Thursday, March 29, 2012


Quite a few years ago I wrote a column about bringing the Castle Doctrine to New York State. The Doctrine would empower the individual by recognizing, within the confines of the home, the natural right to self-defense. In doing so, it would repeal the Duty to Retreat, the morbid rule that requires, in the event of a break-in, homeowners to take a breather and not immediately protect themselves, their family and their property from the offending criminal.

Duty to Retreat demands that you first flee the criminal and then assess if he is a threat to limb or body. Only after the third step in the process -- announcing your intent to harm the criminal -- can you retaliate with potentially deadly force (handgun, shotgun, etc.) to subdue the individual. It’s foolish, because you are mandated by law to give the degenerate thug friendly consideration that he certainly isn’t giving you or your family. The Castle Doctrine would make everything right and put the power in the hands of the responsible, law-abiding citizen.

As with almost all of my columns, it was written with activism in mind. I believe that the newspaper is a great means by which to educate others and engage your elected officials. So, I did just that, contacting Senator George Maziarz at the time, asking that he develop Castle Doctrine legislation for New York. He followed through and has introduced the bill in each of the past 4 years, understanding that the protection of home and family is paramount.

Last week, he came under fire for that bill (S.281) when two-dozen Senate Democrats, driven by popularized mass hysteria, got together to use the Trayvon Martin situation to try to score some political points and paint Maziarz as someone who is intent on passing legislation that, in their words, has the effect of justifying murder. Collectively penning and signing a letter that they released to the Albany press and to their constituents through their Senate websites, they asked that Maziarz “withdraw the dangerous bill.”

Showing how intent they were on playing politics and not focusing on the details, their letter kept calling his bill “Stand Your Ground”, referencing the law that they said was responsible for Martin’s death. They’re comparing apples to oranges. Maziarz’s bill, as I mentioned, is formulated on the Castle Doctrine, one that allows reasonable unrestrained protection in the home or in the car (the latter being an extension of one’s castle). Stand Your Ground, on the other hand, allows the right to immediate self-defense anywhere and everywhere (which, by the way, makes sense because you don’t encounter criminals only in the home). So, their weak argument was flawed from the start by misleading any interested parties -- and maybe even themselves. Worse yet, their letter also engaged in dangerous race-baiting, something that further brings down their argument and their intelligence.

Looking past their grandstanding, I cannot help but wonder about the ability to reason by anyone so strongly opposed to the Castle Doctrine (or “Stand Your Ground” as they mislabel it). How can those Democratic Senators seriously look their constituents in the eyes and tell them that they don’t have rights - but the criminals do - and we should do what we can to protect all criminals from harm and afford them the chance to commit their crimes untouched by mandating that we cower to them? Only in New York could elected officials think it makes perfect sense to exercise respect for criminals, giving them the extra seconds and minutes they need to steal, maim, rape and kill once they have broken into our homes.

That said, does it really sound like those Democrats have the best interest of the people in mind? No. They have only themselves in mind or else they wouldn’t be playing politics with a boy’s corpse. I will take their bombastic letter for what it is – trash – and continue to support Senator Maziarz’s bill until it becomes law because I’d hate to see yet another teenager laid to waste. Understand that here in New York that death would occur as the result of current law telling the boy’s dad that he has a duty to retreat and protect a criminal before protecting his beloved family…just as those 24 Senators want it.

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 April 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Early in this legislative session, New York senators and assemblypeople debated Sheldon Silver’s proposal to increase the minimum wage in New York by $1.25. The argument – whether to maintain the status quo or strive for $8.50 – is wasteful political rhetoric in itself, for the determination of the lowest wages is best left to the free markets, not the government.

The laissez-faire approach would not be without controversy for most people have a misguided concept of employment, perceiving it to be a right and not a privilege. They fail to understand that it is a very basic economic transaction. It is no different than making a purchase at a grocery store. It’s a trade — one where the worker willingly gives to his employer, in exchange for compensation, the use of his physical and mental services. As with any economic activity, either party can prevent ongoing transactions, whether such termination is based in dissatisfaction with the exchange, or the influence of supply and demand in the micro- and macro-markets.

Those factors pit employer against employer in an openly free market when it comes to the acquisition of satisfactory or superior human talent. To be successful in the labor market, just as it would need to be in the marketplace for its goods and services, the business must offer to its target a package that makes it attractive to that party. In this case, the target is the worker and, if it hopes to secure a good workforce, the employer must offer a wage rate and benefits package that makes them competitive within their region or sector (manufacturing, health care, retail, etc).

Over time, competition collectively creates higher wages because all employers must provide the average or best in order to be successful at the next level of the economic equation -- the end product. If a business does not pay a wage that is commensurate with work or that offered by similar, neighboring employers, the end product (goods or services) will suffer because the employees acquired at the lower wages may be the labor pool’s outliers of suspect ethic or low adaptability who were unemployable – or not sustainably employable - in other businesses or, reflecting the power of lower wages, they may be souls who are unmotivated to excel in their duties. Such workers have the potential to put out poor quality and subsequently harm the health of that business by forcing away customers dissatisfied with their purchase. An open economy would prevent that – or suffer the consequences - by choosing its own minimum wage.

That scenario shows capitalism is founded in Darwinistic principals by which only the strong survive (and that’s why it’s far and away the very best economic system ever created). But, for some industries that survival instinct is given a crutch by the minimum wage, something counterintuitive to the foundation of the minimum wage. Many employers in low-return, low-cost sectors (like fast food or packing) have no reason to compete at the labor level and better their offerings to existing and prospective employees because they know exactly what their competitors are paying ($7.25/hour). In essence, the minimum wage acts as a disincentive to higher wages because it gives them a sense of certainty and a comfort level that keeps whole industries at or near the bottom salary.

Likewise, there are workers who use the minimum wage as a crutch, too. They know that the minimum wage will provide a basic level of income and they don’t have to entertain the competitive nature of employment by seeking higher wages elsewhere. As long as the state or the federal government guarantee them a steady - and often growing – income level with minimal betterment of self or the attempted attainment of a better job with greater responsibility and earnings, they’ll skate by on the government’s forced benevolence. Take away the crutch and they’ll be forced to improve themselves.

Simply put, the minimum wage is destructive to the economy in the long-term by eliminating competition from the acquisition of employment by workers and the businesses that pay them. It ultimately creates an overall lower wage by cancelling out the productive nature of capitalism that forces all participants to be the best they can be. If companies were left to do their own thing – and whole classes of the workforce where properly motivated - one can rightly assume the actual minimum wage would exceed the government’s $7.25 standard.

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 March 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


For years, the model citizens who engaged in their civic duty by attending and speaking at town and school meetings had faced an uphill battle in their quest to make their voice heard as best as it could be. Many found themselves at a disadvantage to the elected officials whom they were working with (or against). Whereas the board members had access to reams of documents supporting the topics scheduled for discussion at the meeting, the average citizen was left in the cold, possessing only the simple agenda for the evening’s affair.

That changed - somewhat - on February 2nd when section 103(e) of the Open Meetings Law went into effect. It says that any proposed resolution, law, rule, regulation, policy or amendment set for discussion during the meeting must be made available to the public in advance of said meeting. The law says that if the governing body maintains and regularly updates a website it has to post online that information which many call the “board member packet”.

A majority of school districts across New York have not had a problem complying with the law. Schools have long had vibrant, fluid websites that provide students, parents, and teachers with data ranging from a rundown of the day’s events to instructional information. Because of that, most have done a bang-up job of providing agendas to and minutes from their Board of Education meetings. So, it’s only fitting that they provide board member packets in their entirety.

A perfect example of a compliant organization is the Royalton-Hartland school district. In the day prior to their March 8 meeting they put onto their website a PDF file that gave residents everything they would need to read on with the board and/or be at par with them if a public discussion ensued. That massive file was 19 megabytes in size and 151 pages in length. Delivered in that manner, it is extremely convenient and its use is left to discretion: The activist can print up the sheet she wants or take her laptop computer to the meeting so she can have access to the entire tome.

While school districts have performed admirably in meeting the new law, municipalities have failed miserably. Most websites maintained by cities, villages and towns are not updated regularly, despite ever-evolving government and public services. Some see weekly updates, others monthly. Many more are static and never change. Because of that, they’ve been able to comply in their own little way, which, based on the language of section 103(e) allows agencies without routinely updated websites (with no exact definition of “routinely updated”) to make the board member packets available prior to or at the meeting for a reasonable fee (again, “reasonable fee” is left up to interpretation). So, a gadfly about the city hall will have to go through the rigmarole of going to that facility one day or one hour early, requesting the information, paying for it, and then awaiting its printing, while still affording himself some preparatory time to go through the documents prior to the meeting. When it comes to municipalities, full disclosure remains the obstacle that it always has been.

The best way to overcome that -- and to make sure that local governments follow the same just practices of schools -- is to hold them accountable. If you find that your taxing jurisdiction regularly makes agendas, minutes, and more available online in a timely manner you have a pretty good case to demand that the packets be made available online. If that doesn’t work, take it to the next level. Share your concerns with the Department of State’s Committee on Open Government. They have a full-featured website at

On the other hand, if your community isn’t web savvy and has only a minimal presence on the internet, politely ask that they get with the Twenty-first Century. Informational websites don’t have to be elaborate works of art. They can be made affordably and easily in-house and they can be updated with almost no effort.

In either scenario, a simple clerical act of scanning documents and/or uploading Word and Excel files is all that’s necessary for disclosure. All the municipality has to do is put information online; information that’s useful to you as a resident and, more importantly, as an engaged citizen.

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 March 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


My phone bill is probably not very different from yours. I have a simple plan with only some minor bells and whistles, like caller ID. Monthly, it works out to be $57.69. What’s frustrating is that just $42.49 is for phone service itself. The remaining $15.20 is taxes and surcharges. That’s over a quarter of my bill and $182 every year.

So, what’s the story behind those charges listed in the invoices? Here’s the breakdown in descending order of cost:

Federal Access Charge ($6.45): Of all the surcharges, this is the only one unrelated to a government-mandated cost (taxes, regulations) -- despite the “federal” moniker. The Federal Communications Commission has allowed this charge since the mid-1980s as a means to help phone companies cover the cost to maintain wires, poles and other components of infrastructure used to connect customers to the network. The maximum allowable charge is $6.50 so you will see most phone providers at or near the high-water mark. They do this rather than putting it into the main service fee (as you would think they would) because it induces customers into thinking they are paying lower phone bills. In my case, the phone company can market a $42.49 package to consumers, rather than the more accurate $48.94. That seems kind of dirty.

Sales Tax ($4.06): This is the same combined local and state sales tax that we are all familiar with in other economic transactions.

Universal Service Fund ($1.55): This federal tax brings in $9 billion per year. It is responsible for the TV ads that you see touting free or discounted phone service to the poor; $1 billion of the collections provide them with cell phones (which should be noted are a luxury, not a basic human need). The government uses the rest to lessen phone charges in high cost areas and provide telecommunications services to rural health care providers and economically disadvantaged schools and libraries.

Excise Tax ($1.33): This is a 3% tax applied to the local service portion of your bill and its start goes all the way back to the nullification of the income tax of 1894. At the time, the government needed some way to fund the military in the Spanish-American War, so it temporarily taxed telephones. The tax reappeared in World War I as a war tax yet again. Then in 1932 it became a permanent part of Americana as the government searched for new revenues during the Great Depression as other revenue sources dried up. In 2006 the IRS did away with the 3% excise on long distance calls after the US Court of Appeals ruled that the tax was illegal. Unfortunately, the local portion remains and feeds $5 billion to Uncle Sam annually.

Regulatory Assessment Fee ($1.25): This surcharge helps telecommunications companies cover the costs associated with in-state access charges, property taxes, regulations and compliance. In other words, it’s a fee levied against the consumer to help the phone company pay its costs that are specific to doing business in New York.

E911 ($0.35): This tax is supposed to cover the costs of local jurisdictions’ efforts in providing 911 services to their citizens. It doesn’t. The state collects this fee that brings in $200 million per year. Only $8 million of that goes back to the counties for their call centers and central dispatch and it is doled out via grants rather than being sent back to the taxpayers of each county at the same volume it is paid in. The remaining $192 million is used to balance the state budget. Unfortunately, this misappropriation of funds gets almost no pressure from the media and local elected officials from across New York State. This should be especially maddening to the residents of Niagara County where we have to find at least $8 million in taxes and borrowing to pay for the new emergency radio system which should have been paid for in full by the E911 tax.

NY Franchise 184 ($0.19): Every telephone company operating within New York must pay Albany three-eighths of 1% of their gross receipts from all sources within the state. To the uninitiated it sounds like a tax levied against the corporation, but as with all such charges, they are passed onto the consumer.

FCC Regulatory Fee – Wireline ($0.02): This is a tax assessed by the Federal Communications Commission on long distance providers to pay for the FCC’s operations.

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 March 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, March 1, 2012


When property owners in the Royalton-Hartland School District received their school tax bills late last summer, nearly all of them were taken by surprise by a new line item that indicated the district’s (read “taxpayers’”) financial support for the Middleport Free Library, forever adopting it as its ward. That unexpected surcharge, which ranged from $25 to $45 for most households in the community, created an outpouring of ire as numerous callers to the local talk radio show voiced their frustration over the tax and its sly installment. It remained a recurring topic on that show, and in local diners, for weeks.

Nobody was happy. Well, almost nobody. There were a few (164 to be exact) who were. More than likely they did not represent the typical make-up of the voting population and were instead the friends of the library who originally called for the district’s funding of the establishment and who seemingly were the only people (other than the dozen “nay” votes) aware of the district-wide vote that occurred in June, just a few weeks after the school district’s annual budget vote (which begs the question – why wasn’t the funding issue offered as a ballot item during the regular vote?).

It’s that sense of not knowing that so confounds district taxpayers – yours truly included - even to this day. We feel hoodwinked by 2 organizations – a school and a library – that pride themselves on educating people and, no pun intended, doing things by the book. The school district did a poor job of educating the masses on the library funding issue, a relative game-changer for the Roy-Hart culture and future tax obligations. The “why” and “how” of the new tax should have been presented to the public in the district newsletter, on its website, or in this newspaper. The closest that it came to any of those were some legal notices in the classifieds of this newspaper. But, the legal notice featured a header regarding the Middleport Library, not the Royalton-Hartland school district. With such a misleading title, most taxpayers overlooked the notice, figuring it didn’t affect them. How wrong we were.

In the months since whilst the disgruntled electorate mostly surrendered (figuring this to be a done deal and a losing battle), Mary Cedeno has led a trio of vocal advocates rounded out by Judy Hill and Michael Miano who have tirelessly fought (by pursuing numerous legal angles) to bring about a re-vote, one where the entire district could be adequately informed about the issue and make the appropriate vote, be it a yes or a no. They understand that the vote could go either way and they would even be fine with a “yes” vote. It’s the principal of the matter: They want the vote to be conducted on the up-and-up. The aforementioned trio has been heading up a petition drive in recent weeks and will be leading a rally calling for a re-vote this coming Thursday, March 8th at 6:00 p.m. at the Royalton-Hartland High School, just prior to the school board’s regular meeting.

Make it a point to come out if you’d like to call upon what has become the rarely used power of local control – your vote – that was so keenly recognized in the formation of our Constitutional Republic and once widely utilized. That’s the whole crux of their efforts and the support of others who still care about the issue. In this modern era of misguided governance in which the vast federal government rules the roost with almost no input from the citizenry, important local issues need to be presented in a manner that allows voters to participate and make their voice heard in an appropriate and educated manner. The library tax is one those very rare issues where it should be. We can’t allow the book to be closed on local control. If it is, you’ll find there won’t be a happy ending.

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 March 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers