Sunday, April 06, 2014

Gimme a break.....

My brother and I have a small contracting business that we’ve operated for 40 years. We’re just now finishing up building a garage. Nothing unusual, except that we started the garage last October. Sort of. What happened was that our customer wanted a garage this spring, so we juggled the schedule a little in order to get the foundation and concrete work done last fall before the weather turned off bad.

Then we had the lumberyard deliver a load of material to the job, expecting sometime in December we would have a few days of warm enough weather when we could get the building under roof. When that failed to happen, we held the same expectations for January. We had the same expectations again in February. In a normal winter, those would have been reasonable expectations. This last winter, not so much. This most recent winter didn’t seem to give us much of a break in the form of moderating temperatures or quickly receding snow piles.

So I was glad to see March get here, even if it took longer in doing so than normal, and even if it still smacked us around with a few remnants of winter after it did. I know there are people who are fond of winter, but I think those of us who don’t share that fondness, find tolerating it a bit easier if it gives us at least a few breaks along the way, along with the knowledge we’ll have a summer without it if we can just hold out a little longer.

And as usual, it got me to thinking about the government. Somewhere between the winter season and the summer season is something we call the “tax season”. If you are like many Americans, you started in January gathering information about your finances which the government probably already has anyway, and taking them to someone, or some computer, in order to figure out if you are going to have to pay the government more money, or if the government is going to give you back some of the money you already paid them, or if the government is going to give you some of the money somebody else paid them.

There are about 73,954 pages of tax code we have to sort through in order to spend billions hours filling out millions of forms at a cost of billions of dollars. It wasn’t always like that. Before the current income tax was permanently adopted in 1913, most income taxes  only hung around long enough to finance a war while it was in progress, and maybe a little longer until it was paid off. Then we got a break until the next war. The federal government, more specifically congress, was sort of in the same position. Up until 1913, unless we were at war, most people in the country had little reason or desire to interact with it. It was constitutionally limited to 20 or so specific duties, and unless you wanted to loan the country some money, or print some of your own, start or finish a war, be a pirate, or a few other activities that most people didn’t worry about anyway, the common citizen could almost forget that it even existed. Conventional wisdom was that we would deal with the federal government when we were at war, and our state government when we weren’t.

But just like taxes went from simple and occasional, to complicated and constant, so has the federal government. Those few original duties are increasing by thousands every year. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to name even 2 or 3 things the government doesn’t tax or regulate.

 And even longer since the government has given us a break.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Weather or not...

I used to drink coffee about every morning with an old guy we called Smitty, who was fond of claiming that “It thaws a little every day in February.” I think his claim was based on the fact that the sun was getting a little higher in the sky that month, and that its rays were likely to find something somewhere that it could warm, even if ever so slightly. Smitty isn’t with us anymore, but if he were, I think I’d like to have another cup of coffee with him and ask his views on this last February.

            We woke up on the last day of the month to a thermometer that read 4 degrees. We started and ended a lot of days during the month well below the zero mark. I know there were a lot of days in February when it didn’t thaw anywhere. Not even a little bit. I just wanted Smitty to know that.

             Mark Twain or Charles Dudley Warner once said “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” I think for the most part, at least among the people I have talked to about it, everybody has had about enough of this winter. It seems even most of the people who normally enjoy winter weather are hesitant to admit it in mixed company, opting instead to post blurry pictures of anonymously built snowmen on Facebook from the relative safety of their homes.

            And even though nobody does anything about the weather, we seem to come up with ways to try and cope with it. Some folks move to Florida for the winter, and some folks simply visit other folks who move to Florida in the winter. I try to arrange the work schedule so it works out that we can be inside during the winter, and I have some thermal underwear and flannel-lined jeans I keep around for times when it doesn’t work out that way.

            I guess there are a lot of things in this world we can’t do much about, but we still manage to cope with them somehow. Weather is one thing, our federal government is another. I read a report the other day that pointed out Congress has a 9% approval rating. Since every time there is an election, we send about 90% of the same people back to Congress, I’m convinced no matter how disgusted we get, or how much we talk about it, we really don’t know what to do about it. I’m also convinced that if we did manage to replace all 535 senators and representatives, the bureaucrats who are so firmly entrenched in Washington would keep things rolling along at the current pace without too much of a hitch.

            Like the weather, even if we can’t really do anything about what is happening in Washington, there are a few things we can do to make it a little more bearable. Back when the Constitution was adopted, the folks that adopted it added the Bill of Rights, including the 10th Amendment, which states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” That means whenever Congress passes a law or program that it doesn’t have the Constitutional authority to pass, the states can individually or collectively say “No thanks.”

            Of course, for that to happen, we need to do more than just talk about. We also need to elect people to our local governments and state legislatures who understand what the 10th Amendment really means, and really want to do something about it.

             That’s if you’re looking for something to do, of course.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Til death do us part...or not....

  Unless I pull a really bone-headed move, my wife Susan and I will have been married for 38 years come June. I realize that won’t be any kind of a record, but I also know a few people who have required multiple spouses to have been married that long. I think staying married requires some give and take, some luck, and in my case at least, a forgiving wife. I also credit some good advice on the subject from my Dad, who last September celebrated 65 years of marriage to my Mom.

  Long before I reached marrying age or met my future bride, Dad stressed the importance of being “evenly yoked” when we chose a mate. I think term originated when they used oxen to plow or pull a wagon. In the biblical sense it meant having compatible spiritual beliefs, but we also understood it to mean that partners needed to share the same goal and be pulling in the same general direction. It wasn’t that you had to agree on every little thing, or even on every big thing, but at the end of the day, you didn’t go to bed mad, and when you got up the next morning you still had some common goals.

  We’ve all had some married friends who decided they didn’t want to be headed in the same direction anymore, and ended up heading in different directions. Probably most of them still had some things they agreed on, but maybe not as many as they disagreed on. They might agree on most things, but the things they disagree on might prove irreconcilable. They might agree to live in the same town, but not in the same house. Sometimes they agree to still be friends. Sometimes they don’t agree on anything.

  However they choose to work things out, or not work things out, most ex-couples are able to get on with their lives without doing any physical harm to each other, living in the same general area of the world, looking after their offspring, and keeping any contractual obligations they made along the way.

  While it has never been quite as important that neighbors are evenly yoked, I don’t believe there is any harm in at least sharing a few common goals, and at least a small consensus on how those goals should be reached. But it’s not like it has to be required.  As of late, there seems to be a widening difference of opinion among people about which way our federal government should be headed, what its goals should be, and especially how they should be reached.

  There are a lot of people who want the federal government to oversee their health insurance needs and just as many who would prefer that the feds stay out of theirs. There’s also a big difference of opinion between folks on how much the federal government should be involved in educating our children, managing our retirement, dispensing our charity, and even deciding whether or not our milk needs to be pasteurized.

  We spend a lot of our time and money trying to convince people that they ought to agree with us about what their goals should be, and then the government spends a lot of its time and our money forcing people to go along with those goals, whether they agree with them or not.

  In a world where time and money are both limited, I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off allowing the government to use just enough force to keep us from violating each other’s rights, and otherwise let us choose freely which government programs we want to participate in and fund.

 It’s not like we’re married, and it’s not like we couldn’t all still be friends and neighbors.

 Or at least neighbors.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Resolutions and rebates...

  Its resolution time again. I try to make a couple every New Years, and if I’m lucky I keep at least one of them. Some I keep longer than others. Exercising more and eating less have never made it past January 18th of any year, but 2013 did mark my 25th year in a row without drinking any alcohol, and my second year without drinking any soda pop. For 2014 I felt that I really don’t have too much that I can or want to give up, so I’ve decided that instead of doing something less, I’m going to start doing something else more.

  While cleaning off my desk a while back, (no dear, I’m not resolving to start cleaning my desk off more often,) I found several rebate coupons from one of those big box stores where I occasionally buy building materials.  I intended to fill them out and send them in before they expired. I didn’t.

  Not being much of a shopper, I never saw the attraction of rebates anyway. I always figured that if a company was going to give me a 10% rebate on something, it would be a lot simpler to just take that 10% off when I bought the item, thereby saving both of us the paperwork and the postage. I suspected they offer rebates because there are probably a lot of people like me whose good intentions of returning them seldom make it to fruition.

  My suspicions were confirmed a couple of weeks ago when a family member who works for a company that offers rebates told me that on average, about 5% of the rebate coupons they hand out are returned with the proper paperwork and by the proper date. I suppose I should take some comfort in the fact that I’m not the only rebate procrastinator out there, but I don’t. I also suppose that if everybody, or just about everybody, started sending all of their coupons back in, the companies would probably decide it would be more economical to just discount the merchandise in the store in the first place.

  We’re sort of in the same situation with our federal government right now. When the Bill of Rights was added to the United States Constitution about 223 years ago, the founding fathers put in the 10th Amendment, which states that The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  It would no doubt be a lot simpler if the federal government would simply stick to its delegated duties right up front, but it’s becoming more and more apparent in recent years that it has no intention of doing so.

  What that means is we as people and states have to step up and nullify laws and regulations that the federal government is imposing on us without having the Constitutional authority to do so. Legislators in South Carolina and Georgia recently introduced bills to nullify federal attempts at controlling health care and firearms in those states. More states have similar bills on similar issues in the works. It takes a little more effort on our part, just like sending in for a rebate. We shouldn’t have to, but if we want our freedom and our money back, that’s what it takes.

   I’m sure the folks in Washington won’t be overly concerned about a couple of states and a few individuals exercising their 10th Amendment protections, any more than those businesses are about 5% of their customers collecting rebates. But if enough people and states do it, it might just convince them to follow the Constitution in the first place.

  So if you’re still looking for a New Year’s Resolution for 2014, why not consider mailing in those rebate coupons, and putting people in office who will actually uphold the Constitution.

  It’s not about giving something up. It’s about taking something back.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

What's in a name...

  I haven't won many awards in my life. Certainly not many major awards anyway.

  I did manage to win the Thomas Paine Award from the Libertarian Party a few years back, but other than that it was mostly just a few red ribbons and such along the way.

  Back in October of 1968, I was a new member of the Hagerstown Explorer Post #3, and we went on a canoe trip  down the White River. The water was a little high and rough from some fall rains I guess, and at one point all of the canoes except the last one in the group were swirled around a giant tree and capsized.

  Never having attained my merit badge in swimming, I grabbed onto a tree limb in the raging waters and held on for dear life, convinced that the life jacket I was wearing was probably as defective as the guide that had led us into such a hazard in the first place. In a matter of seconds, my tennis shoes were swept from my feet, never to be seen, at least by me, again.

  While the rest of the troop was gather up was gathering whatever equipment and rations they could salvage from the flood waters, one of our scoutmasters, Bob Beeson, was standing on the shore, shouting "Bill! Bill! Just let go and you will float down to us!" I wasn't sure who or where Bill was, but decided it was probably my best bet to hang onto that limb until the water receded.

  It was then that another of our leaders, Floyd Sanders, tapped Bob on the shoulder and informed him that my name was Rex. The new instructions gave me a little more confidence, and in a couple of minutes I was on dry land and ready to resume the adventure.

 At our next meeting, Floyd presented me with a name tag and this:

 He called it "The Barefoot Boy Award." Now that was a major award. I've kept it for 45 years.

 Floyd passed away this morning at the age of 78. I was proud to know him, and I'm awful proud he took the time to know my name. Otherwise, I might still be hanging onto that limb down on the White River.

  Thanks Floyd, it's been good to know you.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Dear Abby...

I’m no stranger to advice. Like most people, I’ve received a good bit of it in my lifetime, sometimes solicited and sometimes not. And like most people, I’ve also given it in both manners. I suppose that also like most people, I’ve rejected some good advice and accepted some bad advice along the way.

  In my younger days, I’d have to say that life was usually easier, even if it wasn’t always as much fun, when I took the good advice, but the lessons learned from taking the bad advice seemed to stay with me a little longer. It also seemed to make a difference if I considered who gave me the advice in the first place. Most of the advice my parents gave me could have been considered sound, but looking back, much of the advice I took from my old buddy Stinky Wilmont resulted in one of those not so enjoyable life lessons.

  One thing about advice, good or bad, is that we can take it or leave it. And what might be good advice for one person might very well be bad advice for another, and sometimes even though the person giving or receiving the advice might consider it good, there is always the possibility that it might end up bad.

  A couple of weeks ago, I drove down to Mississippi to visit my son and his family. Although I’ve made the trip several times, I keep a GPS in the car to remind me of exit numbers and needed lane changes when I get into heavy traffic. Somewhere in Memphis, the device advised me to leave the road I was on and merge onto another road that eventually ended up in Nashville.

  Now, I’m not much of a traveler, and I don’t normally consider myself intelligent enough to question computers and satellites, but I decided this time I was being given some bad advice, so I just ignored it and drove on to my destination. That’s not to say I’ll never accept advice from our GPS again, but I’ll probably be a little more wary it, much like I became more wary of accepting advice from Stinky after a few learning experiences.

  As I mentioned earlier, that’s the good thing about bad advice. You can take it or leave it. Depending on who is giving it, of course.

  Our government spends most of its time giving us advice, and most of the time that advice comes in the form of some law. Laws are a lot like advice in the respect that some are good and some are bad. Of course, they’re not so much like advice when it comes to taking or leaving them.

  Being of the Libertarian persuasion, and a strong advocate of individual freedom and limited government, I tend to give a lot of unsolicited advice concerning the role of government and its laws. Most Libertarians believe government and laws should exist to protect us from force and fraud. It’s generally considered good advice that a person shouldn’t harm their neighbors or take their property, and it always works out better if we all take that advice.

  Laws that exist because someone in Washington thinks they have a better idea on how you should manage your life and affairs, or on who should benefit from your labor or charity, need to be removed from the law column and placed in the advice column, where you can choose to take them or leave them.

  Otherwise, this nation that was founded on the concept of individual freedom and limited government could end up going down a bad road.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

New York City. Getting there was half the fun...

  It’s dark this morning. That really shouldn’t surprise you, because it’s always dark at 4:30 in the morning. But this morning is different. This morning you’re sitting in an aisle seat in front of a snoring woman with nostril hair on a dimly lit airplane that will eventually deliver you to New York City. At least that is what you were told. Of course, you were also told that it would be a 24 hour excursion. Earlier this morning you had realized this was the weekend that the time changes, and that you were actually going on a 25 hour excursion. You can’t help but wonder how many other lies you were told to help convince you to ride along.

  Your mind races as more and more people crowd onto the plane, contorting themselves even farther into the bowels of the aircraft, looking at the open overhead storage compartments, perhaps to avoid eye contact, perhaps ashamed that they held tickets marked “BOARDING GROUP, ZONE 5.” You wonder if you would have stood a better chance of avoiding this trip if you hadn’t insisted that your wife attend all of those Libertarian conventions with you. You wonder if there is a chance in hell that you will ever make that mistake again. You wonder if you remembered to put your tooth brush in your backpack. Hopefully someone will squeeze in beside or climb over the snoring woman, to awaken her, or at least cause her to reposition herself enough to stop that incessant noise. You wonder if you remembered your backpack. What if you had simply fallen from that ladder last week instead of mindlessly grabbing onto the eaves trough to slow your descent. So many questions.

  The pilot comes on the speakers and says that the departure time will be delayed because the co-pilot has yet to arrive. He assures you that they have called him and that he will be here any minute. He called the co-pilot to remind him of the flight? What was he doing last night that made him sleep through his alarm clock and forget about an airplane full of people? Perhaps that $49.00 ticket wasn’t such a bargain after all.

  Thirty minutes into the flight the pilot is back on the speakers. It seems Charlotte is experiencing heavy ground fog, but he thinks the plane will okay to land. Hello!!! The last thing you need at this point is a pilot who “thinks” it will be okay to land. You have to wonder what old “party boy” sitting hung-over beside him thinks of its chances! And why is this plane landing in Charlotte anyway? Wasn’t the destination New York City? Your wife assures you it is just a lay-over, and New York will be the next stop. Everyone in your group nods in agreement. Is it true, or is it another “24 Hour” story? It’s hard to know what to believe anymore.

  Maybe after a short nap you will awaken to find it was just a bad dream. Will that woman ever stop snoring?