Friday, December 04, 2015

Prayer alone is not enough

The cover of Thursday's New York Daily News caused quite a stir.

The bold white text of "God isn't fixing this" along with screen shots of tweets from a variety of Republicans offering their "thoughts and prayers" to the families of California shooting victims was, apparently, the most re-tweeted Daily News cover ever -- and for good reason.

The thought behind the cover was an excellent impetus for a discussion that this country needs to have in the wake of what seems like the latest of our daily mass shootings. The Daily News' point: "Why only pray when you can act?" They practically spelled it out with the subhead, "As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes."

Of course, some people either intentionally or unintentionally misconstrued the cover somehow as anti-religion ... or anti-Christianity ... or anti-prayer. I believe that some people genuinely saw it that way. I also believe others just wanted to argue, which seems to be the new great American pastime. Well, that and shooting innocent people.

Personally, I couldn't agree more with the Daily News. Not that there's anything wrong with prayer. But to only pray when you have the power to do so much more is an absolute abdication of that power. And the four men on the cover of the Daily News have the power to do more. They include U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan is the Speaker of the House, Cruz and Paul are both presidential candidates. These are people with power.

To those pointing out that those calling these guys out are also guilty of praying: You're either missing the point or intentionally deflecting from it. They're not being called out for praying. They're being called out for only praying when they have the power to do a lot more. They could enact laws or increase funding to organizations that might help to decrease the gun violence. They could, at the very least, hold hearings to figure out what the real problem is and try to come up with a resolution on how to fix it. All four of these guys on the cover of the Daily News have the power to subpoena people and compel them to be part of the solution. They've used that power on other issues. Why only pray on this one?

When we were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, a lot of this country prayed. And then we went to war, trying to root out the terrorists that hurt us. Not just the terrorists from that day, but their network. We went after the root of the problem -- or we tried to, at least. When someone tried to bring a shoe bomb on board an airplane, we prayed -- and then enacted to air safety regulations. When someone mailed anthrax to politicians and reporters, we prayed -- and then we tightened security. When someone shot civilians in Paris, we prayed -- and then we reviewed our policies on accepting refugees from Syria.

To make this clear, when people got shot in France, Republican politicians from sea to shining sea immediately wanted to review our security procedures for refuges. When people got shot in California -- or Colorado -- or Connecticut, those same politicians thought prayer was enough to fix things.

Now there's a very valid reason that these politicians don't want to discuss the root of the issue. They're afraid that they might then have to do something to fix it. To the point, they're afraid that the expert testimony they receive might conclude that there are too many guns in America -- and they might be pushed by their constituency to enact gun control measures. Or they're afraid that they'll find that mental health is the root of the problem -- and they'll be pushed to spend money towards that problem, something they don't want to do. So instead, they pray.

If you read that last paragraph as me suggesting we disarm the American people, you misread it. And you don't know me. I may be one of Niagara County's biggest proponents of the 2nd Amendment. In fact, I believe that if the U.S. government has access to any kind of arms, the people should have the same access. How else are we to defend ourselves from the possibility of a tyrannical government? But maybe we should be a little more careful with who we give those guns to ... and hold them accountable for what happens with them.

So, I'm not calling for gun control. But I am saying that we need a summit on the topic. After the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, the U.S. House created a sub-committee to try to figure out what went wrong. That sub-committee has now spent more than $5 million in taxpayer money. After 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. got shot on Wednesday, Republicans want only to pray.

Prayer alone isn't enough. Action is needed. It was right for the Daily News to call them out. It's a discussion this country needs to have. Unfortunately, the discussion was immediately twisted to make it sound like prayer was a bad thing. It was done intentionally by people who know better because they don't want to have the discussion. They'd rather argue. And while they argue, more innocent people will be killed.

+Scott Leffler wishes prayer were enough. But experience has taught him different. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler or email him at scott.leffler@gmail.com


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Oh the (lack of) humanity

I can't believe we're even having this debate. More than that, I can't believe I seem to be in the minority on the issue -- and by a lot.

The issue over whether to accept Syrian refugees into the U.S. seems like it should be a foregone conclusion. People need help. We help people. Done. And done. It's practically the definition of America. We're "the good guys."

But not only does it not appear to be that simple, it would seem that those who think like me -- the minority, it would seem -- who believe that America should assist the tired, poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free, do so at the risk of alienating ourselves, being told we don't love America (or our own children), and being called "Muslim sympathizers" as though it's bad to sympathize for the plight of the refugees.

It's for the children, of course. Not the Syrian children, mind you. Screw them. No one cares about Syrian children. But we want to protect our own children ... from Syrian children.

Many comparisons have been made this past week between 2015 and 1939.

In 1939, America turned away Jews seeking asylum in the United States. We didn't believe their concerns to be real. We were still very isolationist at the time and we didn't want to involve ourselves in affairs that weren't our responsibility.

In 2015, we're turning away Syrian refugees. We are fearful that they're Isis agents in disguise, hellbent on destroying America from within. Of course, we're far from isolationists right now but we still seem to want to act that way when it suits our so-called interests.

I'm told that's a false comparison. I'm told that in 1939, we were ignorant. But that today we know what we're doing. That we know what we're talking about. That we have very good reason to refuse entry to 10,000 people who fled their homeland because that land no longer had homes for them to go to.

A week ago, according to various news reports, a man pretending to be a Syrian refugee -- or maybe he really was a Syrian refugee ... or maybe neither of those things -- was one of the perpetrators of the horrible acts of terrorism in Paris.

As all of Facebook changed its profile picture to superimpose a French flag over their selfies, Erie County Legislator Joseph Lorigo urged Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to “reverse his stance on accepting Syrian refugees into Erie County." Erie County was slated to be the new home to some 300 refugees next year.

Lorigo may not have been the first to make the "refugee = potential terrorist" statement, but he was the first we heard locally. He was quickly followed by several governors and then the Niagara County Legislature, who voted Tuesday night to demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo work to block Syrian refugees from being allowed into New York State. Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to demand additional background checks on any refugee seeking asylum here.

All these things happened in less than a week. From the Paris attacks to Congressional legislation against Syrian refugees -- and a new issue to divide America.

I'd remind people that prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the largest terrorist attack ever committed on American soil was done so by a Niagara County native -- but I probably don't have to do that, right? It's a good thing that the rest of the country and world didn't take it out of all Niagara County natives, though, isn't it? I mean ... could you imagine if no one from Niagara County could go to Disney Land because one disgruntled sicko acted out?

And we know with 100 percent certainly that Timothy McVeigh was from Niagara County. French officials aren't even sure if the "Syrian refugee terrorist," who had a passport which said he was 25-year-old Ahmad Almohammad was Syrian. Or Ahmad Almohammad. Or 25. They do believe the passport to be fake, though.

In other words, we're banning 10,000 people from entering the country because one loon in Paris said he was in their same predicament. Ten thousand people who already have an 18-month to two-year wait to get into America now have more hoops to jump through because one guy claimed he was a Syrian refugee.

Imagine, if you will, that you're a terrorist hellbent on destroying America. Would you want to get into the "18- to 24-month wait" line? Or would you get your fake passport saying you were from another country ... not named Syria? We know Isis to be well-funded. They can get their fake passports from anywhere they want.

So again, we're denying refuge to 10,000 people based on an assumption that terrorists might use "Syrian refugee" on their resume when they can likely write any resume they wish.

Lorigo's statement frustrated me. The proclamations of 30 governors that they didn't want Syrian refugees disappointed me. But Tuesday's vote by the Niagara County Legislature sickened me. Frankly, I thought we were better than that. In fact, I thought the worst amongst us was better than that. The Facebook comments told me otherwise.

Then Thursday -- because I wasn't sick enough -- add to it all the plan by Donald Trump -- the GOP frontrunner for president -- to create a "Muslim database," force followers of the religion to carry special IDs and consider shutting down Mosques. Frankly, I'm wondering what year this is and what country I live in.

This is not the America I read about in history books. And it isn't the America I want my childrens' children to read about in history books. Be better than this. For the children. All of them

Somewhere between complaining about entitlements and declaring our president to be a "Muslim sympathizer," "the land of the free and the home of the brave" decided it isn't really interested in being either.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Atheist cups and safe zones

Normally my columns appear on Fridays -- when they appear at all. But since I've missed several over the last 18-or-so months, I figure a make-up Tuesday column is okay.

Today I'd like to tackle the two most important issues in the world right now. No, not terrorism and poverty. The atheist cups at Starbucks ... and press being denied access to the quad at the University of Missouri.

Let's discuss the latter first since it is a much bigger deal to me as a journalist.

Mizzou students, you committed the number one faux pas of dealing with the media: You allowed the media to make themselves the story. See, about 99 percent of people who refer to themselves professionally as "press" would be classified as megalomaniacal. So when mass communications professor Melissa Click asks for help getting rid of a photojournalist -- “Hey who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? … I need some muscle over here.” -- she shifted the story from your cause of crushing racism on campus to crushing those that would oppose the media.

Advice: Don't make enemies of people who "buy ink by the barrel" -- or their digital, audio or video counterparts.

On the topic of the evil red cups at Starbucks, my advice goes to the rabid fanatical delusional "Christians" who believe the move by the coffee company is just the latest liberal maneuver in the so-called "War on Christmas." Stop. Just stop. You're giving the rest of us non-crazy Christians a bad name. You're hurting our cause.

The red-cup controversy is Venti stupid for so many reasons.

First of all, Starbucks has never had "Christmas" cups. Starting in 2009, the "holiday" cups had Christmas ornaments on them that said "wish" and "hope." The following year, they had snowflakes on them and said "stories are gifts." In 2011, they featured a sledder. 2012 was met with a snowman. Christmas ornaments again adorned the cups in 2013. Last year, they were red with swishy shapes. And finally, just plain red this year. No baby Jesus. No wise men. No "Merry Christmas." Ever.

Secondly, if you need a Christmas-themed coffee cup to affirm your religion, you have much bigger issues than coffee. Enjoy your religion. Celebrate it. Share it if you choose. But don't force it on anyone. And stop whining that other people that don't participate in it are somehow engaged in a "war" against it -- especially if that war is in the form of a 20-ounce, $6.64 coffee cup. If they were really anti-Christian, they'd find a way to charge you two more cents. Or three less cents in Erie County where they're $6.69.

Third, to those of you who have decided to "show the man" by telling your minimum-wage earning barista that your name is "Merry Christmas," thereby getting a "Merry Christmas" cup, grow up. Your juvenile behavior is not going to turn that barista towards God. And it may result in your coffee having something extra added to it aside from the two pumps of caramel that you requested. To paraphrase Monty in the movie "Waiting," don't mess with the people that make your food.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corinthians 10:13. And I feel strongly that God would not be glorified by your idiocy.

We now return to your regular news already in progress.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, October 02, 2015

We need to talk about guns

I have often described myself — somewhat in jest — as a crazy gun nut.

I have long believed that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution entitles "We the People" to the finest of weaponry that money can buy. If the government can have automatic weapons, bazookas and tanks, then by golly, we should be allowed to, too.

This isn't satire. That's not hyperbole. I believe that the Second Amendment is about the only thing that assures that power can be returned to the people when government gets too big for its figurative britches. We're not going to be able to do that with muskets or pointy sticks so we'll need to stay on-par with whatever the armed forces are handing out.

But — and this is where it gets confusing for me — we have a serious gun problem in this country. My heart can't take whatever tragedy is going to happen at a community college, church or movie theatre next month. Too many people have lost their lives these past few years from senseless violence made possible from guns.

We live in a country where in order to get birth control, a woman has to get permission from her insurance company to get permission from her doctor to get permission from her pharmacist to get the birth control. But to get a gun, just show a photo ID and you're good.

We live in a country where to get psychological help, you have to get permission from your insurance company to get permission from your doctor to get a referral to a psychologist. Or shoot someone. You move to the front of the line if you shoot someone.

We live in a country where its harder to vote than to get a gun, where it's harder to get a college diploma than a gun — a high school diploma for that matter. Hell, some might even say it's harder to get a job than a gun. And I'm not talking about illegally obtaining a gun. I'm talking about getting one through legal means.

Of course, the NRA and the radical right will tell you that if you create any sort of gun control, that will only prevent honest people from legally obtaining guns. But all the criminals will still get theirs on the black market. And they're right.

But the same radical right has no problem outlawing abortion and pushing women to back-alley doctors with coat hangers, or outlawing drugs and creating an unregulated black-market drug industry that's currently destroying our youth.

So are laws good? Or bad? I can never tell with the right. Or the left for that matter.

I'll be completely honest with you: I'm flummoxed. I don't know what the solution is. The Second Amendment is good for the country. It's good for the people of this country. But raving lunatics with mommy issues, loner syndrome or blackened hearts having access to those guns is not good for the country.

So what do we do? Honestly, what is the answer?

I think it's time to dig Charlton Heston up and have a serious face-to-face with his cold, dead hand. I think it's time to drop the bravado and sit down and figure out what's really best for this country. Because there's no way anyone can think that another dozen dead college students next month is what's best for this country.

The Andrew Cuomos and Barack Obamas of the world are bound to pounce on Thursday's tragedy and try to make political hay of it. The Wayne LaPierres and Mitch McConnells of the world will say that "guns don't kill people, lunatics do." Or something like that.

So how about a compromise? How about we stop letting lunatics have guns? How about some sort of mental health test before people are allowed to purchase something that blasts a projectile at 1,700 miles per hour?

Sure the lunatics will still be able to get the guns from the black market. Just like every American is capable of breaking every law if they really want to. Just because people speed down Transit Road doesn't mean they should do away with the speed limit, does it? (although they should ... and that's a topic for another day)

I'm not saying ban. I'm saying discussion. A serious one. Starting today. Now, even. Comment on this column to get involved.

***

As a completely unrelated side note, I'd like to tip my East Niagara Post baseball cap to the men and women on the Lockport Police and Fire departments for the fine work they did Sunday night.

Both departments responded in force to the report of a male who had jumped into the Erie Canal. LPD officers Mike Stover and Toby Trowbridge met and exceeded their job descriptions of protecting and serving when they clung to the male and to the canal's south wall, keeping him afloat for nearly an hour. LFD Chief Pat Brady and crew assisted admirably in the effort, providing lighting, manpower and supplies.

I had an interesting conversation with LPD Chief Larry Eggert the afternoon following the rescue. At the time, he had yet to hear the name of the man he helped save. And during the rescue, he was so focused on what was going on in the canal that he didn't realize there were 100 people watching from the Big Bridge.

To those folks on the Big Bridge who spontaneously applauded when the young male was pulled into the rescue boat, thank you. You restored some of my faith in humanity. And you probably also made those from LFD and LPD remember — if only for a minute — why they chose the line of work they did.

+Scott Leffler is no longer a crazy gun nut. Gun nut, yes. Crazy, yes. But no longer shall the twain meet. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler or email him at scott.leffler@gmai.com.


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Friday, September 25, 2015

Religious litmus test makes no sense

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker exited the race on Monday, having come to the conclusion that he was wasting everyone's time and his donors' money.

For a while, though, it was Ben Carson who was on the ropes and several Muslim organizations were demanding his exit. Even Texas Sen. Ted Cruz got a few good licks in on Carson.

For those of you who missed the kerfluffle — or who don't pay attention to politics — here's how it went down: Carson was on Meet the Press on Sunday, where he declared that a Muslim does not belong in the White House, calling Islam "inconsistent with the values of America" and saying some Muslim beliefs are in direct opposition of the Constitution.

“Muslims feel their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution," Carson said.

Reminds me of a certain county clerk in Kentucky who's getting high fives from some GOP candidates for putting her Christianity above her job.

There was a time in our country when people were afraid of a Catholic being elected president. They worried that John F. Kennedy's religion would not play well with his duties as president. Now, Catholics are fine. Well, unless you're the Pope. But that's another matter altogether.

I have a feeling that Ben Carson may not have read the Bible. Or maybe he's not Christian. Or something. Because the Bible makes it pretty clear that God's law supersedes that of any government. Kind of like that lady in Kentucky keeps telling everyone.

That would mean that if Muslims are exempt from running for the presidency, Christians should be as well. And Jews. Probably Hindus. And just about any other organized (or disorganized as the case often is) religion.

Oddly enough, most elected officials in the United States swear an oath on the Bible that they will uphold the Constitution and any laws in whatever jurisdiction they're serving in. This despite the Constitutional ban on the establishment of a state-sponsored religion.

Odder still, the book that they're swearing on directly opposes many laws that they're swearing to uphold. It's like taking a blood oath that you'll never cut your thumb. It's wholly illogical.

And yet, Ben Carson — and 99.99 percent of politicians, I would imagine — has no perceived problem with Christians running for office. Just Muslims.

While I disagree with Carson's position, I equally disagree with those demanding he get out of the race for having said position. Every candidate has positions people disagree with them on. If they want to remove him from the race, the proper way to do it is at the ballot box.

Worth noting: Ben Carson's poll numbers are up since making the statement. Two national polls released this week show him a solid second in the GOP race at either 18 or 17 percent, depending on the poll. Donald Trump, whose religion is money, still leads the pack.

+Scott Leffler avoids talking about politics and religion at the dinner table. But he thoroughly enjoys it in his column. Tweet him at @scottleffler or email him at scott.leffler@gmail.com.


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Media musical chairs

So here's a fun story:

Six years ago today, I ended my seven-year relationship with WLVL in Lockport. I walked into the office around 9 a.m. as always and was called into Dick Greene's office. He told me they were "going in another direction."

So ... unemployed. Ugh. My Facebook status was a simple "ouch."

Later that same day, Eric DuVall, editor at the Tonawanda News, sent me a message on Facebook asking if I wanted to reprise my column for publication in the News. Of course, I agreed. It didn't pay much, but it kept my name out there and made job hunting easier.

I had some radio interviews including WJJL and WBEN. But nothing came of them.

A few weeks later, Tim Marren, editor at the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal asked if they could also run my column. Of course, I agreed. It meant getting paid double for writing one column and it got my name back out there in Lockport, where I was most well-known.

That continued for about a year ... until a full-time job opened up in the Lockport newsroom. I took that job of city editor, replacing Karen Keefe, who took Marren's job as managing editor. Side note: I got my original job at the US&J taking over for Karen's husband as city reporter in 2000.

I kept the city editor job until 2014 when I left the US&J to take the position of news editor at East Niagara Post, where I was reunited (professionally) with Heather Grimmer, who had left her freelance photo job at the US&J in Oct. 2013.

January of this year, the Tonawanda News stopped publication and Eric DuVall moved to WLVL to take over as news director and talk show host — my old job.

ENP has grown considerably in the past year and now has six former US&J peeps (Heather Grimmer, George Root, Craig Bacon, Jill Keppeler, Howard Balaban and me) — and two current ones (Steve Wallace and Bob Confer) on its list of contributors.

And Friday night, we start broadcasting hockey games live via the Internet.

None of which would have happened if six years ago, Dick Greene hadn't decided to go "in another direction."

Friday, September 04, 2015

If you can't do your job, get a new one

Have you heard the story of the poor persecuted Christian woman in Kentucky, jailed for believing in God?

I guess that would depend on where you get your news because that seems to be how the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party is taking the arrest of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, charged with contempt of court for refusing to follow a federal judge's order that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Davis' take on the matter is that same-sex marriage goes against her religious beliefs and as such she feels she shouldn't have to issue same-sex marriage licenses. It's not all that different from pharmacists who want to be able to not disburse birth control for the same reason. Or public grade school teachers who want to teach the alphabet without using the letter R.

Let that sink in. Because, really, it's exactly like public grade school teachers who want to teach the alphabet while ignoring the letter R. The letter R is very much part of the job. And if their religious beliefs prevent them from doing their job, then they should get a new one.

Imagine, if you will, someone getting a job at an adult video store and then refusing to rent anyone adult videos because it goes against their beliefs. Or a waiter at a restaurant who would gladly bring chicken and beef to the diners but refused to allow his tables to order pork of any kind ... for religious reasons. How long do you think those people would be employed? And do you think they'd be made into martyrs? I have a feeling they wouldn't.

I fear that one of the more deranged of the Republican candidates for president will mention this woman's name as a running mate. Or at least that someone in their camps will bring it up.

Of course, Davis is famous because we — the media — made her so. And sadly, I'm not helping the matter by discussing it here in my column. But I have a job to do. And I do it. Novel concept.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fast-food wage debate is misguided at best

We’re being played.

Whether we want to believe it or not, this nation is divided into the haves and the have-nots. There are other divisions, of course — by race, religion, sexuality, political preference, etc — but it’s the haves and the have nots I’m talking about today.

Never before has so much of this nation’s wealth been consolidated by so few people. And the rest of us, the so-called 99 percent, are fighting over the rest, arguing over who among us deserves the bigger crumb.

Earlier this week, a wage control board voted to endorse a plan that would allow fast-food workers in New York a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2021. This resulted in nearly everyone who doesn’t work in fast food to complain, often with the argument that “my job doesn’t pay $15 an hour, why should their's?”

Many arguments I’ve seen over the past few months have actually been related to military pay and suggesting that since being in the military is more difficult and life threatening, fast food workers should basically pay McDonald's for the privilege of working. (Undoubtedly unpopular side note: Military service is volunteer. Every single person serving currently chose to do so. If you don't want to risk your life for 72 cents an hour, Taco Bell is hiring.)

Some have legitimate economic concerns. They’re afraid of what that $15 an hour will do to inflation. Or they’re afraid that the more capable people will flee their non-fast-food jobs to go sling burgers, opting to make more money than they can in the industry they currently work in, decimating other businesses and leaving them with an unskilled workforce.

Then, of course, there is sheer classism. Not financial-based classism, mind you. Rather a perception of class based upon what people do for a career. Obviously, you’re better than so-and-so because they work at Burger King and you work for … whoever.

I’ve long spoke of a belief that everyone should work in fast food — or at least customer service — at some point in their lives. I’ve seen too many jerks yell at people in hats because they assumed that their job was easy … and that they were better than them. I’m not talking about the 1 percenters, either. I’m talking about the people with the larger crumbs.

Now these people with the larger crumbs are worried that the low-life slob fast-food workers might inch closer to them financially.

Meanwhile, while we’re fighting over the crumbs and arguing over whose job is harder and more deserving of paying a living wage, the real captains of privilege unload wheelbarrows of cash and gold onto their private yachts and float them off to island nations with no taxes, thumbing their noses at the rest of us along the way.

If this whole ordeal were a movie script, they’d be the ones who incite the riot then empty the bank of its contents while police are busy stopping looters from stealing color TVs. By the time we find out what really happened, it’s too late.

Of course, this isn't a movie. And it’s not yet too late. But it’s getting there. And we’re squabbling over crumbs.

In case no one ever told you this, your neighbor being poor doesn’t make you rich. A burger flipper struggling to pay his bills doesn’t pay your mortgage. And just because someone has a cookie doesn’t mean you can’t have a cookie too.

This is America, for Christ's sake. We can make more cookies. More burgers. More money. You don’t need to be envious of someone else’s.

That envy or anger or whatever it is you have against your fellow crumb eater has been manufactured by the people with the whole pie. They’re playing us. And we’re falling for it.

+Scott Leffler congratulates fast-food workers on their raise. He just asks that they spend that extra money they're going to have wisely. And more important, locally. Follow Scott's fast-food eating habit on Twitter @scottleffler.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Friday, July 03, 2015

239 years of freedom and other stuff

Someone on Facebook made a joke last week that it looked like a war broke out between the Confederates and a Skittles factory. It was funny because it was true.

Half of Facebook, it seemed, were upset about the continued existence of the Confederate flag ― but happy that the Supreme Court acknowledged gay marriage. The other half were upset about the continued existence of homosexuals but happy that the state of South Carolina acknowledged their white rights. I'm not sure why it seemed to break down in that manner, but it did.

I don't support an outright ban on the Confederate flag, but I don't think it should be flown on state capitol buildings. And I don't think it should be part of any state flags — I'm looking at you, Mississippi. I also don't want to spend any time with people that fly it off their pick'em'up trucks or in front of their homes. And I sure wouldn't do business with anyone flying one at their business. People have a right to be jerks. But it doesn't require me to deal with them.

In my opinion, the argument that the Confederate flag is part of our history and should be respected is hogwash. There are many parts of our history that we should be smart enough to be ashamed of and not celebrate. And there's a great deal of debate how significant a part of our history that flag was. I wasn't there so I don't know. But what I do know is that for millions of people, that flag stands for racism. It means the bearer thereof is racist. I doubt that's the case 100 percent of the time, but I'd rather not wear or display something that's widely interpreted as racist.

To catch up: The Confederate flag should not be on any state property. But if private citizens want to wave it, they should feel free as long as they know they message their conveying and then also understand that a large percentage of America will want nothing to do with them.

But let's not play a game of revisionist history, OK? Sometimes too far is just too damn far. And some people went too far.

The Dukes of Hazzard? Really, TV Land? You pulled the Dukes of Hazzard because there's a Confederate flag on the General Lee? That's just too far. The Dukes of Hazzard was one of a handful of shows I grew up being forced to watch that I didn't hate.

Sure, it took place in Georgia, the epicenter of racism. But the show itself wasn't racist. In fact, it held some pretty good morals. We need more shows like it today. And yes, the Confederate flag's prominence in the show is unfortunate 30 years later. But it's not reason enough to pull the show. You went too far, TV Land.

Speaking of going too far, the other side of this so-called debate goes too far, too. I've seen some insane examples of the lunatic fringe on the gay-rights side of things, too. Images depicting Jesus as a homosexual, for example. A proposal to replace the American flag with a cross-breed of the gay pride flag. And those examples have turned a lot of would-be supporters off from the gay rights movement.

Again, those who spread such images have a right to do so. The First Amendment allows them that. But as is often the case when people claim First Amendment rights, I'd suggest they look four amendments down and find their "right to be silent."

But on the eve of our 239th birthday, I would suggest that's one of the great things about our nation: We have a right to be absolute jerks. And we also have a right not to deal those we find to be jerks. It would seem that people are fully exercising those rights today.

Now enough with the lecture. Let's get out there and enjoy the weekend.

+Scott Leffler proudly displayed the rainbow flag on his Facebook profile picture for about 24 hours before getting bored with it. Then he watched Dukes of Hazzard and sang along to Creedence Clearwater Revival. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Friday, June 26, 2015

It's been an awesome year

The past year has absolutely flown by. Now, I know most people measure years from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 — and usually so do I. But not today.

For the purposes of this column, I'm referencing the last 365 days — since I left my job at the Union-Sun & Journal to report the news here for East Niagara Post.

In that time, we've posted nearly 4,000 news stories, been to countless events, responded to literally hundreds of Facebook messages and emails — often in the middle of the night. We've tried to be everywhere and know everything. Of course, no one can be everywhere or know everything ... but we sure do try.

In the last 12 months, East Niagara Post has grown exponentially in terms of our reach and readership. We've added columnists, features, and readers. And with the exception of a minor hiccup in February, every single month has been our best month ever in terms of growth.

And we're not done.

In the days to come, you'll read about another staff addition here at ENP. We anticipate more stories about new staff in the future, as well. And Heather and I are constantly talking about adding new features. Well, mostly I think it's me talking and her trying to calm me down like I'm a six-month old chihuahua who just will not shut up.

It took an absolute leap of faith a year ago for me to decide to no longer receive regular paychecks and instead go to work with my partner ... in hopes that it would all work out. A year later, I have no regrets. Not about work, at least.



It was nice to see the rest of the media finally acknowledge the cancellation of the 55L bus route. The Buffalo News, Union-Sun, Niagara Gazette, Time Warner Cable news, WIVB (channel 4) and WKBW (channel 7) all ran stories about the route's demise either Monday or Tuesday — after it was already done. To be fair, the Buffalo News had written a very small blurb about it on June 5. But only ENP actually treated the route's cancellation like it affected anyone.

One of the great things about publishing online is the ability to benchmark and quantify. Thanks to the power of the Internet, I can tell you that one of the top search queries that brought people to East Niagara Post this month has been "55L."  It's not nearly as high as "East Niagara Post" — "Eastern Niagara Post," for that matter — but it's a lot higher than "Rob Ortt."

Oh, right ... Rob Ortt.

Just so you know, our state senator has yet to return my calls or emails on the topic of the 55L. Based on the two most-likely scenarios being he didn't get the messages or he decided to ignore them, I'm going to lean towards he didn't get them.

I gave (semi) serious consideration towards not allowing his name to grace this website again until I heard from him. I do have the power to do that, of course. But then I remembered I have ethics and whatnot. So instead I'm just going to ask for your help. Yeah, you. If you see Sen. Ortt, tell him to give me a call. And then tell me you told him. Then I'll know for sure that he knows I'm looking for him.

So to be clear, I'm still going to publish news about Sen. Ortt (like the press release I got at 12:26 a.m., which I'll post later today). But I'm not happy with him ... or his staff. Or the rest of the media. Or the weather.



One last thing this week: If you're one of those people that likes to complain that there's never anything to do around here, check Lockport150.com. For the next nine days, there's a ton to do around here. If you look at that list and don't see anything to do, the problem's on your end.

+Scott Leffler will be partaking in many of the city's birthday events but is particularly looking forward to 7 p.m. Wednesday when Team East Niagara Post takes on Team City Hall in kickball at Outwater Park. Come watch. Also follow Scott on Twitter @scottleffler ... and make sure to email him at scott.leffler@gmail.com when you get ahold of Sen. Ortt.


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, June 19, 2015

If a bus route is canceled and nobody cares, does it really get canceled?

For the past two weeks, East Niagara Post has published a series of stories about the cancellation of the NFTA 55L, which will cease operation at the conclusion of business today.

We've talked with bus riders and a handful of politicians about the ramifications of the fact that there is no longer a direct route between Niagara County's two largest cities on the NIAGARA (emphasis added) Frontier Transportation Authority's Metro bus service.

The riders, needless to say, weren't happy. Their lives get considerably more difficult beginning Monday. The politicians we talked to didn't seem happy about it either and were kind of upset at having been left out of the loop on the whole matter.

It's who we didn't talk to about it that most upsets me, though. Mainly because it wasn't for a lack of trying. A number of phone calls and emails were never returned -- including from the NFTA itself, several county legislators and state Sen. Rob Ortt.

The senator's office was in my first round of phone calls -- mainly because he expressed outrage over the cancellation of the 57 Route between Niagara Falls and Tonawanda. He was upset that he'd gotten additional money for the NFTA and they repaid him by cancelling a route that ran straight through his district -- his city even. So I thought he'd have something to say about the 55L.

He did not.

In fact, I called Ortt's office and emailed his staff about the issue more than once. And I never got a return phone call or email. I got several other emails, mind you. Probably about a half a dozen over the course of the last week concerning bills that the senator had sponsored in the legislative session that just wrapped up. But nothing about the NFTA. Nothing about the 55L. Nothing about Lockport.

Now I want to be perfectly clear here: I have no idea if Ortt ever got the message. I never left a message on his personal cell phone or home phone -- mainly because I don't have those numbers.

I also feel the need to state that I have no idea if several of the other politicians got their messages either, especially the county legislators who I emailed via the email addresses on the Legislature website. Who knows if they read those things?

And you see, that's part of my issue here. I'm not exactly disconnected. Sen. Ortt and nearly every member of the Legislature would greet me by name if they saw me. So if I can't get a return phone call or email, what are the odds anyone else does?

I got an email from Ortt's office at 12:02 a.m. discussing his feelings on Albany, clearly placing blame for the dysfunction in the laps of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democrat-led state Assembly. He said they were out of touch with the needs of the people -- all while not addressing the concerns of the riders of the 55L.

This is one of the problems with the way government is run today. There is a level of disconnect. They're shielded from the people, controlled by handlers and told everything is gravy. Then they get out into the field and are confronted by angry constituents who feel like they're not part of the system.

On a personal level, I like Rob Ortt. He's a nice guy. Young. Energetic. He talks like a real person. As a politician, well ... he's a politician and we'll leave it at that. I'm not exactly fond of politicians. On this particular issue, I can only say I'm disappointed.

Mind you, there's a lot of disappointment to go around. I'm disappointed with the apathy of the riders of the 55L who seem inclined to believe that it's simply their lot in life and there's no way to fight the route's discontinuance. I'm disappointed in the NFTA, which made a unilateral decision based on flawed or forged numbers -- they claim 28 people rode the 55L between October and December. And they never discussed it with local politicians. I'm disappointed with the local politicians who never returned my calls or emails. Add Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster to that list, by the way. And I'm disappointed in my colleagues at the Union-Sun & Journal, who never addressed this issue once, as far as I can tell. (It's not online, at least).

To sum it up, at the end of business today, people who have no other means of transportation will have to spend both more time and more money to get from Lockport to Niagara Falls and back because a whole bunch of people with no such concerns didn't care enough to fight for them.

+Scott Leffler is news editor for East Niagara Post and no fan of the NFTA ... or politicians. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler or email your thoughts to scott.leffler@gmail.com.
RELATED LINKS: 


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Lockport is the Buffalo of Buffalo

Buffalo is a very proud city — with an inferiority complex.

Mind you, when I say "Buffalo," I mean Western New York. We're all Buffalo. Lockport is Buffalo. Niagara Falls is Buffalo. West Seneca is Buffalo. We're all Buffalo. And we all have an inferiority complex. So much so that many of you were offended when I said we're all Buffalo.

But take it as fact that we're "Buffalo." We get upset when someone mentions "Wide Right" or "No Goal." We get offended when out of towners trash Western New York (Buffalo). We get our panties in a bunch when Anderson Cooper mocks Dyngus Day. Or when people say we get too much snow.

In short, Buffalo feels disrespected by the rest of the country. But who else has been to four straight Super Bowls? No one? And we know that the 1999 Sabres are possibly one of the best hockey teams in the history of hockey teams. Buffalo's a great place to raise a family on the cheap. We have great food — including Pierogi. And ... OK. We get a little bit of snow. We have to concede that. But we're still awesome.

So if Buffalo is the Buffalo of America, Lockport is undoubtedly the Buffalo of Buffalo. We opened the east to the west. We invented fire hydrants, voting machines and integrated schools. We've had some of the brightest engineers and hardest working laborers in the world. In short, Lockport's pretty awesome.

But like Rodney Dangerfield, we get no respect.

Case in point: The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority shows us no love. None. Thursday it was learned that the 55L bus route from Lockport to Niagara Falls is being discontinued two weeks from today. If you want to get to the Falls, you need to go through Buffalo (the city) or take a couple different buses by transferring from the Niagara Rural Transportation to the 55F at Niagara County Community College.

Now, I say "Thursday it was learned" because it's the first time I'd seen it confirmed. I'd heard rumors, but I hadn't seen anything in writing anywhere. And I sure as heck didn't get a press release from the NFTA about it. Apparently, Lockport isn't worthy of press releases. Wanting to make sure I didn't just drop the ball on this huge story, I did a "Google News" search for "NFTA 55L." Zero hits. None. No one beat ENP to the punch. There was no punch. Barely a whimper, actually. Just a tiny notice on the NFTA website.

Mind you, the NFTA canceled weekend service to Lockport a few years ago. Now they're canceling Niagara Falls service to Lockport. Because, hey, who would want to come to Lockport anyway?

I'm sure when I finally get ahold of someone at the NFTA — I tried last night to no avail — they'll tell me that some algorithm says there's not enough riders to make it worth their while. Translation: "Sorry, Lockport. No one cares."

It's a shame, too, because I was just sharing with my friends on Facebook how excited I was about Lockport and the coolness of this town that I've grown to call home — despite my being born on the other side of the county. The announcement that the Erie Canal would be home to a zip line in Lockport just put me over the top. I counted out loud the cool things happening here in the Lock City. But cool or not, we're about to be an island — or at least a peninsula.

And despite our rich history coupled with our newfound coolness, Lockport maintains an inferiority complex. The announcement of the planned zip line, for example, was met with many "I'll believe it when I see it"s. It's hard to argue the point. I had the same reaction when the ice arena was announced. But Cornerstone Arena has made a believer out of me. And the rest of the great stuff going on swelled me with pride ... until the NFTA smacked us and put us back in our place; "Go over there, Lockport. No one loves you."

I don't know if it's too late to save the 55L. I don't know if enough people even care to do so. I put out calls last night to nearly a dozen politicians from Lockport and Niagara Falls to get their take on the matter. Expect an update later today. But even if they all come back and demand the 55L be reinstated, there would be no guarantee that the NFTA would care.

After all, we're just Lockport ... the Buffalo of Buffalo.

+Scott Leffler is a proud "Buffalonian" who calls Lockport home. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler. Or don't. Whatever. It's not like he has feelings.
 
RELATED LINK: 


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

On digital books and analog exes

I'm conflicted. But that's nothing new.

As I write this, I'm sitting in the midst of thousands of books at the annual AAUW book sale. Tens of thousands maybe. And while Heather pours over them, adding what would seem to be half of the entire building's inventory into her shopping cart (no, really, she got a shopping cart), I have so far added eight books to my personal library - most of them about writing.

See, I like books. I love reading, in fact. But I'm one of those people that actually prefers to read on a screen than off a printed page. I've probably added a couple dozen books to my Kindle library in the past month — since having bought a Kindle Fire. Prior to that, I did most of my reading on my Kindle app on my tablet ... or the Google Books app on the same. As far back as 15 years ago, I read the first four Harry Potter books on my Palm Pilot.

Side note: We just took a shopping cart of books to the car and came back for more. We also ran into another girl I used to date and I saw (but we did not talk to) a third girl I used to date. I apparently have a thing for girls who read ... or at least girls who like books.

Anyway ... back to the story: I still bought books, though. Hardcover and paperback, alike. I had a couple bookshelves full of them. I liked the way they looked. And I liked the way they made me look. But about six years ago, I gave them all to charity ... or lost them ... or something. I was in the midst of a major transformation (*cough* divorce) and books were an unnecessary burden.

Slowly, I began building a book collection again. It started with "Plato and a Platypus Walked Into a Bar." I got a few books as gifts and picked a few up here and there. This incredible annual book sale and the Lockport Library book sale added to the collection. But it pales in comparison to what it once was. And I want to get back to that impressive collection of leather bound books. ... But then there's also a part of me that feels like buying books for the primary purpose of showing off how many books I have is ... forgive my French ... douche-y.

So I'm conflicted. I like books. I want books. But I probably won't read the books because I prefer reading digitally. So much like my favorite Shakespearean character, I'm struggling with what to do here. Of course, he would just tell me that "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” So maybe the moral of the story is to think less and read more.

+Scott Leffler left that book sale with eight books. And ran into — literally — another girl he had dated on his way out of the book sale. If you want to follow Scott's reading you can find him on Goodreads or follow him on Twitter @scottleffler. If you want to date him, apparently you should read more.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Why don't poor people just eat their babies?

It never seems to completely go out of vogue, but once again, poor-people bashing is top of mind for seemingly half of America.

I'm reminded of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Rabbit Fire." You know the one. "Rabbit season. Duck season. Rabbit season. Duck season. Fire!" Except in America it's more along the lines of "Poor-people season. Immigrant season. Poor-people season. Immigrant season. Fire!"

Obviously, it's okay to hate poor people during immigrant season and vice versa, but right now it is most definitely poor-people season. And the tactic this time around? Starve them to death.

Really it's a brilliant strategy with pilot programs going on right now in Missouri and Maine, attempting to force the poor off of food stamps, thereby giving them nothing to eat but the 104 children they each have. Or at least to hear some tell it, everyone on food stamps has 104 children. And they just keep popping out more so they can get more gub-mint cheese. Or whatever.

If the poor eat their young, there eventually won't be any poor people and all of America's problems will go away ... well except for those nasty immigrants.

Actually, when I first read the proposed Missouri law, I wasn't entirely opposed to it. It suggests that certain items be unavailable by food stamp (actually called SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards. The lawmaker proposing the changes was offended that someone in front of him at the grocery story had bought steak and lobster with their SNAP card.

The bill, introduced by Republican Rick Brattin would prohibit SNAP recipients from using their benefits to buy "cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak."

His logic was that he couldn't afford those things. So why should they be allowed to buy them with "his" money — being a taxpayer and all. It makes sense until you think about the fact that SNAP recipients get a certain amount to spend each month. For a single adult it is $194. A two-person household id $357. It's $511 for a three-person family. Etc. Using the $194 number, it's a little more than $6 a day. The two-person household gets just under $12 a day. It's $17 a day for the three-person family. Etc.

It's not $6 a day plus lobster. It's not $12 a day plus potato chips. It's not $17 a day plus filet mignon. The "cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak" have to fit into their budgets. Just like they have to fit into ours.

Is Rick Brattin saying that he eats on $6 a day? Because unless he is, he can obviously afford Lobster, too. It's just a matter of budgeting. Eat beans and rice for a few days so you can afford the surf and turf when your friends or family come over for dinner Friday.

Unless, of course, the goal is to make sure that poor people know they're poor ... and everyone else knows they're poor ... and we use food stamps as another means to degrade them. Because by that basic frame of mind, what we're saying is that poor people don't deserve to have dinner guests ... or feel good about themselves. No. They need a constant reminder with every single meal that they're not good enough. Each forkfull of food they stuff into their degenerate mouths should remind them to get off their lazy butts and go get a job.

Because the other popular convention is that all poor people are able-bodied, lazy, good-for-nothings who just want to sit home and pop out more kids so they can get more gub-mint cheese.

This is the notion behind Maine's pilot program, which installs work requirements to allow SNAP recipients to continue to recieve their benefits. The new rules prevent single adults who are not disabled from receiving food stamps for more than three months unless they work at least 20 hours a week, participate in a work-training program or meet volunteering requirements.

These new requirements have pushed 9,000 people off food stamps in the first three months of this year. Yeah. It went from 12,000 to 2,680 once the new requirements were put in place. Which sounds awesome, right?

I mean, if people won't work for their food stamps, we as a society are duty-bound to cut them off of said food stamps and kick them out into the streets where they can starve — or eat their young. Except these ones don't have any young. Maybe they can eat each other. Another problem solved.

Look, I think everyone should do their best to pull their own weight. I hate the thought that I work 70+ hours a week and consider a trip to McDonald's a treat while other people don't work at all and get to eat steak. I've considered becoming a professional welfare recipient. I like steak.

In the end, though, when it comes down to it, I don't want people to starve to death, eat their kids, or be humiliated into dropping out of a government program designed to keep them fed. (Just wondering how many in Maine dropped out because they were too embarassed to join a work-training or volunteer program wearing a Scarlet P ... so they chose to eat less rather than to be humiliated)

But hey, if we didn't have the poor to hate, what would unite us a country? Oh, right. Immigrants.

+Scott Leffler likes steak and lobster. He also likes beans and rice. And heavy use of irony. And sentence fragments. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lancaster parents need to learn compassion

Lions, Panthers, Rams and Raiders. Those are the mascots for the four high schools we cover here at East Niagara Post.

The Lockport Lions, Newfane Panthers, Roy-Hart Rams and Barker Raiders. As high school mascots go, they're all perfectly adequate. Two animals that roar, one that charges and a human that "arrrrr"s.

I went to high school at Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School. We were the Falcons. Then I went to Ashland University. We were the Eagles. Pretty basic stuff. Nothing controversial — which I'm just fine with.

Earlier this week, the Lancaster School Board voted unanimously to drop their 60-year tradition of calling their sports teams "Redskins" following pressure from other school districts who announced they would boycott sporting events against the Lancaster team.

Specifically, lacrosse teams from my Alma Mater (Niagara-Wheatfield), Akron and Lake Shore school districts said that they would refuse to play a team named "Redskins." All three school districts have significant Native American populations. Many Native Americans feel the term is a racial slur.

So in the interest of playing lacrosse — and hopefully in the interest of not offending people — the Lancaster board made their decision.

But not everyone seems to agree that it was the right decision.

About 300 students walked out of school in protest on Thursday, holding signs like "School board speak with forked tongue." They were upset that they were losing their heritage. Lancaster High School does not have a significant Native American population.

Now, when I was in high school, I would have protested a ham sandwich if it had gotten me out of class. So I can understand how 300 kids would walk out in protest. However, my parents would have kicked my ass. So I can't understand how 300 kids would walk out in protest.

Except ...

It seems that many of the parents are with their kids on this. They feel the district should have continued to use a derogatory term to identify their sports teams. It worked when they were young, so why wouldn't it work now? They feel some people are just being "politically correct" in wanting to change the mascot. And the last thing they want to be is politically correct.

Not everyone is offended by the term "Redskin." Having never been Native American, I hadn't given it much thought until these past few years when it became a national conversation due to the Washington Redskins. But if people find it offensive, why would anyone fight to keep it?

Look, this is still the United States of America. We have the right to be jerks if we want to — to a degree. You don't have to talk to the cashier at the store if you don't wish to. You don't have to tip your waitress. You don't have to smile and say "hi" just because someone else does. And technically speaking, you can use derogatory terms. But why?

It would seem to me that a "civilized" culture such as ours would make an effort to not offend people. I mean, we're the best country on the planet, right? Does that mean we don't have to be nice? Because that's the feeling I get sometimes: "We don't have to be nice because we've got the bombs."

There's nothing wrong with political correctness, or as I like to call it, "being compassionate." But hey, Lancaster parents, if it pains you too much show kindness to others, then by all means, you have an opportunity to tell the world who you are through your new mascot name. I suggest the Lancaster Bullies.

+Scott Leffler tries not to offend people. But it happens anyway. Be offended on Twitter by following him @scottleffler.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, February 27, 2015

So do something about it

Seldom does a day pass when I don't write a story for East Niagara Post about someone getting arrested for marijuana possession.

Seldom do I post a story about someone getting arrested for marijuana possession when we don't get Facebook comments about the unjustness of the state's drug laws, either pointing out the dangers of alcohol in relation to pot, the scant amount of weed that the arrestee had on him/her, or how ENP has somehow ruined that person's life by publishing their arrest.

Seldom do I read comments about the unjustness of the state's drug laws when I don't think to myself, "So do something about it."

Personally, I don't have a problem with people smoking pot. I see no societal value from preventing people from growing, buying, selling, owning or smoking the stuff. But as I don't make a habit of growing, buying, selling, owning or smoking it myself, I see no personal value in fighting the laws which prevent people from growing, buying, selling, owning or smoking it either. Frankly, it doesn't affect my life one way or another.

Some people, though, it would seem, are incredibly offended by these laws. They feel their friends (or maybe complete strangers, for all I know) have been unjustly charged with a crime and had their name smeared in the press, ruining their chances at a good life ... or something.

So to those of you who feel that way, I say, "Do something about it."

The United States is a nation governed "of the people, by the people, for the people," as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put in the Gettysburg Address. Our representatives at every level are Americans just like us, out to represent the rest of us.

Those who represent us, from our local municipal officials to county legislators, state legislators, and U.S. congressmen, have the power to create, change or strike down laws. They get the impetus to do so from the rest of us.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. In New York, a very stringent medical marijuana law was passed last year. Many believe this to be the first step to complete decriminalization in the state. Four other states have completely decriminalized it already, allowing recreational use — although often with strict guidelines. There's no reason that New York couldn't be the fifth.

As stated previously, our elected officials have the power to change these laws. Our representatives have the power to strike down laws that they feel are unjust or unnecessary. But they have no real motivation to do so without their constituents asking them to. Basically, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. So if people aren't clamoring for a law to be created, changed or eliminated, they're going to focus on other laws that people are passionate about.

On the executive level, police are instructed to enforce the laws and Constitution of their state and the United States as a whole. However, there have been several documented cases of local municipalities instructing their paid police forces to ignore certain laws. In other words, the Niagara County Legislature could instruct the Niagara County Sheriff's Department to ignore the state's marijuana laws. This could create a bit of a schism because the police have taken an oath stating that they would uphold state laws and continue to feel obligated to do so. But it's not unheard of.

A more assured method would be to band together with like-minded individuals to pressure state legislators to change or eliminate the law altogether. If police have no law to enforce, there's nothing to get arrested for. But that requires time and diligence on the part of those opposed to the law. And would likely have at least some opposition from those who for one reason or another want the law to remain in place.

Look, I'll be completely honest, I hate writing stories about people being arrested for having "a small baggie containing a green vegetable-like matter" on them or "some weed," as we published the other day. It seems trite to me. But ENP publishes all arrest reports. ALL of them. We do this as a matter of fairness. I don't feel qualified to pick and choose what arrests are "important enough" to publicize. So we publish them all. We're not about to change that, no matter how much complaining people do on Facebook.

If you want to not read any more stories about people getting charged with pot possession, the onus is on you to make pot possession legal. In other words, do something about it.

+Scott Leffler is the News Editor of East Niagara Post and has better ways to spend his time than writing about minor violations like pot possession. So do something about it. Also, follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

So ... um ... it's been a while

I got a letter from the government the other day ... I opened and read it ... it said they were suckers.

No. Wait. That's not right.

I got an email from my website domain host the other day. It said ScottLeffler.com was going to expire soon and I should renew it.

My first thought was, "No! I lost that stupid domain name once. I'm not losing it again." My second thought was, "I wonder when was the last time I updated that site."

So first I renewed ScottLeffler.com ... and then I sat down to type a short note of what's been going on in my little world.

In short ... a lot. Since my last post (waaaay back in April of 2014) I made a pretty major life change ... in the form of a new job. Living such a public life, I feel like most people know this already but I run into people all the time who ask me how things are going at the Union-Sun & Journal ... which I left in June.

Rather than editing the US&J, I now write for and edit East Niagara Post, an online media company based right here in Lockport. Rather than working 4 p.m. - 1 a.m. each day, I now work 6:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. ... or something like that. I'm still writing columns — at East Niagara Post.

I've also joined the board of directors of the Lockport Business Association and joined the city's Sesquicentennial Committee, which is planning 150 events for the city's 150th birthday. And I'm helping my friend Rick Cohen with publicity for his 1,034 mile walk up the east coast to raise money for an Ohio drive-in.

Basically, I'm a pretty busy guy. But that's no reason to neglect my website. So ... hi. How ya doin'? Sorry it's been so long.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Vote to change history typical of GOP

My biggest problem with Democrats is that they want too much control over what I do with my money. My biggest problem with Republicans is that they want too much control over what I do with my body.

My second biggest problem with Republicans is their blatant denial of the truth on account of the fact that they don't like it. It's like sticking your fingers in your ear and saying "I can't hear you," except it's done by adults — and with potentially severe ramifications.

For instance, Oklahoma lawmakers are steadfast in their effort to block funding for Advanced Placement U.S. history courses, saying the curriculum is not patriotic enough. They're not actually saying it's inaccurate, mind you. Just that they don't like it.

Actually, the wording of HB 1380, a real bill in the Oklahoma House, states that AP History doesn't focus enough attention on “American exceptionalism.” It passed out of committee with 11 Republican votes and no Democratic votes (out of a possible four).


And Oklahoma's not alone in their denial of a historically accurate history. 

The Republican-controlled Texas Board of Education asked the College Board — the organization that administers the AP tests — to rewrite the U.S. history curriculum. 

Let's try that again for effect:

The Republican-controlled Texas Board of Education asked the College Board — the organization that administers the AP tests — to rewrite the U.S. history curriculum (because it wasn't patriotic enough.)

Republicans tried something similar in Colorado.

Here's an idea to Republicans: If you want history to feature "American exceptionalism," make America exceptional. You're the ones with the reins. So instead of fighting about funding for high school history classes, fix our nation's broken infrastructure, cure diseases, fight poverty, end hunger, house the homeless. You know, do something exceptional.

Kudos to my 17-year-old daughter for bringing this one to my attention. She was — understandably — upset about it. And while she may not read her father's columns, no one can accuse her of being uninformed. At least not unless Republicans get their way.

+Scott Leffler is a registered Libertarian who despises Republicans ... and Democrats ... and most Libertarians, too, actually. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sometimes it really is sunshine and roses

Most journalists are cynics. It comes from years of practice.

It comes from countless occasions of being told that the world is sunshine and roses only to be mired in experiences that say otherwise. It comes from being told a putt putt course in Niagara Falls is akin to Disney World. It comes from assurances of a year-round Christmas village being built in Lockport — that never happens. Or a Wizard of Oz theme park in Wheatfield — that never happens. It comes from lawsuits and scandal. It comes from an endless cycle of hope followed by disappointment.

Basically journalists are cynical because they see a lot more than the general public — and it’s not pretty. They’re cynical because they’re sick of having their hearts broken by politicians, businesses, athletes, etc.

So when a cynic like me gets excited about something, there’s probably something to it. And when a cynic like me gets annoyed with other people’s pessimism, that pessimism is probably way off base.

A week ago today kicked off a three-day hockey tournament in Lockport. It featured 10 teams, scores of players and a gleam in the eyes of Lockportians that I haven’t seen in a while … if ever. It featured the culmination of a decade-long plan to do something on a grand scale.

I spent nearly every waking hour from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning at Cornerstone CFCU Arena watching some world-class people put on a world-class hockey tournament. I was excited.

I ran into friends, neighbors, business owners, politicians. Almost all the people I’d hoped would come out and support the Lockport Express and the arena did so. Everyone was buzzing about how great the arena looked and how great the hockey was. People were proud to be from Lockport.

Over the course of the next few days, the buzz remained. The NA3EHL 2K15 Showcase Tournament (and Cornerstone Arena) was the talk of the town. There were some minor (legitimate) gripes here and there, but it was mostly sunshine and roses. Frankly, it deserved to be sunshine and roses.

I did run into a few people, however, who had nothing good to say. I also read some comments on social media that made me wonder if these people had actually bothered to A) visit the arena or B) take the time to learn how it all came together. Some people must really hate sunshine and roses.

I had one conversation with a prominent city resident who was harping on the cost of the arena and how long it will take to pay off the debt. To hear him tell it, the weekend showcase was a flop, and the arena will be bankrupt and boarded up by summer. I had to wonder in this man ever balanced a checkbook in his life because he seemed to have no concept of math.

Another conversation I had revolved around the fact that the City shouldn’t be in the hockey business. How dare they do away with the concerts that everyone loved and then spend $15 million on a hockey arena for some rich kids? — was the gist of the conversation. He couldn’t seem to grasp that the city didn’t spend $15 on the arena, let alone $15 million.

I know that Lockport’s been kicked while it was down. I know that things don’t always come up sunshine and roses here. But it’s nice when we can stand up and be proud. It’s nice when we can feel the sunshine and smell the roses.

For those of you determined to be doom and gloom, please keep your pessimism to yourself. Or start a club for like-minded people. You can call it the “He-man Lockport-haters Club.” You can hold meetings at that bar that you’re always talking about that went out of business in 1978. But please don’t invite me. I’m not interested.

Scott Leffler is a hockey fan who actually abhors sunlight and flowers but likes metaphors … and loves those who do love sunshine and roses. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Friday, January 09, 2015

We are all Charlie

Having done small-town news for the entirety of my news career, I sometimes forget what a dangerous profession it can be.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked in Ashland, Mansfield and Shelby, Ohio; as well as Cheektowaga, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, and Lockport. In that time, I’ve had a few threats — mostly of the non-violent kind — and I did have a pair of semi-automatic rifles pointed at me one night last March, but I’ve never actually been worried about going to work.

Some journalists, however, live under the constant threat of violence and even death. They do their job anyway.

You may not see my job as a noble profession. In fact, maybe to you I’m just a rabble rouser. But I’ve always looked at journalism as a necessary cog in the machine of freedom. And I’d like to think I do my part.

This past week offered two examples of the importance and danger of journalism.

The first was more humorous than anything, frankly, when a councilman in Maryland threatened to sue a newspaper for printing his name without permission. Kirby Delauter got a very public lesson in the First Amendment, later offering an apology along with a statement that he knew that it was the reporter’s job to print his name when it concerned county government.

The second was the Wednesday terrorist attack in Paris of the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satire magazine that dared to print cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed despite threats against their lives and a prior attack in 2011.

Eight members of the Charlie Hebdo staff, two police officers and two bystanders were killed in the attack when three radical Muslims shot them during a weekly staff meeting.

In response, editorial cartoonists around the world proclaimed “Je Suis Charlie,” in one manner or another, including Adam Zyglis of the Buffalo News, whose illustration on Wednesday showed a depiction of the Statue of Liberty with an ink pen in place of the torch, along with the statement “Our sacred gift from France.”

Even though I work in Lockport, New York, I, too, am Charlie. I hold the responsibility of standing up for freedom through my pen … or keyboard, as they case may be. The tragedy in France served as a humble reminder of that.

The staff of Charlie Hebdo, which in French means “Charlie Weekly,” continued on this week, vowing to put out a new edition on time and increasing the planned circulation of their magazine more than tenfold. A bold move in the wake of the senseless tragedy and in light of the fact that the terrorist suspects were still at large when they made that declaration.

Some people may want to politicize the tragedy, using it to condemn Islam. Others got on their high horse, upset that President Barack Obama didn’t use the right phrasology (“terrorist attack”) fast enough. In their pettiness, they lose sight of the fact that 12 people died defending free speech everywhere.

Just as first responders across the country stood in solidarity with their fallen New York City brethren on Sept. 11, 2001, I stand in solidarity with the slain journalists who senselessly died on Wednesday. As an American — and a defender of free speech — I hope you would, too.

Scott Leffler is the news editor of East Niagara Post. He is Charlie. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler. 


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.