Thursday, December 25, 2008

Real estate is no good in New York

From the 29 December 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Despite the bursting of the housing bubble, real estate remains one of the smartest investments to make in most of the US. The deepening recession that we’re in is a direct result of an inordinate number of foreclosures in places like California and Nevada where totally-unrealistic home prices finally reached their apex and tanked, taking the homeowners (investors) with them. Only after this caused the financial markets to crash did foreclosures see a slight increase in Western New York. As employers who were affected by the recession cut jobs, many local homeowners, now jobless, found it impossible to keep up with their mortgages.

It’s a study in contrasts: While the foreclosures elsewhere in the US were the direct result of the collective ignorance of gambling homebuyers and the risk-taking banks who lent money to the unlendable, here, in WNY, lost homes were not the result of such ignorance but, instead, were mostly the result of issues beyond anyone’s control.

Because of that and for the fact that at first glance our region’s recessionary woes don’t come close to those of the other locales, WNY’s civic leaders – elected officials, businessmen and news outlets alike – have been wearing this like a badge of honor. They claim that we weathered the burst of the housing bubble and we are in no way responsible for what befell America.

Maybe so, but such glee is quite misguided and it hides the real truth, which is even more horrible than fiscal mismanagement by homeowners. The fact of the matter is we did not have a housing bubble – nor will we ever have one – because New York is one of the few states in the Union in which real estate is not a wise investment. That’s because our elected officials, not our citizens, have for decades mismanaged finances. They have made, and continue to make, property taxes that are much too high. The onerous amalgamation of local, county, and school taxes have stripped real estate of any future returns it might have.

Consider the following…

In Niagara County the median home value is $95,800 and the property tax burden on said home is $2,800. Suppose someone buys that home as a starter home and hopes to sell it off in a decade or two. To come out even, based on taxes-paid alone, he would have to sell that home for $123,800 after 10 or $151,800 after 20 years. That’s completely impossible in the Buffalo-Niagara region. Making matters worse, this basic analysis makes two major assumptions: One, taxes won’t rise in every one of those years and, two, he will put absolutely no money into that home (like remodeling or repairs). Those unaccounted-for factors – both of them 100% guaranteed to happen – have the lack of a payback on housing set in stone.

This is a uniquely-NY problem. Property taxes in the Empire State are 57% higher than the national average. For every $100 other Americans pay, we pay $157. And that’s the average; let’s look at one of the extremes. Recently I was visited by a customer from Tennessee. He pays a paltry $660 per year in property taxes for his 2,800-square-foot suburban new-build. In comparison, my coworker in North Tonawanda has a similar home for which he pays $6,800 in taxes annually. Another coworker pays $5,480 on his like-sized abode in Amherst. Think about it: they will have paid $68,000 and $54,800 in property taxes, respectively, after just 10 years. They will never make that up in resale value. Never. But, the Man From Tennessee will for sure. For him, and many other Americans, it makes complete sense to invest in real estate, be it housing or land, because their taxes are so low.

This takes on greater meaning now that we’ve all lost faith in the stock market. As 401(k)’s and pensions have plummeted, we’ve all looked for other options to save for our retirements and our heirs, things like hard assets such as gold, cash or real estate. Only in New York State is the latter an even poorer investment than a down market. Main Street, NY is absolutely no better than Wall Street, NY. It’s depressing because our homes are the single largest investment that we will ever make in our lifetimes.

Let’s put this into historical perspective. A tea tax, but a pittance, was the straw that broke our colonial backs and jumpstarted the American Revolution. Our property taxes are far more extravagant. Will that someday ignite that same fire of change in New Yorkers? Let’s hope so, and soon. We’ll never be a rich people as long as the depressing status quo is maintained in local and state leadership.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The cow fart tax really stinks

From the 22 December 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

(Warning: this column is totally bound-up with bathroom innuendo)

Excuse me! Everything you’ll read here is true. I’m not full of it….

Don’t let anyone tell you that the old farts in Washington aren’t good with dollars. Sure, they spend them like they’re going out of style, but they really know how to get their dirty hands on them. Tax this. Tax that. It’s an all-around crappy situation.

Because we’re such stinkers with our taxes, good ol’ Uncle Sam is flushed with excitement over the Environmental Protection Agency’s newest idea. The EPA is looking to suppress the (m)ass hysteria over global warming by letting rip with a tax on the production of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide. It just so happens that those gases are the same gases we live and breathe every day, whether we like it or not…the same gases that every man, woman, and child occasionally lets slip. Yep, The EPA wants to tax farts. No crap! Only from the deepest bowels of Washington could something as stinky as this creep up on us.

But, they know full well that we financially-strapped taxpayers usually don’t go down without a fight as we strain to fill the pot. So, the politicians, who have a nose for bloated government, have trained their sights on the derrieres that make dairy air. They’ve put serious thought into to taxing cows for supposedly dumping on all of us with their noxious fumes.

This dark cloud of taxation reeks of disrespect for our farmers and has them asking, “what kind of ass would do this?!” Oh, the irony of the words!

They can thank the United Nations. In 2006 the organization issued a BS report about BS called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” that anal-yzed the environmental impact of cattle rearing. According to those blowhards, cows are the most significant producer of human-related greenhouse gases, far exceeding the fumes that cars spew into the air. They say livestock creates 9% of the CO2, 37% of the methane, 64% of the ammonia, and 65% of the NO2. They believe the last one to be the worst because it has 296 times the global warming impact of CO2. It’s obvious they find cow farts to have a silent but deadly effect on the environment.

What really stinks is the fact the EPA might be unstoppable because it has the Supreme Court bringing up the rear on this one. Last year the Court let us know they weren’t behind the times by upholding the Clean Air Act of 1970 which they say allows the EPA to regulate gases (greenhouse and outhouse) if it concludes the gases will affect public welfare and health. Basically, the high court will turn their noses up at any farmer who comes to them looking to give the EPA a good ol’ kick in the behind.

You can’t blame the farmers for being mad. They are already struggling to make ends meet and this will serve only to pinch-off more profits, unless the marketplace can accept higher costs. It won’t be a cheap endeavor, either. The EPA must have done a lot of pondering while on the porcelain because the impact is ass-tronomical: They would like to tax all farms that have more than 25 dairy cows, 50 head of beef, or 200 pigs. The rate would work out to be $175 for a farting cow, $87.50 for every bull and its bull, and $20 for every piggish pig. The manure and farts from a 500-head dairy farm would cost that farmer $87,500 per year in taxes. How do you like them (road) apples?

Thankfully, a lot of people have caught wind of this idea and are poo-pooing the concept. Even Senator Chuckie Schumer, usually one to be full of hot air, makes scents - I mean sense - when it comes to the fart tax. He recently let his constituents know that the he thinks the EPA is full of it when he belched this classic line: "This goes in the category ‘you can't believe this.' This will impact New York from one end to the other." God bless that stinker.

Hopefully, the EPA and our more-liberal elected officials will wipe the slate clean and toss this legislation into the sewer where it belongs. Butt – I mean but - you never know…these smelly politicians might pass this like a good movement. Why? It’s usually like pulling teeth to bring in new tax revenues, but if they have their way it will be as easy as pulling a finger. To them this fart tax is almost too good to be true. One man’s garbage really is another man’s treasure.

How can they take themselves seriously? I sure the heck can’t!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Remembering the Forgotten War

From the 15 December 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Here’s an experiment in the study of US military history: Ask anyone to list in order the three US military involvements of the past 75 years that had the highest number of casualties.

Most respondents will answer incorrectly. They will respond in a hurry, and correctly, with number 1 (World War II) and number 2 (the Vietnam Conflict). After some stumbling over a response for the third slot, most everyone – be they students or adults – will come back with the nation’s current war in and occupation of Iraq, responsible for over 4,200 deaths. That is the wrong answer. As horrific as that death toll is, it is dwarfed by that of the Korean War. The bloody conflict accounted for the death of more than 34,000 Americans and the wounding of over 103,000 more from 1950 to 1953.

That experiment shows the flaw in our society’s understanding of America’s role in global affairs. Through no fault of their own, people are deeply affected by news and entertainment media and their understanding of historical context becomes skewed by the messages and images they are bombarded with on a daily basis. We are led to live and perceive only the present, never the past and future. (In a similar vein, the media leads folks to believe that the current economic downturn is as bad as the Great Depression. It’s not even close).

It doesn’t help that the participants of the Korean War were already disrespected long before the Iraq War began. For many years this Asian conflict has been known as “the Forgotten War” because, collectively, we have ignored it and its meaning because it was bookended by the epic World War and the immensely-controversial Vietnam War.

And a Forgotten War it is. It’s rare that that we discuss it. It’s rarer yet that we give the participants their just recognition and appreciation. Everyone can readily identify the center point of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington…the restrained yet powerful Vietnam Wall. How many people can identify the primary image of the Korean War Memorial? For those who don’t know, it’s a collection of 19 statues of American soldiers trudging across rough terrain, harried looks on their faces anticipating the next surprise attack.

That haunting memorial perfectly represents the Korean experience. It was a frightening war, full of dreadful fighting reminiscent of WWI’s close-quarters bloodbaths. It started off horribly as over a thousand inexperienced and underequipped young soldiers were cut down in one of the first American battles of the war, US and UN forces greatly underestimating the power of the North Koreans. The body count remained high throughout the three-year occupation when battles in extremely rugged and dangerous mountain terrain became the norm. None of us today can imagine the stress of scaling a steep hill, wondering if the barrel of an enemy’s gun will be at your head at the next rise. Our soldiers paid a heavy price in life and limb and those who survived saw things on a daily basis that no one should ever see, memories they carry with them to this day. The war was so violent that come 1953 - after both sides each lost over a million soldiers – it ended with an armistice, a cease-fire that left a ravaged land and its two parties in no better shape than before the war.

The proper honoring of our Korean vets and their sacrifices in this ugly war are long past due. Highlighting the differential in respect versus other wars, if you travel across the States, you will find that Vietnam War memorials – all of them well-deserved - outnumber Korean War memorials at a 2.5 to 1 rate, despite the casualty difference being just 1.3 to 1. It’s surprising if not disheartening that public and private investments in Korean remembrance have been so comparatively low. Even the 50 year anniversary ceremonies held earlier this century went by with no fanfare, barely a blip on the radar of our media, our elected officials, and our citizens. Adding to this, our schools tread lightly on war studies. It’s really a travesty that most Americans are grossly uninformed in regard to something so great in scale and importance.

That lack of respect can be corrected. But, it’s important that any and all Korean memorials and ceremonies occur as soon as possible, before it is too late. The participants are in their twilight years and they won’t be with us much longer. The youngest of the soldiers turned 73 this year. As a country, we need to give them the love that is due.

You can do your part by sharing a heartfelt “thank you”. They haven’t been told those simple words enough in their lifetimes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Salivating over Salvia

From the 08 December 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

When drug users quibble over what hallucinogenic drugs create the strongest trips they generally rate LSD as number one, followed closely by Salvia divinorum.

Most everyone is familiar with LSD. It’s a storied substance that routinely makes the headlines, getting a fair amount of well-deserved bad press. On top of that, it’s a Schedule 1 drug that is illegal to manufacture, possess, buy, or distribute in the United States. Despite the image and the laws, in 2006 some 23 million Americans were estimated to have used the drug in their lifetimes.

Salvia, on the other hand, is a relatively unknown drug. It gets almost no major media attention and is legal to distribute and posses in all but a dozen states. You may not know about Salvia, but there’s a very good chance your children do, maybe even intimately.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, Salvia is the latest craze in the youth drug culture, quickly becoming the drug of choice. Word about its dissociative abilities has spread like wildfire on the web and kids find themselves amused by – and therefore curious of – its effects after viewing any one of the thousands of Salvia trip videos that are available on YouTube, Google Video, and the like. They’re easily able to see their peers acting erratically, aggressively, and dangerously, even driving while under the influence of the herb. Go online and give it a look. If you have even a modicum of maturity you’ll find these videos disturbing.

The net not only promotes Salvia, but it sells it, too. This makes it ungodly easy for youth to get their mitts on a potent drug. No longer do they have to worry about breaking a law or dealing with questionable and dangerous drug pushers. It’s all just a mouse-click away.

A quick search will show hundreds of internet companies selling Salvia. A relatively cheap high, anyone can buy it for as little as $9 gram to as much as $64 per gram depending on the strength. And, unfortunately, it’s delivered incognito. In most cases it arrives via standard mail in an envelope or as a package from what appears to be a reputable supplement/health company along the lines of GNC. Few parents would question their children on either count.

Because of the congruence of all these factors, use of Salvia has exploded. In the past twelve months alone, over 750,000 have used it for the first time. One online vendor brags that his sales to New York State have increased by 1,000 percent in the past half-year.

Yes, you read that right. The Empire State, usually the state to have more laws than any other, has no restrictions on Salvia. So, there’s a very good chance that high school and college students you know have used the stuff.

This legal impasse is not for a lack of trying. For the past five legislative sessions the State Senate has passed a series of bills that make the sale and or possession of Salvia on offense in New York State. In each and every session the Assembly has put them out to die in committee. This year was no different. Bill S.695, sponsored by Senator Flanagan of Long Island, would make it illegal to peddle the plant in NY. It was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate back in February. Since then, the Assembly has let the bill (as A.610) sit idle in the economic development committee. Other bills, like Senator Maziarz’s attempt to identify Salvia as an LSD-type controlled substance (S.7736) have been met with disdain. That said, it’s imperative that you contact your assemblyperson and ask him or her to support such legislation when it returns to the floor in 2009.

If they fail to make headway yet again, which is likely and unconscionable, it might be up to our local elected officials to succeed where Albany has failed. The county legislators would need only to follow the lead of Suffolk County. There, back in April of this year, it was signed into local law that possession or sale of Salvia in the county is a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

As long as the laws allow it, kids will continue to use this weed, putting them and their companions in peril. It’s up to you as a parent or friend to make yourself aware of this insidious, easily-acquired drug. With no laws on the books it will be up to you to make law in your home.

Obama discriminates against gun owners

From the 01 December 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

If you count yourself as a gun owner and are among the hundreds of thousands who are applying for any one of the 7,000 job openings in the Obama Administration, do yourself a favor. Throw the application out.

Don’t bother applying because it will be an exercise in futility. You won’t have a chance based upon the line of questioning posed in question 59 (out of 63). It reads as follows: “Do you or any members of your immediate family own a gun? If so, provide complete ownership and registration information. Has the registration ever lapsed? Please also describe how and by whom it is used and whether it has been the cause of any personal injuries or property damage."

Intrusive. Offensive. Unprecedented. Pick any adjective of negative connotation and it will apply here. This method of vetting is really that bad.

It’s disconcerting, even amusing, that a man whose supporters pride themselves on being non-discriminatory is he himself discriminatory. The President-Elect obviously finds fault with those who believe in practicing their natural right to self defense, one that is duly noted in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, the document he has sworn to uphold and protect as Senator. Obama will make that same promise but with even greater zeal and meaning when he is sworn in as our forty-fourth president. It can be argued that his oaths of office – past and future - are but outright lies based on his neglect of duty to our nation’s bible.

The Second Amendment, as other amendments, will suffer under his rule. When all is said and done he will go down as the most anti-gun president in the history of the United States. We can predict this now with relative certainty because the employment application offers a telling glimpse into his mind, something the electorate weren’t made privy to during his campaign when his responses to gun-related questions were like those he provided to most all other inquiries, meandering and uninformative. Obama’s slick talk of change and his unwillingness to answer questions masked his true intentions of wanting to deny us the individual right to bear arms, something he has a proven track record of.

His most horrific commentary occurred back in 1996 – a scant 12 years ago - when he first ran for the state senate of Illinois. Then he wrote in a candidates’ questionnaire that he supported a total ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of handguns. That highly-unconstitutional belief manifested itself again earlier this year when over 300 congressmen and senators signed a brief for the now-classic District of Columbia v. Heller case, asking that the Supreme Court to support the individual right to bear arms. Obama was not among the signers.

If he is unable to make an outright ban happen, Obama will do his best to take away certain nuances of ownership. Among the most odious of such desires would be to deny the right to self-protection. Most states now have a Right-to-Carry so a firearm can used as a means to suppress a criminal attack or rape. In 2004, just before he came to Washington, he let it be known that he has and will oppose all such legislation and, if he had his chance, he would push federal legislation that would allow only law enforcement personnel to legally carry guns. Bills like this only serve to empower the criminals.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He supports the resurrection of the Clinton Gun Ban. He wanted to drive up by 500% the federal excise tax on guns and ammunition. He wants all gun owners to be licensed and registered. He also would like them to be no younger than 21. His list of anti-gun sentiments is endless and incriminating.

Right now, there aren’t too many people who voted for him who understand the horrible significance of his Constitutional onslaught. But, those who did not vote for the man know better and are preparing for his regime. While the rest of the economy has slipped into a meltdown not seen since the days of the Great Depression, gun shops have experienced a boom not seen since the days of the Old West. In the two months leading up to the election and the month since, gun sales at many stores across the US have grown in excess 100% and in some cases 400%. People are stocking up on weapons while they can, now before the Obama Administration goes into power and makes buying a gun just like trying to get a federal job were you to own a gun…nearly impossible.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Personal Finance 101

From the 24 November 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Americans have a long tradition of teaching our youth about common sense for the comments cents. At a very young age we start them on the path to fiscal conservancy by providing them with a piggy bank and the lessons that go with filling it and saving for the object of their desires.

Despite such an important life lesson we seem to forget it as we come of age. No longer limited to maintaining a piggy bank for basic childhood wants, we adopt newfound adult responsibilities, desires, and income. As they hold jobs to pay for wants and needs, many find it necessary to save little or nothing yet spend a lot in order to satisfy the culture of consumerism so prevalent in today’s world. It’s an ongoing cycle of addiction, one fueled by the messages we receive from advertisements, the media, shifty lenders, and our own peers. Today’s adults feel compelled to have the biggest, best and most when it comes to housing, cars, electronics, and leisure.

This materialism has caused many people to approach their incomes with reckless abandon and the economy has hit a brick wall. Millions of homeowners couldn’t pay for the morbid mortgages they entered into and millions more have accrued unreasonable amounts of debt on their credit cards, the next nightmare on the horizon. They all gambled on the housing bubble, they all lived beyond their means. It’s bad for them, yet worse for us a collective society. We’re all on the hook for their debts, our federal government spending our reserves and creating money out of thin air to prop up the faltering financial markets that were based on false, ethereal funds and credit payments that will never materialize.

For all those folks who spent and invested with no respect for the true value of the dollar, there are many more people who, like me, are pennywise. I’m notoriously cheap at work and at home, finding it difficult to part with a dollar. I know that if I err on the side of excess at home, I’m on the streets. I know that if I do the same at work, there will be 120 families on the street. You’ll find me saving my money to improve my future and investing in my company to guarantee its future.

I’m left asking (as are many others): Why can’t more people be that frugal? We coupon-cutting cheapskates feel let down by the world around us, wondering why we must pay for the sins of society.

Truth be told, the spenders might not be acting in a malicious way. They might just be ignorant. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. They may be uneducated in personal finance. It’s a confusing world out there with so many gimmicks on mortgages, interest rates, loans, retirement accounts and all else financial. I was fortunate enough to have fiscal knowledge drilled into my brain by my parents and the Boy Scouts.

The latter brings me to this point: We need to educate our young adults on basic personal finance. It works. “Thrifty” is just one of the twelve points of the Scout Law, ranking up there with the likes of “trustworthy” and “helpful”. Scouts are taught endless lessons on saving and spending wisely. The Scouting program knows the importance to society of a young man who respects the dollar and the penny. Because of that, most Scouts are stable in their adult lives.

That same approach needs to be applied to our high schools. Back in the day – maybe to this day - there was a class called Home Economics. There were no economics involved, it was all domestic science. We were taught how to sew and cook. It would behoove the greater good of this nation if the schools developed a course that was a true study in home economics, a year-long course for high school seniors that educated them on all the nuances of personal savings. Many seniors have study halls galore, so it would not be that difficult to add another course to their schedule. Millions of seniors venture into the real world every June and it’s imperative that we prepare them for it. They’ll be better - we’ll be better - for it.

It comes down to this:

The wealth of a person is not based on that which is spent. It’s based on what is saved. The wealth of our nation should be based on that which is spent and saved: by spending just a little on the intellect of our youth we can save our nation from a repeat of the horrible economic disaster we’re in now.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Don't bailout the auto industry

From the 17 November 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who supported the $700 bailout of Wall Street. Most folks were up in arms over how taxpayer money – our money! - was used to reward Wall Street’s excesses and bad behavior. This ire, which was shared by pretty much everyone except for Congress and Wall Street’s bigwigs, was well-intentioned and a real breath of fresh air. It was nice to finally see so many people that upset with Big Government.

Even so, I can’t help but to walk away from that uprising with a sense of pessimism directed towards the masses. I have to feel that way when I see how selective they have been with their criticism of 2008’s ongoing “New New Deal”. Where were the critics when Uncle Sam issued the economic stimulus checks? Where were the naysayers when we covered homeowners’ bad mortgage decisions? Why didn’t the media throw a temper tantrum over the government’s buyout of AIG or its cash infusion to the banks?

It’s all because people are mad only when it’s convenient for them. Their anger, their resentment, surfaces only when it’s not they or their interests who are at the financial feeding trough. Because of that selectivity, the federal government has run roughshod over our economy, making FDR’s historic efforts look almost pedestrian. By focusing only on the aforementioned $700 bailout, the media and citizens of our nation have virtually ignored the cornucopia of bailouts, buyouts, stimuli, infusions, loans and the like bestowed upon us the past six months. So far this year Uncle Sam has doled out $2.950 trillion of those giveaways and we still have a long ways to go before the economy can even begin to be healthy. Without the masses pulling tightly on the checkrein, the fed will no doubt feel obligated to issue more rescue plans which might include the salvation of credit card debtors (card debt now stands at $970 billion) or the confiscation of 401k accounts.

Nothing is out of the question unless we make a stand now. The line has to be drawn somewhere, sometime, somehow. There is no better place to start than the next item on the government’s things-to-do list: the bailout of the US auto industry.

As I was writing this column top level officials were still debating what to do to save the industry, specifically General Motors. GM was fearful that come December it would be totally out of cash and bankruptcy would occur. Based on recent history, giving them a bailout would be something akin to giving the keys for the liquor store to the alcoholic who says he’s learned self-control. By believing the loser you’re only feeding his bad habits and guaranteeing his death.

GM’s woes were brought on by its addiction to operating under sales techniques that were developed by manufacturers in the 1800’s and have been obsolete since. Back in the day, manufacturers would build to supply and not to demand, more or less dictating what the consumer would buy. Back then, the manufacturer defined the market. Nowadays, with so many choices available, the consumer defines the market and the manufacturer adjusts accordingly. GM hasn’t adjusted and is still making vehicles that the consumers don’t want, hence its cash flow problems: GM can’t sell that which it has made. Ignorant to ongoing fuel scare issues that have been with us since the 1970’s and oblivious to the burgeoning green movement, GM is putting out too many trucks and SUV’s, only dabbling in the smaller vehicles that are less expensive or use less energy…the very cars that people want and are buying from the highly-successful new American auto industry (the foreign firms who manufacture on American soil). With GM, it’s always too little too late.

Basically, the bailout – once again, our money - would only go towards temporarily masking the weaknesses of GM’s management. It would give them the cash they need to get through their current financial crisis, but, with the status quo as it is at GM, the taxpayers would never see a return on their loans because of the perpetuation of bad business practices.

The same criticism was said of Wall Street. Yet, because of how beloved the auto industry is, there are very few people who will levy those charges against GM. Even so, there are fewer people who will say with confidence that GM is doing the things necessary to change its ways. It’s destined to die, whether it’s December 2008 or December 2011. The bailout will be but an investment in that demise, the government rewarding bad behavior, just as it did on Wall Street.

Friday, November 7, 2008

An open letter to our elected officials

From the 09 November 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Congratulations on your victory at the polls last week.

I know it wasn’t easy. No doubt it took months, maybe years, of blood, sweat, and tears to win the election. You can’t stop there, though. If you thought politicking was tough, brace yourself. Now the hard work begins. You’ve won the election. Now, you’ve got to win our respect.

You’ve got your work cut out for you.

First of all, if you’re new to your role, you’ve got to understand this isn’t your father’s government. If you were reelected last week, know that this isn’t the political environment you’ve grown accustomed to. There’s a new brand of accountability in the air. You’ll be expected to be the type of statesman that was once the norm in the America of long ago. You’ll be required to make some preposterously difficult decisions. In the very recent past, most elected officials have skated-by by maintaining the status quo or doling out some pork. Not anymore. We the People have become as restless and angered as a hurt animal. To be cliché, we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

This sudden and welcome change of being is an outcome of the world around us. We’ve been let down for decades and that mistreatment has finally come to a head, the economy plunging into despair not seen since the days of the Great Depression. Small businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Hundreds of thousands of families have lost their jobs and their homes. All seniors have witnessed the collapse of their retirement accounts. The younger generations are entering a job market that might never let them achieve the standard of living that their parents had.

Because of this trauma to our pocketbooks, our way of life, and the very core of the American Dream, people from all walks of life have finally come to the understanding that good representation is the remedy for what ails us. We want results. We need results. We have to be that way and we always should have been. But, as a nation, we let our civic responsibilities slip and that has come back to haunt us. Because a majority of Americans found themselves more in tune with the outcome of American Idol than with past elections they overlooked where our nation was going. Because of that indifference to that which truly matters, our leadership was not held in check, and slowly but surely Bad Government – some of it too big, some of it too small – permeated the landscape, allowing the collapse of our economy to occur. Those citizens, who because of their malaise are just as guilty as their elected officials, have learned their lesson. That’s why “change” was such an important part of all the campaigns this year. The People themselves have changed and they are demanding the very same of you.

The wish list for Change is endless. Things have to change in the way our government views spending, entitlements, bailouts, the dollar, the economy, the banks, Wall Street, Main Street, education, and national defense. With such an impressive if not frightening list you couldn’t come into office at a more remarkable time in our history. The next few years are extremely important to America. We’re teetering on the edge. A few wrong decisions could destroy our economy and the America we know and love will be but an afterthought.

Please accept this mantle of responsibility with the utmost care and dedication. All of us - those who voted for you and those who did not- look forward to seeing what you can accomplish while in office, hoping that what you do or don’t do helps to make a better community, a better state, and a better country. Your legacy depends on it. Our future requires it.

Make us proud.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Trucking regs will hurt Upstate economy

From the 03 November 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Just when you start to think it couldn’t get any tougher to do business in New York State, it does.

David Paterson and the State Department of Transportation have spent the past few months fine tuning regulations which would inhibit the flow of goods across the Empire State. The State plans to experiment with a series of laws in the Finger Lakes region that would restrict tractor trailers in excess of 45 feet in length from travelling state and local roads and allow them to travel just on the interstates. They would be permitted to travel the lesser roads only if there was a direct and exclusive route to their client or if an emergency situation presented itself (such as inclement weather). After working out the kinks in the Finger Lakes test, the DOT plans to apply these regulations to the rest of the state.

Governor Paterson is pushing these regulations – which are being levied without the support of the state legislature - because he believes that the residents of rural upstate New York should not be subjected to what he considers “big trucks”. He claims the vehicles ruin the solitude and quality of life in the countryside and put undue stress on the infrastructure. This plays well on the emotions of the rural residents but does nothing for rational analysis of what the true outcome will be.

Without a doubt, these regulations will push a sickly upstate economy further into ruin.

This can be said with the utmost confidence because 45-foot trailers are dinosaurs. 53 ft. trailers are quickly becoming the industry standard. I asked our local traffic broker how many of each trailer size he schedules per week. Of his 125 loads, 95 are 53 ft. trailers, 30 of them are 48 ft. trailers and he doesn’t broker a single truck at 45 ft. in length (Paterson’s absolute maximum). That means the average tractor trailer won’t be able to travel the roads as freely as they can now.

One of two things will have to happen. The truckers will have to abandon the longer trailers or schedule lengthier routes. Both options will cost money. Lots of money.

If forced to go to the shorter trailers, load sizes will have to be cut by 9%. That will require the scheduling of a second truck, perhaps a common carrier. That will cause overall shipping costs for that same quantity-shipped to rise by 20% to 35%. That could equate to hundreds of dollars in new charges depending on where the truck is going.

If the drivers are forced into travelling longer routes it’s nearly as expensive. The New York State Motor Truck Association provided an example of a manufacturer’s daily shipments from Syracuse to Corning Glass. Right now, that truck travels 200 miles round trip. Were Paterson’s law to go into effect, the new round trip would be nearly 300 miles. Assuming one such trip a day, five days a week, the law would add an extra $63,627 per year in costs for that one trucking route.

Realize that the truckers and businesses can’t eat those costs. To make ends meet they must pass them on to their customers. That means you’ll be paying more for food at the grocery store or products at the department store because it will cost so much more to get it from Point A to Point B.

Even worse than that, you could be out of a job because of Paterson. Many times in these pages I’ve written about how expensive it is for a manufacturer to operate in New York State. Because of Albany, it’s 4% more expensive to work here than it is in our competitors’ states. The only financial saving grace we can offer our customers exists in delivery. That’s because the Niagara region is within 500 miles of 55% of the US population. So, a client may choose our goods, though more expensive at the piece price, because they can save on shipping. If Paterson’s laws were to take effect they would take away that lone advantage we have. Hundreds of New York businesses would then lose their existing customers (and potential customers) to their competition in the Ohios and Indianas of the world.

It’s obvious that the Governor has put little thought into the repercussions of his anti-business, anti-consumer trucking regulations. In his twisted mind he may think he’s doing good for Upstate, but in reality, he’s harming it. Someone’s going to be hitting the road and it won’t be the truckers…it will be all the businesses who know what’s best for them and their future.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Race is an issue on the ballots

From the 27 October 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Though the national media won’t touch it with a 10 foot pole, race is a key issue in the November election. For a good many people it will be the sole deciding factor. There are a lot of people who are voting for Obama just to put a black man in the Oval Office and there are just as many people who are voting for McCain to keep a black man out of the Oval Office.

In some polling locations the presidential lever isn’t the only place on the ballot where race will come into play. Voters in two states – Colorado and Nebraska – have the chance to vote for the end of affirmative action in their public colleges, state employment, and government contracts. If the voters pass this they would join California (1997), Washington State (1998) and Michigan (2006) as states that have successfully put an end to preferential treatment based on race or gender.

This movement has been a long time coming. Its proponent and primary financier, businessman Ward Connerly (who is black, by the way), has indicated that it’s not a sprint but a marathon. He figures if he works slowly but surely, one or two states at a time, he can most effectively get all Americans on board with his desire to promote real, not forced, equality.

Connerly is right. It does take time. Look at how long it took the women’s and civil rights movements to bring about much-needed change in America. Putting an end to discrimination and hate is no easy task. And, that’s what affirmative action is…it’s racism with a smattering of sexism thrown in. It’s racist against whites and sexist against men. This brand of hatred needs to be killed. Just as we’ve been hearing from the hypocritical discriminated masses for years, real equality needs to be based on who you are and what you’ve done as a human, not on the color of skin or what reproductive organs you might have. A productive citizen should never be cast aside because a bleeding heart requires an underperforming minority or woman to take his place because it feels good; it’s a bad practice - both philosophically and operationally - in which everybody loses.

Connerly’s most recent efforts for this cause couldn’t come at a better time. It seems custom-made for this November’s election. Based on what we’re seeing in the national political scene it seems that affirmative action is a moot point. Barack Obama didn’t get to where he is because of a race quota in the presidential campaign. He got there because of his accomplishments. Similarly, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin didn’t give him a run for his money because we felt it legally necessary to place women into the fray. They, too, got where they are because of who they are not what they are. This contemporary, well-documented success of blacks and women sans helping hand might heavily influence the voters of Nebraska and Colorado.

Not only is this timely, but the initiative couldn’t happen at a better place, either. It’s believed that the outcome of the vote in Colorado will determine what America as whole thinks about affirmative action. That’s because Colorado, a key battleground state, is a perfect snapshot of our collective America. It is looked at as a “purple state”, one that is neither decidedly Democratic nor Republican by majority and whose leanings can change on a whim. The most recent Rasmussen Reports show this. According to the poll, Obama leads in Colorado by 5 percentage points, while a month ago McCain led by 2. That leaves one wondering what will come of affirmative action. You just don’t know if the Democratic trappings (pro-affirmative action) or the Republican’s traditional values (anti-affirmative action) will manifest themselves…just like on Main Street, America.

So, on the morning of Wednesday, November fifth I and many others will be looking at more than just the presidential and local results. We’ll be watching Colorado and Nebraska with interest. You can’t blame us. We’re curious as to what mindset we’ll see at the polls. Will the America of old - one that was built on the foundation of hard work and real results – reign supreme, bringing an end to affirmative action? Or, will the New America – one of entitlements and ugly liberalism – maintain its stranglehold on us, keeping affirmative action alive?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bush is the new FDR

From the 20 October 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Let’s take a step back and ponder a presidential legacy.

George W Bush’s presidency is, without a doubt, one of the most liberal in American history. Under his watch the role of government has been redefined. It has become much larger and more intrusive. The many things he’s done are completely Unconstitutional and, therefore, completely illegal.

Here’s a president who, facing an economic nightmare, has unleashed unprecedented amounts of government intervention in our free-market systems, all in an effort to calm the fears of our citizens and reinvigorate financial development. What his administration has done has forever changed our economic landscape, infusing socialism into our capitalist markets.

He’s the same man who years ago used a bloody attack on our soil to further the interests of his administration. Using the deceased as martyrs to pump up our feelings of fear, revenge, and nationalism, he took us into a war that was unrelated to the attack, a warzone that in the years preceding was off-limits to us due to the antiwar sentiment shared by most Americans.

Bush used that same attack on our home front to legitimize federal efforts to squash the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments. He initiated a domestic spying program in which our government could eavesdrop on its own citizens, mark them as enemies of the state and detain them indefinitely through the suspension of writ of Habeas Corpus.

Bush, rightfully so, has been derided for all of this and his presidency has been labeled as one of the worst ever. I’m glad that people feel this way and understand the damage he has done to our great nation. But, on the other hand, I can’t help but look at that commonly-held disdain for Bush with a lot of cynicism, finding some dark humor in the mass hypocrisy. You see, everything that I’ve written here about George Bush could easily have been written to a “t” about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He, too, was guilty of all of the above, yet he’s always been put on a pedestal and worshipped as one of our greatest presidents. It could be argued, quite easily, that his reign was a lot worse than Bush’s.

FDR, like Bush, faced an economic disaster of historic proportions while in office. And he, too, bailed-out the economy by putting billions of dollars into the market by instituting a wide variety of programs and giveaways that most Americans would call socialist or communist. Remember, he introduced means to control prices by subsidizing crops, he employed hundreds of thousands through the Civilian Conservation Corps, Tennessee Valley Authority and other such government employment, he pushed the National industrial Recovery Act as a means to dictate how competition should occur, he introduced two still-standing Securities Acts and he brought to us the granddaddy of all public giveaways (Social Security). Unlike Bush’s methods, FDR’s bailouts moved from the bottom up, rather than the top down. But, just like Bush’s plans, all of them showed promise for a short-term rescue but were saddled with painful long-term implications that subsequent generations would have to struggle with.

FDR, like Bush, used an attack against America to pull us into an unrelated and unpopular war. Bush, for years, eyed Iraq as place to take our troops, but found Americans to be strongly opposed. Roosevelt, for years, was intent on intervening in the European conflicts, but antiwar and isolationist sentiments were far too powerful in the States. Both men got what they wanted, although it took unbelievable tragedy. Bush was able to make people believe that Iraq was somehow connected to the 9/11 terror attacks and found Congress and our people suddenly (if only temporarily) amicable to an Iraq war. FDR was able to use the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (which he allowed to occur) to get people interested in joining the foray into the completely unrelated European Theatre. Somehow, both men successfully duped the nation into war.

FDR, like Bush, also used the war to cast aside the rights of the individual. Just as our government now uses the Patriot Act to jail people without following standard procedures, it did the same under FDR’s watch, but worse. The US interned, detained or excluded over 300,000 Japanese-Americans (men, women, and children) branding them all as enemies of the state, regardless of guilt or innocence.

As you can see, the presidencies of Bush and FDR share some eerie similarities. Their only difference: Bush is hated while FDR is revered. It’s too bad history works in such odd ways because, truth be told, FDR deserves the same treatment as Bush. His presidency was no better than Bush’s and - looking at Constitutional principles - it could be considered a whole lot worse.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Cold War Revisited

From the 13 October 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

The economy is the Number One issue these days, as it should be. We are living in some historic times. Unprecedented acts of federal intervention are taking place and when we finally crawl out of this financial meltdown America will never look as it once did.

As important as this situation may be in the media and water-cooler conversation, it and other newsworthy national issues (presidential election, anyone?) should not temper our understanding of foreign developments. Because of this unrelenting focus on the home front, our trusted news sources and average Americans alike are almost completely oblivious to the fact that the Cold War is back.

It’s a long held belief that the Cold War ended round about 1990. Depending on whom you ask, it ended in either 1989 when George HW Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev declared it so at the Malta Summit or in 1991 when the USSR officially ceased to exist. Some folks, though, - like me - insist that it never really ended. To us, the Cold War was put on hiatus, the Russian Machine taking its time to collect itself and get all of its ducks in a row following the collapse of the Soviet Union. You can’t help but make such an assessment when you see the great recentralization of powers that has been taking place in Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, a member of the USSR’s old guard and a former KGB thug who has nothing but total disregard for democratic principles.

Now that Putin has exerted domestic rule in ways that he sees fit he has turned his attention to reenergizing his efforts to knock America down a notch or two. It started in August when Russia and Georgia got into a tussle. George has been a serious ally – or better yet, pawn – of the United States since its days of new-found independence. Our government has provided them with almost $2 billion in military training and equipment since 1992, most of that since 2001 under the guise of “an investment against al-Qaeda”. Truth be known, Georgia is not a stomping ground for al-Qaeda. Therefore, this investment was really used to strengthen ourselves against Russia. With this taken into consideration it appears that Russia’s brief occupation of Georgia was bait to induce America into a proxy war (the Vietnam and Korean Wars are perfect examples of proxy wars that occurred during the original Cold War). We didn’t take the bait this time.

Not to be outdone, Putin has decided to bring the posturing and preening of the Cold War’s good ol’ days right to us. It was announced last month – unbeknownst to most Americans because of the economic crisis - that the Russian military will be paying a visit to the Americas. Putin has found a good friend in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the same man who hates our guts but is okay with receiving our oil money. Back in July, Chavez requested a strategic alliance with Russia, one which Putin gladly accepted. Russia is allowed to have three of its state-owned energy companies set up shop in oil-rich Venezuela while, in exchange, Venezuela is afforded protection from the United States.

Under this pact training exercises will commence this November. Russia will be deploying 1,000 troops and doing a Teddy-Roosevelt-style sail-by near US waters with a huge fleet led by their nuclear-powered flagship, Pyotr Velikhiy, the best of the Peter the Great series of cruisers. The ship is a beast (by Russian standards) equipped with nearly 200 guns and launchers and outfitted with more than 20 Granit missiles which have an effective range approaching 200 miles.

The drills are taking place in the Caribbean, obviously meant as scare tactic directed towards us. But, fear not. The Pyotr, as threatening as it sounds, is no match for our Navy, so we really have nothing to worry about. But, we will when the time comes. To Putin’s credit, it’s a well-thought-out effort that may pay off for him psychologically. It makes perfect tactical sense for Russia to throw its weight around while we are in an economic crisis and our collective national psyche is feeling weakened and nervous. This will only add to those feelings of misery.

So, prepare yourself for some fireworks next month and the few months following. These won’t be fireworks in the literal sense, but they will be in the figurative, political sense as Bush and his successor trade barbs and meaningless threats with our enemy of yore.

Welcome back, Cold War.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Worthless American Dollar: Part Two

From the 06 October 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Last week’s column focused on recent trends in attempted economic recovery and how they cause short-term inflation. The column ended with the prediction that the wide variety of bailouts deployed by the government this year will create real inflation in excess of 20% over the next two years.

Not to further your anxiety over our economy’s health, but you must know that inflation will not end there and we will see a rather prolonged and agonizing decrease in the value of the Dollar. This decline will go on for decades and it will be, once again, the fault of Big Government. Just as it has this year with its attempted salvation of Wall Street and Main Street, Uncle Sam will have no choice but to let fly with the printing presses to satisfy its Messiah Complex.

This constant increase in monetary supply will start in ten years and the expenditure of these increasingly-worthless dollars will be focused on our aging Baby Boomer population. There are 79 million Boomers in America, representing over a quarter of the total US population. They are on the brink of retirement and, therefore, entitlement. The oldest of the Boomers reach 62 years of age this year, the year they can start receiving Social Security. These Boomers are only 3 years away from Medicare and 3 to 5 years away from the Normal Retirement Age.

So, you can consider the floodgates now open. And, oh, what a flood it will be! The money to pay for all their benefits has to come from somewhere and the current “somewhere” is just about dried up. As a matter of fact, Medicare will be insolvent within a decade. It’s already paying out more than it takes in and its treasury will be completely dried up by the end of 2018. Social Security faces similar danger: In 2017 it will begin to face an input/output imbalance, one that will completely empty its reserves just 32 years from now.

With the piggy banks empty, the government will have to either cut benefits, initiate a major reform of the system, or find some money. Looking at the three options, cuts are a real long-term possibility only for X’s and Y’s now supposedly paying for their own Social Security. But that’s out of sight out of mind because it won’t occur, if it does at all, until 2041.The second option, the reformation of social welfare, is currently out of the question because it won’t occur until the financial crisis has actually happened. That’s just the way our government works. It’s a reactive, not proactive entity, one that thinks only in the short-term. That’s why FDR (Social Security) and LBJ (Medicare) so willingly signed our nation away. The long-term results meant nothing to them or their administrations, so why worry? That’s the same psychological underpinnings behind Bush, Paulson, and Bernanke so willingly dumping $2.5 trillion of fiat money into the economy this year. Someone else further down the road will pick up the pieces.

That leaves the need for more greenbacks as the only way out - and easiest way out - for our poorly-led nation to weather the storm. The Government really can’t tax anymore than it already does to fill these accounts. Doing so would kill the lower and middle classes who, as I mentioned in last week’s column, have fewer dollars to spare as they face decreasing purchasing power in the wake of government-created inflation. So, rather than taking money, it will resort to making money (which, ironically, really has the same effect on the individual as an increase in taxes).

But how much will the Mint need to produce? That’s where the economics start to get a little dicey. Over the next few decades, Social Security will grow from 4% to 6% of our economy. Medicare will grow from 3% to 11%. Basically, just these two facets of Big Government will more than double in aggregate, becoming 18% of our total economy. All things being equal, that will require the creation of $60 trillion in new dollars to prop up those faltering systems. That’s an average of $2.6 trillion per year over the 23 years immediately following the year 2018, when Medicare first needs it.

Realize that our money supply grew by $2.5 trillion this year which has been and will be responsible for inflation levels many of us have never experienced in our lifetimes. Unless Washington wakes up and reforms social welfare, such pain will be the norm of our lives in the not-so-distant future.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Worthless American Dollar: Part One

From the 29 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

“They get our oil and they give us a worthless piece of paper.”

Those words were spoken nearly one year ago – and have been repeated in various ways ever since – by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was taking a shot at the US dollar when he delivered those controversial words at the end of a rare meeting of OPEC’s heads-of-state. Most Americans considered this to be meaningless anti-American drivel and the ranting of a madman. After all, Ahmadinejad is the man who denied the existence of the Holocaust and counted Christianity and Judaism among the World’s evils.

He may be a little crazy at times, but, alas, he was spot-on with his assessment of the American dollar. It is basically worthless, and matters are only getting worse. The death knell was first rung in 1971 when most economies abandoned the concept of the gold standard and turned to fiat money. The move towards a paper currency with no tangible backing whatsoever was a huge gamble, one, that in the hands of a welfare state (which America has become), will never pay off. To satisfy its over-expenditures, America has produced and will continue to produce reams of paper money, saturating the market with the stuff and making all existing dollars worth less if not worthless.

By increasing the supply of money used in a market that possesses only a limited supply of the goods and resources it is supposed to purchase, governments create inflation. It ends up taking more dollars to buy what could once be had at comparatively lower prices. This creates a significant decrease in an individual’s purchasing power because the labor market cannot adjust wages to meet reckless inflation because even though it would theoretically take more dollars to buy a worker’s services it really doesn’t because both sides of the labor market (the workers and the employers) perceive there to be an endless and highly-competitive supply of labor in a global marketplace. So, the consumer - the worker – always ends up being the loser in the government’s push to create money out of thin air. That’s why we’ve all lost significant amounts of our discretionary income in the past twelve months; we’re spending many more of our dollars to get the suddenly-expensive foods and fuels that we need.

You know an economy based in fiat money is on hard times - just as ours is - when inflation begins to spiral out of control, exceeding what is believed to be a stable (“acceptable”) inflation rate of 2% to 3%. The current rate of annual inflation is 5.4%, a number quite large and frightening, but still underreported. The government does not include food or fuel in its calculations, so the real inflation that is experienced by the consumer is estimated by maverick economists to be in the 9% to 12% range.

The short-term growth in the rate of inflation has spiked considerably in calendar year 2008 because the federal government has produced unprecedented amounts of greenbacks. Here is every event for which money that our federal government did not have was produced by it to meet its own excesses:

The newest bailout package: $700 billion

Refinancing of failed mortgages: $300 billion

Batch of new money pumped into international markets: $274 billion

Loans to banks in the Fed’s Term Auction Facility: $200 billion

The purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: $200 billion

The economic stimulus package: $158 billion

Financial assistance to JP Morgan Chase: $116 billion

Loan to AIG: $85 billion

Grants to local communities to buy foreclosed homes: $4 billion

In total, all that social and corporate welfare accounts for $2.037 trillion in fake money let loose since May. You can add to that another $410 billion, the estimated federal deficit for 2008, which does not include any of the above. That brings the amount of fiat money produced this year to a staggering $2.447 trillion, money that never existed prior to this year, money that will be in our system forever.

Because of that, one can assume that the 5.4% inflation reported by the government, as painful as it has been, will be a cake walk to what we’re going to experience in 2009 and 2010. It’s definitely not a stretch to say that government-calculated inflation will be in excess of 10% in those years, meaning what we’re really going to feel may be 20% to 25%.

It’s scary when a nutcase like Ahmadinejad makes perfect sense.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Four "E"s of Good Civics

From the 22 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Holding a public office isn’t for everyone. It shouldn’t be. But, that doesn’t mean that government isn’t for everyone. As a matter of fact, we live in a nation in which the government is for everyone, one in which you are the government.

The United States of America is, in this regard, unique amongst all societies past and present. No nation before us had ever been run under the principles of self-rule. Even in the most democratic of societies there was always a ruling class that earned its ranks not from the interests of the people but rather from lineage, ownership or spilled blood. Our nation is quite unlike that, founded on the basis that our government is of, by, and for the people.

Because of this charge to take responsibility for our collective actions and well-being, our nation is only as good as what we put into it. Each of us, whether in office or not, has a series of duties to assume. Upfront that may sound like an enormous task. That is expected when one realizes that we control our own destiny. But, meaningful self-governance is not really that difficult. As a matter of fact, it’s easily accomplished through something I call the “four “E”s of good civics”.

The first “E” is: Educate yourself.

The old maxim is true. Knowledge is power. To be the most powerful citizen you can be it’s imperative that you learn about the world around you. Exercising your right to vote and paying your taxes requires more than just pulling the levers and writing the checks, respectively. You should know exactly why you are voting for an individual and exactly where your hard-earned dollars are going. This requires an understanding of government itself, as well as an awareness of social and economic issues. They’re all related and they all affect one another. Open your mind to that domino effect and what you can and will learn by reading the newspaper, listening to talk radio, browsing the blogs, or taking college courses might shock you. Freely range in your pursuit of knowledge, too. None of us are expected to be experts; it’s best to possess a little bit of knowledge in a little bit of everything.

The second “E” is: Educate others.

Take what you learn, and the conclusions you draw, and share them everyone you know. Never assume that your family and friends know what you do about certain issues. Not everyone makes a concerted effort to educate themselves on the issues. If you do it for them you might be that much-needed spark that gets their fire started. Give them the facts. Warm them up to your opinion. You can even agree to disagree. There is no more powerful a tool in getting the voting population out than educating them on the issues and framing that education in a way they understand, highlighting how what their government does affects them.

The third “E” is: Engage your elected officials.

Just as you educate other voters on the issues, do the same to your representatives. They are your voice in your town, county, state, or nation. As one of their constituents, your best interests are supposed to be their best interests. Let them know how proposed legislation will hurt or help you. Let them know how specific laws stifle your freedoms. Be yourself, pick up that phone or write a real letter. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be responded to. It’s rare a politician who won’t engage us in conversation, whether by phone or print. Over the years I’ve found our local, state, and congressional officials to be open to communication and quite often responsive to my requests.

The fourth “E” is: Elect the very best.

If you find that your elected official isn’t game to the third “E” and, therefore, doesn’t meet your needs or those of the community around you, let him go. We have a very powerful term limit in our possession: it’s called an “election”. If you’re dissatisfied, focus on the first two “E”s and get others to vote lock-step with you. If the incumbent is facing someone who’s a great candidate in terms of what he can bring to the table, elect him. Ignore party lines or the false beliefs of seniority. Similarly, if you think your elected official is the best there is, keep him in office. This is an extremely important “E”, for that person is supposed to be your voice for years at a time.

Once you’ve completed the four “E”s, repeat them. It’s a never-ending cycle, one that when it’s made a habit is one you will cherish. There’s very little more rewarding than being a good citizen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Stop Subsidizing Abortions

From the 15 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

The right to life will always be one of the most contentious issues in American politics. It’s pretty much guaranteed that we will never come to a consensus on abortion, because for all the folks who, like me, are strongly against it there seem to be just as many people who support it.

Having said that, as long as there exists a Right-Left balance in most legislative houses and executive branches, we will always see the policy battles that occur on the floors of our national and state capitols, battles in which the pro-lifers long to block abortions and the pro-abortion crowd looks to improve access to embryocide. The discussions over abortion bills always turn to lengthy impasses, both sides debating the issue for hours at length, never coming to an agreement and repeating the discussion in the following legislative year. Because of those extreme philosophical divisions in the political world (and community), it’s quite rare that legislation from either side gets passed anymore. That’s why a bill like New York’s liberal Reproductive Health Act has been debated the past two years and will be again in 2009. It’s a never-ending cycle of redundancy.

These stalemates are also a reason why those who are against abortion must focus on reasonably-achievable goals and not pipedreams like overturning Roe v. Wade. We’re wasting our energy if we think we can take on the Supreme Court and win. Nothing even remotely close to a positive development has been achieved in the 35 years of activism since that infamous case.

The most critical and realistic inroads can be gained with a reformation of public spending.

Most people are unaware that considerable taxpayer funds are dedicated to abortions or that our home state is one of the guiltiest of this. New York is one of only 17 states in which abortions of convenience are funded by taxes. In any given year nearly 45 percent of all abortions in New York are paid for with state Medicaid dollars, the very same Medicaid that eats up more than half our County property tax bills. The final numbers for our “investments” are quite appalling: New York is the abortion capital of the world, with 1 in 10 US abortions occurring here, something to the tune of 165,000 per year. We’re helping to pay for almost 75,000 of them.

The amount of subsidization is just as bad at the federal level. Uncle Sam gives $335 million per year to abortion clinic/consultant Planned Parenthood. Admittedly, some of those dollars go towards education and counseling. But, most of those dollars (once again, our hard-earned money) are dedicated to abortions. Planned Parenthood performed nearly 290,000 of them in 2006.

In essence, the average New Yorker contributes to the extermination of 365,000 lives annually.

This doesn’t need to happen. Making change at the State level is the easiest of the battles. 33 states don’t fund abortions of convenience, choosing instead to fund only the abortions they feel are necessitated by rape, incest, or overwhelming medical emergency. New York can become one of them, by right-minded legislators introducing legislation which mirrors that of the other states.

The federal government has already taken steps to stop funding Medicaid-related abortions. Thanks to the Hyde Amendment of 1976, the federal government will not provide funding for abortions which do not meet the rape and incest provision. But, in the case of New York and similar states, Hyde ends up being a wash because the state uses its own Medicaid coffers. Regardless, the Hyde Amendment does set a precedent for the parameters of the public funding of abortions and a very good lawyer could make a legitimate claim that New York is operating outside the boundaries of the law.

Due to the nebulousness of Planned Parenthood, stopping the federal funding of it is a slightly more difficult yet still attainable goal. Leveraging the legal precedence of the Hyde Amendment along with public sentiment, the flow of monies could be shut right off. Such an effort does have its champions, too. In July, Congresswomen Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota offered a very compelling argument in Washington decrying the practice, an argument she plans to bring up in earnest in 2009 with many politicians planning to jump on that bandwagon.

This fight makes philosophical, fiscal, and legal sense. Longtime readers of this column know there are a lot of things I don’t want my tax dollars doing. Killing innocents before they can ever appreciate the world outside the womb has to rank right at the top of that list. Millions of people would probably feel the same way if they were aware that the government really does subsidize abortions.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mexico's drug problem is ours, too

From the 08 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

As a general rule of thumb, Americans are an extremely ethnocentric lot and care very little about other nations. Sure, every year our government provides untold billions of dollars in financial aid and military might to other countries, but, overall, our citizens are completely disconnected from the realities of the world we live in. Compared to the news media of other developed nations our news agencies provide very limited – and sometimes non-existent – coverage of global happenings unless they might have a significant short-term impact on America.

That way of thinking is not only unfortunate from a philosophical standpoint (why do we so devalue others?) but it can also cause some problems down the road when we finally do find out about the problem, which is typically after we’ve stepped right into the mess. Our shortsightedness has proven time and time again to be our undoing, our reactions being too little too late.

A current international issue with long-term implications that we’ve chosen to ignore is that of Mexico’s drug problem. To most Americans it’s a given that some of Mexico’s drug problem is our problem, too. The statistics do not belie this: According to the CIA, 90% of all cocaine used in the United States is trafficked through Mexico and Mexicans produce 10,000 tons of weed and 25 tons of heroin imported into the US. They might give us our drugs, but that’s where the shared problem ends as does our understanding of the issue. The drug culture that we obsess about here in the States pales in comparison to what’s going on in Mexico.

What sets their drug problem apart from ours is the frightening drug-related violence so pervasive in their urban areas. It’s nothing like the violence on our streets. What the gangs do in Mexico makes their American counterparts – the much-feared Latin Kings – look like choir boys. So far this year nearly 3,000 Mexicans are known to have had their lives taken by drug violence. The numbers are frightening, but it’s the sheer brutality of the violence that’s most unsettling. Perhaps as a means to send a message to their enemies, the drug traffickers typically beat their victims mercilessly for minutes or hours on end and then execute them in an extremely-exaggerated gangland style, most bodies ending up riddled with dozens of bullet holes. That’s almost pedestrian compared to recent acts of violence. Two weeks ago a pile of 12 bodies was found in Meridia, a city thought to have been spared by drug violence. Every one of those bodies was decapitated.

What these gangs are doing is not run-of-the-mill impersonalized violence. It’s personalized, direct-contact butchering, a sign that the traffickers are overcome with unparalleled amounts of evil and are as completely indifferent to humanity as Middle Eastern terrorists are. And, that is when you know that you’ve truly lost control of a situation; No police force or government agency has a chance of easily stopping gangs that far gone. As a matter of fact, the government is in their sights, too. These gangs routinely assassinate police officers and two weeks ago took the lives of two police chiefs in neighboring cities, only hours into their new jobs.

Americans need to keep a close eye on this breed of violence, not only because it’s occurring in a neighboring nation, but more so for the reason that the chances are very good this bloodshed will soon be happening on American soil. The drugs at the center of the killings are mostly going to the USA, brought by deliverymen bringing with them their new ultra-aggressive culture. Add to that the millions of Mexicans who have – and continue to – illegally emigrate into the states and you wonder when our Southwestern cities will be taken over by the blood-thirsty pigs.

It can even happen here in the North. Think back to 2005, when numerous Hispanics posing as migrant workers used a town of Lockport home as the regional hub for distribution of Mexican cocaine. They were armed to the teeth. You don’t think they would have done harm to anyone who crossed them or might have stumbled onto their drug ring? They probably did and we just don’t know about it.

We need to do something before it’s too late. What can we do? Sending troops to Mexico is not an answer. Strengthening our border security is. Getting illegals out of the US is. Ramping up inner-city police coverage is. Wiping the drug traders off our streets is. For now, though, it’s extremely important that we just pay attention to what’s happening in Mexico, understand the beast and ready ourselves for it. Frankly, if we don’t, all of Mexico’s drug problems will one day be ours, too.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Legalize stun guns in New York

From the 01 September 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

We men will never understand what it means to be a woman. None of us can imagine what it feels like to be the object of animal-like sexual desire. None of us will ever know the fear of becoming the unwitting prey of much-stronger deviants who will satisfy their urges through rape or sexual assault.

Many women live with those fears, some consciously, others subconsciously. In today’s world, those feelings are justified. Every 2 minutes a woman is sexually assaulted somewhere in the United States. In a typical year over 275,000 women have their bodies and souls pillaged and that is only the known cases. Due to fear of the assailant and the unfortunate feelings of lessened self-worth following the assault or rape, more than 60% of all incidents go unreported. Therefore, it is not a stretch to say that nearly three-quarters of a million women are victims each and every year. It’s no wonder the numbers show that 1 out of every 6 women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

This happens because our government allows it to. Even though the general assumption is that women always win in civil and criminal cases this is not the case. Only 6% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. The others are left to wander the streets to commit such indiscretions again, be it against their past victims or against new ones. And, because of our laws - enforced by those same courts - women are left powerless against those free-roaming offenders. They have to go through hurdles to get a handgun, they can’t own stun guns and they can possess only a limited amount of pepper spray. The lawmakers are oblivious to the fact that even with the most advanced self-defense techniques there is very little that a 120 pound woman can do against a 225 pound man, naturally more powerful than she and made even more so by his hunger for her flesh. Our officials have done everything in their power to give the predator the advantage by taking all means of protection from the prey.

Thus, it makes perfect sense that we turn the tables by arming the prey and allow women to keep rapists at bay. This won’t be accomplished through handguns, at least not in New York State. The NYC-based liberal contingent - which controls Albany - is so against our natural rights and the Second Amendment that we will never see our gun laws lessened. They will only be strengthened. That leaves but one option, something of a middle ground for the pro-gun and anti-gun crowds: the legalization of stun guns.

New York is one of only 8 states in which stun guns are strictly prohibited. Considering how safe yet effective these weapons are there’s no reason that we shouldn’t legalize them. Undoubtedly the biggest reason for the strict gun laws in NY is that critics consider them to be lethal weapons. Stun guns, on the other hand, have become an extremely popular law-enforcement tool because they are decidedly non-lethal. They are very effective tools for stopping criminals and, by using brief 100,000-volt surges, they spare aggressors from the physical injury or death associated with guns and batons. In comparison to how often stun guns are used, death is extremely rare (although highly-publicized) and when it does occur, the “victim” (really the wrong word to use for a criminal) had a pre-existing health condition or was strung out on drugs. I’m sure a woman fighting for her life or health wouldn’t mind that very slim chance of taking the life of her attacker, a person who would like to ruin or take hers.

The safety of stun guns extends beyond that non-lethal status. The weapon’s electrical force is engaged only when the attacker comes into contact with the gun’s prongs. So, the other perceived consequences of handguns – stray bullets and innocent bystanders – never materialize because it’s a close-quarters weapon, one called into play when the situation has escalated to the point that the thug is in his victim’s personal space.

Overall, it’s the perfect weapon for women – and lawmakers - uncomfortable with the thought of someone carrying a gun. It’s portable, innocuous, and safe. Best of all, it works. A stun gun is a veritable pocket-sized health and life insurance policy for any and all women. It can give them – and their loved ones - the peace of mind they need when they’re running the bike paths or walking the streets at night. We need to empower women – not their predators - and legalizing stun guns may be the best way to do it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Taking the tax cap to the top

From the 25 August 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Although party politics looked like the ultimate cause of the controversial property tax cap never making it in the Democrat-led Assembly while it did in the Republican-led Senate, it is, at its core, a bipartisan issue. Republican John Faso introduced the concept during the 2006 gubernatorial debates and within a year’s time Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer warmed up to the idea and created a Democrat-led task force whose findings tickled the fancy of Democratic David Paterson and Republicans in the Senate and Assembly. With a fan base as two-sided as that it’s obvious that even though it failed last week, the tax cap bill will see lengthy debate in the future. It might pass one day, maybe even next year if the Dems gain control of the Senate and can then take full credit for its institution.

If this does happen, which a majority of the beleaguered property owners in New York are hoping for, the concept needs a lot of help because it only answers one half of the equation. It might address spending at the local level but does absolutely nothing to address the spending habits of State Government. This is in itself brazenly hypocritical because the elected officials who want to hold the lower levels of government accountable choose not to live by the same rigid standards. If anything, it’s Albany that needs a tax cap because our state spends at rates the growth of which far exceed those of our schools and municipalities.

As mentioned in last week’s column, I saw my property taxes rise by a total of 17% over a three year period. It takes the state about two years to achieve such an increase in spending. When you look at what happened to the state budget over the past 3 fiscal years (the last two under liberal governors and the other ruled by a GOP head) this year’s is 5.5% higher than last year’s which was 7.3% higher than the previous which was 7.9% higher than the one before that. That amounts to a three-year rise in spending in excess of 22%. It’s no wonder that the state budget nearly doubled in the last thirteen years, going from $61.9 billion to $121 billion.

In comparison, federal spending, which is always believed to be more malignant than state spending, grew by “only” 6.7% in the last 3 years. Now, when gluttonous Uncle Sam is evidently more fiscally prudent than New York, there’s obviously something wrong. Hence Governor Paterson employing last week’s emergency session at the State Capitol which, by the way, wound up being more of a dog and pony show than anything of substance. It was a means by which to lull the taxpayers into believing that the political class was looking out for them. Only a pittance was carved from the budget and most of the wasteful social welfare and corporate welfare programs were left completely untouched. The legislators patted themselves on the back for carving out .08% of the bloated budget. Eight-tenths of one percent! They’ve been making it sound like their efforts were as awesome and dangerous as Man walking on the moon.

And that sort of fiscal lunacy is exactly why Albany needs a cap. Without any reins these wild horses have run roughshod over the Empire State. They need to be reined in. They need to know that their spending is - just like that of the local spending they decry - out of control and that it, too, needs a cap. But, a cap on taxation is difficult to implement at the State level because they flood us with so many often-hidden income taxes, sales taxes, user fees, license fees, and more. That’s why at the higher levels of government a “spending cap” is the way to go. If the expansion of the State budget was limited to the same standards that might be applied to locals’ taxes (the lesser of 4% or 120% the rate of inflation) we’d be so much better off. Applying that mathematical concept, the $62 billion budget of 13 years ago would have grown to $90 billion this year, a third less than what it truly is.

A simple spending cap is really that effective. And, it’s obviously necessary, too. New York State’s public sector doesn’t understand the value of a dollar, so they need to be guided by the hand because, unfortunately, the cap they’re using now – the dunce cap – just isn’t helping New Yorkers.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Teachers united against reality

From the 18 August 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Property taxes are out of control in New York State. I live in an old farmhouse on 5 acres of land in rural Niagara County. Last year, I paid $2,712 in county and local taxes and another $2,910 in school taxes. That’s 17% more than I had paid for the same only 3 years earlier.

That’s why I - like most others employed in the private sector - am delighted with the State’s proposal to cap these taxes. Were Governor Paterson and the State Senate to have their way the year-to-year growth of these taxes would never exceed the lesser of 4% overall or 120% of the rate of inflation (which from 1997 to 2007 averaged only 2.57%). It’s nowhere near a perfect solution (downsizing is), but, it’s a start. Capping tax expansion would cause elected officials and school boards to do something quite foreign to many of them; that is, operate reasonably within their (our) means. It might even force their hand in abandoning wasteful programs, assets and personnel. In the end, that just might bring businesses and people back to New York. And, those who do live here now might live better lives.

Despite the chance for a better tomorrow, there are some very powerful people who hate the concept and want nothing to do with it, obviously reliant on escalating public revenues: Our teachers.

Most teachers are good people, mind you, and singularly, they, too, want reasonable government expenditures. After all, they live in the same land of high taxes. But, beyond that, a majority of teachers really do care greatly for the well-being of the children they teach, that well-being including the financial health of the children’s families.

Even so, taken collectively, teachers can be associated with a mob mentality that is strongly –and wrongfully - skewed against the families of this state. 600,000 of them, working or retired, are part of the 1,200 local unions that comprise the New York State United Teachers, the most powerful and influential lobbying union in the State.

The teachers union is supposed to represent the best interests of each and every one of its teachers and professors and, if it really does, you can’t help but wonder whose side the teachers are really on (solely theirs or all of ours?), especially since the union has come out guns-a-blazing against the tax cap. Inordinate amounts of ads, press releases, and lobbying have become the norm for the NYSUT, with president Dick Iannuzzi constantly saying that the children of New York will suffer because of the cuts to education associated with the cap. It’s obvious he wants your money.

What the teachers union fails to see is that money does not a good education make. If anything, New York’s kids are the poster children for that statement. We pay far and away the most in the USA at almost $15,000 per pupil per year and we get very pitiful results: We rank forty-third in graduation rates and those who do graduate have SAT scores well below the national average. Considering that, globally, the US ranks twentieth in science and twenty-fifth in math, one can’t help but shudder when realizing how far behind the rest of the world New Yorkers are. As indicated earlier, a tax cap might be the remedy for this, causing the education system to look within and reinvent itself while leaving more money at home, bettering the social and fiscal health of its students.

But, this difficult yet meaningful path is not what the NYSUT wants. It even went as far as to pull its coveted endorsements from the 38 senators who voted for the tax cap. That sent a shocking message throughout Albany, the Union basically telling the elected officials who’s the boss. Without the campaign cash and campaigners from a pool of 600,000 influential people, a lot of the incumbents – many of whom are “status quo” officials who long supported the NYSUT - will face unexpectedly-difficult races, perhaps being replaced with someone even more sympathetic to the Union’s needs. If that happens, look out! You think you’re paying a lot now to put every kid in the neighborhood through school? Just wait.

So, now, as the State and its residents weather the current financial crises at the same time the teachers enjoy the last few days of their lengthy NYSUT-maintained Summer vacations, I’m left wondering: How can any teacher who’s true to his or her higher calling maintain allegiance to an organization as vile as NYSUT, one that would just as soon steal food from the mouths of the very children that teacher is supposed to protect?

I know most of them are better than that. And, it’s time they showed it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Self-importance is murder

From the 11 August 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Tim McLean was a happy-go-lucky 22-year old who was leading a normal life until it was taken away from him two weeks ago. His assailant, Vince Li, committed a completely random and despicable act of violence on McLean. The schizophrenic Li stabbed him multiple times, beheaded the young man and devoured some of his flesh.

Scary, eh?

What’s even more frightening than that: 35 people allowed it to happen.

Li perpetrated his deviance on a packed Edmonton-bound Greyhound bus. When Li first plunged his survival knife into his victim, the passengers and bus driver all ran off of the bus rather than pulling Li from his victim. Nobody pondered laying a hand on him until five minutes later when enough men worked up the courage to figure out they had better save McLean. When they finally went to the bus, it was much too late, as Li began taunting them with McLean’s head.

A true story as haunting as this begs the question, “why?” Why did so many people stand by as Li snuffed out McLean’s life and mutilated him? Why did no one dare attempt to save him when there was a very good chance that he could have been?

The answer may be that this event horribly exemplifies how damaging modern society’s ubiquitous “me first” attitude has become. In the years since the Baby Boomer generation’s graduation from college it seems that Modern Western culture has placed a heightened and misguided emphasis on the individual and his or her self-importance. This is not the ever-worthwhile path of rugged individualism, mind you, but rather a gluttonous self-centeredness that devalues the worth of others and places them a distant second in relation to one’s own comfort, enjoyment, and well-being. McLean was left for dead from Moment One because not one person out of 35 – a very slice of today’s society - felt enough compassion to override these thoughts of self, making them, arguably, as guilty as Vince Li.

There was a time when all this wasn’t the case, when people cared for one another and willingly made sacrifices. The Baby Boomer’s parents were those sorts of people. During the Depression they voluntarily gave up food so that their friends and neighbors might eat. A few years later, in the Second World War, many men did not wait for the draft. Instead, they willingly joined the ranks knowing they had a higher calling to protect others at home and around the world. Those who remained on the home front gave of time and money to make sure families that were separated from their husbands and sons by war could make do.

But, here we are one, two, and even three generations removed from “the Greatest Generation” and the world is a completely different place. Popular culture has led the Boomers, my Generation X, Generation Y, and the teens of today down a path of “self-full-ness” rather than selflessness. Despite modern education emphasizing the importance of teamwork, which it was hoped would instill respect for and interaction with others, people prefer to live only for themselves.

The signs are everywhere, out and about and at home. Basics like etiquette, once the norm, have become a lost art, with the little things that are done for others - like holding a door open or helping another when they’ve dropped something – becoming rare. Service organizations have seen their ranks diminish significantly over the years because of this indifference to helping others. Parents, intent on their own interests, have become increasingly-disconnected from their own children. They take them to their sports teams, clubs, and the like, but that’s it, they rarely take the time to help those organizations (and therefore their kids) as a coach, leader, or assistant. And, that’s if they even become parents: Most Western nations are producing offspring at a rate much lower than the replacement rate because adults are selfishly finding greater value in their professional and personal goings-on than they assume they ever would in sharing the wonderful gift of life that was given to them.

It was that same gift of life that was viciously taken from McLean at an early age because no one could look beyond his or her own little world to help him.

In a grand scale, that’s why our society shows signs of distress. Although they don’t meet ends even remotely similar to Tim McLean’s, there are millions more like him, millions who are left for dead - literally and figuratively – every day because our population as a whole doesn’t give the personal sacrifices necessary to make their lives, and all of our lives, better. Our self-importance is, in many ways, murder.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Inflation revisited

From the 04 August 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers
By Bob Confer

Back in November of 2007 I wrote a column about the fallacies of the government’s inflation statistics. In it, I clearly detailed how Uncle Sam underreports inflation and why indicators like the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index (PCE) can only be perceived as lies. That column, one that didn’t seem the least bit controversial, got me an inordinate amount of feedback. I received numerous e-mails, mostly from professors and economists from across the US who were insulted by the column and defended the federal government’s analytical skills.

Well, here it is nine months later, and my analysis is as correct as ever. One cannot help but wonder how academia and the government have evaded the Real World in their studies, for the reality is, inflation exists and it’s at levels that have not been seen in nearly 30 years. I’ll even go as far to say the actual numbers are horrifying.

The most recent statistics have the CPI pegged at 5% since June of 2007 and the PCE at 3.1% for the 12-month period ending in May. If you’ve bought anything recently – food, gas, appliances - you know that those numbers are unrealistic. You’re paying an arm and a leg for things that were once affordable, even a year ago. Certain analysts agree with you. Some financial columnists believe that the annual inflation rate is over 9%. estimates real inflation to be even higher, in excess of 12%.

I tend to agree with the latter. The costs of the inputs to everything we buy have exploded recently and, accordingly, so have the prices for our needs and wants. Corn is not only found in anything and everything in our kitchens, but it is also the primary food for many of our meats and dairy. This necessary grain went from $2.25 a bushel in 2006 to $7 last month. Oil, the lifeblood of our mobile America, was around $65 per barrel in January of 2007. It was at $122 last week. Natural gas is over 50% more expensive than it was last year. Electricity across New York will be 21% more expensive this year. And, lastly, ubiquitous plastic has gone from 57 cents a pound to over 80 cents a pound in under one year. With prices that out of control, it has become impossible for all Americans to enjoy the quality of life that we once had.

The government has plenty to gain from misrepresenting this inflation. Above all, it gives the politicians and bureaucrats the ability to mask their failures. Inflation is caused by a decrease in the purchasing power of a dollar, which means that there’s too much of the green stuff in circulation. By recklessly creating money out of thin air, which it has done since dropping the gold standard, the feds have made our money increasingly worthless. It has only added more fuel to the fire this year with the economic stimulus package and housing bailout (both of them being “free” money). By underreporting the oversupply, the government can justify to an agreeable if not brainwashed populace all of its intrusive market and monetary policies which always do more harm than good.

Regardless of the reason for the federal government’s lies, inflation is real and nothing good can come from it. The very same economists who create and defend the CPI like to tell everyone that we’re not in a recession. Ask around and you’ll find otherwise. See if your family and friends are buying as many items or spending as many discretionary dollars as they used to. They’re not. Ask any business if they’re having a good year. They’re not. Our national economy is a mess. Behind all the bloated revenues on Wall Street (a direct result of higher inputs, not higher sales volumes), corporate profits – as a percentage - are down and the stock market is weakening. Even the once-indestructible automotive and housing markets are in major trouble.

All of that economic malaise has been spawned solely by high inflation, that which is far beyond what the feds say it should be. Because of it, more and more people are becoming unemployed, others are earning less, and everyone to a person is experiencing a lower standard of living. One cannot help but wonder if a depression might be looming. The government will say “no”, but, unfortunately, it’s as real a threat as inflation was and is, and an outcome of it.