denominator. I can’t talk on my cell phone while I drive because some people are incapable of multitasking. Because other people have drug problems, I can’t sit in my basement and smoke pot while watching Star Wars. And because some people can’t control their dogs, I have to keep mine on a leash wherever we go. Rather than punishing those who actually do something wrong, we have criminalized things that could lead to something bad happening. Lowest. Common. Denominator.

Maybe we should replace the word "illegal" with "wrong" — as in "not (a) right." I'd be OK with that. Shooting someone is wrong. Killing someone is wrong. Hitting someone is wrong. Taking someone else's property. Harassing someone. Choking someone out. Pretty much things done to "wrong" someone else should be "wrongs." Then instead of "law enforcement" being asked to "enforce laws," they could be asked to "right wrongs." And since there's really nothing "wrong" with selling loose cigarettes on a street corner, Daniel Pantaleo would have had no reason to choke Eric Garner.

Our elected officials have taken police and asked them to control the people. They have no time to protect and serve. They're too busy enforcing laws. Laws with loopholes and silly reasoning.

So while I could be arrested for talking on the phone, walking my dog or smoking a joint, a New York City cop was absolved of any wrongdoing when his actions resulted in the death of another man. Because he "hadn't broken any laws."

That's just not right.

Scott Leffler doesn’t talk on his cell phone while driving, smoke pot in his basement or walk his dog without a leash. But mostly because Scott seldom drives, doesn’t have a basement or a dog. He also can’t breathe. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Memoirs of a stolen bike

So there I was ... minding my own business walking down East Avenue Friday afternoon. And I saw it — my stolen bike.

Now, mind you, I've seen what appeared to be my bike 1,022 times in the past two weeks. In fact, it's amazing how much every bike that has ever been produced in the history of bikes looks like mine from a distance.

But no. This one was really mine. A 26-inch black Mongoose mountain bike with a black and red seat. And it was just sitting there in front of the Lockport Public Library — less than 100 feet from where it had been stolen in the early morning hours of Oct. 18, when it was unceremoniously plucked from in front of the Lockport Family YMCA, where I had diligently locked it to the bike rack a few hours prior.

Well, truth be told, it wasn't just sitting there. It was being propped up by some teenage punk who was sitting atop it — surrounded by six other teenage punks, each with his own bike — or each with someone else's bike they had stolen as well.

"Be cool, Leffler," I told myself. Yes, even I refer to myself by just my last name. It's a learned habit I suppose.

I had been thinking for two weeks what exactly I would do if I ran across someone on my bike. What if they were on it? What if they were riding it? What it if was just sitting in a pile of bikes somewhere unattended? What if it was locked to a bike rack somewhere? I played out all the scenarios in my head as I ran across all the bikes that looked like mine from a distance but then weren't up close.

I had a specific plan for what to do if someone was sitting on it in a stationary position. It was a little dicey and could result in injury if I didn't pull it off right. But ...

So I acted as though I was simply walking by, weaving through the seven kids on bikes until I was directly behind mine and close enough to touch it. I reached out my right hand and grabbed the back wheel, lifting it up off the ground — completely freaking out the aforementioned punk. (Side note: As I'm now 40, I feel it is well within my rights to refer to teenagers as "punks." I'm at least another decade away from being able to use "whippersnappers," though.)

So this kid says, "What the (expletive) are you doing to my bike?"

"Actually, it's my bike," I said back. And you can either walk now or I can call the cops."

"What makes you think it's your bike?" he asked back.

"Well, it's my bike. That's my old lock hanging off it. And right there (points with free hand — the one not keeping the rear tire in the air, preventing him from taking off with my bike) is part of what used to be the back light. I see you got the front light off, though."

"My friend gave me this bike a week ago," he said. Mmm hmm. Likely story.

"Well then your friend stole it from me and as I said, I'll gladly call the police to come settle this," I said, adding, "Look, I'm 40 years old (I find if I repeat it often, it helps to cope). So I'm not going to steal a bike from some kid. But I'm also not going to let some kid steal my bike. So? Shall I dial 911?"

The kid — sorry, punk kid — got off my bike and headed east on East Avenue, surrounded by his punk friends.

When they were far enough away, one of them turned around and yelled, "We'll just steal it back!"

Good luck with that, kid.

Scott Leffler is a 40-year-old writer and part-time superhero. And he was touched by the number of people that have taken time out of their day in the past two weeks to ask about his bike. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Open letter to the jerk who stole my bike

When I walked into the Lockport Police Department around 10 a.m. Saturday, Officer Rick Provenzano went to hand me the press clipboard filled with arrest reports so I could do ENP's daily log of Lockport arrests.

"Actually, I'm here to make a report," I told him. "Someone stole my bike."

"It's a 26-inch Mongoose mountain bike," I explained. "Twenty-one speed. Black with a black and red seat. Lights on the front and back."

Rick diligently took my report, writing every word I said, asking for additional details.

"Value?"
"I think it was $500 when I bought it. So, let's say $250 now?"

"Where and when was it stolen?"
"Overnight in front of the YMCA —  locked to the bike rack there."

"Do you want someone arrested if we catch them?"
"Yes."

"Are you going to put this in The Post?"
"No."

But then I thought about it. And I talked to Heather about it. And yeah. Yeah, I'm going to put this in The Post.

Side note before I get started here: It amuses me that some people call ENP "The Post." I'm not entirely sure why. But I like it. So thanks for the smile during my frustrating morning, Officer Provenzano.

Okay. So, look, bike thief: It's a nice bike. I can understand why you would want it. But it's not yours. And I want it back.

Were you under the impression that a bike that was locked to the YMCA's bike rack was abandoned and unwanted? Did you think it was OK for you to cut the lock and take it? Did you think I wouldn't notice it was missing? Or that I wouldn't miss it? Or mind?

Did you ride it a few blocks and ditch it, like so many stolen bikes in Lockport? Or did you sink it to the bottom of the canal like so many others? Is it holed up in your garage with a collection of other bikes you've stolen? Do you also steal wallets and cell phones? Because a few years ago, I had those stolen, too.

I'm betting taxpayers probably paid your rent this month. And bought your groceries. And that wasn't enough? You had to take my bike, too? Seriously, how low can you stoop?

At first I said I wouldn't press charges if someone was caught. People make mistakes. And it's just a bike. But then I said, wait. Yeah, I want to press charges.

"Is that the right answer," I asked Provenzano.

He nodded and said, "You can always change your mind later."

Mainly I filed the report because I wanted to be able to get it back if and when the police find it. I didn't want to have to buy it back at the big bike auction in the spring. Or worse, have someone else outbid me on my own bike. But ... yeah. Yeah, I want to press charges.

That bike is my primary means of transportation — and some days my primary source of pleasure. So why do you think you needed it so bad that you could just take it? What gives you the right?

Maybe you've seen me riding around town. If I'm not riding around, I'm walking. I go through shoes faster than tire tubes, but I go through a lot of those, too. On warm days, I take that bike just about anywhere. I've ridden it to Middleport on more than one occasion. Sanborn. Amherst. Buffalo. Yeah, Buffalo.

Side note: East Niagara is not exactly bike friendly. Erie County is much more so, especially the closer you get to Buffalo.

The biggest irony here is that I just bought a new lock for it. And by "just," I mean Friday. My old lock was getting hard to open and I was afraid that some day soon, I would lock my bike to something and not be able to unlock it. I didn't want to strand myself somewhere in the middle of the night because, where are you going to find a lock cutter in the middle of the night? Now I know. You had one. Probably stole that, too.

Jerk.

By the way, the back tire felt a little splooshy Friday. You probably want to put some air in it.

Scott Leffler is the news editor for East Niagara Post and avid bicyclist. Or he was two days ago. Now he's an avid walker. A disgruntled avid walker. 

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, October 17, 2014

NY62 race could be so much more

I miss Gia Arnold.

What the former Republican/Libertarian state Senate candidate lacked in decorum, she made up for with pizzazz. When she was in the race for the 62nd District seat, I felt like anything was possible.

Now we've got two candidates whose quotes I could easily confuse if I didn't put their names in front of them. Oh. And a candidate-in-name-only who is the poster boy for election reform in New York; We'll get to him later.

Oct. 15, 2014, I had a crucial decision to make. It was my 40th birthday and I had to decide whether to spend it with Mason Winfield and a glass of wine at Flight of Five Winery for their "Ghost Toast" or with Johnny Destino and Robert Ortt at Niagara County Community College for a political debate hosted by the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce.

Easy decision, right? You go with the wine and WNY's premier ghost guy. That's what all my Facebook friends seemed to suggest. In fact, I put it out as sort of an informal poll. Everyone said Winfield and wine. Everyone. But in the true spirit of election season, I ignored my Facebook constituency and did what I thought needed to be done — for freedom. Or something.

So there I was at NCCC Wednesday night listening to Rob Ortt and Johnny Destino each tell me why they should be my (our) next state Senator. And I immediately kicked myself for not listening to the "voters" on Facebook.

Ortt doesn't like Common Core because President Barack Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo like it. Destino thinks it's OK but was implemented badly. Destino thinks the tax cap hurts schools because it doesn't come with mandate relief. Ortt likes the tax cap but thinks it should come with mandate relief.

Destino thinks the state should help repair and replace aging infrastructure. Ortt agrees and says that it does. But it could do more. Ortt wants the SAFE Act repealed and got an A+ rating from a gun group. Destino wants it repealed, too. He only got an A rating. Destino thinks the sky is blue. Ortt thinks it's more of an azure. Plus, he likes puppies. Whoa! Destino likes puppies, too. But that's not to say that kitties don't have their place.

Seriously, guys?

Gia Arnold would have disagreed with something. Somewhere. Plus, she would have mentioned her three-day affair for no reason whatsoever. And Paul Brown? He would have ... talked about fish? Seriously, I have no idea what Paul Brown would have talked about. He doesn't return my calls. I'm not sure he actually exists.

In a way, it's kind of great: The voters in this district are going to get a competent representative, be it a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican. They're going to get someone who doesn't necessarily tow the party line. Someone who can think for himself. And someone willing to go it alone. So we kind of win.

But I wanted a train wreck!

No really, what we have now — in a sports metaphor — is a defensive battle. It's a low scoring game where each side keeps the other side at bay, waiting for them to make a mistake. What I wanted was a Jim Kelly, run and gun offensive bonanza. I wanted the 1999 Buffalo Sabres. Defense? What's that? I wanted the candidates out swinging ... calling each other names. Supporting gay animal abortion rights. Or whatever. I wanted a circus. I was promised a circus!

Side note: Remember circus peanuts? Those peanut shaped marshmallows with extra sugar flavoring? Me too.

Anyway. It's great to have two good choices come November. I just wish we could have two opposing choices. (Irony: As a registered Libertarian, if the candidates were actually a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat as I'm advocating here, I wouldn't like either of them — but the voters deserve a choice).

After the debate, I spoke with both candidates and mentioned to them their similarities. They each made it a point to spell out their differences. I also mentioned it, offhandedly, to a long-time political insider who I will leave nameless. Their response: "Well, Johnny's really a Republican."

And I guess that's what it comes down to. We have two Republicans running for the spot. If Gia were still in the race, we would have had three. But one of them would have sent me emails at 12:30 in the morning with way too much information about their personal life. And women who email me at 12:30 in the morning with way to much information about their personal life can't be all bad, can they?

I should note that the candidates did get testy at points. But it was minor compared to the love fest I watched most of the night. And it has more to do with them playing on different teams than their having different points of view.

But what about Paul Brown? First of all, I was pleased to see that the Niagara USA Chamber set up a podium for him despite the fact that he didn't show. It was good for the audience to see that empty spot.

I live tweeted the debate on ENP's twitter account, twitter.com/EastNiagaraPost. I posted Ortt's answer. Then Destino's. Destino's then Ortt's. If I had really thought about it, after each question, I would have also posted "Brown said nothing because he's not here."

Let me be clear: Paul Brown is not a real candidate. He is making a mockery of the state's political system. If he were a real candidate, he would have been at the debate, not said he had a "prior engagement." Honestly, what could be more important than the only scheduled debate in the race? Let me answer that for you: If Paul Brown or one of his children (does he have children?) got married Wednesday, I'll give him a pass and issue an apology. Otherwise, there's no excuse.

Destino, of course, says that Brown was put up to being on the ballot. (Brown stole the Working Families line from Destino on primary day as a write-in candidate.) But whether Brown was put up to it or not, he still did it. He still chose to make a mockery of our election system — a system that needs to change.

Paul Brown should apologize to the voters. And me. I should get like a dollar or something for every time I've had to type his name. Because every time I do so, my faith in our republic dies just a little bit. It's damn near treason. And if I have to be complicit in someone else's treasonous manipulation of the state election system, I should at least get a dollar.

So come Nov. 4, vote for whoever you like ... as long as his name isn't Paul Brown. And this is the closest you'll get to an endorsement from me.

Scott Leffler is a poli-sci geek who will always choose a meaningful political debate over wine and ghost stories ... even if the devil on his other shoulder (and all his Facebook friends) suggests otherwise. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, September 19, 2014

OK, Cuomo, I get it — you're the governor

Without exaggerating, I get about 150 emails a day. I swear that half of them are from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

You'll notice that the governor gets his share of face time here on East Niagara Post. It's because he's so prolific in sending emails to us. Seriously, I average about eight to 10 emails from his office each and every day — including Sundays.

Sometimes the email from the governor's office are legitimately newsworthy — like the one I got the other day about the increase in unemployment payouts. Usually, they're designed to remind me (and to have me remind you) that he's the governor.

I'm not joking when I say that as I typed the first three paragraphs of this column, I got two more. The most recent one had a subject line saying: "Satellite refeed information for Governor Cuomo's media availability following security and preparedness meeting." Except it was in all caps. I swear to God, I got an email screaming at me about a video refeed from a meeting.

But back on track ... the purpose of the emails is to get his name out as much as possible. And tie him to everything good in the world. Like the one from this afternoon announcing that 10 primetime TV shows that were filmed in New York are premiering this week ... which is actually pretty cool. But the text of the press releases almost make it sound like Cuomo invented television; wrote, directed and starred in all the shows.

Some snippets:

Thanks to the continued support of Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature ...
— CBS Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves
Thanks to the New York State tax credits and the strong support of Governor Cuomo ...
— Disney Media Networks Co-Chairman and Disney/ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney

Now, I'm sure that the recent tax credits offered to entice movie and television productions in New York have helped a lot. But enough, already, Andy.

And why does the governor's name need to be on every sign put up in the state?

  • Welcome to New York, Andrew Cuomo, governor
  • This project funded by New York State, Andrew Cuomo, governor
  • President Washington ate here once ... and so did Andrew Cuomo, governor
  • Speed limit 65 — thus sayeth the grand and wise Andrew Cuomo, governor
I have an issue with people who try to sell themselves too hard. To me it's a turn off. Also, don't exaggerate or I'll assume that everything you tell me is not quite honest .

So please, Andy ... I get it. Everyone gets it. You're governor. Now give it a rest.

Scott Leffler is news editor of East Niagara Post and sick of getting emails from Andy Cuomo ... and dating sites. But the worst are from Andy Cuomo from dating sites*. Those are just creepy.


*this never really happened. 

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Welcome to the Rod Serling News Hour

I want to say it's been a very strange news week in East Niagara, but I feel like we're full of strange news around here — like the greater Lockport area is the epicenter for the Rod Serling News Hour or something. Maybe we'll end up a show on Fox someday. But I digress ...

Last Friday night — or Saturday morning, technically — I woke up to a Facebook message from a reader asking what was going on near Washburn and Spalding streets. So around 3 a.m., I went for a walk to see what was up. While awaiting word from police officials as to why Genesee Street (it wasn't Spalding after all) was blocked off, I talked with a guy by the name of Willie about the "paradise" that is Lockport. He wasn't being sarcastic. A former Buffalo resident, Willie was perfectly content with the Lock City, even with the current uptick in crime.

One of the things he mentioned to me, though, is that overnight on-street parking could help to alleviate crime in "the Zone." Now, I've always heard that on-street parking was the cause of crime — although I've never understood why — so I was intrigued by this unique perspective.

Willie explained that apartment units outnumber driveway parking spots in "the Zone," meaning that oftentimes car owners — and especially families with multiple cars — can't seriously consider living in the area. In other words, people normally associated with having money and a stable home life are forced to live somewhere else. Only single-parent families and those without cars need apply.

Don't read that as a dig against single-parent families or people without cars, but I'd have to imagine that more crime is committed by people who find themselves in those situations than by those in two-parent homes with multiple cars. It was a unique perspective. And I think the Lockport Common Council should give it some consideration.

While every police officer in the city was at that crime scene, some jerk or a team of jerks, more likely, was breaking a memorial bench dedicated to Albert Jex. A heinous act, no doubt. But one that actually might have a good ending, as it seems to have brought the Lockport community together to fight FOR something instead of against each other, as we seem to do so often.

Saturday afternoon we went to a wedding. I was ordained last year at the request of my friend Dan who asked me to marry him and his bride-to-be Jessica. Their wedding Saturday was awesome. Highlights included a bounce house, which the wedding party kicked the kids out of to use, and general tomfoolery. Heather was the wedding photographer and I can't wait to see photos of me and my buddy in our Sunday best bouncing around in a bounce house. Plus, I just like weddings.

I was still riding that high when Tuesday night/Wednesday morning — 12:35 a.m. to be exact — I got a very odd email from Gia Arnold announcing her decision to drop out of the race for state Senate due to an extramarital affair she had. It referred to her husband as her ex-husband and said that the affair began in August of this year ... or the prior week, if you're counting days.

ENP posted that story at 12:47 a.m., which was hours before anyone else. As a result, we got a lot of traffic from political websites on the other side of the state. In fact, we continue to get a lot of traffic from downstate because of it. The exposure is great but I was looking forward to the last month of the primary campaign, which is now moot. Ya win some, ya lose some.

While Gia Arnold was trending, we got a tip that Shamir Allen, aka "DuWop" had been arrested in Rochester. There was no resting on our laurels. Heather and I had to jump back into action to confirm and report that Lockport's most wanted was in jail. It took longer than we wanted it to (an hour and 13 minutes, to be exact) but we got that story online first, too. By a lot.

There were, of course, dozens of other stories this week but those are the ones that stick with me at the moment. Those stories and the wedding.

In short (too late?), I had a great week. And I hope you did, too.

Scott Leffler is many things but corrections officer is not one of them, even though someone told him last week that he "obviously is ... and don't bother trying to deny it." He also meets many interesting people at crime scenes. O.o

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Kindness turns ashes to phoenix

More than 20 years ago, I had my first news "job" as an intern at the Niagara Gazette. I knew in high school that this is what I had wanted to do with my life and somehow, I was lucky enough to be able to do it without pay for my hometown newspaper.

One of my most unnerving assignments ever came while interning in that newsroom in the spring of 1992. A home on Grand Island had burned and I was asked (at the age of 17) to go to the home and talk to the family. It was horrible. These poor people had just lost everything and I had to ask them about it. I didn't like it. Not one bit.

Monday as I watched Leslie Huntington tear around the corner in his Batman shirt and try to run past Lockport firefighters into his still-burning home at 211 Mill St., I knew I wasn't going to interview him. This was not a man that wanted to talk. He wanted to yell, he wanted to cry, and he wanted to save his belongings. But he didn't want to talk.

Instead, I talked with some of the police at the scene, firefighters and neighbors. I even talked with Les' sister for a while. As is frequently the case in this small world we call Lockport, I had met her before.

Les watched for a while and ended up leaving. I can't even imagine how he felt.

Media types have a love/hate relationship with things like fires. We enjoy the rush of the breaking news but hate the aftermath. Knowing what it all means is heavy. Knowing that other people's tragedies sell newspapers or increase viewership/readership also leaves some of us (me, at least) feeling dirty.

Sometimes, though, there's an epilogue to tragic stories like the burning house at 211 Mill St. It doesn't happen all the time but it happens more than once in a while, where the tragic story we wrote has a positive impact. Such was the case with the fire Monday.

Tuesday afternoon, we got an email from a reader. He wanted to know how he and his church could help. I, in turn, asked Les' sister, who told me the family was accepting donations. That led to a follow up story about the fact that the family was accepting help. It also led to me talking with Les.

Still shaken, no doubt, he also came across as incredibly gracious that people wanted to help.

Of course they did.

Now, we often hear in cases like this, "only in Buffalo" (or in this case, "only in Lockport" as though in the rest of the world, people aren't generous, but that's simply not true. Kindness and caring happen everywhere. But they're still worth celebrating.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Friday, August 01, 2014

Manufactured 'news' is unethical

So there I was — walking around the Merchant's Building at the Niagara County Fair Wednesday evening when a colleague walked up to me and asked if I'd seen the Lockport Police Department Facebook page.

At a bit of a loss because I'm not used to other people telling me the news — it's supposed to be the other way around — I sheepishly said "no." So he takes out his phone and shows me the Facebook post that's since gone around the world: "Question: Is the word 'negro' an offensive word or just an outdated word?"

I'm not going to lie; I was kind of floored. I had no idea how or why that could have made it to the LPD Facebook page. My first thought was that someone had hacked the department's Facebook account and this was their effort at saying that Lockport's Finest are racist. Option two, which was a very distant second, was that someone who maintains the LPD Facebook account had accidentally posted that while having meant to post it to their personal page. Those were the only two possibilities that went through my mind. There was no possible way that someone had posted that question on purpose.

Of course, I didn't have the back story.

I was told that Channel 2 was all over it. So, of course, I checked out Channel 2's website and saw the story about the LPD document that listed Shamir Allen as a person LPD was looking for ... and the fact that his complexion was listed as "negro-da" (dark). It went on to talk with three prominent black leaders in the city of Buffalo, all of whom were outraged by it.

Channel 2 had just what they were looking for: a moral outrage story about a racist backwater police department in a racist backwater town.

Of course that's the story they had — they pretty much created it. To me that's bad journalism. And it gives those of us who don't engage in those practices a bad name.

In the list of "least trusted professions," journalists rank near the top — right along with politicians and car salesmen. It's because people think we "spin" the news to say what we want it to say. And that, frankly, is because some of us apparently do.

In truth, I can talk to the right people and pick the right quotes and construct a story that says whatever I want to convey. If I go in to a story desiring an outcome, I can just keep asking questions until I get the answers that fit that outcome. Like if I want to make Lockport look like a racist backwater town with a racist backwater police department, for example, I could take a document with the word "negro" on it and ask three "race experts," none of whom live in the city of Lockport, "Hey, aren't you outraged by this?" I've never done that in my life. I was trained not to. It's unethical. It's just plain wrong.

Getting back on track ... I saw the Channel 2 story Wednesday night and recognized it for what it was: a hit job. That didn't make the Facebook question better, but I understood where it came from; It was an effort by LPD to do a little PR. It was a horrible effort, mind you. But I got where it came from. I thought, or at least hoped, that others would get where it came from, too. I didn't want to add fuel to the fire and give Channel 2's story legs so I opted against publishing anything about it.

Thursday morning I woke up to a story from Gawker, a NYC-based website that deals mostly in media and celebrity news ... with a smattering of everything else. Gawker bought Channel 2's story hook, line and sinker. And it used the LPD Facebook question as proof. If the police department is asking whether it's okay to use "negro," then obviously it is a racist backwater police department from a racist backwater town.

Now I had to do something with the story. Ignoring Channel 2 is one thing. Ignoring channels 2, 4, 7, the Buffalo News, US&J, USA Today and Gawker? I didn't want it to look like East Niagara Post didn't know what had happened. And whether I thought it was newsworthy no longer mattered. The spread of the news made it newsworthy — like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I called Lockport Police Department's community policing aide Mark Sanders and Chief Larry Eggert to get their take on how it all went down. Eggert was diplomatic, as he always is. Sanders pulled no punches, though. He said outright that it was a hit job:

This guy from Channel 2 came in guns loaded. He already had the story written. He just needed the video.
Sanders explained that the LPD Facebook question was borne from a question on his own Facebook that had generated a good discussion. The department hoped they could recreate that discussion on a larger scale on their own Facebook. Instead, they got chaos.

"When I'm asking without the police, great responses," Sanders said. "You put a shield on it and all hell breaks loose."

Yeah, I could have told Mark that would happen. There have been claims of racism within the ranks of LPD for years. I did a story on it over a decade ago. I don't recall the details, but I think maybe the ACLU filed a report about the disproportionate number of black people who get arrested within the city of Lockport?

Long story short, if given the chance to say that police are racist, some people are going to take them up on that. The Facebook question was an invitation to do just that. People accepted the invitation. All hell broke loose, to paraphrase Sanders. And the department pulled the question from Facebook, which actually made them look even more guilty in some people's minds.

Channel 2 got just what they wanted. They manufactured a story and LPD played right into their hands.

And it's a shame really. For so many reasons.

Fun fact: I've never been black. I was born a goofy looking white kid with red hair and freckles. I'm now a goofy looking 39-year-old white guy with red hair and freckles. I've never veered from that path. So I've always been treated like a goofy looking white kid/guy with red hair and freckles. I've never known what it's like to be a person of color. So I cannot say definitively how anyone from LPD treats people of color when the doors are closed. But I've never seen overt racism from anyone within that department. And I've never heard anyone there use the term "negro" or the other, much uglier "n-word." It's always been "black" or "African American," depending on who you talk to.

The fact that the word "negro" was on a computer program drop box menu is really a shame. In 2014, that term is truly outdated. And yes, offensive to many. It should have been fixed years ago. In fact, based on how old they're saying the software is — 20 years or so — it never should have been an option. But it's hardly the smoking gun it was made into. It's hardly proof of rampant racism at LPD. Should someone have fixed it years ago? Sure. Would I rather have them fixing terminology on computer drop boxes or fighting crime? I'll take the latter.

Here's another fun fact that doesn't get said out loud often. The relationship between police and media is tenuous. We get along. We're all polite to one another. But there's a certain level of distrust. I gather that it's because we just come at things from different angles. Police like to control information. They keep things close to the vest, releasing only what they have to when they have to. Media types think all information should be public. So people with secrets are suspect to us. As such, police are generally viewed as questionable. The other side of that, I'm told that police think we get in the way and get everything wrong.

The Channel 2 story on Wednesday did nothing to help that relationship. Channel 2 is media. Channel 2 went out of their way to make LPD look bad. So "the media" went out of their way to make LPD look bad. I'm media. I could see why local police would be more hesitant to talk to me now. In fact, I was somewhat surprised that Sanders and Eggert took my calls Thursday morning.

I'm glad they did because writing the story that ENP ran Friday morning would have been pretty much impossible without their input. In fact, a lot of ENP content would be impossible to get without talking to members of the Lockport Police Department — something we do every single day here. And something I imagine Channel 2 does a couple times a month at most.

So dear readers, please be careful where you get your news from. I disagree that journalists are untrustworthy. But I understand why some feel we are; It's because of examples like the Channel 2 story Wednesday night.


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Friday, July 25, 2014

Cuomo's corrupt act will be his demise

Hi. I'm Scott, news editor here at ENP.

I thought maybe I should offer a brief introduction for those of you who don't know me. I'm a former reporter and editor with the Union-Sun & Journal and former talk show host and production director at WLVL.

Over the course of the last 15 years, I've reported on every municipality and school board in East Niagara. For quite a while, I was what the US&J refers to as their "city reporter," getting the bulk of the flashy headlines while writing stories about Lockport's city and town governments and the Lockport City School District. In that time, I got to know almost all of the major players in Lockport politics and business — most of whom continue to contribute to the local scene today. The contacts I made back then are going to make my job as news editor here at ENP considerably easier.

Our intention at East Niagara Post is to bring you news that interests you. News that's important to you. And news that affects you. Those are — believe it or not — not all the same thing.

As news editor, I'm going to write stories about your friends and neighbors (but hopefully not you) getting arrested. I'm going to write stories about economic development (there's one coming out later today, in fact). And I'm going to write stories about political process, commonly referred to as "inside baseball." Those will all be factual accounts. News.

As a columnist, once a week (on Fridays), I'm going to give you my opinion on all of those things. I'm also going to discuss my kids, some day-to-day minutiae, and whatever else I feel like writing.

Today I feel like writing about the great betrayal of New York known as Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

About a year ago, Cuomo set up the Moreland Commission, an independent investigative panel charged with rooting out corruption in New York. The state has been plagued with political corruption for at least as long as I can remember. Historians will tell you it goes back to the beginning, actually.

Cuomo heralded this new group as being the end-all be-all for eradicating the great disease of money in politics. Politicians would be investigated. Subpoena's would be delivered. Charges would be brought. Resignations would be expected.

The group got right to work. They went after Assemblymen. They went after Senators. They went after the governor. And they got abruptly shut down.

In March, days before the passage of the state budget — but after it had been primarily hammered out — the governor unceremoniously disbanded the group, saying it had done its job. Mind you, it had barely begun to scratch the surface.

One of the things we did learn from the commission was that our own state Sen. George Maziarz had spent more than $140,000 of campaign funds over a six-year period without specifying what the money was spent on — more than any other member of the state Senate or Assembly.

We later learned that Maziarz' chief of staff and another aide was subpoena'd by a U.S. Attorney regarding those findings, which would have never seen the light of day had Cuomo had his way.

See, Cuomo wanted to give the appearance of rooting out corruption. Or root out other people's corruption. But not his own. Not his friends. And not his supporters — of which Maziarz could be considered.

In the end, Cuomo canned the corruption commission (alliteration much?) in order to broker a budget deal and save face.

It may have been his undoing.

Andrew Cuomo has aspirations higher than New York State governor — just like his father did. But as the facts come out about the degree to which the younger Cuomo hamstrung the Moreland Commission, it jeopardizes those aspirations.

Barring something particularly damning coming out in the next couple months, Cuomo will be re-elected as governor in November. But it's the last office he'll ever hold. And his demise will be the corrupt act of disbanding a commission he created to root out corruption.

Scott Leffler is news editor of East Niagara Post. He'd like to think that his column will offer weekly news nuggets, sage advice and opinions not found elsewhere. That's the goal, at least. Look for it every Friday.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Coulter's latest rant hurtful to women

I’d like to think that I’m funny. Or at least that I have a good sense of humor.

But either I don’t know humor or Ann Coulter doesn’t. Frankly, I’m going to assume that it’s Coulter after her latest foray into the trending spotlight for comments about soccer being “a sign of the nation's moral decay."

Coulter’s latest rant, of course, was timed during the World Cup, in which the United States team looks decent — not great but decent — causing a new wave of soccer fans across the country.

Among other not-funny comments Coulter made are that soccer isn’t a “real sport” because there are women’s teams, that it pushes a liberal agenda, that only recent (and illegal) immigrants are watching it — and as soon as they learn English, they’ll stop.

Some have defended Coulter saying she’s a satirist or comedian. She is neither. She is a bombast and an alarmist. She says the most outrageous things she can think for for the sake of effect. She wants news stories and columns written about her. She wants the spotlight for her over-the-top commentary.

She’s not the first person to call soccer un-American. Nor is she the first to say that it’s not a real sport because women play. But right now she’s saying it the loudest. And frankly, I wish she’d shut up — and not because I like soccer, although I do. But because my daughter likes soccer. And Heather’s daughter likes soccer. And a woman with a certain degree of prominence just told them that it’s not a sport … because girls play.

About a year or so ago, a friend of my daughter asked if he minded if he told a racist joke. I told him I did. Racism is racism whether it’s in the form of a “joke” or not. At least he asked. But I didn’t want it my house. Or in front of my kids. Saying mean or stupid things and calling them humor just isn’t funny. It’s mean. And stupid.

A woman telling young girls that they can’t compete in sports isn’t funny. It’s just wrong. And it’s the type of thing that parents in 2014 shouldn’t have to counter-program against.

Young girls have enough problems with image and self worth. There are enough forces in the world telling them that they’re not pretty enough … or skinny enough … or smart enough to make it in the world. They don’t need one of their own telling them that the sport they’re playing isn’t a sport because “girls don’t play sports.”

Will Coulter’s next rant say that girls can’t be doctors? Or engineers? Or scientists? Will her next attempt at “satire,” suggest that they should stay home barefoot and pregnant? Or that bulimia is the latest diet trend?

Whether Coulter thinks she’s being funny or not, a lot of people take her seriously. Some believe the ignorant things she’s saying — and she just validated their wrongheaded opinions, which they will now pass on to their children … creating a generation of misogynists because she wanted to get on TV.

I can’t think of anything less funny than that.

Scott Leffler is a father and soccer fan. He also does some writing here and there. Follow him on twitter @scottleffler.

Friday, June 13, 2014

‘Tip wage’ should be abolished

Imagine waking up at 4:30 in the morning, taking a shower, making coffee and heading out the door to make it to work for the start of your 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift.

Imagine doing that every day of the week. Not just Monday through Friday. Every day.

Now imagine getting your paycheck and seeing that you have earned a whopping $119.28 — minus taxes, of course — for your 56 hours of work.

Now imagine where you might live. Nepal? Nigeria? North Korea? Try North Carolina, where the minimum tipped wage is a paltry $2.13 an hour. If you earn tips regularly (more than $30 a month) in the state of North Carolina, your employer can legally pay you $2.13, the federal “minimum tipped wage.” And some do.

Further imagine you’re making your $2.13 a hour, hoping that customers will find it in their hearts to leave a few extra shekels so that you can do something crazy … like buy food to put in your fridge.

One day one customer does. They leave you a lot of extra shekels in fact. Enough to put food in your fridge (or “on your family” to quote a favorite Bushism) and pay the phone bill, cable bill, car payment and most of your rent for the month. All from one customer — a one in a million customer who leaves you a whopping $1,000 tip. Your heart skips a beat. You call your friends. You tell the kids you’re getting steak for dinner. You pretty much won the lottery.

Hold on there, mister happy pants. That “lottery ticket” of yours don’t do you a lick of good if you can’t cash it. And the one place you can cash that lottery ticket — your employer — says they don’t allow big tips like that. At least not on a credit card. So they run the bill without the tip and you get nothing. Except, of course that $2.13 an hour you worked so hard for.

If you haven’t heard about it, this precise scenario played out on Mother’s Day in a Waffle House in North Carolina. Fortunately it worked out. The generous tipper tracked down the waitress who was denied her gratuity, writing her a check for the $1,000 she was meant to have.

Waffle House has since said that there was a communication gap. She wasn’t denied the tip, of course. They were trying to find the customer to ask him to bring in some cash or write a check. Mmm hmm.

The real travesty here, of course, isn’t Waffle House’s actions. It’s the state of North Carolina allowing employers to pay people $2.13 an hour in hopes of customers making up the difference so they’ll make greater than minimum wage. The real travesty is allowing the service industry to get away with paying a wage you’d expect to see in third-world country and then passing the buck directly to the customers to make up the difference.

Employers like Waffle House, of course, would tell you that if they paid more than the $2.13, they’d have to increase the price of their waffles or they couldn’t pay the rent on their house. So they pay the lesser wage and then expect the customers to pay extra for their waffles … directly to their server.

And then maybe Waffle House will let them keep their tips. Or maybe not.

Scott Leffler once drove 188 miles to eat at a Waffle House, where he hopes his waitress got her tip. Follow his eating escapades on Twitter @scottleffler.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Politics can ruin even a soldier’s return home

One of the primary functions of our constitutional republic is that we elect people to make decisions on our behalf. We don’t always like the decisions they make. Some people, it would seem never like the decisions they make.

Personally, I’m not thrilled with the prisoner exchange orchestrated and executed by President Barack Obama that traded five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. It has nothing to do with Bergdahl’s alleged desertion. It also has nothing to do with the claims by some that the five men we traded for him are the “terrorist dream team” or whatever. I just like the theoretical policy of not negotiating with terrorists.

All that said, we elected President Obama to make these decisions for us. Sometimes we’re not going to like them. When that happens, we should grumble … complain … maybe write our congressmen. Those are all patriotic expressions. Instead, what I’ve seen is a bunch of “adults” acting not very adult.

Barack Obama can’t brush his teeth these days without someone demanding an investigation and claiming it’s an impeachable offense. He can’t walk down Pennsylvania Avenue without someone making it into a political football — as they have with the Bergdahl exchange.

Maybe Sgt. Bergdahl isn’t an example of the best and brightest our military has to offer. In fact, maybe he’s a deserter — and by some accounts a traitor. But right or wrong, he’s an American.
He languished in a Taliban run Afghani prison for five years. We had an opportunity to get him back. And we did. Now that he’s returning home, we can address his alleged wrongdoings.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, members of congress are deleting tweets and recalling press releases that express any measure of happiness that an American soldier is returning home. The same congressmen who a few days ago said that they agreed with the exchange are now retreating from their statements and distancing themselves … primarily because the deal was orchestrated and executed by the president.

As generally apathetic as I am towards President Obama, the neverending zeal by the radical right to paint him as a Satanic Muslim terrorist who eats small children makes me root for the guy. I joke at times that if President Obama solved world hunger, the right would issue press releases lambasting him for contributing to overpopulation. If he cured cancer, they would chide him for killing jobs in the medical field. If he successfully negotiated to have an American soldier returned from a Taliban prison, they would call him unpatriotic and demand congressional hearings — oh, wait. That one happened.

We don’t have to agree with everything our government does. We have a God-given and Constitutionally recognized right to voice our opposition, even. As well we should. But opposing every single thing the president does because you want him to fail isn’t patriotic. Rooting against American prosperity because you don’t like the guy in the White House isn’t something to be commended.

Frankly, it’s treasonous.

The radical right has deserted our country. I demand hearings.

Scott Leffler is generally likable in person — until you get to know him. Best to just follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Snowden is playing his own tune

Thanks to an interview that aired Wednesday night on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, Edward Snowden is back in the news.

Edward Snowden should be in the news every day. Or at the very least, his issue of the United States government spying on its citizens should because his fleeing to Russia has not stopped that from occurring.

During Snowden’s interview, he made some statements that surely a lot of Americans agree with. Others, no doubt disagree with those exact same statements. Snowden’s mere existence seems to have a polarizing effect on Americans.

For one, Snowden thinks of himself as a patriot in exile. I happen to agree with this statement. Others view him as a traitor because he turned the tables on the government. And some people seem to think that whatever the government does must be okay since, you know, they’re the government.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is obviously in the “pro-government” position. He told NBC that "Patriots don't go to Russia. … Edward Snowden is a coward. He is a traitor. And he has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so."

That’s an interesting choice of words, “face the music.” Kerry didn’t say, “If Edward Snowden wants to come present his findings,” or “if Edward Snowden wants to discuss this with Congress,” or anything like that. He said “face the music.” That sounds to me like he was already convicted of something.

And, of course, that’s why Snowden has no plans to come back anytime soon. Much as he’d like to come home, the “music” that he would be facing won’t allow him to present any findings or speak to Congress — or anyone else for that matter. In fact, he’d probably find himself in a deep dark hole where no one would ever hear from him again.

Snowden says he tried to do things the right way, through proper channels, only to be thwarted. When no one would listen to his complaints, that’s when he hatched the plan to leak the “classified” information and ended up in Russia.

Note the quotation marks around the word “classified.” In person, they’d be what you’d call “air quotes” or “ironic quotes.” In other words, I don’t feel like they should be classified to begin with. Our government spying on us is not something that should be kept quiet. It should be shouted from the rooftops.

See, keeping quiet about something you know to be wrong is essentially condoning it. You’re saying you approve of whatever it is. Speaking up is not treason. It’s patriotism. And John Kerry of all people should know that.

Scott Leffler believes that patriotism is better than nationalism. And Edward Snowden is a patriot. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hochul pick shows Western New York’s got clout

The selection Wednesday of Kathy Hochul as Andrew Cuomo’s running mate for his gubernatorial re-election bid it somewhat telling.

Despite what some will tell you, Cuomo’s re-election is pretty much already in the bag. Rob Astorino might be a nice guy, but he’s not going to be governor unless Cuomo somehow implodes in the next few months.

That’s not to say that Cuomo hasn’t made his share of gaffes. And it’s not to say that he doesn’t have his detractors. But the race is his to lose and he knows it. He also knows he could have chosen just about anyone other than Vladimir Putin as a running mate and gotten re-elected. I have it on good authority that Putin was on Cuomo’s short list, but got scratched when he got banned recently from Mighty Taco, by the way.

I digress — as usual.

Moral of this story is that Cuomo didn’t select Kathy Hochul out of political need or expediency. He was either genuinely interested in Hochul or genuinely interested in Western New York. Maybe both.

Making Hochul’s selection all the more interesting is the potential that Cuomo is eyeing higher office. While it hasn’t been discussed recently, he was rumored to be interested in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Whether that’s true, I have no idea. Personally, I don’t see a Democrat from New York winning the presidency, but I also didn’t envision a black man from Chicago doing it, either, so all bets are off.

If Cuomo were to leave office for any reason, be it a White House win, to have time to campaign for the spot, or a good old fashioned Albany scandal, Hochul would step in and be the new governor or New York. Understand, the governor of New York would be from the Buffalo area. It would also be a woman. How it is that New York hasn’t had a female governor yet, I have no idea, but we haven’t.

Obviously a Gov. Hochul would shift some state priorities to our part of the state. Heck, even a Lt. Gov. Hochul would do the same. That’s not to say, mind you, that Robert Duffy hasn’t taken an active role in Western New York. The former Rochester mayor has done more than simply pay lip service to the region. And it’s been nice to see. But I feel Hochul would do even more.

So to sum it all up, Cuomo didn’t have to pick a Western New Yorker, but he did anyway. He knows that there’s a possibility he might not serve a full term and is willing to hand over Albany’s primary position of power to someone from this end of the state. And the rest of the Democrats in the state don’t seem to have a problem with it.

Yeah, the selection of Kathy Hochul says something. And it’s good for Western New York.

Scott Leffler likes corn. He likes cornflakes, corndogs, corn bread and cornstarch. He likes the band Korn and popcorn. He likes all kinds of corn. All kinds of corn! He’s also corny on Twitter sometimes @scottleffler.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Praying upon the unindoctrinated

I’ve been following with a certain degree of interest the case involving the Greece Town Board’s use of prayer to open its meetings. I found the practice to be a little unnerving and was kind of shocked on Monday when I saw that the Supreme Court said it was A-OK.

I was even more shocked on Tuesday when I went to the Niagara County Legislature meeting to find that they follow the same practice: prayer to start the meeting.

As I sat there, or stood there, rather, I went from being amused to annoyed to downright upset about it.

A government meeting is no place for prayer. If our county officials want to ask God for help, more power to them. I do so regularly. But I don’t force others to listen — and neither should they.

Of course, we weren’t only asked to listen, we were instructed to rise and bow our heads. I did so, essentially, out of peer pressure. I don’t want to be “that guy” who raises a stink at a meeting over government-coerced indoctrination of religion. But let’s face it. That’s what it is.

Following the prayer, we all put our hands over our hearts and said the pledge to the flag. So you have a baseline for how liberal I am on certain topics, I find the coerced recital of the pledge equally upsetting. Indoctrination of nationalism is offensive to me, too. But back to prayer.

Liberal as I may be on some things, I consider myself deeply religious. I believe in God. I go to church. And I pray, although not as often as I should, no doubt. Those who have read my columns for a long time know that I invoke God from time to time. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but I think not. I’m not the government. And I don’t pressure others into my religion.

I don’t want prayer from the government any more than I want my church to tell me how to its interpretation of the Constitution. The two influences just shouldn’t meet.

To be fair, there’s nothing in the Constitution, the Declaration, or anywhere else, really, that says there’s a “separation of church and state.” Some believe it’s implied by the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of religion, which many (self included) interpret as “freedom from religion,” meaning freedom against the type of indoctrination that happens in Greece … and Niagara County … and who knows how many other places in the nation.

The attorney for the Town of Greece applauded the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday, saying the court affirmed "that Americans are free to pray." On that, I’d agree. But we should also be free from being prayed to … or at.

If, as a Christian, I find the practice offensive, how do others feel?

Scott Leffler is a Christian. But that’s between him and God. You be what you want to be. He won’t hold it against you as long as you don’t pressure him to convert. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Donald Sterling issue not black and white

Color me conflicted.

Some people have told me over the years that I’m wishy washy at times. I used to get this complaint on a somewhat regular basis back in my broadcast days. It’s not that I’m wishy washy, though. It’s that I have what I consider to be a unique ability to see several sides of an issue simultaneously.

That’s where I stand over the decision to ban Los Angeles Clippers Owner Donald Sterling for private racist remarks he made that were then made public.

Many people feel the “bold move” made by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is a step in the right direction, showing without doubt that the basketball league will not tolerate racism. Meh.

Others feel that Sterling’s private comments are just that and should not be counted against him in his public life — meaning as owner of the Clippers.

I can see the second point of view more than I can see the first, to be honest. While I abhor racism, we are still in America and people have the right to say what they feel. That doesn’t mean that NBA patrons and advertisers are required to put up with racist comments, however. And many can and would react by boycotting the team — maybe even the league.

This is where I can see the reasoning behind Silver’s decision to ban Sterling from the league. From my point of view, it has little to do with standing up to racism and a lot to do with protecting the financial well-being of the league.

Others will sugar coat it and say that Silver and other NBA owners are actually standing up to racism. I say hogwash; they’re standing up for capitalism. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Kind of.

The NBA is a lot like a restaurant franchise. Each owner is in charge of their store but the corporate overlords are in charge of various policies. And if the individual stores don’t pull their weight, the corporation moves in and protects its interests.

Having worked for the McDonald’s Corporation for a number of years, this parallel makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, at the end of my tenure with McDonald’s, one of my duties was to help franchisees with certain image problems. I worked for the corporation, but my day-to-day duties was to help private store owners with issues. Basically, the corporation knew that individual store owners could make them look bad. And if that were to happen, those store owners could lose their franchise rights. For the well-being of the corporation.

I get that. It makes sense. But still it’s a very slippery slope.

The NBA is in a bad situation itself. They can’t stand up for Sterling, lest they be branded racist. But in ostracizing him, they’re telling other NBA owners — and potentially other sports owners — ”Hey, you better not ever say anything remotely controversial or we’ll cut you off at the knees.”

A slippery slope indeed. I see the NBA’s point of view. But in the end, I just think they’re wrong.

Scott Leffler is more upset about McDonald’s getting rid of Hot Mustard than the NBA getting rid of Donald Sterling. He didn’t think that was column-worthy, but he did tweet about it recently @scottleffler.

Friday, April 25, 2014

So I'm doing the whole 'dress like a girl' thing again

Three years ago in March I was at a bar in North Tonawanda with Heather when I got a message asking me if I'd dress in drag for a charity event. Mildly unnerved, I shared it with her and asked her what she thought about it.

For all intents and purposes, we had just started dating and she liked to embarrass me at the time (you should see the things she used to write on my Facebook when I left my phone unguarded), so she encouraged me to do it. After checking with the powers that be at work, I agreed — somewhat reluctantly.

Three years later, I'm signed up again to be part of the Peaches & Creme Fashion Show, a charity event benefitting Relay for Life. This will be my fourth time in drag — well eighth, really if you count the fittings that come about a week before the show.

You see, all us guys go to Maurices, the main sponsor of the event, to pick out a ... wardrobe? ... costume? ... Um, I guess we'll just say "dress." We also get to pick out some accessories like jewelry and scarfs and whatnot. Then the night of the show, we put them on. Maybe some nail polish. Maybe a wig. Whatever makes us pretty.

I mentioned this is for charity, right? But that doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously. Apparently I’m quite the diva, according to Heather. I mean, if I’m going to dress up and be on stage for the entire world to gawk at, I’d like to look nice. I know I’m going to make a fool of myself, but can I be a good-looking fool?

Anyway, we model our dresses for the crowd at the Palace Theatre and have a lot of fun while doing it. There's also a talent contest which I have heretofore avoided but am considering doing this year if my favorite Lockport bartender (Simon Chavers from the Pleasant Valley Tavern) will join me in making a fool of myself. He's signed on as a "model," but hasn't fully committed to the talent part yet.

The event is coming up on May 10 and it's going to be a lot of fun. All the guys involved have tickets for sale for $10 each if you'd like to come out and see me in drag in person. Or they’re available at the door for $15 at the door. If all you want to see a picture of said abomination, I know they’re floating around the Interwebz somewhere.

Yes, this means I’ll never be governor or senator or anything, but who cares about that. We’ve got cancer to cure.

Friday, April 18, 2014

So I'm doing the whole 'wear a dress for charity' thing again

Three years ago in March I was at a bar in North Tonawanda with Heather when I got a message asking me if I'd dress in drag for a charity event. Mildly unnerved, I shared it with her and asked her what she thought about it.

For all intents and purposes, we had just started dating and she liked to embarrass me at the time (you should see the things she used to write on my Facebook when I left my phone unguarded), so she encouraged me to do it. After checking with the morality police at work, I agreed — somewhat reluctantly.

Three years later, I'm signed up again to be part of the Peaches & Creme Fashion Show, a charity event benefitting Relay for Life. This will be my fourth time in drag — well eighth, really if you count the fittings that come about a week before the show.

You see, all us guys go to Maurices, the main sponsor of the event, to pick out a ... wardrobe? ... costume? ... Um, I guess we'll just say "dress." We also get to pick out some accessories like jewelry and scarfs and whatnot. Then the night of the show, we put them on. Maybe some nail polish. Maybe a wig. Whatever makes us pretty.

I mentioned this is for charity, right?

We model our dresses for the crowd at the Palace Theatre and have a lot of fun while doing it. There's also a talent contest which I have heretofore avoided but am considering doing this year if my favorite Lockport bartender (Simon Chavers from the Pleasant Valley Tavern) will join me in making a fool of myself. He's signed on as a "model," but hasn't fully committed to the talent part yet.

Anyway, it's coming up on May 10 and it's going to be a lot of fun. I have tickets for sale for $10 each if you'd like to come out and see me in drag in person. (If you just want to see a picture I'm top left in the photo above ... and there's a few shots on my Facebook page, too.)

So ... yeah ... that.

Justice is blind — and deaf and dumb

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of justice. I say concept because it really seems more theoretical to me than practical. One man’s justice is another man’s nightmare.

Compare, if you will, the concept of justice in the book of Leviticus to, say, present-day New York state law. Or for that matter, compare the concept of justice in a present-day third-world nation to anywhere in America. Both societies believe their concept is correct and the other is an abomination.

There was a time in my life — when I was much younger — that I considered going into law. I’m not sure whether this was the reason I wore a tie to school every day in fifth grade or whether wearing a tie made me want to be a lawyer. But they occurred around the same time.

Going through junior high school without a single girlfriend made me ditch the tie — and my belief that the world was fair. So out went the idea of being a lawyer. Law isn’t the practice of fairness, it’s the practice of law. And I think we all know they’re not the same.

Take, for example, the case of Cornealious Anderson. In the year 2000, he was convicted of armed robbery (with a BB gun) and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Then he was sent home and told someone would get ahold of him concerning when to begin his prison term.

Anderson waited. And then he waited. And then he got married. And waited. Had a kid. Waited. Got a couple traffic tickets. Had two more kids. Waited some more. Thirteen years went by — the same amount of time he was to have spent in prison — before the state of Missouri remembered that he was supposed to serve time.

Last July Cornealious Anderson was standing in his kitchen making breakfast for his three-year-old daughter when a SWAT team broke down his door and took him into custody.

At 37 years old, Anderson was taken to Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo. to begin serving a sentence on a crime he had committed when he was 24. He is to get out in 2026.

In a not-too-dissimilar circumstance from last week’s column, a man found himself serving time for a crime that someone else had committed. Yes, of course, it was Cornealious Anderson that had committed the crime but he was a very different person at 37 than he was at 24.

It’s easy to see that he cleaned up his life. He started three businesses in that time. He had become a productive member of society. He had been rehabilitated. That tends to happen. Twenty-four-year old punks often turn into 37-year-old upstanding citizens.

To me, the kicker here is that Anderson hadn’t been hiding. He wasn’t on the lam. He just thought they forgot about him. And if someone forgets you’re supposed to go to prison, are you going to remind them?

Currently, Anderson is trying to appeal his case, hoping that sheer justice will get him out of prison. It simply isn’t fair to send someone to prison until they’re 50 for a petty crime they committed when they were 24.

The problem is there’s no “fairness” clause in Missouri law — or any other law for that matter. And the system doesn’t account for his self-rehabilitation. They have to rehabilitate them in their own way.

Barring a clemency being granted by the governor, Anderson will serve his 13 years. He’ll miss out on his kids growing up. And they’ll grow up without a father. And when he leaves prison in 2026, he won’t be the same man he is today. Anyone would be hard-pressed to suggest he might be better. Most likely, he’ll be worse.

I can only hope that Cornealious Anderson gets the justice he deserves. And not the legal ruling that has been cast upon him.

Scott Leffler really did wear a tie to school every day in 1985. Now, not so much. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler for baseball hat clad selfies, though. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

‘Need to know’ a double-edged sword

I’m inquisitive by nature.

No. Strike that.

Inquisitive doesn’t begin to describe me. I must know everything. About everything. I hate being in the dark. I guess that’s what makes my career choice so very obvious. I think “must know everything” is at the top of most journalists characteristics.

It’s not only journalists that have a need to know everything, of course. I’d say that society as a whole — or at least a very large portion of it — falls into the same category. Which is why the media exists, I suppose. If it were only journalists who needed to know everything, who would pay our paychecks?

Here we are more than a month removed from the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 24-hour news channels are still on top of it — 24 hours a day. The fact that an airplane went missing and we can’t explain it is killing us. I’ll admit, I’m befuddled by its disappearance and I continue to watch the “Breaking News” alerts, thinking that eventually one of them is actually going to be breaking news, as opposed to what we’ve been getting, which is not breaking news.

In the grand scheme of things, the Malaysian airplane disappearance is fairly recent. We could go back a lot farther for things that we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. What really happened at Waco? Who killed JFK? Where was Barack Obama born? OK, I jest on that last one. But you get the gist.

The fact that there are facts that we’re not privy to or that we can’t piece together to make a clear picture of bothers us. And yet, when you really step back and think about it, does it matter that much? Waco, JFK, and Obama becoming president are all history. No amount of information is going to change the facts that we know. And no black box is going to bring back the passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It’s a sad reality that information doesn’t change the facts.

On another topic entirely, I read a story on the Associated Press the other day about a man serving life in jail for a crime he committed when he was 13. He’s up for parole — again — after being denied parole in 2012.

Obviously the brutal murder he committed in 1994 — the killing of a four-year-old — can never be undone. And there’s no real way to atone for the death of another, but I think 20 years in prison for a crime that was committed as a teenager is enough — no matter how heinous the crime.

I know that I’m not the same person as I was in 1994. I can’t imagine that Eric Smith, the man who, as a boy murdered Derrick Robie, is either. In other words, the person in prison right now isn’t even the same person that committed the crime.

Is he a better person or a worse person? Sadly, I think the odds are the prison has made him worse for the wear over the last 20 years, but that’s another problem to solve on another day.

Scott Leffler is thankful for Twitter, where he can learn everything about everything — even if the things he learns aren’t true. You can follow him there @scottleffler and hope that the things he says are true.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Just because something’s popular doesn’t make it right

The New York State Legislature did something last week that the vast majority of Americans support. And I wish they hadn’t.

By an overwhelming majority in both the state Senate and the Assembly — and in bipartisan fashion — the Legislature approved something known as the “National Popular Vote.”

In short form, the National Popular Vote agreement would bind the state to allocate its electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate gets the most votes nationwide, no matter whether they actually gained the most votes in New York. In order for the agreement to take place, however, enough states need to approve similar agreements.

The National Popular Vote is a means to an end — around the Electoral College — which a large percentage of Americans disapprove of. It would ensure that the candidate who wins the hearts and minds of most Americans wins the White House. It empowers people. It’s good for people. But — it’s bad for America.

While I’d venture to guess that most Americans don’t comprehend the purpose behind the Electoral College, the Founding Fathers put it in place for good reason. And that reason exists in 2014 as it did in 1787.

The Electoral College essentially evens the playing field between big states and small states. It gives states like Delaware and New Hampshire a bit of a leg up, while diluting the power of states like New York and California. Yes, a vote for president in Wyoming or South Dakota actually carries a bit more weight than a vote for president in Texas or Florida — in a manner of speaking.

While most people argue that that’s a bad thing and that the bigger states should carry more power, I disagree — as did the writers of the Constitution.

Big states with lots of people tend to have urban interests, for example. They tend to not have as much rural interests, though. In a way, the Electoral College protects small-town folks and farmers. In a way, it protects people like Western New Yorkers — especially those that live on country roads or count cows on their way to grandma’s house.

Plus, the National Popular Vote ignores the fact that we’re not the “United People of America.” We are the “United States of America.” And as more power flows from the states and into the direct hands of the voters, what it really does is empower the federal government. The more power the federal government has, the less power the people have. So by pushing the National Popular Vote, people are actually giving up some of their power to the federal government, which will take as much as it’s given. And once it’s given enough, it will be powerful enough to take the rest.

Strong states make for a strong nation. A strong federal government, however, makes only for a strong government.

Scott Leffler has no desire to live in Wyoming or South Dakota. But he’s sure there’s some fine people there. Maybe they should follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.