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A Second Opinion

Canada’s (John) A. game

First published: January 16, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: January 15, 2015 at 4:51 pm
JERRY MOORE N WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
Tricia Marwick, the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, responds to a question posed to her Saturday following a speech she delivered in Kingston, Ontario, on the campus of Queen’s University. She was in Kingston this past weekend to participate in events commemorating the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.

We commemorate past achievements because they’ve led us to where we are today and help navigate where we’re heading.

Our friends just north of the border have embarked on a yearlong celebration of the man largely responsible for Canada’s development as a united country. Sir John A. Macdonald was at the forefront of the cause of Canadian confederation and served as the nation’s first prime minister after this occurred. He was born on Jan. 11, 1815, and a series of events is marking this bicentennial.

It’s easy to merely look back at milestones and fawn at how much they inspire us all. But examining the life of a leader is most useful when doing so invites us to enhance his or her vision for the future.

In the several events I attended in Kingston, Ontario, this past weekend, this seemed to be the common thread. The merit of Macdonald’s efforts is argued again with each new generation: How will Canadians here today use what he bequeathed them to make their country better?

The first event I was at, the Empire Life Great Debate, addressed the issue of “Was Sir John A. the Greatest Canadian Prime Minister?” Moderated by Steve Paikin of Ontario television, the debate featured Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander arguing in the affirmative and former Member of Parliament Bob Rae arguing in the negative.

Alexander pointed to Macdonald’s work in uniting Canadian provinces under confederation and helping the nation grow in the following years. In terms of being an effective prime minister, who could possibly follow that, Alexander argued.

Rae said that while Sir John A.’s accomplishments were many, he had profound flaws. Canadians shouldn’t ignore the extraordinary things Macdonald did but neither should they overlook the pain he caused others through his shortcomings, particularly indigenous people. A more balanced approach is needed to capture his complex nature, Rae noted.

This lively debate gave both men the opportunity to share what they’ve learned about Macdonald in assessing the needs of Canada’s future. They contrasted what was best about his time in office and where things still to be improved.

Another event I attended was the Principal’s Forum at Queen’s University held Saturday. Macdonald helped start the university, particularly its School of Medicine. The school will celebrate its 175th anniversary next year — a fact that prompted Principal Daniel Woolf to remind audience members that the origin of the university actually predates the founding of the nation in which it resides.

And Queen’s University is steeped in the Scottish traditions that made up Macdonald’s background. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and moved with his family to Kingston when he was 5. As opposed to many other universities, Queen’s adheres to the Scottish custom of being led by a principal rather than a president, Woolf said.

The Principal’s Forum featured Tricia Marwick, the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament. She is the first woman to hold this title and has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since its founding in 1999.

Marwick’s talk on Saturday focused on the constitutional journey that Scotland has been taking throughout its history. Most of her discussion centered on the referendum for Scottish independence held Sept. 18. With an astonishing voter participation rate of nearly 85 percent, Scots chose to remain a part of the United Kingdom by 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent.

Marwick said that proponents of both sides of the independence question truly seemed to be informed about the issue. Although they viewed the potential ramifications differently, she said the people of Scotland were genuinely engaged in this debate and took the time to learn about what independence from the UK would mean for them.

Students of Queen’s University also benefited from Marwick’s insights the previous day. On Friday, she delivered a lecture titled “Young Women in Politics.” Given the historic course that Marwick is charting in Scotland, I would love to have been present for that event.

Kingston City Hall hosted a reception Sunday featuring speeches by a list of notables such as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Elizabeth Dowdeswell, lieutenant governor of Ontario; and Bryan Paterson, mayor of Kingston. Those in attendance included former Prime Ministers Kim Campbell and John Turner.

It was refreshing to see people so interested in each of these events. I felt a sense of excitement about how far Canada has come since confederation and where it is headed.

It’s not that our friends to the north don’t have their own set of challenges to overcome, but they appear to have a government that is more responsive to their call to get essential tasks accomplished. This contrasts sharply with the United States, where a portion of our electorate actually cheers more loudly when members of Congress do less.

It was a joy to witness these initial events in Canada’s celebration of one of its founding fathers. I look forward to keeping tabs on what the people there have planned for the rest of the year.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the work that Arthur Milnes is doing to revise people’s interest in their nation’s history. He is the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial ambassador for Kingston and was the ultimate master of ceremonies last weekend.

That Milnes arranged to have so many dignitaries come to Kingston for these bicentennial events was extraordinary. His enthusiasm for his country’s past is infectious and exemplifies the Canadian spirit to forge a brighter future.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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My family’s holiday miracle

First published: December 24, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: December 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm
PHOTO COURTESY OF JERRY MOORE
Jerry Moore, right, spends time with his brother Robert in Liège, Belgium, in late 1944. The two brothers from Chicago’s South Side were both members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, although in separate divisions. They had a chance meeting 70 years ago on Christmas Eve.

Christmastime can feel rather empty when you’re far from home.

Those in the U.S. military are all too familiar with this experience. Since the American Revolution, they have devoted themselves to protecting our nation’s interests at the expense of the holiday merriment the rest of us enjoy.

It’s one thing for service members to be stationed away from home at Christmas when there are no global conflicts. But fighting in a war during this sacred time is unfathomable.

Celebrating Christmas in wartime has long intrigued me, and my family has a cherished memento of loved ones juggling these conflicting ideas. The photograph accompanying this column shows my father, Jerry, spending Christmas with his older brother Robert a few months before the end of World War II.

Both my father and Uncle Bud (as everyone called him) were members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, although in separate divisions. They focused on building and repairing roads and railways. My father’s division, in fact, constructed a bridge over the Rhine River so Allied forces could pursue German troops.

My uncle was stationed at Liège, Belgium, in late 1944, and my dad had relocated into the area with his unit on Christmas Eve. He heard that his older brother was nearby, so he obtained permission to spend time with him.

My father tracked my uncle down, and I’m certain it was the most joyous reunion either of them ever had. Being faithful Roman Catholics, they attended midnight Mass together at a church in the area. My father had to leave, so they parted company on Christmas Day.

The photograph was taken sometime during their visit. It can be found in the homes of every member of my family and those of my cousins.

It’s special to us because of the story it tells and how it visually displays what we all know to be true: The most important thing in this life, particularly during holidays, is family.

Who could calculate the odds that two brothers from Chicago’s South Side, knocking around Europe during World War II, would bump into each other on Christmas Eve? What must have gone through their minds when they got together? And did they believe this could be the last time they would see each other — ever?

Like many families, spending time together is essential for my mother and siblings as well as our relatives. It’s where we experience the deepest love and draw the strongest support. As social beings, family is a lifeline on which most of us rely.

So it must have been an extraordinary moment for my dad and Uncle Bud when they reunited on Christmas Eve in 1944. The comfort of being in the presence of someone they knew so well could not have been sweeter for either of them.

While their primary jobs involved rebuilding infrastructure, my father and uncle were still in the middle of combat. And war is the breakdown of all civility. Regardless of what side of a conflict it’s on, any nation must carry out horrific acts to achieve its goals.

Yes, we fought a malevolent force bent on subjugating millions across the globe in World War II. This made stopping the Axis powers necessary. But it’s still war, and war involves human beings killing other human beings by whatever means possible.

I can’t help but believe that my dad and uncle were often haunted by the vulgar nature of war during their time abroad. Neither one spoke much about his experiences in the military, which is typical for many who see war up close. How can someone put into words the sights and sounds that stem from the worst human cruelty possible?

Toss the thought of celebrating Christmas into the mix, and you have a real dilemma. This is the holiday that helps us get over the doldrums of our everyday lives under normal circumstances. How can anyone consider promoting this season of peace when the world is at war and untold numbers of people are being killed every day by design?

I have never been in the military and have no clue what it’s like to be in the midst of an armed conflict. So I cannot imagine how anyone endures such state-sanctioned violence.

Perhaps celebrating holidays like Christmas is the only way to get through something like a war. It’s an excuse to feel joy at a time when this sentiment is in such short supply.

This is what happened 100 years ago during the acclaimed Christmas Truce of Word War I. In 1914, British and German troops took it upon themselves to stop fighting — albeit temporarily — to live out the spirit of the season and spread some good will.

They shared a common religious heritage and looked at each other as brothers rather than as enemies. This gave fits to commanders on both sides, and the holiday cease-fire was brought to an unfortunate end. But for a brief moment, these soldiers discarded the drumbeat of war and heeded the voice of peace.

This is why the experience our fathers had is so precious to at least two branches of the Moore family. A chance encounter 70 years ago represented what this season is all about.

The greatest gift the world received that Christmas was the knowledge this conflict was coming to an end. The greatest gift my dad and Uncle Bud received was the chance to spend the holiday with each other. And the greatest gift we as a family received was the memory of how they carved out a slice of Christmas peace in the midst of a world war.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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I’m a real klutz performer

First published: December 19, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: December 18, 2014 at 4:52 pm

In the midst of highly skilled singers who have devoted years of their lives to community choirs, I recently came close to throwing wrenches into two public choral performances.

I haven’t sung in a choir for more than a decade. Regardless, I decided to go for broke and participate in the yearly Christmas concerts put on by both the Northern Choral Society (Dec. 6 and 7 at Asbury United Methodist Church in Watertown) and the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble (Sunday at United Presbyterian Church in Sackets Harbor).

Preparing for one musical presentation can be demanding enough, particularly if you’re easing back into singing after a long hiatus like I did this year. So taking on two different programs held within a week of each other posed some real challenges for me.

But somehow I persevered, and I’m glad that I did. Both programs were exceptionally operated and offered wonderful music. The people of the north country are fortunate to have these two choirs providing great choral events in their communities.

So leave it to me to come within a Christmas cookie of causing a major scene at a pair of the performances. That’s my specialty!

During the Northern Choral Society’s concert on Dec. 6, I wasn’t doing the best job at managing all the music in my folder. We were performing quite a number of songs, and I was switching pieces of music from one side of the folder to the other as we completed them.

Some people had made punch holes in their sheets of music and had the pages clamped in place, while others had folders with elastic straps across the bottom to help keep the music from slipping out. I didn’t have a folder with a strap on it, nor did I bother to secure my music via the punch-hole system. It was entirely up to me to ensure everything was balanced throughout the concert.

I failed.

At one point in the concert, I tilted the top of my folder too low. The music from the right-hand side of my folder tumbled out, some of it falling on one of the women in the row directly in front of me. Just in time for Christmas, my face must have turned Santa-suit red.

I had feared something like that would happen as I tried to move the music from one side of my folder to the other. It can be tricky attempting to hold the folder with one hand while securing the loose sheets of music with the other all the while needing to turn each page as we finished a portion of a particular song.

The only thing I had going for me when my music fell out was that it came from the side of my folder where I was storing the music we had already performed. So while feeling embarrassed that I let my music fly out, at least I still had the music coming up in the concert resting in my folder.

I don’t believe many people noticed. Or if they did, I never heard about it. The woman in front of me was gracious enough shortly after the mishap to pick up my music that had tumbled to the ground and hand it back to me.

I avoided this problem during the concert the following day by keeping only a few songs in one side of the folder and the rest of it in an enclosed space on the back of the chair in front of me. This way I could place music already sung in this area, therefore only needing to use my folder for a few pieces of music at a time. The Dec. 7 concert went ahead without incident.

To better prepare for the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble’s concert on Sunday, I bought a folder with clamps in it and went the punch-hole route. No sheets of music would fall from my folder this time!

And none did. It was very secure, so I was able to hold the folder and turn each page without worrying about needing to keep the music in place.

But then something else occurred, an incident that must plague singers everywhere. In between two songs, I began coughing and couldn’t control it.

My throat felt very dry, so the coughing was aggravating it — leading to more coughing. I muffled the coughing as best I could and don’t believe it caused much of a distraction (at least, that’s what I’m telling myself).

Again, I never heard from anyone about it being a problem. Perhaps it didn’t disturb any of the other singers, or perhaps they’re just too nice to say anything. No matter how you try and spice it up, coughing just doesn’t add anything positive to a terrific musical number!

My sincere apologies to directors Sara Gleason (Northern Choral Society) and Richard Probert (Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble), accompanists Carl Bingle and Kyle Ramey and all the superb singers for nearly destroying these annual holiday events. I hope the incidents caused only minor distractions, if any, and that I’m making mountains out of molehills.

All that aside, it was a tremendous experience to be a part of these Christmas programs. My goal is to do this again next year — provided I grow something on my hands other than thumbs!

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Keep arguments consistent

First published: December 12, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: December 11, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Oh, you gotta love double standards.

Last month, numerous Americans railed against President Barack Obama’s executive order shielding about 5 million undocumented workers from deportation. They criticized it as a betrayal of the laws he swore to uphold.

But now many of these same people are furious that Democrats in the U.S. Senate have released their report on the questionable interrogation techniques used during President George W. Bush’s term. What possible good can come out of reviewing stuff that we already know happened, they’ve claimed. Dredging all this up again may only fan the flames of animosity against the United States, putting us even more at risk — or so the argument goes.

Now, never mind that some of the measures employed in trying to extract information from suspected al-Qaida and Taliban operatives violated not only our own laws but also international law. And never mind that we as a nation have repeatedly denounced acts of torture committed by other countries as human rights abuses.

So let me get this straight. It’s unacceptable to offer help to some people, who have been making positive contributions to our society for years, get right with our immigration laws. But at the same time, it’s perfectly fine for us to overlook atrocities sanctioned by one presidential administration and carried out by people representing the U.S. intelligence community.

Does this make sense to anyone?

Critics of the Senate report claim that it’s one-sided and inaccurate. I’m not going to vouch for the specifics in the report or challenge the claims made by opponents.

I haven’t studied the report carefully enough to determine how truthful and fair it is. It could well be the partisan hack job that some have labeled it.

But there are some things about our enhanced-interrogation techniques that we’ve known for years.

For one, the United States has previously taken a dim view of waterboarding and considered it a form of torture. Waterboarding was one of the crimes that Japanese soldiers were charged with in U.S. military tribunals following World War II.

It’s also been reported that some terrorist suspects we held in custody were conveniently farmed out to other nations so they could be further questioned. And the questions often came with tactics that were even more brutal than the ones we used. But hey, our hands are clean; don’t blame us for acts of torture committed by outside agents.

Torture doesn’t necessarily provide accurate information. And from a legal standpoint, it wouldn’t matter if it did. We have outlawed its use because we consider it immoral, and so have many other nations.

It’s doubtful that the acts of torture in which we engaged provided any tangible information. And we shouldn’t sanction lawless behavior simply because some argue it may be effective.

Opponents of the Senate report are all over the place with their arguments. First, they claim that the tactics we used don’t constitute torture. Then they say that it doesn’t matter because we stopped using them.

Don’t they see that the second factor casts grave doubts over the accuracy of the first? If tactics we used were legal, why did we stop using them — especially once their use became public? This is the tried and true argument of, “We didn’t do, and we won’t do it again!”

And as I’ve pointed out before, we as a nation have labeled these tactics as acts of torture. It’s very difficult to cram the toothpaste back inside the tube once you start squeezing it.

Critics also have questioned the value of releasing a report with so many details of what was done to suspects in custody. What can be gained by bringing all these up after so many years?

The benefit of doing so is to thoroughly examine how we got to the point where we sanctioned torture. That is not who we are as Americans.

Engaging in barbarism goes against our national principles, but somehow we found ourselves in this very spot. How did we allow this to happen, and what can be done to ensure we don’t travel down this road again?

As opponents have claimed, the Senate report may not be perfect. In fact, it may have some serious flaws based on the partisan way that the information was apparently pursued.

But it is a start to a serious conversation about how we abandoned our core values and sanctioned the use of torture. Opponents can argue for any revisions they believe need to be made.

We must have this debate because torture violates our laws and diminishes the moral authority we bring to the world stage. We need to examine this problem to see what led us to this point. We have to go through this process because it’s the right thing to do.

It mirrors how we’re engaging in a discussion about the merits of President Obama’s executive order allowing 5 million undocumented workers to stay put for the time being and complete the process of obtaining legal authority to remain here. This is as it should be. So for some people to urge one debate while ignoring the other is indeed perplexing.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Give a holiday some space

First published: November 21, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: November 20, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Black Friday may eventually go by the wayside, but not for an honorable reason.

The annual day of shopping madness has been a long tradition in this country. In fact, the official date for Thanksgiving was altered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 to appease merchants by creating a slightly longer Christmas shopping season.

Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 establishing the final Thursday in November as “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” But Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday in November. He recognized that some years would carry a fifth Thursday in November (as 1939 did), thus offering businesses an additional week to hawk their holiday wares.

Stores began opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday to capture the wave of consumer excitement. First it was 6 a.m., which gave way to 5 a.m. — and eventually, businesses started opening at midnight.

And within the past couple of years, the shopping season has begun encroaching on Thanksgiving night itself. This brought about a new phrase, Gray Thursday, with stores opening in the early evening.

It was hard to believe that so many shoppers would abandon this traditional family holiday by rushing to a store to buy Christmas gifts on Thanksgiving. Many thought it cynical that these businesses would infringe on a truly special and sacred time.

However, the open doors attract consumers by the droves. It’s grown worse as the opening times have been pushed back even earlier.

But just when I had resigned myself to the reality that a growing number of businesses will be open sometime in the evening on Thanksgiving, a few stores have to push the envelope further. Both Kmart and Meijer will open at 6 a.m. Thursday, with Big Lots following at 7 a.m.

The rationale for obliterating a beloved holiday is that many consumers are willing to shop on Thanksgiving with many employees willing to serve them. Seeing the crowds that show up at whatever time the stores decide to open, it’s hard countering this argument. As long as a business is open and it’s promising substantial deals, shoppers will come.

Businesses that open early make it sound like they are merely accommodating people with the hours that they want to shop. But it’s the stores that are pulling the strings, leaving consumers with the notion that they’ll be left in the dark this Christmas if they don’t make the trek to the malls as soon as they decide to unlock their doors.

People should realize that the period of Gray Thursday to Black Friday isn’t the only time that they’ll be able to take advantage of terrific deals. There is another month to go before Christmas, and stores will still want consumers to stop in. So they’ll have to offer something good for the remainder of the shopping season.

If enough customers insisted on waiting until at least Friday to start their Christmas shopping, businesses would eventually get the message. The stores are the ones manipulating people’s worries over losing out on fantastic deals. It’s time for people to reclaim the power and call the shots.

Stores won’t be so eager to open at 6 or 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving if people by and large don’t show up. Imagine if more of us chose to spend this entire day with our families reflecting on all the blessings we’ve already received rather than salivating over what we don’t yet possess.

Thanksgiving is my family’s most cherished time of the year. We don’t get a chance to be together at every holiday, so we make it a point to do so on this one.

And that’s the remarkable thing about Thanksgiving. Yes, there is a lot of planning, shopping and preparing that goes into the meal.

But as a colleague here in the newsroom reminded me, it’s remained for the most part uncommercialized. So it’s nice to have a holiday on which people don’t have to worry about spending enough money.

In fact, Thanksgiving nearly gets lost by being sandwiched in between Halloween and Christmas. These are two holidays that, by any measurement, have become overly commercialized. And that is the threat this cherished day faces from the economic drumbeat demanding ever-increasing consumer activity.

It’s true that many businesses rely on strong sales through the Christmas shopping season to balance their annual budgets, and I’m not suggesting that people give up on the free market. I’ve long advocated that residents support their local merchants as much as they can, particularly at Christmas. These businesses keep our communities vibrant and thriving.

But let’s not grow so rabid about saving a few extra dollars on a new television that we diminish a beloved tradition. You’ll still be able to find that TV somewhere after Gray Thursday. But you’ll never be able to recapture the time you could have spent with loved ones on Thanksgiving.

The decision is yours, so choose wisely. Put me down for quality time with my family.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Yes, still the party pooper

First published: November 14, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: November 13, 2014 at 5:14 pm

After voting in my first election in New York state on Nov. 4, I am even more convinced that the political party system here is absurd.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his running mate, Kathy C. Hochul, racked up their winning votes on the Democratic Party line. Oh, yes, also on the Working Families Party line. And the Independence Party line as well as the Women’s Equality Party line.

What reasonable person would be willing to vote for Mr. Cuomo as the nominee of the Independence Party but refuse to do so with the Democratic Party? Or support him as the standard-bearer of the Women’s Equality Party rather than the Working Families Party?

He’s the exact same politician, no matter what line he holds on the ballot. You will get the same level of public service, or lack thereof, regardless of what party you select to designate him as your preference.

And the way that Mr. Cuomo co-opted the Working Families Party is an example of what a sham this system has become. He reportedly pledged to party officials that he would help move the center of power in the state Senate away from Republicans and toward Democrats. The Working Families Party wants the Senate to be more open to its progressive agenda and believed Mr. Cuomo would play along.

He avoided a general election challenge by Zephyr R. Teachout by persuading the Working Families Party to name him as its nominee rather than hold a primary with her in it. Ms. Teachout would likely have defeated the governor in a Working Families Party primary and could have caused some real fits for him had she been on the Nov. 4 ballot. Once he schmoozed the leaders of the Working Families Party and got what he wanted, he dropped them and their agenda like a bad habit.

And to ensure he had a way to garner even more votes, Mr. Cuomo concocted the Women’s Equality Party. This guaranteed he stayed a step ahead of his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, who devised his own alternative party called Stop Common Core.

The governor appeared on four party lines in the general election compared with Mr. Astorino’s three. Let’s not forget the Green, Libertarian and Sapient parties, which fronted their own candidates in the gubernatorial race.

Alternative parties are only hurting themselves by willingly participating in a rigged system. Some of them pander to the major party candidates just so they can draw enough votes to remain on the ballot for the next four years.

I’ve asked this question before, but it bears repeating: What’s the use of alternative parties making any effort to stay on the ballot if they’re only going to nominate major party candidates?

I don’t see the point of putting in all that work merely to help elect a Democrat or a Republican. Why not let those parties take on all this responsibility by themselves during a campaign season?

Here are some ways to improve the political party system:

Rule No. 1: A candidate can appear on the ballot for each election once. Be it as an independent candidate or the nominee of a party, a single shot is all he or she will be given.

Rule No. 2: Any group wishing to form a political party, be our guest. And you don’t need to acquire a certain number of votes to remain on the ballot for the next time. But rather than allowing party leaders to select their own nominees, all parties must hold either a primary or caucus each election. This would render the Wilson Pakula Act meaningless. Good riddance!

Rule No. 3: The order of how names appear on the ballot for each election will be determined by lottery in each county. The notion of offering preferential ballot placement to candidates for an upcoming election based on their performance in a previous election is ridiculous. Mix it up! This would help ensure that candidates pay more attention to how they campaign by relying less on their preordained ballot position. Their names are going to be listed all over the place on ballots across the state, depending on what county it is. Such an arrangement might well have forced Mr. Cuomo to do more than merely phone it in during his most recent campaign efforts.

I respect the function of alternative political parties in the electoral process and want to see them continue pushing their causes. But offering their nominations to candidates who will only pay lip service doesn’t serve them or our democratic system any good.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Elect to not sit on sidelines

First published: October 17, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: October 16, 2014 at 4:58 pm

An editorial we published last month examined the incredibly low voter turnout for a recent ballot issue from the Watertown City School District.

The Sept. 23 referendum asked residents if the district could proceed with capital improvement projects totaling more than $12.5 million. The measure passed by a vote of 210-60.

This means that fewer than 300 people who live within the district’s boundaries took the time to make their voice heard on how millions of taxpayer dollars should be spent. This was even fewer people than those who voted earlier this year to approve the district’s budget (428) and to fill a seat on the school board (390).

We solicited people’s thoughts on why so many residents choose not to participate in in the electoral process. Some common concerns expressed were that people believe their votes don’t matter and that the list of candidates to choose from is not good.

If voters don’t sense that their participation will make a difference, this certainly can affect their interest in becoming involved. The same holds true with those who view one candidate as poorly as they do the next one.

It’s the “Why bother?” syndrome. What does it matter if I stop in at my local polling place and cast a ballot? The candidates are only in it for themselves, and they’re going to do whatever they want whether I vote for them or not.

One vote out of hundreds, thousands or millions isn’t necessarily going to nudge an election one way or the other. And if you have a hard time deciding who really is the lesser of two evils, does it matter if you stay home? This mindset makes sense for individuals frustrated by a system that seems rigged against them.

The problem with succumbing to voter apathy, however, is that it’s the very factor that bad candidates rely on to win elective office and keep their positions. So by choosing not to participate in an election, you are enabling all the dreadful, shady and corrupt candidates to continue acting in dreadful, shady and corrupt ways.

People frustrated with a rigged system must stop looking at themselves as individual voters who have little or no power. Their ability to enact change comes with their collective action.

The awful elected officials who refuse to address the needs of their constituents count on low voter turnout. Just imagine if 15,000 to 20,000 more people were heading to the polls, and they didn’t look happy.

Changes for the better will not come right away, and it may take several election cycles to finally start seeing a better crop of candidates. But increased voter turnout will make the bad officials take notice.

These officials now have many more people to try to control, and that will become a more difficult task. Pretty soon, it will be the voters who realize that they are the ones in control.

The tea party movement, which began in 2009, is a prime example of how determined voters started moving things politically in their favor. They began organizing immediately and developed a strong presence in the mid-term elections the following year.

I disagree with some of the issues they advocate, and many of the candidates they helped elect proved to be disastrous. They took an all-or-nothing approach to governance, and that simply doesn’t work.

But while I have my differences with some of their goals and many of their candidates, I admire their activism. If others who also feel detached from the electoral process mustered this kind of enthusiasm for enacting change, their energy would begin making a real difference.

Bad candidates make use of voter apathy to obtain a public office, and they rely on it to keep them in power. Once voters start exerting their collective influence, those using the system to reward themselves will be forced to respond accordingly.

Yes, understanding which candidates are running for what seats and how they intend to approach various issues takes a lot of time. But to have voters sit on their hands only makes the situation worse. No self-respecting American should allow someone else to dictate how he or she should live without having a say in the matter, and the electoral process is the best way to be heard.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Columbus Day a mixed bag

First published: October 10, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: October 09, 2014 at 5:11 pm

A 15th century explorer stumbling across the Americas is no longer the major discovery at the heart of our modern Columbus Day celebrations.

What we now discover is our penchant for conflict regarding a controversial figure. We also discover our preference for a particular narrative over historical truth.

Neither of these developments should come as a surprise. We have long been a people who clash over renowned individuals and the legends they inspire, all the while sweeping the less-savory tidbits under the rug.

Let’s face facts: The basic outline of the tale we were told about Christopher Columbus while growing up wasn’t true. While he arrived here on Oct. 12, 1492, he did not discover “America.”

Its already present population of indigenous people showed that it was discovered long before Columbus set sail. This claim reeks of the bigoted notion that the existence of the New World (as many have falsely called it) wasn’t significant until those in the Old World acknowledged it.

He also didn’t prove that the Earth was flat, a fable that has long been associated with his journey. Other explorers had sailed from Europe to this part of the world without falling off the “edge,” and learned people in Columbus’s time knew this.

To add insult to injury, Columbus wasn’t even the first European to come here. Norse adventurers had explored this continent centuries before.

It’s true that Columbus’s voyage to the Americas established ongoing trade across the Atlantic Ocean. And this led to European colonization of this portion of the globe, along with all the benefits and horrors that ensued.

Columbus Day has been commemorated in some form or another since at least 1792. Italian-Americans adopted it as a celebration of their heritage in the mid-1800s.

A law passed by Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt 80 years ago designated Oct. 12 as Columbus Day — finally, it was a federal holiday. In 1971, the official holiday was moved to the second Monday in October each year rather than on a fixed annual date.

Unlike today, celebrating Columbus Day was not always associated with a love of country. Identifying it more with immigrants than “real” Americans (think WASPs) in the 1800s, critics of the celebration feared it would raise the profile of Roman Catholics.

What a rich irony! The holiday that has become as Yankee Doodle patriotic as the Fourth of July was previously looked upon as something that could weaken the nation. An event now pilloried as symbolizing the racist mind-set of white hegemony was once dreaded as a tool of cultural diversity.

“Only in America,” Queen Isabella of Spain might have said.

Modern opposition to Columbus Day is certainly understandable. It commemorates the period when native people came under the oppressive domination of foreigners in their own homeland. We can track their cultural downfall from that moment forward.

But lauding Columbus with a holiday also is a reasonable response. His journey made a permanent link between Europe and the Americas, and that changed the course of human history.

It’s these two sides of this story that should be promoted, the good along with the bad. However, we have difficulty merging the two and presenting it in all its convoluted glory.

Many of us choose to either fixate on the positive aspects of Columbus’s mission to the exclusion of anything negative or focus solely on who got screwed in the aftermath. We often approach this part of our history as an all-or-nothing proposition.

This is because we, by nature, are an argumentative people. We separate into factions because this is how our nation was founded and it’s how we keep it moving forward. Division, in other words, is a large part of the DNA making up our national identity.

This characteristic, though, can thwart a clear understanding of our history. Time and again we choose to view our society with rose-colored glasses or with the eyes of a cynic.

Not everything is as black and white as we’d like to believe. Life is complicated and presents us with many gray areas, which make us uncomfortable. We’re not very good at dealing with uncertainty.

Columbus achieved something extraordinary that ultimately resulted in the creation of a dynamic, exciting and powerful nation. My ancestors eventually settled here, which provided me with all the tools I’ve needed to craft a productive and meaningful life for myself.

But the mounting material wealth and personal comfort that many of us with European ancestry now possess came at horrific costs to the indigenous population of this part of the world and their descendants. I pay too little attention to this fact and ignore the dreary reality that European and, ultimately, American conquest have all but destroyed the rich culture of this land’s native people.

Columbus Day, therefore, leaves me very conflicted. But in deciding how I typically approach life, joyful for its pleasures while mindful of its pitfalls, perhaps that’s how it should be.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Apathy not limited to voters

First published: October 03, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: October 03, 2014 at 9:05 am

It’s not often that a public official with such an important position has displayed more contempt for the electoral process than Andrew M. Cuomo has in his bid to remain governor.

He seems eager to do anything other than campaign for the job he wants to keep. He has given the impression that making the case to voters as to why he deserves to be re-elected is beneath his dignity.

Yes, the political activities necessary to achieve elective office can be inconvenient and annoying. And it appears that Gov. Cuomo wants nothing to do with any of it. This reminds me of Napoleon Bonaparte who, not possessing the patience to be crowned France’s emperor by Pope Pius VII in 1804, grabbed the crown out of the pontiff’s hands and placed it on his own head — no middleman needed to complete the task.

Here are some examples of Gov. Cuomo’s anti-campaign tactics:

In the midst of the Democratic primary with Randy A. Credico and Zephyr R. Teachout, the governor suddenly decided he had to visit Israel. And then, darn the luck, he couldn’t locate any time in his schedule to debate his Democratic challengers.

Even when he’s campaigning, Gov. Cuomo seems incapable of admitting he’s but one of several candidates for the job. During a Labor Day parade in New York City, Ms. Teachout was within an arm’s length of the governor and attempted to greet him and shake his hand.

A Cuomo staffer, however, put himself between Ms. Teachout and the governor several times. She said “Hi” to him but was completely ignored.

Ms. Teachout even got the cold shoulder at the parade from Gov. Cuomo’s running mate, Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Kathy C. Hochul. Rudeness seems to be a prerequisite for this ticket.

With about a month to go before the general election, Gov. Cuomo felt the urge to travel to Afghanistan this past weekend to be briefed on counterterrorism issues. He met with members of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum who have been deployed to Afghanistan, and he climbed aboard a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle.

Someone from the governor’s office should have let him know that he didn’t have to go all the way to Afghanistan to track down 10th Mountain Division soldiers and check out an MRAP. All he had to do was schedule a trip here to Jefferson County (a campaign stop, perhaps?) where Fort Drum is located.

And there’s no doubt that Sheriff John P. Burns would have been thrilled to let the governor take a ride in the MRAP he has parked at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building in Watertown. Problem solved!

We should be grateful, I suppose, that Gov. Cuomo has consented to participating in two debates before the general election.

One will be held in New York City and broadcast only on radio, sponsored by WNYC New York Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal. Invitations for this event went out to the governor and his Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino.

The other will be held in Buffalo and broadcast on public television; it will be sponsored by the Buffalo News, WNED-TV and WBFO-FM. Those invited to this debate are Gov. Cuomo, Mr. Astorino, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Michael McDermott.

What’s interesting is that no dates have yet been established for either debate, although the Cuomo campaign said it preferred mid-October. This process has apparently irked Mr. Astorino; his campaign said that Gov. Cuomo is afraid to appear on television alone with the GOP candidate.

What’s frustrating isn’t so much that Gov. Cuomo is pulling these antics. I don’t excuse the arrogance he has displayed throughout this whole process, but it doesn’t surprise me. He’s placed his campaign in neutral and is seeking the path of least resistance on his return trip to Albany.

The real problem is that voters are letting him get away with it all. I was sure that the New York Times’s investigative piece on how he and members of his administration repeatedly meddled with the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption would shake people out of their complacency and demand answers about such interference.

But they didn’t. Gov. Cuomo’s polling numbers fell slightly, and that was it.

He is being allowed to reclaim his office with the least amount of effort possible, even though this damages the electoral process. So when some scandal rocks his second term, I don’t want to hear people express any shock and dismay. Gov. Cuomo has been given a pass this campaign season, and we have to be prepared for the consequences.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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United States of privilege

First published: August 28, 2014 at 9:55 pm
Last modified: August 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm

This column was originally published July 6, 2014.

If we operated a society where privileges were granted to one group of people based on race, what would it look like?

Individuals from a nonprivileged group would have more difficulty accessing vital resources. Be they public or private services, these items would remain just out of reach for many in the less-desirable racial faction.Take, for example, the GI Bill of Rights. While it was intended to assist all veterans returning from World War II, it didn’t do much for black people when they came back to civilian life.

“[The GI Bill] was indeed, and still is in more recent incarnations, a powerful example of what the state can do to provide opportunity when it chooses,” according to Tim Wise’s book “Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections from an Angry White Male,” published in 2008. “Yet the GI Bill was hardly a universal triumph, and the same can be said of the [Veterans Administration] and [Federal Housing Administration] loan programs implemented around the same time to expand opportunity for members of the working class. For the working class that was able to take full advantage of these programs was hardly representative: Indeed, the benefits of these otherwise laudable efforts were received nearly exclusively by white folks, and white men in particular. Universal programs in name and theory were, in practice, affirmative action and preferential treatment for members of the dominant society.

“For blacks returning from military service, discrimination in employment was still allowed to trump their ‘right’ to utilize GI Bill benefits,” Wise writes. “An upsurge of racist violence against black workers after the war, when labor markets began to tighten again, prevented African American soldiers from taking advantage of this supposedly universal program for readjustment to civilian life.”

In the June edition of The Atlantic magazine, Ta-Nehisi Coates examines discriminatory practices that have robbed black people of their ability to build the kind of wealth that whites have been accumulating for decades. Titled “The Case for Reparations,” Coates’s article reveals how whites have used the law to swindle black people out of their land and stick them with mortgages that have kept them in perpetual debt.

“The FHA had adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, green areas, rated ‘A,’ indicated ‘in demand’ neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked ‘a single foreigner or Negro.’ These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance,” Coates writes. “Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated ‘D’ and were usually considered ineligible for FHA backing. They were colored in red. Neither the percentage of black people living there nor their social class mattered. Black people were viewed as a contagion. Redlining went beyond FHA-backed loans and spread to the entire mortgage industry, which was already rife with racism, excluding black people from most legitimate means of obtaining a mortgage.”

Michelle Alexander is an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and a civil rights advocate. She has documented how our war on drugs has created a new group of second-class citizens by branding them as felons and then restricting their access to federally funded welfare programs, jobs and voting.

In her 2010 book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Alexander details how the war on drugs has been fought largely against people of color. In the last three decades, our nation’s prison population went from about 300,000 to more than 2 million - mostly based on drug convictions.

“No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities,” she writes in her book. “The stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies have shown that people of all colors use and sell drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. That is now what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates 20 to 50 times greater than those of white men. And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. These young men are part of a growing undercaste, permanently locked up and locked out of mainstream society.”

Driving this focus on drug crime among racial minorities are, in part, the falsehoods that whites believe. According to Wise’s book, whites surveyed consistently show they harbor at least one negative and racist stereotype against black people.

And these stereotypes justify how whites discriminate against people of color. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT, job applicants with black-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to be called by employers for interviews than people with white-sounding names even though credentials were at least the same.

The study was titled “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” and was conducted in 2001 and 2002. The results help explain why unemployment rates are so much higher for black people than they are for whites.

These falsehoods also shed light on why whites adopted a more skeptical attitude toward government assistance programs. Martin Gilens looks at this in his 1999 book “Why Whites Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy.”

“In large measure, Americans hate welfare because they view it as a program that rewards the undeserving poor,” Gilens writes. “To understand public opposition to welfare, then, we need to understand the public’s perceptions of welfare recipients, and here two important and related factors stand out. First, the American public thinks that most people who receive welfare are black, and second, the public thinks that blacks are less committed to the work ethic than are other Americans.”

The sense of privilege also infects religious faith. In their 2012 book “The Color of Christ: The Son of God & the Saga of Race in America,” Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey document how Christians came to project Jesus as white. Then many of them used this premise to condone some of the worst horrors against those who didn’t share the savior’s perceived skin color.

“By wrapping itself with the alleged form of Jesus, whiteness gave itself a holy face. But he was a shape-shifting totem of white supremacy,” they write. “The differing and evolving physical renderings of white Jesus figures not only bore witness to the flexibility of racial constructions but also helped create the perception that whiteness was sacred and everlasting. With Jesus as white, Americans could feel that sacred whiteness stretched back in time thousands of years and forward in sacred space to heaven and the second coming.”

The racism that underlies white privilege is not necessarily overt animosity. In a 2012 article for The Atlantic titled “Fear of a Black President,” Coates provides perhaps the best description: “Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others. Black America ever lives under that skeptical eye.”

All of us, including me, are susceptible to racism. So it’s no wonder that a society based on white privilege would look exactly like the one we have.

As we conclude this Fourth of July weekend, our annual holiday to remind ourselves what an awesome country this is, let’s consider the ongoing work needed to live up to all the hype. Electing a black president shows definite racial progress. But even that can’t be of much comfort to the nonprivileged who have been left behind.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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