Friday, January 28, 2011

Wanted: A seat on NYPA board

From the 31 January 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers


By Bob Confer

Do you ever feel like Niagara County is the so-called “red-headed stepchild” when it comes to state governance?

Far too often our voice is ignored – or left completely out of the conversation – when it comes to issues of public importance. Case in point: The inner workings of the New York Power Authority.

It would only make sense that we have a say in the top-level oversight of NYPA given that our county holds the crown jewel of their power generation facilities, the Niagara Power Project. Yet, we don’t. Our local elected officials have tried countless times to ensure that we do, only to be ignored by Albany’s power brokers.

During its January 18th meeting the Niagara County Legislature passed a resolution introduced by Renae Kimble requesting that the state legislature amend the Public Authorities Law to give Niagara County a permanent seat on NYPA’s seven-member board of trustees. This was not the first time such a resolution was passed. Last year it was too, and it actually looked like the wish might have been granted when the New York Senate passed the necessary legislation in early May. But, its companion legislation stalled in the Assembly and then-governor David Paterson was completely disinterested in the matter.

It is hoped that this year things will work out in our favor. The Senate was basically left intact, so it can be assured they will pass the legislation again. Niagara County’s newest assemblyman, John Ceretto, had identified the NYPA seat as a key part of his election campaign, mirroring a fight that he maintained during his tenure in the County legislature. Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown that he’s game for playing hardball with the state’s many public authorities. So, there’s ample hope that we can get a seat at the table.

But, we need more than hope. We need action. There’s power in numbers. Sure, resolutions from legislative bodies can be effective, but they need our support. I can’t say enough how important it is that you send a letter in support of the County’s resolution to the likes of Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Richard Kessel, the head of the New York Power Authority. If enough Niagara County residents send letters it will become grossly apparent that this is an issue of great importance to our socioeconomic well-being.

As a local resident and worker you should want representation at NYPA because the Niagara Power Project has such far-reaching impact on your day-to-day life (and it could have more). It is the largest electricity producer in the state, one capable of 2.4 million kilowatts. To put that into perspective, that’s enough power for 1,200 factories the size of Confer Plastics or 2,500 villages the size of Middleport. That’s a serious amount of low-cost power that should be used for the benefit of the region, rather than subsidizing NYPA’s downstate operations and clientele.

When he took over the Authority, Richard Kessel had promised a greater attentiveness to Niagara County’s needs. We have seen that to an extent with the huge allotments of inexpensive energy to Yahoo and Verizon (15 and 25 megawatts respectively). But, our community is more than 2 corporations just now calling it home. There are 4,500 business and 99,000 housing units in our borders, all of which have a true vested interest in Niagara County and could benefit from greater accessibility to Niagara power and profits.

Local companies and homeowners pay some of the highest utility rates in the nation. Just think of the benefits we all could reap and the volatile economic development that would occur, if we were all allowed a bigger piece of the pie. As I noted in earlier columns, were our rates to be made “average” (as compared to the rest of the United States), the typical local household would have an extra $708 to spend every year. That’s pretty significant.

Only 4 times in the 80 year history of the New York Power Authority has a Niagara County resident held a position on the board, despite the Niagara River’s long and storied history as the world’s greatest natural generator. That’s a key reason why our region has lost so many businesses and so many young people; we’ve never had the chance to maximize the assets our area possesses. It’s time we had a say in that.

The fluoride debacle

From the 24 January 2011 The New American at:

By Bob Confer

In a move that screamed “too little too late,” the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency announced earlier this month that they were working together to lower the amount of fluoride both suggested and allowed in drinking water.

It was their knee-jerk reaction to findings that have indicated a rise in the occurrence of dental fluorosis, the discoloration or spotting of teeth that comes with excess fluoride. Citing the addition of fluoride to everything from toothpaste to health supplements, they finally admitted that we have too much of the substance in our diets. To overcome that, HHS suggests that the chemical be added to water at a rate of 0.7 milligrams per liter of water, which is at the absolute minimum of their current standard of 0.7 to 1.2 mg.

It’s too bad that it took visual defects — we are, after all, a nation obsessed with appearance — to twist the federal government’s arm into cutting fluoride levels. Their sudden change of mind ignores the ample, conclusive evidence showing that most of the damage wreaked by the chemical isn’t of a dental nature, but is instead found deep within the body, in our bones and organs.

In her 2001 study that appeared in the May 2006 issue of Cancer Causes and Control, Elise Basin, DDS, made the discovery that osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, was most prevalent in young boys who drank from the most fluoridated water supplies. Those boys were 5.5 times more likely to develop the deadly ailment than their counterparts who ingested lower amounts of fluoride.

This past December yet another study was released — the 24th of its sort — indicating that the additive has an adverse effect on the intelligence of children. In a report for the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, Paul Connett, Ph.D. looked at Chinese populations newly exposed to fluoride and found that 28% of the children in the low-fluoride village of Xinhuai (.36 mg/L) were possessed of bright, normal or high intelligence. There, the mental retardation rate was only 6%. Conversely, in the high-fluoride community of Wamaio (2.47 mg/L) only 8% fell into the bright, normal or high intelligence category while mental retardation grew to a staggering 15%.

Fluoride also has a known effect on the thyroid. A 2008 study released by the National Research Council found that fluoride concentrates in that gland, creating numerous ailments which result from a compromised thyroid, such as fatigue, weight gain, labored thinking, low blood pressure, fluid retention, and depression.

These studies, and the hundreds more before them, should leave one concerned for the well-being of our people. Every year, over 400 young Americans are stricken by the cancer mentioned in Basin’s thesis, which means that since the 1950s (when water supplies first became tainted) the chemical could be complicit in the deaths of nearly 25,000 children. Connett’s study could give a glimpse into the degradation of the American brain. One could readily assume that fluoride — along with troubled vaccines — is responsible for the increased rate of childhood brain damage (identified as autism) that has hit America. One could also surmise that fluoride accounts for most of the 59 million Americans (one-fifth of our population) who suffer from thyroid conditions. Most hypo- and hyperthyroidism diagnoses have — through the eyes of physicians who deny fluoride’s hazards — typically cited unknown triggers. The answer may be found right in their tap water.

The government’s desire to cut back on fluoride is good, but it’s not good enough. It should be eliminated entirely from our water supply. The risks — and outright dangers — are numerous, far outweighing the perceived benefit. We can naturally get fluoride from our diets (chicken and fish) and we are best left to pursue that option, just as nature intended.

That leads into the other reason for fluoride’s elimination: personal choice. Ever since the chemical’s use became widely accepted (if not forced) following questionable scientific studies in the 1940s, many people have rightly argued for fluoride’s elimination under the auspices of personal rights. Personal health and dietary intake should be at an individual’s discretion, not that of a governing body. We should not be forced to consume compounds or foodstuffs that we don’t want to. We best know our own bodies, and what we want them to be, and it’s our responsibility to manage our health — no one else’s.

This all shows quite perfectly that the government has no business in assuming control of personal health. When it does, the results can be deadly. It is a lesson that should be studied and applied in today’s political environment. Health Care Reform was, in part, conceived with the intent of ruling our bodies. Similarly, the new salt and fat regulations being floated around Congress and the Executive branch are designed with that in mind, too.

If ObamaCare can be repealed and food rules stopped dead in their tracks, we can ensure the prevention of a disaster even greater in scale than the fluoride debacle.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stories the trees tell

From the 24 January 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

The Erie Canal towpath was once the interstate for itinerant workers - hoboes, if you will – who traveled from town to town in search of their next farming or handyman gig. While doing so, they frequently stopped over on my family’s farm that butts up to the Canal. It was an attractive spot to set-up camp because of the fresh water they could drink from a brook that runs through our woods, the same brook from which they ignited gas for cooking (there is a reason it’s called “Gasport”).

While there, they often killed time by carving their names and other things in the bark of the beech trees that are common in the woods. The smooth gray bark, so easy to cut with a pocketknife, has always been quite inviting to amateur artisans, not to mention young lovers who wanted their names forever inscribed in Mother Nature for all the world to see. The hoboes, the lovers, and anyone else interested in making a statement left their calling cards on the beeches, old-fashioned graffiti that remains to this day.

Those trees tell stories. On the trees that were cut when they were mature and thus slower to grow, I can still make out dates from the early 1950s. Some of the handiwork, less legible as the tree grew, obviously came from much earlier times. There are names; some of them belonged to the hoboes, while others I recognize as locals who probably carved the tree when they were in their teens and twenties. Now, they are in their senior years and their arboreal artwork has aged less dramatically than they.

Two beeches show the efforts of my family. One has neatly cut into its bark two words: “Ray Confer”. My grandfather probably did that when he purchased the farm in 1955 when he was 3 years younger than I am now. He has since passed, so that tree has always offered a comforting portal to a time gone by. The other tree in question displays my dad’s boast of having hunted his first squirrel. He likely carved that when he was just 12 years old. That tree is like a trophy, one as impressive as the deer heads on his wall.

Sadly, all of these trees will, quite soon, no longer be able to tell their stories. Beech bark disease has reared its ugly head on the Niagara Frontier, bringing with it its deadly one-two punch. First, an insect attacks the bark. Then, the wounds left by the insects are infiltrated by a fungus. It doesn’t take long for the once-beautiful bark to crack then fracture completely, falling off the tree. The malnourished beech topples over within a couple of years of its first symptoms.

It won’t take long for the disease to take its toll on local forests, wiping out one of our most abundant trees and our best storytellers. It’s disheartening to think that the trees that should have outlived me won’t, taking with them the interesting connection I have to my family and the dozens of hardworking men who made their way across the region in hopes of overcoming the economic realities of their time.

Not one to let memories – better yet, history – die so pitifully, this winter I’ve taken photographs of the various trees and their carvings that remain. If you have a stand of beeches, especially one along the towpath or the rail line, you should take the time to do so, too, to familiarize yourself with the people who once called our fair community “home”, be it for years or just one night. By capturing the images on film we can maintain the carvings for the ages, just as their artists had intended.

Government and its culture of death

From the 17 January 2011 The New American at:

Government and its culture of death
By Bob Confer

Since that dark day of January 8 when Jared Loughner unleashed his killing spree at a Tucson grocery store, the government — aided by mass media outlets — has pointed an accusatory finger at the American people. Never mind that the shooter was allegedly mentally ill and just a shell of a human being; elected officials from across the United States have placed the blame squarely upon the shoulders of a nation divided by political differences. Somehow they believe that conflicting philosophies of governance have created an environment of hate — and from that, a culture of death.

Nothing could be further from the truth. One would be hard pressed to find Americans from differing political parties hating one another, let alone wanting to see the other dead. Differences are healthy in the conversations a citizen may have with his neighbor, just as they are in the workings between elected officials. They offer balance, and are a key component of the gift of self-rule given to us by our Founding Fathers. The ability to have, express, and share contrasting views is what has made our constitutional republic so unique and effective. Our nation flourished because of it. And it has not — as the political class would now have us believe — contributed to the loss of love for others and the development of outright disdain for human life.

The federal government, on the other hand, is guilty of the very thing with which it charges its people. Over time it has become so vast and so disconnected from the people, and therefore morality, that it has developed its own culture of death — a culture that permeates our everyday lives. The six notches on Loughner’s gun pale in comparison to those on Uncle Sam’s.

The highest-profile display of this can be found in this country's ongoing wars in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases, Congress abandoned its constitutional duties to the nation by refraining from declaring these wars. Instead, it allowed the executive branch, unchecked, to pull the U.S. into war despite the concerns and best interests of the people. Casting aside all reason and well-defined legality, the U.S. military was deployed upon Middle Eastern soils in search of weapons of mass destruction that were known never to have existed (Iraq) and a small terror cell once no more than 1,000 and now, according to CIA director Leon Panetta, less than 100 (Afghanistan).

To make its point –— whatever that point may be — the federal government has had a staggering impact on human life. To date, 5,894 American soldiers have lost their lives fighting these unjust wars. Documented civilian deaths in Iraq that occurred as a result of the U.S. occupation range from 99,000 to 108,000 according to the website Iraq Body Count, while other organizations such as Just Foreign Policy report a civilian death toll in excess of 1,000,000. In Afghanistan the numbers are not yet as high; nevertheless, Unknown News reports that the war there has been responsible for the deaths of 9,000 non-soldiers.

War is but a piece of the federal government’s culture of death. It is also complicit in countless deaths on its own soil by prohibiting the states from restricting abortion. The most recent report provided by the Guttmacher Institute notes a total of 1.21 million abortions in 2008. There is horrific irony in the deserved public outpouring of support and prayer for the family of Jared Loughner’s youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Green, and the undeserved relative silence at the taking of millions of lives of unborn children — who if given a chance, could have grown up to be as precious as was Christina Green. It's disturbing.

Another example of the government's culture of death is the United Nations having suspended for nearly 30 years the use of DDT at the United States’ urging, based on its own experience and its concerns for the environment (which always trump humanity). Because there was no DDT to kill the tse-tse fly, this, in turn, resulted in the deaths of 50 million people worldwide from malaria. Since 2006, the UN has allowed the use of DDT again but sadly, is under pressure to phase it out by 2020.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless more cases where our government has willingly allowed human existence to be snuffed out. Yet, that same government bemoans an alleged mindset of hatred and disregard for fellow man. It paints the people who comprise its population as an evil sort to justify government control of actions and thought. It cares not that six people died in a vicious attack in Tucson, initiated by one man (not the collective) — an allegedly sick man who obviously sees the world through the same eyes as our government. No, it cares more for its own power and dominance than it does for life.

So, how do we go about eliminating this culture of death?

Our federal government has become so vast that it has far outstripped its constitutional limits and, therefore, the limits of man. It once was us and accountable to us. Now, it is no longer us — and we are accountable to it. Systems are now in place lacking connectedness to the masses through appropriate congressional control and public oversight. These systems and the corruption that comes to the few who oversee them take the human element out of the equation, and therefore the value out of the human element.

Morality is completely lost in that vastness of Big Government, for voices of reason and logic are either ignored or dismissed as inconsequential. But, we can see a return of morality, and a victory over evil, by returning to our roots. Were our nation to revert to its constitutional principles and become a republic with a much smaller federal government and a greater emphasis on state and local rule, a land with direct control by – rather than of – the people, we could right the ship. Allow Mankind to govern itself just as the Constitution and nature itself intended. Then, Mankind will actually matter again and so will the American Way as it was intended. Our government’s culture of death will be a thing of the past and we — as well as millions worldwide affected by the consequences of our just actions — will be allowed to pursue our interests and live life to its full potential.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Divided by design

From the 17 January 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

America has been split in twain by the Tucson shooting. Those who align with the Democrats insist on painting those who lean Republican as enemies of our nation, breeders of hate so pervasive that they are more responsible for the murder of 6 innocents – and the attempted assassination of Congresswomen Giffords – than its conspirator Jared Loughner ever could be. It has been a sickening roller coaster ride that showed the left displaying the vitriol that it claims to be against.

Lost in the ensuing back-and-forth was what mattered most, the lives taken and lives affected by the gunman. Political gamesmanship dominated what should have been a period of time that highlighted a nation in mourning yet one so proud of itself that it would not waver in its principles of being a government by, for, and accessible to the people.

It was grossly un-American.

Or was it?

This division is nothing new. This post-shooting hysteria is a perfect snapshot of what American politics has been and will ever be. We are a nation divided by the contrasts of 2 parties, the Republicans and Democrats.

That conflict, though, is only a mask. The parties, especially within the inner-workings of our outsized federal system, are more intertwined than we’ll ever know. Think of how easily war was "declared" by President Bush at the behest of Congress or how the Patriot Act passed with limited fireworks or how Congress so tamely allowed trillions in economic rescue during the recession or how body scanners magically appeared within days of the attempted Christmas underwear bombing.

We, as a people, were made to be divided on those and similar issues, yet the dominoes had already been set into play beforehand by the powers-that-be on both sides of the supposed aisle. Big stuff like that slips by hurriedly under the public fray. Instead, it's the minor issues or those that are long-term in transformation (hot button issues like public assistance, corporate welfare, abortion and guns) where the party leaders play the political football that keeps us captivated while making us oblivious to matters affecting our everyday lives.

To make things like that happen requires a careful manipulation of the masses, brainwashing if you will, through the modern press and our educational system. The shooting fall-out has shown that Americans who were taught so very little about government and civics in our schools are ill-equipped to discern right from wrong, good from bad, truth from fiction in the amalgamation of so-called news and commentary spewed from television sets, the radio and the internet. Case in point, last week, like lemmings millions – yes, millions - of Americans followed lock-step the utterly stupid belief that right-wingers were responsible for the mass murder, even though it was apparent Loughner is anything but a Conservative.

The political leaders have created a perfect subterfuge. As we bicker over who made who kill who, think of the absurd legislation that's been mothballed for years by the Republican and Democrat powerbrokers that's just been begging for an incident like this: Are they devising means to limit public access to Congress and the entire federal system? Are they looking for ways to regulate the way you are allowed to speak – and even think -- about elected officials and bureaucrats? Are they developing methods of controlling peaceable assembly? Are they conspiring over ways to spy on our internet activities?

The answer is “yes” to all of those questions because once Tucson’s dust has settled and we’re all licking our wounds from the ongoing hate game, Americans will be more than willing to abandon some of their rights and privileges to “make things better”.

That’s how the game works: Drain our emotions and energy by forcing us to expend them on one another and then we’ll lack the vitality to fight the system. Our voices are and will be lost in the din of a divide manufactured by a big government intent on advancing its own interests. We’re being played.

Loughner's Attack: The assassination of a nation's character

From the 11 January 2011 New American at:

Loughner's Attack: The assassination of a nation's character
By Bob Confer

Back in November of 2008, Rahm Emanuel, then President-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff, told a group of corporate executives, “You never want a good crisis to go to waste.”

That statement became a defining mantra for the U.S. government’s handling of economic affairs following the near collapse of the financial markets. That crisis allowed the government to do, as Emanuel put it, “things that you could not do before.”

Emanuel’s words have not been wasted on his fellow Big Government operatives, who are constantly searching for new crises from which to glean political rewards. The Left found one in Saturday’s assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. Sadly, what was a massacre that left six people dead became a political weapon even before the victim’s nearest of kin could be notified of their passing.

By Saturday night numerous media outlets and elected officials from all levels of government were blaming the Tea Party and right-wing groups for inciting the so-called hate that led the gunman, Jared Loughner, to lay waste to human lives. To them, it had nothing to do with his mental illnesses and everything to do with the one true threat to the expansion of their powers and that of the federal government: the people. How better to marginalize the grassroots movement and its efforts to reform and rein in government then by painting its participants as bloodthirsty lunatics?

Their efforts to place blame seem to have worked quite well. Sunday is usually a slow news day with Americans more engaged in their religious activities, their families, or their football. Yet, our nation was transfixed in front of the television screen, assaulted by talking heads who primed the pump with zeal.

CNN began the attack by endlessly playing sound bites from the Arizona policeman investigating the massacre. Immediately following the shooting, at a time when no one fully understood the mental make-up of Loughner, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik declared that "the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business" was to blame for the shooting. "The bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," he added.

His statement played right into the hands of CNN and the Democrats. After all, if the chief investigator thinks the "vitriolic rhetoric" and "bigotry" of the Right caused the shooting, that has to be the killer’s motivator, doesn’t it?

Later, Dupnik made it well known that he has incredible disdain for the Right:

The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information. [Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences.

It was obvious that he couldn’t eliminate emotion, let alone his own political leanings, from his assessment of the situation. CNN knew it and they never retracted anything that came about from his rants.

Instead, they played it up.

On Sunday, outspoken Libertarian talk radio host Neal Boortz posted a rather innocuous comment on Twitter that read, “Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has shown himself to be a leftist partisan hack in his public comments.” The station’s producers saw that as means to ambush Boortz and the Right, rather than addressing the obvious that was observed by Boortz. CNN host Don Lemon attempted to ambush Boortz on air and failed miserably. One can only imagine what would have happened if someone less savvy than Boortz was pulled into the fray and had his comments misconstrued by the Left’s media machine. Still, the damage was done. Boortz and others who rightly agreed with him were buried with negative comments on Twitter and other social networking sites.

On Monday, the Left tried again to dismiss the Right. By then, the blame game (actual hate if there ever was hate) had reached a crescendo and news and analysis shows on radio and TV focused more on the political discourse — and pointing the finger at conservatives — than it did on mourning the dead and praying for the living. Their lives were basically worthless, a statistical backdrop to a story about a divided America.

Even the most centrist of outlets joined in the hysteria. National Public Radio’s “On Point,” typically a well-balanced talk show, was decidedly over-the-top and anti-Tea Party as host Tom Ashbrook went completely overboard in trying to pin blame on Sarah Palin’s now infamous website that used crosshairs to identify congressional districts that were worth the Republican Party’s attention. Only a fool would openly state that crosshairs — a common, everyday targeting device used on everything from optics to desktop publishing programs — could be construed as a secret message to kill politicians. Ashbrook, and unfortunately millions of left-leaning and/or ignorant Americans, fell lockstep into the ranks of fooldom.

The anti-conservative vitriol continues to this very moment, even though there is substantial proof that the shooter was anything but a small government enthusiast. Reports surfaced Monday indicating that Loughner identified both the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf among his favorite books — certainly not the works of political theory admired by constitutionalists. We also found out that he doesn’t identify with any religion, counting himself as an atheist. That is a view atypical to the average Tea Partier. Even his target was not your typical far-left representative criticized by her opponents on the other side. Giffords is well known as a centrist, Blue Dog Democrat.

Thankfully, Congresswomen Giffords has, at least for now, survived the attack, despite the bullet tearing through her brain. So, what did Loughner accomplish? He didn’t assassinate his intended target; instead, he committed a character assassination of our country. His actions amplified the left-right divide and allowed today’s shallow yellow journalism to cater to Big Government’s desire to silence its critics. Two days after the incident, those who want ObamCacre ended, a sound currency policy instituted, and a return to founding principles are now painted as murderous thugs whose ideas and principles are without merit, maybe even deranged.

Who knows how that hate talk will evolve over the next few days, weeks and months. One can only assume it will continue to metastasize. The Left has found a crisis they can’t waste ,and you can rest assured they will squeeze every last drop of political expediency from it.

So watch carefully. This time it will be you and our Constitution that are caught in the proverbial crosshairs. Your rights to self defense, peaceful assembly, and even thought itself will become the target of the newly-invigorated media, the Left, and the federal government, thanks to the attempted assassination of Mrs. Giffords.

Ironically, Loughner’s attack had nothing to do with right-wing philosophies and everything to do with mental illness, something akin to the mental illness the Left and the ruling class possess in their desire to kill our country.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Out of the mouth of babes

From the 10 January 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

On his day off during the World Juniors hockey tournament, Emerson Etem of Team USA posted the following on Twitter: "Buffalo is a ghost town. The worst city ever!"

Consequently, the young man was ripped apart by residents of the host city. Etem removed the Tweet and apologized profusely.

He really shouldn’t have. His original assessment was correct. Buffalo is a ghost town. As the saying goes, “out of the mouth of babes…”

No doubt Etem’s comment is a thought that many a tournament attendee wanted to share. Most people though, not so young and impetuous, probably left their filters on and didn’t unleash their innermost feelings. And, despite the large number of overly sensitive local residents who got their feathers ruffled over the Tweet, it’s probably a belief that most of them - even the most ardent hometown boosters - share.

Ask yourself, how many of your loved ones have moved out of the state because Buffalo and its surrounding communities are ghost towns? How many times have you pondered doing the same? Those are not the actions and thoughts one might expect for a vibrant, thriving region. Frankly, how can anyone in the right mind drive along the Niagara River corridor and not be turned off by what we are? Only a lunatic would see all of the shuttered factories and grain elevators, expansive brownfields and the social and economic ruins of Buffalo and Niagara Falls and think that we’re doing fine.

Etem was only stating the obvious. So don’t kill the messenger; goodness knows a lot of folks wanted to (figuratively, not literally). His words motivated plenty of people to get fired-up at, maybe even hate, him. He became talk show fodder and the subject of numerous water cooler conversations, not to mention the brunt of trash talk from Buffalo residents attending the games at HSBC Arena.

Get real, people. It’s useless to take it out on a kid. Instead, get mad about the things that really matter, get mad at who and what made this region a ghost town. Think about the ghost towns of the old west. They came about when the gold and silver mines ran dry. Simply put, no opportunity equaled no people. The same thing has happened – and is happening – here. The jobs are gone. The people have left. Many more are leaving. That’s because opportunity just isn’t here, our potential has been taken away.

Numerous factors are responsible for this malaise. Unfathomable school taxes. Excessive property taxes. Mammoth public pension legacy costs. Burdensome electrical rates. Massive amounts of waste from a broken Medicaid system. Huge corporate giveaways that enable the very few at the cost of the many. Hidden taxes and fees in everything we do or buy.

The people and the jobs won’t come back until the common denominator for all of those problems (a completely useless state government) is addressed. For far too long Western New Yorkers have just sat back and taken it, electing the same people and the same principles while never actually clamoring for change.

So, take that emotional energy, that civic pride, that was wasted on young Mr. Etem and spend it wisely on bringing life back to Buffalo. Educate yourself about the issues affecting us. Engage your elected officials. Motivate them – no, force them - to make a better tomorrow for you and your loved ones.

And, while you’re at it, thank Emerson Etem. He’s done everyone a favor by making public the feelings of other teenagers: If a visitor is repulsed by this place as much as he was, what about the youngsters who actually live here? It’s no wonder that they want to leave after college!

It’s time we did something about that. Let’s make Western New York a place where people want to visit and, better yet, live.