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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 t...
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‘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. No...
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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.

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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.
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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.

New pope inspires us all to be Catholic

I love the new pope. Before I really get into this, let me start by saying that I’m not Catholic. I’ve never practiced Catholicism and I have no interest in doing so. I’m a perfectly content Methodist. But the Catholic Church intrigues me. I hold some traditions that I’m told are “Catholic,” such as giving up something for Lent, or holding the pope in high regard. Maybe this is a carry-over from my parents’ upbringing. Or maybe it’s just me being me. I don’t know.

Take no joy in Fred Phelps passing

I’ve written about schadenfreude before. It is the joy one takes in the misery of others. We all do it from time to time. But I take no joy in death. Ever. Fred Phelps died on Thursday. You may not have recognized the name before watching the world news last night but you no doubt knew who he was and what he did. Or at least most of it.
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Let businesses ban gays if they want

Wednesday Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer earned high praise from Democrats across the country for vetoing a bill put forth by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.The bill, had it passed, would hav...

Prison perks sound like a great idea

As much as I love my job as a writer and editor, sometimes I think I may have missed my calling.

I’ve often considered going back to school for psychology. I’ve always considered myself insightful and empathetic, two characteristics which seem to me to be perfect for a career as a counselor. Also, as bad as I am at heeding advice, I’m really good at giving it. I feel like I can see issues clearly and come up with peaceful resolutions — as long as they don’t involve me.

The biggest problem with my dream of saving the world as a psychologist, though, is that nearly 20 years out of university, I’m still not done paying for the degrees I have. So paying for additional schooling right now is out of the question.

But behold, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has swooped in with a plan that would help me get free college from one of 10 accredited universities in the state. All I have to do is go to prison.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not built for prison life. I’m much too pretty. But … free college? Maybe it’s worth looking into.

Like any middle-class underachieving male, I’ve occasionally thought about robbing a bank and running away to some tropical paradise — like Amherst, for example. But the downside of getting caught meant going to jail. Now, it would appear, Gov. Cuomo has sweetened the pot.

See, if I rob a bank and run away to Amherst, I’ll be set for life, living the posh lifestyle with my private tennis court and allowing my children to go to Williamsville East High School, which will allow them to get jobs in law firms and whatnot.

And if I get caught, I’ll get free room and board for a while and can continue my education all on the taxpayers' dime. Plus I’m sure that many of my “dorm mates” will be kind of messed in the head, so I’ll get all sorts of practice psychology while in the joint and can immediately open my own office when I leave in 3-5 years — with good behavior.

What a sucker I’ve been working all these years in hopes of paying off my college loans. If I had the prison-to-practice option when I was looking at colleges, I may have given serious consideration to the whole bank-robbing thing in 1992. To think, I could have been living in Amherst all along. Or at the very least, I’d be there by now.

Some people oppose the governor’s plan, saying that it’s unfair for law-abiding citizens to have to pay for school while convicts get it for free. They’re missing the point, though. They choose to be law abiding citizens. They could be convicts too if they tried hard enough. Just because they don’t have the work ethic to try to rob a bank doesn’t mean they should hold that against those who do.

Scott Leffler is a writer and editor who has actually dreamed of a career in psychology. The rest of this column may be facetious. Follow his new bank-robbing career on Twitter @scottleffler.


Olympics highlight everything that is right with the world

Tonight’s the night. The 2014 Olympic Games kick off in Sochi, Russia. Technically, the games started on Thursday with women’s snowboarding. But tonight is what I’ve been looking forward to.

The opening ceremonies of the Olympics showcase the host country’s past, future and present in grand style. There will be music, dance and art. Athletes will, of course, be on hand, but for a few hours of the games, they are not the focus. Russia is.

There’s been controversy heading into the Russian Olympics. Gay rights activists held protests in 19 cities across the world seeking to persuade sponsors of the event to speak out over Russia's controversial laws on homosexuality. Counterterrorism experts spoke loudly about concerns in Sochi’s security. A recent poll by CNN said 57 percent of Americans think terrorists will strike the games. There’s even been blatant mockery of some of Russia’s less-than-first-world accommodations.

Despite the controversy, despite the security concerns and despite some people’s lack of understanding of other countries, there are 88 nations sending athletes to the games. The United States is sending 230 athletes, more than even the host country has playing.

In other words, the concerns haven’t prevented participation. Nor should they.

The Olympics provides humanity with a rare opportunity to come together in celebration of the things we have in common rather than argue over the things that separate us. For the next 16 days, the world will be focused on mere human beings doing superhuman things. It will give us a break from the constant rattle of the bad that happens in the world.

That’s not to say that bad things won’t continue to happen — surely they will. But for a little over two weeks, we’ll have good to balance out the bad. We’ll hear stories of downtrodden kids who get scholarships to go to prep school to learn their sport. We’ll hear stories of defeat turned into later victory.

We’ll root for and celebrate people whose names we have not yet heard. Many of those names will belong to Americans, but some belong to those of other nationalities. For the next 16 days we’ll mix patriotism with humanity. We’ll be prouder of human capability than the colors on our flag.

The Olympic games are what the world could be if it weren’t for all the chaos we focus on the rest of the time. Some may think them to be a distraction, or that we set aside reality for a couple weeks. But there’s no reason it can’t be like this all the time.

It’s a matter of priorities. As I said earlier, the chaos of the world still exists today, as it will tomorrow and next week. But we choose to focus on something else. We choose to focus on the good. We choose to be the people we can be … the people we should be.

Scott Leffler is an average human being who marvels at the exceptionalism of others. He’ll be tweeting about the Olympic games @scottleffler

Perception is everything in politics, life

I’ve said before that if President Barack Obama cured cancer there are some people who would find fault with it. It’s not just Obama, mind you. We all have our detractors.

If your worst enemy were crossing the street with a handful of packages and you offered to help, they’d probably turn you down. They’d later tell all their friends that you tried to rob them.

Now, I’m not saying that the president has a cure for cancer. Nor am I saying that you tried to rob your worst enemy. But Tuesday night, President Obama took to the podium to lay out some plans to move this country forward — at least that’s how Democrats saw it. Republicans heard a completely different speech.

“Unfortunately, President Obama did not talk about plans for economic growth, like fundamental tax reform, energy independence, or significant changes to ObamaCare,” said U.S. Congressman Chris Collins, R-Clarence. “We could immediately bolster our nation’s economy by changing ObamaCare’s definition of a full-time work week from 30 hours back to the traditional 40.  And we could repeal the medical device tax, which is hurting American manufactures. But we didn’t hear any of these solutions from the President. Instead, we heard more ‘big government knows best’ solutions that are paid for by borrowing more money from China.”

Compare that with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s press release: “President Obama presented a compelling plan of how to achieve real opportunity for all hard working Americans. There is no doubt, the state of our union will grow stronger when every middle class American has a fair shot to earn their way ahead in our economy, and the next generation is equipped with the skills they need to reach their full economic potential.”

So … were they at different speeches?

I have a feeling that, as is often the case, both press releases were written before the commencement of Tuesday’s State of the Union address and the send button was hit just as the president was saying “and God Bless the United States of America.”

I also have a feeling that Collins’ press release would have remained unchanged even if the president announced the cure for cancer. And Gillibrand’s would be the same even if President Obama revealed that he truly is the closet terrorist many on the far right seem to believe him to be.

Perception is everything in politics. And life. We are defined not by our own actions but by how others see those actions, sadly. In other words, you just can’t please all the people all the time. So when you’re doing whatever it is you do, building your legacy, do what you think is right, not what you want other people to think is right.

Scott Leffler didn’t watch the State of the Union. He was busy watching the Sabres get beaten by Alexander Ovechkin. He tweeted about it @scottleffler