What Mass Shootings Have Done to Our Minds

Frequency of violent acts has changed the way we think

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I’m not exactly sure when it happened. It was sometime last summer.

I was in the grocery store — in the pasta aisle — and while attempting to locate a jar of Prego marinara sauce on the shelf among an army of traditional sauce, my thoughts took a drastically different direction from my grocery list.

I looked in one direction, toward the front of the store, and then the other, and without any context, thought this: What if an active shooter was in here? What would I do? Where would I go?

I had absolutely no rationale to think that at the moment. There was no immediate danger, nor any sign of it. It’s hardly the first time I had such a thought — and I know I’m not alone — but it was the first time I really grasped the seriousness of it, and what it really meant.

The 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School occurred four days before my 6th birthday. I distinctively remember the now infamous TV images of students fleeing from the school in terror and thorough searches of my backpack at the entrance of my own school for days afterward. I was much too young at the time to comprehend the gravity of the situation, but the vision of those moments runs strong in my mind.

Nearly 20 years later, I’m an adult working in a newsroom. At The Post-Star, I heard and read about the violent acts of our time right as they happened — events that no longer put Columbine in its unique place in history. My third day at this job was the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting. My last week at this job was the most recent workplace shooting in Florida.

And several times at this job, those thoughts I had in the grocery store returned — not just because of the job I’m in, but because of the job I’m in.

Just three months prior to my hiring, I visited the site of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, the French newspaper where assailants killed 12 of its office staff. It was an incredibly eerie experience.

I have a copy of a Charlie Hebdo edition at home.

Because of the recent extreme hostility toward the press we have seen, and after reading so many inflammatory comments about my newspaper on our website, more than once I found myself at my desk wondering which exit I would run to should a gunman find their way through the door.

That door’s closer, but it would leave me more vulnerable, I thought. That one’s got more chances for cover, but it’d might as well be a mile away.

I have to admit I got nervous every time a customer at the reception desk raised their voice or appeared overly agitated.

It’s incredible. It’s frightening. Yes, 18 years after Columbine, the world is much different. One year after Pulse Night Club in Orlando, things have changed. Mass shootings have become something we expect. They have changed the way security at closed locations is handled. They have changed training scenarios for individuals from police officers to teachers.

But they have also changed us. And not just politically.  

They have become a staple in the back of our minds. They can infect our subconscious when we find ourselves at a school, movie theater, mall, church, mosque, concert or club — or even when we’re in the middle of buying marinara sauce.

It’s no longer just those who were actually a part of these terrifying moments, like Kevin Sterne, who after being injured in Virginia Tech gets uneasy at sudden loud noises, gets anxious in large crowds and sits with his back to the wall at restaurants so he can see the entrances and exits.

It’s you and me. It’s all of us, whether we really notice it or not.

When I think about it, I can’t help but think of the “duck and cover” generation — those who grew up being regularly drilled to get under desks or get to bunkers in the event of a nuclear holocaust during the height of the Cold War.

It became part of the culture.

This is like a 21st century version of that, if you will.

But just like the threat of a nuclear strike didn’t stop people from living their daily lives for 50 years, the threat of the next shooting doesn’t stop us either.

We still go to schools, movie theaters and malls. We still go to concerts and clubs. But the cultural impact of mass shootings has damaged our minds, and it’s because the frequency of these incidents has erased the “it can’t happen here” argument we try to tell ourselves.

I’m sure there are people in Orlando, Newtown and Charleston who probably thought that.

And that’s why I can’t brush off thoughts of the same carnage happening while I’m looking for sauce in a small grocery store in upstate New York, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

I’m not sure how long this will go on. I don’t know how long it will be before the places we associate with routine or recreation are no longer places of screams and flying bullets.

I don’t know when our minds will recover.

But I do know, sadly, that it won’t be for quite some time.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Should Targeting Police Be a Hate Crime?

New York legislation has good intentions,
but would have bad consequences

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When I was young, I hardly ever played video games.

I still don’t.

One of the few I did occasionally play with friends in which I even remember the title to were those in the infamous Grand Theft Auto series.

One of the distinctive features of that game is the penalty for shooting at and killing police officers. On the “star scale” of being hunted by law enforcement after a criminal act, causing the death of an officer increases the amount of stars a player gets significantly.

There’s a reason for that.

Even at a young age, something stirs in our self consciousness about the immorality of harming those whose daily profession is to uphold the law.

But last year, more than 60 police officers in the United States were killed in the line of duty, the most since 2011.

That is no video game.

And that is why the New York state Senate recently passed a bill that would label the assault of a police officer, EMT, or other first responder akin to a hate crime. The Community Heroes Protection Act was introduced by Sen. Fred Ashkar of Binghamton, a former Broome County undersheriff, and passed 56-6 with broad support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

The measure is obviously in response to the recent cold blooded killings of law enforcement we’ve seen in the news in recent years, most notably the five killed in last year’s attack in Dallas and New York’s own Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot point-blank in the head while they sat in their patrol car in 2014.

Up front, the bill should be applauded. The attacks I mentioned above, and others like it, were committed not because any of those police officers were remotely attached to the controversial police killings of black individuals we hear so much about, but because they were merely police officers.

They were targets simply because of their chosen line of profession.
Those are acts that simply cannot be justified. And the vast majority of law enforcement who are faithful in their positions need our protection as they have become new bulls’s eyes for savage assailants.

Any attempt to label the Senate’s bill as anything but an effort to condemn killings of police is grotesque. David Andreatta, a columnist at The Rochester Democrat and Chroniclecalled the bill “a ploy to pander to political constituencies.”

I can’t speak for them, but I hardly doubt the families of those killed because they carried a badge, or families of anyone who risks their life every day to maintain stability in their community, could see this bill as simply political pandering.

While the legislation has good intentions that I feel most people can support, we must also be careful about just what is being proposed.

A hate crime is currently defined by offenses motivated by bias based on race, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation. The Community Heroes Protection Act would add something to that list that comes out of left field — occupation.

And while in the context of police officers and first responders that may sound reasonable, we put ourselves in serious danger of eroding the basis of what exactly a hate crime is and harming the very people it was created to protect — minority groups.

Should this bill become law — and similar legislation has passed in other states — it could potentially lead to more occupational groups requesting similar protection, essentially equating someone who’s born Jewish or disabled to someone who chose a career field that is associated with occasional danger. And that’s not something we should be doing.

It’s also a slap in the face to police reform groups who feel the hate crime system hasn’t been properly enforced in many of the cases we’ve seen of deadly confrontations between officers and young black men. Their concern with this legislation is absolutely justified.

Plus, there are already New York laws that enact specific penalties for criminal offenses against police officers, firefighters and paramedics. And as the personal-finance website WalletHub recently found in its in-depth analysis of 2017’s Best & Worst States to Be a Police Officer, New York is actually the third safest state in the country to be an officer.

Protecting law enforcement and holding them accountable are two very distinct and legitimate issues. No one wants to be treated unfairly or physically harmed just because of the color of their skin or uniform. No police officer wants to be part of tomorrow’s headlines anymore than a black person wants to be part of a deadly statistic.

There are ways to help ensure that neither becomes the case. But I’m not sure if the Community Heroes Protection Act is one of them.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Cuomo Is No Cheerleader For Democrats

Governor should help his own party in the Legislature before Congress

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seen with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has continuously dismissed any ambitions to run for president in 2020. But since Donald Trump’s election last fall, the Democratic governor has been steadily wading further into national politics.

Last week, he made a big splash.

Appearing with none other than U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in Manhattan, he launched an ambitious campaign to replace New York’s eight Republican congressmen with Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.

Cuomo said New York’s Republican delegation doesn’t represent the state’s interests and are “political pawns of the ultra-conservative puppet masters in Washington.”

Now, if Cuomo is seriously eyeing the White House, providing a path for a Democratic coup of the House of Representatives in a year and a half would certainly create whispers amid Democratic statesmen and donors about his potential. 

And that path runs through New York. Realistically, there are at least six House seats in the state that are definitely in play in 2018, which is about a quarter of the amount Democrats need to take back the majority.

But no one — either now or after the election regardless of the result — should make the mistake of labeling Cuomo a noble cheerleader for Democrats. Indeed, Republican House seats in New York have swelled from just two out of 29 in 2009 to eight out of 27 now, a time period that covers Cuomo’s entire tenure as governor and then some.

But Cuomo is being criticized — and rightfully so — about his sudden calling to help unify Democratic control at the federal level when he hasn’t been too energetic or successful with it at home.

In his six years as governor, he hasn’t exactly been known to stump for or endorse a lot of Democratic candidates for the Legislature. And even if he does, it hardly guarentees any security. During his 2014 re-election bid, he spent some money on down-ballot contenders and endorsed a few right at the end, but all those he endorsed lost.

In 2016, he did the same thing. A month before the election, he stumped for a few state Senate candidates. The Assembly is in firm Democratic hands and is unlikely to give that up anytime in the near future. But he hasn’t been able to gain a majority in the Senate.

And based on his lackluster efforts, it’s almost like he doesn’t want a unified Democratic government.

Because he doesn’t. He even said so. Just recently he told reporters “we’ve had a unified Democratic government in Albany. It’s not a hypothetical. We’ve had it. It wasn’t extraordinarily successful.”

If it sounds like he’s advocating for a divided government, he is. The main elephant in the room is the way he has handled the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate, including Sen. Dave Valesky, who caucus with the Republicans. This in effect blocks Democrats from controlling the Senate, even though they hold a numerical majority, and prevents them from having a trifecta of the state government. This has frustrated members of Cuomo’s party for years, especially Democrats in the Senate leadership, since Republicans have blocked a good portion of progressive legislation from getting to the governor’s desk.

The IDC has been deciding state policy since 2013, and while Cuomo is seen stumping for Democrats, he has been nearly completely silent on any effort to quash the coalition.

Indeed, Politico reported in 2014, quoting anonymous sources, that the governor was actually “deeply involved” in the creation of the IDC and “absolutely” encouraged a partnership that would give the opposite party control of the Senate.

There’s a reason for that. The IDC helps him politically. It gives him an excuse to liberals for why he can’t pass the standard of legislation they might demand up front. But when he does pass progressive legislation, he lets the Senate Republicans water it down enough to the point where it can satisfy moderate Republican voters while also giving him a chance to tout progress to centrist Democrats.

It’s a brilliant tactic. It shapes him to be a progressive who can get an agenda through Republican-controlled chambers. That makes him a classic Clintonian Democrat. And as we know, those are the ones who get presidential nominations.

Cuomo can call himself a progressive. He can call himself a skillful political moderator and an expert in backroom dealmaking. He would be correct in doing so.

But going out there saying Republican congressmen need to be defeated in 2018 in order to “take New York back” is strange.

There will certainly be a Bernie Sanders wing of the party that looks at that objection and ask the governor this: Why do you feel GOP House seats need to be flipped when you can’t flip one of your own legislative bodies? In a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, why can’t New York join California and Oregon and other blue states that have complete Democratic control?

It’s something he will be seriously scrutinized for by the left if he runs for president, especially since the Democratic Party is in ashes nationwide. If he really wants Democrats to improve their standing, he should be first looking at Albany instead of Washington.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Schools Need to Stand Up to Sexual Assault

System of reporting cases needs serious improvement

Schoolhouse Sex Assault By The Numbers

Remember back in school when you were told that if you were being bullied, talk to a teacher or administrator and don’t keep quiet about it?

Apparently, that rule doesn’t apply to many schools themselves.

And sadly, this is not about bullying in the conventional way we think of. It’s a much more sinister form of bullying — sexual assault.

Yes, a term we probably associate more with college campuses is in fact no rarity in secondary education settings. And no, we’re not talking about teacher-and-student situations.

An extraordinary investigative report by The Associated Press released last month uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sexual assaults of students by students between fall 2011 to spring 2015, 147 of them were in New York state. Remember, those are just the ones that are actually reported.

After the privacy of homes, schools are the second most frequent place where children are sexually assaulted by their peers.

Yes. Schools, places of innocence, places where children spend 10,000 hours between kindergarten and graduation, places where parents believe their kids to be safe, are in fact the site of many dark secrets.

The information AP reported was just as chilling as it was stunning. Here’s just a little of what was discovered.

• Student sexual assault cases happened everywhere, from upper-class suburbs to rural areas.
• All types of children were vulnerable, not just ones who have trouble fitting in.
• Five percent of sexual violence involved 5-and 6-year-olds. The percentage increased significantly between ages 10 and 11 and peaked at 14.
• Peer-on-peer assaults are actually much more common than those by teachers. For every sexual assault reported on school grounds that involved an adult, there were seven by students.

Now, this is not the peck on the lips behind the cubbies we’re talking about. Unwanted fondling was the most common form of assault, but about 20 percent of students assaulted were raped, sodomized or penetrated with an object, the AP found.

The only thing more disgusting than all of that is many schools’ incredible inability to thoroughly address this problem, both overall and on a case-by-case basis. Some have even tried to cover it up, withholding information or hiding evidence.

For instance, parents of a girl who was sexually assaulted in an Iowa school in 2013 didn’t report the incident to police because the elementary school principal said he would take care of it.

He never did.

And many of the schools that do report these cases greatly misconstrue the details. Many reports AP found that involved rape or forced oral sex were often labeled by school administrations as bullying, hazing or consensual behavior.

It’s all about preserving the image, right? No school wants to be known as the one with a lot of sexual assaults among young children. No school wants to be seen in community newspapers that parents are filing lawsuits against them because their middle school-aged child was raped on a school bus or in a locker room.

Well, while schools are busy saving face, they are betraying their most crucial task — ensuring a safe environment for student learning. They are damaging students’ childhoods, hindering their futures and betraying a community of parents who trust these institutions with their children’s lives and wellbeing, all the while ignoring bullies accused of a criminal act. Clearly, there needs to be more transparency and better responses regarding this topic.

So what needs to change?

To start, there is no federal mandate to track sexual violence in schools, though 32 states, including New York, do. However, New York does not verify what individual schools and districts report such cases.

We force college campuses to keep a public crime log, send emergency alerts about sexual assaults, train staff and aid victims. While taking care to protect victims, why can’t such standards be included in middle and high school?

New York currently also tracks cases in two different categories: sexual penetration, with or without a weapon, and other types of inappropriate sexual contact with a weapon. The state is currently in the process of amending that so that all sexually-related incidents are grouped into one category. Let’s hope other states can produce similar rules.

Maybe most importantly is the need to require training aimed at preventing or responding to student-on-student sexual assault — another item New York doesn’t currently mandate. It is bad enough for any student to go through any kind of unwanted sexual ordeal. But just imagine a child who’s just been sexually assaulted and has found the courage to speak out about it, but teachers and administrators don’t believe them or believe that child is just being “oversensitive,” as some have claimed.

In many cases, such a scenario might occur because that teacher or administrator wouldn’t know how to properly handle that because they simply don’t know how to.

When we come to a point where schools can no longer help a student, then we know it’s time for something to change.

While new federal and state measures would be helpful, the last defense will always be the individual schools themselves. Laws don’t patrol hallways or cafeterias on a daily basis, after all.

Schools should take the responsibility of reporting and combating sexual assault seriously. It might be happening in yours. There’s likely much more going on that we don’t know about than what we do. And when it involves our youth, that’s something we cannot take lightly.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Paris Climate Agreement Withdrawal Puts ‘America Last’

The rest of the world will benefit from growing clean energy industry

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Nearly 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson returned from Paris in the aftermath of World War I with a proposal for the United States Senate — approve the U.S.’s entry into the League of Nations, Wilson’s plan for global peace through diplomacy that would prevent another world war.

That proposal failed to pass in the Senate.

The rest of the world joined the league. But as we learned, the absence of the U.S., not just as a member, but as a leader, led to its eventual failure.

Some might make that comparison to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, the 2015 agreement led by the Obama administration that includes nearly 200 nations, all with the consensual goal to reduce fossil fuel emissions and encourage clean energy production to slow global warming temperatures. Some worry that with the U.S. pulling out, the effort will collapse.

That may be true.

But what also may be true, and probably much more likely, is that the agreement will survive, but with the members of the European Union and China taking the lead on climate change, both of which have reaffirmed their commitment to the deal.

What this really means is that the EU and Asia will be the ones leading the world into the economy of the future. For the first time in 150 years, the U.S. won’t be. And that’s a huge deal.

President Trump justified his decision as an economic one, arguing that the Paris agreement hurts American workers, particularly those employed by the fossil fuel industry. It is his biggest play yet in his campaign promise to boost jobs in coal and natural gas production.

And the truth is, pulling out of the deal will create more jobs in those fields. Rolling back layers of environmental restrictions put in place by his predecessor has already spurred growth in both of them.

But it will be only temporary. It’s just putting another band-aid on a body that is dying of cancer. The days of coal driving our energy are simply over. Jobs in coal have been on a steady decline for decades. The idea that withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord and slashing environmental regulations is somehow going to make coal mines re-open by the dozens is simply fantasy. Indeed, the emergence of natural gas is what has led to coal’s demise, since it is much cheaper to produce. So thinking coal and natural gas are going to together power this country is another fantasy.

If Trump wants to talk about jobs, he should look elsewhere. You know what field jobs aren’t declining in? Clean energy. For example, there are already more American jobs in the solar industry than in coal mining.

But what Trump basically did Thursday was announce to the world that the U.S. is going to cling to the past and ignore the obvious direction energy is heading in. While we continue to hug a dying fossil fuel industry, a growing clean energy industry will look to other countries to do business with. The president ran a campaign on promising to stop American jobs fleeing overseas. But now that’s exactly what he will be doing. As a consequence of withdrawing from the accord, the United Nations estimates that the U.S. will lose clean energy jobs to Europe, India and China over the next few years.

Global investment in green energy sources totaled $300 billion in 2016. It’s estimated it will reach $6 trillion by 2030. China, the biggest polluter in the world and known for its smong-choked cities, is investing in the capability to build solar panels and will likely lead that sector in the future. Germany is converting a coal mine into a massive renewable “energy battery” and soon hopes to become the leading supplier of electric cars.

While they do that, we’ll be digging coal. Investors will see that as a signal that the U.S. is clearly not interested in getting a hand in an expanding market. We’re essentially throwing away one of the fastest growing, if not the fastest growing portion of the American economy, and surrendering it to Europe and Southeast Asia.

Is that how we make America great again?

The very reason for this country’s economic success story has always been our ability to look ahead. That’s how we were able to land on the moon just 66 years after the first airplane left the ground. That’s how Henry Ford’s concept of the assembly line turned automobiles from a luxurious item into a symbol of American culture. That’s how in just 25 years, the internet went from a tool for just the government and academics to being a major part of our lives and businesses.

President Wilson was able to look ahead. That’s why he worked himself into his grave pushing for the League of Nations. He knew how important it was.

It is unbelievable that Trump cannot share that same vision. Green energy is eventually going to surpass fossil fuels as the world’s lead source of power. And that may happen sooner than we think. Can’t he see that it might be something worth investing in? He’s a businessman for God’s sake.

We’re in a transitional time with a transitional economy. If the U.S. doesn’t make that transition — the same transition the rest of the world is making — we will be left behind. And years from now, we’ll have to say, with great irony, that a policy of “America First” is what did it.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Increasing Hostility to the Media Should Concern Us All

Physical violence with reporters is becoming all too common

Greg Gianforte, Susan Gianforte

Greg Gianforte celebrates his win over Rob Quist for the open congressional seat in Bozeman, Montana. The Republican multimillionaire Gianforte won despite being charged a day earlier with assault after witnesses said he grabbed a reporter by the neck and threw him to the ground.

Anyone remember in 2010 when then-Republican candidate for New York governor Carl Paladino said to a New York Post columnist “I’ll take you out, buddy”?

It was a very hot moment during the heat of that campaign. The video of the encounter played on TV stations for weeks.

Though intense, and out of line, the confrontation didn’t turn physical, as many feared.

The same can’t be said for the incident we saw last week in Montana, when congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly grabbing Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck and slamming him to the ground just one day before a special election. Just read the transcript of what was said, which was audio recorded.

 Jacobs: …the CBO score. Because, you know, you were waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill and it just came out…

Gianforte: Yeah, we’ll talk to you about that later.

Jacobs: Yeah, but there’s not going to be time. I’m just curious—

Gianforte: Okay, speak with Shane, please.

 [loud scuffling noises, an even louder crash, repeated thumping]

Gianforte: [shouting] I’m sick and tired of you guys!

Jacobs: Jesus chri—!

Gianforte: The last guy that came in here, you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!

Jacobs: Jesus!

Gianforte: Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing! You with The Guardian?

Jacobs: Yes! And you just broke my glasses.

Gianforte: The last guy did the same damn thing.

Jacobs: You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.

Gianforte: Get the hell out of here.

Now, the candidate said the reporter was being aggressive and grabbed him by the wrist. Jacobs said he never touched Gianforte and a Fox News reporter who witnessed the incident said Jacobs was not physically aggressive.

As you can read above, the reporter was physically attacked — for asking a question.

I wish that was an isolated incident. But it wasn’t.

The free press has seen a lot of abuse lately. Donald Trump, both as a candidate and president, has made a habit of attacking the media, calling everything “fake news” and labeling it as the “enemy of the people.” And now, reports allege Trump suggested to former FBI Director James Comey that certain journalists should be thrown in prison.

As grotesque as that is, it’s, for the most part, verbal abuse. And journalists have thick skin. But over time, that verbal abuse has translated into physical altercations which have actually been quite frequent. Just in the last month, the editor of an Alaska newspaper said a state senator slapped one of his reporters when they asked for the politician’s opinion on a recent article. A reporter from CQ Roll Call said he was pinned against a wall by security guards and forced to leave the Federal Communications Commission headquarters when he tried to ask the commissioner a question. Another journalist was arrested after asking Health Secretary Tom Price questions about opioids.

We’re gotten to a point where beating journalists has become a solution for public officials who don’t want to deal with the press, which is downright frightening. Yes, the media can, at times, appear too intrusive, but they are doing their job. Simply walking away and not saying anything, or saying “no comment,” is just as effective and much less likely to end in a fine or jail time for assault.

But even more frightening is the slow, and even nonexistent, condemnation of actions like Gianforte’s from other public officials.

“We all make mistakes,” Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told NBC News. “From what I know of Greg Gianforte, this was totally out of character.”

“We all make mistakes” is something we say to our children the first time they forget to do a homework assignment or lose a library book. It is not an excuse for someone vying to serve the people of Montana in the United States Congress to body-slam a reporter.

More frightening still is that this repulsive behavior by elected officials or those who seek elected office is being channeled down to average people, who sometimes see it as almost heroic.

Indeed, the Gianforte campaign said they raised over $100,000 online in the 24 hours following the incident with Jacobs.

Last year, a photo went viral across the internet of a man at one Trump rally in a shirt that read, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.”

We’re passing the point of just a war on the media in general. Now it’s on those inside the media. We’re venturing further into an era where assaulting an individual and justifying it because he’s a “liberal journalist” isn’t only not frowned upon, but encouraged and rewarded.

Gianforte eventually apologized to Jacobs and called his actions “a mistake.” But it came only after he won the special election, and it came when just hours earlier he had denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

It seems like a long way from the days of Paladino threatening to take out a reporter. The only difference between him and Gianforte is Paladino lost.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Senate Stipend Scandal Another Reason Why We Don’t Like Albany

Lawmakers should not be getting paid for jobs they don’t have

John Flanagan

New York Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan addresses the Senate in the Capitol in Albany.

Last year, the New York Legislature made quite the effort to get a pay raise of 47 percent — from an annual $79,500 to $116,900 — which would’ve been their first raise since 1999. The state pay commission denied them that raise in the fall.

But as it turns out, some state senators have been getting a raise for years — one of their own making and one they do not deserve.

The New York Times revealed recently that at least four Republicans and three members of the Independent Democratic Conference have been receiving thousands of dollars in stipends for leadership positions when they actually do not hold leadership positions.

Two of them are central New York legislators — Sen. David Valesky, who represents the city of Syracuse and parts of Onondaga and Madison counties, and Sen. Patty Richie, who represents Oswego County and areas along Lake Ontario up to Massena.

Ritchie was authorized to receive a $15,000 bonus for serving as chair of the Health Committee, despite only serving as deputy vice-chair. Valesky is the current vice chairperson of the Health Committee. According to the Times, two documents in 2015 and 2016 identified Valesky as chairman of the committee, requesting two payments totaling $7,500. In total, Valesky received $30,000 in gross pay for the stipends in 2015 and 2016 for a job he doesn’t have.

Legislators make a base pay of $79,500, but most are paid additional dollars a year in stipends for leadership roles.

The actual chairs of the committees didn’t take the stipends because they accepted higher compensations for other leadership roles. State law mandates lawmakers who hold multiple leadership roles can only take a stipend from one. So if one legislator is chair of a committee, but is also a member of the Senate leadership, they naturally take the higher of the two stipends, apparently leaving the other for someone else to grab, instead of returning it to the state treasury, as one might think.

Oh and by the way, that’s taxpayer money. And both Valesky and Richie have said that they have no intention of giving back the paychecks, either.

So, do you get money for jobs that you don’t do?

I didn’t think so.

If there are seriously any politicians wondering why so many hardworking people think they feel they are above the law, look no further. This is exactly the kind of thing in Albany that people don’t like and the kind of thing we want to stop.

Incredibly, the Senate Republican leadership has defended the entire practice, citing a state law that allows unspecified pay for senators serving in a “special capacity,” though it does not specifically say whether chairman stipends can be transferred legally to other members.

“I think everything we’ve done in the past and right now is in full accordance with not only the constitution but the legislative law,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said to reporters on May 15.

Did you notice that he said “in the past”? Apparently, this is nothing new. The Senate’s top lawyer said previous Senate leaders had used the same tactic as far back as 2013, which would include Dean Skelos — the one now convicted of extortion.

It’s that never-ending excuse for wrongdoing in Albany: “it’s normal. It happens all the time.”

But good government groups like Reclaim New York and Common Cause New York have called the practice a fraud. And they have joined Democrats’ demands for a full investigation into what some define as filing a false instrument.

Whether the Republicans’ interpretation of this statue is legal or not, there is still this predicament: Just because something may be legally binding doesn’t mean it is right.

For New York taxpayers who tire of Albany scandals and desperately want a cleaner and more transparent government, finding out that some of their representatives are submitting false information on their payrolls isn’t exactly reassuring. And as an explanation, “we think it’s legal” just isn’t going to cut it.

The cases disclosed by the Times, as well as the overall practice of stipends, should be thoroughly investigated. More importantly, right or wrong, the practice of handing-off stipends should come to a halt. As the root of all evil, money has already infected Albany almost beyond repair as it is. The last thing we need is members of the Legislature raking in thousands of taxpayer dollars just because no one else is taking it.

Maybe if the Legislature fought as faithfully for New Yorkers and a cleaner government as they do for a pay raise, they might actually deserve to get one. This Senate stipends scandal is just another reason why they don’t.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

My First Year With Cable News

Today’s headline: What I found most annoying about it

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Nope. I never had it before.

But by the time Super Tuesday came around, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Unique characters like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders had made the 2016 presidential election just too damn interesting. Those who know me are aware of my extreme fascination with elections — particularly when it comes to the office of president.

Even though I spent eight hours a day scrolling through Associated Press stories at work and had unlimited access to Twitter and the internet, it still wasn’t enough for an enormous news consumer like myself.

So one day I bit the bullet and ordered a subscription that included CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

And just like that, for the first time in my life, I had entered the compelling world of cable news.

That was just over a year ago. I watched all of the networks and watched closely. I was able to see full up-to-the-minute coverage of all sorts of important events. But I also noticed so many of the elements — big and small — about cable news that makes it something people love to hate.

Did I Say ‘News?’

Now, I don’t subscribe to the whole notion of the “liberal media.” And I disapprove of President Trump or anyone else referring to cable news as “fake news.”

It’s not fake. But it’s also hard to call it news — which is something Fox doesn’t seem to have a problem with. Even though they are the most-watched network by far, they religiously insist they aren’t “mainstream media.”

There are perhaps more appropriate, though less flattering terms that better describe it. “Infotainment” is one used by many, meaning cable news provides informative material but comes with spicy characteristics and personalities to make it different.

The word “advertising” comes most to my mind. They are corporations, after all. They’re here to make a profit. They spend almost the same amount of time reminding you what channel you’re watching as they do actually talking about the day’s events. I’ve said before that you could make a drinking game out of the number of times anchors put the name of their network into their sentences. “This is a Fox News Alert” and “you can watch it all right here on CNN” — over and over again. Then there’s the network logo on reporters’ microphones, anchor’s coffee mugs, on their desks, flying on a graphic in the background and of course, at the corner of the screen.

The name is also said several times during promotions for documentary-style programs networks produce — which raises another point. Why is CNN called a 24-hour news channel if they have a documentary about the 1980s playing during nighttime hours? Why is Fox a 24-hour news channel when it simply repeats three hours of the exact same segments that had been playing during the evening hours, which sometimes include outdated story developments?

It’s also disappointing that those who do the news are as big as the news, or in the recent case of Bill O’Reilly, are the news. Reporters and anchors are further blurring the line between journalist and celebrity. Of everything that happened on April 19, the biggest story of the day was that the most popular cable news network had ousted its most popular employee.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

They Really Are In a Bubble

Immediately after they called Trump the president-elect on Nov. 9, there was a lot of humble questioning inside the mainstream media about why they predicted everything so incorrectly, from polls to turnout to the eventual victor. Many began overusing the phrase that they “live in a bubble” or “live inside the beltway” and don’t understand struggles of everyday Americans, and therefore, weren’t qualified to predict how they would vote.

And why should they? MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow makes $20 million annually, which is amusing since she harshly criticized Republican congressmen in 2013 for complaining that they were struggling to get by on their $172,000 annual paycheck. Not that Maddow has complained about her paycheck, but she’s hardly the one to call others out for it. Just like Fox’s Sean Hannity is hardly the one to complain about his “overpaid friends in the media” when he is actually the highest paid New York TV anchor, at $29 million, which includes a private jet.

I saw the bubble constantly on display. It annoyed me to no end to watch these people cite these numbers and statistics that the economy is growing and less people are unemployed, then ask why are people so angry? Why are older people angry and voting for Trump? Why are young people angry and voting for Sanders? Why isn’t everyone honky dory about life right now?

It may be genuine curiosity to some, but to others it may very well be plain obviousness.

And that’s why some of the most intelligent, respected and experienced media professionals and scholars predicted Hillary Clinton would win Florida by five points, something I, a 23-year-old SUNY-educated editor at a small newspaper who’s never even been to Florida, knew would not happen.

Maybe even stranger is their attempt to make up for it by suddenly flooding rural America with reporters to “investigate” why people feel so disenfranchised. I remember seeing one segment on CNN with the banner reading “TALKING TO TRUMP VOTERS IN TRUMP COUNTRY” — like they’re people from a foreign planet or something. And I laughed out loud when CNN’s Van Jones brought us into coal country to learn of people’s pain and Anderson Cooper said “It’s just so great to hear from people — not pundits — just hear from people what’s in their hearts and what’s in their heads.”

Man, who would’ve thunk?

Analyzing the Analysis

Speaking of pundits, perhaps what designates cable news so much is the significant use of commentary in daily programming. Panel conversations on important events like election night or momentous news events are actually usually quite interesting. But it should never dominate a medium. Why every single news development needs instant reaction from someone I don’t know from Adam is beyond me.

Why do the opinions of some of these “experts” have so much weight? They sit there and go “I don’t think the American people will like this” and “this is going to make people think that” and blablabla.

What makes them so sure they know what we think?

Who are these people anyway? Scottie Neil Hughes, a front-line Trump supporter, equated Trump’s “sacrifice” to his business to that of a soldier giving his life in battle. What is she doing on national TV?

And when you get enough of these people together, all they do is yell these outrageous comments at each other so you can’t hear anything they’re saying. It just makes them all look downright foolish.

It’s not just the people. It’s the context. It’s understandable that politics can create heat in conversation, but I watched these pundits spend half an hour arguing about whose speech should’ve been in what time slot at the national conventions and the fashions of the outfits of people at the inauguration.

They really know what’s important to us.

Changing the Channel?

So Luke, if you hate it so much, why do you still have it?

I get that question a lot.

I guess I do appreciate having it at my disposal. And I like variety, so it’s nice to see what all types of news sources are saying.

Perhaps the biggest reason I still have it is this: As important as media is at keeping government accountable, it is also just as important to keep the media accountable — both now more than ever.

After all, more people get their news from cable than from any other medium. And one year later, I can’t seem to stop watching it.

I don’t know which scares me more.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

No, Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Run For President Again

Former candidate has yet to understand why she lost the last election

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has spent the better part of the last decade-and-a-half running for president. It’s been just six months after her stunning loss, but there are already many speculating that after two failed attempts, the former first lady may believe that a third time’s the charm.

Matt Latimer, contributing editor at Politico, wrote an audacious column in February saying she would certainly run again. He listed several concrete arguments regarding her recent actions as signals, like scaling back the involvement of the controversial Clinton Foundation, denying rumors that she would run for mayor of New York City and a new book deal.

Normally, there would be many reasons to suspect she wouldn’t run, like her age. She would be 73 in 2020, but that’s still a year younger than Donald Trump, already the oldest president ever elected. It’s also rare in modern times for a candidate who once received a main party’s nomination, but lost a general election, to run again and win both. The last person to do that was Richard Nixon in 1968. But in the age of Trump, it’s hard to judge political standards on history alone. Clinton still remains a popular figure and retains incredible influence over the Democratic Party.

The ill-fated candidate has made several returns to the limelight in recent weeks, still answering questions about why she thought she was defeated.

And that’s why she shouldn’t run for president again. Because she still doesn’t know.

Clinton recently spoke at the Women in the World Summit and was asked by New York Times columnist Nicholas Krist about her loss. She admitted that she could’ve done some things differently and said outright she was the name on the ballot, but she primarily continued to put the most blame on Russia and the James Comey letter that announced the reopening of an investigation of her emails just days before the election, a conversation that continues with Comey’s recent ousting.

Now, she’s not wrong. There’s no doubt both those contributed significantly to Trump’s victory. But she seems set that the Comey letter on Oct. 28 was the only nail in the coffin. She brought it up again recently.

“If the election had been on Oct. 27, I would be your president,” she said at the Women for Women International Summit in New York, again echoing her subscription to Five Thirty Eight pollster Nate Silver’s interpretation that had the Comey letter not been released, she would’ve won.

Silver also said on Election Day that Clinton had a 70 percent chance of winning.

Such reliance on the Comey letter is curious, given that at the time of its release, Clinton said everyone had already made up their mind about where they stood on the subject of her emails.

And that collaborates with a CNN exit poll that found 62 percent of people decided who they were going to vote for by September, long before the first debate, let alone the Comey letter. Only 7 percent decided in the campaign’s final days.

Even if the Comey letter decided the presidency, it doesn’t explain why the Democrats made little gains in the House of Representatives. The Comey letter doesn’t explain why the Democrats didn’t win back the Senate and why they lost Senate races in Democratic stronghold states like the one in Wisconsin. The Comey letter doesn’t explain why in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Democrats gained only 6,000 new registered voters between 2014 and 2016, where the Republicans gained 145,000 in the same period of time. The Comey letter doesn’t explain why Democrats have lost nearly 1,000 legislative seats and many governorships over the last eight years. And it doesn’t explain why millions of Americans who voted for Barack Obama four years ago voted for Trump.

Clinton lost because she was part of a Washington establishment that one too many people across the country had felt had abandoned them — many of them poor, rural and white. And that couldn’t compete with the populist outsider appeal to Trump, who she spent too much time talking about and too little time talking about what she stood for, all the while representing a party that, to many, looked like it didn’t represent the average American worker anymore.

Clinton’s problems went way beyond the campaign’s final days.

That is common knowledge now. We’ve been over this. It’s no secret to anyone — except maybe Clinton.

 Joe Biden understands it. At a crowd at the University of Pennsylvania in March, he said that “this is the first campaign that I can recall where my party did not talk about what it always stood for, and that is how to maintain a burgeoning middle class.”

Bernie Sanders understands it. He did all along, yet many even find him at fault because his base, young people, didn’t turn out to the polls for Clinton like they had for Obama. When asked how much blame Clinton put her loss on Sanders and the media, she said “well, how much time do you have?”

Voters are the last people that need blame. You have to earn their votes, not expect them.

You might ask why bring this up at all? The election is over. Clinton lost. Let’s move forward. While that is true, the Democratic Party is going to make the same mistakes in future elections if they don’t learn from the major ones they made in 2016. And for whatever reason, they don’t seem to be doing that.

And Clinton’s the one still leading the charge. She said at the women’s summit that she is now “part of the resistance” to the Trump administration.

Well, she was once the face of the resistance to Trump. That didn’t work out so well. So, it is undoubtedly not in the Democrats’ best interest to try that again.

Trump once told us that when he became president, we would win so much that we would get tired of winning. If the Democrats continue forward with the Clintons still at the helm, they won’t have to worry about that, because they won’t be winning at all.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Cuomo Is an Ethics Reform False Prophet

After running to clean up Albany,
governor keeps going about it the wrong way

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“King Cuomo” is a popular derogatory on-the-street nickname used by those who are harsh critics of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, referencing their feelings of his overreach in state policy.

Take that as you will. But when it comes to the throne of concrete ethics reform, this king has abdicated.

“If we didn’t get it done in the budget, it means you didn’t have the political will to get it done,” the governor recently told reporters at an Easter eve reception. “Ethics reform, for example, I don’t see that happening with this Legislature.”

Wow. That’s a vastly different tone than the one we heard just five months ago.

In laying out his proposal for an ethics package in January, Cuomo said “we have been doing historic work at the state level — the government is doing more than ever before — but imagine what we could do if we had the complete confidence of the people. If we had that confidence, there is nothing we couldn’t do — and I am not going to stop until I get there.”

Well, he hasn’t gotten there. So why is he stopping?

We see this charade every single year. The governor comes out and makes a lot of noise about the need for ethics reform and how it’s going to happen this year. Then when budget time comes around, and especially after, he shrugs his shoulders with the “I’ve done all I can do” look and shakes his finger at the Legislature.

Never mind that 40 state officials have been accused or convicted of corruption since 2000. Never mind that the two leaders of the Legislature — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos — were both sentenced last year on corruption charges. Never mind that nine of Cuomo’s own aides are preparing for trial on charges of bribery and bid-rigging in connection with the governor’s economic development projects. And never mind that a November poll found 97 percent of New Yorkers considered combating public corruption a top priority.

Sorry, everyone. Cuomo has apparently moved on.

That’s disappointing for a governor who claimed he’d be the champion to clean up Albany in his first campaign in 2010.

But it’s not surprising either, because he keeps going about it the wrong way.

Cuomo can’t seem to understand that in order for a cleaner government in this state to exist, he must lead the charge. And to do so, he needs to know when it’s best to be involved and when it’s best to step back. Incredibly, he has been successful at neither.

While he gives us the impression that his proposals can’t get through the Legislature, we know he can actually flex his political muscles and get them to follow along if he wants something bad enough. He was able to push the controversial SAFE Act through using a late-night “message of necessity” with no hearings, no testimony and no time for opponents to make a case against it. Many people thought Cuomo’s plan for a $15 minimum wage could never get past Senate Republicans or that no one could all agree on a paid family leave program.

This year he got his prized free tuition plan through, the go-ahead for Uber upstate and approval to raise the age of those who can be tried in adult court from 16 to 18, just as he asked. And despite a heavy outcry from the Legislature about Cuomo’s budget giving the executive too much power, they still approved a lot of it, including giving Cuomo more authority on the state budgeting process itself.

Yes, it’s the Legislature that must pass ethics reform in the end, but that hardly means Cuomo is merely a bench warmer until then. And it’s not that Cuomo shouldn’t be given credit for trying. His proposals provide sound remedies, like putting restrictions on outside income for lawmakers, initiating term limits and closing the LLC loophole.

But each year he makes clear where his priorities lie. After saying ethics will be his main concern, it instead becomes Uber or the Raise the Age initiative and ethics get kicked down the road once again.

If Cuomo really wanted reform, he would actually make it a priority. If he really wanted it as bad as he says, he’d make use of his leverage over the Legislature to make it happen. Sadly, this never seems to be the case.

Where the governor is involved in cleaning up Albany is just as troubling and ineffective. He created the “independent” Joint Commission on Public Ethics in 2011 to oversee government. Yet all of its members are decided by leaders in the Legislature and the governor himself. The current executive director, Seth H. Agata, is the third person to hold that position, and the third person in that position who was previously a top aide to — guess who — Gov. Cuomo.

Though not legally wrong, on its face, the appointment of government insiders by government insiders makes the commission by no means “independent” and makes its efficiency almost laughable.

Then there’s the infamous Moreland Commission, another “independent” group created by Cuomo in 2013 that would investigate possible corruption in Albany. That commission existed for only a few months because Cuomo had it shut down when his office discovered the commission was investigating him. His reasoning? It was “his.”

“It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission,” he told Crain’s New York Business. “I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”

Boy, nothing wrong with that.

Now Cuomo opposes legislation that would let the state comptroller examine state contracts before his administration can approve them. But Cuomo wants to use his proposal, which creates new inspectors general and special prosecutors.

But guess who would appoint those prosecutors? Him.

For whatever reason, Cuomo cannot comprehend the meaning of “independence” or that actual independent committees or individuals would fare better at fighting corruption.

If Cuomo re-strategized how he approached the ethics reform roadblock — using a heavy hand but also knowing when to keep his hands off — he might actually get passed needed legislation and be the champion to clean up Albany he keeps promising he will be.

But it looks like he’s no longer interested. He “doesn’t see that happening.” He’s essentially given up, which means that he is satisfied with the status quo of watered down proposals that have already been passed that will do little, while it’s only a matter of time before another state official’s arrest makes headlines.

Well, we’re not satisfied. So neither should he.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/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 https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88