Thursday, December 29, 2011

The chains of inflation

By Bob Confer

We have a federal government that has a spending problem and because of that it has a revenue problem, too. So what is a government to do? Congress could openly raise taxes, but doing so would hurt them come election time. So would cutting benefits. Anyway you put it, a spendthrift would be a marked man as would his pennywise foil.

The only option left for them is to do those tasks secretly. There would be no more clandestine way to do that than to manipulate the statistics that govern our public policy. That could happen with a little gimmick called the Chained Consumer Price Index. It has been proposed as a new way to calculate inflation and it really gained traction over the last six months as the dueling Congress looked for ways to address the deficit and debt in the long term.

Under the Chained CPI the standard CPI would be cast aside. In the current method, the cost of a fixed basket of goods and services is tracked over time and that growth in value represents the inflation rate. The Chained CPI would take that simple, straightforward calculation and turn it on its head, making it subjective and something of a fantasy. In the new method, the federal economists would adjust the basket for assumed changes in buying behavior; no longer would it be designated collection of items. In their eyes, if a shopper won’t buy a beef roast because it went up X dollars, he would probably buy a replacement meat, like pork chops. So, the Chained CPI would adjust for the modified basket (as theoretical as it may be) and track the price of the chops, noting its price variance (up or down) versus the roast that used to be in its place.

Since there’s a good chance that the modified basket will collectively feature lower-priced replacements, the Chained CPI will produce an inflation rate that is lower than today’s CPI. On average, it would cut the accepted inflation rate by a third of a percentage point per year. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is. Consider that inflation has been pegged to be 3.4 percent over the past 12 months. So, were the Chained methodology in play, it would bring that number down to 3.1 percent.

That small change would yield big results for a Congress afraid to do almost anything. It’s been said that over the first decade alone Chained CPI would shrink the deficit by $300 billion, through a combination of $100 billion in new tax revenues and $200 billion in spending cuts. That’s because the inflation rate affects a little bit of everything in the federal budget since it is used to determine both the revenue side and the cost side of things.

The new revenues would be achieved by sticking it to those who pay income taxes. Since wages will, in many cases, rise at a rate greater than what will be a much smaller inflation rate, more people will jump into higher tax brackets – more quickly, too - since those brackets are continually adjusted for inflation. At the same time, personal tax loopholes will grow at an equally smaller rate, preventing people from deducting higher dollar amounts that would have tracked the CPI now in place. We’re not talking peanuts, either: According to federal studies, over the first 10 years the tax burden for a low-income family would be 15% higher under the Chained CPI than it would be through the current CPI.

Significant cost savings would be gleaned from those who rely on the government for a retirement income. Social Security beneficiaries count on their benefits growing at a rate in step with inflation. In recent years the calculated rate of inflation has not been high enough to warrant a cost-of-living adjustment and seniors have been really feeling it. Imagine that pain for the long haul. In 2012, the adjustment will be 3.6 percent, but under Chained CPI it would be 3.3 percent. Following that trend, someone who starts collecting Social Security in the first year of Chained CPI will see $560 less per year after 10 years, and almost $1,000 less per year after 20 years.

The weight of Chained CPI will bring a good many people down. It’s an unscientific manner to calculate one of our economy’s most important statistics and an easy way for Washington to earn and save money, without making the hard, important decisions they should.

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


This column originally ran in the 02 January 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On 911, Upstate mythology and payroll taxes

By Bob Confer

Some random musings this week…

Congresswoman Kathy Hochul’s ALERT ACT has been welcomed with open arms by many people in her district, including my friend Scott Leffler who addressed it in his column last week. He supports the Act in entirety. I, on the other hand, can’t do the same.

I agree with the usefulness of the portion of her bill that demands cell phone service providers send a return text saying that texting 911 is not an option for anyone who tries to contact dispatch through that method. But, I wholeheartedly disagree with her plan to update 911 call centers so they can receive and transmit text messages. In my opinion, doing so will be deadly for either the patient or the responding officer depending on the reason for the emergency contact.

How can I say this politely? Americans as a rule are functionally illiterate. Have you ever tried to decipher a text that your friend has sent you? Better yet, have you ever read a text from a teenager? The language shortcuts and general disdain for proper English make most text messages incomprehensible.

Now, imagine being at the dispatch desk, trying to figure out those messages. You’ll receive and respond to the initial message. Then you’ll have to inquire about various details in separate messages. What has happened? How many people are hurt? Is there a threat? Are other people in imminent danger? So on and so forth. Think about how long it will take the dispatcher to compose outgoing messages then translate the incoming messages. Think of how long it will take the distressed to respond and give details; that is, if her nerves aren’t shot and she can somehow have a steady typing hand.

Call me old-fashioned but vocal communication is the only way to go. A dispatch center can quickly and fluidly glean accurate and appropriate information, while at the same time adequately prepare emergency personnel for what’s ahead. Texting affords none of the above. Lives will be lost by texting; you can count on it. Delays will cost patients their lives while unsuspecting lone officers might come into a situation more dangerous than alluded to in a text.


I’ve always been dismissive of the idea that we should cut free New York City and make Upstate New York the 51st state. The general sentiment feeding that fantasy was this mythology that Downstate somehow took all of Upstate’s money. That’s contrary to reality as was proved in a report issued by the Rockefeller Institute of Government last week. They found that the 48 Upstate counties (excluding the Capital Region) paid 24 percent of the state's revenues and received 35 percent of state dollars back. Upstate would have lost up to $9.3 billion if its share of revenues matched its share of funding. You can see the report at

But, that doesn’t mean Downstate is perfect. In my opinion, the policies created by their legislators are responsible for a great deal of the economic malaise in Upstate. First and foremost is their approach to Medicaid funding. It’s extremely difficult for Upstate people to pay for Medicaid out of their property taxes. That approach doesn’t carry the same effect in the NYC region. High rent is almost looked at as a necessary evil in the world’s most vibrant metro area, an assumed cost of doing business/living.

But still, that doesn’t mean we should cut off our nose to spite our face. New York City is important to our fiscal well-being. If you value our roads, schools, and state lands Upstate, know we really can’t survive without New York City.


The Democrats must think we have short memories. Maybe most of us do.

They’ve been raising a stink the past month-plus over the manufactured threat that the Republicans will bring an end to the Social Security payroll tax cut. Where was this care for our pocketbooks exactly one year ago? Then, the President and Democratic Congress allowed the expiration of the Making Work Pay tax credit that helped buoy consumer spending in 2009 and 2010 as the economy crawled out of the recession. Most American workers benefited by $400 per year because of it. Alas, that credit was allowed to sunset, just as the Democrats intended when they designed it.

That makes the current hubbub so disingenuous to me.

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


This column originally ran in the 26 December 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, December 15, 2011

For the love of the game

By Bob Confer

In my younger years I was, like any red-blooded American, an avid professional sports fan. I tried not to miss the baseball and football highlight shows, Monday Night Football, and my annual pilgrimage to Pittsburgh to catch my beloved Chicago Cubs while they were in town.

But, when I hit 30 years of age, things changed dramatically. Just like a switch, my love for the pros turned right off. Now do I rarely watch any football or baseball highlights. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I watched a football game from start to finish. As a matter of fact, I can’t even name the starting rotation for the Cubs.

You see, as I aged I grew disgusted by pro sports. I was driven away by the greed, egos and outlandish salaries, and maddened by the marketing that somehow makes everyone believe pro spots are the most important thing in the world and worth every exorbitant penny. From those criteria, numerous disdainful questions have racked my brain. Why can people name their team’s starting line-up but not their elected officials? Why do fathers abandon their sons and daughters on Sundays? Why should taxpayers feel obligated to pay for the stadiums of billion dollar leagues? What human being is worth a quarter of a billion dollars, just to hit a stupid ball?

Even though my admiration of pro sports died, my appreciation for sport itself did not. I still value the thrill of competition, the drama of a good match-up, and the diversion from daily stress that spectator sports present. Instead of finding that joy in the big leagues, I find it in a setting that I had become accustomed to in the early-1990s: College campuses.

These are not just any campus. Most Division I programs (especially when it comes to football and basketball) are no better than the pros. They emphasize athletics over academics while many of their athletes play only for a chance to reap big rewards from the NFL and NBA, leagues that use DI as some sort of minor league system and, somehow, get away with it!

Instead, I get my athletic fix from Division III programs. In DIII, the emphasis is on academics over athletics. There are no sports scholarships. The athletes are talented but they understand that they have almost no chance of playing professional sports, knowing that guys like the Buffalo Bills’ Fred Jackson are anomalies. In DIII, they play for the love of the game. That’s it.

It’s that pristine brand of competition – free of the trappings of avarice – that make DIII sports so refreshing. Where else can you find men and women playing a game at a high level with only the sports’ basal tenets in mind? They pursue victory with vigor, aided by the bond of teamwork and guided by their own ethic and determination, driven for personal betterment on the field and in the mind. That emotion and desire among the players - and also the fans - in DIII is unparalleled in all of sports.

The best sporting events I’ve ever witnessed have, far and away, been in DIII football stadiums and ice arenas. I’ve seen many a tight game and marveled at countless exciting plays. And to think, they were playing for free and my ticket cost me only $5.

You have plenty of chances to take part in these events in Western New York. It’s been said, depending on who you ask, that we’re either a football town or a hockey town. Either way, the games await. DIII football can be had at Brockport, Alfred University and Buffalo State. DIII hockey - which has a rabid fan base (me among them) - can be found at Brockport, Buffalo State, Fredonia, and Geneseo.

If you’ve never savored a DIII game, make it a point to do so. You won’t regret it and you, too, might even change your outlook on athletics for the better and turn your allegiance from the pros to players who understand the real value of sport.

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


This column originally ran in the 19 December 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, December 8, 2011

An alternative to war

By Bob Confer

Last week I was the guest on Don Griffin’s “Second Opinion” on KJSL in St. Louis. The topic of discussion was a 2009 column I wrote about a part of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal. These are contracts that allow American citizens abroad to defend themselves from a defined threat, or grant them permission to retaliate against – and even take the possession or life of – the same. My column had addressed granting Letters to seafarers so they could protect their craft and personnel from the modern day pirates off the Horn of Africa.

Don had me on his show to further expand on that concept; he wisely wondered if maybe this little-known and little-used rule could be applied to ground efforts as well, as a sort of alternative to war. It certainly can and our nation would be better off if we had used it. But we didn’t.

In October of 2001, just a few weeks after we were attacked on our soil, Congressman Ron Paul penned two bills that would have authorized the government to issue Letters to US citizens, giving them permission to hunt down and capture or kill the terrorists who planned the 9/11 attacks and/or were planning others. Nearly all of his peers at the Capitol looked at the bills with udder disdain and the legislation went nowhere.

10 years after the fact, there are probably scores of Congressmen who quietly admit they wish they had sided with the doctor. That’s because the War on Terror has proven to be an impractical war. Our enemy isn’t a nation. It isn’t an organized army. It is, instead, a splintered collection of extremists located throughout the world, operating in small cells located in places ranging from the obscure to the populous. It has been extremely difficult to properly to track and battle such forces using standard military tactics (strong in numbers and equipment), yet our armed forces have had numerous victories, both large and small. All of them, though, have come with a huge cost in life and dollar. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed the lives of more than 6,000 American military personnel. Those same wars have consumed more than $1.19 trillion.

The War on Terror is actually something more fit for the recipients of Letters of Marque and Reprisal. Legal mercenaries, small in numbers, but highly-trained and effective, would have been able to operate under the radar and at their own discretion. As a result, the lives lost would not have numbered in the thousands. Rather, it would only have been in the dozens.

The monetary cost would be relatively miniscule as well. When Letters were granted in volume (by the US prior to and during the War of 1812 and by the Confederacy in the War Between the States), they featured bounties or rewards for the captured or killed. The same would have been applied to the likes of bin Laden and his fellow dregs of humanity. Instead of spending trillions (with a “t”) on the destruction of terror sects, the government would only have needed to invest millions (with an “m”) on financial motivators for those seeking the glory of fulfilled retaliation. Letters of Marque and Reprisal are unique in that regard, relying on the free markets to achieve what war typically would.

Most people have never heard of the Letters, or realized that they could be applied to privatization of threat neutralization. Others know of them but don’t care for their utilization, either considering them a Constitutional antiquity or something far too risky. Those of the latter mindset often think of Blackwater. That private company, favored by the Bush Administration, committed many atrocities in Iraq, including the murder of innocents. But, Blackwater was not commissioned by the Letters and was unconstitutionally used by the Executive Branch as an instrument of war. Actual Letters come with a collection of rules and restrictions, a means of control to ensure the contractors operate in the best interests of our nation.

It’s never too late to use Letters. A good application still exists for them in Iraq. Although the war may be identified as finished, thousands of our troops will remain there to aid and protect Americans conducting nation-building activities, ranging from construction to social work. Why should they have to? Letters would extend the privilege of protection to private Americans and their companies, granting them the power to retaliate and defend against terror attacks.

That privilege should be recognized now and it should have been in October of 2001.

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


This column originally ran in the 12 December 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A tax cap with no teeth

By Bob Confer

Earlier this year, the tax cap was instituted by the state legislature at the behest of Governor Cuomo as a means to curtail the ongoing decline of New York State by limiting the growth of property taxes which are already 79 percent higher than the national average.

Although the basic concept itself was not perfect – after just 5 years of 2 percent hikes your taxes will be more than 8 percent higher – it was advertised as being better than the alternative: This century it has not been uncommon for municipalities and school districts to drive up their levies by more than 5 percent per year. Case in point, during a three-year period ending in 2007 my total property taxes (local, county, school) grew by a combined 17 percent.

But, as taxpayers like me who are pained by these growing levies have found out recently, there’s a huge difference between the original intent of the law and the reality of what it became. The tax cap is really nothing of the sort, a law saddled with loopholes that permit tax growth far in excess of the 2 percent mark.

First and foremost among these flaws is the ability of governing bodies (such as town and village boards) to create a local law applicable to the budget year that would allow them to exceed the cap. To do so, they need only hold a public hearing followed by approval of 60 percent of the board. School districts, too, can pass higher budgets given that, unlike the towns, their residents elect to do so with a vote of at least 60 percent.

It’s too bad that rule of public approval applied to schools wasn’t required of the other taxing jurisdictions, because many boards across the state have been using the loophole. Last week the office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli provided me some numbers about how many taxing entities (specifically cities, villages, towns, counties, fire districts and libraries) have informed him of their plans regarding the cap. So far, 40 percent have submitted their plans and of those 1,125 bodies, 217 of them – or 19 percent – have expressed their intent to override the cap.

The cap’s weaknesses further confound local taxpayers with an exclusion for pensions; their growth is allowed to exceed 2 percent. Unlike private retirement investments such as IRAs or 401(k)s, public pensions have guaranteed outcomes in New York. So, when the economy falters, taxpayers have to make retirees “whole” by picking up the slack for the low or negative rates of returns on the investments that back state pension funds. DiNapoli said municipalities will have to increase their pension contribution rates from 16 percent of payroll to a tad under 19 percent (that’s a growth of 16 percent!). For police officers, the payment will go from 22 percent to 26 percent of payroll. So, in most cases, it’s guaranteed that the theoretical 2 percent cap will be exceeded by pensions alone.

The greatest problem with the tax cap, though, doesn’t occur in our neighborhoods. Albany is the root of all evil in this state. The state legislature and executive branch can’t force unconscionable mandates upon taxing jurisdictions and expect them to stay within budget, especially when the state has done little to nothing to reform the requirements of said mandates. If Cuomo and Friends were serious about stemming the loss of New York’s economic lifeblood they would introduce any of hundreds of suggested reforms to these programs, the worst being Medicaid, for which the counties are on the hook for nearly $10 billion annually.

Albany, too, should cap its spending (Google my 2008 column: “Taking the tax cap to the top”) because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Every government entity - our towns, schools, agencies and capitols - should cap (preferably decrease) their spending…just like we have to in our businesses and families if we expect to stay in business or not lose our homes to foreclosure.

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


This column originally ran in the 05 December 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wage Theft Act: more paperwork for NY businesses

By Bob Confer

Business owners and managers like to spend their time doing productive things that make them, their company, their coworkers, and their clients better. A business and all it affects are never made better by tasks that have absolutely no positive economic benefit; time and money spent on such endeavors can never be recouped and the positive actions that could have been done in their place are either delayed or suspended entirely. That, in a nutshell, is what makes meaningless government regulations so utterly frustrating.

A good many New York businessmen and women are unaware that one of these headaches, something called the Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA), will require their undivided attention come January. This law went into effect in April of this year and, going forward, requires employers to provide detailed pay notices to their employees during January of every year and/or within 7 days of a wage adjustment (raise).

The pay notification process isn’t very simple. A document must be provided to the worker that specifically indicates the employer’s name, phone number and mailing address, the employee’s pay rate, the basis of pay (hourly, salary, etc), allowances, and payday. The workers must sign-off, acknowledging their receipt and understanding of the information provided. One signed copy of the document is given to the employee while another copy is held by the employer for 6 years.

Due to the confidential nature of the primary issue being discussed (pay rate), the notification, in most cases, cannot be done collectively. Human resources or another manager will have to take the individual from his or her working duties (and have a reliever assume that person’s role for the interim) and to a private room to go over the details and gain the signature.

For each worker that task could take up to 10 minutes. Now, imagine the hassle that WTPA creates for a company the size of Confer Plastics (200 employees). The HR manager will have to spend 33.3 hours – more than three-quarters of a standard workweek – just conducting the one-on-ones. Look at a company the size of Delphi (1,500 workers). The manager, or a crew of managers, will have to devote 250 hours to this task. Think about that: That’s more than 6 weeks spent on producing paperwork that no one truly benefits from.

If said businesses issue annual raises the whole process will have to be completed all over again in that same calendar year! The process, of course, is also repeated every January.

It’s not as if an employer can opt of this. Compliance is mandatory and the Department of Labor will charge a company $50 per week per employee if they forget to issue the form, $100 per week if the form is incorrect. An affected worker can also sue the employer for damages (what damages?) to a maximum of $2,500 if they have not received a notice or have received an incorrect one.

Businesses requiring assistance in the process can find numerous WTPA templates and forms on the Department of Labor’s website at:

But does that help? Not really.

If the state truly wanted to make a difference and help employers, they would drop this law, just as has been suggested by a few of the Regional Economic Development Councils empowered by Governor Cuomo to produce solutions that will make New York more business friendly. They’ve made it known that regulations like these – coupled with excessive taxation – account for the economic wasteland that the upstate region has become because, quite frankly, who can make money when the state does everything it can to make sure you don’t?

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


This column originally ran in the 28 November 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Obama Administration targets farm youth

By Bob Confer

Farming is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. The job is never done, and it’s never easy; it takes a special soul to work the long, hard days during the planting and harvesting seasons or live the vacation-free existence that comes with animal husbandry. At the same time, it’s the most important industry on the planet and farmers will tell you it’s the most fulfilling: Besides raising a family, there is little on Earth more rewarding than tending the soil and growing from it - and raising on it – valuable nourishment for others.

To prepare someone for that intense lifestyle you need to start young and introduce teens to the work ethic and investment of self that are necessary to develop a love affair with farming. Youth have long been able to participate in agricultural work, but, that could change soon. The Obama Administration has unveiled a series of proposed revisions to child labor law specific to farming. Citing provisions that have remained virtually untouched since 1970, the Administration felt compelled to modernize them. That act of modernization will irreparably harm farming’s future by destroying its very foundation - the youth who should represent tomorrow’s workforce and farm owners.

Under the new rules, the Department of Labor (DOL) would end most child labor exemptions that currently exist in farming by denying work to anyone under the age of 16 unless the farm is owned by their parents and one of the parents is directly overseeing their work.

Furthermore, most 14 and 15 year-old workers would be prevented from operating any tractor, all-terrain vehicle, milking machine, or lawn mower. Now, exemptions exist that allow them to operate such equipment given they complete a 24 hour safety course typically provided by the private sector via farm bureaus or through public-private Cooperative Extension offices. The proposed rules would create and require a 90-hour course that could only be taught through government-run secondary and/or vocational schools. This would add another layer of federal bureaucracy to local school districts; increase the cost to taxpayers associated with the wages, benefits and pensions for the newfound teaching positions; or, more likely, deprive thousands of youth of farming opportunity because their local schools – or any one within reasonable commute - will be unable to provide them the necessary training.

Adding even more hassle, untrained youth will not be allowed in the proximity of any motorized device during their course of work, meaning that young farm workers could not be anywhere near an elevator or even a wagon pulled behind a tractor, preventing them from baling hay or loading and unloading barns, even though they are nowhere near the controls.

The insanity of the standards doesn’t end there. Everyone under the age of 18 will be strictly prohibited from any and all acts of animal husbandry. They won’t be able to corral and herd cattle, pigs or poultry. They won’t be allowed to brand, breed, treat or raise animals. They’d be denied access to stockyards, cattle auctions, and feed lots. They can’t pitch manure or feed chickens or cows.

They’ll have to wait until adulthood to do any of those tasks. Even Future Farmers of America and 4-H won’t be able to give teenagers the experience they need to be productive rural adults. Because of the limitations proposed by the DOL, those organizations will become mostly obsolete, legally unable to provide the animal rearing experience that has produced many a fine farmer for decades.

Fortunately, there is a chance to stop these proposals from becoming law. The DOL is currently accepting comments regarding their proposals. The deadline, which was originally November 1st , has been moved to December 1st due to the initial criticisms and concerns that were certain to befall such laws. Referencing RIN 1235-AA06 and docket ID WHD-2011-0001, submit your comments electronically at or by mail at: Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, Room S- 3502, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20210.

Public participation in this decision-making process is a must. If left unabated, the Executive Branch will pass these rules. If we allow it to eliminate the important agricultural lessons from one’s formative years, we will rob our youth of the building blocks necessary for a lifetime of farming: an appreciation for nature, the creation of an old fashioned work ethic, an irreplaceable knowledge base and the development of high moral character that comes with living of, on and for the Earth.

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


This column originally ran in the 21 November 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Libya is no better off, maybe worse

By Bob Confer

All of the major news outlets, and therefore most US citizens, were downright giddy over the uprising - and NATO intervention – in Libya. Thinking it was some sort of feel good story, an extension of the Arab Spring, they reveled in the toppling of Gaddafi and threw unyielding support behind the rebel forces.

If CNN, Fox News, and the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) had done their jobs appropriately, rather than parroting the spin that came from Washington and agenda-driven foreign news agencies, they would have realized that what they were seeing was nothing more than a silver lining. Within Libya they would have found a dark cloud, a stormy uprising orchestrated by degenerates who are no better than Gaddafi was and, truthfully, may be a whole lot worse.

For starters, because of that seemingly willful omission of the facts, very few Americans knew that a good number of the rebels were al-Qaeda. Earlier this year NATO commander James Stavridis stated that many of the Libyan rebels are members of – or align themselves with – the terrorist organization. His admission is consistent with West Point studies that discovered one-fifth of all foreigners who aided Iraqi insurgents in their attacks on US troops were Libyans. One of the key Libyan rebel leaders, Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi recruited and led such raids against US forces.

Another rebel leader was Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu, who had been held in Guantanamo for 6 years before being released in an amnesty program. American intelligence reports indicated that he was a “medium-to-high risk”, a “dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts” who was “likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies.”

Despite the knowledge of their presence and the ill will that these two men reek of, they and their equally-repugnant peers were counted as allies and heroes in the Libyan movement. The US press barely touched on the al-Qaeda issue and never questioned their allegiance or the reason for their revolution (it’s obvious it wasn’t for democratic ends).

Likewise, the press ignored something far worse: The genocidal tendencies of the so-called “freedom fighters”. It’s guaranteed that less then 1 percent of all Americans knew that Gaddafi’s enemies, during the course of the turnover, singled out the black population – men, women and children – and robbed them of their freedoms and more. They purged them from their communities. They raped the women and young girls. They imprisoned and or killed the men.

Black men especially - no matter which regime they supported (the new or the old) - were targeted throughout Libya by the rebels. Thousands were murdered by the same inhuman methods practiced by the drug cartels in Mexico. They were bound and shot in the head at point blank range. They had their throats slit. They were decapitated. They were set on fire.

One city, Tawergha, was once home to 10,000 blacks. All were forced out of it (hundreds of them killed) while their homes and businesses were destroyed. Those who were brave enough to remain were rounded up and put into camps and jails. Chillingly, neither hide nor hair of the camps can be found. Par for the course, the rebels spray-painted “negroes” and “abeed” (Arabic slang for “slave”) on the ruins of the city, like some sick trophy. All of this in the name of ethnic cleansing.

Somehow, Big Media overlooked this unsettling brand of evil that comprised the rebel forces. How could they be so oblivious to it? Were they so ecstatic over the ongoing transformation of the Middle East and Africa that reporting on the change in power was Story One and anything else was inconsequential? Were they provided unrealistic reports (propaganda) by NATO leaders that glossed over the brutality of their newfound allies? Did they willingly aid the propagandists in meeting their desired ends, no matter the consequences?

The press – the supposed seekers of truth and protectors of the innocent- failed us. They prevented us from holding our government accountable to a set of moral (and legal) standards when choosing winners and losers abroad. Because of that, we’re looking at an unsettling future. With al-Qaeda and other butchers rising to and holding power, it’s obvious that Libya is no better off. And, neither is the rest of the world.

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


This column originally ran in the 14 November 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, November 3, 2011


By Bob Confer

Once the government has its foot in the door through the federally sponsored Home Visiting Program it will have carte blanche to manage all facets of child care. Failure to comply with the “suggestions” provided will likely result in intervention by family courts and other publically-provided social functions under the guise of child protection, ultimately inducing the destruction of that family unit. That’s a heady outcome from a program sold to Congress – and the people - as being voluntary.

One of the goals of the program is to improve parenting skills and child development. That in itself is a purposely nebulous endeavor: What exactly defines good parenting and a well-developed child and who sets the criteria? Looking at the social engineering that is hoist upon kids these days, some of the desired outcomes are obvious.

First and foremost will be the degradation of traditional morality. Mindsets based in religious mores will definitely be targeted. There are many parents adamant about educating their children in home and church about what they and their beliefs determine to be right and wrong. Those hard and fast rules don’t necessarily fit with what society determines to be normative today and just as many people frown upon those character lessons as appreciate them. Some reverse engineering may be required by the government to make sure a kid’s belief system is compliant with what’s supposedly acceptable.

Related to that will be an adherence to a behavioral system that demands conformity. If a parent, like I do, believes in objectivism as the guiding light to human development - that it’s the individual’s purpose and responsibility to lead a life that he or she sees fit and the pursuit thereof is the basis for happiness and advancement of self (and, ultimately, society by others doing the same) – his parenting skills will be viewed with a critical eye. In secondary and collegiate academia, there is an overwhelming promotion of teamwork (although it’s certainly anything but) and the importance of the collective that demeans self-importance, self-determination, and responsibility. The government would love to eliminate individualism at an early age and demand that the parents retool their approach and aid the government in making conformists (and dependents) out of the masses.

Next, consider the goal of “school readiness” proposed by this component of Obamacare. School readiness alludes to a belief that a child is fine only if he or she is ready for the government’s accepted standard of education. That means the Home Visiting Program could, in the supposed best interests of the youth, demand that one be removed from home schooling or private schools and be put into public schools.

School readiness is also the motivator behind Head Start and it’s likely that the Visitation Program would mandate participation in it, which actually strips parents of their roles and has proven to be completely useless to the children in it. Numerous studies have shown that Head Start is a non-starter, including one released by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010 that indicated marginal improvement in only 2 of 44 cognitive tests. Realize that since 1965 the federal government has blown $166 billion on Head Start. How much more will be thrown away when many more kids are determined eligible by their parents being deemed inadequate?

Another requirement of the Home Visitation Program is “student achievement”, holding parents accountable to children’s grades. In this day and age, low achievement doesn’t have to be attributable to bad parenting. 30 years ago, I’d say parenting was a major contributing factor. But since the Department of Education gained a stranglehold on public schools in 1980 the achievement of all students has dropped considerably (the US is rated poorly among developed nations), a direct result of federal intervention in activities best left to teachers, local school districts, and parents. How can the government blame parents – and then tear apart homes - for a mess it created?

These are just a few of the countless ways that the federal government will meddle in home affairs – and wrongly accuse parents of impropriety - once the Home Visitation Program takes root. It’s just too bad that Fox News, CNN and the like didn’t live up to the standard of the news outlets of days gone by, and hold the government accountable by analyzing all aspects of Obamacare, not just the insurance mandates. Horrors like this get passed and repealing them becomes nearly impossible.

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


This column originally ran in the 07 November 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Obamacare and parental rights: part one

By Bob Confer

There’s this ongoing belief perpetuated by Big Media that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is all about mandated health insurance. The analysis and/or debates of the inner workings of health care reform have failed to materialize in any substantial form, so most citizens are oblivious to the fact that the law features some pretty horrifying things unrelated to insurance.

Among the most heinous of them is something called the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Through this endeavor the states will be required to identify at-risk communities and provide to them services to improve child care and the art of parenting. Undoubtedly, the communities in question will be those with any combination of lower incomes, increased Medicaid participation and lower student achievement. For readers of this paper and its sister publications, that would put the crosshairs on Niagara Falls, Lockport and all of Orleans County.

The federal government would then provide the funding and supervision necessary for the affected municipalities to initiate and maintain an oversized ground force of social service workers empowered to initiate the various aspects of the Obamacare agenda. This new breed of child-protection agent will be allowed to visit the homes of at-risk families in those at-risk communities without the reports of child abuse or neglect that are necessary now. That grants the government another means to circumvent the Fourth Amendment (wasn’t the Patriot Act enough already?) and a frightening ability to give itself a presence in the home without legal warrant.

This begs the question, what constitutes an at-risk home? This is answered at length within the language of Section 2951 and elsewhere where parents of supposedly suspect abilities and character are identified. Are you among them? Let’s find out…

Low income families are first on the list. One thing that Uncle Sam fails to realize is that low earnings (and what exactly is the income threshold?) don’t necessarily equate to bad parenting. There are a lot of poor parents who give stronger love and a better home to families that have more. They may not be able to provide the material goods that richer families can, but they give their children a richer life because family and the shared experience is all they have. Those same parents are also driven to give their kids a better life than they had, so they guarantee that the children succeed at school and take a stab at college.

The next class of risky person is pregnant women under the age of 21. We’ve become a society where woman are becoming first-time mothers at a later age (many in their 30s) but, a majority of mothers are still in that 18 to 21 age bracket. That’s the way it’s been for decades, even centuries. Does that mean we were all raised poorly? No, I surely wasn’t. My mom had me at 18. She did a fine job of raising me and I am the man I am because of her. It’s frustrating that a woman is old enough to vote, join the military, and be considered an adult, but the government considers her too young to raise a child.

Obamacare also identifies tobacco users as parents that need to be put under the microscope. The Libertarian in me says smoking does not make a bad person or a threat to society; adults can do with their bodies what they’d like as long as they don’t harm others. A majority of today’s smokers - after years of castigation by society and knowledge of the dangers of their habit (though unable to kick the addiction) - willingly smoke outside of their homes and apartments so as not to expose their children to second hand smoke. Sounds like wise parenting to me.

One of the at-risk classifications that really gets my goat is this one: Individuals who are serving or have served in the Armed Forces. Think of the stark raving mad hypocrisy of that; the government considers these individuals to be among our very best citizens, exuding honor and defending our country to their potential death, yet, as parents, it finds them to be absolutely unworthy.

Looking at the above classes of individuals, almost any family could be visited by the government. Once they are, what’s to happen to the home environment? You’ll find out in next week’s column.

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


This column originally ran in the 31 October 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Ralph Wilson Stadium

By Bob Confer

Most Americans can identify, in part, with the ideals of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What probably resonates most with the majority, regardless of Right or Left tendencies, is the basic concept that our government should not be in the business of business. That is, we as taxpayers shouldn’t be shelling out the big bucks to bailout failing institutions or industries or prop up selected corporations. Capitalism, its risk, and the determination of failures and successes are all best left in the hands of entrepreneurs. If they want to make money, they need to use their own money.

Someone please tell that to Ralph Wilson and his compatriots at 1 Bills Drive. And while you’re at it, share that with ardent Buffalo Bills backers, our elected officials and the other newspaper. Each one of those groups is guilty of abandoning common sense and common sentiment, thinking it’s prudent for state and local taxpayers to invest a staggering $100 million to $175 million in improvements for Ralph Wilson Stadium.

I haven’t been to a game at the Ralph in probably 10 years. But, from what I remember about the place, it’s a perfectly fine venue at which to watch a football game. The structure, field, scoreboard and bathrooms are all in good shape. Call me old school, but I’m more impressed by what’s happening on the field, rather than what diversions are around it. If I’m spending money on a ticket, I’m buying the game and its memories, not fancy heated seats and glitzy food kiosks. I’ve been to numerous NCAA Division III venues over the years. They’re always bare bones and I more cherish those games because of that (not to mention the lack of bloated salaries and egos).

As a rule, professional football fans don’t see it that way; they want the glamour, cushy seats and immense luxury boxes. But, then again, maybe they don’t. Maybe that’s what the team owners want us to believe as their means to upsell what is a bad product on the field through the illusion of a greatness created by a state-of-the-art facility. It makes it easier to charge more for tickets and reap greater revenues from the luxury boxes. It can be a huge victory for the team owner (though not necessarily the team per se), especially when taxpayers foot the bill.

And, that’s exactly what so many folks – especially the Wilsons - want to happen in Western New York.

There’s this misguided belief that the Bills will get up and leave us if we didn’t pony up. Just think about: would your life really be ruined if the Bills did leave us? No. And anyways, it seems that some people’s lives are already ruined by the very act of being a Bills fan.

Seriously, you hear that exodus threat in most cities that host a sports team. Despite it being nothing more than a bluff most municipalities blindly buy into it. And, I do mean “buy”: Those more concerned with the NFL than the Real World think nothing of throwing around $100 million of other people’s money for that end. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that we are in a fiscal crisis mode. They’re ignorant to the importance of, say, maintaining quality schools year-round, instead sacrificing that investment for what works out to be 4 regular season home games per year and maybe half as many between the preseason and the playoffs.

Only a fool would believe the NFL’s “woe are we” statements. The League generates $8 billion in revenues ever year. The 32 teams in the league have an average sell value of $1.02 billion. Even the Buffalo Bills, a supposed small market team, have yielded a big time financial performance. The franchise is valued at $792 million. Last year it brought in $236 million in revenues and it had an operating profit that hit a whopping $40.9 million.

Profit is not a bad thing. What is, though, is amassing a profit (especially a healthy one) and then relying on taxpayers to pay for your stadium under the pretense that you can’t afford it when, in all actuality, you can (even if you couldn’t it’s not the taxpayers’ responsibility).

It’s corporate and government tomfoolery like that – exercised by the banks and Bush and Obama Administrations - which inspired the Occupy Wall Street movements. If Albany and Buffalo somehow find it necessary to extend a benevolent hand to the Bills it should inspire a similar hearty protest here…our own little Occupy Ralph Wilson Stadium movement if you will.

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


This column originally ran in the 24 October 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The myth of the jobs stork

By Bob Confer

No doubt, sometime during the Great Recession and its aftermath, inquisitive children have asked their parents, “Where do jobs come from?” It’s something akin to that most uncomfortable of all questions from the young, “Where do babies come from?”

When answering the latter question, most parents make their response age-specific and avoid talk of the birds and bees. Instead, they tell the tall tale of the magical stork delivering infants to the homes of couples who want to be parents.

Of course, the parents know where babies come from. Yet, when it comes to jobs, most of them really don’t know. They haven’t an inkling of what goes into the creation of positive economic activity, that it is spawned by ideas, investment, and risk. Instead, many of them believe in the myth that it’s the government’s responsibility to create jobs, like a Jobs Stork, if you will. They think President Obama can snap his fingers and they’ll have a healthy income and job security. We’ve seen this played out ad nauseam over the past few years with the unemployed and the concerned asking – even begging - that the government do something –anything – to put people back to work, no matter the cost, no matter the domino effect.

This belief in the Jobs Stork is due to a bastardization of economic and governance principles hoist upon us by our hamstrung educational system, the news media and our two-party political system, whereby the basic tenants of free market economics are either ignored or modified for some twisted agenda. It is somehow accepted and promoted that the markets won’t adjust or persevere without Uncle Sam’s helping hand: Look at how easily people bought into the no-strings-attached bailouts of Wall Street (which, ironically, they now regret) or how they cheer when a multinational corporation is baited into their state through millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded grants (fostering an incomprehensible and unjust public investment on a per jobs basis) or how some sectors of the business community grovel to see their sector advanced by government mandates and regulations (i.e. ethanol, wind and solar energy).

The masses have been weaned off the knowledge and practice that the only way the government can “create” jobs is by allowing them to be created solely by the private sector, with no intervention or economic assistance from federal and state governments. The government should never be in the business of creating jobs or determining the winners and losers in the markets through subsidization, unfair advantage, and other wealth-transferring tactics. When it does so, it kills jobs elsewhere and saps worth from productive sectors of the economy. To best incite a rise in the employment rolls the government should do as it was intended: get out of the way, ensure the protection of the rights of Man and foster an environment in which the markets and the individual can freely advance both our society and our economy.

Laissez-faire economic development and the resultant betterment of self and country is a simple concept, one that has been well known throughout America’s long history. We became the most advanced society ever and far and away the strongest and most moral nation on Earth — a shining example of the power of personal wealth and self-determination — by allowing the people themselves to create economic prosperity and the technologies and jobs that come from it.

Naturally, no sentient adult believes that a magical stork delivers babies on doorsteps, so why should we believe that the government will place jobs at our feet? Such a childish, simplistic attitude must be overcome if we are ever to bring the nation out of its devastating recession and the malaise that came with it. Allow the markets and people to flourish on their own…and they will.

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


This column originally ran in the 17 October 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ethanol breaks down engines

By Bob Confer

It didn’t take long for government intervention in the energy industry to catch up with the economy. By creating mandates for the usage of ethanol in gasoline and subsidizing the production thereof, the alternative fuel placed considerable demand on the corn markets and subsequently drove up the price of many items at the grocery store. This problem has deeply affected shoppers since early 2006.

It’s taken a little bit longer to see a similar effect that ethanol has had away from the dinner table and out in the garage. Countless small engines are now falling victim to the substance after having been abused by it the past few years.

Most lawnmowers, chainsaws, weed eaters and boats - and a good number of motorcycles and ATVs - are ill-prepared to handle high doses of the corn-based fuel, especially the 10% blend that has overtaken the United States the past 5 years. Unlike cars, they weren’t designed to compensate for blended gasoline nor were their components made hearty enough. Ethanol makes small engines overheat and can irreparably damage them. Even if they don’t overheat, they perform miserably (some mechanics cite a 15% reduction in horsepower) because rubber hoses, gaskets and valves become gummed-up by the ethanol or the water it attracts from the air. On top of that, ethanol has been known to actually destroy the fiberglass fuel tanks found in boats.

Hardcore boating enthusiasts and professional landscapers have dealt with the ethanol issue quite well, patronizing marinas and gas stations that sell ethanol-free gasoline because they were educated on the matter through hobby or trade magazines (in some parts of the US ethanol-free gas is sold at a premium or is nearly impossible to find). But, your run-of-the-mill boat owner who goes out on the water but a few times a summer or the Average Joe who mows his own lawn hasn’t been so fortunate. They’ve been caught off guard by the poison.

And, have they ever!

Repair shops across the United States are reporting explosive growth in their business. An economist or federal official might attribute that trend to thrifty consumers who, influenced by the recession, are trying to stretch the life of their equipment as long as they can. They’d be dead wrong. Truthfully, it’s because of the ethanol. This is best exemplified by a shop in Westfield, New Jersey, a town of 30,000. That shop repairs 5,000 pieces of equipment per year and the owner says 75% of that volume is a result of ethanol damage. That’s one shop out of a handful serving that community while that community is one of thousands in the States. Just imagine the number of repairs nationally.

Repairs and replacements aren’t cheap. The replacement of a mower’s carburetor might cost $100. Motorcycles are also falling victim to the same issue and riders might be facing a $200 bill. Taking the fix even further, a new ride-on mower could cost a couple of thousand dollars while a new fuel tank (and fuel system) for a boat can cost just as much.

What isn’t cheap, as well, are the means to prevent damage. If you can’t find a local gas station that sells ethanol-free gas, you might have to buy “canned gas” which can cost up to $8 per quart (that’s $32/gallon). You can also buy gasoline stabilizers which often retail around $10 per 8 ounces.

You can’t blame manufacturers for this mess. When a quality manufacturer puts powered goods to market, that company – and the consumer – expect the product last for decades. All things being equal, they should have. But, how would a manufacturer know in 2000 that a half-dozen years later the government would actually force high volumes of alcohol-infused fuels upon the markets?

Now they know and items produced in recent years are ethanol-ready. But, that beloved chainsaw or boat in your garage may not be so lucky. You’re going to have to go out of your way to keep it safe and running for the long haul by overcoming the ethanol trap. And you must be diligent about it: As if 10% mixes weren’t bad enough, 15% is coming down the pipeline, courtesy of the EPA.

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


This column originally ran in the 10 October 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The federal government wants your health records

By Bob Confer

Most everyone is familiar with the basics of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, best known by its acronym, HIPPA. Among its more popular features is the preservation of your privacy in regard to your health records.

HIPPA has added some burdens and cost to the administration of health care, but it’s been well worth it. No one but you, the physician you most trust, and certain functions and personnel of your insurance and/or care providers should know – or do know - the sometimes touchy and embarrassing details of your physical, mental and sexual histories.

HIPPA has held businesses -- from insurance companies and medical doctors to pharmacies and nursing homes – to a high set of standards. Even government-run medical coverage (like Medicaid and Medicare) has fallen under the privacy umbrella. But, confidentiality may be changing for the worse, led by the very agency charged to enforce HIPPA no less.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed regulations (HHS-OS-2011-0022) that would require health insurance companies to break the obligations to their customers and share the individuals’ records with the federal government. HHS says it wants to track the health status of each and every American as a means of ensuring that insurance companies are meeting the new standards that came from Obamacare which state that insurers cannot discriminate against the uninsured or those suffering from pre-existing conditions.

HHS doesn’t yet know if these records will be collected by the federal government or by the states, which will then share the data with HHS. Any way that it’s achieved, too many people – and the wrong people – will see your records.

My wife is a doctor of psychology and based on her strong belief in, and adherence to, ethical and legal standards, she and I never discuss her clients. Her work is a mystery to me. Quite frankly, bureaucrats aren’t held to, nor do they live by, the same set of standards as my wife and other professionals. Government employees don’t take an oath of privacy. They aren’t schooled on such matters. They aren’t licensed. They won’t lose their jobs or the support of their peers were they to breech confidentiality. Because of that lack of accountability and enforcement, there exists in volume the chance for corruptibility. Clerks and administrators at all levels of government will have ready access to all of your records. They may find humor or tragedy in your plight and share your stories with their loved ones, friends and coworkers. Your diseases, weight, and mental issues may become water cooler and dinner table conversation. And, let’s not forget: It’s a small world; word gets around.

Your privacy will be compromised and, without a doubt, other rights will follow suit. Are we really supposed to believe that the government will use your data only to hold HMOs to account? Just think about the scenarios that could be…

For starters, the federal government has declared war on obesity. What if, upon discovering reports that you and your children had high body mass indices, it forced your family into a healthy eating program and told you what you could and couldn’t eat under the auspices of “child protection”?

What if you were identified to have a mental illness that you kept in control? Couldn’t the government identify you as a threat, “just in case”?

Suppose you have a sexually transmitted disease. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think the feds would tell you that you couldn’t pursue a love life without the threat of prosecution.

These conspiracy theories could easily come true. Look at what happened with the Patriot Act and other anti-terror measures. They started off as simple systems that were supposed to protect Americans from international threats. Instead, they turned on the people and government - not religious fanatics - became the biggest threat to our liberties.

Similar abuses are guaranteed to come from the public sector’s ingestion of your personal matters. While HIPPA protects you from private sector mistreatment of your privacy, the Constitution guarantees the same when it comes to government involvement in your life. So, take the time to call Congress and ask them to focus on the constitutionality of the HHS measures and stop this federal nightmare from becoming a reality.

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


This column originally ran in the 03 October 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

NLRB pushes unions' destructive agenda

NLRB pushes unions' destructive agenda
By Bob Confer

Although rarely looked at as such by the typical person, labor is an economic transaction. It’s a simple trade — one where the worker willingly gives to his employer, in exchange for monetary and benefit compensation, the use of his physical and mental services. As with any free market economic activity, either party can prevent ongoing transactions, whether such termination is based on dissatisfaction with what the exchange garners or on the influence of supply and demand in the micro- and macro-markets.

Basically, the act of employment is really no different from making a purchase at the local grocery store.

Unions, though, don’t see it that way. Whereas non-unionized employment sees equal strength and value between worker and the company, unionized plants are different. There, the workers are granted dominance in the transaction and the standard rules of fair and equal trade are thrown out the window. Through its perverse leftist outlook, organized labor views any given job as a right rather than a privilege.

This union stranglehold, coupled with unwavering support from a government that creates laws and regulations granting favor to collective units, can have an adverse effect on employers, forcing them to enter long-term contracts which can signal the death knell for even the most vibrant of businesses.

Look no further than General Motors for a prime example. The company went into bankruptcy for a variety of reasons, none greater than the issue of legacy costs which were brought on by decades of union bullying. The United Auto Workers forced GM into a cradle-to-grave approach for their human resource activities, making the company pay lavish pensions and provide lifetime health care. From the start, this business model (which smacks of Social Security and Medicare) was doomed. Matters worsened as GM lost a great deal of its market share when foreign manufacturers came to the United States and, without the union influences that saddled GM, were able to provide high-quality vehicles at lower prices while maintaining American-based manufacturing (despite the foreign label). As this occurred, GM saw its employment drop from 811,000 to 324,000 over the 20-year period from 1985 to 2005. That left the output of every worker to somehow provide for every 2.5 retirees. In 2006 retired workers accounted for two-thirds of GM’s health care costs.

As we well know, that was impossible to maintain. GM went bankrupt and was subsequently bailed out — or rather the UAW workforce was bailed out — by the federal government to the tune of $50 billion. It should be noted that union-led socialism killed a once powerful private enterprise while federal-led socialism forced it back to life utilizing the resources of a formerly strong economy. Such is the perpetual self destruction associated with market intervention. Had the free markets been left to flourish from the start — i.e., with no unionization — GM as we knew it would have been a sustainable company which could have survived without government assistance.

It’s patently obvious that unions are dangerous. This is true not only at GM, but also in workplaces across America, including the public sector where unions have financially doomed such states as New York and California. Even so, this basic economic concept is not understood by — nor is faith in the free market held by — the federal government. Instead, the government assumes that the economy cannot flourish on its own and that government and union control over the markets is best for what ails us (ironically, the government cannot see that such a mindset is exactly what ails our sickened economy).

The Obama administration has taken this union protection and promotion to unprecedented heights. It’s common knowledge that President Obama and the National Labor Relations Board have wreaked havoc upon many an employer as we attempt to crawl out of the recession.

None of the NLRB’s haphazard efforts has been so widely scrutinized and justifiably-derided as its attempt to squash Boeing’s ongoing development by penalizing the company for choosing right-to-work South Carolina for expansion rather than Washington State, where unions have been a thorn in Boeing’s side for years.

While focusing intently on this NLRB misstep, many media outlets have missed something as equally sinister that will affect every employer in the United States. The NLRB, under its regulation introduced August 30 which will take effect November 14, will require that all employers who engage in interstate commerce post at their worksites an 11” x 17” poster which lists employees’ rights.

Of course, the rights enumerated on the poster are pro-union. The signage must indicate that employees have the right to join a union, engage in collective bargaining, and go on strike. Similarly, it must also say that employers cannot take adverse action against union supporters, prohibit union talk during non-work hours, or threaten closure if a union is formed.

The NLRB has never before required employers to post notices at their facilities; it’s debatable if it even has the power to do so. The purpose of the organization is to oversee union elections and investigate unfair labor practices.

It’s obvious that the NLRB’s intent — as illegal and unconstitutional as it may be — is to promote unionization. This comes at a time when private sector union enrollment has reached a low (6.9 percent) not seen since the inception of 1929’s Wagner Act which says employers must allow and negotiate with unions. The NLRB and the Obama administration want to reverse that trend and make the private sector unionization rate match that of the public sector (36%).

This poster will serve as free advertising for unions — mandated advertising no less — by planting the seed for their consideration in workplaces where they may never have been contemplated. With the mainstream media painting corporations as “evil,” our President identifying the high achievers as “too rich,” and layoffs always on the horizon because of market uncertainty, there may be many young, scared, or easily-brainwashed workers who, upon seeing the union ad, might strive to bring such an organization to their workplace. Up to six million employers could be impacted by this ruling and its consequences. Frankly, these are dangerous times in our economy and the NLRB is making them more so.

With less than two months to go, there still is time to stop the NLRB’s insanity from becoming a reality. It’s imperative that entrepreneurs, managers, and workers who understand the harsh reality of unionization contact their Congressmen and ask them to support Representative Ben Quayle’s bill, HR 2833. Introduced earlier this month, it would reverse the NLRB’s decision. Considering that the House on September 15 (in defense of Boeing and other companies facing similar obstacles) passed a bill to prevent the NLRB from mandating where employers can and cannot set up shop, there is traction to overturn the poster requirement.

If the requirement isn’t overturned, thousands of these posters will soon be replaced by “closed for business” signs, furthering the decline of our economy — one that is unable to achieve the wonders of free market capitalism because we have Big Government and Big Labor working together to do everything they can to ensure that it doesn’t.


Originally appeared in the 20 September 2011 The New American at:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A warning about the WARN Act

By Bob Confer

Entrepreneurship has always had its basis in the understanding and handling of the unknown. No business owner has ever known exactly what his customers want, what the markets hold, or what his competitors are doing. But, they’ve always had a good idea about what might happen and, from the theoretical standpoint, what should happen.

Things are quite different today. Since the dawn of the Great Recession in 2007 and through the economic malaise that followed, the unknown has become, well, even more unknown. Entrepreneurs now, more than ever, are unsure of what the future holds for them due to the tenuous conditions of the financial and housing industries, stubbornly high unemployment and low consumer confidence that have robbed them of old and new customers, uncertainty associated with the fiscal vitality of governments from the EU to the USA, and the lingering financial instability of countless firms both large and small.

The simple yet profound question of strategic planning, “what will tomorrow bring?” goes increasingly unanswered because no one knows anymore. Find a businessman who, in this economy, is confident where his company will be one year - let alone three months - from now and you can count yourself as having encountered a prophet.

That uncertainty, from even the best and brightest, is what makes New York’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act so dangerous to the economic viability of any business already struggling to survive. WARN requires an employer of 50 or more workers to give them 90-day notice of a closing or mass layoff if it affects 33% of the workforce or 25 or more employees. Failure to do so requires the company to pay the affected workers 60 days of back pay and benefits. The business is also required to pay a penalty of $500 per day of violation to the state (at 90 days that’s $45,000).

The WARN Act is flawed in so many ways.

For starters, no business knows with any certainty what the size of their workforce will be in 3 months. They may think they’ll be doing fine, but their biggest client could go belly-up without notice or Wall Street could collapse again (both of which could happen easily in this day and age), facilitating the need for immediate downsizing as means to keep the company alive. So, how can a business warn its workers if in most cases it can’t even warn itself?

Secondly, the fact that WARN requires payment of back wages is stupefying. The employer had let go personnel as an emergency measure to cut costs and remain able to pay suppliers and meet payroll for the remainder of the workforce. Layoffs are legal and necessary. Employment is, in its simplest terms, an economic transaction that sees the trade of physical and mental efforts for cash and benefits; so, why should individuals be rewarded for work they never accomplished? Because of that, the penalty defeats the purpose of a layoff. And, ironically, the WARN Act actually defeats its own purpose of maintaining a semblance of wage confidence/awareness for workers: In many cases, enforcement would kill the employer, which, as direct result, would see the rest of its workforce lose their jobs.

Last, but certainly not least, the WARN Act makes the assumption that all layoffs are done with evil intent. That shows the unmatched ignorance of the political class. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: federal statistics show that 99% of all businesses are small businesses, owned by folks like you, me, and our neighbors. Do you really think any of them enjoy seeing their companies lose business and have to cut back? Do you really think they get their kicks out of terminating peoples’ employment? They don’t, on both counts. Job cuts pain entrepreneurs immensely, creating unbelievable amounts of stress, worry, and health problems, anything but devilish enjoyment. As a matter of fact, they try to prevent or delay closings and layoffs as long as possible.

Like a slap in the face, the WARN Act went into effect 2 years ago, during the darkest depths of the recession when many businesses had no choice but to shrink or die. It’s high time that the WARN Act itself died, especially with a recessionary double dip looming. If there’s anything that is known in this tricky economy, it’s that regulations like these are harmful to every business and worker in the state.

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


This column originally ran in the 26 September 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Let's recognize our hometown heroes

By Bob Confer

If you haven’t driven through Brockport this summer you’ve missed quite a sight. The light posts and electrical poles throughout the village and along Route 104 are adorned with Hometown Heroes banners. Each one recognizes someone from the 14420 zip code who is actively serving in the military. The attractive banners are 72 inches tall and about half as wide and each one is adorned with a large photo of the serviceman/woman along with his or her name and branch.

The first time I saw them I was awestruck. It was awesome to finally see our brave warriors get the recognition they deserve 24/7, not just during Veterans Day when most Americans seem to develop a sense of appreciation – and temporarily at that – for the sacrifices these souls can and do make every single day when stationed in far off lands.

It was good, as well, to see each person singularly recognized. We so often hear how it is an “Army of One” or about how the collective is more important than the individual. But, let’s get real: It’s the individual who makes the collective and it’s the individual who commits acts of heroism to save a comrade, protect an innocent, or preserve our national integrity. Were it not for the accomplishments of one man in war– fighting for the common cause or the goal of the moment – our armed forces wouldn’t be the greatest on Earth. And, neither would our nation. So, it’s incredibly important to recognize the man, the woman who has volunteered to maintain the American spirit.

We need more communities to follow Brockport’s example. Many local towns and cities (Niagara Falls first comes to mind) think nothing of putting up banners and more for their hometown football and basketball heroes. So, why not do it for the real heroes, those whose adventures play out on a battlefield, not on a football field or basketball court?

If we did, more folks would gain an appreciation for - and better understanding of - the commitment of our armed forces.

Most people have for some time been indifferent to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and occupations. They see the political football between the Democrats and Republicans. They hear of the death toll on the evening news. They occasionally read of the deployments of local units. But, they are numb to the reality of it all. As it’s commonly said, they don’t have any skin in the game. Without the draft hanging out there and without a dear friend or loved one in the military, they don’t seem to be emotionally invested in what theatre our men and women are thrown into.

These banners would, like they have done in Brockport, fix that disconnect, by showing that that a classmate or the neighborhood Eagle Scout or the local church’s altar boy is now overseas. Most Americans don’t realize how close to home the sacrifice of mind, limb, and life can be. They seem oblivious to the fact that those being sent to war were raised right here in our community. They went to our schools, churches, restaurants and markets. Now, they’re out there protecting that community and similar ones around the country and around the world. The signs would help alter perception, develop an appreciation for the commitment of war, instill patriotism and, who knows, maybe even spur some volunteerism.

Brockport’s banners were created and installed by a team effort that featured its local veterans organizations, town and village officials, military parents, private businesses and dedicated citizens. The question is, how do we nurture similar involvement here and ultimately recognize the hometown heroes in the villages, hamlets and cities across Niagara and Orleans counties?

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


This column originally ran in the 19 September 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tax cuts for the middle class

By Bob Confer

In an attempt to stave off financial ruin and strengthen the economy, Washington has invested more than $2.5 trillion in the economy since 2008 in an ongoing series of bailouts that continue to this day. $1.6 trillion has been spent on the purchase of private-sector debt and mortgage-backed securities from private enterprises and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. $330 billion was dedicated to insuring bad debt and risky investments undertaken by those same enterprises. Over a half trillion more was put into the expansion of lending to the financial industry. It doesn’t end there: There’s still another $10 trillion in promised support out there yet to be utilized.

There has been so much attention paid to – and so much money thrown at – unscrupulous financial institutions that the powers-that-be seem to have forgotten about the most important part of our economy: the middle class. This has led to well-deserved derision from the people. Every time Washington has opened its wallet over the past 3 years, there has been a collective cry from the masses: “What about us?”

But, that question is a little disconcerting. We aren’t deserved of a bailout. No one is. Not the banks. Not the auto industry. Not any one of us. Bailouts are a recirculation of other people’s money or the creation of debt. It’s wrong to steal from Peter to pay Paul. It’s as equally corrupted to saddle future generations with mountains of debt. So, we can’t think of economic salvation in terms of unlimited unemployment benefits, tax credits, government-sponsored training and stimulus packages. If free money was wrong for the banks, why on Earth would it ever be right for us?

Instead of having access to other people’s money, we need access to our own money. That’s the magical elixir for what ails us. We’ve been told time and again that consumer spending makes up 70% of our economy. So, it only makes sense that the consumers be empowered to spend. To make that happen, we have to put more money in the pockets of the middle class. We needs tax cuts. Not gimmicky tax credits that require kids or mortgages. Not tax cuts that have a defined sunset just a few years down the road. No, we need honest-to-goodness permanent cuts of reasonable size.

To start, it would behoove Uncle Sam to cut the tax rates (and the accompanying federal spending) by 5 percentage points per each bracket. That would put an extra $2,000 into the pockets of a family that earns $40,000. A $100,000 household would have another $5,000 to spend. That would put billions back into the productive sectors of the economy (where it belongs) which would incite the sale, production and transport of an equal amount of products and services and, therefore, put people back to work. Then, they too will spend.

Spending begets growth, which begets more spending and growth. It’s elementary economics. Increased personal spending is the very best way - the only way - to jumpstart the economy and put people to work. It’s really that simple.

Why this hasn’t been done is utterly confounding. The furthest that Washington has gone with this recently is the temporary suspension of a portion of the Social Security tax. That was a flawed plan from the start because it was good for only one year and it cut the revenues for a Ponzi scheme already destined for bankruptcy.

It’s no wonder that the once-indestructible Barack Obama is suffering from low approval ratings as the unemployment rate lingers above 9% and families everywhere (both the unemployed and the underemployed) struggle to get by. It has become painfully obvious to even his most ardent supporters that the man doesn’t have a clue about what makes our economy work. Neither does our equally inept Congress. There’s little hope for our economy until the political class can see the economic value – and social importance - of the working class.

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


This column originally ran in the 12 September 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The real story behind your power bill

By Bob Confer

As long as the Public Service Commission allows a pending rate change from National Grid - and there’s no reason they wouldn’t - the electric company’s customers will see significant savings come January 1st. The bill for the typical household/apartment will be nearly $9.50 lower per month, while homeowners with families (who use more power) drop by almost $16. That’s $114 and $192 in extra spending money per year. Not too shabby.

Commercial and industrial users will see even bigger savings. A warehouse or department store could save a few thousand dollars per month. Manufacturers will be faced with a windfall. Confer Plastics, for example, will save $24,000 each month. Over a quarter million in annual benefit is incredibly good news. Think of how many other plants are in the same boat.

When folks read news of the rate cut’s passage you might hear a collective, “it’s about time!” accompanied by some accusatory fingers pointed in National Grid’s direction. A lot of people might assume the high rates existed only for the financial benefit of the power company; after all, corporations are widely reviled for being “greedy”.

It should be known, though, that these long-held higher rates had been in place for the financial preservation of National Grid. If the rates hadn’t existed, National Grid wouldn’t exist, either. You see, the government intervened in the electrical markets over 30 years ago and what it did has haunted power companies and their customers ever since.

Thanks to federal grants and 1978’s Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), cogeneration facilities became wildly popular across the United States. A co-gen plant creates electricity (typically with gas) and shares its waste (steam) with a nearby industrial firm or farm that can put it to use. PURPA mandated that the utilities buy co-gen electricity. That’s bad enough. Then, the federal government left implementation and enforcement of PURPA to the states. What New York State did was insane, far rivaling what other states had committed. It required companies like Niagara Mohawk (since purchased by National Grid) to buy co-gen power at 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (even though it was touted by Washington as being cheaper, more efficient energy). At the time, Niagara Mohawk was producing and/or buying power at 3 cents. So, just like that, a private company was forced into a financially imprudent situation, one where it was destined to lose.

After seeing some utilities suffer, New York rescinded the 6-cent rule. But, the pre-existing contracts with the co-gen plants were grandfathered. So, the bleeding continued; it just wasn’t allowed to get any worse. Facing potential bankruptcy, Niagara Mohawk in 1997 used billions in junk bonds to buy-out those government-mandated contracts. That investment in its preservation had to be passed onto its customers. Here we are now, 14 years later, and they’ve finally recouped the expenditure.

In theory, that government intervention into the markets had the same effect as tax. Putting aside the higher electrical costs from 1980 to 1996, think about what that pseudo-tax has meant over the past 14 years alone as Niagara Mohawk/National Grid tried to right itself. A couple in small home or apartment wasted almost $1,600 on it. A family of four blew $2,700. But, realize that’s just your cost for your home. What about the hidden costs in the economy? You paid more for goods and services at every company in New York because their electrical bills were higher. Worse yet, you probably knew someone (or maybe it was you yourself) who lost a job when a manufacturer closed shop and moved to greener pastures because of higher power bills. Look at the plight of Confer Plastics because of it. Over those 14 years we threw $4 million at it, a huge sum that could have been spent on personnel or equipment or any other part of our business. Think about the big boys who use far more power than we: with such high costs is it any wonder local employment in the automotive industry is but a fraction of what it was just 20 years ago?

This should send a clear message about how disastrous government intervention can be. Everything done by Washington and Albany has a domino effect. So, before you go thinking Health Care Reform, the EPA’s greenhouse gas rules and any myriad regulations recently instituted or proposed won’t affect you, remember this: Regulations can be just as dangerous as taxes and have the same effect on your pocketbook. Your power bill, what it has been and what it will be, proves this succinctly.

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


This column originally ran in the 05 September 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, August 25, 2011


By Bob Confer

It’s quite the procedure to become licensed to own and carry a pistol in New York State. I was required to take a course about the safety and use of handguns. I was fingerprinted. I underwent a background check. Acquaintances were interviewed by the police regarding my mental stability and character. I had to pay the government a pretty penny for the permitting process.

Pit bull owners don’t face such challenges. They need only get their dog licensed for a small fee with their municipal government. That’s odd considering pit bulls are deadlier than my gun. My pistol is not dangerous by itself. It is not freethinking. It cannot act on its own. It just sits inanimately, a danger to no one or no thing unless I take control of it. Pits bulls are quite the opposite. They behave or react as they see fit. Depending on their temperament or how they were raised, they can pose a threat to both foe and friend, ready to turn at a moment’s notice, using their powerful jaws to maim or kill.

Despite that, anyone can own a pit bull. Take the example of the twenty-year-old who attended the same birthing class I did last month. During the “pets and your baby” portion he asked the teacher, “What should I do with my pit bull when the baby arrives? He’s already bit 10 people.” He then pointed to his girlfriend and said, “She wants me to get to rid of him. I don’t want to. He’s such a nice dog.”

Obviously, the kid is too ignorant to see the danger in his dog. His baby doesn’t have a chance with a father like that.

That brings us to licensing.

Pistol permits were introduced to theoretically promote public safety. Despite there being many good gun owners, there were a few bad apples who, through gunplay and murder, gave guns a bad name. So, the government devised a system whereby only good people can own pistols and the bad ones are left to break the law if they want a handgun and are punished severely when found in possession of one.

Likewise, there are some good pit bull owners out there. But, unlike good gun owners they’re actually outnumbered by the bad ones, the countless souls who use the dogs to fashion a sense of power, protect themselves from a dangerous lifestyle they chose to participate in or hide their own insecurities. In many cases, their dogs are a weapon: They are more conspicuous than a gun and serve as a signal that they are not one to be messed with.

Remember that pistol permits were also created to inhibit carelessness with guns. Supposedly, a trained and licensed individual would not be reckless with the gun in his home and the care he would take with it would prevent accidental shootings. Where is that litmus test for pit bull owners? How many people loosely control their dogs and think they’re a swell pet for families or neighborhoods? Think back to the father-to-be; is he someone who should have a pit bull in his home? Ponder the numerous attacks by free-roaming pit bulls that happen on innocent victims, from mail carriers to small children (most recently, the 10-year-old boy in Lockport who had his face ripped open by a pit bull as he was going door-to-door selling candy). Where was the care necessary to restrain such animals? No one should be put at risk by such a canine, especially one that was originally bred for capturing or fighting other creatures (including fellow pit bulls).

The answer is regulation. The animals and their owners should be heavily-regulated (extensive owner licensing and training, mandated insurance, limited ownership and more). Ohio is a perfect example of a proactive state, it having implemented law in 1987 that identifies pit bulls as vicious dogs and requires their owners to maintain $100,000 in liability insurance.

Even though it chooses to regulate everything under the sun, New York does not regulate pit bulls, even though they account for a third of all dog-bite fatalities and a similar amount of serious dog attacks. As a matter of fact, New York is one of just 13 states that actually prohibit breed-specific legislation. That has to change; if New York can have the gall to heavily mandate a Constitutional right (the right to bear arms), there’s no reason why it shouldn’t control dangerous breeds of dogs.

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


This column originally ran in the 29 August 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers