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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The EPA and the common defense

By Bob Confer

Of all of the myriad agencies created and maintained by the Executive Branch, few have proven to be as detrimental to the United States as the Environmental Protection Agency. Since its birth under President Nixon’s executive order in 1970, the mission of the EPA has been to protect human health and the environment. The mission has been mutilated since the start, as the environment (or at least what we are led to believe is the environment) has taken so much precedent that the human health aspect — whether it is the physical, mental, social or economic sort — has been deemed worthless in comparison.

More often than not, it has appeared that the power brokers in Washington use the environment (and therefore the EPA) as a tool, a compelling means by which to exert its brand of total control over economic functions it would otherwise have a difficult time with without such propaganda. Over time, the EPA has touched everything from the food we eat (from over-the-top dust regulations to clean water rules that strip property rights) to the energy we use (telling oil and gas companies where, how and when to extract much-needed resources, creating a dependency on foreign sources) to the air we breathe (instituting utterly insane emissions standards for things as simple as portable fuel tanks). All of those rules and thousands more add to the cost of doing business and therefore the cost of living. The actual negative impact on the American consumer is in the hundreds of billions per year as we end up paying for these regulations at the market, fuel pump, and department store.

The EPA’s modus operandi is unconstitutional in two ways. One, the federal government is not authorized to legislate environmental issues within the states. Two, in an affront to the separation of powers, it creates laws on its own accord, laws that should in all actuality be produced by Congress.

The Founding Fathers understood that the scope of the federal system should be limited and, now, more than two centuries later it still makes as much sense as it did then. The analysis, protection, and regulation of the environment, its resources and its uses should be left to both the states and the free market.

There is no agency that better understands the uniqueness of, say New York, and its various habitats and the creatures that inhabit them than the state’s environmental arm, the Department of Conservation. It is that agency and New York’s state and local lawmakers (along with citizen participation) that should decide what are permissible levels of development and non-standard inputs into the environment as well as what may be taken from it. The federal government doesn’t have the ability (let alone the jurisdiction) to understand the intricacies and interrelatedness of the natural world, the businesses, and the people within a given state. And, frankly, it doesn’t care, either.

In all actuality, the ultimate power should belong to the individual, acting as a consumer. Participants in a marketplace will base their actions on morality and altruism as much as want and need. If a manufacturer, farmer or energy producer is found to be in the wrong in that consumer’s mind — as well as that of other consumers — the demand at the micro and, then cumulatively, macro level will be affected, changing the business’ way of doing things. The purchaser — not the government — should have the greatest effect on a specific product or industry and the practices it utilizes.

The preamble to the Constitution describes the complex yet basic and limited purposes of our government and among them is the provision of common defense. The EPA would actually have constitutional justification and legal reason for existence if it didn’t focus on the internal and instead focused on the external. One of the costliest and most dangerous threats to our nation’s economic and natural well-being is invasive species, animals and plants that don’t belong in our country but, through global trade, end up taking root and, in many cases, taking over, destroying our resources to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars in perpetuity.

There are many scourges currently laying waste to our environs. Among them are zebra mussels, which arrived via ballast water of boats traveling the St. Lawrence Seaway. These prolific Russian shellfish coat hydroelectric and water treatment facilities and costs to eradicate them exceeds $200 million per year. Another invader is the emerald ash borer, a beetle that came from Asia in the 1990s and has so far killed 100 million ash trees. 7.5 billion more trees are threatened by this unstoppable beast. The ash is incredibly important to our economy and were it to be erased from our forests (which looks likely), the lumber industry would lose $25 billion in output per year, setting off a domino effect across other industries. And then there’s the matter of the Asian carp, a large bottom-feeding fish currently making its way to the Great Lakes where it will be certain to disrupt the system’s $7 billion fishery. These invaders represent only the tip of the iceberg. Many more are here. More are coming.

With the vast amount of exports we bring in annually (an outcome of Big Government making the United State unattractive for manufacturing), it’s no wonder that we’ve opened our borders to such a pestilence. More than 4 million shipping containers come to America every year, filled with unchecked product of questionable integrity from questionable sources (think of China and the toys that had lead and/or date rape drugs in their paints). If the products themselves are that faulty, imagine the skids upon which they are shipped (what insects do they carry?) or the craft that carry them (what do their ballasts hold?).

If the EPA were serious about living out its mission, it should be determined to stop these natural invaders and protect our nation from them. These outside factors will compromise our environment and health more than any domestic factors will. So, rather than harassing a locally-owned gas station that hopes to upgrade its pumping station, the EPA should instead hold accountable the foreign firms and governments that don’t care the least bit about America’s wild lands and natural resources; after all, corrupt trading partners — like China — would prefer to see our resources expunged because it means more exporting business for them. Our losses are their gains. Invasive species represent a sort of economic warfare.

But, it is patently obvious that the EPA isn’t concerned with the foreign pests. During July of this year, the House of Representatives and the EPA worked together to craft legislation that would have eliminated all federal environmental funding to New York for 2012, something that amounted to $869 million in 2009 (the most recent year for which figures are available). The EPA forced this maneuver because New York was doing something that the EPA won’t, addressing invasive species. The state has issued new standards set for 2013 that demand cleanliness of ballast water within ships entering New York waters, which include important shipping hubs and routes such as New York City and the St. Lawrence Seaway. It was the intent of the state to prevent a disaster like the zebra mussels.

The Coast Guard plans to introduce similar standards later this decade, and like New York they’ve come under fire. EPA officials and numerous Congressmen, conveniently forgetting that we are a sovereign nation, counter with the claim that the rules are 100 times more stringent than upcoming international standards. Once again, with commentary like that Washington shows that it is more in tune with the globalists and their needs rather than the needs of the American people, our economy and our environment.

It’s also interesting that the EPA won’t do anything to stop the incoming creatures and diseases yet, in conjunction with Congress, will provide money to the states to stop — or at least deal with — their advance once they’ve arrived and taken hold. That creates a means of dependency for the states as well as job security for the EPA, two tactics that maintain the federal stranglehold over the states by somehow making it look more important than it really is.

The EPA’s approach to the security of our borders is eerily similar to Washington’s efforts when it comes to another invader: the human aliens who come to our nation unabated from Mexico. That invasion is quietly permitted for many of the same reasons — appeasement of the globalists, the destruction of America’s unique identity, and the purposeful weakening of America’s economy.

It’s obvious that protecting our borders and ensuring our common defense are an afterthought by design. That’s a major point of frustration, for it is one of the very few things for which our federal government is actually obligated and empowered to do.


Originally appeared in the 10 August 2011 The New American at:

Friday, August 19, 2011

New York should tax public pensions

By Bob Confer

New York residents are excluded from paying state taxes on the first $20,000 of their retirement income from private pensions. If they happen to be former government workers, though, things are quite different: Local, state, federal and military retirees don’t pay any state tax at all on their publicly-provided pensions, no matter if it’s $20,000 or $80,000.

Government employees are quick to defend this preferential treatment with the reasoning that if they were to be taxed, they’d move to another state in retirement. If that’s the case, then why are their retirees already leaving New York in droves? Get this: Pensions mailed to out-of-state residents who used to work in our governments cost New Yorkers $2.5 billion per year! So, if the tax exemption is a major selling point to stay in New York, why is it not working?

It’s not working because the system is broken – and utterly unfair - and it’s high time that this was rectified. Albany should either make all retirement income completely tax-exempt or cap the public pension exemption at $20,000 as well. A third option, ending all exemptions on retirement income and taxing them at their full value, is a non-starter although I would argue that it makes the most sense and grants the most equality: Income is income; it doesn’t matter if it occurs in your Golden Years or working years, so why should any of it be tax-free?

Looking at the first two possibilities and considering the dire fiscal straits that the Empire State is in (a combined $128.5 billion in state and public authority debt), it would be out of the question for the Legislature – who never met a tax they didn’t like - to fully eliminate this revenue source. So, by process of elimination, that means public sector retirees should see their exemption capped at $20,000.

This would bring in substantial revenues. There are 375,800 pensioners from state and local governments. There are 141,000 more who were teachers. Those numbers do not include hundreds of thousands more receiving funds from the pension systems of New York City and the federal government. Nearly all of the aforementioned workers – especially into the future - would fall in the $20,000-plus bracket. According to state documents, recent teacher retirees with full benefits receive $80,000 per year while recent non-teacher government retirees received an average annual package of $50,000.

Some will protest and say the average pensions for these job classifications are $47,000 and $19,000 respectively. But, those lower values include those who retired decades ago. Those outliers who bring down the average will either pass soon or have their numbers dwarfed by a gigantic population of Baby Boomers will take their place on or add to the pension rolls, all of who will fall into the much larger “recent” category.

The massive amount of taxes they should be paying would aid in containing some of the escalating costs associated with public pensions. The retirees would actually help cover some of the burden that they and their peers have put on New York taxpayers. It should be noted that annual pension costs in New York have grown from $1.47 billion in 2001 to $15 billion today. The unfunded obligation (for future retirement disbursements) now stands at whopping $196 billion.

Ignoring all of the numbers, let’s just focus solely on the premise of fairness. The tax exemption on government pensions is the ultimate slap in the face to anyone who has ever worked in - and retired from - the private sector. The State is implying that a certain class of individual (its class) is more important and should be rewarded for it. It sounds foolish, but Albany is telling us a retiree who was a parks employee, social services provider, legislator or teacher had a harder career than did a factory worker, sales clerk, businessman, or doctor. They didn’t. And, neither did those other folks. Work is work, some jobs are tougher than others, but each and every one of them comes with its own joys and stresses and, certainly, its own value. It’s time Albany realized that and put an end to the unfair advantage granted its workforce and taxed them as equally as their neighbors who worked just as hard to appreciate their retirement.

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 22 August 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Social Security & Medicare really are entitlements

By Bob Confer

When the issue of cutting America’s two largest and most broken social welfare programs - Social Security and Medicare – was broached during the recent debt ceiling debate most Americans raised a considerable stink about it. Because of that, reform was never really tabled. It would have been political suicide for any representative or senator that dare force much-needed transformation of how we observe the Golden Years and peoples’ responsibility to prepare for it.

That’s because almost everyone to a man is under the assumption that it’s “their money”, they paid into the system and it’s coming back to them. Under that belief system, these aren’t entitlement programs. Maybe that’s a way that seniors and soon-to-be retirees kid themselves into believing they’re not collecting welfare from the government. More likely, though, it shows how we’ve been misled. In high school we were taught that President Roosevelt created Social Security to give us, as the name implies, security in our retirement years. The government would take some of our money and set it aside so that we could have access to it when we needed it for food, shelter, clothing and utilities during old age. We were told that President Johnson took that same route when his administration launched Medicare, taking and saving our money for our health coverage once we - or our providers - left the workforce for good. That message of alleged self-preservation continues throughout our adult lives as we are inundated with propaganda ranging from public service announcements to television ads to regular Social Security status reports.

It’s imperative that this be understood: Seniors and workers are only half right. For the most part they did pay into the system. But, it’s not their money coming back to them; it’s everyone else’s. Social Security and Medicare are entitlement programs and it’s foolhardy to think otherwise. From the start, those who were currently employed (and therefore seeing the respective taxes deducted from their checks) paid for the seniors.

Look no further than Ida May Fuller as the prefect example of this pyramid scheme in operation. She was the first person to receive monthly SSI payments. She worked for 3 years under the Social Security program, which first began collecting taxes in 1937. She paid a total of $24.75 into the system. Mrs. Fuller received her first check at age 65 in 1940. She subsequently lived to be 100, collecting $22,889 in the process, almost a thousandfold of what she had put into it.

Medicare showed a similar immediacy of disbursements without the alleged requisite financial investment: It was signed into law on July 30, 1965 and the first beneficiaries were able to sign-up for the program on July 1, 1966. It definitely wasn’t “their money” coming back to them.

We see this in effect so vividly today. The average annual Social Security benefit is now $14,000 and the typical Medicare recipient costs the government $12,000 per year. That means a normal retiree costs taxpayers $26,000 per year. Now, imagine that he or she lives another 2 decades to the ripe old age of 85, a realistic expectation. That brings the total cost to $520,000. If he or she lives as long as Mrs. Fuller was fortunate enough to, the total cost will be $910,00. In either case, the assumption that a retiree had contributed that much to those programs is completely implausible. For many individuals, it not even possible that they paid that much in total federal taxes (Social Security, Medicare, excise, and income taxes) over their working careers.

It’s obvious that neither system – or, more importantly, our nation – can survive like this, especially when one looks at the long-term implications. Medicare is facing $37.8 trillion in unfunded obligations while Social Security is saddled with $21.4 trillion of the same. We have to change these programs significantly before we dig ourselves a deeper, or more sudden, grave.

First, though, we have to get over the lie that we’ve been living, that these programs are our investment in our future. They aren’t. We’re funding welfare programs for the aged, while, especially for Generations X and Y, endangering our future. Such can be expected when placing too much reliance on government and not in self. Through mandated participation in retirement programs the government is basically implying we are too ignorant to plan for our own retirement needs. Are we really, or is it the government that’s most ignorant, putting our not only our Golden Years, but our working years as well, in peril?

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 15 August 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Political theater and the debt ceiling

By Bob Confer

I wasn’t among the countless Americans who fell for the political theater when Gabby Giffords cast her “yea” vote for the raising of the debt ceiling. While many couldn’t see through their tears, I could see through the smokescreen and took it for what it was. It was a climactic moment much like you’d find in a Hollywood production and it was just as scripted as one. Washington higher-ups forced her appearance (against all good judgment) and wanted to paint it as something miraculous. By doing so, they were able to frame the debt debate in much the same way. There is no doubt this is how the spin was intended: Congress, which like Giffords was wounded by hate founded in disagreement, was able to overcome its injuries and forge a bipartisan agreement with Giffords-like resilience, saving our nation from certain death.

The analogy was quite the stretch, even for the spinmasters, but people bought it anyways! Most Americans were actually elated over the outcome of the debt machinations and they felt overcome with patriotism upon seeing Giffords. Even the national press fawned over the bill and her vote, calling everything historic.

Blinded by propaganda, most couldn’t see that it was not a fix for what ails us. Rather, it will only dig a deeper hole for America and spell certain doom for Generations X and Y.

Consider the following realities of Washington’s “miracle”:

The federal government is still spending beyond its means. This was a deficit reduction bill, not a deficit elimination bill. It will cut just $2.2 trillion in spending from 2011 to 2021. Earlier this year the Congressional Budget Office estimated a $9.5 trillion imbalance over the next decade. So, that leaves us with another $7.3 trillion that no one wants to address.

The bill focuses only on discretionary spending and, so far, ignores so-called mandatory spending which includes Social Security and Medicare. Our unfunded obligations to those broken entitlement programs are $15 trillion and $78 trillion respectively. It’s known that their trust funds (whether they actually exist to begin with) will be bankrupt within the next few decades. Despite that reality, Congress didn’t feel it was necessary to fix the problem now. Will they ever?

The bill added $2.4 trillion to our debt ceiling. That increase was the largest in our nation’s history, besting the $1.9 trillion increase passed by Congress in February of last year. That brings our total allowable debt (at least until the next vote) to just under $17 trillion.

Currently, our nation owes $14.6 trillion. There are a couple of ways to put that into perspective. First of all, let’s remember that this is our debt, we’re in it together. Every citizen owes $46,711. Looking at only those who contribute to society (pay taxes), it works out to be $130,243.

Secondly, let’s compare it to our overall economy. Our gross domestic product was $14.7 trillion in 2010. It’s risen only slightly this year and the fear is it will retract some over the next 12 months. Anyway you put it, our GDP and debt are nearly equal. We make as much as we owe. That would never fly in the real world (the private sector): No bank would loan, say, $14.6 million to a small business that has only $14.7 million in sales and poor regard for future obligations and an inability to change its cost structure.

The rest of the world is starting to see things that way. Immediately after the bill’s signing Chinese rating agencies downgraded our debt and tagged a negative outlook onto it. It’s tough when a communist country says you need to cut $4 trillion in spending over the next 5 years….especially when it’s the same communist country that holds a staggering $1.2 trillion in your debt.

Simply put: There’s absolutely nothing miraculous to be found in the deficit reduction bill. That’s what makes it so disgusting that the political machine used Ms. Giffords as a tool to somehow conceal – or make palatable – such fiscal misery. It’s even more disgusting that so many people fell for the political theater. Sadly, if the political playwrights continue to have their way, the final curtain will be closing on America this century.

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 08 August 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers