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.