Thursday, October 31, 2013


Using fear as a tactic to gain control over personal food freedom and agriculture, President Barack Obama in 2011 signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, claiming that it would prevent the spread of E. coli, Mad Cow disease and the like by empowering the Food and Drug Administration to regulate every facet of a farm’s or food facility’s operations.

It’s not disease that we should fear so much, it’s the government. The act gives the FDA unlimited power and affects farms of all sizes, though not equally. Farms with $25,000 in annual sales are excluded outright from the law; any farm with revenues from $25,001 to $500,000 will face partial exemptions; and any farm above that suffers the full force of the law. It will affect
three-quarters of U.S. farms.

Slowly but surely, many aspects of the act have taken effect and are just now affecting farms and their customers. Many more regulations are coming down the pike.

The act requires farms and food producers, large and small, to track the origins of their food, whether they grew it or it was previously distributed. Extensive records must be maintained that show exactly where the fruits and vegetables came from, how they were grown, how they were stored and just who they were sold to.

Based on that, farms would be subject to warrantless searches whereby the FDA would have carte blanche to analyze all of their private records to verify not only appropriate tracking, but allegedly appropriate growing practices, too.

That’s because the FDA thinks that it knows farming better than the farmers do -- the act will allow the agency to regulate how crops and animals are raised and harvested. Those standards and controls have not been finalized (the public comment period ends this month). Be sure that farmers will be forced to abandon practices that have been safely used to feed people for generations.

Scared yet? Consider the act’s police state provision. If the FDA discovers contamination, it is empowered to suppress an outbreak. The FDA would have the ability to quarantine an entire geographic region and prevent the movement of produce in and out of it. If one farm in a given town was shown to provide tainted foods, all other farms in that town would need to cease operations while the government’s investigation takes place. If a shutdown happens during that small and crucial window of time when crops need to be harvested or food producers need to be supplied, the farmers will lose out on their livelihood.

To the farmer, the act amounts to a massive loss of rights --- a sort of Patriot Act for agriculture. It looks at what they do with a fine-toothed comb and demands that they conform to a set of practices laid out by an oppressive federal agency.

To the consumer, the act means higher prices. The new rules and regulations will add to the cost of doing business. Don’t forget, the government has already forced food prices through the roof in recent years thanks to the ill-advised pursuit of ethanol, which caused corn, corn products, and everything that eats corn (chicken, swine, and cattle) to go up in cost.

The act will also limit consumers’ choices. Compliance is made easier for corporate giants (owing to cost, resource, and personnel issues), so many smaller family farms may be forced to sell out to them or limit greatly what the FDA considers “high risk” foodstuff — which include perfectly safe things such as raw milk and organic foods, constant targets of federal ire and military-style raids.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is just another in a long line of attacks on free markets and free people. It’s now the law (even though the federal government has no constitutional jurisdiction over farms and intrastate trade), but, there’s still a chance to stop some of its most dangerous aspects from coming into being. The FDA’s “science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce on domestic and foreign farms” -- which would define the rules and regulations for all things farming -- are
available for review on the FDA’s website and can be commented on until November 15.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer.

This column originally appeared in the 04 November 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


This week marks the conclusion to my 3-part series breaking down the 6 statewide propositions that New Yorkers will have a chance to vote on this November.

Proposition 2 concerns civil service credits for veterans who became disabled during the course of their war-time duties for the Armed Forces. Current state law gives veterans additional credit on civil service exams (5 points for original appointment and 2 ½ points for a promotion). Disabled veterans are entitled to additional credits (10 points for original appointment and 5 for promotion).

Under the state constitution, veterans are eligible for only one grant of credits. So, if a vet returned to active duty while being employed by the government and became disabled in war, he could not receive the additional credits were he to apply for an appointment or promotion. He would forever be locked in at the 5 and 2 ½ levels and could not achieve the 10 and 5 credit levels.

The proposition would fix that by granting the newly-disabled veteran an exclusion to the one-time-only clause. He would receive the difference between the 2 standings and be fully credited to the 10 and 5 marks.

I’ll be casting a “yes” vote for this measure because we can’t reward disabled veterans enough for their calling to true civil service that they took to a level that most Americans cannot comprehend. They risked life and limb to make a difference (and suffered a loss of the latter). It’s only fitting they be given the full 10 points. I’d go so far to say they deserve many more.

Proposition 3 would allow a 10-year extension (to 2024) of the current exemption to the constitutional debt limits that municipalities enjoy for the construction or reconstruction of sewage facilities. This exemption has been renewed in 10 year increments dating back to 1963.

I will be voting “no” for Prop 3. Constitutional debt limits were set for a reason -- to ensure towns, villages, cities, and counties don’t spend like mad and put undue burden on taxpayers (and future generations) who have to shoulder the debt payments. Even though the Great Recession has allegedly gone, the upstate economy is still in crisis mode, with weakened and dead employers, and families trying to overcome their own financial struggles. We don’t need to add more debt payments to the high taxes faced by all. If you want to add nice things to a community or fix old infrastructure, you must work within your limits and find cuts elsewhere – just as the affected businesses and residents do in their day-to-day lives.

Proposition 6 would increase the maximum age until which state judges may serve as follows: a Justice of the Supreme Court would be eligible for 5 additional 2-year terms after the present retirement age of 70 (3 such terms are currently authorized) and a Judge of the Court of Appeals who reaches the age of 70 while in office would be permitted to remain in service on the Court for up to 10 years beyond the present retirement age of 70.

Proponents of Prop 6 say that it makes no sense to force physically and mentally capable seniors out of a job as is done now, the proposition ensures that the most seasoned and experienced judges remain at the bench, and people live far longer than they did in 1869 when this was last amended.

Opponents of Prop 6 (like me) dislike it for a variety of reasons. It would create a two-tiered system in which state judges can retire later than local judges (whose retirement age of 70 would remain). The proposition would ultimately add more Supreme Court judges to bloated employment rolls (while having the lightest workload of New York judges). Proposition 6 also seems like it was selfishly conceived: The person behind its development and push through the Legislature is Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman ---if the proposition  fails, he has to retire in 2015; if it passes, he can sit for another 4 years.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the
New American at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer.

This column originally appeared in the 28 October 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Of the 6 statewide propositions on November ballots, items 4 and 5 will likely see the least amount of attention and care from voters on this side of the state since both ballot items are focused on issues in the Adirondacks. Some Western New York voters won’t make a selection at all on those items, while others might randomly choose yea or nay.

That’s a poor, even selfish, approach to our obligations as citizens, especially since we are empowered to make decisions that – while not affecting us personally -- can affect people, economies, and environments elsewhere.

So, to help you to make informed choices, here’s a quick analysis of those propositions…

Prop 4 settles a long-standing land dispute between the state and residents, businesses and local governments in Long Lake and Raquette Lake. The disagreement over ownership of 216 parcels dates back to the 1800s when the state took – or attempted to take – ownership of lands from property owners who were allegedly delinquent in taxes but likely weren’t due to shoddy recordkeeping on behalf of the government. Despite numerous lengthy and costly court cases through the years -- some won by the state, others won by individuals -- definitive answers regarding ownership haven’t yet been determined.

This proposal would finally bring closure by giving the property owners – most along the shoreline of Raquette Lake – clear title to their lands. In exchange for the benefits of full ownership, they would pay the state a fee equal to portion of their assessed value. The state would then use the funds to buy more than 200 acres of wild, forested land between Raquette Lake and the Eckford Chain of Lakes, adding that land to the Adirondack Forest Preserve and protecting it from development and forestry, ensuring public and environmental benefit.

Proposition 4 is a win-win for all involved. The landholders can finally rest assured that their property is truly theirs (something that their predecessors didn’t have the ability to) while we (the state) gain a critical piece of forest that serves us greater benefit than ownership of those homes and cabins ever would have.

While that one was a no-brainer, Prop 5 is a little dicey.

NYCO Minerals operates a pit mine in Lewis which it wants to expand by 200 acres so it can capitalize on a healthy vein of wollastonite that it has discovered (wollastonite is used in ceramics and the production of brakes and clutches). By doing so, NYCO would be intruding on constitutionally-protected land Adirondack wild land.

In order to facilitate this growth, NYCO would give the state 1,500 acres of land that would be added to the Forest Preserve, providing outdoor enthusiasts with access to the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area. If during mining operations the Department of Environmental Conservation determines that the vein has a royalty value greater than $1 million, even more land would be given to the state. On top of that, once the wollastonite mining has ceased, NYCO will reclaim and replant the 200 acres and give it back to the state.

There are two ways to look at this proposal.

The general sentiment amongst Adirondack residents, the Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Mountain Club, local and state officials, and editorial boards across the Adirondack Park is that the mining and land swap is a good thing. It ensures economic development in a depressed region which hangs on a thread in absence of summer tourists (NYCO is a 60-year-old business that employs 100 and has an annual payroll in excess of $6 million) and the land being acquired is not only sizable, but contains far greater natural and recreational value than the 200 acres temporarily being given up.  

While most environmentalists give Prop 5 a thumbs up, there is a small minority of them (which some would classify as “hardcore environmentalists”) who oppose it on the basis that it defeats the whole purpose of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and opens the door to future intrusions on the wilderness. They have a very legitimate point. Section 1 of Article 14 of the state constitution says Preserve lands “…shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged or be taken by any corporation public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed."

It’s up to you to decide who’s right.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer.

This column originally appeared in the 21 October 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, October 10, 2013


This November there will be 6 statewide propositions on New York ballots. Over the next 3 weeks, I will give you the background – and my two cents – on each, so you can go to the polls prepared to make an informed decision rather than being caught off guard by what’s on the screen before you.

The first of the ballot items is also the most well-known and, for some, the most controversial of the bunch. Prop 1 would allow for the creation of 7 casinos across the state, including 4 in Upstate. Governor Cuomo and Company believe the gambling resorts will be the panacea for what ails our moribund economy, so much so that they worded the official ballot text in an overly positive (I would say manipulative) way, indicating the casinos would serve the “… purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.”

As a libertarian, I am not offended by casinos or the act of gambling – it’s a free country, people can do with their hard earned dollars what they darn well please, even if it consists of giving it to “the House”.

Even so, I will be voting against the measure. I disagree wholeheartedly with the belief that it will benefit the economy.

A casino doesn’t create wealth like a mine, farm, factory, or department store does. It takes it away from participants and gives them nothing in return. There is no product created, no actual service rendered. Gambling is a wealth transfer, a sort of tax or penalty on the poor (who are hoping for the best in an effort to get out of their financial situation) and the very rich (high rollers with money to blow) with the casino and state coffers as the beneficiaries.

In the absence of a casino, an individual’s discretionary dollars would be spent on services, food, and goods, rather than being thrown away. Every one of those economic transactions has measurable economic benefit, especially when it comes to the purchase of farmed or manufactured goods because they have a multiplier effect – getting that one item to market required acquisition and transformation of resources, transportation, packaging, marketing and sales. Numerous facets of the economy are involved. Casinos can’t claim that and it’s likely that they have a negative effect on the economy.

Look no further than Niagara Falls, New York. Wasn’t the Indian-run casino supposed to be the catalyst that turned around the dying city and made it an American version of Niagara Falls, Ontario? Take a walk around the American side (that is, if you feel safe doing so) – the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel is a jewel surrounded by blight, crime, and depression. It has done nothing to excite development and, if anything, it has made the poor poorer in the city limits.

Niagara Falls, Ontario has embarrassed us because they saw their casino(s) as one piece of the puzzle (not the cure-all like we did) and understood the need for smart development, tourism, and the maintenance of critical green space.  It was a package deal overseen by really bright people in the public and private sectors.

Maybe that’s who we’re lacking. Our state officials are using casinos as a crutch, a revenue grab, since they don’t have the intellect or backbone to make measurable and lasting cuts to spending (like Medicaid).

Those same shysters are also trying to sell us on the concept that property taxes will be lowered because of the casinos (allegedly 80% of state tax revenues from the casinos will go to elementary and secondary schools statewide). Generations before me heard the same about lottery gaming when it was introduced. I don’t know about you, but despite these windfalls, my school taxes go by an appreciable amount annually ($169 in this year alone). I guarantee they will yet still, even if Proposition 1 passes.  

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer.

This column originally appeared in the 14 October 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers