Friday, April 29, 2016

Consolidate New York’s primaries



New Yorkers just came out of a contentious presidential primary election. We were burdened with weeks of advertisements on TV and radio while being subjected to countless rallies that showed more salesmanship than statesmanship.

On April 20th, many New Yorkers could be found wiping their brows and exclaiming, “phew! I’m glad that’s over!”

Not so fast -- voters in the Empire State still have two more primaries to contend with!

But, we shouldn’t.   

In 2009, the federal government passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act which mandated that the states have federal absentee ballots in the hands of overseas military personnel at least 45 days before an election, ensuring that their completed ballots could be received by local boards of elections in a timely fashion, guaranteeing that the warriors’ voices are heard while they are off protecting those same rights for others.

The MOVE Act has had an impact on primary elections nationwide, because states that had theirs in the fall – like New York with its second-Tuesday-after-Labor-Day date – could not meet federal standards. Once the outcomes of the primaries were known, the official regular election ballots would physically have to be in the hands of military personnel by the third week of September. Impossible.

In 2010, since state officials couldn’t get their act together to accommodate this rather simple and well-intentioned law, New York was granted a waiver by the Department of Defense and held its federal primaries in September.

The feds weren’t so kind in 2012 when a federal judge stepped in and mandated a June federal primary in the Empire State. Because of the legislative impasse that led to that, New York voters participated in 3 primaries – one in April for the presidential election, one in June for federal elections and another in September for local and state elections. The exhausted voters then had to vote for the real deal in November.

Almost seven years after the passage of the MOVE Act, we are no further ahead. Again this year we are saddled with 3 primaries. Because of the intent of the law (to allow access to the polls to our servicemen and women) and the cost (the bill for the each extra primary is $50 million to New York taxpayers), Democrat leaders in the Assembly again passed a bill this year that would create a harmonized primary date, whereby state and local primaries would be held on the same date as the federal primaries – the fourth Tuesday in June. That’s a logically, philosophically and fiscally sound premise.

But, Republican leaders in the state Senate and the band of rogue Senate Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference want nothing to do with it.  In the past they argued for both the federal and state primaries to be held on the third Tuesday in August. If that’s the GOP’s idea of a compromise, it’s a horrid one at best: That date is not really that far off from the current September primary and its one that sets-up boards of election for non-compliance and potential lawsuits from the federal government (not to mention slighting of our armed forces). 

The Republicans’ proclaimed reason for their date is a stretch. They’ve often said a June primary would disrupt the final month of the legislative session in Albany. That’s a contorted way of implying that they are more interested in politicking than doing the peoples’ work, that there’s no way that they could do both.

The self-preservation doesn’t end there. The Senate’s plan, like our current September set-up, benefits those in power and would continue to be a key driver of an incumbency rate that normally exceeds 90% in the state legislature. Typically, incumbents remain uncontested in primaries because they have name recognition and the support of their party leaders – why rock the boat? Challengers from other parties, on the other hand, aren’t afforded such a smooth ride. They typically square-off in primaries that drain finances and energy. With the conclusion of the September primary (or what could be an August primary), the victors don’t have the momentum or finances (both have been wiped out) to stage an all-out war against the incumbent in that two-month time frame. A June primary would put an end to that mess, and afford others an equal chance at office.

Let’s hope the legislative head-butting ends soon and the Senate and Assembly come to an agreement. If they don’t, we will have a repeat of 2012 and 2016 – 3 primaries, millions wasted, and an election process that disrespects those protecting our nation and its interests abroad.



From the 02 May 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers



Thursday, April 28, 2016

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Spring beauty – the little potato of the spring woods





If you are out and about in the rich-soiled woodlots of Western New York this weekend you will come across a dainty little wildflower called the spring beauty.

It is an attractive sprite that stands just two to four inches off of the ground. The flowers are only a half inch across. They are a very light pink or white (some even look like they were lightly brushed with lavender) and a closer inspection will show deeply-pink veins in the petals. Sprouting from inside the flower will be five or six stamens with pink tips. They are photo-sensitive, closing up and night and opening on the next sunny day (they remain closed on the cloudiest of days).

The leaves are very narrow and typically two inches long in our northern woods -- in Appalachia they will be much longer, sometimes reaching a half-foot in length. The leaves are shiny and smooth. Once the flowers wilt away in a couple of weeks, the leaves will remain with us till late-May.

The spring beauty is more than that cute flower. It’s what you don’t see that makes it even more of a special plant.

The flower’s underground root is a corm or tuber. They are very small, maybe no bigger than the fingernail on your pinky. They served the Native Americans quite well as a food source, although, as you can imagine, it would take some effort to harvest any reasonable quantity of the corm.

Spring beauty’s corms were treated like a small potato. They used to roast them and it would have that same potatoey flower. Raw, they have a sharper flavor that some compare to a radish or chestnut.

More than just a foodstuff, some tribes also used them for medicinal purposes. They were used to treat children suffering from convulsions while others believed that if women ate them they could make themselves permanently sterile.

Those mystical powers have since been proven unfounded and the corm is classified as an edible and nutritious snack. Regardless, I suggest that you do not eat them – there’s no need to kill such a delicate, beautiful plant. Treat them well and their appearance will delight you every spring.



Bob Confer is a Gasport resident. His column, Exploring the Niagara Frontier, is published every Thursday on All WNY News.

Posted by All WNY News on Thursday, April 28, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Allegany County’s Genesee River -- A fishing derby and so much more

Tucked among the Allegheny foothills in southwestern New York, it is home to nearly 60,000 acres of public land. It has a picturesque mix of forests and farmland and boasts nearly two-dozen streams and rivers that are stocked with trout on an annual basis or have been stocked in recent years.

Add to the mix countless other smaller and unnamed brooks which support populations of native brook trout or transients from the larger bodies of water and you have yourself a very remarkable trout fishery.

Allegany County’s primary watershed – and premier fishery -- is the Genesee River, which cuts right through the center of the county. It is a remarkable river that starts in the mountains of Pennsylvania and works its way to Lake Ontario. The Allegany County section of the Genesee offers a varied fishery for even the most finicky of trout anglers thanks to its wide-ranging physical makeup: over its length it sports rapids, long stretches of riffles, slow-moving meanders, and countless deep pools. By traveling even just a half-mile upstream or downstream you could find yourself on what would seem to be an entirely different body of water. And, with 18 miles of public fishing rights available there is more than enough access available to find a stretch you can call your own.

The Genesee supports an extremely healthy population of trout with brown trout being the predominant species followed by rainbows and a smattering of wild brookies. This fishery is maintained by extensive stocking with almost 20,000 trout anticipated for stocking in 2016. A few major feeders – like Dyke Creek – also receive substantial stocking which in total account for nearly another 5,000 trout that could easily enter the waterway.

The Genesee is one of the most popular inland trout streams in New York State and one can attribute that not only to those fine stocking numbers but also in part to special management practices employed by the DEC, which are highlighted by a year-round season and a no-kill zone.

The seasonal trout angling regulations on the Genesee are in stark contrast to the rest of the county and most of New York State which generally follow the April 1 to October 15 standard. From the dam in Belmont upstream to the Pennsylvania state line you may fish for trout year-round on the "Gennie". For most of that stretch, there is a daily creel limit of 5 fish, with no more than two longer than a foot. This special season affords sportsmen the chance to fish as a nice way to break up their day during deer season. In a relatively mild winter -- as the past one was -- it gives hardcore anglers a means by which to satisfy their cabin fever. As a matter of fact, winter fishing can be very productive on the Genesee. Anglers in the Wellsville consistently produce trophy-sized trout in the winter months. Some of the beasts have not only approached, but have modestly exceeded, the magical 20-inch mark.

There exists within this year-round zone a very special 2.5 mile stretch that travels downstream from the Route 19 bridge in Shongo. This section is under catch-and-release, artificial-only regulations. This unique management philosophy has created a very intriguing fishery in this stretch filled with deep pools and very cold water. The locals speak of trophy fish galore in this stretch and the DEC and Trout Unlimited both tout this area as being comparable to the remarkable trout fisheries of the Western United States. For trout purists this no-kill zone ranks as one of New York’s premier destinations, a veritable angling jewel.

The trout fishing on the Genesee River is such an integral part of the Allegany economy that it is widely promoted in tourism circles. The Wellsville Lions Club runs the popular Greater Wellsville Trout Derby every April. This event brings in thousands of participants from not only Western New York, but from the entire United States and Canada. On any given year, the derby might bring in between 2,000 and 3,000 people depending on the weather. This is a family-oriented event that takes place on the mighty Genesee with all anglers sharing good times and competing for 450 tagged trout which equate to over $25,000 in prize money. This year’s derby will take place this Saturday and Sunday. For more information visit www.trout-derby.com.

If you are looking to visit Allegany County to take advantage of this splendid fishery or any other of the fine natural resources, you will find the Allegany Office of Tourism and Culture to be most helpful. They can provide you a detailed outdoors travel guide and their personable staff can direct you to camping areas and angling hotspots. They can be reached at 1.800.836.1869 or online at http://www.discoveralleganycounty.com.

Make it a point to hit the water in Allegany County this year. You won’t be disappointed and, as a matter of fact, you are guaranteed to be pleasantly surprised.



From the 21 April 2016 All WNY News

Friday, April 22, 2016

The government makes it too easy to not work



In a report issued last week, the Conference Board -- one of the most trusted voices in economic research – gave some sobering news to US employers. They will be dealing with a major labor shortage for the next 15 years.

The researchers cited various reasons for the crisis. Among them were: economic growth going step-for-step with employment growth; new entrants to the workforce being ill-prepared for working in health care or skilled trades; retiring baby boomers; and very weak labor productivity growth.

What they failed to mention as a key contributor to this matter is the simple fact that fewer people are interested in working.

The workforce participation rate is currently at 63 percent after bottoming out at 62.4 percent in September, which was its lowest mark in almost four decades. More than 94 million working age Americans are not employed or interested in employment (compare that to the 122 million Americans who are working at least 35 hours a week).  

This indifference to breaking a sweat can only occur when the government makes it too easy to not work. In a 2012 study I did for the New American magazine I looked at a market basket of federal programs related to health coverage, housing, food, heating, and cell phones and found that families that were collecting all such things from the public dole were receiving over $44,000 in benefits per year. While cash poor, they weren’t poor in the truest sense because they had access to all of the needs and some of the wants that the working class had to, as their name implies, work to get. 

That study looked only at benefits and not any incomes that people could receive while not working. Such incomes would include but are not limited to child tax credits, unemployment, and, what has become the new welfare – disability.

Disability has had a great impact on the decision to not work, thanks to modified federal programs which make it easier than ever before to collect a government check, morphing from their original intent to do good for those who are actually physically or mentally unable to work. It is now a system rife with fraud and abuses, all for a $1,000 to $1,200 monthly stipend.

A telling 2013 report from National Public Radio (which does not have a tradition of attacking social welfare programs) looked at this in-depth and found that people were collecting checks for made-up ailments and manageable woes like high blood pressure and diabetes, while costing US taxpayers $260 billion annually, threatening to bankrupt Social Security in 15 years.

If you don’t think that disability is being abused, consider this: 27 percent of Lockport city residents are considered disabled. Drive around the city and take a look at the residents; do you really think that more than 1 in 4 working adults in the Lock City are unfit for work?

Unless there is some wholesale change in federal programs that could theoretically cover someone’s whole existence from cradle to grave, almost 100 million Americans (and growing) will continue to choose the easy way out and not work, accounting for the long-term labor shortage that is primed to deeply affect the economy. Our economy – and our federal finances -- will continue to be on the shoulders of the 122 million Americans who are toughing it out and working for their personal benefit and, obviously, that of too many others.



From the 25 April 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Friday, April 15, 2016

EEOC: employers must prove wage equality



As you know, the issue of equal pay for equal work has been a cause du jour for the Left, whether that employment crisis is real or imagined (see my column from last April that debunked the myth in regard to gender at tinyurl.com/ConferEqualPay). This movement started at the top. When President Obama took office, the very first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He didn’t stop there: In April of 2014, he charged the Department of Labor to develop of means of collecting and summarizing data from federal contractors in an effort to determine inequities in compensation based on race and sex.

That order is finally coming to fruition. After a lengthy process that ultimately pulled the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) into the mix as the lead agency, new guidelines have been introduced that not only will put a time-consuming bureaucratic burden on employers, but will also paint them as racist and sexist until proven innocent.

On September 30 of 2017 all employers  -- not just the federal contractors noted in the original dictate – with 100 or more employees will have to submit a detailed annual report to the federal government that will categorize employees by gender, race and ethnicity. The document will see them divided among 12 pay bands and then by another set of categories related to broad job types, so far from specific that people with unrelated jobs and responsibilities will be lumped together. It will take hours – maybe days – for employers to prepare these documents, especially when the pay period is not based on the calendar year as W2s are.   

The feds will then input all of that data into their system and analyze each employer, coming down on any that they perceive to be discriminatory.

Like the news releases that often follow OSHA reviews of workplaces or Department of Health inspections of dining establishments, accusations of inequality will be disclosed to the public, which will put countless employers who are doing right in harm’s way. Their reputations, competitiveness and ability to hire the best and brightest will be harmed and the wage and benefit information of privately-held corporations will be shared publicly.

In that previous paragraph, I used the phrase “employers who are doing right” because the EEOC’s form actually does nothing to determine if they are doing right or wrong. It does not address an employee’s salary and its basis in hours worked, education, seniority, merit, productivity, attendance, special talents or any other factor that causes a worker to earn more or earn less as compared to his or her coworker. It treats everyone as exactly the same worker, having identical value and potential for the organization…that is in itself equality, but an equality that has absolutely no basis in the real world or how the economy works.

In follow-ups to the finger pointing, accused employers will have to justify the wages of each individual employee to Washington paper-pushers and inspectors in order to clear their name and not incur any sort of compensatory wrath that the government hopes to collect (you know the government will be in the business of wage equality for revenues as much as alleged altruism).

Employers wronged by that overbearing process will then feel pressured to watch themselves any time they hire someone or give out raises. They might not give Jack a healthy increase for all of his good work because it will create a discrepancy against Jill in the next cubicle over who just skates by. 

The EEOC’s master plan sounds like a nightmare for employers – it will be for sure. It will adversely affect the economy and how business is done in each workplace. It will make one pine for the good old days when a boss could reward someone solely on the work he does without having to worry about being considered a bigoted, sexist pig.      



 From the 18 April 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: A flower for all seasons

When coming out of Western New York’s typically-depressing winters you probably look for even the slightest signs of spring to get you through. You might keep your eyes to the skies for migrating birds or you’ll look to the ground for the first glimpse of plant life. When it comes to the latter, one of the very first flowers to grace our presence every year is a weed that is otherwise taken for granted or looked at with disdain by gardeners – the purple dead nettle.

The purple dead nettle is not actually a nettle. It is a member of the mint family. It has the tell-tale characteristic of mints, which is a square stem. It lacks, though, the fragrance that most people expect from mints. It gets the name dead nettle because this mint has numerous small hairs like nettles, but, unlike nettles, they won’t stick in your skin and make you each like a fiend – so, it was considered “dead” by early taxonomists.

The plant is incredibly common and can be found almost anywhere disturbed by man – fields, edges of parking lots, sidewalks, roadsides, lawns, and so on. It is a small plant, most often 2 to 3 inches off the ground and not typically reaching 8 inches in height. It is found in congested clumps, almost like ivies, with many plants in a very small area. The tiny tubular flowers, which look like minute snapdragons, are bright purple, maybe pink. The leaves are shaped like a heart or an arrowhead. The leaves start out green but can quickly become a dark red or deep purple in color and will stay that way for weeks or months.


Purple dead nettles are pretty unique in that they can have flowers over most of the year. In a mild winter you will see their flowers as early as the last week of February. Most years, though, you’ll start to see them the second week of March. Their greatest abundance will be in April and May. The flowers tend to disappear from the heat in July and August, but you will see them again in the fall right into November.

Because of their early blooms, they are absolutely critical to the well-being of bees and other pollinators that might come out of their winter slumber on warm days. When no other flowers are available in March, the purple dead nettle gives them the nectar they need. Also, in April, the pollinating plants give bees pollen to help build up their nests.

Like most all mints, the purple dead nettle has some value to people. While you probably wouldn’t make a tea out of it, its young tender leaves nicely augment salads and stir fries. The leaves also make a healthy addition to smoothies, adding a lot of powerful antioxidants to the mix.

While most people might look down upon this plant as a weed, you should welcome its presence in your backyard. Its cute little flowers are a welcome sight when the snow starts to melt and they keep the local bee populations healthy in the early spring – goodness knows they need it with all of the mass bee die-offs in recent years.



Bob Confer is a Gasport resident. His column, Exploring the Niagara Frontier, is published every Thursday on All WNY News.

From the 14 April 2016 All WNY News

Friday, April 8, 2016

Employers: Give ex-criminals a chance



Earlier this year I took a group of local organizational leaders on a tour of the factory after which I told them we’ve openly hired machine operators with colorful criminal backgrounds; some had lengthy stays in prison while others are or were under probation.

This was a shock to the tour group because back in their workplaces – and in many throughout America – hiring of former criminals just isn’t something that’s done. The overzealous use of background checks for any position under the sun, as well as the dreaded “have you ever been convicted…” slot on application forms have forced many human resources managers to look at one-time lawbreakers as having the plague.

Well, let me tell you this: They don’t “have the plague”. Most of those who spent time in jail or had their names splashed across the police reports in your local paper are, for the most part, just like the alleged straight shooters in the world. They want to overcome their histories. They want to make good on their lives. They want to raise perfect families. They want to contribute to society. They want to work.

When they are given that chance to work, they succeed. Ex-cons have been some of my best coworkers. The determination they possess to become new men, to stay clean and better themselves (and their families) furnishes an incredible work ethic. They saw how the other side lives and they don’t want that life anymore. They know the importance of the straight and narrow and they relish the freedoms and rewards that the squeaky clean types tend to take for granted. A good life is a great motivator.

This shouldn’t be an earth-shattering realization for employers. But, here in New York almost two-thirds of ex-cons remain unemployed one year after their release because of the stigma associated with their backgrounds. Employers fail to see that former criminals come out of their pasts being better people and better workers.

Like our public school systems, our correctional systems should be looked at as more than just a cost burden, but also as an investment. That’s the whole point of the legal and penal systems in a civilized society. Our tax dollars help to educate convicts, teach them trades, introduce them to self-discipline, and reform their behaviors. It’s a mammoth undertaking of resources – the US prison system costs taxpayers $228 billion per year while the 2 million Americans discharged from probation annually had individually cost $4,000 for every year under watch.

It’s an investment that should be capitalized on, but, it’s obvious that the general consensus is “once a criminal always a criminal”.

Is that the way a just people should think? Judging by the outpouring of prayers whenever a natural disaster or act of terrorism strikes our world, Americans are still a people defined by their Christianity. The religion is based on redemption and the salvation of sinners so why shouldn’t those principles be practiced at large, including in employment? People shouldn’t claim to live up to the standards of their religion yet absolve themselves of its founding tenets.

Likewise, as another teaching of Christianity goes -- let he who is without sin cast the first stone. A lot of convicts and folks in the probation ranks were unlucky enough to get caught doing what so many other people do. New Yorker’s arcane Rockefeller Laws imprisoned folks for years for having possessed drugs. How many people under the age of 70 can claim that they haven’t tried marijuana or don’t know anyone who has used/uses weed? There are very few for either category and those smokers were fortunate enough to not get busted for it. Similarly, how many thousands of customers leave bars and restaurants every day with a little too much alcohol in their systems and never get caught?

None of that makes what the ex-criminals did right, but it should show that how they are treated post-release is wrong. We need to give them chances. We need to give them jobs. By doing so, we are helping society to make good on its investment in its people and, in turn, helping to improve our workplaces.



From the 11 April 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers