Thursday, September 27, 2012

GET YOUR HOCKEY FIX IN LOCAL COLLEGES



Living along the Canadian border like we do, hockey is an important part of local culture. Countless men, women and children lace up their skates every day across this region, while many more count themselves as rabid fans of the fastest sport in the world. That transcendent love for the game makes it even more popular in Western New York than America’s most-loved sport, football.

It’s only fitting that watching and listening to the NHL dominates our evenings, something that also offers a great diversion from the long, cold nights, keeping us from going crazy in the winter tedium. Unfortunately, the escape from life’s stresses afforded by professional hockey doesn’t look to be so certain this year as the NHL’s owners and players are locked in a labor impasse. There’s a very good chance that that a significant portion (maybe even all?) of the season might be lost.

No one knows for sure what’s going to happen and fans are already depressed about the possibility of a winter with no hockey.

Don’t be depressed. And, don’t allow the arctic season to be lacking in the sport.      

There are plenty of opportunities to take in a high-quality game. Look no further than our local colleges. Hockey fans have a number of them to choose from on the Niagara Frontier. Within a 40-minute drive of Lockport we have Division I programs in Niagara University and Canisius and Division III colleges in Buffalo State and Brockport. There are even more just a little further away within the Buffalo-Rochester area, including Fredonia, Geneseo, RIT, and Nazareth. All of them put competitive, exciting teams on the ice.

The DI teams play against some of the most-storied and highest-ranked universities in the country. You can watch gifted prospects and future NHL players play all out in their quest to win a championship and cement their legacies on the ice and catch the eyes of scouts. They play with a hunger not seen in the pro ranks. There’s always a good chance that these teams could play their way onto the national stage – just as RIT did a few years ago – and the magical Frozen Four.  

You will see an even greater passion played out on the DIII rinks. DIII hockey is one of my loves (especially at Brockport where you can catch me at most home games) since it doesn’t have the trappings of DI (athletic scholarships) or the NHL (people being paid millions). They play for the love of the game. That’s it. That love is evident on the ice. The game is much faster and more active than the NHL. There is a lot of contact. The players sacrifice themselves to win. Above all, it’s played extremely well: DIII kids aren’t pushovers. As a matter of fact, they might not even be kids. The times have changed and no longer do you see a lot of “true freshmen” (guys aged 17 or 18) on the ice. Most of them stuck around the juniors for a while and further honed their game. You’re watching men in their twenties playing at a highly-skilled level that many others could never come close to achieving.

The venues in which you can watch these affairs are homey, close to the action, and above all, cheap (something an NHL game could never be). For $5 you can watch a DIII game. DI tickets can be purchased for $12 or less, depending on any number of special deals. The foods in these places are actually affordable, too, on a shoestring budget.

So, don’t fret if there isn’t an NHL hockey season. You will still get a chance to watch some great hockey in the region. Even if the NHL doesn’t go on hiatus for any length of time, make it a point to attend one of the local college games. You might even develop a new love affair with the sport.

The seasons begin soon (in just 3 weeks at the DIII level), so check out the athletic department pages of the various schools’ websites for details.

Enjoy the games! 



Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.


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This column originally ran in the 01 October 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Monday, September 24, 2012

LET THE DAIRY INDUSTRY GROW



The health benefits of yogurt are well known. But, it might also be one of the cures for what ails the upstate economy.

Consider that food production can best be compared to manufacturing. They are alike in that they are the last real wealth creators that we have in our moribund service-heavy economy. They require the growth and/or harvest of natural resources that are utilized by captive processes to create consumer goods and prior/while/after doing so, countless jobs are created in multiple support industries that acquire the resources (farming), provide support components (skid and carton makers), and distribute (trucking), market (TV, radio, and print) and sell (retail) the end product.
  
That’s why it’s such great news that there’s a yogurt boom of sorts underway in New York. PepsiCO has aligned itself with Theo Muller Group to invest $206 million in a Batavia plant that will open next year, employing 186 people. This comes on the coattails of this fall’s opening of another yogurt producer in that community: Alpina Foods’ $15 million facility will employ 50 by year’s end. This brings the number of yogurt plants in New York to 29.

To meet the near-term demand of the new players, New York dairy farmers will have to increase milk production by 15%. Better yet, in 10 years or so, especially if Pepsi’s foray into the industry takes off (which it just might, especially at a time when the yogurt market is projected to more than double in size over the next decade), that need for milk could be almost a third greater than the current New York-produced supply. Those are heady numbers when one considers that New York is already the third-leading milk producer in the United States and its 5,400 dairy farms account for nearly $2 billion in agricultural receipts. 

The long-term future is bright for Empire State dairy farmers. But, there are some short-term obstacles in their way that may inhibit – and, in many cases, outright prevent - their investment in this newfound demand. The most onerous and wasteful hurdle -- especially since its expense will do nothing to increase efficiency or add to property, equipment or head of cattle – is the cost associated with the Clean Water Act.

The states administer the agricultural portion of the Act for the federal government and here, in New York, a farm goes from being “just” a farm to a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) once it has 200 mature dairy cows. Upon reaching that mark, the farm must go through a detailed permitting process and meet a multitude of regulations concerning theoretical animal waste runoff across its operations. That requires the development and implementation of an environmental strategy which can cost in upwards of $150,000 at the start and $5,000 more each and every year. That outlay can stymie plans to expand, because the farmer has even larger investments (which would actually show rewards in improved revenues and profits) to make in more cows, the barns to house them and the equipment to feed, clean and milk them. The CAFO standards only add to that financial stress.

Understanding that this can make or break the burgeoning yogurt industry (as well as dairy as a whole), agribusiness and political leaders have been pushing for an increase in the CAFO threshold to 300 animals. That simple change would allow – and incentivize --hundreds of farms to expand (the average dairy operation in New York has 113 cows) without government burden, and capitalize on the increased demand.

At a state yogurt summit held in August, Governor Andrew Cuomo said it will become a duty of his administration to make good on the 300 head threshold. But, that’s easier said than done. In order to go through with this plan, the Department of Environmental Conservation must study it, put it to writing and put it out for public comment. The Governor will find foes in environmental quarters, as upon his announcement, various organizations influential in New York’s green movement blasted his idea. They will have strength in numbers and in influence (based on their connections with the DEC officials) which can – and might just – prevent the expansion of the CAFO lower limit.

Hopefully, the side of economic development prevails over excessive governance in this case. Policymakers should know that farmers are the true environmentalists. They live green and, as the stewards of the land and waters, they know what’s best for their operations and for Mother Nature herself. It’s the natural bounty that they oversee – and care for -- that can pay huge dividends for the New York economy, not only in agriculture, but across multiple sectors.        



   


Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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This column originally ran in the 24 September 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Federal Entitlements: Living Large in Poverty

In the weeks leading up to the general election, the U.S. Census Bureau will be releasing its report about the state of poverty in 2011. According to a study conducted by the Associated Press, leading economists believe that the poverty rate will see a significant increase — from 15.1 to 15.7 percent. That will make it the highest rate since 1965.

Some would consider it ironic that 1965 marked the official beginning of the War on Poverty, when 1964 laws forced and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson went into effect, initiating Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and the Jobs Corp. No doubt, they will consider the Census Bureau’s findings a rallying point, a means by which to reemphasize, further empower, and further fund such forced benevolence while criticizing the free market for its alleged creation of poverty through abuses of the working class.

The truth be told, there is nothing ironic or symbolic about today’s comparisons with 1965. Today’s poverty levels are a direct result of the War on Poverty. The federal government cannot create wealth, so in order to make good on its promises to the supposed afflicted, it has to conduct a massive wealth transfer by robbing from the productive portions of the population — which includes not only the much-maligned “one percent” of high-income earners, but the middle class as well — to pay for the needs and luxuries of the unproductive portions. By doing so, the government has eroded the earnings and accumulated wealth of middle class Americans which in turn has driven them closer to poverty. Likewise, by placing the same tax burden on employers, the government has inhibited their growth and even inspired their downsizing or outsourcing, which, in turn, has eliminated or prevented jobs for millions of Americans, which only serves to drive more people into the ranks of poverty.

Highlighting the insanity and destructive nature of this War on Poverty and similar measures that have been created prior and since, those who are theoretically living in poverty actually have a standard of living comparable to and, in some cases, better than, the working class who are forced into paying their way. This can be proved through a basic compilation of just some of the government programs that fund the poor’s basic human needs (health, nourishment, shelter) and one of their luxurious wants (phone service) that are all provided by public assistance.

For the sake of this analysis, we will consider the poor family to be a 4-person household (husband, wife, 2 children) with a combined income of $23,050, which is considered to be the poverty threshold by Health and Human Services, although it should be noted that a great number of poor households are headed by only one parent (usually the mother), a circumstance of America’s declining morality (an issue for another day).

Healthcare

Over the past 50 years, the concept of the right to health has been bastardized. Every human has the right to good health (achieved only by his or her attentiveness and self-care), but we’ve been misled to believe that every human has the right to unfettered access to good health care. The federal government has caused many people to think healthcare is a God-given right (which it’s not, as it requires the utilization of human and equipment resources) and that we, collectively as a people, should provide as much to those individuals who are “not as fortunate” as those who must pay for their own healthcare and/or receive it as a benefit from their employer. Medicaid is the ultimate realization of that goal, providing health care to the poor. Unlike private insurance, the recipients pay nothing into it (no premiums, copays, etc.) and the benefits include a market basket far greater than what the middle class receives in their insurance packages (eye care, dental, and more).

Benefit to individuals: According to Health and Human Services, the average cost of services doled out to Medicaid recipients was $6,775 in 2010. For a family of 4, that works out to $27,100 per year.

Total cost to taxpayers (services rendered as well as bureaucracy):
According to the same HHS actuarial study, the total outlay in 2010 was $404.1 billion, which includes the total burden shared by federal/state/local taxpayers.


Food


Just as with health insurance, the federal government feels compelled to have the majority provide for the nourishment of the minority. There are a few programs in play. One is SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (more widely known as “food stamps”) that provides economic assistance to low-income families. Another program, quite similar to food stamps, is WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) which came into being in 1972 and, as the name implies, provides food to women and the young.Then there is the National School Lunch Program, a gift from the Truman presidency which provides low-cost or free lunches to 31 million poor children across the United States.

Benefits to individuals: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are 46.4 million Americans who receive food stamps, good for more than $133 per month in benefits, or $533 for a family of four per month  ($6,392 per year). According the USDA, the average WIC benefits per person per month are $46, or for the family of 4 which would include 3 eligible people, it would be $1,673 per year. According to USDA reports the School Lunch Program pays participating schools $2.86 per free lunch, along with a 23 cent “entitlement foods” surcharge. There are 180 school days in a year, so, going with the $3.09 combined rate, the typical 2-child household would receive $1,112 in benefits.

Total cost to taxpayers (services rendered as well as bureaucracy):
SNAP costs taxpayers $76.7 billion per year while WIC’s annual budget is $6.6 billion. The National School Lunch Program has an annual budget of $11.1 billion.


Housing

The federal government also finds it necessary to fund housing for poor families. Numerous programs exist, none as well known as “Section 8” (Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937). This program provides rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of approximately 3.1 million low-income households, so, in essence, it is paying the rent for the impoverished families. It can also be used to aid in the purchase of a home. In order to make the lives of those living in such properties a little more comfortable, the government also pays for energy and heating through LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program).

Benefits to individuals: The reimbursement rate varies with location, as there are vast rent disparities in say, Niagara Falls versus New York City (the latter having rents that can be four times the amount as the former). The average Section 8 coverage is around $625 nationally, so the benefit to the family is $7,500 per year. LIHEAP benefits vary considerably by region (because Northern states receive a disproportionate amount based on their heating needs), but the annual benefit works out to be $417.

Total cost to taxpayers (services rendered as well as bureaucracy):
$27 billion per year for Section 8, $4 billion annually for LIHEAP.


Phone Service

Whereas the previous categories could be looked at as basic needs, there is yet another item deemed by the government to be a need when really it is a want, a luxury. That would be phone service. Nowadays, one cannot escape the television advertisements extolling “free” cell phones for income-eligible people. These phones, as with all public benefits rendered, are anything but “free” as the taxpayers must foot the bill.

Benefits to individuals:
Approximately $30 per month or $360 per year.

Total cost to taxpayers (services rendered as well as bureaucracy):
The Federal Universal Service Fund charge found on phone bills brings in $9 billion annually.


There are countless more federally-run and taxpayer-provided social welfare programs, but the aforementioned few give good insight into what the productive sectors of the economy provide for those unwilling to pursue the American Dream at their discretion. As you can see, those who make a lifestyle of being poor are doing quite well for themselves and are far better off than some of their middle class friends and neighbors. With minimal or no effort, they can reap the rewards that the others toil for. Accumulating the annual benefits listed above, the impoverished family with an income of $23,050 gleans another $44,554 in subsidized goods and services, courtesy of Uncle Sam and the nieces and nephews from whom he steals. That brings the actual income of a poverty-stricken family of 4 to $67,604. To achieve that market basket of goods and services, their income would, in theory, be much higher, though, as were it to be real income, that $67,604 would be the amount after federal and state taxes, which they are more than likely not paying.

Although government and society have gradually and effectively indoctrinated millions of Americans to a culture of government assistance, there are millions more who end up acquiring entitlements who are unable to pursue the American Dream on their own (even though they truly want to) because of the vast wealth transfer perpetuated by the government. To put this into realistic and not theoretical constraints consider that there are 29.6 million adults living in poverty. Tabulating the above programs, the total cost to taxpayers is $538.5 billion per year. Now, were those 29.6 million to be employed and were that $538.5 billion to be back in the private sector where it belongs, those individuals could see earnings or wealth creation (since some of the money would be going to plants and equipment or research and development) equal to $18,193 per person. That’s a pretty significant number. It would bring millions of Americans out of the ranks of poverty.

It’s unlikely that the abolition of entitlements could happen with today’s misunderstanding of what government is supposed to do (shared by the elected and the electorate alike). The government would never abandon the sense of control that entitlements elicit: In one fell swoop it can make tens of millions of Americans dependent on the system (ensuring perpetual preservation of status quo) and it can control what the free markets and the private sector can do in terms of advancement (driving us further down the path of socialism).

In order to eliminate the programs in part or in their entirety, we would need an electorate that understands our formative documents and philosophies, that the purpose of our nation is to allow the pursuit of happiness, not provide for happiness outright. This understanding may actually come in time — with the economy at a virtual standstill, with its rampant unemployment and lackadaisical demand, people are beginning to see the error in government’s ways. It’s those same people — those who want to work and those who are working but under constant fear of what tomorrow brings — who will wake up to the inherent unfairness of entitlements and realize that anyone who lives in poverty really doesn’t live in poverty after all.

If the masses do not wake up to this unconstitutional brand of charity, then more people will be driven to poverty. But, as more and more people do fall into those ranks, it will be a true dirt-poor poverty unsupported by free food, housing and healthcare — because, sooner or later, so much wealth will be taken away from the private sector that there will be no more left to give.




Bob Confer is a contributor to The New American. He is the vice-president of Confer Plastics, Inc. and a weekly columnist for the Greater Niagara Newspapers.

This originally appeared in the 04 September 2012 The New American at:

http://www.thenewamerican.com/reviews/opinion/item/12711-federal-entitlements-living-large-in-poverty

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

THE ASSAULT ON FREE SPEECH

We’re 11 years removed from the 9/11 attacks and it seems like such a different world. Or, at least, a different America. A land once ripe with unabated liberty is one now governed by tyranny.  A police state is allowed to persist under the guise of “security” and some bastardized premise of freedom. Congress and the Bush and Obama Administrations thought and think nothing of eavesdropping on phone calls and emails without warrant; indefinitely detaining our people while stripping them of their citizenship, rights and dignity; molesting men, women and children in our airports; and stifling expression by limiting what can be said and where whilst profiling the far-right (Constitutionalists) and far-left (Occupy activists) as terrorists.

This isn’t just a federal issue. Following the lead of Uncle Sam (who’s also a Big Brother to all), metropolises like New York City (and its famed surveillance system and quasi-military cops) have found it attractive to do the same. And, so have smaller communities. Take Hornell for example. In a February 2011 column for this paper (http://tinyurl.com/ConferHornell) I looked at how that very small city of 9,000 created its own domestic spying program by placing 32 cameras throughout the community that were monitored 24/7 by the police department. Mind you, it’s a city where crime rates are but a fraction of the national average. So, with minimal criminal element present, just who is being observed?


That camera system hasn’t been very popular with local residents. That disdain, though, didn’t set any sort of precedent in city hall. Hornell’s leaders still can’t seem to fathom rights – especially the natural rights identified in the US Constitution – as made evident by what transpired over the past month.

For the past 8 years, Main Street of Hornell been frequented by a troubadour named Noah Carlton, who with guitar in hand, sings Christian music on Saturdays and Sundays to passers-by. In August the local Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the mayor, saying that Carlton’s continued presence inhibits business growth in the burgh by turning away prospective customers and investors. So, in response to that long-simmering complaint, city attorney Joe Pelych crafted a law that – just like post-9/11 terrorism efforts - uses one incident to justify government actions that would wipe out over 200 years of civilized liberty. Under the proposed law, the city would provide “a designated public forum for individuals and groups to exercise their free speech rights." It said that "it shall be unlawful for any individual or group of individuals to gather, remain, walk or stand upon any given street or sidewalk in the City of Hornell to protest, support or exercise free speech by voice, sign or any other means unless they are in the designated area as defined by law." To that end, it required that anyone interested in speaking in that area needed to first file an application with the Mayor’s office and that they could not use voice amplifiers unless authorized. Violators would have been hit with $250 in fines or 15 days in jail.

Basically, the law would have abridged the freedom of speech to the point that any parties in disagreement with the government would first have to petition that government for the right to peaceful assembly in protest of that government in a public setting. The Council could, at its whim, deny assembly and arrest anyone involved in the unpermitted expression of supposedly-free speech. Not to sound clich├ęd, but that’s what you’d expect out of North Korea or Nazi Germany. The Founding Fathers must have been rolling in their graves.

Luckily, common sense prevailed. A few dozen people protested the rule and Mayor Shawn Hogan and his council struck the proposal in the Law and Ordinance Committee. But, even so, they definitely had the intent to push the law: Why did it get as far as it did, to the written stage, and not just stay a bad idea? They even matter-of-factly compared it to the designated free speech zones around political conventions. But, w whole city as a free (read “restricted”) speech zone?

Don’t think that because Hornell is some far-flung town nestled in the Southern Tier that this sort of behavior won’t affect you. If they can broach this there, they can broach it here in Niagara and Orleans counties or anywhere across this great land. It’s nothing unusual, either: Think about your freedoms and liberties in Modern America. Are you better off than you were 11 years ago?





Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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This column originally ran in the 17 September 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, September 6, 2012

PUT SEXUAL PREDATORS IN THEIR PLACE



The City of Lockport is between a rock and a hard place. City fathers know full well the threat that medium- and high-risk sex offenders pose to the community. So, 6 years ago they instituted a residency limit that kept Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a child-centered gathering place (schools, day care centers, playgrounds, etc). Unfortunately, they also know too well that good laws can be negated by bad laws (or the interpretation thereof): Last month they had to scrap the buffer zone under the premise that state rule trumps local rule. Similar laws were being squashed by the courts throughout the state (6 counties and counting) and had Lockport maintained the law, they were only opening up themselves for lawsuits from money-hungry perps.

In the first month following the striking of the residency limit, 3 Level 2 offenders expressed interest in moving into what were formerly safe zones, while a Level 3 actually moved in. As police officer Thomas Gmerek told the Lockport paper, “it is, for lack of a better term, open season now”, highlighting the dangers posed to our youth.

This also highlights what’s wrong with the concept of rule in modern America. Our nation was devised to be governed by the bottom-up, not the top down. The most powerful, efficient and effective governments (and services and protections rendered) were supposed to come from the towns and cities where the people themselves would have the ability to participate and have a say. Instead, we’ve come to rely on the states and they (and we) on the federal system. Lockport knew what was best for its citizens. But, it couldn’t make due on its promises to protect them because the state in its alleged kinder and gentler ways (fostered by the misplaced compassion and intellectual vanity of downstate legislators) places a greater emphasis on the assumed positive outcomes of rehabilitation than it does on continued penalties against criminals (even those who committed sexual acts upon children). Under state law, the 1,000-foot buffer affects only Level 3s who are on parole or probation. If they have cleared either of those categories, they are allowed to live where they’d like.

It’s frustrating because the dangers posed by Level 3s – the worst of the worst - are fully understood by the lawmakers and the courts. By definition, someone in that category carries a high risk of repeat offense and constitutes a potential threat to public safety. A variety of studies have shown recidivism rates around 12%. That means 12 out of every 100 molesters, rapists and other deviants are going to commit another sexual crime. When you consider that there are 32,000 sex offenders in the state, that means every year 3,840 children and women will have their bodies – and minds – defiled by a freak who was already convicted of committing those unspeakable acts against others. That statistic, as with all rapes and molestation reports, is probably too small, as most go unreported because of the fear and trauma associated with the acts and the repercussions which range from traumatic stress disorder to threats of violence levied against the victim from the perpetrator. Regardless, 12% is frightening.

We need to protect children from Level 2s and Level 3s, especially when the courts won’t handle the latter with lifetime confinement. One way to afford that protection is through stronger residency limits. Since the courts won’t allow local rule, it’s up to the legislators to rewrite state law to, at minimum, put all registered Level 3s in the 1,000-foot limit. Better yet, they should put residency limits at full discretion of the communities. Think about this: The state’s proposed plans for hydrofracking puts the allowance of this method of gas extraction in a specific area totally under home rule – it will be up to the local municipalities (and its elected officials and/or residents) to allow it. If we can put such power to protect our environment in the hands of the people, why can’t we do the same for the power to protect our children?

In the meantime, with school in session and kids moving about in areas once deemed safe but now frequented by sex offenders, be diligent. It’s up to the community to keep an eye on shady behavior and shady people and it’s up to the kids to understand the dangers posed to them and how to react – and speak up – if something or someone strange presents itself.
 



Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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This column originally ran in the 10 September 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers