Monday, June 28, 2010

Government is not God

From the 28 June 2010 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)

By Bob Confer

Over the course of British Petroleum’s oil leak many people came down hard on President Obama, wondering when the federal government might save the day. As politely as they could, he and his Administration consistently provided the right response, letting everyone know that the disaster was of BP’s doing and only BP had the resources and know-how to stop the leak.

It was ironic, if not entertaining, that a President known for thinking the federal government has implausibly vast power admitted, though discretely, that there is a limit to its abilities. That should be a lesson to all: Government is not God. It was never intended, nor is it equipped, to handle every disaster – natural or man-made – that comes our way.

Similarly, it should not be called upon (prayed to, if you will) to provide for the day-to-day accommodations of life like an income, a home, and health care. Those niceties should not be given to anyone; rather, they should be achieved and acquired by everyone on their own. The federal government, in its proper purpose, is supposed to provide the environment in which people can strive for those things. It is supposed to recognize and ensure the rights to life, liberty and property and provide the oversight to make sure one’s collection of rights are not infringed by others, whether the others are fellow citizens, corporations, or the government itself.

It should be noted that the latter of the three entities is not held to the same standards as the other two. Government has broken the covenant known as the Constitution and it allows itself to intrude on the rights of its citizenry by stealing from taxpayers in order to fund its adopted role of God, one in which it physically provides the income, food, and home to those who can’t or, in most cases, won’t.

One could argue that some forms of public assistance have their place, temporarily serving those who are facing a bump in the road, like the loss of a job. They just may, but in most cases such programs don’t work as intended for there are more "abusers" than there are "users". In many cases, assistance isn’t temporary in nature. Instead, it remains quite permanent, a lifestyle that becomes accepted as the norm by the recipients and their offspring. It becomes a religion, in which their God, Uncle Sam, puts a roof over their heads and food on their table with no exertion of their own energy. If they can survive just by asking their Great One, why would they have it any other way?

What’s interesting about this is the fact that those who actually worship a god would never commit such an egregious act against him. Christians, for example, never demand that their God fills their bellies or give them homes. No, their relationship is one of give and take. They ask - not demand - that He provide the means necessary to achieve what they want in life, while at the same time knowing they have a responsibility to be moral and hard-working. They know that the rewards they seek are earned through countless personal sacrifices and are never given, and if they are given to them without the application of faith and work they know there may be a little bit of evil involved.

And there is an evil that exists with the worship of Government. There is nothing moral about a lifetime of public assistance. It is sinful - no matter if the reader’s morality is based in religion or reason - to have an individual provide for another through forced benevolence. The government is also more Devil than God as an outcome of its actions. The dependency it creates amongst its worshippers strips them of their humanity and devolves their existence, minimizing the potential greatness that every human being possesses at birth. They lack the ability to reason, the most basic understanding of self-preservation, and the sense of community that all come from self-reliance, individualism and the pursuit of life’s blessings.

We need to put an end to this religion of government and come to grips with the fact that it is not a god, nor should we ever expect to be. Thinking that it is one is ruining our society and constricting the further development and betterment of Mankind.

Capitalism is saving the economy

From the 21 June 2010 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)

By Bob Confer

My coworkers and I hit a rough spot when the recession really gained steam in September of 2008. For a 6-month period we worked only 3 or 4 days a week because the demand for our and our customer’s products had tanked as consumers tightened their purse strings.

Since then, we’ve been doing quite well at the factory. Our workforce is the largest it’s ever been, we’ve expanded on 3 occasions and many of our molding machines are booked solid for months. We’re really busy.

We’re not alone. Many manufacturers, from local neighborhood machine shops to some of the largest factories in North America, are seeing the same. I’ve personally heard and read many stories of American plants seeing noticeable gains in orders and output. More than just anecdotal in nature, the statistics show this growth, too, as indicated in recent reports from the Institute for Supply Management, the Department of Commerce and regional branches of the Federal Reserve.

The Obama Administration and Congress have been taking credit for manufacturing’s rebound, relentlessly tossing out the predictable "the stimulus is working" comments. Unfortunately, the press and a good percentage of our populace blindly fall lock-step into believing such prattle.

Manufacturing’s return has absolutely nothing to do with the various stimuli and other government intrusions into the marketplace and everything to do with good old-fashioned capitalism.

I see that happening at Confer Plastics. Had we and our clients sat still, this newfound activity never would have happened. Some of our long-held product lines are still down versus their 2006 highs because consumers are still unwilling or unable to make certain discretionary purchases. But, more than making up for their losses, our growth can be attributed to 2 factors that are capitalist in nature: One, the acquisition of new customers for whom we make a variety of new custom-made goods and, two, existing customers investing in new assets and expanding their product offerings. I’ve had other manufacturers make similar claims about their clientele, even going so far as to say that new projects that seemed dead for a handful of years are finally being given the green light to proceed.

Those companies are making such investments not because the economy is healthy, but because it is down and shows no signs of an immediate return to the way things used to be. They haven’t the faith in Washington’s economic policy or the rest of the world’s financial health. They know that we’re in a down economy for the long haul (kind of like a new norm) and they understand that if they want to increase their revenues (reaching either their old levels or new, higher ones) instead of just getting by at markedly-decreased revenues and profits, they’ll have to claim market share or create new markets. Therefore, they are doing the entrepreneurial thing and spending so they can at once beat-up on their competitors and win new customers. It’s risky, yes, but if they didn’t do it they’d be positioning themselves for either long-term mediocrity or failure.

They are realizing the potential of such projects only with the help of the producers, be it their in-house operations or those of custom manufacturers like our company. New products, especially those that are supposed to be much different than the offerings of the competition, require ingenuity in design, production and final assembly. In most cases, that requires expenditures in intellect and development by the manufacturer and, quite often, investment in new assets (like machinery) and new personnel.

So, as you see, it’s capitalism - investment, assumption of risk, and the resultant technological and operational ingenuity - that’s driving growth in manufacturing and therefore our economy. As one business tries to do outdo the other, each one ends up putting money towards marketing, new assets and personnel, which requires manufacturers to do the same, which then increases final output for the client and the manufacturer and also has a measurable impact on the businesses that serve those market transactions (shippers, box and skid makers and materials and tool suppliers). The myriad workers impacted by that massive business cycle then have money to spend (and they do) and, as a result, economic activity presses forward.

Capitalism, the fervor to beat the competition and make your company and your life better, is a good thing – a great thing – and it’s what’s best for what ails our economy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Education must have local control

From the 14 June 2010 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Imagine if we made a national policy whereby every college had to meet a set of guidelines that determined what their students should know upon graduation. Every college in the country would have to alter its educational model to ensure that that its output was consistent with that of all other institutions of higher learning and that their graduates should be able to pass a standardized testing system.

If we did something so utterly foolish we would destine our country for irreparable harm. What makes our university system so effective is the ability of each college to tailor its programs to the abilities of its professors, the availability of assets and the quality of its students, collectively and individually. That approach to education would be gone. The goals set by some bureaucratic agency would force a dumbing-down of our nation, with the universities that currently produce some of our brightest minds (like MIT, Harvard, and UB) turning out students whose qualifications are no different than those of what today rank among the lowest-quality colleges.

What’s so befuddling when pondering collegiate consistency is this: If it’s so stupid of an idea, then why do we apply it to public schools?

Our schools used to be as interesting and productive as our colleges. Educators were allowed to educate and had the freedom to do so as they, their school boards and their pupils’ parents saw fit. They were able to apply their knowledge of their specialty areas to methods of teaching that worked best with the students who lived in the school district. Because of that, for a good portion of the 20th Century America’s secondary schools dominated global rankings. Students were challenged to be the best they could be and they were.

But, things are different today. Our schools are lacking in freedom. The people who best know the subjects and students (the teachers), the people who have their finger on the pulse of the community (the school boards), and the people who understand what’s best for their kids (the parents) are all left out of the equation. They are restricted to the point of enslavement by a higher power. They must do as they are told and cannot do as they should. Elected officials and powerful agencies in state capitols and Washington, DC, dictate what must be taught and how it should be taught. Education has been standardized by individuals who truly don’t know the subjects or how to work with children.

This movement away from what works snowballed with the creation of the Department of Education in 1979 by the Carter Administration. Over the years, the DOE – with help from Congress - has become adventurous in its application of universalization (No Child Left Behind, for example), much of which is tied to the threat/reward of funding to the states and, therefore, the local districts. Due to greed and the misguided belief that the federal government can do wrong, the states have willingly jumped on the standardization bandwagon.

You see this in spades in New York where, in just the last decade, participation in Regents Exams (a system that is poor by design) went from being voluntary to compulsory. Historically, it was used as a means to separate the brightest students from the “average” students, supposedly nourishing their brains and setting the bar for their college careers. Thanks to the desegregation of the students based on abilities, along with teaching to the test (made weaker to accommodate lower performance), standardized curricula have led to standardized (read “sub-standard”) students.

All across the US, students are being forced to master tests and not subjects. Because of that approach, American students now rank 21st in science and 25th in math. It’s a huge step down from where we used to be. Actually, it’s an embarrassment.

Things will only get worse. Earlier this month, 48 states announced the development of the Common Core State Standards that they plan to institute in hopes of making a homogenous national education system. Many power-brokers are excited about this. But, if you really care about education and the future of America, you should get sick to your stomach over the CCST. It will only advance the ongoing erosion of our schools.

The best way – really the only way – to improve ours schools is to get back to local control: Let the teachers teach. Then, the students will learn.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The joy of owning a business

From the 07 June 2010 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Owning a business comes with a lot of risk. Just a few of the things that keep entrepreneurs up at night are: Will we survive the Recession? Will I have to layoff anyone and if so who? What can we do to retain and attract new customers? How much debt should we carry? How much credit should we extend to our clients? How do we beat our competition?

Those questions are the tip of the iceberg. There are many more to be asked and most remain unanswered for incredible lengths of time, gnawing at your gut and prematurely graying your hair.

Many people who don’t have an ownership role know this and ask, “Why would someone ever want to own a company?”

Well, despite all of the stresses and stressors that come with the responsibility, I wouldn’t want to live my life any other way. There’s something to be said about the philosophical and emotional rewards that come with being an active participant in our great free-market system, something that is made possible and best achieved in this great country of ours. The joys are a plenty, but they can all be boiled down to the American Dream being played out before my eyes.

It was the Dream of my Grandfather to start his own company and I take pride in extending to future generations what he and my dad begat. A creative man who toiled in the labs and factories of a fledgling plastics industry in the 1950s and 1960s, Grandfather wanted to break the bounds of conformity and have the freedom to develop new technologies and applications. So, he literally bet the farm on his endeavor and he and my dad started the company in 1973. In the years since, their American Dream has been realized, the company providing a means to think and act creatively and freely, manufacturing goods while providing a living for 170 families.

It’s rewarding to see those coworkers achieve their own American Dreams. Many of them work hard and save wisely, affording them the chance to, depending on what stage they are at in the lives, savor their personal pursuits and interests, buy their cars and homes, raise a family, help put their kids through college and tend to their grandchildren. Working diligently, they live an old fashioned American life, reaping the benefits of their efforts while not having everything handed to them by the government. It’s an awesome feeling to know that we’re a productive bunch of workers who live comfortably while actually making things, a true rarity in today’s service-and-government-heavy economy.

And it’s those things that we make that further our client’s version of the American Dream. It’s such a great feeling to think that someone came to us with something that was no more than an idea that we transformed into an honest-to-goodness object, like kayaks being enjoyed by a vacationing family or docks being used by armed forces to protect waterways the world over. Everywhere you look there may be something we designed, molded, assembled, and shipped. There’s a serious “wow factor” that comes with that, just as there is with thinking about how that product helped our client achieve his Dream while he, too, is employing people and helping them to achieve theirs…just as we are to our suppliers and vendors who are realizing their Dreams, too.

Owning a business comes with its heartaches (emotional and even physical), that’s for sure. But, above all, it can be exciting, exhilarating and totally rewarding. You end most days knowing you and your team accomplished something special. Nothing this side of getting married and having kids is as fulfilling as making a go at it and experiencing those constant victories – both large and small – that come with working with others to make your products or deliver your services.

If running your own company is something that’s always crossed your mind, do it…you won’t regret it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Gun rights should know no borders

From the 31 May 2010 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)

By Bob Confer

Last year the U.S. Senate voted to defeat a promising gun rights provision. Introduced by Senator John Thune, it would have granted national reciprocity for concealed-carry permits, requiring all states that allow concealed firearms to honor those permits of other states. A majority of the senators — 58 in total — voted in favor of the amendment. Another 39 did not and the bill saw defeat as this tally put the measure 2 votes short of the 60 required for passage by Senate rules.

The 39 "no" votes got a lot of help from an organization called the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, which, prior to the vote, claimed, "…(recognizing concealed-carry permits) would threaten the safety of our police officers, by making it far more difficult for them to separate law-abiding gun owners from common criminals."

That statement, in one form or another, is a misguided talking point commonly used by gun-control advocates. They fail to see that it recognizes only a distinct minority of our population (the police) who are granted special privilege to carry guns while the average citizen cannot. That selectivity begs the question: why should their safety be any more important than that of every one of us; shouldn’t the average citizen also be empowered to deal with the common criminal in issues of self-defense? Unfortunately, in many states, we are not. Taking away our guns has, ironically, granted a special privilege to lawbreakers as well. The predators have the distinct advantage of being armed while their prey is not.

Granting pistol-permit reciprocity could easily be deemed a necessity because, unfortunately, evil can be found everywhere in our country, and we are a very mobile people who, not of our own deliberate doing, have the potential to find ourselves in some unpleasant situations during our travels for business or pleasure. Typically, the vacationer, the truck driver, and the businessman are all unfamiliar with the far-flung cities to which they travel. One wrong turn or innocent stroll into a crime-ridden locale could easily put them into harm’s way. Under such circumstances, Thune’s amendment would have given these travelers much-needed peace of mind while enhancing their ability to exercise their natural right to self-defense.

Our Founding Fathers, even back in the 1700s, knew that tempering of this right could occur, so they added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, ensuring that the loss of certain rights would never occur. Among them was the Second Amendment, which says: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Some of the senators who voted against the Thune’s concept said it broke another amendment, the Tenth, which noted that powers not delegated to the United States belong to the states themselves. It was quite the turning of tables, because those who evoked the Tenth Amendment in this case are typically the officials who defy it through the unabated expansion of the federal government.

While mentioning the Tenth Amendment, the anti-gun crowd failed to look further into the Constitution. In application, the Fourteenth Amendment has required that the states recognize the Bill of Rights within their realm of governance, meaning that the Thune Amendment would have had legs because it negates the overbearing rule of any state that has a concealed-carry permitting process because such a process infringes on one’s Second Amendment rights.

Despite the Fourteenth Amendment's passage in 1868, the Second Amendment has yet to be incorporated into the Fourteenth because the Supreme Court has declined to hear any cases that would do so. The Thune Amendment’s passage would have finally forced the court’s hand in this matter and, based on past rulings, the right to carry would have to be recognized as a universal right.

Unfortunately, it never got far enough to be tested. But, what happened with the vote does give those who believe in the right to protect themselves and their families some hope for the future. A bill that was so close to fruition (2 votes short) deserves another look next year after the House and Senate are cleaned out this November. That said, gun rights activists need to keep national reciprocity on their radar and push hard for its passage. Only then will we be able to claim the right to freely — and safely — move about the United States of America.