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