Thursday, December 31, 2009

Patriot Act debate on the horizon

From the 04 January 2010 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

On December 14 the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, struck down a Senate plan to extend until 2013 provisions of the Patriot Act that were set to expire last Thursday. The extension clause would have been an add-on to the $636 billion defense spending bill agreed upon by the House and Senate. Understanding that a good many Americans do not relish having their rights to privacy trampled upon, she did not want the extensions forced through without satisfactory debate. So, Congress instead approved a 60-day extension, signaling a lengthy debate ahead regarding controversial records procurement methods and roving wiretaps.

The records rule is one of the most onerous of the Patriot Act, granting officials court orders that can force private enterprises (such a businesses, hospitals, and libraries) to turn over “any tangible thing” (such as business records and medical histories) that could be considered relevant to a terrorism investigation. Through this rule, once private and personal records of all citizens – both good and bad – are fair game to government inspection.

The equally-disturbing roving (or warrantless) wiretaps provision allows the government to eavesdrop on or intercept communications without the court orders traditionally necessary for identifying the target and the specific means and lines of communication. Under its scope, the government can freely use any method and tactic to observe and listen in on anyone considered a terror suspect (which, as we learned in 2009, could be almost anyone).

In theory, both rules face a rocky road ahead now that the Democrats – long the critics of the Bush Administration and its abuses of the Patriot Act – are in power. But, theory and reality are two entirely different things.

The reality of the moment, which is almost serendipitous to the cause of Patriot Act supporters, is that many elected officials and citizens who once decried the Act may find themselves supporting the renewal of the provisions with the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing so fresh in their minds. For many people, security trumps liberty especially with the horror of death in the sky so close to being realized. They will sell-out in order to guarantee their safety and the safety of their families (although there is nothing truly guaranteed in that regard).

There is also the reality of political force to contend with. Pelosi’s power is nothing in comparison to the power of President Obama, the media darling and rock star president who can alter a goodly portion of public sentiment at will. As a senator and presidential candidate Obama was strongly opposed to the Patriot Act. In 2005, when these same provisions came up for renewal, he was dead set against them, citing the government’s newfound power as being a threat to our rights and freedoms. But, since taking office, he has made a complete 180, throwing his support behind the reauthorization of the wire taps and records searches, something he has pursued in earnest since September, both publicly and behind closed doors. December’s scare will only make him more brazen.

Because of Obama’s powerful and popular influence, Speaker Pelosi and her alleged majority may end up being a minority, losing out in the end, showing how truly similar and nearly indistinguishable our country’s two main parties really are: Democrats are guilty of the behaviors of Republicans and vice versa.

In preparation for a prolonged standoff over the Patriot Act, if you value personal liberty you must make it a point to contact your Congressperson and Senators and ask that the nefarious rules face the sunset they deserve and do not get renewed. If they are allowed to continue it won’t be a victory against terrorism. It will be a victory for terrorism. The terrorists despise the American Way and our freedoms and want to see our personal rights squashed. The Patriot Act and its intrusiveness virtually assure that the terrorists’ goals are achieved. We can’t let that happen.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Developing answers to the oil shortage

From the 28 December 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

For the past month this column has focused on the limited supplies of and unlimited demand for oil. The future looks bleak with an oil shortage that we as a nation seem ill prepared to handle. But, given that our public and private sectors can gain a sense of urgency and take a more dedicated approach than we have in the development of new technologies and new energy sources, we can overcome what could be a significant obstacle to the betterment of our standard of living for years to come.

To put this complex issue into simple terms, here are 4 ways in which we can guarantee a brighter future for America by limiting the impact that oil has on our personal, corporate and national finances while ensuring that we have access to transportation, something that is instrumental to the pursuits of a free people…

Develop young minds: In America we do a very poor job of rewarding our brightest students who in turn have the potential to reward our society. Instead, we invest as much time and money in the most under-performing schools and students as we do in the cream of the crop. The next great scientist is more often than not lost in the shuffle as we teach him or her at the same level and with the same techniques as the lost causes who are in the same classroom. We need to do as other nations – both developed and developing – do and devote a greater amount of our resources to the gifted students. Investing in their minds is an investment in our tomorrow. The oil shortage is just one of many problems that need to be addressed in the coming decades and the best way to handle them is by making sure we have the keenest scientific minds prepared to work their magic.

Develop alternative oils: Mention alternative energy to the average motorist and the first thing that comes to mind is corn-based ethanol. That’s because at this time it’s basically the only alt oil available in volume. But, if there’s anything we’ve learned over the past 4 years it’s that corn ethanol is one of the federal government’s worst investments in recent memory: Who in their right mind would promote a fuel that is created from crucial foodstuff in a process that is as un-green as the crude it is supposed to replace? As a nation we are better off focusing on the continued evolution of processes that create ethanols from algae and cellulosic biomass, processes that are close to fruition but still a handful of years away from practicality.

Develop alternative technologies:
There’s a reason why the Big Three – and especially General Motors - suffered so greatly before and during the Great Recession. They weren’t innovative enough. When the oil crisis came on strong in 2007 the products offered (inefficient large cars and SUVs) did not meet the needs of their customers who found themselves strapped for cash as gasoline consumed their paychecks. Had the companies had the forethought during and after the oil crises of the 1970s they would have designed cars capable of 60 to 80 miles per gallon of gasoline. But, they stuck with the status quo and some even say they suppressed new technologies (if that’s the case, the federal government, who owns about 60% of GM, should do society a huge favor and unearth those top-secret innovations from the bowels of the organization). The automakers need to think bigger than they have and put more money and mind towards the development of super-fuel-efficient cars and those that are powered by natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells or electricity.

Develop more nuclear plants: In order to make the electric automobile a sustainable option we need an unlimited supply of electricity on the cheap (as does our economy as a whole in order to keep up with population and economic growth). The most-efficient and cheapest way to meet our needs is with nuclear energy. And, despite general American sentiment to the contrary, nuclear energy is clean and safe. There’s a reason why a green-conscious country like France gets so much of its electricity from nuclear power (79 percent).

Through these and other tactics we can survive the oil shortage. Let’s not stop at ending our dependence on foreign oil as many in the political class say we should; let’s end our dependence on oil, both foreign and domestic. Solving problems as significant as this is old hat to America. We’ve been faced with threats of various sorts before and we’ve beaten them using the work ethic and ingenuity that has set us apart from all other societies both past and present.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The upcoming oil shortage: part three

From the 21 December 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Americans have been led to believe that the supply of oil is nearly limitless and for the next half century we will have more than enough crude to meet the growing needs of the global economy. The Republican Party’s national platform touts the availability of untapped reserves in Alaska and along our shores while the party currently in charge (the Democrats) seems genuinely unconcerned with future supplies.

But, as we go about our lives, guzzling gas at amazing rates and taking its presence for granted, the rest of the world is concerned about the long-term prospects for oil as the world’s preeminent energy source. Along those lines, in early November the United Kingdom newspaper, the Guardian, dropped a bombshell, quoting two unnamed oil industry executives who said that the International Energy Agency was willingly overstating oil supplies.

The IEA has, in recent years, said that oil production will rise from its current level of 83 million barrels per day to 105 million barrels per day by 2030, a growth of 27 percent. The whistleblowers said that many within the IEA know that this is impossible and maintaining oil supplies at even 90 to 95 million barrels per day is not achievable. They noted that back in 2005 the IEA was openly saying that 120 million barrels per day by 2030 was realistic but has since then tempered those proclamations to 105 million, an indicator of considerable disagreement within the organization. The whistleblowers said that some key IEA personnel believe that the oil peak is upon us, signaling certain disaster for sustainable economic growth.

That news caught the attention of the rest of the world but went almost unmentioned by the mainstream media in North America. That may be because it wasn’t sexy enough amongst other timely issues like health care or global warming or it may have been the fact that the report painted the US in an unfavorable light. The IEA sources said that senior officials have downplayed the rate of decline in oil reserves while overplaying the potential for new reserves because the US government and Wall Street have exerted considerable pressure on the organization because they did not want a more truthful report to trigger a buying panic that would cause a sudden spike in gasoline prices in turn tempering our nation’s recovery from the Great Recession.

If that’s true – which it very much could be - it’s a very poor way by which to manage a nation: The long-term health of our economy has been abandoned for short-term benefit. That’s a poor economic model that sets the stage for considerable, almost unfathomable, struggles by Generations X and Y and today’s youth when they encounter this disaster unprepared.

Although the fears for an oil shortage may be old hat to the rest of the world (this is not the first time that the concept of Peak Oil has reared its head in a trusted international news outlet) it remains as an underreported, almost conspiratorial, theory in the States. Fortunately, more voices are speaking up on the issue in the US, including the smart money. One of the more trusted names in personal investing, Raymond James, has noted the impending oil shortage. The company’s director of energy research Marshall Adkins was recently quoted as saying that the peak occurred in 2008 and, sometime in the next decade, $6 to $8 gasoline will be the norm. Tom Petrie, vice-chairman of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, agrees, saying that we have already hit Peak Oil and we are in a terminal decline of supply at the same time demand is on the rise courtesy of China who, by 2030, will account for 43% of demand (It should be noted that China clearly understands the reality of the oil shortage. They are aggressively buying up reserves and foreign assets while at the same time developing new technologies).

We can only hope that in 2010 we see more news outlets covering the reality of oil’s future. Then and only then, after being educated on an issue of grave importance, will our elected officials and businessmen develop the sense of urgency necessary to quickly address our untapped reserves and develop alternative energy sources, ensuring the economic vibrancy of future generations of Americans.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The upcoming oil shortage: part two

From the 14 December 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Last week’s column focused on the global demand for oil and how the supply constraints of the precious substance brought about significant price volatility during the second half of the decade. I made the claim that high oil prices were just as responsible for the Great Recession as were the mass of foreclosures.

One would think that a problem of such a scale (and one that we had already experienced twice before during the 1970s) would have initiated some action on behalf of the powers-that-be in Washington DC and other government thrones the world over considering that the situation is bound to repeat itself sometime very soon, maybe in 2010 and definitely in 2011, as the world’s most-populous economies continue to grow.

But, alas, we live in a world led by short-term memory and short-term planning. Just as our government never enabled the free enterprise system to pursue new oil reserves following the oil crises of the 70s, our leaders (and even most citizens) have so easily forgotten that the pain at the pump in 2007 and 2008 caused significant financial hardship. It seems that the issue has taken a backseat amongst bigger issues of the moment both real (the stagnant job market) and perceived (global warming) as promoted by Congress and its followers. Subterfuges such as this focus (if not waste) our nation’s intellectual and financial resources – and citizenry’s thoughts and hopes - on things that may not need immediate attention. When the oil problem does resurface, that same leadership will do as they have with anything of importance and use a short-term fix destined for long-term failure, but one with immediate rewards (though small) that captivate the voters at a time most advantageous for the polls. That cycle repeats itself and that is why, since the 1800s, we’re always revisiting the same real crises every few years be it oil, health care, immigration, national security or education.

Had the issue been addressed before or when it came to a head we wouldn’t be treading into an all-out oil shortage that is destined to prolong the recession on American soil. If, when the economy was in good health and moving full steam ahead, the private sector was equipped, allowed and encouraged to invest in and develop new technologies that either minimized or negated the need for oil we would be further ahead than we are now and the future might no look so bleak.

But, an oversized federal government has stymied progress, be it through oppressive taxes and regulations, the enabling of the status quo in the automotive technologies or the provision to our children science-deficient secondary educations. Those are some of the reasons why you see the world’s sharpest young minds now being Indians and Chinese who come to the US to be further educated in the sciences and engineering in our very best universities, only to go back home to once-oppressive governments that now pursue and promote innovation and intelligence with the same vigor that ours used to.

Sure, we still have far and away the most innovative and advanced people and processes on the planet, but we seem to have hit a plateau in that regard at the same time that those other nations are trying to catch up to us. Therefore, they may be far more equipped and flexible than we to quickly roll out a plan to adjust to the oil shortage, ensuring the continued vibrancy of their economies.

But enough of what got us there and will get us there again. You may be wondering about the specifics of this shortage I speak of. Just how big is it? What will it mean to the world? That, dear reader, I will discuss in next week’s column. You will be aghast at the wool that has been pulled over our eyes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The upcoming oil shortage: part one

From the 07 December 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

In last week’s column it was discussed that the primary reason for the strength and depth of the Great Recession was the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It should be noted, though, that there would have been a recession regardless – though considerably smaller and less damaging – due to incredibly high oil prices.

Economic output, as measured in units and not revenues (which were actually higher because of heightened energy input costs), tanked at the end of 2007 and in the first nine months of 2008 because the cost to recover natural resources, convert them into materials and finished goods, and get them into consumers’ hands increased considerably, making for higher prices at grocery and department stores. The consumers could not or would not buy as many of those goods because their spending power decreased in that same period, the result of gasoline prices reaching – even exceeding - $4 per gallon in the United States.

This energy-driven economic crisis (dwarfed by the financial crisis) was a result of the laws of supply and demand. In the years that led up to that peak Americans consumed oil at unfathomable levels thanks to multi-car households outfitted with so-called “gas guzzlers”. As they did that, they continued to buy astronomical amounts of non-durable and disposable goods that could be made affordably in China and India where peoples’ burgeoning personal wealth – a result of the nearly endless production jobs – caused them to develop the consumptive tendencies of Americans. They bought goods. They bought cars. They used oil. This put a serious strain on oil supplies as the world’s largest economy and its two most-populous nations devoured oil produced from a system that was not made to satisfy such impressive needs. Consequently, high demand for a limited supply made for higher prices. After breaking the $100 per barrel barrier in February of 2008 oil made steady gains to just over $145 per barrel during the summer months.

Since then, oil prices have ridden a roller coaster. In September of that year, ‘round about the time the financial markets started their free-fall, prices fell below $100 per barrel for the first time in 7 months. At the end of 2008 and into February of 2009 oil traded in the $30 to $40 range, a direct result of the breakage of the aforementioned supply constraints: Demand (real or anticipated) decreased as a result of consumers and businesses the world over cutting back (somewhat drastically) on their energy use.

But, as 2009 went on prices rose, reflecting an up tick in demand. The world outside of the USA has begun a slow recovery and China, quickly becoming the force to reckon with in regard to international politics and trade, has seemed almost impervious to the global recession. Its air of invincibility has equated to a growth in GDP that is expected to finish above 7 percent in 2009 and 8.5 percent in 2010. India has been just as productive, with its growth estimated to top 6 percent this year and 7 percent next year. Because of this return to economic development globally, oil prices have risen to around $80 per barrel.

When America’s economy gets back on track and the 7 million recently unemployed become employed again – thus commuting our roadways and buying things – it will burden the oil supply chain as it did prior to the escalation of the recession. But, by then, which is some years down the road, supply will be further strained by the newfound demand of millions of new consumers around the globe.

In 2007 and 2008 it was evident that the oil markets were ill-prepared to satisfy the needs of the world and the world suffered for it. And, as we’ll see in next week’s column, little has been done to address that situation, foretelling an inability to maintain a productive and sustainable economic recovery at home and abroad.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mortgage woes and the economy

From the 30 November 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

There were a number of factors that contributed to the cause of the Great Recession and none were more significant than the initial round of foreclosures that began in earnest in 2006 and hit their peak in 2008. Those mortgage defaults occurred primarily in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida where people speculated on primary residences or vacation homes that were way out of their income bracket. A few years into their payments - upon discovering that adjustable-rate mortgages really weren’t in their best interest - they found themselves unable to hold up their end of the bargain, leaving the banks and financial institutions (that were foolish enough to issue and/or buy the incredibly risky loans) with nothing to show for it. Because of that, the financial markets collapsed.

Both parties – the homebuyers and the financiers – were at fault for the lunacy that brought our economy to a standstill. The unfortunate thing is many millions more Americans were affected by the housing gamble. The resulting financial tension and anxiety found in workplaces, state houses and households the nation over, something not seen in such magnitude since the 1930s, has decreased our country’s economic output and caused the job market to spiral out of control.

Those job losses are having a major impact on the progress of recovery and mortgages are, once again, taking a huge hit. Yet, this time, it’s not the homeowners with not-so-humble abodes worth five to ten times their annual income who are losing their homes; it’s those whose mortgages really did make sense and were legitimate investments on behalf of the buyer and the lending institution. It’s the hardworking and fiscally responsible individual who’s unable to pay the bills now, the victim of unfortunate circumstance induced by the personal and corporate greed of others.

This trend began slowly in early 2008 when the recession took off and is now, rather frighteningly, gaining steam. Across the United States, in locales previously unaffected, hundreds of thousands of families are losing their homes or very close to joining the ranks of those who have. Currently, 3.4 percent of all US households (almost 2 million homeowners) are four months or more overdue on their payments. That’s more than double the number of 1 year ago.

Realize, though, that last year’s statistic was made up mostly of the oversized mortgages out West. With those homes mostly out of the picture the new, and higher, statistic represents the run-of-the-mill mortgage. With underemployment and unemployment a combined 17.5 percent, the number of 120-day-plus delinquent homes will rise even more and early indicators show that: 12.4 percent of all households are one month past due, over 4 percentage points more than there were in the third quarter of 2008.

Based on those numbers, and following the trend set by the corrupted mortgages, the “good mortgages” that will reach foreclosure status could easily total - and even exceed - 7 million over the next 2 years considering that 2008’s foreclosure filings (during a slightly stronger economy) were in excess of 3 million.

One can legitimately assume that with no end in sight to the job market woes, this is a very real possibility. As more people become jobless and families go from two-income to one or no income, hard choices must be made on a routine basis. If a breadwinner must choose between feeding his family or paying the mortgage the kids will take precedence over the lender.

While those families worry about their future, and rightly so, those who remain unaffected should think about their future as well, for it’s all interrelated. The pending glut of foreclosures is setting-up the economy for a double-dip, a recession-within-a-recession, if you will. The defaults of 2006 to 2008 caused the financial markets to fail. The defaults of 2009 to 2011 will do the same. If timing holds true to the first round, Wall Street will be reeling quite badly come late 2010 or very early 2011, pushing it, the stock markets and, subsequently, our weakened economy off a cliff.

That disaster will be a repeat of the last four and a half months of 2008, except this one won’t be so easily fixed with our national resources already having been exercised. This will represent a valley – and a deep one at that - amongst many peaks and valleys that will become commonplace in our country’s very, very long road to economic recovery.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cuomo plays politics

From the 23 November 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

New Yorkers have long had a love affair with their Attorneys-General. Many of the men who have been the state’s chief legal officer have done great things while in office. With New York City being the financial capital of the world there has never been a lack of activities for them to put under the microscope. This ongoing level of excitement in the realm of public defense has consistently earned them the respect of the average New York resident who typically considers the Attorney-General to be the second most powerful elected official in the state, just behind the Governor.

That same citizen tends to look at the position as something above the political fray. After all, the Attorney-General is supposed to look out for the singular and the collective, the well-being of both the little guy and the state’s citizens as a whole. But, despite those populist trappings, many of the most revered of our attorneys-general have gone on to a higher office, using the position as means to further their careers in government. Martin Van Buren became the eighth President of the United States. Jacob Javitz became a 24-year US Senator. Most recently, Eliot Spitzer went from the attorney’s office directly to the Governor’s mansion.

The current Attorney-General, Andrew Cuomo, is of the breed of those three, a determined man with his eyes on the same office once and temporarily held by his predecessor. But, unlike the men before him – who typically worked independently of Albany’s political machine when in office – Cuomo recently performed his magic in an effort to, at once, appease the people (by tempering an “evil corporation”) and appease the legislature (by helping the state government bailout its worst investment ever).

Earlier this month, Cuomo launched a lawsuit against microchip maker Intel, citing unfair practices in its control over 80 percent of the microprocessor market. Never mind that Intel was operating within reason, using normal practices (like rebates) over the course of business while making a product that was low in price yet high in quality. It was a lawsuit eerily reminiscent of the federal anti-trust suit against Microsoft more than 10 years ago in which Microsoft was wrongly chided for controlling the market when, in reality, it was consumer demand that allowed Microsoft to rule: Microsoft made a product people wanted at a price they were willing to pay. Microsoft’s competitors held a smaller market share for the same reason that Intel’s competitors do. They sell inferior products that their customers don’t want.

With the Microsoft case setting a precedent that Intel felt it couldn’t overcome, the company saved itself billions in penalties by settling out of court with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to the tune of $1.2 billion.

That’s obviously the outcome that Cuomo wanted. He couldn't have cared less about the lawsuit and wanted to do everything within his power to help out AMD.

It’s the second time in the past year and a half that our state government has bent over backwards to help AMD. In early 2008, then-senator Joe Bruno (the same fellow who is a defendant in a well-deserved corruption trial) teamed with Governors Spitzer and Paterson to put the finishing touches on a $1.3 billion incentive package for the chipmaker to open a new plant in NY under the guise of “Globalfoundries”. The legislature and Empire State Development cited it as a huge win for NY. Somebody – most everybody, really – didn’t do their homework because it was, more appropriately, a huge gamble for NY.

AMD - whose products rate poorly against Intel’s - has a long track record of bad performance. In the fourth quarter of 2007, just before the economy fell apart, their quarterly losses were $1.772 billion, among the biggest of their 9 consecutive quarters of losses which continues to this day (losses were $128 million for the quarter ending September 30). Numerous reports indicate that AMD will put the settlement towards its $3.7 billion in debt. So, you see, the settlement was NY’s way of guaranteeing its investment.

For the time being, Cuomo’s early Christmas present for AMD will keep the company afloat. But his charity – stolen from the coffers of Intel – coupled with the charity of our legislature –stolen from the taxpayers – show no signs of long-term return. There will be, though, a return on investment for Cuomo himself: By placating the legislature and helping it save face he has gained some powerful friends who will help him on the campaign trail and in the Governor’s office. It reeks of the very collusion he claims to fight.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dobbs brought down by his opponents

Originally published at the website of the New American on 13 November 2009.

Dobbs brought down by his opponents
By Bob Confer

At press time it’s much too early to know the true reasons why, on November 11, Lou Dobbs unceremoniously left his post as a primetime anchor and analyst on CNN.

Speculation is running rampant, and many people believe that his exit was not of his doing. The common sentiment is that he was forced out by CNN management who were caving-in to the controversy created by his ongoing crusade against illegal immigration. Similarly, he may have decided to end his show to guarantee the safety of him and his family from real threats posed by his detractors.

Either way, it’s a huge victory for the internationalists and Washington’s power brokers who, no matter what side of the aisle they are on, are proponents of broken and open borders. Dobbs had represented the only voice in the television press who rightly addressed America’s failures in securing the border, past, present, and future. Now with him out of the way, they can continue, almost unabated, their drive to assimilate illegal immigrants into the American landscape while, at the same time and through the same methods, chipping away at America’s unique identity and assimilating our nation into the international landscape.

His well-meaning pursuits had left Dobbs a marked man. It was only one month ago that Dobbs’ wife was nearly struck by an assassin’s bullet while at home in rural New Jersey. The bullet missed Mrs. Dobbs by a mere 15 feet. Not surprisingly, mainstream media — like the New York Times — downplayed the incident and reported the attempted murder as a shot at the Dobbs house itself and said the bullet may have only been a stray from a hunter’s gun. Not coincidentally, that nearly deadly attack was preceded by months of threatening phone calls, which came to an end immediately after the gunshot. In a similar vein, a fire had been set on the Dobbs property during the summer.

On his radio show in the weeks that followed, Dobbs attributed the violence and vandalism to supporters of illegal immigration who have dehumanized the commentator. During his October 30 show, he observed, “Fringe ethnocentric groups have been calling for my head, figuratively.” It’s apparent that the miscreants took it quite literally.

If this was not the sole reason for Dobbs’ sudden retirement from 30 years of employment at CNN, it was definitely one of the contributing factors, which no doubt was joined by pressures exerted by the same organizations who may have incited the attacks on the Dobbs family.

First in line to assume responsibility for his departure was none other than Media Matters for America, the left-wing thinktank that prides itself on “comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media” (in other words, providing counterclaims to and nonfactual information against conservative values and practices). By 7:44 p.m. Eastern on November 11 (not even three-quarters of the way through the Lou Dobbs Show), Media Matters sent out a brief news release quoting its president as saying, "For too long, CNN provided Lou Dobbs with its stamp of approval as he pursued a dangerous, one-sided and all too often false conspiracy tinged crusade against immigrants. This is a happy day for all those who care about this nation of immigrants and believe in the power of media to elevate the political discourse."

The following day Media Matters issued a more detailed puff piece that began with this smear: “Since CNN's Lou Dobbs first began spreading false, racially charged conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth certificate in July of this year, Media Matters for America has published 299 research items, video/audio clips, column, and blog posts about his misinformation and hate speech.”

Media Matters, an organization that supposedly prides itself on truthfulness, inaccurately cited Dobbs as the propagator of what became known as the “Birther Movement”. While on CNN he never theorized that the President may not have been born in the United States. Instead, he only covered and reported on the various people and organizations that were pursuing the possible conspiracy. Even CNN’s president Jonathan Klein, who was often at odds with Dobbs, verified that Dobbs' coverage was "all about the phenomenon of doubters."

But that was only part of Media Matters message. Throughout the follow-up article, beyond just the hateful opening assault, they alleged that Dobbs is “racially-charged” and exudes “hate speech.” By doing so, Media Matters is guilty of inane hyperbole, crass manipulation, and the same narrow-mindedness they claim to battle.

Media Matters claimed that Dobbs lost his job because he discussed illegal immigration far too often (isn’t this a direct result of other news sources failing to cover this subject?), incited hate groups (aren’t hate groups guilty of threatening his family?), hosted “too many” conservatives (where is the uproar over CNN’s Situation Room hosting too many liberals?), and cited Mexico as an enemy (isn’t it they who have silently invaded our country?). The organization went so far as to marginalize one of Dobbs’ other crusades (and, just like illegal immigration, also a crusade of liberty-loving organizations like the John Birch Society), his attempt to shine light on the North American Union. Media Matters called his assessment a “wild conspiracy theory,” rather than addressing the reality of this threat on American sovereignty.

Media Matters chose to pat itself on the back for the collapse of the Lou Dobbs Show. The organization admitted it took a lead role in the Drop Dobbs Coalition ( and worked behind the scenes with major corporations to stop advertising during his television show. They also claimed success via ads that ran on opposing cable networks, calling for Dobbs to “be held accountable.” They also bragged of the nearly quarter million hits that their anti-Dobbs ads and videos received on a variety of websites.

That very same day, Media Matters’ cheers were joined by those of the hate group National Council of La Raza, which is known for promoting illegal immigration and amnesty while putting the Latino race above all others. Their press release predictably said they hoped “this resignation begins to undo the climate of intolerance fostered against the Latino community, restore journalistic integrity to the CNN brand, and bring civility and truth back to the immigration debate.” Those words are spun in such a way to identify as racists all who want our broken borders fixed or insist on bringing truth to the subject.

Ironically, the CNN brand will lose — not restore — its journalistic integrity through what was probably a forced resignation by Lou Dobbs. By succumbing to naysayers who may not agree with his legal and practical approach to the hot-button issue of illegal immigration, CNN is allowing only one side (the illegal and impractical side) of the argument to take over. That is a horrible situation not only for political discourse in America, but for the future sovereignty and safety of our people. Unchecked, illegal immigration and its horrible outcomes will persist until America reaches its breaking point.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Concerns for the H1N1 vaccine

From the 16 November 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Due to fears perpetuated by governments and news media the world over, people have been lining up in droves to be vaccinated against H1N1. This mass hysteria has created a demand for shots so vast that shortages of the vaccine have become the norm. In a recent briefing to the members of the House Appropriations Committee, Thomas Frieden, director of the Center for Disease Control, said there are only 32.3 million doses of the vaccine available for 159 million people who are of the highest risk to catch the swine flu. Basically, 4 out of every 5 of those who the government thinks should be vaccinated can’t be.

With supply and demand having become so imbalanced, especially for something deemed crucial to the national well-being, manufacturers are being driven by capitalism and pressed by public authorities to produce as much vaccine as they can in the shortest amount of time possible. That has led, internationally, – and could lead, nationally, – to the introduction of vaccines into the marketplace that have questionable, if not incredibly damaging, attributes.

One of the biggest concerns over mass vaccination campaigns is focused on the use of adjuvants. Adjuvants are additives to vaccines that heighten the body’s reaction to the vaccine, meaning less of the antigen can be used and, therefore, more doses can be created from available resources. Basically, the introduction of an adjuvant would allow large-scale production of the H1N1 vaccine that would double the traditional output and come closer to satisfying the current demand.

The World Health Organization strongly supports the use of adjuvants and most nations, including the Asian powers, the European Union and Canada, are administering shots which posses an adjuvant called squalene. Squalene is a naturally occurring organic compound that is commercially derived from shark oils.

Many scientists believe that not everyone can properly accept squalene and many peoples’ immune systems will attack the oil and, in turn, create an autoimmune disease. Numerous studies performed on lab rats have shown that squalene can lead to debilitating long-term illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis in which your body attacks its own tissues.

Squalene has long been in and out of the news. Many people who served in the military during Desert Shield/Desert Storm or have loved ones who did will recognize it as one of the probable causes of Gulf War Syndrome. Many people believe that the syndrome – which brings with it a wide range of symptoms from fatigue to memory problems to insulin resistance – was brought on by experimental Anthrax vaccines (with squalene as the adjuvant) that were administered to the armed forces in the Gulf War of the early 1990s. According to studies conducted by the Tulane Medical School more than 95% of GWS sufferers showed antibodies to squalene while veterans who were of good health exhibited no antibodies to the adjuvant. The study has since been criticized and marginalized by the Department of Defense but many scientists and the countless soldiers whose lives have been affected by GWS cite the Department’s findings in contrast to be a self-serving means to save its hierarchy and bureaucracy from the disgrace that comes with having potentially poisoned your own people.

Squalene was added to the Anthrax vaccine for the sake of convenience. It allowed the US military to quickly and, in their eyes, effectively deliver to the troops much-needed protection against the deadly biological agent. Many people fear that same mindset will be applied to the current influenza crisis and the United States government will join the international community in promoting squalene-spiked H1N1 shots.

At this time, the government has not allowed such shots to be distributed in the states because the H1N1 adjuvant is, unlike other adjuvants, not licensed in America. In a recent interview with PBS’s Newshour, Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program said the Food and Drug Administration could have issued an Emergency Use Authorization which would have side-stepped the licensing process. The FDA chose not to for the time being. But, there exists the very real possibility that it might in the coming weeks with the demand for the flu vaccine so great and urgent.

So, as it stands, Americans have the luxury of consuming the safest of the H1N1 vaccines (at least in the squalene department). Unlike other countries we have not gambled on the long-term health of our citizens. Ten or twenty years from now, given the scientific evidence holds true, the rest of the world will see an unusual increase in the cases of arthritis and diseases which mirror GWS. Our populace will be free of that anomaly given that the Obama Administration does not cave-in to anxiety and allow the use of the disabling additive.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The cost of cap and trade: part two

From the 09 November 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers
By Bob Confer

Opponents of cap and trade routinely call the legislation a “job killer.” When nondescript talking points like that get thrown around it’s impossible to make a case for the denial of the bill’s passage. One really needs to qualify and quantify such a statement. Once that is done, it’s very easy, almost too easy, to show how flawed the federal government’s newest idea for taxation and control truly is.

It doesn’t matter if you start at the low end or the high end of the spectrum when it comes to estimating the impact. In last week’s column I mentioned that the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost to households to be $175 per year in direct energy costs while the Heritage Foundation puts the value closer to $1,500. My company (an average small business employing some 130 people), for example, uses as much energy as 800 homes. Under the CBO’s numbers we’d be paying an extra $140,000 per year in energy costs (a 15 percent increase). Applying the Heritage Foundation’s calculations, we’d be paying an extra $1.2 million every year. Our annual electrical costs are “only” a million dollars now. This would not go unnoticed because neither number - the large or the small - is a pittance. They are significant in all respects.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Energy is our third-largest cost behind material and labor. The former would rise as well, at a rate of 50 percent or more, because all of the US-based companies that extract natural gas from the earth and transform it to plastic pellets will be saddled with the same odious taxes. When you the consumer buys any product that’s made of plastic – whether it’s one of our durable goods or another company’s disposable commodities – most of what you’re paying on the base cost is to cover the material itself.

Such an all-encompassing increase in expenses would make it extremely difficult if not impossible for Confer Plastics to compete in the marketplace and maintain its customer base. Product prices would rise by a factor of one-half. At that rate, we would lose customers and revenues and be forced to let-go our coworkers. We’re just one of thousands of US manufacturers, large and small and across multiple industries, that would be forced into such an uncomfortable situation. American manufacturing communities would become ghost towns.

When such a thought is broached, pro-cap and trade Congressmen and green activists offer a knee-jerk reaction. They usually say that such a line of thinking is nonsense because all manufacturers would have to increase the price of their goods at the same rate so we’d all be competing on the same level playing field.

That’s a misguided and backwoods way of looking at the modern business world. The cap and traders are living in the 1950s if they think manufacturing begins and ends in the United States. In a hypocritical fashion, those who say they’re looking out for the greater global good are patently oblivious to the fact that we’re living in a global economy. That said, if cap and trade were passed, the exodus of manufacturing jobs to Asia and Mexico would go into overdrive because none of those nations will be forcing their businesses to follow anything even remotely similar to our ridiculously-strict rules.

American companies already have a competitive disadvantage of 22 percent (before labor) versus competitors from our country’s 9 largest trading partners. So, it’s a no-brainer: We must overlook the altruistic pursuits of cap and trade and focus on the realistic outcome of the legislation. It would extend our nation’s jobless recovery from the current recession (which could take 15 years without cap and trade) by stifling development in the private sector, which, in conjunction with other government failures (the impending collapses of Social Security and Medicare) would force a Depression that will make this recession look like a walk in the park.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The cost of cap and trade: part one

From the 02 November Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Sitting near the top of the Left’s ambitious agenda is the tempering of alleged man-made global warming. The Democrat-controlled Congress and Obama Administration hope to achieve this goal through a variety of tactics which include green energy incentives, stricter environmental regulations and the absolutely ludicrous concept of cap and trade.

Simply put, cap and trade is a means of taxation and control in which the federal government, further exceeding its intended bounds, would put limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that manufacturers, energy producers and the like could put into the atmosphere and then charge them for anything over and above their individual caps.

This user’s fee for the atmosphere would add significantly to the cost of living, which, in turn, would severely decrease the quality of the human existence (the polar opposite of what cap and trade’s proponents trumpet as their ultimate goal). The tax will show up in every single thing we buy, for it will be applied to the energy we use to heat and power our homes or take ourselves to work and it will be affixed to the activity that produces the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products we utilize. Its impact will be staggering, without a doubt.

But, how bad will it be? No one seems to know for sure, but any way you slice it, it stinks.

On the low end of the scale, estimates were released by the Environmental Protection Agency just over a week ago that pegged the impact at no more than $100 per year in added energy costs to the typical household. That number is obviously too small and it should not be believed because of its bias. The EPA is only looking out for its own interests (its job security and power) by minimizing the estimation of the financial impact of the bill.

The Congressional Budget Office, which typically underestimates the financial burden of all things government, said back in June that cap and trade would cost the average household only $175 per year. Theirs was a flawed study, looking only at the costs to manage the program, ignoring the impact that energy restrictions would have on the greater economy and all it produces.

The Heritage Foundation, a Conservative think tank, has been saying since May that the program would cost American families some $1,500 per year in direct energy expenses alone. This large value doesn’t even include cap and trade’s costs hidden in any of the products they purchase.

The Heritage Foundation seems be quite close in its estimates for formerly-secret internal documents released by the Department of Treasury this September said it would cost American taxpayers $200 billion per year, or $1,761 per family. One must assume the Treasury would know best of its impact as it would be that agency that manages the revenues reaped by such a program.

Whether you’re talking about $100 or $1,761 (the latter being the most likely result), no family can afford cap and trade. Taxpaying Americans already pay more than their fair share for local, state, and federal government programs through income, sales, and property taxes, whether directly or indirectly in the value of the goods and services they purchase. In a recession where jobs are scarce and incomes have dropped, breadwinners will be unable to support themselves, their families and each other under this new, massive theft from our citizens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A bailout for the average investor

From the 26 October Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

It seems like every special interest group has received a bailout during the Great Recession. Bankers were awarded trillions to keep their enterprises afloat. Teachers and other government workers were able to keep their jobs through federal funding. Even senior citizens have been earmarked for a one-time cash payment that makes up for the lack of growth in Social Security disbursements.

All of those groups represent only a small portion of the many who have received bailouts. Sadly, one group, the largest and most important of them all – the average family – has been left out in the cold. John and Jane Doe haven’t been awarded extra spending money or a little financial security. Unlike those who have, they remain either unemployed or underemployed or fearful of their future earnings and expenses.

They need a bailout of their own. But, just like the others who have already received bailouts (more aptly called "handouts") from the tax coffers or the infinite fiat money supply, they don’t deserve to have other people’s money thrown at them. Rather, they should buck the trend and be bailed out by their own money. Such a self-funded bailout can be garnered through immediate access to funds that are rightfully theirs: Monies that are so close yet so far away in their 401(k) accounts.

Most folks who have a 401(k) won’t touch it for fear of being penalized. By law, if someone under the age of 59 and a half dips into a 401(k) it is considered early withdrawal and the individual must pay a 10 percent penalty (an excise tax, really) to the federal government on top of the income taxes that must be paid on the 401(k). That’s a huge hit, whether someone has $10,000 or a $100,000 in their account.

One can understand having to pay the income tax portion since it was a pre-tax investment extracted from their paychecks. One can almost see the logic behind the penalty; it’s a means to reinforce that 401(k) plans are long-term, retirement-focused plans and not short-term options. But, one can also see the penalty as being an odious government cash grab that - especially in times of need such as this recession – hurts the average person.

My proposal is this: The government should temporarily abandon, say for a one or two year period during this economic crisis, the 10 percent tax, allowing investors to take a one-time withdrawal without penalty. Think of the number of baby boomers who could have saved their nest eggs during the stock market collapse if this were the case. More importantly, think of the many households that up until a year ago were two-income households and are now single-income (or no-income) homes that could really use their 401(k) money now. Many in the financial sector would consider that to be a foolish use of money, but they really need to be empathetic. In this job-sucking recession those families don’t care about their income 30 years down the road, it’s now that matters most and they need the money to feed their kids and keep a roof over the heads.

Surprisingly, I haven’t heard this simple yet effective idea for getting cash into peoples’ hands broached by anyone in Washington or the pages of the national press. Therefore, I plan to turn this into a little experiment in active citizenship. I’ll share the concept with the powers-that-be and I’ll let you know how it is received. Hopefully, it’s accepted with open arms so you can have access to your money – when you need it most - without getting penalized for it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The US Dollar: a worthless piece of paper

The 08 October 2009 column of The New American website, originally appearing at:

By Bob Confer

Following the OPEC Summit in November of 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shook things up when he said the U.S. dollar was “a worthless piece of paper.” He had expressed concern over the dollar’s decreasing value and wondered aloud if the global marketplace should use another currency in the trading of oil. At the time, the world scoffed at the concept and looked at Ahmadinejad as a mad man.

How the times have changed! Ahmadinejad could almost be looked at as trendsetter and more of a genius than a mad man as other world leaders – some of the most powerful on the planet - have taken to his way of thinking. On October 6, a United Kingdom newspaper, The Independent issued a shocking report that said Gulf Arabs along with the leaders of China, Russia, Japan, and France, have been meeting in secret to develop a plan that would abandon the dollar as the unit of trade for oil. The article noted their plan to move to a mixed currency basket that would include, among others, the Chinese yuan and euro.

This suddenly mainstream belief that the dollar is worthless does have its merit. The world’s reserve currency has tumbled as of late, hitting this past week its lowest value in 14 months versus the value of the currencies of the United States’ largest trading partners. This decline follows a brief half-year period when it grew in strength, becoming a safe haven for domestic and foreign investors in the panic that followed the collapse of the financial markets in September and October of 2008. Prior to that, the dollar had been in a frighteningly steep decline — independent of the recession — in which wholesale prices grew by 6.7 percent in 2007, inflation’s greatest annual increase in 26 years.

The dollar has become so weak that many investors — at home and abroad — are abandoning it and heading to gold ,which reached all-time highs in recent days. On October 9 it ended the day at $1,056 an ounce, a record high that will no doubt be exceeded in the coming weeks.

The expansion of gold’s value is something one typically sees in periods of crisis, but we are supposedly not in a crisis — many nations and even the Federal Reserve have said that the world is climbing out of the recession. That means that people are now buying gold not out of fear but rather because it’s a safe bet against inflation. This situation has become so extreme that the oil fund conspirators have planned to add gold to their currency basket, something that would mark the first time since the abandonment of the last vestiges of the gold standard in 1971 that the precious metal will be used as a currency equivalent.

Gold’s ongoing rise indicates even rougher times ahead for the U.S. dollar. As investors sell-off their dollars and foreign borrowers pay off their debts far in advance, the global markets will be flooded with greenbacks that no one, other than Americans, will really have any use for. Because of high supply and low demand for it, the dollar will continue to devalue and become the least powerful of the currencies used by the world’s largest economies.

As that takes place in the global markets, the U.S. federal government, aided and abetted by the virtually untouchable and uncontrollable Federal Reserve, will demand the creation of more of our money — out of thin air — in an effort to address the irresponsible runaway spending that the Bush and Obama Administrations have instituted in their misguided endeavors to right our sinking economy. The current national debt is just under $12 trillion and the Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the federal deficit will be $1.4 trillion for fiscal year 2009. This constant addition to the already-overabundant supply of dollars will debase our currency because it won’t be backed by anything of value (which it really hasn’t been since the loss of the gold standard) because those who have been our biggest borrowers (like China) will borrow no more out of fear of getting no return — or, quite realistically, a loss — on their investment, meaning that every dollar added is, as Ahmadinejad put it, a worthless piece of paper.

This is inflation in practice, which is guaranteed to cause real pain for the average American. Higher money supply will raise the specter of growing wholesale prices, which, in coming years, will far exceed the pinch we felt in 2007. This will in turn create a lower standard of living for all who live in the United States.

Upon assessing this development, one cannot help but wonder if the dollar’s demise is being done in purposeful fashion. It’s not the dollar’s naysayers, the Chinas and Russias, who made it weak. No, it was the United States’ government itself. Even while knowing full well the impact of overspending and inflation, our leaders have pressed ahead in a manner that cheapens our dollar and our existence. Such decisions may be a deliberate move to weaken our nation, the most powerful in history, so it can be fully integrated into the less-prosperous and less-free economies and societies of the world.

The dollar has been made worthless by design. Hopefully, our great nation will not follow suit.

The Bills are all business

From the 12 October 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

As I was writing this column the Bills were only a few days removed from a devastating 38-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, exemplifying how moribund the Buffalo franchise has become. As one would expect, the fans of a 1-3 team that has been outscored 123 to 61 on the season were calling for heads to roll.

All of their venting, complaining, and criticism will do no good. The Bills will continue to be the Bills that we have come to accept as the norm. There’s a reason that they haven’t been competitive enough to produce a winning season in 10 years. It’s not because they share the division with the New England Patriots. It’s not the mystical Buffalo curse. It’s capitalism.

Team owner Ralph Wilson is an old-school capitalist, meaning that profitably and shareholder value (and not touchy-feely pursuits) are paramount. So, what he sees year in and year out no doubt has him pleased. While we might see dismal football on the field, Wilson sees a good game in the books with a strong balance sheet and a healthy profit and loss statement. According to, in 1999 the team’s revenue was $102 million. In 2008, it reached $206 million, doubling in only a decade. Operating income was just as healthy over that span: despite being nearly equal in 1999 and 2008 at around $12 million, in 6 of those 10 years the income ranged from $29 million to $35 million.

Such financial success doesn’t necessarily equate to success on the field, nor should it. To someone like Ralph Wilson wins and losses don’t mean as much as they might to the fans or the team because his company – his life’s work, his greatest gamble, and his greatest success - is producing as well as it has been financially. There’s really no reason for Wilson and staff to mess with what’s working for them. The status quo on the field can be maintained because it’s making money and lots of it.

It costs money to replace coaches, institute new systems, and bring in the pricey role players that a winning team needs. Would those investments really equate to a better bottom line for the franchise? No, because from where would the revenue growth come? Surely not the fans. That’s because they are already there and as rabid as ever: Bills attire is still selling at a good clip and tickets are being purchased at record rates (for the first time in its 50-year history the Bills have had back-to-back years of 55,000 season tickets sold). That’s almost unbelievable because the team is 61-87 since the start of the 2000 season and we’re in the worst recession since the Great Depression. If those two factors won’t turn people away, nothing will. It’s apparent that no matter how good or bad the team is or how little money the fans have they will continue to worship the franchise.

And that’s probably how Wilson sees the world. He knows he also an almost captive audience, one that hasn’t abandoned the underperforming teams like those in other NFL cities (like Detroit) have. He’s making money, so why change anything? If he’s fearful of losing fans it’s easier and more cost effective to inject a little marketing into the mix than it is to make significant changes to the way of doing things. The salesmen in the Bills front office have done this quite well this century, feasting on the team’s rich history and the fans’ unmatched histrionics. Only in Buffalo, under such slick advertising efforts, could Dick Jauron return for a fourth season and people somehow pile into the Stadium in droves.

Because of that approach to corporate profitability and not team productivity, the Bills will remain pitiful for quite a while and, at this rate, they will be known as a punch-line not for their Super Bowl losses but rather for their transformation into the second coming of the Buccaneers of the 1970s and 80s.

It’s not that Ralph Wilson is evil, he’s just doing his job and he’s doing it well. Realize that capitalism is a two-way street. You, the fan, have, quite strangely, rewarded and enabled the team’s poor performance and Wilson has been more than willing to accept your hard-earned dollars for that. So, until you stop going to these poorly-played games or Ralph Wilson and his heirs stray from their fiscal and corporate conservatism, it will continue to be business as usual at One Bills Drive. And, it’s business that keeps it that way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The death of Niagara's woods

From the 05 October 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Older readers of this column will remember the once abundant American chestnut. This magnificent tree dominated the Eastern landscape with quick-growing specimens that quickly and routinely exceeded reach 100 feet in height. Once World War II ended the chestnut became a thing of the past. By then, more than 3 billion of the trees (25 percent of the Appalachian forest) had succumbed to a blight inadvertently brought to North America from Asia. Now, the tree is extremely rare, only a select few with hardy genes can be found in areas off the beaten path. Those chestnuts almost never reach 50 feet in height and are always short-lived.

Similarly, baby boomers and some of their very oldest offspring will remember how the impressive American elm used to dot the countryside and line city streets. It was a long-lived tree (it could healthily exceed 150 years of age) with thick trunks and wide canopies. Following the demise of the chestnut it, too, had an invasive agent attack it. Dutch Elm Disease, a fungal infection spread by an Asian beetle, ravaged the elm population over the second half of the twentieth century. It didn’t fully wipe out the elms as it did with the chestnuts but it left behind a significantly-smaller population of elms that could reach only a fraction of the age and size that they once did. For all intents and purposes, the elm is basically dead as we knew it.

A lot of folks look back with fondness on chestnuts and elms. Whether someone was a man of the earth who farmed or hunted alongside these once-great trees or was a child who spent many a summer hour climbing or swinging from one of them, they gave us many great memories and also some great economic benefit: The chestnut was one of the best hardwoods for furniture and home construction and the wood of the elm had fantastic strength.

The devastation of our woodlots and forests at the hands of foreign invaders is almost never-ending. It seems that once one species of tree sees its demise another begins to face its greatest threat. Now is no different. Two types of trees which are very abundant on the Niagara Frontier – ashes and beeches – will disappear very soon.

As it stands now, the ash remains unmolested in our area except for the sudden appearance of some beetles in the southwest corner of our state earlier this year. But, that’s not the case in the upper-Midwest. There, 40 million trees have already died at the jaws of the emerald ash borer, another Asian pest that first appeared in the US in 2002. These beetles bore through inner bark of ashes, essentially girdling and ultimately killing the trees. Nearly 8 billion ash trees are at risk of being exterminated. Not only will this have a detrimental impact on our environment, but it will also harm our economy: $25 billion of ash is harvested annually in the United States. There is no known way to control the borer. Its eastward movement can only be slowed down by firewood and timber quarantines (as we’ve seen in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties). It’s pretty much guaranteed that the beetles will demolish our forests. It’s that unstoppable of a pest.

One pestilence that’s well under way is that faced by our beeches. Everyone is familiar with these trees, they of the smooth grey/silver bark (a perfect target for carvings of initials and love), the spiky nuts, and the dead leaves that stay on the tree all winter long. They have fallen victim to beech bark disease, a two-stage ailment where a small insect known as a scale infiltrates the bark and is then followed by a deadly fungus. The bark cracks and falls off and then the malnourished tree topples over. This disease has really put a stranglehold on the area since the turn of the century. Take a look at any woodlot or town park in Niagara or Orleans County. If they are anything like our family farm in Gasport every beech tree is dead or showing symptoms of infection. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago they were healthy and vibrant.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to save the ashes and beeches. They will go the way of the chestnuts and elms, whether it’s now or 5 years down the road. In the meantime, get out in the woods and appreciate their beauty while you can. Take some pictures or harvest the timber before it’s too late to do either. The trees are dying and they will become memories of the past, further changing the look, economic viability and natural balance of the Niagara Frontier.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Economic recovery will take time

From the 28 September 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Virtually the same cast of characters who missed the boat with their assessments of the economy prior to the meltdown of September 2008 is now guilty of issuing a lie just as damaging: Their belief that the recession is over and recovery is well on its way. The power brokers in Washington and Wall Street and the economists in academia and government cannot be trusted in this assessment for they either willingly chose to not believe in or were oblivious to the recession when it actually began in 2007. They were not in the position to properly assess the economy last year, so, obviously, one cannot believe what they have to say now.

There is nothing that indicates a speedy recovery is on the horizon. Earlier this year, President Obama’s advisers predicted that unemployment would top out at 9 percent. We’ve already gone beyond that (9.7 percent at last report) and plant closures and downsizings across multiple industries persist. It’s not a stretch to say that unemployment during and following this recession will peak at 14 percent. Even the President and crew have changed their tune to say it will hit “somewhere” in the double digits early next year. Nebulous comments like that speak volumes about the unknown into which we are venturing.

As that withering continues on the employment rolls the economy will continue to retract. With less consumers available, and those who do remain becoming even more conservative with their discretionary income (not knowing if it may exist in the coming months), the hope for a recovery is delayed. Who can the entrepreneurial machine sell to if the marketplace it knew just 3 years ago is more than 10% smaller by participants and over 35% smaller by purchasing desire?

Compounding this mess is the fact that it’s easier for an economy to shed jobs than it is to replenish them. In 2006 unemployment was near what some call a “full employment” level of 4 percent. To get back to that and add more than 10 million jobs will take years, maybe even two decades. Recent history shows that it took seven years starting in the mid-1990s to go from just over 6.7 percent unemployment to around 4.2 percent in 2001. That 2.5 percentage-point recovery is minute in comparison to the 10 percentage-point hole that our economy must overcome when this recession begins its recovery. And, this time around, things are different. As a general rule, factories and retail establishments were not permanently shuttered in the 1990 and 2001 recessions; jobs were cast aside temporarily and business went on almost as usual. But, in just the past two years alone, hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed for good, their assets, investments, and customer base gone. That said, to reclaim the jobs lost by this recession, businesses – and therefore jobs - will have to be created from scratch. In order such virgin growth to occur, a healthy economy – one that promotes the free-market - is a must.

Stifling that free market and slowing the development and redevelopment of jobs is the very thing that created the recession, the ongoing and unprecedented expansion of our government. It was the altruism of our government that forced lenders against their will to provide loans and mortgages to the unqualified who in the end proved unable to pay their debts, leaving every lender and ultimately every American on the hook. To correct the monster it created, the federal government has spent trillions on bailouts and oversight, creating a national debt that now totals $11.8 trillion and is expected to reach $21 trillion by 2019. To satisfy that debt, the government will have to greatly tax those who have jobs or create money out of thin air, sending the American dollar on a path towards worthlessness.

Unfortunately, too many people in the ranks of the unemployed or the underemployed are oblivious to this and are getting their hopes up based on false promises being delivered by the charlatans who oversee or analyze our nation. President Obama, the Federal Reserve, and economists everywhere would have them believe that their job woes will be over soon, that sometime in the very near future they will once again be collecting a paycheck and supporting their families. Sadly, the truth does not match such a dream. Rather, it is a living nightmare, and like most nightmares, this one started peacefully and has become something which one cannot escape until the sleeper has awakened. And this sleeping giant – our economy – has a long way to go before it does.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The great lie about economic recovery

Originally published at the New American at:

The Great Lie About Economic Recovery
By Bob Confer

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent beginning of the demise of the U.S .and global economies. That unofficial start to the end of economic normalcy as we once knew it represents one of the greatest mistruths of the past quarter-century, ranking right up there with the Bush administration's initial reasons for the invasion of Iraq.

Congress, the Bush Administration, Wall Street, government-sponsored economists, and the news media are all guilty of having painted the economy to be something it wasn’t. The meltdown of the economy didn’t begin with Lehman’s demise in September of 2008. It began many months earlier, starting slowly in late-2006 before gaining strength over the second half of 2007 and all of 2008. The signs were plentiful, from record numbers of foreclosures and bankruptcies to negative personal savings rates to explosive commodity and resources costs to a good many small businesses saying something just wasn’t right.

Yet, the political and bureaucratic leaders in Washington and the thought leaders in the press turned a purposeful and ignorant blind eye and deaf ear to the concerns, focusing instead on the promotion of the economic status quo or on other issues of supposed importance (such as the relentless attention paid to the presidential campaign). By not acknowledging or reporting on the economy’s growing disequilibrium, they failed everyone by not living up to the faith and trust placed in them, and as a result, almost no one — not workers nor retirees nor business owners nor financiers — had been prepared for the horrible free-fall that occurred from September on. Millions of misled Americans were not given a heads-up and the chance to batten down the hatches and adjust their ways of spending, saving, and investing before it was much too late.

It’s that same cast of characters — with the Obama administration the only subtle change — which is guilty of a lie just as damaging, one that has been repeated a great deal of late, their belief that the recession is over and recovery is just around the corner. They cannot be trusted in this assessment for they either willingly chose to not believe in or were oblivious to the recession when it actually began in 2007. They were not in the position to properly assess the economy last year, so, obviously, one cannot believe what they have to say now.

Nor, should we believe them. There is almost nothing that indicates that a speedy recovery is on the horizon. Earlier this year, President Obama’s advisers predicted that unemployment would top out at 9 percent. We’ve already gone beyond that (9.7 percent at last report) and plant closures and downsizings across multiple industries persist. It’s not a stretch to say that unemployment during and following this recession will peak at 14 percent. Even the President and crew have changed their tune to say it will peak “somewhere” in the double digits early next year. Comments like that, which are nebulous at best, speak volumes about the unknown into which we are venturing.

As the bloodletting continues on the employment rolls so will the lack of growth in the overall economy. With less and less consumers available, and those who do remain employed ecoming even more conservative with their discretionary income (not knowing if it may exist in the coming months), the hope for a recovery is delayed because of the well-directed emphasis placed on consumer spending in our world. The marketplace the entrepreneurial machine knew just three years ago is more than 10 percent smaller by participants and over 35 percent smaller by purchasing desire.

Compounding this mess is the fact that it’s easier for an economy to shed jobs than it is to replenish them. In 2006, unemployment was very near what some call a “full employment” level of four percent. To get back to that and add more than 10 million jobs will take years, maybe even two decades or longer. Recent history shows that it took seven years starting in the mid-1990s to go from just over 6.7 percent unemployment to around 4.2 percent in 2001. That 2.5 percentage-point recovery is minute in comparison to the 10 percentage-point hole that our economy must overcome when this recession begins its recovery. And, this time around, things are so very different. As a general rule, factories and retail establishments were not permanently shuttered in the 1990 recession; jobs were cast aside temporarily and business went on almost as usual. But, in just the past two years alone, hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed for good, their assets, investments, and customer base gone. To reclaim the 10 million jobs lost by this recession, businesses — and therefore jobs — will have to be created from scratch. In order for such virgin growth to occur, a healthy economy — one that promotes the free-market — is a must.

Stifling the free market and slowing the development and redevelopment of jobs even more is the very thing that created the recession, the ongoing and unprecedented expansion of our federal government. It was the altruism of our government that forced lenders against their will to provide loans and mortgages to the unqualified who, in the end, proved unable to pay their debts, leaving every lender and ultimately every American on the hook. To correct the monster it created, the federal government has spent trillions on bailouts and new oversight programs, creating a national debt that now totals $11.8 trillion and is expected to reach $21 trillion by 2019. To satisfy that debt, the government will have to greatly tax those fortunate enough to have a job, or the Federal Reserve must create money out of thin air, sending the American dollar on a path towards worthlessness.

Unfortunately, too many people in the ranks of the unemployed or the underemployed are oblivious to this, and they are getting their hopes up based on false promises being delivered by the charlatans who oversee or analyze our nation. President Obama, the Federal Reserve, and economists everywhere would have them believe that their job woes will be over soon, that sometime in the very near future they will once again be collecting a paycheck and supporting their families. Sadly, the truth does not match such a dream. Rather, it is a living nightmare, and like most nightmares, this one started peacefully and has become something that one cannot escape until the sleeper has awakened. And this sleeping giant — our economy — has a long way to go before it awakens.

The only way to temper this nightmare is with a dream, a real one, the American Dream, the wondrous free market system that brought our economy to its previously prosperous heights. The government that has misled us into — and kept us in — this recession needs to move out of the way. Then and only then can a real and substantial recovery occur.

Sex ed's youth movement

From the 21 September 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

If you ever get the chance to visit the State Capitol, some of the more enlightening sights you’ll encounter won’t be in the legislative chambers. It’s what happens on the streets, outside those tame rooms, that will get your attention. That’s where the lobbyists and demonstrators roam and they run the gamut from the silly to the disgusting.

It was on a 2008 trip to Albany that I saw some lobbyists who did disgust me. Two women oversaw a peaceful demonstration of banners asking for the passage of the Healthy Teens Act. This bill has been floating around Albany where it has been passed by the Assembly for five years running while waiting for Senate approval (which may come in 2010 with the Democrats now in control). The activists’ display was done calmly and professionally yet it still reeked of offense. The individuals they had holding the signage were not adults; they were a half-dozen girls aged maybe 11 or 12.

Now, most anytime a kid gets involved in politics you can’t help but feel proud to be an American. But, there are times like this when you can’t help but feel sorry for them and wonder who put them through it and what kind of parents they have, because there are certain things that young kids really shouldn’t be fighting for.

The Healthy Kids Act is one of them. It sounds like a well-meaning, maybe harmless, bill. It’s not. The only health that it focuses on is sexual health. It would mandate that all public schools in New York force comprehensive sexual education on all of their students, focusing on the entire gamut of sexuality from biology to abstinence to safe sexual activity. The state would pay grants to the schools to cover the costs of the education that would be offered to kids as young as 11 years of age.

As if that’s not outrageous enough, the United Nations recently introduced its own set of sexual education guidelines that it would like to see introduced the world over. It suggests that educators teach 5 to 8 year olds about the basics of reproduction (and masturbation) and offer more detailed information to 9 to 12 year olds. Students in the early teen years would then receive very explicit training about sexuality including abortion and post-abortion care, something the UN recognizes as a basic human right.

The State’s and the UN’s focus – as well as the world’s general acceptance of the UN’s draft - on the sexuality of such young children is very disconcerting. Whether they are 5 year olds or tweens, they should not be told what sex is and how to have it. That’s much too young of an age to indoctrinate them on every nuance of sexuality, even in this era of declining values. They do not possess the maturity, morality or sense to process the information given to them. They’re kids! By showing them the ins and outs of sex, their young, inquisitive minds will no doubt be more apt to experiment at that young age, further driving down the average age at which people have their first sexual experience (15 years of age).

For reasons such as that, it has been proven time and time again that school-based sex ed does not work. The only sex ed that can work and has a better rate of success is that which sufficed for years, the home-based kind. That’s because sexuality is a moral issue as much as it is a biological issue and such pithy discussions should never be left in the hands of the government. A government cannot be allowed to force morality on its people. Doing so takes away the freedom of mind and the human experience. Schools should exist only for the hard facts of math, science, writing and technology. All things focusing on character should be left where it belongs, at home. As uncomfortable as the conversations may be for all involved, it should be up to one’s parents to teach teens – and not children - about the birds and the bees, addressing morality and maturity specific to their upbringing, development, and, in some cases, faith.

Parents should never trust someone else (especially the government) to raise their kids. The schools are there only to educate them, not to turn transform into the adults who their parents might hope they become. If the folks in Albany or the UN headquarters had their way, the trappings of adulthood (like sexual activity) would come at an even younger age and solely at the government’s discretion. Let us hope that common sense prevails, putting an end to this movement and keeping this debauchery out of our elementary schools.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Healthcare reform and abortions

From the 14 September Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

A great deal of criticism directed at healthcare reform has focused on end of life issues. Many people have decried the potential for rationing and abandonment as well as the “death panel” conspiracy. With all the efforts placed in protecting the right to life of geriatrics, little attention has been paid to the other end of the spectrum, the very beginning of life. Most people are unaware that the reform movement will fund abortions, taking away precious lives before they’ve ever had a chance to experience what we’ve all taken for granted.

The President has been coy on this issue, choosing words that mask his true intent. On August 19 President Obama participated in a national teleconference of some 140,000 religious leaders and heads of faith-based organizations during which the subject of abortions came up. The White House’s domestic policy advisor Melody Barnes responded with, "The president has said that it's long-standing policy that federal funds won't be used for abortion coverage." A few days later during his weekly address Obama added the following: “When it comes to the current ban on using tax dollars for abortions, nothing will change under reform.”

Those statements are very misleading. They did not say that abortions wouldn’t be a part of the plan; they noted only their funding. Obama is a proponent of abortion so it’s a given that it’s a part of the reform plan (the catchphrase “reproductive services” shows up numerous times in the 1,000-page bill). His voting record in Illinois and Washington, DC shows unyielding support for abortion and he’s the man who during his presidential campaign announced his support of the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that would recognize abortion as a fundamental right. And, don’t forget that on the campaign trail Obama said this horrific and telling line, “Look, I've got two daughters. 9 years old and 6 years old… if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."

But, back to his August comments. You must follow the money trail to see that any and all abortions under the public option will ultimately be funded by taxpayer dollars. The public health insurance option, as with all other insurances, must be purchased by interested parties. It’s not free. At the time of purchase it will be private dollars (the customers’) going towards the insurance, so the President is correct in his assessment, but only from a politically-savvy and somewhat temporary standpoint. If you take it one step further, you will find that many of those dollars (if not most) will be made available to that family through public subsidies allowing low-income families to buy insurance. So, while it may be private dollars at the time of purchase, those private dollars may be composed of a healthy portion of federal tax dollars. Whether that means taxes are directly paying for abortions or not, it’s all in the interpretation and that’s the card that Obama, a skilled political craftsman, is playing.

Helping him along in this endeavor is an amendment that was introduced by Rep. Lois Capps. Her plan is to set up a two-account system by which all health insurance policies (public or private) will have to track premiums and federal subsidies independently, and, through that, abortions can be funded by the premium-only account. Critics have pointed out that this is a bookkeeping gimmick and that all insurance funds are fungible and it is impossible to segregate money this way.

Capps’ amendment is a political move that deflects responsibility and allows elected officials to evade it. Similarly, the body of the healthcare reform bill does the same. It authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to decide whether or not “reproductive services” will be allowed under any plan she approves. So, the elected officials – who are supposed to represent us – cannot vote on abortion and instead leave it in the hands of pro-choicer Kathleen Sebelius. This allows any politician who would have voted in favor of abortion to escape the ire of their constituents who would be in disagreement in the event Sebelius allows abortion coverage.

This assault on the right to life is not unexpected. Not only does the Obama Administration have a track record that supports it, but they carry with them a sort of arrogance about the issue. Last year Candidate Obama had famously told Pastor Rick Warren that decisions about abortion were above his pay grade. Fast forward to the August 19 teleconference when Obama had done an about face and said, “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”

You have to admit, after a comment like that, it’s a little frightening to realize that our government thinks it’s at par with the Almighty.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Schumer's so-called immigration reform

From the 07 September 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Despite some advances in the battle to reclaim our Southern border we are still unprepared to stop the continued flow of aliens into our country. Over the past two years some 1 million people have slipped past our border protection. At the same time the federal government has done nothing to address the nearly 20 million illegal immigrants who have already claimed the USA as their home.

Seeing this as a chance to further his agenda, Senator Charles Schumer has taken up this cause and, as would be expected from the far left, his plans are anything but real immigration reform and would ultimately hurt America. He gave some insight into his soon-to-be-introduced bill during a June speech describing a seven-step plan that mirrors many of the ideals that brought about comprehensive reform’s well-deserved demise in 2006.

Amnesty is tops among Schumer’s goals. Rather than forcing them from our borders, millions of illegal inhabitants will be granted - with no questions asked and no existing laws enforced - the fast track to citizenship. These criminals (that’s what every one of the illegal immigrants are) who broke into our nation and stole from us billions of dollars in health care and education, will be granted the same rights and privileges that we have rightly possessed or earned. It’s disheartening to realize that once the smoke clears nearly 7% of our population will have become Americans through entirely corrupt means. A number that significant does not speak well about the quality of character of a nation and its people.

Senator Schumer’s plan includes another slight of the American citizen: He hopes to attract more workers to our nation by legal means which include more H-1B visas. The current cap for H-1B’s is 85,000 per year, but exclusions exist for academia which push their actual annual issuance to approximately 120,000. Following the example of the failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, Schumer might increase the cap to 115,000 while adding a market adjustment that allows for a 20% growth in the cap if it was reached in the previous year. Due to the value and popularity of American jobs to foreigners, it is guaranteed that the adjustment will kick in every year, pushing the number of visas to more than a quarter million in 5 years.

Considering the state of our economy, granting amnesty and adding visas would be dangerous. The unemployment rate stands at 9.7% with more than 6.3 million Americans unemployed. It will take many years – at least a decade - to get close to what many economists see as the full employment rate of 4%. Despite such economic trauma, Schumer sees value in giving employment not to those American families who need a breadwinner but rather to outsiders. This will only prolong the recession by making our citizens unemployable through no fault of their own.

It should be noted that a bill so large in scale would not be complete were it not outfitted with an unrelated attack on our rights. Schumer has said that legal workers can only be verified through “a biometric-based employer verification system.” This all-out assault on our privacy would demand that all Americans – working or not – submit to tracking criteria that uses fingerprinting and iris scans to verify their citizenship. This is something that Big Government advocates have been clamoring for (as a part of a larger national identification policy) and the immigration issue would make it a convenient backdoor for them to institute it.

Schumer hopes to have these supposed reforms enacted by the end of the year and plans to officially launch his bill very soon. As for timing, he could not be more cunning. The bill’s primary opponents are stretched thin from fighting health care reform and, as working middle class families who don’t have the time to devote to policy debate that lobbyists, elected officials and their staff have, it would be difficult if not impossible for them to maintain a similar effort against immigration reform. Related to that, the health care fight has left them and their ideals unfairly marginalized by the mainstream media and, therefore, in the eyes of Schumer and his peers, poorly-equipped to address any issue proposed by the Obama Administration or Congress which, in comparison to the 2006 attempt at reform, has more in its ranks who are open to amnesty and the like.

That said, it looks like Schumer’s bill has a good chance of becoming a reality in the months ahead, marking a huge victory for those who delight in the ongoing destruction of America’s identity, security and economy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Solar activity and climate change

From the 31 August 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

If you participated in the CB radio craze of the 1970s and 1980s you’ll remember that quite often communication become difficult if not impossible. There were numerous times when the skip (signals from afar) would roll in and CB operators from all over the US (and world, for that matter) would drown out your conversation with someone in the next town over. Nowadays, it’s a very rare day when you’ll be able to hear anyone beyond the line of sight.

If you’re a stargazer or someone who just likes to step outside at night for a breath of fresh air or a smoke, you’ll remember seeing plenty of aurora in years past, with some pretty impressive displays of the northern lights in the late-80’s and early-90’s. You may have noticed that those displays have been almost nonexistent in recent years. Those gaudy shows still occur in the polar region, but we here in the mid-latitudes have not been so fortunate.

These two declines in activity – one on the airwaves, the other in the air – are directly related to one another and tell us something about the state of the sun. Solar activity, which can typically be tracked in an 11-year pattern of highs and lows, determines a number of things which include the amount of solar radiation and space weather of all types (flares, ejections, etc.) that reach the Earth. The cycle’s peak and therefore the sun’s overall activity is made evident by sunspots, dark spots of magnetic activity on the sun’s surface.

We are currently amidst a deep low in the solar cycle, accounting for the decrease in skip and aurora, and a total lack of sunspots. According to, the sun is setting modern-day records for inactivity, with the current stretch of days without a sunspot at 47 and 700 days of no spots whatsoever since 2004. This period, known as the solar minimum, is far longer than most. The average length of a minimum is 485 days.

This minimum looks like it will go on for a very long time based on a July study issued by William Livingston and Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory. They showed that the magnetic field strength of sunspots has been weakening at a fast-paced linear rate (one that they have verified since a similar study 5 years earlier), which may mean that sunspots will be nonexistent by 2015, putting the sun into a historic low similar to the Maunder Minimum of 1645 to 1715 when the sun’s face was basically free of blemishes.

So what does this mean to the average person who’s not a radio enthusiast or amateur astronomer? It could mean a great deal and it just might disprove the global warming alarmists. If this is a repeat of the Maunder event the world will plunge into a prolonged period of cold. The Maunder Minimum happened during the coldest part of the Little Ice Age and many scientists don’t see this as a coincidental occurrence. They believe that the lack of solar activity caused the decline in global temperatures which, based on careful study, showed the Earth cooled by more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit during the minimum. This effect was considerably-more pronounced in North America and Europe where the winters became longer and more frigid, native Americans formed collectives to beat the associated food shortages, glaciers advanced, and Iceland became sealed off by ice in 1695.

To put this cooling into perspective, the Earth has warmed by just under 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1901. Some cite the warming trend as the direct result of Mankind’s assault on the atmosphere with greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, studies show that across the twentieth century’s multiple solar cycles the magnetic energy leaving the sun more than doubled while ultraviolet radiation grew by 15 percent. This is the exact opposite of what happened during the Maunder Minimum: In the 1900s we had an overactive sun which in turn led to warmer Earth.

It was not an overactive population, as some would say, that caused global warming. It’s foolish – even vain – to believe that Man is powerful enough to change the temperature of our planet. But, the sun, on the other hand, the very glue that keeps our solar system together and gives us the light and heat so crucial to life, is more than powerful enough to change temperatures when it’s in one of its moods. And it’s just getting into one of those moods, a very tranquil one at that. That cool demeanor will create a cool Earth and, once that happens, you can bet we’ll all be begging for global warming.