Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vouchers for veterans

When sending off our men and women to fight for our defense or interests abroad where they face the barrel of a gun or travel along bomb-strewn roads as a course of their daily duties, it only makes sense that upon their return we give our warriors some sort of reward since most of them are paid peanuts for the risks they take. It isn’t unreasonable to say that we should offer publically-funded healthcare to our veterans. They deserve it and it should be our responsibility to maintain and improve the health of bodies and minds that were scarified for us.

But, the current way of doing things – clinics, hospitals and doctors maintained by Veterans Affairs (VA) – shouldn’t be the only way. By following that path, we’ve achieved the cruelest of ironies: After they have survived wars and occupations overseas, the health system that was meant to protect our veterans at home could ultimately end up being the very thing that kills them.

Consider what has happened in our own backyard. A routine inspection discovered that 716 vets who were served by the Buffalo VA Medical Center could have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis from reused insulin pens. Hospital staff did not follow the necessary protocol and failed to dispose of the one-time use pens, which in turn created a health risk similar to that of sharing a syringe.

This is not the first HIV scare to plague the VA and its patients. In early 2009, some 10,000 patients from VA hospitals in three states (Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee) were put at risk of contracting the disease after unsterilized colonoscopy equipment was repeatedly used. After checking every one of the individuals exposed to the dirty tubes, it was found that 16 of them were infected — 10 with hepatitis and six with “unspecified infections”. That’s 16 too many.

Were that to happen in the private sector, doctors, nurses, and even hospitals would lose their employment and their licenses. Not in the VA system. It is, after all, a federal bureaucracy.

The barrage of local media reports and federal investigations concerning the Buffalo fiasco show a total lack of accountability amongst higher ups there and at the top of the federal chain of command. No one has been fired. The cross-functional domino effect has moved at a turtle’s pace.  It’s a repeat of the 2009 HIV scare when 3 months after the initial announcement the VA discovered that half of their medical centers still had not developed cleaning procedures, nor could they show that they properly trained their staff. Not surprisingly, no one in a position of responsibility lost their job because of the colonoscopy incidents. The closet the VA came to that? The head of the Miami VA clinic was only reassigned.

It doesn’t make ethical and moral sense to subject our veterans to such a system, so set in its ways and so averse to change. The VA has no reason or will to change because it’s a monopoly. They have a captive audience and there is no competition allowed for it.

One of the greatest aspects of free markets and free choice is competition…the dueling participants (individuals or organizations) will always aspire to offer and/or acquire the best, most diverse and effective products or services possible. Without that motivation, limitations and suspect quality rule the day.

We need to allow our vets some of that freedom (after all, didn’t they fight for freedom?) and give them the ability to choose the care they want, from who they want, and from where they want. They shouldn’t be limited to a single source. Let them get their care from a VA medical center if they’d like. Let them get their care from a Kalieda medical center if they’d like.

The best way to achieve this is through some sort of voucher system, whereby veterans would receive government-funded insurance or their providers would receive publically-paid reimbursement. It’s a simple concept that would allow the vets to escape the ills of the VA system while pursuing the best care at some of America’s best facilities.

The voucher system would not be dissimilar to Medicaid, through which recipients receive stellar care and benefits that far rival what most privately-insured individuals get. If that Cadillac insurance system can work so well for non-contributors, why shouldn’t something similar –or better – work for those who did contribute to the greatness of our nation?           

Simply put, choice and safety are two things that we can - and should - offer our veterans. What we do now affords neither. It’s time for changes…why expose them to ongoing health scares after everything they’ve done for us? 

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer

This column originally appeared in the 04 February 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Friday, January 25, 2013


Businesses and business owners have been getting the Rodney Dangerfield rap in recent years --- they get no respect.

It has become fashionable to attack capitalistic endeavors. The imagery of the  “evil corporation” is used anywhere and everywhere. The media besieges us with news reports of corporate bonuses, overseas tax havens, dirty bankers and disrespected employees. Hollywood floods televisions and theatres with tales highlighting the dark side of economics. Politicians, like President Obama, use their bully pulpits and misuse their powers to attack the whole of the business world with the same pithy vigor that was directed at them in the 1800’s.     

Much like those who stereotype based upon race, ethnicity, or culture, these individuals –and, oddly enough, businesses -- railing against businesses are suffering from a form of prejudice. They lump together all corporations – small and large, good and bad - assuming they all have the mindset possessed by the well-known, yet very small number of large, corrupted companies that have soured peoples’ opinions.

This is the ultimate slap in the face to the American economy, because reality is nothing like this. The economic landscape is in stark contrast to the “Evil Corporation” stereotype. Instead, it is one crafted of well-founded character, respect for others, and the promotion of the tenets of American principles. This is because, as a whole, it is the Common Man, people like you and me, who keep the economy going, who own or run businesses. The list of corporations is endless; it’s not just the AIGs or GEs of the world – it could be the small machine shop down the street, your doctor, the local farmer, your plumber, even the neighbor who plows your driveway.

Small businesses - those employing 500 or fewer people – are the most important facet of our economy. There are over 27.5 million small businesses in the USA, which represent an astounding 99.7% of all employers. They employ over 50% of the private sector workforce and account for 44% of private payrolls. They are innovative and cutting edge, producing 13 times more patents per employee than large firms. The reach of their neighborhood roots extends around the world as small businesses make up 97% of all US exporters. Most significantly, small businesses control the forward progress of the US economy, accounting for 64% of net new jobs. The ability and desire of entrepreneurs to prosper represent the tonic for what ails our economy. 

That being said, businesses will not destroy America…they are symbols of the very best of the American Way. To know that an individual can control his or her destiny by starting-up a company and participating in economic affairs is a comforting reflection of what this great land of ours allows us to do and what can become of it. America was founded upon this ingenuity and is continuously strengthened by the blood, sweat, and tears of small businesses, their owners, and their coworkers. Because of economic freedom and its rewards, America is the greatest society that the world has even known. Free markets equal a free people, which yield a better people and a better world.    

Despite the truth of the matter, lies reign supreme when discussing the participants and principles of the American economy. The media, the entertainment industry, politicians and many, many people seem to delight in bashing the wonders of capitalism and spreading the misguided belief that “Corporate America” will be the end of us. They are using the sensationalism of a few instances of corruption – much of it, interestingly enough, enabled and encouraged by crony capitalism and corporatism at the hands of government -- to paint an ugly picture of American business, a stigma which unfortunately draws far more innocent people into it.

It is important that you ignore the media and political mythology and realize that all businesses are not created equal. Big businesses are not the heart and soul of the economy; they don’t represent or define it. In America, it’s really the small businesses that rule the marketplace, drive our economy, and make ours the great nation that she is.

So, give them the respect they deserve. Recognize and reward their efforts and value -- shop local and buy American.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer

This column originally appeared in the 28 January 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Friday, January 18, 2013

New York's anti-gun culture

Governor Andrew Cuomo is no doubt a student of the Rahm Emanuel School of Better Government where the motto is “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste”. His gusto for over-preparedness and over-reaction -- which really isn’t a very endearing leadership trait – seen throughout his term (perhaps as a means to market himself as presidential material) was realized yet again as he and his team, in an effort to beat Washington to the punch, forced legislation through the Albany Machine that, in response to the Newtown shootings, allegedly makes New York a much safer place by preventing criminals from possessing firearms and ammunition.

The poorly-devised law (the New York SAFE Act) will have no effect on criminals. Its greatest impact – maybe it’s only impact – will be on law-abiding souls. Coming into 2013, New York already had the toughest gun laws in the nation. But, Cuomo’s overzealousness made them even worse. Now, pistol permit holders have to recertify every 5 years; background checks are needed to by ammunition; individuals are flagged for buying “large amounts” of ammo; and hundreds of thousands of previously fully-legal weapons need to be registered with the state.

But, for all the bad of Cuomo’s legislation, realize that demonization of gun owners and mutation of the Second Amendment is the culture within our state. Cuomo is only guilty of making matters worse (albeit far worse).

Even so-called conservatives conspire against gun owners in the Empire State. Under Governor George Pataki’s watch the legislature succeeded in making certain methods of possession illegal. Pistol permit fees grew and the handgun ownership age was pushed to 21. He introduced intrusive background checks that more or less defined gun shows as criminal enterprises. He signed legislation that strengthened the penalization for possessing loaded firearms. Pataki even proposed legislation that would have taken away the lifetime pistol license and required renewal every five years…something that became a “win” for Cuomo.

Furthermore, look back to 2000 when Pataki’s successor Eliot Spitzer -- then acting in his role of attorney-general -- spearheaded efforts that made New York State the first state to sue gun manufacturers, importers and wholesalers under the illogical and twisted assumption those companies contributed to danger and crime. The only thing that saved these law-abiding vendors – and their law-abiding customers - from ruin was a federal law devised later that shielded manufacturers from such lawsuits.

With such a culture in play - and completely empowered by the voters and the leaders they put in place - one could legitimately fear that it may become impossible for New Yorkers to keep most of their firearms. It’s difficult now. What sort of laws will be devised 5, 10, 15 years from now? What will the next “assault weapon” be?

New York’s manner of gun control is an affront to the American standard of liberty. Under the framing of the Constitution powers were allotted to each of the states to on their own create and enforce legislation that would affect governance within their borders. The caveat to this designation was that the states could not infringe upon any of the natural rights and rules of government called-out in the Constitution. The ability to protect ourselves was recognized as one of those rights, the Founding fathers knowing full well that it would be in the sights of an ever-growing, always-controlling government. Therefore, the gun laws spawned by the Cuomo Administration, like those in administrations before them, are unconstitutional.

This ongoing desecration of the US Constitution and natural rights is a sad commentary on where New York State has been and where it is going. But, it’s an even sadder commentary on where our great nation may one day be….New York might just be the template for future federal gun laws, especially if Cuomo’s never-ending crisis management endeavors net him control of the White House. Scary.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer

This column originally appeared in the 21 January 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

VA Hospitals: Everything That's Wrong With Government Healthcare

Recently, more than 570 veterans in upstate New York received some dire news that could be classified as tragic irony: After they have survived wars and occupations overseas, the very health system that was meant to protect them at home — the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) — could ultimately end up being the very thing that kills them.

Seven hundred sixteen vets (146 now deceased) who were served by the Buffalo VA Medical Center could have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis from reused insulin pens. Hospital staff did not follow protocol (some people believe that necessary protocol didn’t even exist at the VA) and failed to, one, dispose of the one-time use pens, and, two, label the pens by individual patient if the incorrect assumption did exist that they were intended to be used more than once. A routine inspection brought this despicable behavior to light, discovering the unlabeled, previously used pens in supply carts ready to be used again.

This is not the first HIV scare to plague the VA and its patients. In early 2009, the VA launched an internal investigation to figure out how it was possible that 10,000 patients from VA hospitals in three states (Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee) were put at risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis after unsterilized colonoscopy equipment was repeatedly used — the tubes used in the procedure were only rinsed, never disinfected. After checking every one of the individuals exposed to the dirty tubes, it was found that 16 of them were infected — 10 with hepatitis and six with “unspecified viral infections”.

What makes these incidents so disconcerting is that the VA never learned from its mistakes. As a matter of fact, mistakes don’t even represent a catalyst for change within the organization. That was made evident during the 2009 HIV scare when, three months after the initial announcement of the colonoscopy nightmare, the VA discovered that half of their medical centers still had not developed standardized cleaning procedures, nor could they show that they properly trained their staff for using the equipment. If the thought of infecting a patient — or the liability that comes with it — wasn’t enough to facilitate change, then what would be?

That’s the difference between the public sector and the private sector. In the world of private medicine, one HIV scare is more than enough. It would have set off an immediate domino effect by which capable and accountable people would have initiated the necessary changes to policy and procedure, not only with the failed practice in question, but also with a myriad of practices and equipment that could potentially create similar risk. Whereas the private sector reacts immediately and with purpose, the public sector moves at a snail’s pace, if even at all.

Furthermore, had either of those HIV scares occurred in the free markets, heads would have rolled — especially after the follow-up investigation showed, like it did in 2009, that only half of the organization adapted to the threat presented before them. Workers from nurses all the way to upper management would have suffered the consequences and the clinic(s) would have seen a necessary housecleaning that would have ultimately led to a better-managed hospital and a better-served clientele. Failure to do so would lead to fewer patients and, more than likely, a loss of licenses for workers and the firm alike.

That didn’t happen in the VA. No one in a position of responsibility lost their job because of the 2009 incidents (the head of the Miami VA clinic, Mary Berrocal, was only “reassigned”). It also appears that no one is in the crosshairs for the Buffalo debacle. Failing departments and agencies (which, by almost any standards, represents all of the federal government in today’s world) should see significant reform or abolition, but they don’t. Unlike the private sector, accountability doesn’t exist in the public sector — not to leadership, not to taxpayers, and not to patients.

It’s the disdain for the needs and rights of the last group that should make for the greatest concern. The VA system is true government-run healthcare. It’s not government-funded or government-influenced healthcare like that seen in Medicaid or Medicare. It’s honest-to-goodness, taxpayer-funded, government-managed, and government-provided healthcare. The government holds a monopoly over the care of its people — in this case, the men and women who fought for it in the armed forces — and it becomes the sole source of medical coverage, in good and bad.

The VA, in all of its gross neglect, represents the future of healthcare in America. There is a steady drive by the powers out front and behind the scenes in Washington to force our citizens into a true government healthcare system, one such as the VA that serves everyone, not just veterans. This change, like all associated with socialism on American soil, is being done in baby steps.

The VA was one of them.

The next one will be care for the old that will replace (the already-unconstitutional) Medicare as we know it. As an outcome of ObamaCare, over the next 70 years Medicare reimbursements will see a gradual downward spiral, bottoming out at a 39-percent rate for hospitals and 26 percent for physicians (versus what they would have received from private insurance). As time goes on, fewer and fewer doctors will accept Medicare patients because it won’t be worth their time or money — they can actually make a profit when dealing with the insured versus those on Medicare. Numerous surveys of physicians have found that anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of them are considering not accepting Medicare patients because of the Affordable Care Act. So, when today’s young reach their mid-60s, there will be very few — if any — doctors and hospitals that will be willing to care for them. Without access to private care, the government will have to “save the day” (by design) and open public clinics and hospitals along the lines of the VA system, but specifically for aged civilians.

The next baby step will be the ultimate destruction of the Health Maintenance Organization system that makes up modern health insurance. HMOs were created by the federal government in 1973 and saddled with an unbelievable number of obstacles and burdens that make it unsustainable and unaffordable for the long haul (such as the inability to combine purchasing power and operational activities across state lines). That inability to compete and act within a true free market is why health insurance premiums rose by 131 percent over the first decade of the 2000s. As it becomes increasingly unaffordable, more and more businesses and individuals will drop insurance — even with ObamaCare’s employer mandate. In the eyes of the government, someone will have to step in. Rather than enabling capitalism and the free will of the person, the government instead will take over and become the only legal source for medical care.

This will all take time. A government-run medical monopoly won’t happen within the next decade or two. But, it will happen before the century closes out. I will likely be dead by the time it happens, as will most of the readers of this column.

But, our children and grandchildren will be alive to see it. And, that’s unfortunate. If the VA is any gauge of the care they will receive, it will be lacking in quality, efficiency, and safety. They will run the risk of infection, rationed care, and premature death at the hands of a federal government operating beyond its legal, moral, and ethical bounds.

This originally appeared in the 14 January 2013 The New American at:

The NRA's inconsistent message of liberty

Sometimes the best friends of the liberty movement are its worst enemies.

This problem is most realized through organizations and people who are single-issue oriented. Quite often those who fight for the freedom of speech, parents’ rights, the Fourth Amendment and more call for the sacrifice of other rights in order to strengthen and/or maintain the rights that they deem most important.

This has been made grossly evident again over the past week and a half during which the protectors of the Second Amendment — the National Rifle Association (NRA) — have offered solutions to the societal issues that led to the Newtown massacre and could lead to more public bloodbaths in the future. Among their cures for such situations is the deployment of armed guards on secondary school campuses.

Putting armed guards on school grounds does not offer a direct threat to the rights of the individual. It does, though, offer a secondary effect in that it indoctrinates Americans to an ever-present police state.

As it stands now, seemingly intelligent adults have been conditioned to sacrifice liberty (and the Fourth Amendment) for alleged safety at the airports, and, through that, a majority of Americans willingly subject themselves to sexual assault at the hands of TSA agents. Now, think of how their children will be conditioned to seeing that in their travels and armed government agents roaming the halls of their schools and how they will come to accept as the norm such overreaching babysitting by Big Brother — all the while being exposed to revisionist history in their classrooms that condones such anti-Americanism.

As they age, thanks to such ubiquitous exposure to the police state in their formative years, they will come to accept — even desire — the anticipated expansion of Homeland Security as it brings TSA agents to bus depots, football stadiums, shopping malls, parks, and other public places. They will also accept without question the ever-growing network of surveillance that saturates our biggest cities and our smallest ones as well. They will never know — or expect — anything different.

While the attack on the individual is subtle, the NRA’s plan is a more direct assault on the Tenth Amendment and state’s rights. Nowhere in the Constitution does it mandate the federal policing of local municipalities and public places. That power is left to the states. The NRA, on the other hand, sees it the other way — NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said as much in his December 21 comment to the media. Among LaPierre’s statements: “With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can't afford to put a police officer in every school?” and “I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school”.

Doing so would set an ugly precedent by denying the rights of local governments (schools included) — and therefore the people — to maintain and oversee their own local police and security forces. Local control of police is one of the most important pieces of the liberty puzzle — the moment that the people lose that control and the federal government gains control of the protection of our city streets and school hallways, is the moment that we lose everything. You see, America is unique in that most policing is done at the local level by county, city, or village officers. In nearly all other countries, the police forces are managed by the national government. Accordingly, our police are closer and more in tune to the people they are empowered to serve and protect than they would be were they to report to a higher, distant power less in tune with the needs of the residents and more intent on the maintenance of power than the maintenance of freedom.

It’s ironic that the NRA claims to fully support the Second Amendment, which was added to our Bill of Rights by the Founding Fathers to not only offer a means of achieving self defense and sustenance, but also a means to offer protection from the evils of totalitarianism, whether that threat came from another country or our own country itself. The NRA’s hopes for federally funded armed security, of course, open the door to a more powerful totalitarian environment and the very type of government that our Founding Fathers wanted armed protection from.

Because of circumstances like this, the liberty movement and true Americanism would be better served if single-topic groups like the NRA focused solely on their task at hand — maintaining and/or reclaiming our right to self-defense — and didn’t delve into other areas and ideas that would only serve to harm other rights. They should leave other matters to individuals and organizations that have a more broad and consistent approach to the Constitution and natural rights (like the John Birch Society to name one).

Despite the flaws in its most recent message, the NRA has its place in the fight — despite mainstream media reports to the contrary, few political lobbies have the strength, popularity, and influence of the NRA and no one matches their ability to fight the good fight for the Second Amendment. They just need to be more careful in what they say and what they want from our government, just as any conscientious American should.

This originally appeared in the 03 January 2013 The New American at:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Churches are granted privilege under tax law. Most significantly, due to their status as 501(c)(3), they are federally tax exempt. Also, all 50 states exclude them from the property tax rolls. Across all tax breaks, churches in America realize $71 billion in savings according to a study conducted by the Council for Secular Humanism and the University of Tampa. 

In order to maintain these breaks, the rules are pretty simple: keep your nose clean in the world of politics. Churches are allowed to involve themselves in matters of public policy without it being deemed lobbying -- and incurring the wrath of the IRS -- if their actions are kept within a certain set of parameters. They can conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, and pursue public policy in an entirely educational matter. What they can’t do is contact or urge the public to contact legislators in an effort to suggest, promote and oppose legislation or intervene in a political campaign and dictate to their followers who should be the winner or loser.

Most churches do a fantastic job of staying within the boundaries of the tax code while others tread a fine line between educating and lobbying. But, as we’ve seen in recent years, more and more churches are breaking the law with vigor and becoming fully involved in both policy and politics.

Take, for example, what happened on New Year’s Day when Chicago's Cardinal Francis George and his auxiliary bishops issued a letter to their churches urging them to oppose the gay marriage bill that is up for vote in the Illinois legislature. Catholic Churches throughout the Diocese of Chicago issued the letter as a supplement to their church bulletins or emailed a copy to their parishioners. 

Although brazen – and illegal – the Diocese’s actions are nowhere near as cocksure as the campaign called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. On one Sunday during the fall of every year since 2008, this movement has hit churches across the United States. What started as just 84 churches grew to 539 in 2011 to 1,586 in 2012 (a list of participants can be found at Participating churches protest the limitations imposed upon them by the federal government by openly preaching about candidates and elections and what Scripture says about those currently engaged in an electoral campaign. They say it’s their way of using God’s word – and their freedom of speech – to tell their flock whom they should vote for. Many of these pastors even record their sermon and send it to the IRS to antagonize and make their claim that federal laws cannot contain them.  

The IRS has attended to most religious lawbreaking with a hands-off approach. In 2004 it created the Political Activities Compliance Initiative (PACI) which investigated claims of political preaching by churches during the 2004, 2006, and 2008 election cycles. After busting 80 churches and slapping them on the wrists with nothing more than a stern warning, this enforcement endeavor faded into the sunset and saw no investigations or hearings during or following the 2010 elections; nor has the IRS investigated recent breaches, even those of the pastors who self-reported their participation in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

The IRS’s reasons for allowing non-compliances are two-fold. For starters, sudden enforcement can be perceived to show support for a political party (something the apolitical IRS is keenly afraid of). Secondly, even with declining attendance, Americans still care deeply about their places of worship and, because of that tax, enforcement would be suicide for certain politicians and bureaucrats.

Regardless, this fear of repercussions has to stop. The IRS needs to step up to the plate and make non-compliant churches become complaint, especially since the agency relishes penalizing individual citizens for far lighter transgressions.

Simply put, churches can’t have their cake and eat it, too. They can’t claim separation of church and state and then demand that their members engage the state in very specific ways. Nor can they claim an unabated freedom of speech and an ability to participate in affairs of policy while simultaneously  not wanting to make the sacrifices (taxes) that other organizations and individuals must to be afforded the that ability. If they act up, they should pay up --- after all, churches are organizations that pride themselves on living by the rules (the Ten Commandments, God’s laws, et al), so it only makes sense that they behave accordingly within the rules that grant them special favor.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer

This column originally appeared in the 14 January 2013 Lockport Union Sun & Journal