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A Second Opinion

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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The limits of white comfort in Ferguson, Mo.

First published: August 15, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: August 15, 2014 at 5:53 pm

In Wednesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, renowned essayist Joseph Epstein got to the heart of what went wrong in Ferguson, Mo. — although not for the reasons he asserted.

A St. Louis suburb, Ferguson has been the scene of tragedy this week. Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed Saturday by a police officer. That a law enforcement agent killed an unarmed black teenager sparked protests and vandalism, with police responding by using smoke bombs and tear gas.

The past month has seen an alarming series of similar tragedies:

n Eric Gardner, 43, died July 17 in New York City after being put in a chokehold by an officer when confronted for selling untaxed cigarettes. The chokehold maneuver was banned by the police department in 1993.

n John Crawford, 22, was shot and killed by police Aug. 5 inside a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, while holding a .177-caliber BB rifle he had picked up from a store shelf.

n Ezell Ford, 25, was shot and killed by a Los Angeles officer Monday. A police department spokesman said Ford knocked the officer to the ground and went for his gun. But Ford’s mother said the young man was lying on the ground when he was shot in the back.

The repeated incidents of unarmed black people being killed by police officers are disturbing. What’s equally shocking is that many whites like Epstein just don’t comprehend the issue.

Epstein begins his opinion piece, titled “What’s missing in Ferguson, Mo.,” by summarizing the narrative involving Brown’s death. That’s the first paragraph, the only one where he refers to the victim. He then spends the next seven paragraphs lamenting the poor quality of black leadership.

“Missing, not that anyone is likely to have noticed, was the calming voice of a national civil rights leader of the kind that was so impressive during the 1950s and ‘60s,” Epstein writes. “In those days there was Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney Young of the National Urban League; Bayard Rustin of the A. Philip Randolph Institute — all solid, serious men, each impressive in different ways, who through dignified forbearance and strategic action brought down a body of unequivocally immoral laws aimed at America’s black population.”

In Epstein’s judgment, the major problem with incidents like the fatal shooting in Ferguson is that they only seem to attract “bottom-feeders.” Never mind that a human being was senselessly killed. Epstein believes black people should produce a leader with whom whites feel comfortable, just like the civil rights giants of old.

“King died in 1968, at age 39; Young in 1971 at 50; Wilkins in 1981 at 80; and Rustin in 1987 at 75,” Epstein writes. “None has been replaced by men of anywhere near the same high caliber. In their place today there is only Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, each of whom long ago divested himself of the moral force required of true leadership.”

The accomplishments of leaders like King, Rustin, Wilkins and Young appear more visible with the passage of time. When we compare how things used to be to how they are, the changes that occurred for the better are obvious.

But this retrospective view blurs the fact that these men faced considerable resistance to achieving their goals, much of the same resistance that civil rights leaders confront today. Epstein writes that black people “largely, and inexplicably, remain pledged to a political party whose worn-out ideas have done little for them while claiming much.” He ignores, however, the horrific way that people like King were treated by whites of all political ideologies, including those in the conservative movement.

The problem facing civil rights leaders in the ‘50s and ‘60s wasn’t merely the need to change some laws, as Epstein claims. It was altering the mindset of racial superiority and privilege that whites have embraced, which continues to plague black people.

As I’ve written in a previous column, this mindset leads most whites to hold untruthful stereotypes about black people. One is that they are more prone to crime and violence than whites.

This stereotype helps explain why unarmed black people time and again end up dead at the hands of police officers for no good reason. Other false stereotypes keep many white employers from considering black people as qualified candidates for job openings, which perpetuates inner city poverty.

In his classification of proper black leadership, Epstein’s arrogance is mind-boggling: “Someone is needed who commands the respect of his or her people and the admiration of that vast — I would argue preponderate — number of middle class whites who understand that progress for blacks means progress for the entire country.”

In other words, whites like Epstein will sit on their hands until black people take action to make them feel more comfortable — which, if history is any guide, will never happen. It’s as if black people needed our approval for who should represent their interests.

Yes, the black community has self-induced problems it must confront. But this alone won’t eliminate tragedies like what occurred in Ferguson, as Epstein implies.

Challenging persistent bias and white indifference to injustices committed against people of color is necessary to reducing roadblocks to freedom and equality. The first step for those of us who are white is to admit that we cling to racial privilege, to the detriment of others, and we must readjust our priorities.

For Epstein to ignore the true catastrophe in Ferguson — the loss of human life at the hands of an agent of the government — is outrageous. But given our white-dominated society’s history of overlooking the suffering of minorities, his reaction isn’t surprising.

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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Untruth in advertising

First published: June 15, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: June 16, 2014 at 8:42 am

Who’s winning the war of attack ads in the 21st Congressional District is anyone’s guess.

Matthew A. Doheny fired the initial volley with some direct mail pieces against Elise M. Stefanik earlier this spring. They are both seeking the Republican nomination in the June 24 primary for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Supporters of Ms. Stefanik, Willsboro, responded with some ads of their own. American Crossroads, a super PAC with ties to GOP strategists Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, spent $242,000 for the TV spots.

The ads put Mr. Doheny, Watertown, in an unflattering light. American Crossroads also has sent out corresponding direct mail pieces.

What’s most interesting is that it’s the first time this year that American Crossroads is directly attempting to weaken a Republican candidate in a primary, according to a June 2 story in National Journal. The super PAC has intervened in other Republican primaries this campaign season, but those ads portrayed certain candidates positively rather than attack any of their opponents, the article reported.

It’s also fascinating to hear both candidates complain about the negative tone of the ads against them and the falsehoods conveyed.

Mr. Doheny’s campaign sent out a direct mail piece linking Ms. Stefanik to the Troubled Asset Relief Program passed by Congress in 2008. At the time, she served as a policy adviser to then-President George W. Bush.

The mailer incorrectly attributed the claim that she helped craft TARP to the Watertown Daily Times. Given that we’ve never reported such a link, it’s unknown where the Doheny campaign came up with this information.

Here is something else that puzzles me about the Doheny campaign attempting to lay the blame for the creation of TARP at Ms. Stefanik’s feet. The impetus for this emergency legislation began under the direction of then-Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson. He worked with his staffers and some other economic authorities, such as Timothy F. Geithner, to keep the U.S. financial services industry from collapsing.

So unless Ms. Stefanik was suddenly moved from the White House to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, it’s easy to imagine her not being involved with TARP in its initial stages. As someone who has worked in the Wall Street banking industry, why wouldn’t Mr. Doheny know this?

Mr. Doheny then complained about inaccuracies in the ads being produced by American Crossroads. One ad claimed that he lost the GOP primary in 2009 for the House of Representatives, which was not the case. There was no Republican primary for the special election that year; party leaders had selected Dierdre K. Scozzafava to run for the seat.

The ad is also misleading about the source of a statement about Mr. Doheny. It said, “The Daily Times reported Doheny is a significantly flawed candidate.” The piece we published was actually quoting a 2012 article in Roll Call.

Details, details …

That the two candidates are decrying the negative ads being used against them shows the hypocrisy coming from both camps. Mr. Doheny defended his attack ads as merely portraying the truth about Ms. Stefanik’s record. And Ms. Stefanik has repeatedly said she is committed to running a positive campaign rather than going negative.

The message they are sending with this tactic seems to be, “It’s perfectly fine for me to ruthlessly attack my opponent. But how dare he/she do the same thing to me!”

Yes, the ads being used against Mr. Doheny have been produced by American Crossroads, not the Stefanik campaign. But given her strong associations to those involved with this PAC as well as those financing it, Ms. Stefanik could most likely have the ads pulled if she made the effort.

In the first place, she worked in the White House at the same time that Mr. Rove was there. It’s not a leap of logic to conclude that their paths crossed at some point.

But Ms. Stefanik also has links to billionaire Paul Singer, whose Winning Women PAC donated $110,000 to her campaign. She was one of a handful of House candidates to attend a weekend conference in Aspen, Colo., earlier this year convened by Mr. Singer. The hedge fund manager also donated $250,000 in March to American Crossroads.

Whether Ms. Stefanik had any prior knowledge of the attack ads against Mr. Doheny is unknown. But let’s put it this way: What if she strongly objected to such negative tactics and her supporters ignored her?

If she can’t persuade them that this isn’t the kind of campaign she wants to run, how effective would she be as a legislator? Either Ms. Stefanik hasn’t troubled herself to have yanked the attack ads she said she doesn’t like or she’s not the one pulling the strings in this part of her campaign.

Similarly, Mr. Doheny has offered promises that don’t ring true. He said he would cease his attack ads if Ms. Stefanik had the ones against him pulled.

If negative campaigning is so distasteful, why was he the one who started it? And even if the attack ads against him continue, this shouldn’t stop him from taking the high road by unilaterally pulling his out of circulation.

Here are two candidates who have very similar views on many important issues. In fact, it’s likely that they would get along quite well — at least politically — were it not for their mutual quest for power. What it is about running for elective office that makes candidates eager to destroy some of the very people who would otherwise support their goals?

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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Not yet the life of the party

First published: June 01, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: May 30, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Perhaps I haven’t lived here long enough to fully appreciate all the nuances involved, but the electoral system in New York state is baffling.

Why would people invest time and energy to form an alternative political party and end up supporting a candidate from one of the two major organizations? If members of the Conservative Party of New York State want to elect the Republican candidate for a particular office, why not simply join the ranks of the Republican Party? What sense does it make to create the Working Families Party when the main effort will go toward supporting Democrats?

When I first began hearing about Democratic and Republican candidates seeking the endorsements of other parties, this struck me as odd. Alternative parties are formed because the two dominant parties aren’t offering what many people want. Right? If that’s the case, why put the effort forth to form an alternative party and wind up working to elect candidates from the Big 2?

There are alternative parties in Illinois (the Green Party, Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, etc.), but they don’t elect candidates to many major offices. They pull a portion of votes away from the established organizations during Illinois elections, but this would have an impact only in very tight races. In essence, these parties exist but have little influence.

The other big difference in Illinois is that there is no formal process for becoming a member of any political party. People don’t declare a party when registering to vote.

They merely request a specific party ballot while voting in a primary, and that’s it. Of course, the party chosen in a primary becomes part of a voter’s public record — and each voter gets only one ballot (well, one ballot “officially,” but in Cook County we have ways around that!). And candidates appearing on the ballot for one party cannot be listed for the same office on another ballot.

In New York state, though, voters must declare a specific party when registering to vote. And then there is the candidate process of collecting endorsements from numerous groups.

A wise sage here in my office told me that alternative party politics has more to do with securing patronage jobs from the winning candidates than anything else. While they attempt to push elected officials toward their stated agendas, behind the scenes these parties curry favor with the candidates they helped get into office.

In a way, this makes sense. The best jobs will go to the top Democrats or Republicans; others in these parties can be easily overlooked.

But activists in alternative political organizations can become big fish in small ponds if they campaign for specific people representing mainstream groups. Then they can cash in their chips once the election is over.

I also discovered that political parties in New York must win a certain portion of the vote during a gubernatorial election to remain active for the next four years. Endorsing an established candidate, therefore, will go a long way toward ensuring these groups pull in the necessary numbers.

But once again, this doesn’t make much sense. Why strive to keep an alternative political party alive and kicking if the only way to do this is to shill for the candidates put forth by the Big 2? Where is the payoff for these groups if all they do is help elect another party’s frontrunners?

Sure, boosting their chances of obtaining patronage jobs is a smart move. But there are limits to the number of jobs available, and most of these will likely go to the faithful workers of the established party scoring an electoral victory. And what happens to alternative party activists who put their efforts behind the wrong candidate?

Forming and maintaining a political party in Illinois is pretty easy. A few people get together, register with the state election board — and let the party begin!

Officials of these new parties can handpick their own candidates, but only the first time around. If they want to run candidates under the same party name in the following election, they must hold a primary or caucus.

Alternative parties don’t really score victories on the county or state level in Illinois. But these groups are a major force in municipalities that allow partisan elections, particularly in Chicago suburbs. Watching party politics play out in small cities and villages is quite entertaining.

I’m sure my bewilderment over New York’s party system is based on my inexperience with the process. It will make a lot more sense in the years ahead. Now, should that delight or terrify me?

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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March to a different tune

First published: May 25, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: May 26, 2014 at 5:20 am
ASSOCIATED PRESS/CHARLES DHARAPAK, FILE
This May 13 file photo shows rows of gravestones near the gravesite of Army Pvt. William Christman, the first military burial at the cemetery, marking the beginning of commemorations of the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery. Christman, 20, enlisted in the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry and was hospitalized for measles five weeks later, dying on May 11, 1864, and buried at Arlington on May 13.

Even though I had been attending this event virtually my whole life, it had never before dawned on me to that being there was inappropriate.

But something a few years ago compelled me to question the value of paying tribute to this nation’s war dead with a parade. And I can recall the exact moment when this sense of unease first occurred.

The Memorial Day parade through the South Side neighborhood in which I grew up is the longest continuously held such event in Chicago. My father, who watched the parade in the same neighborhood when he was a child, would lead us from our home to the parade route several blocks away.

Of course, Memorial Day in my home began with displaying a large U.S. flag on our front porch. This was the flag that my dad inherited from his family; it graced the coffin of his father when he died to commemorate his service in the military (the flag had 48 stars, as neither Alaska nor Hawaii was a state when my grandfather died). One of my most cherished memories was helping my father unfold and hang the flag on the morning of patriotic holidays and then folding it back up and putting it away in the evening.

Our Memorial Day parade proceeds northbound for more than 2 miles through one section of my neighborhood. It always ends up in one of our community parks where additional ceremonies are held.

But as I stood along the parade route several years ago, a strange sensation gripped me. It happened just as the man who serves this Chicago community in the U.S. House of Representatives passed by.

Following him were several young people tossing candy to children lining the street. This is a common sight at parades, and that’s when this thought suddenly hit me: Are we doing those who died in our wars a disservice by treating this moment like any other holiday?

It figures that this idea would strike me as a result of seeing an elected official at a parade. Now, I have had good relationships with many of the politicians I’ve known throughout my life. Don’t get me wrong.

And I admire this particular congressional representative, even though I no longer live in his district. I have no doubt that his presence at the annual Memorial Day parade is meant to convey his deep respect for those who have died serving our nation.

But since their primary purpose at public events is to get the kind of exposure that helps keep them in office, I’ve come up with a plan when it comes to elected officials participating in parades. Rather than marching in parades on different holidays and detracting from the event’s true meaning, they should stage their own parade and see if anyone shows up.

Imagine that: Watching nothing but politicians march in a parade for an hour or two. Is that one you’d bring your kids to?

Putting aside my pet peeve about elected officials crashing parades, I was left feeling odd on this particular Memorial Day. The upbeat and festive nature of a parade went against the somber mind-set that should be part of an event commemorating our war dead.

Would we use silly floats, balloons, clowns and candy as part of a funeral? Would we feature a grand marshal in an antique car during the procession to the cemetery?

This in no way is meant to impugn the motives of any individuals or groups sponsoring or organizing local Memorial Day parades. I know they have the best of intentions, and these are events that residents truly enjoy.

But I wanted to raise the issue of whether parades should remain a feature of Memorial Day ceremonies. Are there more appropriate ways of recalling the sacrifices that so many have made to protect our liberties?

Memorial Day this year will be particularly meaningful in our nation’s capital. This month marks the 150th anniversary of the first military burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Previously owned by Robert E. Lee’s wife, this site once housed slaves. The government then began burying Americans there who fouoght to free those slaves.

People have died in horrific ways serving our country, and Memorial Day is designed to help us grieve their loss. Perhaps it’s time to reprioritize this sentiment.

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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