Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Of all the agencies maintained by the Executive Branch, few have proven to be as detrimental to the United States as the Environmental Protection Agency. 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. The federal government is not authorized to legislate environmental issues within the states. Truthfully, 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 or jurisdiction to understand the intricacies and interrelatedness of the natural world, the businesses, and the people within a given state.

The preamble to the Constitution describes the limited purposes of our federal government and among them is the provision of common defense. Under that, the EPA would actually have constitutional justification if it didn’t focus on the internal and instead focused on the external, like invasive species at the point of entry. These animals and plants don’t belong in our country but, through global trade, end up taking root, destroying our resources to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in perpetuity. Among them 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 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, 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. If the products themselves are suspect, 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 would set strict rules and conduct numerous inspections to protect our nation from these outside factors that 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 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.

The EPA’s negligible approach to securing of our borders from alien creatures is eerily similar to Washington’s efforts when it comes to another invader: the human aliens who come to our nation unabated from Mexico. 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.

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 04 June 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, May 24, 2012


On May 16th it was announced that a bill legalizing medical marijuana in New York State made it through the Assembly’s Health Committee and that it would come to a vote in that chamber this year. That, along with what seems to be an impending about-face by Governor Cuomo (he’s studying the merits of the plant after previously having sworn it off) and a Sienna Research poll that shows 57% of New Yorkers support medical marijuana, there is a slight chance – especially with the anti-pot Republicans having such a thin lead in the Senate – that the bill might become law.

That news made me wonder: Why stop there? Why not decriminalize marijuana in New York or, better yet, legalize it at the federal level, allowing not only the terminally ill, but the healthy as well, to enjoy its properties?

Some readers might now be asking, “what is Confer smoking?” The answer is “nothing”. I have never had alcohol, tobacco products or drugs in my life, not even a sample in the smallest of quantities. My almost Mormon-like abstinence from toxins and mood enhancers is of my own choice and for my own personal reasons and benefit. Likewise, those who choose to have a drink or smoke do so for their own personal reasons and benefit. I find no fault in them doing that. We’re supposed to live by a simple concept in this country called “personal liberty”; you should be able to do with your body what you want as long as you don’t infringe upon the rights of others (or demand that they shoulder some of the burden for the consequences of your actions).

If someone wants to take a drag off a joint, more power to him. As a matter of fact he and the people around him would be better off than had he consumed alcohol or tobacco products. The merits of reefer versus those substances are numerous:

Marijuana is not addictive. Alcohol and cigarettes can be. Once someone becomes an alcoholic he is always an alcoholic, even if he has maintained sobriety for a period of time. He’s always one sip away from relapse. Even the most pedestrian of cigarette smokers have a hard time stopping their habit. Someone who starts in high school might carry that habit to his early deathbed, even while knowing the dangers. A marijuana smoker, on the other hand, can begin and end consumption of pot with absolutely no side effects.

Marijuana does not ruin families. Booze can. The destructive nature of alcohol dependency and the ugly monster that drunkenness can unleash through domestic violence and child abuse cannot be found in pot smoke. If anything, pot makes people friendlier and less violent. It should be noted that the only time marijuana ruins families is when government intervenes: There are 850,000 weed-related arrests annually and many of those unlucky souls get more jail time than they would have had they killed somebody.

Marijuana does not hurt or kill the user. 50,000 people suffer from dangerous alcohol poisoning annually, with 5,000 of them dying. Worse yet, each year 400,000 suffer slow, agonizing deaths from tobacco-related illnesses. No one dies from the non-toxic cannabis plant which various studies have shown does not cause lung cancer.

Similarly, marijuana does not kill or maim innocent bystanders. Second-hand cigarette smoke does. It can adversely affect friends and families (including small children who have no say in the matter), socking them with cancer and debilitating respiratory and coronary diseases through no fault of their own.

Marijuana can help those who are sick. It can help the afflicted deal with pain, glaucoma and more. It can also help the demented and HIV-stricken develop an appetite, crucial in preventing wasting. Alcohol and tobacco? They help people become sick.

So, just why do we crucify this plant -- that is far safer than what law allows to be consumed -- and let government waste $10 billion annually on its prohibition, when the 1920s showed that prohibition of recreational substances (alcohol at that time) is a complete failure? It comes down to control.

Even the most morally-rigid must realize that by relentlessly denying people the liberty to ingest the mellowest of drugs, our government continues to set precedent for further intrusion into our most personal of behaviors. Before you know it, they’ll be concocting laws telling us how much salt, trans fat, unpasteurized milk, or sugar we can have in our diets. Oh, wait, we’re already there!

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 May 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, May 17, 2012


The ongoing debate over Obamacare has brought to light the concept of rationed healthcare. Opponents of health care reform keenly point out that while the bill never explicitly calls out rationing, it features certain provisions that will lead the markets to adjust to strict federal demands and, therefore, dispense certain procedures in smaller amounts or not at all. Because of it being the first time that the subject has really come up in public circles, most people, especially on the right, believe that rationing is something new. It’s not. The free markets have been practicing that for quite some time. I should know; with a 4-inch long, 1-inch wide scar running south of my belly button – and a couple of related scars around my groin – I could be the poster child for rationed health care.

In 1997 I went to the emergency room after suffering with incredible pain near my stomach. The old-fashioned tests and the white blood cell count told the doctor it was appendicitis. He said that in the old days he would have taken out the offending body part, but he couldn’t now as he was hamstrung by the insurance companies which indicated the WBC count was in “the grey area.” So, he let me go and said the appendix would flare up again and, at that time, they would operate.

He was right. Nearly 2 years later it acted up on a Friday night. But, I let it go for the whole weekend thinking it was food poisoning. By Sunday afternoon the useless organ exploded and only painful urination (the result of the infectious poison surging through my body) sent me to the ER. After 18 hours of waiting and testing in the hospital, it was determined that I had peritonitis. I was rushed into emergency surgery and spent a week in the hospital. I lost 30 pounds and nearly my life.

That begs the question: What did the health insurance provider lose? In 1997, had the appendix been attended to as it would have been traditionally, It would have been a simple, relatively inexpensive procedure. Instead, they had to blow tens of thousands of dollars on elaborate surgery and post-operative care -- while putting me at risk -- because of the initial attempt at rationing.

I’m not the only one who has suffered at the hands of the HMOs in regard to the strict, often ridiculous, dispersal of care. Various other maladies fall under similar limitation clauses, while some insurance companies have caps on payments for specific services or participate in dumping of the insured. It’s a system that threatens the well-being of millions of Americans.

Things won’t get any better with Obamacare, which offers the public sector bedfellow for the private sector’s devious practice. It’s nowhere near as hideous as the overblown “Death Panel” hysteria once driven by Sarah Palin, but it’s dirty nonetheless through 3 entities it has empowered. The advent of Affordable Care Organizations will reward doctors for keeping costs under control. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute will create templates for what constitutes worthwhile investments in health by private and public providers. The Independent Payment Advisory Board will limit payments to doctors, hospitals, and health care providers, forcing their hand in deciding what to offer.

There’s no doubt that health insurance and Medicare are too expensive and will become even more so (the cost of insurance to my company and coworkers grew by 112% over the past 9 years). But, hare-brained rationing schemes aren’t fully effective in tempering costs, and hot tempers caused by one side blaming the other for doing something its side is guilty of is not good for advancing an appropriate discussion of health care in America. Rather than rationing care by policy alone (and not the situation that presents itself), we’re better off finding significant savings elsewhere through self responsibility, the elimination of state borders in health shopping, the creation of true (risk-based) health insurance and the destruction of the HMO system as we know it. But, those are issues for another day…and another 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 21 May 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, May 10, 2012


A debate that has dominated the American political scene for months has been this premise that everyone should “pay their fair share”. So much attention has been trained on this matter at the national level (in the form of federal income tax) that most people have almost totally ignored the concept at the local level (in the form of property taxes) where it would carry even greater weight.

Think about these disconnects in fairness concerning local taxation:

In comparing properties of equal size, why should a childless couple pay as much as a family of four, when the family of four consumes far more in public services (especially public schooling)?

How is it just that municipalities and schools in Allegany County and the Adirondacks can reap revenues from what are basically absentee landowners living elsewhere (like camp owners) who come to town just a few weekends and weeks a year and acquire almost no benefit from the taxes they’ve paid? Why should those non-resident property owners be excluded from having say in how their taxes are being used in the places where they are paying them?

In rural locales like Niagara County, why should farmers carry the highest portion of the revenue burden just because they happen to own vast tracks of land? It’s not as if they are receiving a proportionate amount of services.

Why should property owners pay so much for Medicaid (in most New York counties it’s at least 50 percent of the county tax) when it should be the obligation of the population as a whole to fund this forced benevolence deemed to be so necessary?

Why should senior citizens on fixed incomes who have been paying into the system their whole adult lives continue to pay high taxes for things they won’t use anymore, but once did and once paid for accordingly through taxation at that time?

Why should someone who loves his home and wants to make it better with a swimming pool or addition have to suffer the consequences at reassessment and end up paying more in taxes than someone who left their land idle?

Beyond those glaring displays of wrong, consider the very act of property taxation itself. You are led to believe – and even possess legal documents that show as much – that you own your property. You really don’t; ownership is only theoretical in modern America. It’s more accurately stated that you are renting the property from your local governments and school districts at a premium, because, if you didn’t pay your taxes it wouldn’t take long for that governing body to take that property from you --- even if the mortgage was fully paid-for!

This travesty carries special meaning in New York State, where property taxes are 70% above the national average. In Niagara County the average home of $95,800 has a property tax of $2,800, meaning that local homeowners pay over $1,200 more than their peers in other states with equally-assessed properties. New York’s cure for the problem was not to cut property taxes, but rather to still allow them to grow, but only at a supposedly-stunted rate (2% tax cap). That’s still a princely sum: After just 5 years of capped increases, the average homeowner will find herself paying $3,091, nearly $300 more than she had.

If you really want to make a change for the better and guarantee that everyone “pays their fair share”, then follow the lead of North Dakota. On June 12th voters there will have the chance to determine whether or not the state will abolish property taxes (Measure #2). If approved, North Dakota would find other means to fund state mandates and local governments, be it through higher income taxes or higher state or local sales taxes, ensuring everyone assumes equal responsibility for the government they want.

It will be interesting to see how that vote pans out. It will help show if the national rhetoric of taxable equality is genuine or just talk. Hopefully fairness does reign, and their property taxes are eliminated. If so, North Dakota would make a great model for the rest of the United States – including New York.

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 May 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


The town of Newfane – more specifically the lakeshore hamlet of Olcott - has a feral cat problem. The community is inundated with dozens of free-roaming, essentially-wild felines which have created health and safety issues galore as well as major inconveniences to property owners, businesses and tourists. Town officials considered trapping and eradicating the cats but animal advocates, citing inhumane practices, recently raised a stink and would rather that the town allows volunteers to trap and transplant or trap and spay/neuter and release.

The approaches proposed by the cat lovers beg two questions: What is so humane about reintroducing feral cats to the environment and where – and for what animals – does “animal advocacy” begin and end? I ask those questions because I wonder why, if they are so concerned about animal welfare, the advocates seem not to care about the wildlife of the region, which is arguably far more important than this invasive specie.

Yes, the feral cat is an invasive specie. They are a scourge on the natural world that demolishes the integrity of our environment, no different than two other threats bearing down on Newfane that were also introduced to the area by Man – the emerald ash borer (the beetle set to destroy every ash tree in the area) and the Asian carp (the monstrous fish that will upset the Great Lakes). Those two creatures will have measurable and considerable impact on our economy so they are perceived as major dangers by the populace at large; feral cats, on the other hand, are not popularly reviled, because their economic impact is nil (although it can be argued their presence has prevented many tourists from returning to Olcott).

Alas, no dollar value can be placed on the dangers cats pose to local wildlife. According to a 2010 study by the University of Nebraska Extension, there are 60 million stray and feral cats in the United States and another 88 million domestic cats (which may spend time outside), all of which kill 1 billion of our feathered friends every year. Low-nesting and ground-nesting birds are most likely to fall victim to the unnatural predator and that carries special meaning in Newfane where there are miles of shoreline on Lake Ontario, 18-Mile Creek and Keg Creek that rare and endangered sandpipers, plovers and other shorebirds call home. More familiar woodland and lawn birds like catbirds, thrushes, cardinals and ovenbirds are also easy prey for the cats.

The dangers of feral cats don’t end there. They are sponges for and transmitters of disease. Over the years I’ve seen the bodies - or witnessed the death – of diseased feral cats that come from local colonies of barn cats. It can be a little disturbing. One feral cat I observed in its death throes would alternate between long periods of unconsciousness and sickening seizures where its whole body would flop before finally succumbing to whatever ailment it had. Now, imagine your domestic cat coming in contact with one of those animals and your beloved family friend taking ill and suffering before your very eyes.

Even more horrifying than that, imagine you or a family member being stricken with rabies acquired from a feral cat. If left unattended, a painful, ugly death is guaranteed. It can happen and nearly did in Newfane on quite a few occasions in recent years when unsuspecting souls thought they were handling tame, clean cats. In 2006 a calico cat frequented Burt Dam and many fishermen befriended the cat. That spring the cat contracted rabies. Because of that, a health alert went out to the public and at least 3 men received rabies shots because of their association with the cat. Then, in 2010, a Himalayan/Siamese cat was dropped off on Gow Road. That young cat, and no doubt the mother and litter it came from, had rabies, creating a huge scare that was reported by local print and broadcast news outlets.

It’s patently obvious that feral cats aren’t cute and cuddly like their housebound brothers and sisters. They are a danger to Man, pet and nature alike. In a case like this, emotion needs to be cast aside and replaced with logic. “Fixing” the cats won’t fix the problem. The town of Newfane has an obligation to protect its citizens and the environment and to best do so it needs to take the unpopular path and completely eradicate the feral cat population that has overtaken Olcott.

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 May 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers