An Isolated America Was Never Meant to Be

europrThe decision by the United Kingdom to depart from the European Union was a shock to many. But most importantly, what it did was underscore a populist, nativist movement that has been spreading across Europe for some time. What it also did is confirm that the same sort of movement is growing in the United States as well. That movement is the notion that globalization as a whole has failed, and many people would really like their governments to start looking inward again and put America first.

We are bombarded by arguments that global efforts like NAFTA and adding China to the World Trade Organization have taken jobs away from our industrial heartland and that an influx of immigrants or migrants pose new dangers to our national security. We protest our country’s involvement in foreign wars and interference in other governments’ ways of governing. After three quarters of a century, many Americans are weary of being the superpower that the rest of the world turns to. They don’t think that it’s fair that they can’t get a living wage or be guaranteed Social Security, but their government can afford to send millions of dollars overseas at their convenience.

Americans have a right to be angry. They have a right to feel that they’ve been left behind. Globalization is a phenomenon that is far from perfect. But so far, the only solution suggested is turning our backs on the rest of the world. And that’s not going to make things better.

Though we fought for independence at our nation’s birth, we’ve spent our entire history working toward globalization. The American landmass was discovered by Europeans looking for new trade routes. Then we built railroads to connect our coasts, built cars to give us transportation control, and airplanes made it easier than ever to see the world. Just 200 years ago, it took two months to get from New York to London. Now it only takes seven hours. We aquired foreign territory and turned them into states. The printing press and broadcast technology were invented to spread information to millions. And in just the last 15 years, the digital age has made the world more connected than ever thought possible. The internet and social media now allow us to talk to people thousands of miles away in real time.

And there are also more of us to connect with. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were almost as many people in the entire world as there are now currently living in China. The number of people in the world has doubled just since 1970. And we’re not going anywhere. Experts predict the population will approach 10 billion by 2050. Those 10 billion are going to consist of many different races, religions and ethic traditions. If one thing is clear, people from all walks of life are here to stay. Trying to restrict immigration or close borders to select groups of them in the modern world is about on the same level as trying to uninvent the telephone.

Our technology has allowed us to globalize our economy. We saw what happened just recently when our own stocks plunged just hours after the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU became official. The Great Recession, as we’ve called it in the U.S., affected the world, not just us. Our natural resources that we depend on are an international market. So ignoring one country or one region’s economic problems will not mean we are in the clear. If they suffer, we all suffer.

We’re pretty good at fearing what goes on across the oceans. Whenever there has been a crisis far away, many of us want to shut our doors and close our blinds. That’s not our problem, we’d say. But our country wasn’t meant for isolationism. We learn this over and over again. After reluctantly getting involved in World War I, we won the war, but then returned home and tuned out the world. Our obliviousness allowed Adolf Hitler to come to power and begin another world war. After that war was won, it was clear the U.S. had to be the leader of the free world, or the world would not be free at all.

It was that point when we realized that we couldn’t be guarenteed safety just because of the vast oceans that serve as our borders. We’re globalized in every day, from communication to commerce. But there are many times when we are put through a test to see if we actually try turning inward again and undoing the globalization we’ve created. It’s simply not the reality of our time.

In the end, we always end up seeing the error of our way. Whether it’s a world war, mass genocides in the Balkans or Uganda or an outbreak of Ebola, we always end up kicking ourselves because we know we could’ve gotten involved sooner and we didn’t. Perhaps this is another test of our willingness to reach out and not run away from inclusiveness.

We’re at a crossroads again. And we have a choice. We can accept globalization, embrace the changes we’ve created and keep trying to perfect it. Or we can try our best to cover our ears, walk away with our heads down, and retreat from the world stage just like we did a hundred years ago and think we’ll be alright. I for one do not prefer the latter.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at

Central New York Holds the Cards For Next Congress


U.S. Rep. John Katko, who represents New York’s 24th Congressional District, is seeking re-election in November.

Republicans and Democrats are both looking to put one of their own in the Oval Office this November. But that’s only half the battle. The other half is to stock the seats on Capitol Hill to make their choice for president’s job easier. How well they fill those seats determines national policy for years to come. And both parties have their sights set on New York.

The Empire State saw its own share of the national Republican surge in the 2014 midterm elections, in which the GOP captured the Senate for the first time since 2006 and gained their largest majority in the House of Representatives since the 1920s. Three seats in New York’s 27 congressional districts that had previously been held by Democrats were overtaken. Lee Zeldin, of Long Island, unseated his six-term Democratic opponent. Elise Stefanik, from the North Country, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, beating her opponent by a whopping 22 points.

This November’s race in Zeldin’s district will be close, but he has a reasonable chance of victory. Stefanik’s opponent, Mike Derrick, is a retired Army colonel, and is a smart choice for the Democrats as the district is where Fort Drum is located. But the district is very rural and quite large—spanning from Watertown to the Vermont border—so it’s pretty hard for a new face to show his or herself in the time given.

But a lot of eyes are going to be on central New York over the next few months. It is the 24th Congressional District where the stakes are high and time is short. Following Tuesday’s Democratic primaries, the heart of the state is going to become the heart of the 2016 races for the House.

So, what makes the district, which includes the Syracuse metropolitan area and all of Onondaga, Cayuga, Wayne and part of Oswego counties, so special?

Well, several of the last few elections have been incredibly close. In 2006, in the formerly named 25th district, newcomer Dan Maffei was defeated by less than 3,400 votes. Maffei won his first term overwhelmingly in 2008, but lost re-election in 2010 to Ann Marie Buerkle by only 567 votes out of 200,000 cast. In a rematch in 2012, Maffei took back the seat back from Buerkle by less than five points, and Buerkle didn’t concede until days after Election night.

A close race was expected in 2014 and Maffei requested the state impound all voting machines and paper ballots. But a close race was not to be. Maffei lost to Republican John Katko by 20 points.

Katko is running for re-election, has pulled in a lot of campaign money and has remained moderately popular over his term. A September poll showed he was favored 51 percent to 28 percent over the only other candidate who had announced a bid at the time. Tuesday’s primary determines Katko’s opponent.

But while Katko appears in good standing, history is not on his side in November. A Democrat has been favored during presidential election years. We’ve all heard about swing states in national presidential contests. In recent years, central New York has become the Florida or Ohio of races in the House. The party of the seat has flipped — Democrat to Republican, Democrat to Republican — every election over the last four cycles. In fact, only one other congressional district in the nation—Arizona’s 1st district—has had the same pattern. But its Democratic incumbent won in 2014, leaving central New York as the most volatile district in the entire United States.

That’s why we see a herd of top political figures come to the region in the months and weeks before an election, hoping their presence will generate excitement and stimulate voter turnout for their party’s candidates. In 2014, two Democratic icons, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, visited Syracuse to urge voters to vote for Maffei. And the two most powerful Republicans in the country, then House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, both held fundraisers for Katko in Syracuse and Auburn.

What we saw in 2014 is already beginning. The 24th Congressional District is one of 21 races that have qualified for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program, a list of seats Democrats think they can take back from the Republicans. And just last week, Bernie Sanders stopped in Syracuse to throw his support behind Democratic candidate Eric Kingson. Republicans are also preparing a ground game to keep Katko in power. They know that central New York is a must-win for both.

So what does that mean for the people? It means you are in control. Yes, this small area, known for salt potatoes, college football, streets of bars and the home of Harriet Tubman, has a lot of say in which direction the nation wants to go in.

Will a Democrat take your views to Washington or will Katko break the party flip pattern? That’s up to you.

Whether you’re from Syracuse, Clay, Oswego, Wolcott, Auburn or anywhere between, it is vital that people don’t fall for the foolish “my vote doesn’t count” perspective. Because here, your votes do count. Central New York may be a very small region, but all it takes is going to the polls this fall to be part of something bigger.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at

Business As Usual Continues in Albany

NY Legislature

Members of the New York Assembly work on passing legislation in the Assembly Chamber at the Capitol June 17 in Albany.

When President Woodrow Wilson was notified that the League of Nations, his great obsessive plan for global peace, had failed to pass in the U.S. Senate in 1919, he uttered the words, “They have shamed us in the eyes of the world.”

To a smaller extent, we can now say the same about the New York legislature. Once again, another session has come to a close, and once again, it ends with no significant ethics reform aimed to curb the incredible amount of government corruption that continuously spews from the halls of Albany. In the last year and a half, both chambers’ leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, have been convicted and sentenced to federal prison on corruption charges. They join a list of more than 30 New York officials to leave office facing ethical allegations since 2000.

In the wake of these events, New York voters have been screaming for the government to fill in the loopholes that allow these lawmakers to conduct such acts. Ethics measures were promised to be included in the state budget in April. They weren’t. Then Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers pledged to make them a top priority before the session ended last week. In the final days of this legislative session, our representatives were able to pass a measure that allows pet owners to be buried with the cremated remains of their beloved animals. Then they agreed that pink, not just the traditional fluorescent orange, is now an acceptable color for hunters to wear while in the woods. Ethics reform sounds like it was a super priority, doesn’t it?

There is simply no excuse for these empty promises and repeated failures by a government whose constituents are in almost full agreement that the problem needs to be fixed. A Siena College poll last month found that 96 percent of New York voters consider ethics to be an important priority. Sadly, 67 percent said they were doubtful any legislation would come through. They had good reason to be.

Now, some of our elected officials will do a victory lap due to the possibility of a future agreement that allows judges to strip corrupt politicians of their pensions. Both Skelos and Silver will be receiving more than $80,000 a year while they are in prison—provided by New York law-abiding tax payers. But fixing the pension issue is still more than a constitutional amendment and at least another year away. More importantly, that solution only addresses corruption after it’s been created. Preventive measures will be much more effective. And if years in prison aren’t already an incentive to avoid dirty politics, do you really think a watered down threat of pension forfeiture is going to make them think twice? That so-called victory lap is as useful as, what Sen. Daniel Squadron describes as “taking an aspirin for a broken arm.”

Forfeiting pension is just one of many areas that need to be attacked, however. Other corruption incubators include lawmakers’ ability to receive outside income, the LLC loophole, which allows big donors and special interests to circumvent the state’s campaign finance limits and funnel millions of dollars to the candidates of their choice, and the lack of an independent panel to investigate possible corrupt politicians. Again, all of the above have been promised time and again and all of the above have barely been discussed, let alone come to a vote. In essence, we’re no closer to a firm ethics package than we were when Skelos and Silver were arrested more than a year ago.

And that’s what is most concerning. As far as reform goes, we’re slowly creeping toward a point of no return. This was the legislature’s big chance. This was their time to prove to New Yorkers that they do care about clean government and they do want to repair a broken system.

From Sen. Thomas Libious’ conviction for lying to the FBI, to Cuomo’s mysterious shutdown of the Moreland Commission and the latest probes into his Buffalo Billion initiative, to the investigation into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign fundraising, to the humiliating resignations of Silver and Skelos, there is more than enough evidence to say that the time for change is needed and needed now. But incredibly, no such action has been taken to fix New York’s biggest problem, the one that affects all of the others.

So, the question we must now ask our representatives in Albany is this: If not now, when?

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at

Politicizing Tragedies Is a Tragedy In Itself

Nightclub Shooting Afghan Americans

Police officers direct family members away from a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub June 12 in Orlando, Florida.

I had just rolled over to go to sleep late Saturday night when I heard my phone buzz with a news alert. It was from USA Today, reporting that three people had been injured at a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

Then like many others, I awoke Sunday morning to find out that small incident was now the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history and the deadliest incident on U.S. soil since 9/11.

I immediately turned on the television and opened Twitter, and saw just a glance of the great tragedy that had just unfolded — and then instantly saw the other tragedy that comes with it. Though not as ugly, it leaves just as bitter a taste.

I’m talking about the inappropriate comments, the insults, the arguments and heated back-and-forths that flare up online every time a mass shooting or terrorist attack occurs. Dozens of lives had just been lost and we have nothing better to do but log onto Facebook and suddenly become experts on gun control, the NRA and on actions in our legislative chambers. More than a hundred families had just been shattered and all we can think of is rushing to push our political ideas on one another.

Why don’t we just go bang on the doors of the families who lost loved ones and yell “we need to ban guns!” or “we need to ban Muslims!”? Because no civilized person would do such a thing. So why is the Internet any different? It seems like every time a deadly event like this happens, we instantaneously turn it into a political weapon. We take advantage of a dead human being simply so we can beat our chest and say “See? I told you so.”

Although I was only eight years old at the time, I very much remember the events of 9/11, but more specifically, the events that followed. There were a few of us who immediately began pointing fingers, looking for somebody to blame. But that’s not what I remember. And I don’t think that’s what most people remember. I specifically recall a lot of flags. It seemed like red, white and blue were suddenly everywhere and painted on everything, from bandanas to signs. Ceremonies, vigils and memorials filled a nation in utter disbelief.

Yes, we were afraid. We were afraid of our neighbors, afraid to fly and afraid we could be attacked again. But it wasn’t fear that defined that day, or the days and weeks afterward. It was respect, strength, hope and above all else, humility.

We were a divided nation then too. We were still recovering from the brutal, controversial 2000 presidential election. Political lines were drawn. Ideological battles had been waged. Then we woke up to see unforgettable images of smoke billowing out of the Twin Towers, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. A dozen men took more than 2,000 fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, friends and colleagues from us. And suddenly, our pity differences evaporated and we remembered what really matters to us. We acknowledged what had happened, we mourned and we buried those we had lost. Then, and only then, were we able to wash our hands and then evaluate the tragedy and search for solutions on a political scale to prevent another one from happening again.

What happened in Orlando is no 9/11. But that’s not the point. What is the point is that in times like these, we should be showing our humility and grace toward our friends and neighbors. And instead we showed the true opposite.

Indeed, this country has a problem. It is disturbing that mass shootings have become an expected part of our lives. It is vile that we cannot be certain we are safe whenever we walk into a nightclub, a movie theater or a school. And every side of the ongoing gun argument has its credible and invalid arguments.

But there is plenty of time for that conversation. We can talk about those things the next day and throughout the next month. But it really shouldn’t be this difficult for us to temporarily put politics aside and put respect center stage, to stop pointing fingers and instead, bow our heads. We can all disagree again tomorrow, but for now, let’s come together to bury our dead, and bury the hatchet.

Yes, it’s really easy for us to look at someone like Omar Mateen, an American citizen and a security guard, and be reminded of what horrible things people are capable of doing to one another. But sometimes, all we have to do is look at ourselves.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at

What Happened To the Political Middle?

image1495067xIn an MSNBC town hall in February, Hillary Clinton essentially doubted Bernie Sanders’ ability to be president. Not because of his economic policies or because of his poll numbers or his allegations that she snuggles up to Wall Street. She said “Sen. Sanders wasn’t really a Democrat until he decided to run for president.”

That is exactly the reason why I never have and never will be registered with any political party. I could really give two hoots if a candidate is “a real Democrat” or “a real Republican.” I vote for someone because I believe they are best to lead the country and reflect my own interests, not a political platform.

Of course, political parties are very healthy. Our two major parties keep compromise necessary and prevent any group from gaining too much power. But it’s not just the overall distaste I have for parties in general. It’s that I can’t physically see myself as a member of either because my views weave in and out between the two. I’ve taken multiple online tests to see if my preferences match any party more than the other. Each time, year after year, the needle is dead center. One test even classified me as an “absolute independent moderate Democratic Republican”—whatever that means.

Unfortunately, it seems there are rather few left out there who are like me.

Our major political parties have undergone a massive shift in the last 20 years. Not from each other, but from within. The so-called New Democrats that emerged with Bill Clinton in the late 80s and early 90s are now being challenged by an ever-increasing liberal wing of the party. During his years in office, Barack Obama has passed arguably very liberal measures. Some Republicans screamed bloody murder at this, and hence, came the rise of the Tea Party Republicans in 2010, Obama’s liberal counterparts.

Since 2010, we’ve seen the Democrats running farther to the left and Republicans running farther to the right. That’s what’s made gay marriage, Obamacare, gun control, abortion and the public bathroom dispute such heated conversations in our day-to-day lives. Much of our news has a political tug-of-war backdrop.

And neither side seems to be slowing. In this year’s Nevada caucuses, when asked if the next president should generally continue Obama’s policies, about half of Democratic voters said yes. But 4 in 10, nearly half, wanted more liberal policies. Seven in 10 Democrats said they were either “somewhat liberal” or “very liberal.” Only a quarter described themselves as moderate.

The same can be seen on the other side. In South Carolina GOP primary polls, almost four in ten Republican voters described themselves as “very conservative” and 43 percent said they were “somewhat conservative.” Only 20 percent said they were moderates.

This explains why this election has become so much the “outsiders contest.” This is why Bernie Sanders has rallied the left-wing Democrats around him, and why Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, a product himself of the Tea Party movement, completely dominated the Republican primaries.

The ones in the middle, like myself, are waning. But there are still enough of them to cause the extreme identity crisis that both major parties are experiencing right now. A recent Associated Press-NORC poll found that just 12 percent of Republicans think the GOP is very responsive to ordinary voters, while only 25 percent of Democrats think the same of their party. Many independent voters are starting to look at the parties that they’ve generally voted with for decades and don’t even know what they’re looking at anymore. And they don’t know where to turn to.

I will be voting in November for someone for president, Congress and my local races. For who yet, I don’t know.

But there’s one thing I do know. The polarization we hear so much about is real and it is growing to unprecedented levels. So when we hear presidential candidates make it sound like everyone’s going to hold hands again after November, we know it’s untrue. Trump can’t say he wants to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and expect to win minority voters. Clinton can’t say she wants to close coal mines and expect to win over conservative business owners. Yet, they constantly boast they can bring the country together. Trump regularly calls himself a “unifer.” Clinton says she’s going to “make America whole again.”

With the parties running fast and far from the middle, that kind of talk cannot classify as false reality or even political rhetoric. It’s simply a joke.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at

Fulton, New York—America’s Sad Story

2013-11-22-gw-fulton0130jpg-b9888ffd86dd406fThey say you can never go home again. In the case of Fulton, New York, you really can’t.

Although I’ve never resided within the city itself, I’ve practically spent half my life there, as it was the closest location of any store bigger than a gas station, and much of my family has lived in that area for decades. I know the place inside and out.

It’s also hard to say that I really left. I lived my entire childhood 12 miles away in neighboring Cayuga County and spent four years in college just up the road at SUNY Oswego. But now, I’ve spent a year away, in eastern New York, and recently drove through Fulton on a trip to see my parents after being away for more than six months. But it was the first time in many years that I really got a close look at Fulton, a city of 12,000 just 25 miles northwest of Syracuse. And it really hit me how much has changed.

Just before the city limits, I look to the left of Route 481 and see what used to be the Miller brewery, which closed a year after I was born, throwing 700 locals out of their jobs. Sunoco purchased the site to make ethanol in 2010, but has only made a dent in the damage done by Miller leaving. In a way, it made sense to see that building first, as the plant’s 1994 closing became a foreshadowing of the city’s condition since that time.

As I enter the city limits, I pull into the River Glen Plaza—which is now a nearly empty parking lot. I parked in a spot my mother probably would’ve parked years ago when we would go into Kmart to buy back-to-school clothes. A branch of Cayuga Community College now takes up a small portion of what once were the store fronts of P&C, Payless Shoes, Hallmark, RadioShack, Cutting Crew, Fashion Bug, Dollar Tree and the aforementioned Kmart. All were open ten years ago and now all are gone, with Kmart being last to close its doors in 2014.


The site of a former Kmart is seen in June 2016 at River Glen Plaza in Fulton, New York. (Photo by Luke Parsnow)

I pull out of the plaza and finally enter the city limits—and notice a newer, smaller welcome sign. The old one said “Fulton Welcomes You,” and underneath that, it said “The City With a Future.” That last part has since been removed.


Now, it’s not the city’s current economic stress that makes Fulton a sad story. What makes it sad is Fulton’s fall from grace—knowing what it once was and what it is now. This small city once represented America’s best. Businesses, jobs, payroll and prosperity in the community were unmatched across the country. The city was praised for its success in a 1936 article in The New York Sun with the headline “Fulton—The City the Depression Missed.” Unfortunately, what made it prosper is also what made it fall—industry. The Oswego River that divides the city was filled with factories and mills for centuries. The city itself was named after Robert Fulton—the inventor of the steam engine. But as industry and manufacturing jobs have plummeted nationally in the last 50 years, Fulton’s life and blood have now become its cancer.

As I drive farther into town, I get to see the trademark of the city’s industrial might—the infamous Nestlé plant. The first chocolate factory in North America under the Swiss name, this site gave life to this city for a hundred years. The Crunch bar and Nestlé’s Quik were both born here. You could actually smell chocolate in the air always right before it rained. The factory employed thousands of people across multiple generations. My own grandfather worked there. When the factory closed in 2003, the town mourned as if it were a family member. The building sat empty for 13 years until this spring— when its demolition began. I see some of the progress as I drive by—history being wiped away.

In an exclusive story on the closing, The New York Times begged the question that was on the minds of many Fultonians: “If Nestlé, with its proud history and heavy investments won’t stay in Fulton, who will?” the article states. Eight years later, the city lost another international chain—Birds Eye, laying off 300 workers. And when the jobs go, so do the people. Fulton’s population has decreased by 2,000 in the last 25 years. That may not sound like much, but it’s 16 percent of the population.

And it’s not just businesses. Just past the chocolate factory I can catch a glimpse of the corner of the former A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital. I went there when I broke my arm at age seven. The hospital closed in 2009 and now operates only as a small urgent care center. I’ve gone there for blood work since then. It’s mostly just a bunch of dark, empty rooms where lives were once saved.

There are a few holdout companies. Huhtamaki, formerly Sealright, remains near downtown, along with Interface Solutions, formerly Armstrong Industrial Specialties, where my father worked for many years. But I also lose count of the empty lots and “for lease” signs in rows of store windows.

There are a few locations as I make my way to the west side that I still remember being there growing up. They just look a little sadder now.

At the edge of town, I pass Wal-Mart, no doubt partly responsible for stealing many customers from Kmart and other retailers that led to their demise. Then the city slowly fades away in my rear-view mirror. Gone.

To be fair, Fulton’s problems began decades ago, but it’s amazing how much, just in my short lifetime, has changed. As I said, I really can’t come home to it.

But all of that still doesn’t make Fulton a sad story. What makes it a sad story is that there are thousands of Fultons out there all over the nation. There are many communities that have watched their own versions of Nestlé factories, hospitals and retail stores leave their towns and leave their townspeople jobless. Towns that used to be known for their high employment rates are now known for their high drug arrest rates. Small cities that once represented America’s best now represent its worst.

Yes, there are probably lots of people who live where “the city with a future” is written on their welcome signs, but they can’t help but wonder if their city’s best days are, in fact, behind them.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at