Thursday, June 30, 2016

Just because...

              I started a construction business 42 years ago, and I’m still running it today. A couple of years ago, a woman called us about having some work done on her house. It was an extensive job, so I set up an appointment and met her one evening to discuss the project. About 15 minutes into the process, after listening to her complain about everybody who had ever worked on her house before, I silently decided that we weren’t going to do this job.

            I’ve opted out of more than one job in 42 years, sometimes because it didn’t fit into our schedule, sometimes because I didn’t believe the project was feasible, sometimes because of questionable finances, and sometimes, like the woman’s project I was telling you about, just because I had a bad feeling about it.

            Like most people who are in business for themselves, I hated to turn down a job, but I was happy there wasn’t anybody telling me I had to do a job I didn’t feel was in our best interest. I was also happy that a simple “No, thanks” on my part was all that was needed. No long winded explanation or excuse was necessary.

            Of course, on the other hand, I have figured on some jobs over the years that I would have loved to have done, but we didn’t get hired. Maybe because we couldn’t get there when the potential customer wanted, or maybe because our price was too high, or maybe because the customer thought we would be too hard to get along with. And whatever the reason, and whether they chose to tell us the reason or not, I knew I didn’t have the right to force them to hire us.

            It’s one of the rights we all share. It’s called voluntary association. Certainly people of every race, religion, and sexual orientation have the same rights. If the government offers a service or program to one person, it must offer the same consideration to all persons. Once we remove ourselves from the government’s realm, we get to choose who we will associate with, provided that person wants to associate with us. It has to be a 2 way street.

            I realize there are people who believe that government should reach into the private realm and replace voluntary association with forced association, out of fear that some people, or groups of people, wouldn’t associate voluntarily . There are a couple of reasons I believe those people are wrong.  One of those reasons is that I have owned my own business for 42 years, and it ain’t easy. Most businesses need every viable customer they can get. Think about the businesses you patronize, and look around the next time you go into your favorite store or restaurant. Then ask yourself if you would patronize a business that practiced discrimination. If you would, you’re in the minority.

            Another reason I believe forced association is unnecessary and wrong is that I am 64 years old. I’ve been around long enough to see how the level of acceptance existed and changed from my grandparent’s generation, to my parent’s generation, to my generation, to my children’s generation, and now to  my grandchildren’s generation.

            People who don’t believe it has changed should spend some time studying extended family pictures. Mine, like so many nowadays, are multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-sexually oriented.

            What government wants to accomplish by using force, we are already accomplishing as a society voluntarily. Our goal should be to be as free as we can be, and in matters of private association we should say “Hey big government, we’ve got this!”

Monday, May 09, 2016

Prince of thieves...

Having operated a construction and home building business for 42 years, I’ve seen and tried a few things that worked and a few things that didn’t work, and tried to abandon or make adjustments to the things that didn’t, and tweak the things that did. A few years ago, some ne’er-do-well cut the lock on our job trailer that was parked at a project we were involved with, and made off with several of our tools.

            In an effort to discourage such behavior in the future, we bolted and welded some larger and stronger hasps on the trailer and purchased some larger and stronger padlocks for the new and improved hardware. That all worked out well for a few years, until last spring when we arrived at a job site one to find the entire trailer had been stolen. When the trailer was later recovered in a cornfield 10 miles up the road, (in part because the mastermind behind the theft had apparently attempted to make the getaway with a 2- 5/16” coupler attached to a 1-7/8” ball hitch while speeding over a railroad crossing,) we discovered that the locks had been sawed on, pried on, and possibly chewed on to no avail.

             I couldn’t help but think if the crook had just slowed down a little for that railroad crossing, or had a deeper understanding of the mechanics of a ball hitch, our efforts at beefing up security would simply have resulted in losing more of our property instead of less. It also reminded me of our current tax system in this country.

            Last week, a song writer and singer by the name of Prince Rogers Nelson passed away. While I don’t know much about the man or his music, I suspect he was popular with a significant portion of the population, since his estate is estimated to be worth $300 million. You about have to figure a person with that kind of wealth is in the upper tax bracket, so he probably paid the federal government about $200 million in income taxes so they would let him keep the rest for a while. And depending on which state he lived in and where he made his money, he’s probably paid a few million in various state and local taxes along the way.

            While it might be hard to fathom that any one person would have over $200 million taken from them by the government, especially when they receive exactly the same services from the government that people who pay $2000.00, or even $200.00 receive, we also need to remember that the government isn’t finished with Mr. Nelson yet. Currently the government is licking its chops, and preparing to take another bite his earnings. Federal and state taxes will get another $150 million from the money he already paid over $200 million on to keep.

             As I said earlier, I don’t know much about the man, but apparently he worked hard enough and smart enough to provide a product that a lot of people wanted.  In a free society, that is how it is supposed to work.

             Our current tax system punishes hard work and success, and rewards sloth and failure. We can do better with a system of sales taxes and user fees to fund essential government services, and spread the cost to everyone that uses those services.

            I’ve heard some people say that as a nation we have lost our work ethic. I wonder if in fact, we have just allowed it to be taken from us.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Getting over it....

Mom and Dad brought 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls, into the world in a span of 14 years. We spent most of those years, and several afterwards, in an old farmhouse that was pretty big, but not always big enough for 8 kids. It seemed that quite often there was some reason, real or imagined, for someone to be mad at one or all of their siblings, or for the boys to mad at the girls, or for the girls to be mad at the boys.

            Dad, who turned out to be the default referee for most of those disagreements, would listen to both sides of the complaint if he had time, or shush us if he didn’t, and then simply explain, “Well, you have two choices. You can either stay mad, or you can get over it.” As it turned out, Dad was right as usual, and for the most part, whatever we were upset about passed in a day or two, and we moved on to being mad about, and getting over, something else.

            There were a few times when one of us decided to stay mad, but after a while, we forgot what we were mad about, and realized that nobody else remembered or cared what we were mad about, so we eventually got over it whether we wanted to or not.

            People all over the country seem to be a lot madder than they used to be, especially when they start discussing politics and the upcoming election. Some people got mad 8 years ago and haven’t gotten over it yet. Those same people might get over it if their party wins in November, but then all the people who were mad 16 years ago and got over it 8 years ago will get mad again and not get over it for a while.

            I was thinking about the reasons why my siblings and I were more apt to get over being mad than people than people today, and I believe a lot of it comes down to power and force. I might have been terribly upset with one of my brothers  because he wouldn’t help build a straw fort in the hay mow, but in the end I knew I couldn’t force him to help, and I also knew he couldn’t force me to help him on one of his projects if I chose not to.

            We don’t enjoy those options after the elections when the winners get to make the rules, and then use the government to force the losers to comply. Every law or program the government adopts is backed up with force, or the threat of force. The choices others make voluntarily as individuals might tend to upset us for a while, but as long as they can’t force us to make the same choices, we stand a chance of getting over it fairly quickly. When the government gets involved, our options and choices become very limited.

            It’s one of the things that attracted me to the libertarian philosophy. If a law doesn’t serve to protect everybody from the initiation of force or fraud, it really isn’t any of the government’s business. Anything beyond that is a matter for individuals to handle privately, and if people decide they want the government to regulate and manage some aspect of their lives, they need to submit to that regulation voluntarily.

            A lot of people get mad when Libertarians push for a smaller, limited government, but I’m convinced if we would give it a try, they would get over it.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

A place for everything......

     When I traded trucks a couple of years ago, I opted for an extended cab model, so I could keep some of my daily use tools in the back seat. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since lifting them out of the cross-over tool box on my old truck was getting a little more difficult with each advancing year. It still seemed like a good idea when I organized them and loaded them into the bags, boxes, and racks on the floor and seat behind me.

      It didn’t seem like such a good idea after a couple of years of taking tools out and putting them back in an unassigned bag, box or rack, or in a different truck or trailer. It finally reached the point where I had to unload the tools, sort out what didn’t belong there, gather up what did, and start the re-loading process again. Afterwards, I made a solemn vow that I would be more diligent about putting and keeping things where they belong.

      I know this isn’t a new problem. When I was a young lad my Dad had some boards nailed up on the wall behind his work bench in the garage. It was before the days of pegboard, or at least before I had seen pegboard, so Dad would drive 2 or 3 strategically placed nails in the board, and hang his hammer, or pliers, or wrenches, or whatever other tools he had on the nails. Then he took a big pencil and traced around each tool so there wasn’t any question where each tool belonged. In the meantime Mom and Dad had 8 children, including 4 boys, and before too long Dad’s tool organizer simply became a display of what tools were missing, and where they were supposed to be. Although he hasn’t mentioned it to me, I’m sure Dad gets some well-deserved vengeful pleasure when I rummage through my back seat grumbling about missing tools.

       I read the other day that President Obama had submitted his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. It bumps federal spending up $223 billion over the current budget, to $4.15 trillion. (That’s $4,150,000,000,000.00 if you’re counting zeros.) I’m confident his opposition in congress will fight to limit the increase in spending to $221 billion or so, and then they’ll pat themselves on the back and expect the taxpayers to be thankful for saving us so much money.

       It kind of makes you wonder how the government ended up where it is nowadays. Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution was put in place to keep the government in its place. It lists the limited powers the people granted to the government, and all of them combined wouldn’t cost $4.15 trillion since the country was founded, let alone per year. And it wouldn’t have us $19 trillion in debt.

       Somewhere along the line, sometimes a little bit at a time, we forgot where government belonged. We stopped expecting it to simply protect us from force and fraud, and started using it to force our neighbors to provide for our retirement and health care. We stood by as it took our money and gave it to businesses that couldn’t or wouldn’t support themselves, and even when it taxed us for things it was granted the authority to do, it spent the money on things it wasn’t granted the authority to do.

         The good news is every once in a while we have the chance to clean things up and put things back where they belong. Our next chance will come along in November. Right now things are in such a mess it’s going to take a lot of effort to put things back in place. It’s probably not something we can do in one election, but it’s something we need to get started on right away.

          My Dad used to say those tools didn’t just walk away on their own, and they’re not going to put themselves back where they belong on their own, either.

          Dad was right.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

They're baaack.....

       I checked my records, and most years the buzzards return en masse to Hagerstown on March 12th, give or take a day. In 2009, they returned on March 5th. This year they returned on February 28th. I think it means we are going to have an early spring. Susan thinks I need to find another hobby.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Plan B....

I didn’t win the Powerball jackpot a couple of weeks ago when it was over a billion dollars. I honestly didn’t believe I would, knowing the odds of that happening were about 292,000,000 to 1.  But I also knew if I didn’t buy a ticket, the odds would be even higher. And since winning the lottery is part of my retirement plan, I thought I better give it a shot. I buy a ticket every week as part of that plan. I call it “Plan B.” But I also put a little money in the bank, and invest a little in the stock market. So far saving and investing have worked out a little better than the lottery plan, but I still think it’s a good idea to have some diversity in accomplishing your long range goals, even if the odds of some of those plans working out are a little longer than others.

            I felt the same way when I started a construction business 42 years ago. While I stopped short of naming it the “We’ll Do Anything For A Buck Construction Company,” we did offer a wide range of services to keep us busy in case the public decided paneling and ceiling tile were no longer in vogue. While that philosophy has managed to keep the family clothed and fed for 42 years, I’m still buying that lottery ticket every Saturday. And keeping my options open.

            227 years ago some people got together and came up with a Constitution that spelled out what our newly formed federal government should be allowed to do. They started out granting it about 17duties in Article 1, Section 8 of that Constitution, and then the citizens added a few more over the years whenever they felt the need for one.

            I think a lot of them also knew, as Thomas Jefferson warned, that “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” And being aware of that, they also came up with a “Plan B.” They put it in the Bill of Rights, and called it the Tenth Amendment. It states “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.”  So that when the federal government started making laws it wasn’t authorized to make, like maybe about education or healthcare, the states and the people could nullify those unauthorized laws.

            While we may not all agree on exactly what the federal government is allowed to do, just about everybody agrees it’s doing some things it shouldn’t be doing. And a growing number of us think it’s doing a lot of things it shouldn’t be doing. And there’s a better than average chance that after the next election, it’s going to be doing a lot more things that a lot more of us don’t think it should be doing.

            It’s a pretty safe bet the federal government isn’t going to limit itself. That’s why it is so important that the states and the people understand the power they have in the Tenth Amendment, and use it to nullify the federal government back within the confines of the Constitution.

            After all, what do we have to lose?



Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year,Again...

“Happy New Year!” That seems to be the popular greeting for the next couple of weeks. It replaces “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!”, which replaced “Happy Thanksgiving!” a month or so before.  After the New Year’s euphoria is over, we’ll probably go back to the more generic “hello” and “how’s it going?” until Thanksgiving rolls around again. I don’t know why “Happy Valentine’s Day!” never really caught on outside of our most intimate friends, and I don’t recall anyone ever wishing me a “Happy Memorial Day!” or a “Happy Arbor Day!”   I wonder if it’s because we have so many holidays, or maybe it’s because a simple “hello” doesn’t seem to require the obligatory smile the seasonal greetings do.

One of the many greetings I’ve heard in these parts for most of my life is “Are you staying out of trouble?”  I suppose, like most people, my answer to that particular question has changed over the years. In my younger days the answer most of the time would have been “no”.  As I grew a little older the answer changed to “I’m trying”, and eventually ended up as a “yes”, partially, I think, because I just don’t have the energy to get into trouble anymore.

I’ve also made a few adjustments in my lifestyle over the last 63 years, many times in the form of New Year’s resolutions, hoping to avoid different types of trouble. I gave up cigarettes and alcohol about 30 years ago. I replaced the cigarettes with chewing tobacco, and the alcohol with Mountain Dew, for a while, but eventually decided I could probably get by just fine without either of those vices as well. I read somewhere that if people who smoked and drank would add up all the money they spent on beer and cigarettes, it would be enough to buy a Mercedes-Benz. When I started they both cost 45 cents, so I probably would have to settle for a pre-owned model.

I don’t drive faster than the speed limit for the most part, and I try to obey most of the stop signs that I see. I got rid of our 40 foot extension ladder a few years ago, and last fall I decided our second story gutters on the house probably didn’t absolutely need to be cleaned out just because the first story gutters were full.

I don’t watch much television anymore, not necessarily because I made a conscious effort to stop watching, but more because it kept getting harder to find anything worth watching. Sometimes I still listen to it, but that’s not usually my choice or fault.

I decided to lose 30 pounds a few months back. I lost 20, but found 4 of them again after too many “Happy Holidays!” I think it will be easier to lose them again now that I don’t have to smile as much.

Last year my wife made a New Year’s resolution for me that I would see a doctor at least once a year. She also made an appointment with a doctor for me, and before it was all over I ended up seeing two doctors three times, and taking some pills almost every morning that are supposed to keep my heart beat up and my blood pressure down. I always thought one would just take care of the other, but everybody involved told me I wasn’t a doctor, and that I should just shut up and take my medicine, which I mostly do.

I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to give up or take up this year. There’s a distinct possibility I’ve reached the age where I just don’t have that much to give up. And I guess I’m just a little disappointed that with everything I’ve already given up, I don’t feel any better or have more money than I do. Or that I’m not driving a Mercedes.

At any rate, whatever New Year’s resolution you decide to undertake, I hope it all works out for you, and that you end feeling better or saving money, or both.

 And good luck with your Mercedes.