Saturday, June 30, 2007

Good idea, bad law....

I think most of the people I know brush their teeth on a regular basis. And although I have no way of knowing, I suspect most of them also heed their Mother's warnings about the possibility of being in an accident, and put on clean underwear every morning. I've always thought that these were a couple of good ideas that didn't require an inordinate amount of effort. I also suppose that some people might have some reason to abstain from these activities, though I can't imagine what that reason might be.

There are a lot of things that I consider good ideas. I think it's a good idea to go to church every Sunday, and I think it's a good idea to visit your parents every week. (I do fairly well with these.) It's a good idea to eat healthy food, control your weight, and avoid substances that you know can't really be that good for you.(I don't do as well with the food and weight part.)

I think it's a good idea to graduate and get married before you start having children, and I think it's a really good idea to take your wife out to someplace really nice after you forget your anniversary.

I'm sure everyone has their own list of good ideas, and I'm just as sure not everyone will agree with my list. I know a lot of people think it is a good idea to wear a seatbelt. I think it's a pretty good idea myself, sometimes.

But good ideas don't necessarily make good laws, and I'm just as opposed to the seatbelt law as I would be to a law that required me to attend church, or visit my parents, or take my wife out to dinner after I forgot our anniversary. Or any law that required people to adhere to any of my good ideas.

On July 1st a new law takes effect that says I'll be a criminal if I don't wear a seatbelt in my truck. I think Ayn Rand had it right when she said:

"The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws."

I suppose the easiest thing to do would just be to buckle under and buckle in, but there's something in me that just won't let that happen. Oh, there will be times and situations when I'll wear the belt, but only because I think it's a good idea. Not because it is the law.

There is a certain amount of personal responsibility that we must have if we want to live in a free society. The assumption is of course that we still want to live in a free society.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Republicans say the darndest things....

I don't want people to think that I only pick on Republicans. I've certainly been disappointed by the Democrats' failure to stand by the principles they used to claim, and their failure to even try to live up to their campaign rhetoric.

But the Republicans were my people for a major portion of my life, so I guess I still expect a little more out of them. Besides, I ran across a couple of gems this week, and it just so happens they both came from the GOP. I do trust that the Democrats will provide us with plenty of material in the coming months.

I read an article the other day about Dennis Hastert, the recently deposed Republican U.S. House Speaker from Illinois. The former speaker was relaying a story about a time when one of his constituents was able to reach him on the telephone without being intercepted by Hastert's secretary. Hastert said of the call, "It was some wacko, saying, 'What in the hell are you guys doing in Washington. Taxes are way too high'".

So, one of the highest ranking and most powerful Republicans in the United States thought that a person who claimed that taxes were too high was a whacko? I thought that is what Republicans were supposed to think. Maybe that's part of the reason Hastert isn't as high ranking and powerful as he used to be.

I also recieved a mailing from the District 54 State Representative, Republican Tom Saunders. In it he was touting the benefits of a new tax the legislature enacted this year. The tax will be on cigarettes, and the proceeds will be used to provide free healthcare to various portions of the population that make less than $40,000.00, and meet various other specifications.

Towards the end of the mailing, Representative Saunders states that "The program is not an entitlement program". SAY WHAT? I looked it up to just to be sure. Webster's says an entitlement is "something to which a person is entitled; specif., any of the various benefits provided to qualifying persons under certain government programs.."

Sure sounds like an entitlement to me, but I guess if it was, the Republicans would be opposed to it. So it must not be.

But it sure sounds like an entitlement.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Oh yeah, now I remember...

I spend a lot of my time building things, or getting ready to build things. I also spend a lot of time being disgusted at the government when it sticks its nose in where it doesn't belong. Last week I experienced an overlap. It's like this:

150 years ago someone built a house on Hoover Road just north of Hagerstown. 63 years ago a young couple bought that house, raised a nice family, and then retired. A while back, they asked us to build an addition onto the back of their home.

While I have never agreed that a person who owns a property should have to ask their government for permission to build a home on that property, I usually attempt to obtain the required permits, realizing that not every customer is interested in fighting the same battles that I have chosen to fight.

My attempt to procure this particular permit, however, took a nasty turn. I was informed that the house which had stood in the same location for a century and a half was now too close to the road. I was also informed that if owners of this property, who had bought and paid for it, and paid the property taxes for 63 years, wanted to add a room on the back of their home, they would have to seek permission from their neighbors. Even though one of the neighbors lived a mile away. And even though one of the neighbors lived in Tennessee. And even though the room addition will be further off the road than the new government regulations require.

As it should be, none of the neighbors objected to the room, and most were amused or indignant that such a rule even exists. And even with no objections, the statute requires that the government wait ten days before issuing the permit.

Every so often, something like this happens to remind me of why I became a Libertarian. And every so often something like this happens to add a few more Libertarians to the fold.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Thanks Dad, and Happy Fathers Day

One of the best things about getting old, besides being able to hide your own Easter eggs, is being able to tell the same story over and over. Here's one of my favorite stories about when I was growing up.

I grew up on a small farm near Millville, one of eight children. When we finished our chores at home, the boys in the family would often work for neighboring farmers in order to make some spending money for the Mooreland Fair.

One time Oakley Paul hired me to hook the corn and jimpson weeds out of his soybean field. It was hot, hard work. When I rode my bike home for lunch, I told my Dad I wasn’t going back.

He informed me that I had agreed to clean the field, and that I was going to return, and that I was going to finish the job. As I remember, I was pretty mad at him that afternoon.

I think I’ll thank him the next time I see him

Friday, June 08, 2007

The trappings of power...

For the most part, I don't really care how many days Paris Hilton spends in jail. I'll have to admit to being blissfully ignorant as to who she even was before the publicity of her latest tangle with the law. I do appreciate law enforcement's efforts to keep intoxicated drivers off of our public roads. All I would ask is that Ms. Hilton be treated the same way as my old friend Stinky Wilmont would be treated, should he happen to find himself in the same unfortunate circumstances.

Unfortunately, things don't always work out that way. Sometimes money affects the way things happen. Sometimes a persons position in society does the same thing. And sometimes, being an elected official seems to offer special privileges.

A couple of days ago Wayne County Commissioner Tom Dickman announced that he was stepping down from his position because he had moved out of his elected district, and no longer met the residency requirement. Fair enough, but he was elected to his position in 2004, bought the new house in 2005, and moved in 2006. Mr. Dickman chose to ignore the residency requirements until such a time as he felt it was appropriate for him to resign.

For the most part, much like my feelings in Ms. Hilton's case, I really don't care where a commissioner lives. But if rules apply, they should apply equally.

Mr. Dickman has a reputation as a successful businessman, and in that I wish him much continued success.

He has also been taken to task for some questionable deals that occurred under his watch. County Commissioners bear the responsibility of appointing members to the Economic Developement Council, the same group that gave $450,000.00 of taxpayers money to help build a road on one of Mr. Dickman's retail developement properties, despite the EDC policy of avoiding retail projects.

This is the same property that suddenly qualified for a $2.1 million tax abatement after the Richmond Common Council adopted new site specific guidelines to include,"vacant industrial facilities with at least 20,000 square feet of floor space that were placed in service at least 20 years ago and have been vacant for for 2 or more consecutive years.....". They did at least leave out a requirement that "the facility must also have been used to make yellow buses and must be owned by brothers whose last name begins with D".

I have no problem with business people using their money and skills to increase their wealth and holdings, and I certainly see no problem if they take some willing investors along.

I do have a problem when our elected officials use their position and our tax dollars to increase their wealth and holdings. And I have a problem when we stand by and let them do it.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

One for you, nineteen for me...

A few years ago, when I was still a Republican, I received a notice from the Indiana Department of Revenue. That in itself is not unusual. If you are in business you receive a multitude of notices from different divisions of the state and federal tax collection agencies. Its not unusual for a small business with just a couple of employees to fill out 15 or 20 forms every month or quarter, sometimes more.

But this particular notice was a little different. It claimed that I had underpaid my withholding taxes for the month by a penny. Along with that penny, the state also wanted $1.50 in interest, and $15.00 in penalty, bringing the bill to $16.51.

My first inclination was to simply pay the bill and be done with it. Our accountant, however, maintained that her figures were correct, and challenged the bill. The departments first response was that our original figures were correct, but the payment had been late. When our accountant produced the bank documents showing that the deposit had been made on time, the departments second response was that they had made a mistake, and that we should just forget it.

I wondered at the time how many phony bills were sent out by various tax divisions, and how many people like me would automatically send in the payment to avoid getting cross ways with the tax man. Of course I had no way of knowing, but I suspect across the nation it could amount to millions of people, and millions of dollars.

I hadn't thought about that incident for awhile, but something happened the other day that jogged my memory. My oldest son called and said he had received a letter from a collection agency in Wisconsin, claiming that he owed $649.32 in back taxes from the year 2000, and that in order to avoid further charges, it needed to be paid at once. Several things didn't seem right. First of all, he was a sophomore in college that year, and he didn't even make $649.32. Secondly, I was sure that the government used Sheriffs and U.S. Marshals to do their collecting, so as not to have to share the profits. And third, we found it odd that he had never received any previous notification from the Indiana Department of Revenue, which the letter claimed wanted the money.

A call to the Indiana Department of Revenue proved me wrong about their collection tactics. They confirmed that they did use collection agencies, even ones that were under investigation for questionable practices, like OSI Collection Services Inc, the agency that sent the letter from Wisconsin. The department, however, could not find any record of money that my son owed, or even a mention of collection proceedings.

A call to OSI Collection Services, Inc, revealed that they had matched his first initial and last name to an overdue account, and the sent out the bill. Once again, I have no way of knowing how many people with the same first initial and same last name as my son received the same bill. I also have no way of knowing how many people just paid the bill rather than risk the wrath of the Department of Revenue. I'm sure some did. Hopefully most didn't.

But it certainly makes a case for more simple "pay as you go" sales tax and user fees. The federal tax code has over 70,000 pages. Every state has its own complicated system of state income taxes, county income taxes, city income taxes, economic development income taxes, property taxes and on and on and on. Most of it too complicated for the ordinary citizen to understand.

And complicated enough that unscrupulous tax collectors, public and private, can use it to their advantage. Tax collectors that could be eliminated with a simpler system.