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.