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June 21, 2022 - 12:59pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

Summary:

  • Readers may submit either Letters to the Editor or Op-Eds;
  • Submission to the Opinion Page is open primarily to Genesee County residents;
  • All opinions are welcome but any statement of fact must be backed by evidence;
  • No personal insults, no name-calling, keep it civil;
  • Only digital submissions are accepted.
  • Submissions are not edited.

-- MORE --

November 24, 2022 - 5:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan apparently is eager to help increase profits for oil companies and chain gas stations.

He proposed legislation to cap taxes on gas.

This is economic nonsense. It's also a form of socialism, and like all socialist measures, it is doomed to fail.

In Genesee County, we have a front-row seat to how ineffective government efforts are to reign in gas prices.  While neighboring counties enacted gas tax holidays, the Genesee County Legislature, on the recommendation of County Manager Matt Landers, kept its local gas tax in place.  The result is that gas prices locally have risen and fallen right in line with the counties that cut gas taxes.  There is no evidence that consumers in neighboring counties have saved even a single penny on a gallon of gas.

If folks in Erie County aren't seeing a break in gas prices, who do you think is benefitting?  It's not the consumers. It's the oil companies and gas stations, in the form of higher profits. 

While local variables can cause differences in prices from region to region and even county to county when it comes to gas prices, fuel oil is a global market.  The price structure is set at a global scale and filters down to consumers from that basis.  There is nothing a local politician can do to change that, not if you believe in free markets, and despite regulations, cartels, and subsidies, at a global scale, oil and gas sales remain a competitive business. There are still numerous competing interests, each struggling to gain the upper hand, which leads to fluctuations in oil prices.

One tenet of socialism is central government control of prices. When that happens, it creates artificial winners and losers. That is what Gallivan is attempting to do with this legislation.  It's sad to watch the Republican Party drift further and further from conservative principles and embrace the tactics of progressives to try and control every aspect of our lives.  Gallivan has apparently joined the ranks of Progressive Republicans.  Hopefully, our local representatives, Steve Hawley and Ed Rath, won't follow suit and will oppose this brand of socialism.  

October 19, 2022 - 11:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

The social media debate on our story about Sweet Betty's closing has been, um, interesting.

Opinions have been wide-ranging, from "people don't want to work" to "restaurant owners don't pay enough."  

A sampling and my thoughts:

"Yet you have the government saying that unemployment is at all-time low but retail or restaurant has lack of employees."

Well, if unemployment is low, that means there are fewer people looking for work.  That means it is harder for existing businesses to fill open positions.  More people working leads to a "lack of employees" looking for work. 

That was a small business they should have been able to run themselves, with little help. I know, because I did the same exact thing. They either weren't willing to do what it takes to be successful or they weren't willing to pay someone what they were worth. Simple as that.

Clearly, a comment by somebody who has never owned a food service business.  Running such a business means multiple jobs overlap -- taking orders, cooking food, washing dishes, cashing out customers, and then somebody has got to keep the books.  It's not a one- or two-person business.

They are getting money to stay home and not work!!! Stop the free hand outs... And watch how many people look for work...

Extended unemployment benefits ended a long, long time ago and the economic evidence is the payments had little impact, when still active, on people's willingness to work.  There are currently 900 people drawing unemployment in Genesee County, according to the most recent Labor Department data.  That is not a number that screams "People are mooching off unemployment insurance payments."  

3% unemployment rate yet why are there almost a million on welfare! Time for workfare for the lazy!

Actually, in the U.S. there are nearly 60 million people drawing some sort of assistance, and nearly all of them who are of working age and not on full disability have jobs.

Then there are the people who blamed the owners:

Love how they say it's the workers why not blame the owners for not paying more for the work or putting on the work outfit and working themselves. Simple supply = demand and people have a life simple you wanna pay minimum wage you get minimum result

crazy how they’re closing and many other family-owned restaurants aren’t…time to stop blaming staff and look to themselves as to where the problem lie, whether it be their management or their product.

And some readers did jump to their defense, such as Susan Macomber:

The owners,family and friends worked there 99% of the time...They were very hard working and very friendly, and the food was delicious...The owners also closed for holidays and closed at times to give their workers some time off because they couldn’t get enough help. And they paid their workers well.

More blaming the owners from somebody who almost certainly never owned a business:

Unemployment is lowest it's been in 40 years... only the failed businesses are having trouble finding employees. The strong survive my friends, it's survival of the fittest, and you ain't fit.

Look around you, there are help-wanted signs everywhere.  There was a time, more than a decade ago, when economists considered an unemployment rate of five percent to be "full employment."  The idea is that at five percent, being unemployed was transitory.  People moved quickly from one job to the next.  It was temporary and the normal economic shuffling of the deck as businesses changed strategy, closed for various reasons, or people quit jobs just to have the time to find a better job. 

Also, COVID itself has taken a lot of people out of the workforce.  More than one million people in the U.S. have died, and nearly half of them had not yet reached full retirement age, and presumably, a lot of them were or could be in the workforce.

This is a very, very tight job market, probably the tightest any of us have seen in our lifetimes.

So let's talk about the free market:

This makes me so sad. I love Sweet Betty’s!!! But I get it. No one wants to work anymore, or if they do, it’s completely on their terms and hours. Businesses everywhere are impacted by this.

Here's the thing  -- in a free market, people can choose where they want to work.  They want to work on their terms.  I want to work on my terms.  You want to work on your terms.  We all want that opportunity.  I own my own business so I can work on my own terms.  When I worked for other people, I worked hard and improved my skills and knowledge so I could advance and make more money.  That's working on my own terms.  When there isn't a tight labor market, employers have the leverage to say, "work on my terms or leave" (perhaps with more nuance than that).  In a tight labor market, the power imbalance shifts to the workers.  But that's how free markets work, should work, and we want them to work if we want a thriving economy and an improving standard of living for everybody.

One reader asks legitimate questions:

How much were you paying? How many hours did you guarantee? Was it a regular schedule, or did it vary from one week to the next? Were your cooks treated with respect ot treated like they were disposable? People work when they feel like they are valued. If that's not the case, they go elsewhere. There are LOTS of jobs out there. Make yours the one everyone brags about.

Those are all things that will impact the ability of a business to hire good and qualified people.  However, there is only so far a business can stretch on pay and hours and benefits.  Running a business is not as easy as this reader makes it sound,  as I'll address later.

Another take on the "people don't want to work" theme:

To all who wonder why they can’t get help….. PEOPLE DONT WANT TO WORK TODAY! THEY WANT TOP PAY FOR DOINB LITTLE! There are plenty of jobs all over…. It seems to me that if you REALLY want a job or NEED a job…. Then take one of the jobs!!! Money is money!

Let's just say there are in fact people who don't want to work.  There are undoubtedly some people who don't want to work. Period.  There is no wage that will entice them to leave their bedroom.  But this poster seems to assume that just because there are jobs, there are jobs that the people without jobs want to take those jobs.

There are a number of reasons that people not working won't take a job you think they should take: They're not qualified. It doesn't fit their career path.  The hours won't let them take care of their children or go to school.  The job won't help them advance their career and could even derail it.  Or maybe the job you think they should take isn't just offering enough of an incentive to give up fishing to go to work.  Money is, as the poster says, is money.  And yes, sometimes it takes more money to entice a person to take a job.  

In order for a worker and an employer to find each other, the worker needs to be qualified to work the job that's open.  Even if a worker who has spent the past few years pushing a broom is willing to take a job as a line cook, that doesn't mean he's qualified to be a line cook.  Employers don't like to hire unqualified people because they don't have the track record to ensure they can do the job or will stick with it.  Unqualified workers cost money and can be a disaster.

A more nuanced take that deserves a response:

Restaurants took the worse beating when that Covid crap shut N.Y. down. The ridiculous cost of living made it so minimum wage skyrocketed. Instead of putting caps on rent increases and utilities the more pay made prices go up MORE. Small business owners suffer because with their overhead and insurance payments they cannot afford to hire as much workers. Everyone suffers. And people complain about higher costs in restaurants. They HAVE to raise prices just to make ends meet.

Restaurants got a lot of financial help during and because of the pandemic restrictions.  All of that money being pumped into the economy is part of the cause of current inflationary pressures (it's basic economics: increase the money supply and prices generally go up).

Restaurants by and large stayed alive with delivery and curbside pickup while maintaining lower overhead with the dining rooms closed. When the economy kick-started again, companies were scrambling to fill open positions.  A lot of former workers found new jobs, retired, started their own businesses, went back to school, decided to become stay-at-home spouses, picked up a job with Uber, Door Dash, or Instacart, or otherwise left the workforce (and not just because they became lazy, but in the human condition, there is always some of that, too).  With a shortage of workers, restaurants and other businesses were forced to raise wages. That started before the current inflation cycle and is one of the multiple causes of today's inflation.  The sad thing is, the wage gains workers first realized after the end of the pandemic have been wiped out by inflation. 

Adrian Fitzgerald Harris has an informed view:

Low Birth rates, massive boomer retirements and no one solving the immigration problem have caused some of this.

The decline in the stock market might coax some people out of their early retirement. The low birth rate isn't going to change so long as we remain a first-world economy. So that leaves immigration.  Want more workers?  Let more workers into the country.  We need about one million working immigrants flowing into this country ASAP.  That would spur the kind of economic growth we need to stave off a recession and stem inflation.  The economy would boom.

Terry Paine left an intelligent comment:

You can tell the people that have never had a business with employees before. Maybe these business geniuses could offer some advice on what an employee's pay should look like since we know $14 to $17 is not enough. Then the employer can make a decision whether they can themselves take that big of pay cut or if raising the cost to the customer will reduce sales enough that the business has to close anyway. Tough balance.

I can say that their standards for hiring wait staff is pretty high since I have enjoyed every one I've ever had wait on me. That standard might be just as important of more important than the food.

So to sum up.  There are two main camps here: blame the employers and blame the employees.

How about if we not blame either?

Running a small business is hard, especially a food services business.  You have government regulations to worry about, employees stealing (a big problem in a mostly cash business), taxes, insurance, lots of overhead, employees who have their own lives and own issues that you need to balance, supply issues, competition to worry about, customers who complain, and so on.  You pretty much have to be insane to run your own business.  It's a hard life.  Thank God there are people who do it though, because small business owners are the true backbone of America and our communities.  They offer more charitable support to their communities, give communities a sense of cohesion and pride, and the owners are often more involved and more often make fine mentors for the young people they meet.  

And employees have their own wishes and desires. They have aspirations, dreams, ambitions.  They might have families to care for or passions they wish to pursue away from work.  They are often not business owners themselves because of these other constraints or priorities.  But humans evolved to acquire resources to make their lives more stable and better.  For the vast majority of us, we want more money and better things, so naturally, we want better pay.  And if we can't get better pay, then we look for other tradeoffs, such as more time to go fishing or play in a rock and roll band.  

In our rush to make everything political these days, we miss how complex our economy really is and how something as seemingly straightforward as a restaurant closing is really about a world of competing economic forces. Sweet Betty's closing is sad. It shouldn't be fodder for scoring political points.

October 14, 2022 - 11:06pm
posted by C. M. Barons in Opinion.

Today, ballot access in New York State is more restrictive for independent parties than it is in Putin’s Russia. In a cynical attack on third-party ballot access, then-governor, Andrew Cuomo, attached a (rouge-painted pig) campaign finance reform package to his “must pass” 2020 budget. It was his coup de grace, having been shut down by the courts after his hand-picked commission contrived a similar move to banish third parties from the ballot in 2019. That maneuver was struck down when a Working Families Party court challenges prevailed. So far, Cuomo’s 2020 election sabotage has held up in the courts.

The draconian provision that has stripped the upcoming state election slate of all but Democratic and Republican candidates (WFP-endorsed Democratic Party candidates) was an increase in the number of votes required to retain a ballot line. The requirement is based upon statewide election totals for governor or U. S. president. The prior requirement of 50,000 votes was jacked up to 130,000, nearly triple the former standard.

The Conservative, Libertarian and Green parties all failed to retain their place on the ballot. The Libertarians and Greens also failed to place candidates via petitioning, having been successfully challenged by the major parties. Zeldin petitioned for the Conservative line, but he was disqualified due to his campaign submitting 13,000 fraudulent signatures.

It may seem practical to boot parties that cannot muster more than a 10% share of a presidential or gubernatorial contest, but that ignores local races where third-party candidates have won contests. That argument also ignores the role of minor parties in the grand scheme of political discourse. In the current political spar between the major parties, a sampling of campaign ads shows that the two major parties are focused on a handful of polarizing issues, most of which do not poll as major voter concerns. Win or lose, third-party candidates bring salient debate to the table and, without question, overcome the inertia of two major parties content with the security of the status quo.

Moreover, legislating ballot access with unreasonable quotas is not “regulation,” it’s suppression. After years of arguing with pollsters who wanted to put me in the “undecided” camp (I’m a Green), I received a letter this spring from the Board of Elections notifying me that I am no longer a Green; I’m an “other.” I chose to be a Green before a Green Party even existed in the U. S. After reading about the rise of Greens in Europe, I waited a decade and a half to register as a member of the U. S. Green Party. In one fell swoop, Andrew Cuomo, chagrined, having been called out by Howie Hawkins in a gubernatorial debate, spitefully voided tens of thousands of New Yorkers’ chosen party affiliation.

Despite not being on the ballot, Howie Hawkins is running a write-in campaign for Governor along with Gloria Mattera, Lt. Governor. I encourage readers to give them consideration, if not for their credentials, for their challenge to the arrogance that deprived independent parties of a spot on the ballot.

C. M. Barons
Bergen, NY
Member of the Green Party

 

September 21, 2022 - 3:01pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

I swear some of you folks out there think we live in a socialist community -- a community controlled by central planners who decide what business goes where.

And you pretty much think those central planners are pretty stupid.

Everytime news gets out of a new retail development, social media explodes with comments about what "they" should put there -- A Wegman's, an Olive Garden, a Sonic, a Mighty Taco, or whatever chain some commenter thinks is his or her favorite.  Always a chain, by the way, not "I hope some ambitious local person opens a locally owned business there so the community realizes a greater economic benefit."  

I often want to ask, sometimes do ask, "who is 'they'?"  I really want to know who these people think the "they" is who decides what businesses get to open where.  I think I've gotten an answer once.  He said "the bureaucrats." And when I explained it didn't work that way, his rejoinder was, "It was just a figure of speech."

I think it's important that people understand there are no central planners in our economy.  It's important that people understand how free markets work.  If people don't understand, we are in greater danger of the socialists taking over.

But after more than a decade of dealing with people on social media and the "they" comments, it's clear it's a losing battle. They just won't learn or listen.

When a business is announced for a location, the "they" comments persist.  "Why are they putting that in there?  The last thing we need is another of that type of business."  For example.

Often, that's followed by a prediction of failure for the new business location.

One thing to say about chains, they didn't become big chain operations without knowing what they are doing.  Before they even scout a specific location, enter into negotiations for a lease, or start drawing up plans, they've done market studies.  They know the population, the demographics, the wages earned, how much of the market there is to capture with what they have to offer and how they plan to offer it.  The executives are not just rolling the dice and hoping for the best.  They don't operate under the delusion of "if we build it they will come." They have pretty good data that predicts a high likelihood of success.

All the data in the world, of course, doesn't guarantee success but the probability of success is high when the data suggests there is an opening in the market.  You may think they are wrong but be humble: you don't have the data they do. You're just guessing and chances are, you're guessing wrong.

And here's the thing -- this isn't a socialist economy.  Private property owners and private business owners can spend their own money however they wish, and take whatever chance suits their fancy.

In fact, if a proposed business location meets all the zoning requirements, it follows all of the applicable laws, government officials can't deny private business owners the right to risk their own money as they choose.  They cannot deny a business the opportunity to open just because they might personally think that particular business is a bad idea.  That is how government agencies get sued.

If a proposed business objectively meets the standards laid out in the zoning code and all other applicable laws, municipal planners have no choice but to approve any application that is before them.  And those applications are narrow in scope to ensure the only criteria being considered are issues of zoning -- the number of parking spaces, setbacks, environmental impact, signage, size, and so on.  There is no law that limits the number of pizza joints, donut shops, or coffee houses that can locate in a community.  

You can't put a concrete factory in a residential neighborhood and many jurisdictions limit strip joints to specific sections in town (municipal officials cannot, on Constitutional grounds, totally bar adult entertainment establishments) but other than those broad definitions, there is no legal way for local officials to block a business based on the type of business it is or its perceived chances of success.

In a free market, we wouldn't want government officials to have that kind of power.  Economies thrive because people come up with new ideas and risk their own money trying to push those ideas forward.  When you put artificial barriers up to entrepreneurship, whether it's for the chain owner or the local owner, you are beating a path toward poverty.

September 14, 2022 - 12:02am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

When I was a child, talking about Hitler with my mother -- she turned 18 at the start of World War II -- I said to her, "that could never happen here."

"Oh, yes it could," she told me.

Still, until the past few years, it was something I could never fathom.  Not here. Not in the United States. Not in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Not when we so seemingly revered the men and the women who paid the ultimate price to protect freedom. 

These days, I worry about authortarianism every day.  So do the folks over at Reason Magazine.

On the left, a new crop of socialists hope to overthrow the liberal economic order, while the rise of intersectional identity politics has supplanted longstanding commitments to civil liberties. On the right, support for free markets and free trade are more and more often derided as relics of a bygone century, while quasi-theocratic ideas are gathering support.

What has not changed—what may even be getting worse—is the problem of affective polarization. Various studies have found that Americans today have significantly more negative feelings toward members of the other party than they did in decades past.

But partisan animosity suits the authoritarian elements on the left and right just fine. Their goal is power, and they have little patience for procedural niceties that interfere with its exercise. As history teaches, a base whipped up into fear and fury is ready to accept almost anything to ensure its own survival. Perhaps even the destruction of the institutions and ideals that make America distinctively itself.

The United States was founded on the most radical and liberal of all ideals in human history up to that time: That all people are created equal and have a natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The struggle of 1776 pitted the liberalism of the founders -- the belief in individual liberty and limited government -- and the conservative authoritarianism of monarchism, those who thought all humanity should bow to a king.

Once the country was established, the great political divide was over just how much power a central, federal government should have, but both camps were solidly liberal.

As a child of the 1970s, I grew up thinking liberal was a bad thing.  Now I understand that if you're a lover of liberty, you're a liberal.  If you want to defend the tradition of individual liberty in the United States, you're a conservative.  You want to conserve that tradition and those values.  Anything else that people use to define themselves politically is just a sideshow.

We've lost sight of what liberalism and conservative really mean, which only feeds the authoritarians on both the left and the right who want to demonize the people who oppose their brand of extremism.  On the right, all people who oppose their version of a perfect society are "libtards" and for those on the left, all who oppose their version of a perfect society are "Nazis."  

On the left, progressives and socialists want to use the power of government to achieve an economic leveling and their idea of a perfect society.  On the right, authoritarians want to silence those who disagree with them and install a government based on their version of religion and morality. 

The Reason Magazine article is full of examples of politicians and political activists on both the left and the right pushing liberal agendas.  Is a sad commentary on the state of America.

I'm reminded of Karl Popper's warning about the paradox of tolerance.  If a tolerant society tolerates intolerance it will eventually be crushed by intolerance.  To me, that only fuels my pessimism that individual liberty, the great achievement of humankind, and the gift of the Enlightenment, and part of the human experience for less than 250 years, will be snuffed out across the globe within a generation or two.

All of this makes it a very scary time to be a person who believes the greatest human achievement and happiness occurs when we're all free to conduct our lives as we each determine for ourselves. It is a scary time to believe in this core value that fueled the American Revolution.

September 8, 2022 - 10:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

Trade policy expert Scott Lincicome famously (among economists, at least) coined the phrase (which was made into a t-shirt):

Tariffs Not Only Impose Immense Economic Costs but Also Fail to Achieve Their Primary Policy Aims and Foster Political Dysfunction Along the Way

What this means is that tariffs increase costs, either to other producers or eventually to consumers, which reduces the flow of cash to other productive uses, which ultimately increases inflation and harms productivity.  Tariffs -- a form of central economic planning, aka, "socialism" -- harm economic growth.

Some of the current inflation we face now is the result of tariffs imposed over the past four years. 

And they are hurting the domestic production of other goods.  A current example is the harm tariffs have imposed on nail manufacturers, who have been forced to pay more for steel.

Rather than eliminate tariffs on steel, however, the U.S. trade policy position is that other countries that produce nails are selling their nails too inexpensively so imported nails should be taxed at a higher rate.

The Cato Institute:

Third, the case shows how “injury” to a domestic industry is often blamed on foreign competition but is actually the result of bad U.S. policy. In particular, the U.S. government has spent the last four years working to increase the domestic price of steel (nails’ only major input) via tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. As discussed here last year, the tariffs quickly increased U.S. steel prices far above the prices of the same materials abroad, thus undermining steel-consuming manufacturers’ competitiveness versus their foreign counterparts. In this case, the tariffs made American-made nails more expensive—a fact that Mid Continent Nail (the company petitioning for these AD/​CVDs on nail imports) itself confirmed. In particular, the company experienced direct cost increases of 25 percent resulting from the Section 232 tariffs, 19 percent of which it passed on to its customers.

Protectionism isn't good for American consumers nor is it good for American workers.  If we want to put America first again, we will reduce and eliminate tariffs on imported goods and let the free market flourish.

September 8, 2022 - 6:36pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

Rep. Chris Jacobs is potentially and sadly right when he states concerning lowering the overtime threshold for farm workers:

... this is a devastating decision made by out-of-touch bureaucrats which will bankrupt family farms throughout our state and end farming as we know it. If Governor Hochul approves this recommendation, she is signing the death warrant for thousands of farms ...

Being right isn't the same thing as doing the right thing.

I'm old enough to remember when conservatives -- of course, this was back when the GOP was the conservative party -- believed in federalism, or the right of states to govern themselves with little interference from the federal government.

How Jacobs, who seems to think of himself as a conservative, wants to use the heavy hand of the federal government to overrule a state's right to govern itself.

As wrong as New York would be to lower the overtime threshold, it really is a state, not a federal issue.  

Instead of increasing the power of the federal government, Jacobs should introduce legislation to strip the federal Department of Labor of its regulatory power, leaving that power to states, not the national government.  

Federal legislation to strip a state of its power to govern itself is the tactic of progressives, not conservatives. 

September 8, 2022 - 5:26pm
posted by Joanne Beck in Opinion.

Cassandra Elmore — charged with three counts of animal abuse and/or torture — deserves her day in court, and it’s too bad she didn’t take advantage of that for the second time.

Charged after her dog was found to have overdosed on some type of narcotics three times, Elmore, 30, was granted an extension during her brief appearance on July 26 after requesting time to obtain her own attorney. She agreed to the terms and was warned that a warrant would be issued if she didn’t show up. The case was to be at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 11 in City Court, and Elmore was a no-show.

A warrant was issued, but apparently it didn't reach the Batavia Police Department, and Elmore was given another court date for today, Sept. 8. Once again, she did not show, and a warrant was issued again. Meanwhile, Elmore was recently charged after a traffic stop on Aug. 30 with criminal possession of a weapon, obstruction of governmental administration, aggravated unlicensed operation 3rd, uninspected motor vehicle, and insufficient tail lamps.

Elmore was allegedly driving on a suspended license. During a search of the vehicle, she was allegedly found in possession of two sets of metal knuckles as well as various items of drug equipment.  Elmore was processed at Batavia PD headquarters and released on an appearance ticket. 

While people may have mixed feelings about the case, and a final decision has yet to be made, there is one true victim: Oddey, the dog diagnosed as having ingested narcotics to the point of overdose.

Elmore has been free during this time, however, Oddey was remanded to Genesee County Animal Shelter more than two months ago. If that doesn't seem like a long time, imagine your own pet being at a shelter with people and surroundings that are unfamiliar to the pooch. Sort of ironic that the accused criminal is free while the victim sits behind bars.

Nothing against the shelter or the dedicated animal control officers and volunteers that work with the animals there, but Oddey was apparently, and quite likely accidentally, drugged, and now must wait out his fate at a strange place. No doubt, staff and volunteers are treating him well, but it's got to be confusing at the very least. 

This may not seem at all atypical of a victim’s plight upon waiting for a court case to finish  — suffering more repercussions than the perpetrator — but it still remains unclear whether this canine will go to another home or be returned to Elmore.

That’s often the forgotten part in these stories: what about the animal victim? Shelter volunteer Wendy Castleman has said that Oddey is doing well, which is great to know. However, he can't be sent to a foster home or put up for adoption while the legal case against Elmore is pending, or until she surrenders ownership.

Hopefully there will be a really good-news story at the very end. Just as Elmore has deserved the benefit of doubt up to now, Oddey deserves his own due process to relax in a safe, comfortable and loving home.

 

September 2, 2022 - 12:01pm
posted by Session Placeholder in Opinion.

According to the CDC (CDC, 2020) suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. This is a concerning statistic and many people struggle with their mental health every day. There are many factors that may lead someone to think that suicide is the only option, but have you ever thought about problem gambling as a source of emotional distress for someone?

There are many people who struggle with problem gambling in the United States. It is estimated that 2 million adults in the U.S. meet the criteria for gambling disorder, with another 4-6 million people in the U.S. struggling with problem gambling (National Council on Problem Gambling, 2020).

Many people, they can gamble and not have a problem. However, for some, gambling can cause problems in their lives.  Problem gambling is anytime gambling causes problems or negative consequences in someone’s life. Gambling disorder is a diagnosis by a qualified, trained professional determined by the criteria set forth in the DSM5.

 According to the DSM5, a diagnosis of gambling disorder requires at least four of the following during the past year:

  1. Need to gamble with an increasing amount of money to achieve the desired excitement
  2. Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling
  3. Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling
  4. Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, thinking of ways to get money to gamble)
  5. Often gambling when feeling distressed
  6. After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (referred to as “chasing” one’s losses)
  7. Lying to conceal gambling activity
  8. Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job or educational/career opportunity because of gambling
  9. Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling

It is important to remember that while all those with a gambling disorder are experiencing problem gambling, not all those struggling with problem gambling have a diagnosable gambling disorder. Whether someone is struggling with problem gambling or gambling disorder, they are at risk of having the negative consequences from gambling seep out into their everyday lives. These effects may impact not only the person struggling with gambling but also impact their loved ones.

People who struggle with problem gambling are also at a higher risk for struggling with other mental health disorders. Two out of three gamblers reported that their mental health suffered as a result of their gambling problems.  In addition to struggling with gambling, they may be struggling with other mental health problems such as mood disorders like depression, personality disorder, and anxiety. Someone struggling with their gambling may be cashing in retirement funds, college funds, or taking out additional credit cards and loans. These impacts can cause someone to feel hopeless, desperate, and alone.

These negative effects can take a toll on one's mental health. Sadly, problem gambling has the highest suicide rate among all addictions. When we look at suicide in the United States, 3.9% of the adult population have suicidal ideations, and 0.6% attempt suicide each year (CDC, 2015). While this statistic is alarming, we find that for problem gamblers, the concern continues to grow. It has been found that 37% of those struggling with problem gambling and 49% of those with pathological Gambling Disorder have suicidal ideations. Statistics also show that 17% of problem gamblers and 18% of those with a Gambling Disorder attempt suicide. This rate is much higher than the general population, and we believe it’s important to raise awareness of this issue by educating community providers and clients.

Problem gambling is often referred to as “the hidden addiction” because there are no physical warning signs to “test for” problem gambling. It can be very difficult to spot, so it may be difficult to know if someone is struggling with this and maybe having suicidal ideations. While there are no physical signs, there are still signs to look for if you think someone may be struggling with a gambling problem.  Some things to look for are:

  • being absent from friend/family events because of gambling,
  • feeling stressed or anxious when not gambling,
  • low work performance due to absence or preoccupation with betting, and
  • lying to family and friends about how much money and time is spent on gambling.
  • relying on others to get out of debt, asking for loans or bailouts
  • using money needed for necessary expenses, such as food, rent, or medication for gambling

While we cannot physically test for problem gambling, there are screening and diagnostic tools that can be used to initiate a conversation about gambling. A common tool to use is the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen or the BBGS. It is a simple three-question screen that consists of yes or no answers.

  1. During the past 12 months, have you become restless, irritable or anxious when trying to cut down on gambling?
  2. During the past 12 months, have you tried to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you gambled?
  3. During the past 12 months, did you have such financial trouble as a result of your gambling that you had to get help with living expenses from family, friends or welfare?

If you, someone you know, or a client you work with answers yes to any of these questions, it may be time to start talking about problem gambling. Problem gambling can affect anyone at any point in their lives and can impact friends and families of those struggling with their gambling.  It can develop into a gambling disorder, which leads to damaged relationships with loved ones, difficulty at work, and financial problems. These problems can be detrimental to an individual's mental health. It is important that we start to realize the importance of talking about problem gambling, and what impacts it may have on individuals. If we take the time to educate ourselves and start the conversation, we can help break the stigma and shame out of problem gambling and get those struggling with the help that they need. If you or someone you know is struggling with problem gambling, please contact the Western Problem Gambling Resource Center, at (716) 833-4274 or email [email protected]. We are “Here to Help”.

Jeffrey Wierzbicki
Team Leader
Western/Finger Lakes Problem Gambling Resource Center

August 19, 2022 - 12:57pm
posted by Session Placeholder in Opinion.

Howard B. Owens finds it ironic that the Democratic Socialists of America “are coming to Batavia to teach us about fascism.”

Mr. Owens should understand that the Democratic Socialists didn’t come to Batavia on Saturday; we were here all along!

The teach-in was initiated and organized by residents of Batavia and surrounding towns—residents who reject the fascists descending on our city after Rochester rejected their vile message.

Mr. Owens should also understand that there is nothing ironic about socialists teaching him about fascism. When liberals and centrists made peace with Nazis, socialists fought the brownshirts in the streets; it has always been socialists who have stood their ground against the fascists’ totalitarian agenda.

We wish Mr. Owens would have exercised his journalistic skills and talked to actual Genesee County Democratic Socialists. Then he wouldn’t have to resort to bogeymen and claim we think, “the wages you earn . . . the ‘fruits of [your] labor’—shouldn’t belong to you.”

Every day we go to work and the fruits of our labor line the pockets of our bosses. We want the fruits of our labor to go to us, the people who do the work.

Mr. Owens claims we oppose locally owned small businesses. You know who opposes locally-owned small businesses? Amazon does. Amazon doesn’t believe in the “free market”; they believe in global monopolies. Jeff Bezos is not “trying to create wealth” for himself and his family; he’s well beyond any reasonable measure of taking care of one’s family. He and the broken system he represents are impoverishing families around this country and the world.

What we democratic socialists want is the multiracial working class united in solidarity; what the fascists want is for us to be divided by fear.

What we want is everyone to have the healthcare our seniors have. We want Medicare for All—plus better dental and optical coverage for all.

What we want is the ultrarich to pay their fair share of taxes; and we want to invest that money in jobs that will save our burning planet: we want the Green New Deal, modeled after FDR’s New Deal.

What we want is for the state—through the cops—to stop murdering African-Americans and for the prison-industrial complex to stop stealing their futures.

What we want is a government that serves all of us, not just the one percent.

Thanks for noticing our teach-in, Mr. Owens. Next time talk to us, and maybe we can learn a thing or two from each other. 

August 18, 2022 - 10:14pm
posted by Joanne Beck in Opinion.

The Batavian staff discussed coverage for the Reawaken tour before it arrived in Batavia a week ago, and options included not covering it, writing a brief piece and moving on, or covering it in its entire two-day glory.

We opted for the latter because, with all of the hullabaloo, accusations, claims, prior news coverage, and expressed fears, it seemed like the right journalistic thing to do. We couldn’t very well fully understand this event and the extensive controversy attached to it without experiencing it for ourselves.

We’ve taken hits for that — verbally and online — with moans of too much coverage, questions of why one item was fact-checked and another item was not, and even the claim that at least one article was “left-leaning.”

It goes to show the age-old saying that perspective is one’s ultimate reality. How else would you explain that both "sides" claimed that the articles were unfair and biased, especially due to fact-checks that used legitimate sources? It’s a well-known phrase in journalism that if you have made both sides angry, then it’s a job well done. To that, we say thank you.

Some people also questioned why certain event attendees were interviewed. One aspect of journalistic coverage is to check in with attendees, and The Batavian opted to focus on one person, or couple, each time. Just because you don’t like what someone said, does that mean The Batavian should not have quoted that person? These attendees were chosen completely by random — there was no particular agenda, thought, or motive put into the choosing.

One thing is for sure with this series of articles: people read, discussed, critiqued, complained, praised and/or debated them, which is the way to at least begin a dialogue on a controversial subject. No matter what your stance, would you rather not know what others think and feel in order to perhaps better understand them? On the other hand, you may feel it better to completely ignore others with whom you disagree, and that’s your right as well. However, ignorance may be blissful for only so long.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “distrust and caution are the parents of security.” So, to distrust and question things is part of being human in an effort to feel safer. The Batavian staff’s objective was to cover the ReAwaken event to pull down the covers of rhetoric and give a glimpse into something that caused genuine fear amongst many within our community. At the same time, we also did that with discernment about factual rights and wrongs.

We were asked why a group of pastors expressing fears of future violence wasn’t fact-checked as much as others who made bold-faced claims. Predicting the future cannot really be proven or disproven until said events have happened. And beyond that, The Batavian did publish an article before the event quoting law enforcement’s conclusion about potential violence after researching other communities. None was found, and The Batavian included that in the article.

Me thinks thou doth protest too much? Maybe. After all, nobody likes to be harangued by second-guessers after putting so much time and effort into coverage. Yet that’s exactly what journalism is all about: articles are to inform, educate, entertain, and yes, even poke at one to think enough about a topic as to offer suggestions or criticisms to the journalist.

And that’s what America, and democracy, and the Constitution are all about, aren’t they? So go and live freely, express yourself peacefully, and enjoy the rights granted to you by this wonderful country of ours.

And we’ll keep taking the hits in an effort to cover and unveil controversial, sensitive, and perhaps even questionable subject matters.

August 12, 2022 - 10:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

Calm down, people. I see your comments on social media. 

Paul Doyle and Cornerstone Church in Batavia are not jeopardizing the church's tax-exempt status by hosting the ReAwaken America Tour, no matter how political you may believe the event to be.

And no matter how odious you may find it.

The activity is protected by the First Amendment, and that is good for all of us.

Here's what the IRS says about political activity and nonprofit status:

  • the organization must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific or other charitable purposes;
  • net earnings may not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder;
  • no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation;
  • the organization may not intervene in political campaigns; and
  • the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy. 

The First Amendment protects free speech and was written with the specific intention of protecting political speech.

From the earliest days of the republic, churches received tax-exempt status because of the belief that religious institutions should be free from government entanglement.

The Establishment Clause cuts two ways -- no government-mandated religious belief for individuals and no government interference in religion.  

Taxation leads to government entanglement.  Think for a moment about the damage an unsavory government agency could do if it had an audit or enforcement power over churches.  

Tax-exempt status isn't some government charitable contribution to religious organizations, or even an attempt to help them make more money to serve some mission that benefits society (though that is part of it).  It's primarily designed to keep the government from interfering with religious freedom.

We lose sight of that original intention because religious organizations operate under the same tax-exempt status as every other nonprofit organization.  That is by design because, again, the government must remain neutral on the question of religious freedom, and by applying the same rules to religious organizations and secular organizations, they ensure neutral, objective standards are being applied equally.

The IRS is very clear -- endorse candidates, lobby for legislation, and you're engaged in impermissible political activity.  

But no nonprofit is prohibited from hosting a political event or speaking out on political matters (though most are loathe to do so out of fear of the IRS).  Such a prohibition would violate the First Amendment rights of the organization and its members.

But the government, through IRS, has created a firewall between nonprofits and political campaigns to prevent potential corruption, the potential abuse for political purposes of nonprofit status.

There are some in the religious community, such as Pastor Jim Garlow, at Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, Calif. (a church I used to attend many, many years ago, when John Maxwell was pastor), who believe that the IRS rule violates religious freedom.

The problem with Garlow's position on changing the IRS rule just for churches is that it would diminish the concept of equal treatment of all nonprofits.  That could lead to the end of all prohibitions on campaigning and lobbying for nonprofits if the IRS is to remain neutral in how it enforces such rules.

Without government neutrality, religious freedom is jeopardized.

Which is why Cornerstone Church's political activity this week is an activity we should all defend if we really cherish our liberties.  We may find some of the content of the speeches offensive and odious. We may see the ideas advanced by some of the speakers as a threat to our democratic republic.  But it's all free speech.  And the best defense against speech we find distasteful is more speech. It is not calling on the government to censor the speakers or using the government to deprive them of their platform.

As much as Donald Trump's name gets bandied about, he is not currently an official candidate for any office, so speaking favorably about Trump is not a violation of the IRS rule. Of course, even if he was a candidate, speakers in a religious venue can still speak favorably of him without telling people to vote for him (an endorsement).  There is no evidence that speakers at the Tour are using the Tour to call for legislative changes (the other IRS portion of the rule).  While there is a lot of pray and praise in the remarks at the rally, it is clearly a political rally, but a Constitutionally protected political rally.

By the terms of IRS rules and the Bill of Rights, that's OK.

On social media, links to the IRS's complaint site have been repeatedly posted by some people.  It's ironic that people who think the speakers at ReAwaken America want to impose some sort of dictatorship are calling on the rest of us to use the power of the state to try and shut up their political opponents.  That's calling for government censorship and that is just as objectionable as any belief anybody may have about what these speakers stand for.

If you don't like the Tour, use your free speech right to speak out. Hold your own rallies and press conferences, as some have done. Feel free to say you don't want RAT in our community because you think it makes our community look racist, uneducated, and backward (if that's what you believe).  Tell Paul Doyle he shouldn't have brought RAT into Batavia (if that's what you believe). But don't expect the government to shut down an event or organization you don't like. That's just authoritarianism under another banner.

August 11, 2022 - 8:15pm
posted by Jennifer Keys in Opinion.

Nationalism
If only we had some history to draw on to predict what happens in nationalist movements.

Oh, wait, but we do. My grandfather gave part of his leg fighting against a nationalist movement in Asia while his peers fought against one in Europe. Nationalism, here in the US at the time, led to Japanese internment camps once the war was brought to our doorstep.

Time and time again nationalism has led to hate-filled campaigns that have targeted already marginalized communities. It was a nondescript individual who told people things they wanted to hear at a time they were suffering that paved the way for them to lose their humanity and to murder over 6,000,000 of their fellow humans. Approximately 30 years later another nondescript individual was able to convince the people of his nation that it was ok to murder 1,000,000 of their fellow humans in the name of nationalism in Cambodia.

People who are working hard to eke out a living forget that everyone else is doing the same. Instead, they are convinced that others are the problem and then they start to lose their humanity. They begin to believe that the others that are “causing” their problems are somehow less than and deserve to be harmed because they don’t look, sound, live, love, or believe as the nationalist does.

Christian Nationalism is particularly concerning because it makes one wonder how bad could something that says it’s Christian be? After all, it is founded in the name of a man who gave his life to save our souls & we do have a Christian foundation in this nation, though it isn’t codified. What is forgotten by Christian Nationalists is Christ was a brown man who loved everyone. They also forget, or conveniently distort, that our nation was founded on freedom of religion because no one wanted the religious oppression that had been imposed by the Church of England.

Christian Nationalists live and speak as if they believe that everyone should live and believe as they do. In a secular society founded on religious freedom that is simply not viable, permitted, or even desirable for the rest of us. The rest of us simply roll our eyes and believe they have a right to live as they choose within the parameters of the law.

Yes, those who disagree with the ideologies of the RAT (ReAwakening Tour) can simply ignore and not attend, or protest, but it is the hatred and the lies that are proliferated at such events that are at issue here. Sure, they have a right to their false narratives and the spreading of their hatred, but we also have a great deal of historical evidence about what happens when such speech goes unchecked. For those who claim that we don’t know what will happen, we do. This tour has already unfolded and these speakers have already called for some among us to be murdered. Fortunately, we do have a court system that has already sent a message to Alex Jones and others like him. To sit silently watching or ignoring the presence of so much vitriol in our area will leave us answering the questions of our children and grandchildren as so poignantly stated by another writer recently, “when fascism came what did you do”.

As a candidate, as a community member, and as a mother- I can not nor will I stand by and watch as we are divided and conquered by hatred.

Jennifer Keys is a candidate for NYS Assembly 139th District

August 11, 2022 - 1:35am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

The Democratic Socialists of America are coming to Batavia on Friday to teach us about fascism

Oh, the irony.

From the Constitution of DSA:

We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit ... We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, ...

In other words, authoritarianism -- just like the fascists -- dressed up in the pretty language of egalitarianism.  

The attack on private profit should scare all of us. It means the wages you earn -- what Edmund Burke called the "fruits of labor" -- shouldn't belong to you. Your profits, the money you earn from your labor, should belong to the state. The state should decide how best to spend what you earn in order to better distribute the resources.

In socialism, there would be no private property, no locally owned small businesses, and nobody working on trying to create wealth for themselves and their families. It would all be share-and-share alike.

We saw already how well that worked in the Soviet Union. 

DSA members I've debated with over the years like to say that they just want to bring a European kind of socialism to the United States. This is supposedly a kinder, gentler kind of socialism. The major problem with their position is that the countries they point to -- Denmark, Norway, Sweden, etc. -- are not socialist. They are solidly capitalist, free market economies. Their spending priorities are perhaps different, but there is no prohibition against private enterprise, against individuals and shareholders owning companies, and even growing fabulously wealthy, even becoming billionaires. There are in fact, 12 billionaires in Norway and 30 in Denmark.

You know who is socialist: Cuba and North Korea -- failed, dictatorial regimes, and China, wealthy, but one of the most repressive governments on the planet.

It's hard not to despair for the future of America sometimes. We are beset by right-wing blowhards on one side who think they should control the levers of power and tell the rest of us what to think and how to live, and a growing socialist movement on the left who want to destroy the very thing that made America prosperous -- the free market. 

Now, these two conflicting ideologies are converging on Batavia while those of us in the middle, who simply want to go to work and take care of our families and be left alone to live in peace, can only standby and gape in disbelief. 

Suggested reading:

August 8, 2022 - 10:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.
Video Sponsor

These are times that reward cynics.  Every news cycle brings some new outrage, disappointment, or worry.

But America isn't a complete mess.  As long as people like Jesse and Jolene Coots are in the world, we'll be alright.

Jesse and Jolene own a few acres on Linwood Road in Pavilion where they raise their kids and operate their businesses.

More than a dozen years ago, they decided to invite a few friends over who share their passion for hot rods (Jesse operates the Old Soul Hot Rod Shop in a garage behind their house) to burn rubber on the asphalt of Linwood Road.

At most car shows, it's "look, don't touch," and keep the noise and dust to a minimum, please.

Jesse figures hot rods are built to run. They may be art but they're not museum pieces.  So he decided a few years ago to let his friends run their rods on his street.

The concept proved popular and the event has grown every year since (he's now built a driveway for burnouts so the public street is no longer used).

When I first heard about the event in 2019, Jesse said there were 2,000 people in attendance.  This year, he said 3,000.


See also: Photos & Video: The 2022 Hardcore Happening in Pavilion


Perhaps the most remarkable part of the Happening is how smoothly the operation goes.  Jesse's staff -- and it's a big staff -- is all volunteer.  They chaperon the attendees, feed the throngs, and keep everything running smoothly.

The beauty of it all is how fun and friendly the whole event is.  Jesse brags every year about how little trouble there is.  After everybody leaves, there won't be a beer can left on the ground, he says.  People help each other out.  One year, somebody who had never attended before showed up sans a cooler of beverages. They didn't go thirsty.  Their new friends kept them hydrated.

One reason it all holds together is Jesse has a few rules -- he says there's only one, just be kind to each other.  But on his social media posts, he lets guests know in clear, straightforward language what's expected.  The gates open at 1 p.m., not 10, for example.  And no pets.

And, "-Everyone’s car is special. If yours is so special that you need to park and rope it off, leave it home and just come enjoy the show… "

Also, "This is my home and place of business. This is my children’s home and my wife’s castle. We welcome you, we love you. Love us back and watch over our place, pick up after yourself, and don’t be a scumbag. You will get called out by everyone. This crowd follows suit and doesn’t tolerate people being scumbags. Be good, we will treat you good."

Oh, did we mention, "NOT PETS!!"

One thing I like -- it's not a rule -- it's not even anything I've known Jesse ever to request, but I've noticed: There's no politics. I've never even seen a political t-shirt worn by an attendee let alone heard a political discussion.

That helps keep that no discord, no rancor feeling in the air.

As Jesse says, if you love cars, regardless of who you are, your background, or your beliefs, you're welcome.  He wants you just to come, have fun and make new friends.

After I left the Coots homestead on Saturday, a lot of the burdens I might have carried there seemed to have magically disappeared by the time I left.  That doesn't often happen in my job.

There's something special about the Hardcore Happening.  Sure, I like hot rods and classic cars, but not like Jesse, not like his closest friends, not like most of the people at the Happening.  I'm not an aficionado. The event is fun to video record and photograph -- it's a visual treat -- but that is not what is special to me about the Hardcore Happening.  What's special is that vibe -- it's hippie-like simplicity and happiness. I halfway expect peace signs posted around the property.  There's more kindness in the air than there is burning rubber and gas fumes.

Now that I've known Jesse for a couple of years, I think I know why that is -- he is contagiously friendly, open, and welcoming.  He wants the best for everybody around him. 

And this is what's special about small town life.  There are people like Jesse and Jolene Coots around.  There are a lot of good people in Genesee County, and in my job, I'm fortunate to know many of them, but it is events like this that should remind us that no matter how bad it gets out there, it's good right here.

August 1, 2022 - 12:06am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Opinion.

An "L.A. Times" column published recently opens this way:

Would minor league players be paid more if they could negotiate freely with every team?

Not necessarily, Major League Baseball warned Congress on Friday. Instead, players could lose job opportunities and communities could lose minor league teams, the league said in a 17-page letter to the committee exploring whether to strip baseball of its antitrust exemption.

Wow. What hypocrisy.  What chutzpah.

Prior to the 2021 season, Rob Manfred, the non-baseball-loving commissioner of major league baseball, decided to rob 30 cities of their minor league baseball teams, including Batavia.

Arguably, baseball fans in Batavia are better off, thanks to Robbie Nichols and the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. They brought to our small city a more engaging and community-connected brand of baseball, but there is one way that Batavia is indisputably worse off: lost revenue.

The former minor-league-affiliated Muckdogs was owned, in part, by the community and operated by a volunteer board of directors, the Genesee Community Baseball Club.

If that team was still part of the minor league system, it would have undoubtedly eventually been sold, and GCBC would have surely received a couple of million dollars as part of the deal; money that could have been reinvested in sports and recreation in the city of Batavia, benefiting our youth.

That money is lost, and there is nothing anybody can do about it.  Why? MLB's anti-trust exemption, which was granted by the Supreme Court in 1922. Because the ruling was not based on Constitutional principles, it can be rescinded by an act of Congress.

That's just the sort of action Congress is considering -- finally -- and Manfred is fighting through deception and misinformation.

MLB's anti-trust exemption is good for nobody in America except the MLB -- certainly not the fans of baseball nor the players.  It's time to subject the MLB to the same kind of competitive pressures that make things better in America.

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