Friday, April 11, 2014

‘Need to know’ a double-edged sword

I’m inquisitive by nature.

No. Strike that.

Inquisitive doesn’t begin to describe me. I must know everything. About everything. I hate being in the dark. I guess that’s what makes my career choice so very obvious. I think “must know everything” is at the top of most journalists characteristics.

It’s not only journalists that have a need to know everything, of course. I’d say that society as a whole — or at least a very large portion of it — falls into the same category. Which is why the media exists, I suppose. If it were only journalists who needed to know everything, who would pay our paychecks?

Here we are more than a month removed from the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 24-hour news channels are still on top of it — 24 hours a day. The fact that an airplane went missing and we can’t explain it is killing us. I’ll admit, I’m befuddled by its disappearance and I continue to watch the “Breaking News” alerts, thinking that eventually one of them is actually going to be breaking news, as opposed to what we’ve been getting, which is not breaking news.

In the grand scheme of things, the Malaysian airplane disappearance is fairly recent. We could go back a lot farther for things that we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. What really happened at Waco? Who killed JFK? Where was Barack Obama born? OK, I jest on that last one. But you get the gist.

The fact that there are facts that we’re not privy to or that we can’t piece together to make a clear picture of bothers us. And yet, when you really step back and think about it, does it matter that much? Waco, JFK, and Obama becoming president are all history. No amount of information is going to change the facts that we know. And no black box is going to bring back the passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It’s a sad reality that information doesn’t change the facts.

On another topic entirely, I read a story on the Associated Press the other day about a man serving life in jail for a crime he committed when he was 13. He’s up for parole — again — after being denied parole in 2012.

Obviously the brutal murder he committed in 1994 — the killing of a four-year-old — can never be undone. And there’s no real way to atone for the death of another, but I think 20 years in prison for a crime that was committed as a teenager is enough — no matter how heinous the crime.

I know that I’m not the same person as I was in 1994. I can’t imagine that Eric Smith, the man who, as a boy murdered Derrick Robie, is either. In other words, the person in prison right now isn’t even the same person that committed the crime.

Is he a better person or a worse person? Sadly, I think the odds are the prison has made him worse for the wear over the last 20 years, but that’s another problem to solve on another day.

Scott Leffler is thankful for Twitter, where he can learn everything about everything — even if the things he learns aren’t true. You can follow him there @scottleffler and hope that the things he says are true.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Just because something’s popular doesn’t make it right

The New York State Legislature did something last week that the vast majority of Americans support. And I wish they hadn’t.

By an overwhelming majority in both the state Senate and the Assembly — and in bipartisan fashion — the Legislature approved something known as the “National Popular Vote.”

In short form, the National Popular Vote agreement would bind the state to allocate its electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate gets the most votes nationwide, no matter whether they actually gained the most votes in New York. In order for the agreement to take place, however, enough states need to approve similar agreements.

The National Popular Vote is a means to an end — around the Electoral College — which a large percentage of Americans disapprove of. It would ensure that the candidate who wins the hearts and minds of most Americans wins the White House. It empowers people. It’s good for people. But — it’s bad for America.

While I’d venture to guess that most Americans don’t comprehend the purpose behind the Electoral College, the Founding Fathers put it in place for good reason. And that reason exists in 2014 as it did in 1787.

The Electoral College essentially evens the playing field between big states and small states. It gives states like Delaware and New Hampshire a bit of a leg up, while diluting the power of states like New York and California. Yes, a vote for president in Wyoming or South Dakota actually carries a bit more weight than a vote for president in Texas or Florida — in a manner of speaking.

While most people argue that that’s a bad thing and that the bigger states should carry more power, I disagree — as did the writers of the Constitution.

Big states with lots of people tend to have urban interests, for example. They tend to not have as much rural interests, though. In a way, the Electoral College protects small-town folks and farmers. In a way, it protects people like Western New Yorkers — especially those that live on country roads or count cows on their way to grandma’s house.

Plus, the National Popular Vote ignores the fact that we’re not the “United People of America.” We are the “United States of America.” And as more power flows from the states and into the direct hands of the voters, what it really does is empower the federal government. The more power the federal government has, the less power the people have. So by pushing the National Popular Vote, people are actually giving up some of their power to the federal government, which will take as much as it’s given. And once it’s given enough, it will be powerful enough to take the rest.

Strong states make for a strong nation. A strong federal government, however, makes only for a strong government.

Scott Leffler has no desire to live in Wyoming or South Dakota. But he’s sure there’s some fine people there. Maybe they should follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.