Thursday, September 19, 2013


Chambers of commerce provide immeasurable benefit to their members. They serve a community’s enterprises with a dual-purpose role of marketing the specific region – and individual businesses – and acting as their voice when it comes to public policy. Most small businesses find it difficult to do those tasks solely and effectively on their own. To do them well it takes considerable money. Mass marketing via local newspapers, tourism magazines, broadcast media and the internet is not cheap. Advertising fees, trade shows, networking, and personnel costs add up in a hurry.

To cover those costs and keep membership affordable, most chambers pursue alternative revenue streams. Among them is the offering of health insurance. Pooling together the buying power of their members, they can get insurance at much lower rates than individual businesses would on their own. This benefit – thus membership – is typically extended to the community at large (not just businesses) as means to secure more revenue from membership fees of those folks who might not have any need for the chamber’s other services. That source of income, which for many chambers accounts for a quarter of their clientele, is significant and it keeps overall membership fees down while affording chambers the funds to focus on policy and promotion.

Unfortunately, that practice looks to be on its dying bed. And, so do many chambers of commerce. Obamacare’s health insurance marketplaces (exchanges) will put stress on chambers by taking away their ability to attract members solely on the basis of health care. A good many non-business and small business enrollees will drop out of their chamber and enter the exchange, duped by government reports that insurance purchased on the alleged open market will be cheaper.

Take New York for example, where residents have been told that healthcare costs will drop by 50%. State officials figure that 615,000 will now buy insurance on their own in the first few years of Obamacare and that’s what is driving down the costs. According to reports, regulators have approved rates which for their gold plan which are below the average HMO cost in the state.

But, they’re not comparing apples to apples. The HMO used in the comparison has everything that you’d expect of health insurance – affordable copays, access to doctors and hospitals of your choice, and low out-of-pocket expenses. The state’s gold plan, on the other hand, covers just 80% of expenses. So, compared to an HMO plan, consumers will be paying much more, not necessarily up front in the premium but when all is said and done, as any services utilized will be billed to the insured at 20% of total cost. At that rate, a stay in the hospital will bankrupt working class families. Even fees for lab work, emergency rooms, and the like will strike many an unsuspecting pocketbook.

What does that mean for chambers? After having lost their partners who naively buy into Obamacare propaganda, overall chamber membership could decrease by a quarter for chambers across the nation.

If chambers’ primary revenues wither away, in order to maintain the same quality of service when it comes to marketing and civics, they will have to boost their rates. That increase could make or break the budget of a very small participant (like an ice cream stand or diner), especially if that corporation purchases health insurance through the chamber, because, accordingly, insurance costs will rise for everyone in the chamber because the buying power of that co-op decreases when people leave it.

Or, to keep everything inexpensive, and not lose more paying customers, chambers might also ditch services deemed less important to the overall goal of the chamber to promote the region they serve. As an outcome, policy arms will be cast aside. That plays to the favor of Big Government because the small businesses would lose the skills and abilities of someone deeply involved in public affairs.

Because of these issues, chambers of commerce -- and the businesses they promote and protect -- will suffer. Some chambers that rely on individual and family health insurance as a means of survival will die. Businesses, in turn, will do the same as their very best advertiser and cheerleader goes silent. It’s yet another frustrating domino effect of Obamacare.

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

This column originally appeared in the 30 September 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


This summer featured an explosion in the cicada population across the northeast. You couldn’t help but notice as the trees were alive with their incessant mating calls.

Upon hearing that ringing tone, how many of you salivated like Pavlov’s dog, hungering for a dishful of the little buggers?

I hope that none of you did. But, if the United Nations had its way, everyone would.  

Earlier this year, its Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report that said insects are the perfect meal -- the answer to both world hunger and environmental sustainability.  If you feel like losing your appetite, you can read the UN’s report in all its gut-turning glory at       

According to the report, some 2 billion people already eat insects as a part of their diet (either whole or in the form of paste or filler) and there are 1,900 species worldwide that could be classified as edible. The study spent many pages expounding on the virtues of ingesting caterpillars, ants, and grasshoppers.

The writers had a special affinity for mealworms, going so far as to make their nutritional value greater than that of beef, citing only marginal differences in protein levels, but less bad fats and more vitamins and minerals. According to the UN’s scientists, the mealworm’s Omega-3s and other critical fatty acids are comparable to those of fish. 

The UN indicated that insects are the very best protein source when it comes to environmental impact. They create fewer greenhouse gases, use less land than cattle, eat fewer plants and consume less water than mammals, and can be reared on human and animal waste.

Eating a meal that was birthed in, nourished by and collected from human fecal matter is none to attractive to the civilized world. The UN recognizes that “consumer disgust” is an issue, so they started advertising the joys of eating bugs after the report was issued and have began a detailed propaganda campaign to influence policy-makers and thought leaders (universities) around the globe.

The UN in its air of superiority failed to note that insects aren’t popular in the Western World because we’ve grown beyond them. There’s a reason that most of the mass insect consumption occurs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Those are all undeveloped, underdeveloped, and emerging economies and regions. The third world and second world dwellers don’t want to eat creepy crawlies, but they have no choice but to. They don’t have the technologies, infrastructure, resources, or knowledge to raise mammals and poultry in volume or cultivate the necessary crops for the beasts. They eat insects out of pure necessity. They would die otherwise.

Insects shouldn’t be the desired result of a modern society. The goal of mankind should be to strive for things better, to advance in every generation, and move beyond the animalistic chains of survival that kept our simpler predecessors of centuries ago wondering how they would live to see the next day (whereas we wonder if we will live to see our great-grandchildren). Bugs hearken to a by-gone era and a poor, starved people. No one wants to return to those days.

But that, obviously, is what the UN wants. They don’t want a nation or a people as superior as the United States of America. They want the best to come down to the least so everyone is equal and no man accumulates more wealth or consumes more resources than any other on the planet. They would like a world full of Zimbabwes where people strive to maintain an existence, rather than the world we have where people strive to attain the riches of America where even the poor live like kings.

These sentiments are made grossly apparent in this report, the latest in the UN’s long line of assaults on the Western way of life and, above all, our nation’s enviable brilliance. Their war against us is subtle and incremental. If you see fried locusts on the McDonald’s menu in the next 20 years, you can count the UN as winning it.      

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

This column originally appeared in the 23 September 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Food Safety Modernization Act: A War on Food Freedom and Family Farms

In recent years, the concept of food freedom has become incredibly popular in the United States. Americans have warmed up to it because they now understand that it is a critical component of personal liberty and know that by supporting local farmers they have greater access to healthier foods and an improved security of supply.

By forgoing the middle man and the dangerous mix of federal controls and corporatism that favor ag giants and multinational food processors, consumers across the country now interact directly with smaller agribusinesses. By doing so, they can enjoy pesticide-free produce, non-GMO foods, grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, tastier and healthier heirloom vegetables, and antiquities, such as raw milk, all on the cheap. It’s the free market and personal choice realized at the local and most primal of levels — all humans have to eat; let them do it on their own terms.   

This has proven to be a threat to the federal government, a government that has since the mid-1800s consistently curtailed personal freedom and government-free capitalism that were recognized by our nation’s founding. Especially under the watch of President Barack Obama, we have been witness to a government intent on continually changing the rules of the game when it comes to food freedom, specifically with the way that family farms operate. Luckily, the people have turned back some onerous regulations proposed by the Obama administration that would have mandated commercial drivers licenses for farm workers and would have kept today's teens — tomorrow’s farm owners and farm workers — from all aspects of experience-making and character-building farm work.

But, we are not out of the woods yet.

Using fear as a tactic to claim control over our day-to-day lives (just as they have with all of the post-9/11 security endeavors), Congress passed and then President Obama signed into law in 2011 the Food Safety Modernization Act, claiming that it will prevent the spread of E coli, Mad Cow disease, and the like by empowering the Food and Drug Administration to regulate every facet of a farm’s or food facility’s operations.

As with anything the federal government is wont to do, it’s not the threat of the disease we should fear but rather the government itself. The act gives the FDA almost unlimited power and affects farms of all sizes, though not equally. Farms with $25,000 in annual food sales are excluded outright from the law; any farm with revenues from $25,001 to $500,000 will face partial exemptions; and any farm above that suffers the full force of the law. The law affects over three-quarters of U.S. farms.

Slowly but surely, many aspects of the act have taken effect and are just now affecting farms and their customers. Many more regulations are coming down the pike.

One of the most onerous requirements of the legislation is tracking. The act establishes a food tracing system that requires farms and food producers, large and small, to track the origins of their food, whether they grew it or it was previously distributed. Extensive records will need to be maintained that show exactly where the fruits and vegetables came from, how they were grown, how they were stored and just who they were sold to. Based on that, all registered farms would be subject to warrantless searches whereby the FDA would have carte blanche to analyze all of their private records to verify appropriate tracking.

That same FDA also thinks that it knows farming better than the farmers do, so the act allows the agency to regulate how crops are raised and harvested. The standards and regulations that determine what makes for hazard analysis and preventive controls have not been finalized (they are still within the public comment period), so for the time being (and likely into the future), compliance is at the whim, mood, and agenda of an FDA inspector.

Many believe that going forward the FDA will gradually adopt and enforce standards introduced by the World Trade Organization which, among other things, would ban manure use and require the chemical enhancement of crops and cattle. Farmers, under WTO standards and even those currently under consideration, would be forced to abandon practices that have been safely used to feed people for generations.

If by chance the FDA did discover contamination, the act empowers the government to create a police state to suppress an outbreak. The FDA would have the ability to quarantine an entire geographic region and prevent the movement of produce in and out of the designated area. If one farm in a given town was shown to provide tainted foods, all other farms in that town would need to cease operations while the government’s investigation takes place. If a shutdown happens during that small and crucial window of time when crops need to be harvested or food producers need to be supplied, the farmers will lose out on their livelihood.

The above items represent just a sampling of the assaults upon the farmer. The act amounts to a massive loss of rights comparable to the Patriot Act of agriculture. It looks at what farmers do with a fine-toothed comb and demands that they conform to a set of practices laid out by an oppressive federal agency.

To the consumer, the act means higher prices at the grocery store at the fruit stand or at the local cheese shop, bakery or dairy. The new rules and regulations will add to the cost of doing business. And don’t forget, the government has already forced food prices through the roof in recent years thanks to inflation caused by bad monetary policy and the ill-advised pursuit of ethanol, which caused corn, corn products, and everything that eats corn (chicken, swine, and cattle) to go up in cost.

With the same gusto, the act will also limit consumer’s choices. Compliance is made easier for corporate giants, owing to cost, resource, and personnel issues, so many smaller family farms may be forced to sell out to them or limit greatly what the FDA considers “high risk” foodstuff — which include perfectly safe things such as raw milk and organic foods, constant targets of federal ire and “inspections” (military-style raids). 

The Food Safety Modernization Act is just another in a long line of attacks on free markets and free people in the United States of America. It’s now the law (even though the federal government has no constitutional jurisdiction over farms and intrastate trade), but there’s still a chance to stop some of its most dangerous aspects from coming into being. In January of this year, the FDA released what it considers to be “science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce on domestic and foreign farms” which would define the rules and regulations for all things farming. Those standards are available for review on the FDA’s website and can be commented on until November 15, a date that the FDA has delayed because of so much input and controversy to date.

Farmers, food lovers, and freedom lovers must participate and make their voice heard, before a wider variety of ridiculous standards go into effect. If they don’t, farmers — and consumers — everywhere will suffer. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


It’s obvious to everyone but the most ardent animal lovers that we have a serious problem on our hands with the monstrous Canada goose population. There are now so many resident geese that they have become as ubiquitous and unpopular as ring-billed gulls (“sea gulls”), birds that many people unaffectionately consider flying rats. Unlike gulls, which tend to be an obstacle only to development (see Lockport’s Super WalMart), resident geese pose real problems to the environment, the economy, and human safety.

Since they breed like rabbits (one clutch can have 15 eggs) and are colonial in nature (many families assemble in one area and the so-called “gang broods” can have up to 100 goslings), they can alter the chemistry of ponds with their abundant feces. An adult goose will produce almost 2 pounds of it a day. Those droppings, in such great volume, can over-fertilize a pond, killing the fish within. They contain everything from salmonella to E. Coli, which sickens mammals that drink or feed at that pond or anyone who might look to take a dip in it.   

Adult geese are grazers and in large flocks they can really do a number to farms when they feast on corn, beans, and alfalfa just as the young and supple plants emerge from their planting. This does irreversible damage to the crops and the losses to New York farmers are in the millions of dollars every year.

What really attracts the attention of policy makers, though, is the threat geese pose to safety. This came to a head in the Empire State in 2009 when a flock of geese accounted for the downing of Flight 1549 onto the Hudson River, just 4 miles from LaGuardia Airport. All 155 passengers and crew survived thanks to the expert piloting of Captain Chesley Sullenberger. If it weren’t for “Sully” they would have met the same demise as the plane itself, which is forever gone to the tune of $60 million. In the past decade there have been almost 80 reported goose versus aircraft strikes in the United States. Sooner or later, one of those collisions will take dozens of human lives – just as one did in 1995, destroying a $161 million air force plane while killing all 25 people aboard.

To combat these issues, state, federal and local officials decided to do something about it. In 2009, New York’s goose population was estimated to be 250,000 birds. They want to get the numbers down to 80,000 – a major undertaking considering the population grows 10 to 17 percent every year. So, it is now practice for many government organizations to round up and gas flocks of geese, issue nuisance control permits that allow out-of-season and mass killing, and destroy and/or poison eggs. Most recently, in a move that caught the ire of activists, the state allowed hunters to take more geese per day (15, up from 8).  As evil as these measures may sound to animal lovers, they are necessary for all of the aforementioned reasons and more.

As a side note, resident geese should not be confused with migratory geese, those harbingers of spring and fall that pass through here in huge numbers every year and are a welcome sight and sound to nature lovers. Those birds frequent larger bodies of water and are just passing through, individual flocks staying anywhere from a few hours to no more than a few days. It is important to keep with federal law and protect these travelers with limited seasons and bag limits while they are on the wing. These visitors from the Far North pose limited threat to Man and are a welcome part of the environment.

Resident Canada geese are pests, a scourge, and, most appropriately, an invasive species. Ironically, from the late-1950s to 1970s they were introduced to New York and were managed to populate the state by the very governments and agencies now looking to wipe them out. They didn’t belong. But conservation and game officials thought they did. And now we, and the geese, are faced with the unsatisfactory outcomes of those decisions.  

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

This column originally appeared in the 16 September 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, September 5, 2013


The development and mainstream adoption of cellular technology has been a boon to humanity. It has made the ability to communicate across great distances affordable and accessible and it has brought to the masses portable computers (smartphones) that connect their users to the world and its knowledge.

But, cellular devices aren’t perfect; after all, they are used by imperfect humans. While these gadgets have succeeded in making us smarter, they have, oddly enough, made us more ignorant, too.  People have become so reliant on these machines that they forsake etiquette, good taste, and productivity to use them.

Look no further than your favorite restaurant. You pay your hard-earned money to relax and enjoy a nice dinner in peace. How often has that environment been sullied by ridiculous ringtones or other diners obnoxiously yelling (the default means of cellspeak) into their phones?

Or, check out our public schools where teachers have to try to teach kids of all ages who were, inappropriately, given their own phone that they secretly – even openly – use to send and receive text messages all day, distracting them from the truly important non-social matters of schooling. It’s no wonder our graduates aren’t college or workplace ready.

And, what about those workplaces? Countless hours of productivity are lost every day in every business when workers sneak calls, engage in endless text conversations or become glued to their browser. 

Cellphones are everywhere and so are their abuses.

How do we stop the insanity?  Why not let those who have a vested interest in those facilities exert some control where others’ self control is lacking? Grant property owners the ability to jam cellular signals, something that is currently illegal under the Communications Act of 1934 and subsequent amendments (anyone caught doing so now would be fined $16,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, or up to $112,000 for a single act).

Federal law excludes individuals, private enterprises and local and state governments from the act of interference (no matter how limited), yet permits the federal government to jam specific or many radio signals at will. So, it’s not like it is never or cannot be done; it’s done regularly and for various reasons.

What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. There is no good reason -- especially with the narrow bands within which cell phones operate -- that schools, restaurants, and businesses should not be allowed to develop and install band-specific, very-low-power transmitters that would cover only a room or two at a time and prevent cellular signals from coming in or going out. This could be done with an elaborate licensing process that would require reasonable need by the applicant, engineering studies by the equipment provider/installer and review and approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It would be no different than all that is involved with setting up any radio station (broadcast or two-way), except it would be at a much smaller scale.

What a wonderful world it would be if restaurateurs could maintain civility in their dining rooms, teachers could teach attentive students, and workers could commit themselves to the task at hand.

Is this even a possibility? Not right now. FCC documents cite the far-fetched threat that it poses to public safety, specifically the inability of folks to call 911, despite every one of those facilities having landlines and mankind having done pretty well before cell phones became ubiquitous in the past 15 years.

But, this can change. Public policy adjusts itself to the mood of the public. As time goes on, angry teachers, concerned business owners, and properly-behaved citizens could create a big enough stink that they could control the airwaves -- and decency -- at the micro level.     

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

This column originally appeared in the 09 September 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers