Thursday, November 15, 2018

Amazon HQ2: What would you do with a half billion dollars?


Just over 2 years ago, we at Confer Plastics bought a molding machine that is one of the largest on the planet. Of course, it wasn’t cheap, but we knew that going into it. Its purchase was made possible by using the company’s cash flows and opening up a line of credit with our bank.

We could have lessened the burden on our company significantly by pursuing a grant from the state. Rather easily, we could have received a grant approaching, if not exceeding, $1 million in size. But, we didn’t even attempt to do that and we stifled any conversations economic development officials wanted to have with us.

We did that for two reasons -- hypocrisy and ethics.

It would have been grossly hypocritical to take money from the state when not a day goes by that we don’t complain about the high cost of doing business in New York, a cost created in part by corporate welfare. Why contribute to a very real socioeconomic crisis facing upstate? 

It would have been unethical by our standards, although totally legal, to accept the grant. The money belongs to the people of New York. It is their money, better invested in infrastructure, libraries, and schools. New Yorkers should not be in the business of business. True entrepreneurs assume the risk of their business; they don’t pass it on to taxpayers.   

Some corporatists will say that we’re stupid, that we wasted money. Maybe. But, there’s far more to business, far more to life, than the almighty dollar. We can sleep at night, knowing we did the right thing.

Frankly, I don’t know how Governor Andrew Cuomo, Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos can sleep at night after last week’s announcements regarding their fleecing of New York taxpayers.

Amazon is a company with revenues that approached $178 billion last year and Bezos is the richest man in the world with a net worth of $156 billion, yet Bezos’ people found it necessary to beg multiple states and provinces to give them the world in order to give them a home for HQ2. Somehow, Cuomo, Zemsky, and other power brokers in New York found it financially and ethically prudent to cater to the multibillionaire and give him a total incentive package approaching $3 billion to open up shop in Queens.

The thing that bothers me most is not the vast tax credits but rather the need to give them $505 million in cold, hard cash over a 10 to 15 year period to help Amazon recoup some of their construction costs. It’s guaranteed that Amazon would have made built HQ2 somewhere even if all of the states conspired against them and didn’t bait them, so public charity was never really necessary and it shouldn’t be. It’s Bezos’ business, let him grow it, let him assume the risk. Why should you? Why should I?   

They’re doing a reverse Robin Hood, taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. This is a half billion dollars, belonging to all New Yorkers, going towards the very top of the “One Percent”.

We have major issues all across the state. If we really do have a half-billion sitting around waiting to be spent, if I were in Cuomo’s shoes there are countless things I would take care. Here are a few…

The residents of the Central Adirondacks are holding a fund drive -- yes, a fund drive – to erect a critical $350,000 communications tower to be used by volunteer firefighters in the area of Inlet and Raquette Lake. Because of the mountains and the radio obstructions they create, their ability to communicate is suspect at best, every day putting firemen and general public safety at risk.

While we’re talking about first responders, don’t forget that come January 1st all volunteer fire companies must pay a pretty penny to buy a new cancer insurance for their interior firefighters. Why couldn’t the state self-insure in a way and make its own fund at $10 million?

Have you recently driven on the Thruway as it passes through the Cattaraugus Reservation? The state keeps that 12-mile stretch in the shape of a secondary road, mangled, potholed, and washboarded. What would it really take to fix the Thruway, the gateway, the connection to everything New York has to offer? 

Despite statements to the contrary, thousands of rural New Yorkers (their homes, businesses, and schools) are still lacking access to high speed internet. The state could build towers on municipal lands that they could sublet to telecommunications companies.

Decades of horrid state education policy drove the in-school trades classes the way of the dinosaur while also shortchanging STEM. Only recently has the state realized the folly in its ways and now sees the importance of those tracks. A few hundred million spread across the state would allow schools to bring back shop classes and invest in their science labs.  

New York has 1,800 structurally-deficient bridges that need repair or replacement.

I could go on and on. There are literally thousands of potential projects across the state that could benefit the people – and not just one billionaire.

Think about that…what would YOU do with a half billion dollars?      


From the 19 November 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News     

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: What to get an outdoorsperson for Christmas


Trying to figure out what to get an outdoors enthusiast for Christmas can be a daunting task, especially if the shopper really isn’t an outdoorsy person. So, for the past 4 years, this column has offered some shopping ideas to the friends and families of nature lovers. With Black Friday just a week away, it’s as good a time as any to offer my suggestions.


In this year’s installment, I suggest these 4 books….


Books by Oak Duke


Being a nature columnist for All WNY News as well as an opinion columnist for 3 local daily newspapers, I’m often asked about who my favorite columnist is. Hands down, no matter the genre, it’s Oak Duke.


Oak is the retired editor and publisher of the former Wellsville Daily Reporter (now the Spectator) who for the past few decades has written an outdoors column that appears in the Sunday edition of that paper.


His writing style is impeccable, an intellectual free-flowing method that is unique to him. He uses it to tell stories of his days afield hunting whitetail deer and wild turkeys in beautiful Allegany County or to offer sometimes scientific, sometimes deeply reverent insight on the natural world he encounters while on those adventures. I’ve always appreciated how Oak can find and express so eloquently the beauty of the small things and the small moments in our forests.


Back in 2003, Oak published and distributed through the Wellsville paper two books collecting some of his favorite columns – “Whitetail Bowhunting” and “Springtime in the Turkey Woods.” Each book is 140+ pages of his mastery of his art. The books aren’t just about hunting, they’re also about the savoring of the sport and the sights and sounds of the woods.


Oak still has multiple copies of these books available for sale. They are $15 individually or $25 for the pair, postage included. To get your copies, email Oak at oduke4@gmail.com.  


The hunter in your life will appreciate these books.


Books by Gerry Rising


If your outdoorsperson isn’t into books that might occasionally mention the harvest of game animals, another local writer has a pair of books ready for reading pleasure.


Gerry Rising is an impressive naturalist, a great writer, and one the primary inspirations for my Exploring the Niagara Frontier nature columns. For 25 years he wrote the Nature Watch column for the Buffalo News before that paper really got the goat of yours truly and thousands more people across the region. For some reason, the Buffalo News didn’t find value in a science page and without announcement eliminated it 3 years ago. Never mind that there were likely countless readers like me who, when opening the Sunday news, immediately turned to the science page and Gerry’s column. That was something I did religiously through high school, college, and most of my adult life.


Luckily, Gerry found Buffalo Spree magazine willing to carry his work. If you don’t get the Spree and still want to sit down and enjoy Gerry’s columns, fear not. In the past couple years Gerry has collected and published some of his very best columns. Each tome has 100 of his articles about local birds, with ornithology being Gerry’s most passionate and popular work. If you go to Amazon.com and enter “Gerry Rising” in the search function you will find “Birder’s Break” and “Birds and Birdwatchers” at $10.95 each, which is a steal.


Nature lovers will enjoy how Gerry makes our avian friends, from the rare to the abundant, approachable and understandable to the layperson.   

These four books will make fine Christmas gifts for friends and family who like to explore the Niagara Frontier. They’re well-written, relatable to area residents, and you’ll be supporting two fine gentlemen who are real treasures of Western New York journalism.


From the 15 November 2018 All WNY News

Thursday, November 8, 2018

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: The invasion of the nuthatches

If I was asked to make a short list of my favorite birds the red-breasted nuthatch would be on it. Not only are the birds cute and friendly, but their songs transport my thoughts and memories to vacations and weekends on their home turf, be it the seemingly endless coniferous forests of northern Canada or the tracts of hemlocks, pines, and spruces found in certain locales of Allegany County.

You see, this nuthatch, unlike its very common and very familiar cousin the white-breasted nuthatch, is not especially common on the Niagara Frontier, especially where I live on the lake plains. Red-breasted nuthatches have an affinity for cone-bearing in great numbers. Those are forests of the north, or, here in Western New York, atop some of the higher peaks near the Pennsylvania border or in the woodlands that were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

These birds might occasionally be found nesting throughout the region, perhaps making home in a mixed forest where there a few larger spruce mixed with deciduous trees. But, for the most part, they are a hard find until winter when migrants visit our feeders. Even then, their numbers are light.

This winter is already shaping up to be different… a lot different.

Occasionally, various species of birds from Canada that would otherwise stay there make their way to the States to stay the late-fall and winter due to food shortages or horrid weather back home. This is called an irruption.

Well, this is an irruption year for sure for these little mites.

A few weeks ago, well ahead of schedule, they started appearing in every nook and cranny of Western New York. I have two that frequent my feeders in rural Gasport. My parents have some. I’ve heard them every Sunday morning within the actual hamlet of Gasport itself. One of my Twitter friends has them at her feeders – in the heart of urban Buffalo.

Take the time to admire these birds. As mentioned earlier, they’re cute. They are a fifth to a third smaller and much sleeker than white-breasted nuthatches and a lot more attractive, which is saying a lot because white-breasted nuthatches are pretty birds to begin with. Red-breasts are 4 ½” long, sporting a blue-grey back, a black cap, a black line through their eye, and many are brushed with a chestnut or red on their grey-white breasts.

Coming out of their beaks is a tinny, nasal call, that is itself cute -- it sounds like a small toy horn.

Their feeding style in unique. Like other nuthatches and quite unlike woodpeckers and flickers they climb trees downward rather than upward. You have to admire their upside down climbing technique. They do this while looking for insects or cramming seeds under pieces of loose bark or in crevices which they then use as leverage so they can pry them open – which is where their name came from (nuthack in olde English). 

What forced them from Canada’s boreal forests and brought them here? It was one of two things.

One, there could have been a shortage of seeds all year, so they ran out early.

Two, there were actually so many pine and spruce cones early in the season that the red-breasted nuthatch parents overproduced offspring in response to the bounty and the nourishment they were given and the grown “baby boomers” ate all of them out of house and home to the point of running out.

The second option seems the most plausible this year, because Canada’s drier weather was conducive to nuthatch-friendly crop that allowed cone seeds to become easier to crack open. Also, I have seen irruption reports all across the northern United States, meaning that the nuthatch population was very large, Canada-wide.

For whatever reason, they’re here. And, it’s something to celebrate and see up close. If you have some in your yard, go out to your feeding station. They will let you walk right up to them and, with a little patience, they will even eat out of your hand. Most other bird species won’t oblige, but these ones do, maybe because they are like all Canadians --- friendly.


From the 08 November 2018 All WNY News

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Democratic control of New York is really bad news


Being non-partisan (or, more accurately, someone who thinks “both” parties are equally bad), in last week’s election I practiced what I preach, voting for people and principles, not party. My ballot saw bubbles filled in for 1 Libertarian, 3 Republicans, and 3 Democrats in contested races.

With a mixed approach like that I was pleasantly surprised that control of the US House of Representatives went to the Democrats. Despite being someone who, as long-time readers would gather, trends closer to the right than the left, I welcome mixed control of our constitutional republic. Republicans shouldn’t hold all the power. And, neither should the Democrats. Even with all the division and divisiveness doled out by that, our citizens are best served by diversity of people and thought -- we need a means of check-and-balance. One party should not be fully empowered to run roughshod over a country or state. Someone has to be there to tighten the reins.

That said, the outcome of the state elections is what has me greatly concerned. The Democrats won the Senate, which means they control both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s office. It will make a bad situation a lot worse.    
 
New York, specifically upstate, is in rough shape economically. It’s expensive to start or build a business here unless you happen to be a well-heeled, well-connected entrepreneur -- and I use the term “entrepreneur” loosely when those businessmen come to the trough -- like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos who have all sorts of money and inducements thrown their way.  Our towns, villages, and cities have become economic wastelands thanks to public policy that has driven too many bright minds and too many loved ones from our borders for better opportunity elsewhere.

This decline has come about from a group effort.

In recent years, through force of bullying in both houses or through executive fiat, Governor Andrew Cuomo has driven a stake through the heart of our dying upstate economy. A cornucopia of failed, or soon-to-fail, experiments from massive minimum wage hikes to the possible end of the tipped wage to 12 weeks of universal bereavement leave to call-in pay standards, to name a few, have done nothing but stifle opportunity. Realize that we’re talking about an administration so morbidly into micromanagement of the private sector that it now regulates how farmers use old tires to keep tarps down on their feed bunkers.

Cuomo’s long-standing foes in the Republican Party are just as guilty as he. Remember, the Senate was alleged to be in its glory years when Joe Bruno was in charge of it from 1994 to 2008. If it was, how did an alleged fiscally-conservative GOP double state spending under his watch with fellow Republican George Pataki in the Governor’s office for most of those years?

Mind you, all of those horrible policies and bad spending habits (and many more like them) have occurred for the most part with not one party having total control of the 3 Men in a Room routine. Bruno had Assembly leader Sheldon Silver as a foil, while Cuomo has had John Flanagan and before him Dean Skelos leading the Senate.

If the checks and balances of having multiple parties sharing some of the control were really in play, think of how bad things really could have been had they not. Without Sheldon Silver, even as corrupt as he was, would Bruno and Company have increased state spending even more? Without Flanagan looking over his shoulder, what more could Cuomo have pushed through from his self-proclaimed progressive agenda?

I guess we’ll find out the answer to that second question over the next couple of years, if not for an even longer period of time.

If I had to hazard a guess we’ll soon see mandated paid sick time, increased taxation of electrical energy and heating fuels, passage of Cuomo’s once-denied 14% windfall tax on health insurance, a carbon trading system, a Ban the Box movement, the end of employment-at-will, a push for a single-payer system, a transformation and strengthening of state agencies to usurp local control, and more money thrown at education without first fixing the broken system that has neutered school boards and stifled good teachers.

That’s just a sampling of what could occur. There’s likely much more to worry about.

If you own a business or home in upstate New York State brace yourself. The past few decades have been a race to the bottom with two parties sharing – and abusing -- the power. Now, with one party having total control, the bottom will get here a lot quicker.    



From the 12 November Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News