Friday, April 26, 2013


When I was in high school some 20-plus years ago, BOCES was considered a dumping ground; those who pursued the vocational arts were looked at – by school administrators, parents, and peers alike - as sub-par students, kids who weren’t bright enough to hack the standard path of high school education, let alone the rigors of college. Times have changed and vocational education has become more acceptable to mainstream education but, still, a lot of today’s parents who were educated during that era still carry some long-held (and totally unacceptable) disdain for the program.

I would argue that today’s BOCES students – as well as those of my time – are some of the very brightest that we have. It takes a special collection of intelligence, common sense, and learning ability to excel in the breadth of knowledge and skills required by machining, mechanics, nursing, computers and the like.   

They are also some of the brightest because they understand the future and their role in it.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, a lot of their college-interested friends have a troublesome future ahead of them because the job market has seen a saturation of college educated workers and it cannot accommodate them, leading to underemployment, unemployment and the unfortunate situation in which college-educated adults face a lower standard of living than their college-educated parents before them. On the other hand, teens and young adults who develop vocational skills see immediate rewards, long-term gain, and stability through even the worst economies because they are marketable, in demand, and in relatively low supply.     

A perfect example would be machinists. Their prospects are overwhelming: Numerous studies have found that in upwards of a half-million manufacturing jobs across the United States remain unfilled due to the lack of qualified candidates. As for being “qualified”, a college degree doesn’t cut it – but a certificate from a trade school does. High school seniors who took machining at BOCES are guaranteed a job immediately upon graduation and, in most cases, were claimed by area machine shops and factories in their junior year. A BOCES machining graduate, fresh out of school, could command a starting pay in the range of $15 to $20 per hour throughout the northeast, more if he left the area.

Teens who pursue nursing at BOCES, either in high school or afterwards, in effort to become Licensed Practical Nurses, also face a welcoming job market.  Due to the aging Baby Boomer population and the stress it places on the health industry, there will be a nursing shortage over the next decade and beyond when demand is expected to outstrip supply. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, LPNs at the lowest 10% of the wage scale earn $14.89/hour, while the median wage rate is a smidge under $20. Those wages are expected to rise as the health sector changes. Plus, the role of LPN is often used as a stepping stone for those looking to become Registered Nurses, who bring in a median wage in excess of $31.

We can’t forget truck drivers, either. Although commercial driver licenses aren’t offered as a part of curriculum to high school students, most BOCES offer them to adults. A high school graduate who invests just $2,500 to $4,000 into a CDL will find himself with opportunity: there are currently 400,000 openings for CDL drivers nationally and that mismatch of supply versus demand will be in favor of the licensed drivers for the long haul as a good portion of truck drivers are entering their retirement years.  Because of that, the starting salary for truck drivers ranges from $38,000 for local work to $45,000 for over-the-road haulers. Experienced long-distance drivers net $75,000 and many top out at $100,000.

So, it’s not surprising that the trade certificates earn just as much as – and, in most cases, even more than – college diplomas. Recent college grads earn an average of $16.81/hour, a value that has remained relatively flat over the past decade. Ongoing salary growth is restrained as well.

And, mind you, the College Board said that average cost nationally for an in-state public college is $22,261 per year. What did BOCES cost the high school pupil? A fraction of the cost of college, if anything at all. Even the CDL class ends up being one-eighth the cost of one year of college.

It should be obvious to teenagers and parents that vocational education shouldn’t be considered an afterthought. It’s arguably a better choice than college. 

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

This column originally appeared in the 29 April 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Sunday, April 14, 2013


A conversation that I regularly have with parents of high schoolers centers on the job market that their children will enter. The post-recession economy is tough enough for mom and dad, so they can’t help but wonder what might be the best path of study for their kids to pursue in college and, in turn, what sort of career should they prepare for to ensure a comfortable adulthood.

It’s to the point now that in those conversations I deemphasize the importance of college and suggest that parents inspire their teens to go after a career that is not predicated on a college degree. Economic and employment trends are showing both immediate and long-term needs for skilled tradesman. A teenager would be far better off by abandoning the college preparatory, general education tract in high school and, instead, entering BOCES and/or preparing for trade school after graduating.

It’s an outcome of supply and demand; there’s just too much competition for a finite number of job openings that require college degrees to warrant an investment in a diploma.

This wasn’t always the case. Just a generation or two ago, the college-educated were at a premium and, accordingly, could fetch a premium. Following World War II, only 5 percent of Americans could claim a college degree. In 1970, only 26 percent of the middle class workforce had received any education beyond the twelfth grade. Now, more than 3 in 10 have a degree, while 70 percent of young Americans enter college within 2 years of their high school graduation.

Due to this glut of educated workers, employers either can’t match candidates to jobs for which they became enlightened (over-qualification) or they can command lower wages paid for college graduates than one would have assumed just a decade ago or what one expects based on the size of the post-secondary investment (those are the outcomes of over-supply).

Not a day goes by that this isn’t proven across America.

Newspapers have been chock full of reports of college graduates having to accept what they perceive to be menial jobs since businesses in their career field aren’t hiring while many more have had to move back into their family’s homes to make ends meet, inspiring the title of the “Boomerang Generation”. 

There is truth to be had in those anecdotal reports. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity says that roughly half of college graduates are working jobs that don't require a degree. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that 21 percent of college graduates up to the age of 34 live with their parents, an increase of 62 percent versus the findings of 2001’s survey.

To think, all of this misery for degrees that parents, teachers, guidance counselors and popular culture have painted as “must-haves”, which end up leaving the average college graduate with $27,000 in debt. Without the job opportunities to make good on the potential they have – or they alleged potential that they bought – they are saddled with the burdensome debt for the long haul, which is why total college debt in America exceeds $1 trillion. In comparison, total credit card debt in the US is “only” at $800 billion.  

While the reality of the economy paints such a grim picture for young college-educated Americans, that same economy paints a rosy picture for their peers who instead opted for tax-payer funded training as machinists or paid a nominal fee to develop their skills as truck drivers.

More on this next week.

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

This column originally appeared in the 22 April 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


I’m not what you would consider a sensitive guy, yet when I hear about the atrocities perpetuated by Dr. Kermit Gosnell I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and nearly tear up.

The Pennsylvania abortionist is currently under trial, having been accused of conducting hundreds of illegal late-term abortions over a nearly 20-year period, tearing fetuses from the womb after 24 weeks or more. 24 weeks sits smack dab in the middle of the grey area for viability. Thanks to the miracles of modern science, a preemie born at 24 to 26 weeks has a 53% chance of survival.

Those statistics -- and the law -- didn’t faze Gosnell.

Neither did the very essence of life.

Gosnell would actually kill babies who worn born alive and breathing. He would use scissors to snip their spinal cord, a horrific act of inhumanity that his staff said was accompanied by an unimaginable scream from the dying infants. Gosnell would then take that evil further, cutting the feet off of the babies and keeping them in jars like morbid trophies.

As unconscionable and frightening as Gosnell’s sustained disregard for precious life was, this is likely the first time that most of the readers of this paper have heard of the monster. The mainstream media, from daily newspapers to the Associated Press to broadcast news outlets --  like CNN, Fox News and the 3 big networks --  have mostly ignored the trial.

The limited coverage – or lack of thereof – normally wouldn’t be par for the course, as killing sprees as disgusting as this tend to overwhelm the news cycle. Think about how the Newtown Massacre dominated newscasts for weeks and how still, to this day, we hear references to the shootings that happened over 4 months ago. Even smaller scale events have gotten more attention – like the sensationalized murder trials of Casey Anthony and Jodi Arias that gripped the nation.       

So, how did Gosnell’s acts – fit for our macabre media --  become a footnote?

The reason is simple: The press, policy makers, and a good number of citizens have a love affair with abortion.  

Covering, and therefore putting in a bad light, something like Gosnell’s death clinic doesn’t fit with the expectations of our allegedly-modern, allegedly-advanced and allegedly-civil society. Giving press to Gosnell’s acts would do nothing to promote so-called reproductive rights (the legalized killing of a human in utero) and would, instead, cause even the most ardent supporters of abortion (or choice) to second guess their leanings. It’s purposely kept quiet to further the agendas of making abortion appealing to the masses and suppressing life, even in its youngest, purest and most innocent forms.

Consider that one of Gosnell’s heinous crimes, late-term abortion, is becoming more acceptable, despite the very real chance of baby viability. Here in New York it is the goal of the Governor to this year loosen the restraints on the act. Current state law says late-term abortions can be conducted if the life of the mother is in immediate danger. Gov. Cuomo would like to change the language to accommodate the health – not the life – of the mother. That sort of definition can be abused mightily, because the most nebulous and weak claims – including mental health issues like stress - can be made to allow the scraping of the womb.

Even Gosnell’s most egregious act – the murder of birthed children -- is becoming more palatable to so-called intellectuals. Last year, the Journal of Medical Ethics argued that infanticide was perfectly acceptable because newborns are not real persons, and their killing should be allowed in all instances in which abortion would be used, even if the child is born perfectly healthy. And these are the ethicists who help define the progress of healthcare!

So, it’s really no wonder that the Gosnell scandal isn’t topping the news these days. It would give the future of abortion – in the woman and outside of her -- a very bad name and the horrors identified with such “advances” could cause the masses to prevent the institution of these ills.

Obviously, the press is not on the side of the innocents as it claims to be.   

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

This column originally appeared in the 15 April 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


The North Tonawanda Police Department recently joined numerous police forces nationwide that equip their officers with video cameras. The Patrol Division is now mandated to use an On-Officer Video Recording System during all law enforcement encounters with the public. At the end of every shift each officer is supposed to upload the videos to a web-based storage facility where they can be reviewed by supervisors and saved for evidentiary purposes.  

This brand of reality TV is something relatively new to policing and it represents its future, not only locally, but nationwide, too. It’s a disconcerting development, because with these almost incognito cameras attached to their lapels or breastplates, police will have a mobile police state – a portable Big Brother – with them on patrol, not only on the streets, but in your homes as well.

We as citizens have a certain expectation of, and a Constitutionally-recognized right to, privacy. That expectation, as well as our faith in our trusted officers, will be tested by these cameras. Now, when a lone officer is welcomed into one’s home it won’t be just him that the citizen will be interacting with; it will be the extra sets of eyes that will be viewing the footage later, folks who may be less accommodating than the patrolman and could initiate a police action based upon what the camera may have picked up in the background – be it a legally-owned firearm in the corner of the room, a shady looking individual, or the presence of a vice like alcohol or marijuana. It’s like having government spying on your home.

That aforementioned trust in our local patrols – and theirs in us - will be forcibly breached by the cameras when it comes to routine traffic stops and other policing. Quite often, depending on the temperament of the person driving a speeding car or teens partying too loudly, a cop will be a good ambassador for the force and reprimand them, giving them a slap on the wrist or a lesser citation. It gives citizens the respect they deserve (instead of treating them like hardened criminals) and it strengthens the bond between peacekeepers and the community at large. Because of the camera, such goodwill will be gone: Officers will now have to play by the rules and issue tickets to the full extent of the law, because failure to do so could have their performance questioned by supervisors.  

Even police will we be victims of the police state.

Once it becomes common knowledge that patrols are outfitted with cameras, one can imagine that real criminals will test the resolve of officers. Degenerates will grow “camera muscles”, knowing that anything an officer does to them – whether verbally or physically – is on record. Fearing the retribution that comes with alleged abuses and the perception thereof, patrolmen will be forced to act in an emasculated manner, giving perps the upper hand. The indecisiveness and the hesitation to act that comes with the presence of Big Brother has the potential to put the officers and the common man at risk if the situation escalates to a point that would have been remedied had the camera’s burden not been there.

The police will also lose some of their best friends – the concerned citizens who come forward with information and observations. Under most policies, patrolmen cannot activate the camera to record informants or undercover officers. But, under this definition of informant, it is an individual known as an “accredited” provider of information to the police -- a plant, if you will. Regular citizens aren’t afforded the same protection and even if they were, they would be hesitant to speak up, knowing their face and their words were being recorded and could be used as evidence in a court of law. In a day and age like this, when we have gangs who relish killing and don’t care who they kill, it wouldn’t be out of the question that a thug could order a hit from his jail cell on the person who ratted on him. Because of this very real fear and equally real threat, officers will have a tougher go at collecting info and completing crucial investigations.

As we’ve seen with New York City and its endless supply of cameras, citizens and officers alike will have a heck of a time bringing about the demise of the on-officer cameras, even with the Constitution on our side.

There is one loophole, though, that could offer salvation. New York law requires single party (not dual) consent when it comes to video surveillance. What if the citizen doesn’t consent and the officer doesn’t either, but is forced to under department regulations? That makes it illegal, doesn’t it?    


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

This column originally appeared in the 08 April 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers