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A Second Opinion

Bears won’t get Jet-lagged

First published: September 19, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: September 18, 2014 at 4:32 pm

It’s difficult imaging an athletic event that infuriated me more than did Super Bowl XLI.

After posting a 13-3 record in the 2006 season, the Chicago Bears had finally returned to the NFL’s most-coveted matchup. And it seemed like the magic for the Bears had returned.

We waited 21 years to see them vie again for the Lombardi Trophy. We knew that defeating Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts would take an all-out effort, but the Bears were up to the challenge.

Well, that’s what we believed going into Super Bowl XLI. But 60 minutes of football had proven us wrong. The Colts won 29-17.

Many of my fellows Bears fans took the loss in stride. They said they were satisfied with the excellent season the team had in 2006, and so we should all be happy with the thrills the Bears provided us for the year.

I, however, was having none of it. Once you get to the championship game, the only goal is to win.

As is often the case, the Bears offense was the main problem. The team scored 14 points in the first quarter, which included the 92-yard run that Devin Hester made on the game-opening kickoff for a touchdown.

But then the offense scored only three points over the next three quarters. And then there were the five turnovers the offense coughed up.

The defense for the Bears is usually strong, and it dominated most other teams during the legendary 1985 season. The moment that captured that entire year for me came during the NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. Linebacker extraordinaire Wilber Marshall picked up a fumble in the fourth quarter and ran it 52 yards for a touchdown.

No matter what anyone did, Marshall was not going to be stopped — and neither was that Bears defense. Brilliantly guided by Buddy Ryan, the defense had its way with virtually every team that year. The members of that squad truly lived up to the Monsters of the Midway nickname used to describe the Bears for decades.

The ‘85 season was a long time ago, as are the previous years where the Bears won it all. So for former players like Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers, Dan Hampton, Harold “Red” Grange, Chris Zorich, Bronko Nagurski, Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Sid Luckman, Jim McMahon and (the man who practically invented the NFL) George Halas, it’s time to reclaim the team’s past excellence.

But returning to the Super Bowl will take winning one game at a time. Next up is a date with the Jets on Monday night at MetLife Stadium. And while the Bears will be the ones traveling this week for the matchup, I’m predicting that they won’t be the ones who feel Jet-lagged at the end of the game.

Go Bears!

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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Polishing a city-owned gem

First published: September 12, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: September 11, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Opening a roadway alongside Veterans Memorial Riverwalk Park in Watertown to vehicular traffic would have been more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s good that members of the City Council opted against such a plan this week.

The road is now used by bicyclists and pedestrians. It offers a terrific view of the Black River, and there are plenty of park benches and tables to use in the green space throughout the park.

One idea was to allow cars to use the road, but this would be restricted to one-way traffic. In floating the idea in July, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said this would provide more access to an underused city asset.

But several infrastructure challenges make this plan unfeasible. One problem I thought of while wandering through the area earlier this week was the lack of places to park cars.

If you take up green space to create parking spots, there won’t be much of any Veterans Memorial Riverwalk Park left for recreational purposes. And with virtually no Veterans Memorial Riverwalk Park left, what’s the point of driving down there? The green space isn’t all that wide, so permitting cars to use this roadway could pose hazards to people in the park.

Another issue would be how the roadway is used by bicyclists. People riding bikes on public streets in New York state must ride with the flow of traffic, not against it.

So if this roadway became a one-way street, bicycles could legally use it in only one direction. Now you have a recreational area with either no parking spots or little green space and a roadway that bicyclists can travel on going only one way.

This goal doesn’t make much sense. The council’s decision to scrap the plan, therefore, was reasonable.

But while the proposal had some flaws, Mayor Graham raised a valid point in throwing this issue out for discussion. He said the park is not used as much as it should be since it’s difficult to find.

He’s correct about this. The area is obscured by Black River Parkway, and you’re not going to trip across it if you’re not looking for it.

It can even be tricky to locate when you are attempting to find it. I didn’t come across the area in my car until I made a second run around.

It’s a very nice recreational space but quite isolated. It’s easy to understand why it gets so little use.

When I visited the park late Tuesday morning, the weather was ideal for outdoor activities. But I saw only two other people walking through the area while down there. It’s a shame that it doesn’t have more exposure.

I understand the rationale of creating a park in this section of the city. The view of the Black River is wonderful, and it offers a great vantage point to observe kayaking activities in the water.

But because it’s below street level, Veterans Memorial Riverwalk Park is very easy to overlook. So its benefit of providing a great spot to see the Black River makes it an obscure city-owned site — a Catch-22, if you will.

If city officials want to lure more people to Veterans Memorial Riverwalk Park, I agree with City Council members that opening the roadway to vehicular traffic wouldn’t get the job done. But there are some other ideas they could implement to make the area more inviting to residents.

First of all, promote the heck out the area. Watertown should consider holding some events in the park, especially ones that would attract bicyclists and pedestrians.

n Officials could organize a bike-oriented scavenger hunt and use the park as a staging area. People could pick up maps of the route there along with bottles of water for their journey.

n Hold musical events in the park. Listening to a concert along a river is a great way to spend a pleasant evening.

n Invite churches or service groups to offer meals or hold fundraising programs there. Some organization could provide a barbecue dinner in the park — it certainly has the space and facilities to do so.

n Set up a small bicycle repair station in the park. Make tools and an air pump available so people can adjust their gears or tires. And maybe Watertown can even establish its own bicycle sharing program with the park as its base.

n Invite a vendor to sell food or beverages in this area. If people learn that something good is for sale down there, they’ll be more inclined to visit.

There are many innovative ways that the city can promote and use Veterans Memorial Riverwalk Park for the benefit of its residents. It’s a great municipal gem that just needs a little more polish to attract attention.

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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America’s elusive dream

First published: August 29, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: August 28, 2014 at 4:22 pm

It’s becoming so difficult for working people to keep their heads above water that there could come a time when we won’t be able to afford taking off Labor Day any longer.

Think about that. Many of us who enjoy the luxury of relaxing on this annual tribute to working stiffs everywhere may feel forced to be on the job rather than at home. An extra eight hours of pay never hurt, and in some cases this may be crucial.

Perhaps I’m just imaging the worst — I certainly hope so! There are far too many people who already have to work on Labor Day now, and that’s unfortunate. On the bright side, those who endure their work day struggles at least get to glimpse a brighter future called “retirement.”

But now, thanks to the folks who helped tank the economy in 2008, even this view is growing dimmer. A rebroadcast segment of the PBS program “Frontline” demonstrated how the retirement plans of many Americans are being mercilessly chewed up by financial con artists.

The episode, titled “The Retirement Gamble,” originally aired last year. It focused on how much money people are losing in their retirement plans, which compounds the fact that many workers can’t save enough as it is. Aside from the volatility of the financial markets, many of these plans contain numerous fees that add up over the decades.

“Retirement is big business — and very profitable. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more we save into the industry’s financial products, the more money they make in fees and commissions trading our hard-earned cash,” Martin Smith, who reported on this “Frontline segment,” wrote last year for PBS. “And as long as they don’t run away with our money or invest it in a Ponzi scheme, they have little in the way of accountability to us when something goes wrong. And even then it can be hard to fight back. Big banks, brokerages, insurance companies and other financial service providers operate under something called a suitability standard — which says they don’t have to give you the best advice, just advice that isn’t too egregiously terrible.

“Let’s say you sit down with an adviser at your brokerage or bank and ask for some advice on how you should allocate your retirement savings or which funds you might want to choose for your IRA. You’ll get lots of advice, but chances are it won’t be worth much,” Smith wrote. “Eighty-five percent of all financial advisers and financial planners are really just brokers or salesman. Their incentive is to sell you a product that makes them a higher commission, not necessarily a product that maximizes your chances of saving more. Only 15 percent of advisers are ‘fiduciaries’ — advisers who by law must operate with your best interests in mind.”

This fact truly stunned me. Wouldn’t you expect someone with the job title of “financial adviser” to start from the default position that he or she would have your best, long-term interests in mind?

“For the sake of dramatizing the point, John Bogle, founder of Vanguard, the world’s largest mutual fund company and pioneer of low-cost index funds, gave me a startling example while we were filming. Assume you are invested in a mutual fund, he says, with a gross return of 7 percent but that the mutual fund charges you an annual fee of 2 percent,” Smith wrote. “Over a 50-year investing lifetime, that little 2 percent fee will erode 63 percent of what you would have had. As Bogle puts it, ‘the tyranny of compounding costs’ is overwhelming.

“In short, fees matter. So what can you do? You aren’t going to find a fund that invests your money for free, but experts say you can come close by buying index funds,” Smith wrote. “Their fees can be a tenth of what the average mutual funds charge. And over time, in bull and bear markets, on average, index funds perform better than their more expensive actively managed fund cousins. This is no secret to anyone who is paying attention.”

In the “Frontline” segment, Smith questioned people in the financial services industry about why they pushed higher-fee/commission products rather than low-cost index funds for retirement accounts. Even when presented with substantial evidence, these individuals refused to acknowledge that index funds routinely perform better than mutual funds.

The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed requiring all financial advisers and planners to adopt a fiduciary standard when consulting with people about employee retirement plans. The measure has met with fierce resistance from the financial services industry, and carrying out this regulation has now been postponed twice. It was to have taken effect this month, but now it’s scheduled to be implemented in January.

Labor Department officials must stiffen their backbones and hold their course on this issue. Virtually everyone who should be supporting workers has abandoned the field of battle, further hollowing out this annual holiday set aside to commemorate those who keep this nation going. Let’s hope the phrase “Labor Department” doesn’t become as meaningless as “Labor Day.”

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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All those in favor say amen

First published: May 18, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: May 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm

While working for a newspaper company in Chicago’s western suburbs, I wrote about two municipal governments that had become embroiled in the issue of opening public meetings with prayer.

For one community, the question was whether its City Council favored a specific religious sentiment among all others through its choice of ministers. An officer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation who lived in this community objected to the overwhelmingly Christian nature of the prayers.

The second community wrestled with whether prayers at City Council meetings should be reinstated. They were offered years before but at some point had ceased.

In one opinion piece on these communities, I questioned whether residents who welcomed prayers at government meetings would be just as enthusiastic about invocations offered by minority religious groups rather than by Christian ministers. A response sent to me by one woman epitomized the entire problem with allowing public bodies to delve into matters of personal faith.

She said she would not have a problem with representatives of other religions, such as Muslims or Buddhists, being excluded from offering prayers at the City Council meetings. Her reason for accepting such discrimination? She told me she would not expect to be invited to “their temples” to offer prayers reflecting her faith, so not having these groups pray prior to the beginning of council meetings would be reasonable.

It seems this woman views the City Council boardroom as an extension of her own church. And she believes it’s entirely appropriate for her municipal government to reflect her stance on religious issues.

This is why public bodies have no business invoking religion of any kind. Governmental bodies act in the name of all their constituents, and for them to invoke any deity is a betrayal of the principle of religious liberty. How can a member of a minority religious group expect equal respect by a local government when that public body said this person is embarking on the wrong spiritual quest?

Additional problems crop up when residents believe they have an understanding with their local governments when it comes to religion. Now that their public body has confirmed they are on the side of the angels concerning issues of faith, they can expect this governing board to do their bidding when making policy.

It’s at this point that elected officials cross the line in tip-toeing between church and state. They curry favor with people of a particular religious faith and pass laws according to their constituents’ beliefs.

And in facing opposition when it’s time to be re-elected, they often call in these chips so they can stay in office. How many times have we seen politicians contrast their religious views to those of their opponents?

The danger in not abiding by the constitutional principle of keeping church and state separate is that social policy is frequently molded based solely on the predominant religious sentiment. In the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case Lemon v. Kurtman, a three-pronged test was outlined to determine if a piece of legislation violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Sadly, many laws have ignored these prudent criteria without being overturned or even challenged.

The first part of this test, called the Entanglement Prong, says the statute in question may not lead to “excessive government entanglement” with religious matters. The second part of the test, called the Effect Prong, says the statute may not advance or inhibit any religious practice. And the third part of the test, called the Purpose Prong, says the statute must serve a secular legislative purpose.

The recent Supreme Court decision in the Town of Greece v. Galloway case did not necessarily overturn the test called for in Lemon v. Kurtman, as this recent issue was not about the constitutionality of some legislation. It pertained to opening government meetings in the upstate New York town of Greece with prayer.

Allowing public bodies to sanction prayer is more ambiguous than a specific law since no one is compelled to join in or take it seriously. But as it opens the door to complications down the road, legislative prayer is a bad practice that should be avoided.

Elected officials and/or residents are free to pray by themselves or in groups prior to municipal meetings to seek divine guidance. And since making the prayer public shouldn’t impact how effective it is, why not keep it to themselves?

Public prayer at government meetings is often not a sincere effort on the part of elected officials to become spiritually enlightened. They can be just as in touch with the divine through private reflection.

The real issue here is that elected officials frequently need to show their constituents how religious they are by conducting public prayers. This turns a spiritual practice into a political one, and earnest people of faith should feel exploited. These politicians are appealing to their religious sentiments to secure votes down the line.

Let us prey, indeed.

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 Million Mom Marx?

First published: May 11, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: May 09, 2014 at 4:18 pm
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY LAUREN HARRIENGER N WATERTOW
Will women like June Cleaver take to the streets to demand an end to capitalism because of a shortage of flowers on Mother’s Day? Very doubtful.

Is any social class more prepared to take up the mantle of promoting global socialism than mothers?

If mothers had a reason to confront the evils of capitalism, it was revealed in a story published May 1 in the Watertown Daily Times. Reporter Ted Booker highlighted the shocking details of how local florists were running short of certain types of flowers right before Mother’s Day.

According to the story, South American farmers began seeking higher profits by growing vegetables instead of flowers. This resulted in a run on alstroemerias, carnations, lilies and roses, which left U.S. florists scrambling to fill orders.

I can hear the mantra now: “Homemakers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your rolling pins.”

This got me thinking that mothers who won’t receive flowers on their special day could be the straw that breaks the free market’s back. For an absent-minded child to forget to call his mom on Mother’s Day is one thing. But for agricultural bourgeoisie to tell an entire class of workers that their labor no longer warrants a bouquet of flowers is to declare war.

But mothers have not started massing in the streets to demand an end to capitalism. Perhaps American florists managed to pull together enough flowers to fill their Mother’s Day orders after all.

And let’s be honest: Flowers are wonderful, but what Mom really wants to receive on this day is her kids.

A potholder made out of pipe cleaners and yarn is just as meaningful as any floral arrangement because a child created it with his or her mother in mind. And any mom will love it as long as the youngster is there to give it to her.

I suppose moms have more important things to worry about than if they’re getting cheated out of a few flowers by the free market. Gifts are nice, no doubt about it. But bonding with children is what Mother’s Day is all about.

So what exactly is the economic mindset of most mothers? This, in fact, was nicely summarized by Karl Marx’s mother.

In his book “Intellectuals,” historian Paul Johnson pointed out that Marx championed the working class but didn’t have much use for honest labor himself. Among his many flaws, Marx was a freeloader who depended on friends to finance his lifestyle.

In revealing a wisdom that only mothers possess, Johnson wrote that Henrietta Pressburg Marx wished her son would “accumulate capital instead of just writing about it.” Now if that’s not worth a dozen roses, nothing is!

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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