Monday, July 29, 2013


Sears Holding Corporation – the multinational formed by the 2005 marriage of Sears and Kmart – continues to prove itself unworthy to investors and shoppers alike.

The company’s stock price has dropped to just below $43 a share after having peaked at nearly $67 in November. Since 2005, SHC’s earnings have fallen from $49.1 billion to $39.9 billion – a 19% drop that was entirely unexpected because the Great Recession should have driven cost-conscious shoppers to Kmart in droves. In comparison, Wal-Mart’s revenues increased by a whopping 42% over that same period.

Things have been so bad that 2011’s abysmal holiday sales called for closure of 120 stores last year. For that season, Kmart saw its sales drop by 4.4%, Sears by 6%. In stark contrast to that performance, the rest of the retail industry actually saw their Christmas sales rise by 5.6%.   

So, why can’t SHC, a conglomerate possessed of two once-beloved chains, hang with the Wal-Marts, Targets, and Home Depots of the world?

The answer: Look no further than Jaclyn Smith.

Last week while shopping at the Wellsville Kmart I was startled to see that the face and name of the one-time Charlie’s Angels star were gracing the home products and apparel aisles. Nothing against the ageless beauty, but her ship sailed long ago. Her peak of celebrity was in the late 1970s and her fame has been spotty at best in the past 3 decades.

It’s awfully odd that an array of supposed advertising geniuses led by Chariman/CEO Edward Lampbert -- who has a net worth of more than $3 billion and should know better -- would build a major marketing campaign around someone who carries no meaning to anyone under the age of 45.

Sure, Baby Boomers and the oldest of Generation X (who all once fawned over Smith) may represent a large portion of Kmart shoppers, but young families and the prized 18 to 35 demographic -- who represent the economy’s biggest and most-desired spenders -- have no idea who she is. So, why would they feel compelled to buy anything that she endorses within the store? Any mass merchandiser that misses that crucial target audience – especially as badly as this -- can count itself dead in the water. 

The Jaclyn Smith campaign makes it patently obvious that what has often been said about Kmart is true: It’s living in the past.

For further proof, just take a walk around any of their stores. There is little fresh about them. Unlike Target and Wal-Mart properties, they are tired and beaten.

Their workers are feeling the same way.

Just 2 weeks ago Sears Holding ended up in seventh place on 24/7 Wall Street’s list of America’s worst companies to work for. If the workforce is that disgruntled, there’s no way that superior service can be offered when most workers are on the front-lines and end up suffering the consequences of corporate management’s poor merchandising and facilities decisions.

It’s really unfortunate to see one of America’s longest-lived department stores (Sears turns 120 this year) and what was one of its most-respected discount stores (Kmart was Target before Target) take hit after hit and wither away under such poor leadership. It’s no wonder they are driving buyers (of both stocks and merchandise) away.            

For a moment, though, forget about our woes as shoppers and investors. SHC’s experiments in foolhardy marketing endeavors are a dangerous game to be playing when 274,000 workers are counting on a SHC paycheck.  You can’t help but worry about their future and wonder if very soon their employer might go the way of Montgomery Ward or Ames.

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

This column originally appeared in the 05 August 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Be thankful for fire and EMS volunteers

If there was one thing that Niagara County residents can take from the powerful storms that besieged the western end of the county on July 19th and left its infrastructure and residences crippled for anywhere from 12 to 36 hours, it is this: We are blessed to have so many people who care enough about our community that they would willingly give of their time and energy to protect its people and property.

At a time when so many others complained about the alleged misery placed upon them by Mother Nature’s fury (no televisions or computers! Gasp!), dozens of caring volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel did something about the natural disaster and its truly miserable outcomes. These men and women gave up their Friday night and entire Saturday to direct traffic, pump out basements, fight electrical fires, cut fallen trees, and tend to disabled people whose crucial medical systems went powerless.

They got little rest and when they did, they were spelled by other volunteers from the other side of the county who were unaffected by the storm. That’s how powerful their sense of brotherhood is. And, that’s how strong their senses of duty and community are.  

They don’t do this for pay. They don’t do this for benefits. They don’t do this for glory. They give their time, free of charge, and risk their lives because they want to. They’re volunteers. They are only interested in the rewards of their efforts -- that is, safe property and healthy people.

While the rest of our population went about their usual weekend business, the volunteers did everything within their power to make sure they were afforded that chance. In turn, the volunteers gave up their own weekends. Some skipped out on family picnics, sons’ baseball games, or a round of golf, all so others didn’t miss out on the same. To make that happen, they ensured that the roads might be open or safe to travel and homeowners’ basements might be cleared.

That selflessness didn’t -- and doesn’t -- exist only for that storm. The firemen, firewomen and ambulance crews do this daily. Like good doctors, they are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Houses never catch fire, cars never collide and people never take ill at a “convenient” time. Those circumstances happen at any time the fates desire. And, it’s these folks who respond, speeding away from family dinner, sleep, an exciting NFL game or their paying job to save the day. They are America’s true super heroes, only they change into firefighting gear or EMS uniforms -- not colorful capes and masks -- and go unnamed and unrecognized.

Usually it takes a disaster that’s national in scope or coverage, like a 9/11 or a Boston Bombing, to make civilians appreciate our first responders. Why should it? Our volunteers shouldn’t be taken for granted because they are out there making a difference each and every day, in every neighborhood across this country.

So, if you haven’t lately, thank a volunteer for what he or she has done. Maybe he helped you during the storm. Maybe he pulled you from a wrecked car. Maybe she stopped a fire from destroying your home. If they didn’t do any of the above for you specifically, thank them anyways; for it’s reassuring to know that they’re always ready at a moment’s notice to be there for you when you really need them. They love you. Show them some love back.

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

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In defense of Stand Your Ground

Imagine that you are involved in a potentially deadly situation in which a group of thugs has approached you and threatened violence. In a perfect world, you would defend yourself by exercising your natural right to self-defense by brandishing a firearm to scare them off or, if necessary, fire upon them to neutralize the threat, exerting the same deadly force they had intended to use upon you.

But, this isn’t a perfect world. In more liberal states, like New York, the Laws of Nature are minimized by the Laws of Man, and you don’t have a right to protect yourself, your family, or property without making some accommodations for the evil-doer. Even though a robber — whose title could easily escalate to “rapist” or “murderer” — obviously does not have your best interests in mind, you must afford him a certain level of safety with your state-mandated duty to retreat.

Duty to Retreat laws require that you forgo acts of survival. The laws demand that you do everything in your power to avoid conflict and/or the use of deadly force. Before assuming the responsibility to protect yourself, you must resort to mandated cowardice by seeking retreat. Following that, the situation must escalate to the point that the courts see "reasonable" belief that injury and death could occur and then, and only then, can you take up the measures necessary to suppress the attacker.
The fact that the attacked cannot display a weapon until the situation has reached critical mass is truly absurd. The seconds — or even minutes — associated with having to hide from an attacker can be the difference-maker for the physical safety, sexual safety, or life itself of the innocent. Dropping your defenses gives the one on offense — the criminal — the supreme advantage.

A law-abiding citizen has no understanding of what’s going through the mind of a lawbreaker. Really, he has no obligation to, either. But, many state governments see it otherwise. They want you to believe — and wrongly at that — that the individual who was demented enough to commit the initial crime has no intent to harm you; he might only want your property, so you really shouldn’t harm him.

It’s the lunacy of such unconstitutional and unconscionable Duty to Retreat laws that led Florida and 30 other states to recognize the uninhibited right to self-defense with the Stand Your Ground law, which allows the attacked to utilize deadly force immediately — and without the friendly considerations of Duty to Retreat — as long as there is a belief of an imminent threat of death or bodily harm. Unlike the similar Castle Doctrine, which allows the same only in one’s home, Stand Your Ground allows the use of force in public. So, the victim would be able to protect himself or his loved ones were he up against a break-in in his residence or an attempted robbery on the street.

Under Stand Your Ground, the burden of proof falls upon the criminal who initiated the crime, not the law-abider who retaliated. That is in stark contrast to Duty to Retreat, whereby the criminal has the legal advantage because the victim is himself painted as a criminal (and is more likely guilty until proven innocent) because he must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he met all the necessary criteria before pulling the trigger.

Stand Your Ground makes perfect legal, moral and natural sense: It allows the prey to retaliate against the predator with force commensurate with that potentially levied against him; there’s no need to take a wait-and-see approach, which could in most cases result in the injury, rape, or murder of the victim.

Stand Your Ground is one of the clearest state-level interpretations of some of the basal tenets behind our Second Amendment. Were the states to eliminate it — and further restrict our rights — it would take Duty to Retreat to a whole new level: Duty to Die.

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

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

ObamaCare's death panels for nursing homes

In August of 2009 former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin took a lot of heat from the Left and mass media for her Facebook post attacking the rationing aspects of ObamaCare. In that well-known message, Mrs. Palin coined the term “death panels” to identify the bureaucrats who would oversee the dispersal of medical resources.

One really can’t blame Mrs. Palin for having used such wording. When talking about a law as gargantuan and far-reaching as ObamaCare, someone has to make things understandable and palatable for the layman by putting it into simple terms. But she lost that precious chance to educate the masses on the ills of the healthcare behemoth by oversimplifying its bureaucratic structure to the point that it looked as if all sick people would present themselves before a panel that would determine whether they were worthy of care.

Although her choice of words, and the imagery itself, were poor, the thinking behind her statements was accurate: that the government would employ decision- and policy-makers who would determine what level of healthcare is appropriate for specific classes of people, from the incurable to the handicapped to the elderly.

To that end, three different entities have been created by ObamaCare. Multiple Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) have been set-up that will reward doctors for keeping costs under control. The 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) will limit payments to doctors, hospitals, and healthcare providers, forcing their hand in deciding what to offer. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) will create templates for what constitutes worthwhile investments in health by private and public providers.

Save the IPAB, which had its launch delayed to 2016, those organizations, those panels, have their efforts well underway to limit care and replicate what Big Government has already proven that it can do so well in another aspect of the medical industry — abortion — in deciding who should live and who should die.

Consider what the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is doing in nursing homes.

One of the first projects it has funded is a $1.9 million study through the University of Rochester (New York) Medical Center that will seek to establish new federal standards for end-of-life care in nursing homes, ultimately mandating palliative care in their halls. The point of program is to transform elder care facilities from places where people go to be taken care of and live, to places where people go to be neglected and die.

The lead investigator behind the study, Helena Temkin-Greener, Ph.D., M.S., thinks that senior citizens are already turning nursing homes into the latter category. In the URMC’s news release she says that “nursing homes are increasingly becoming a place where people die” while citing an absurd statistic that says that says that by 2020, 40 percent of all deaths in America will occur in nursing homes, which is twice the current rate

Changing the very landscape of the elder care industry and lifestyle, from one of life to one of death, seems almost unbelievable. But the study — which will define the future of nursing care — is taking place, at a whopping 32 nursing homes across New York.  

This study ties in perfectly with the goals and vision of not only the PCORI, but also the aforementioned Independent Payment Advisory Board, which has been charged with finding cost savings in Medicare. What better way to cut costs than to limit the resources available to — and therefore the lifespan of — the recipient class?   

Granted, Medicare should see cost cuts — like to “zero” since it’s an unconstitutional, immoral federal program — but not through forced death and/or the corrupt means of indoctrination that might ultimately make that purposeful federal neglect of older seniors acceptable, just as societal manipulation and re-education did for the very existence and alleged need for Medicare. Prior to the launch of that federal leviathan in 1965, oldsters took care of themselves or their families did it for them; no one was left to suffer and die. But, in the few decades that have followed, society has grown to believe that Medicare is a “need” (so much so that the average American doesn’t classify it as an entitlement) and that reliance has created an emasculated populace totally unaware of how to survive without it. They can’t — and they won’t — just as future nursing homes will show. Medicare allocations depleted, the aged (and their children) will welcome death sooner than they traditionally would have.

That’s the way the socialists operate. They want to dictate and control every aspect of our lives, from cradle to grave, while ensuring that no one can live without the help of the nanny state. Forcing the nation’s older people to die once they can’t contribute to society and the “communal good” is no different from what communists did in the 20th century when they put to death 80 to 100 million people in mass killings around the world.

It’s eerily coincidental that the Baby Boomers — who will be the first to see their lives shortened by ObamaCare’s breed of killing — number nearly 80 million themselves.

The death panels have to be licking their chops.

From the 05 July 2013 The New American at:


Much has been said over the past few years about Obamacare’s employer mandate and what the new cost structure will mean to compliant businesses which will be forced to charge higher prices for their products to cover their newfound, or higher, healthcare expenses. Those costs can be dangerous for those businesses when competing against manufacturers from other nations which already lack some of the cost and regulatory burdens that our producers face.

Surprisingly little has been said about another competitive factor, one which affects domestic operations – labor.

Just as businesses compete against one another for market share in shared and similar industries, they also compete against one another across multiple industries for labor. In order to fashion the highest-quality goods and services, employers have to attract and retain the best labor possible for the best accumulated cost that their customers are willing to pay as a component of the end product’s selling price. By “accumulated cost”, one has to consider everything that goes into the price of labor for an employer. It’s not just the wage rate; it’s also paid holidays and vacations, workers comp and disability insurances, pensions or 401(k)s, and health insurance.

Since the Second World War, when our government interfered in free markets and froze wages, health insurance has been perhaps the most important of those cost factors – those marketing tools -- that employers use to bring the best workers into their organizations and keep them there. The competitive worker knows healthcare’s value isn’t chump change; the typical single plan has an annual cost in excess of $4,000 while double plans exceed $8,000 and family plans surpass $11,000. So, if he discovers that a large portion or all of his health insurance will be paid for by an employer, he will choose that firm over another of similar -- or even higher -- wage and often entirely dissimilar industries.

But, now, after using health insurance as a competitive tool for more than 70 years, market sectors and employers that had rewarded talent -- and found it and kept it -- will no longer be able to do so with those methods. Under the employer mandate, those once-differentiated employers will be no different than anyone else. Most every business of any size will be doing what they once did. When this portion of Obamacare goes into play (2015), business with 50 or more full-time employees will, by law, have to pay for their health insurance and the cost passed on to their workers cannot exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s total household income.

So, with the uniqueness of insurance no longer at their disposal, what will those employers do to remain competitive in the labor market? That’s a very difficult question to answer. There are hundreds of thousands of companies across the nation looking for an answer, any answer.

Cheerleaders for Obamacare will likely respond that it will cause those employers to increase wages. But will it? The answer is “no”, because those employers already have defined cost structures and, more than likely, are selling their products at the best possible price. They can’t increase their selling prices to accommodate new or increased labor costs and benefits just because other employers (in entirely different industries) had to increase their costs. If they do that, they won’t be very competitive selling their wares in the global marketplace. Then, no one will have access to private health insurance because no one will have a job.

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

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