Thursday, December 25, 2008

The times, they are still a' changin'...

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Amen, Charlie, depending on who you listen to.

I don't recall a more polarizing year politically. After every election there is some grumbling from the losing party and chest thumping from the winning party. This year the winners are predicting even better times than they predicted when Bill Clinton won the election, and the losers are predicting even worse times than they predicted when Bill Clinton won the election. I think most Libertarians are convinced that we won't be able to tell a whole lot of difference between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain in the final outcome.

Politics aside, it was a pretty good year from a personal standpoint, even with a few ups and downs.In February we got a new grand baby. In July, we celebrated Dad's 80th birthday and Mom and Dad's 60th wedding anniversary.

We were able to work for some really nice people this year, and we have couple of businesses that survived another year (even without a bailout).

On the down side, we had some family that moved away this year. We knew it was coming, and as difficult as that is, I'm thankful that modern transportation makes the world as small as it is. I've often wondered how people coped with seeing family move far away 150 years ago, knowing that they would probably never see them again.

And some things just seem to slip up on you. I've lost a few friends over the years, and while it was always a shock, I could always, up until now, explain it away as one of the "unexplainable" tragedies that befall us in life.

But this year I started noticing a lot of obituaries about people that were younger than I am. This year I lost one of the first friends I had when I made the transition from Millville Grade School to Greensfork Junior High School. This week I lost a friend of 50 years, and the best man in my wedding. I guess I could factor in our age, and make it a little easier to explain. It doesn't make it any easier to accept.

I don't know what 2009 is going to bring. I know there are some changes I will have to accept, whether I can explain them or not. I also know there are some changes I can never accept. And I know I'm going to keep working to change the things I can, and hoping to change the things I can't.

And personally, I'm hoping 2009 brings 2010.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

That's not fair...or equal...

Good news!!

The Indiana General Assembly's efforts to make property taxes fair and equal are about to pay off. Even if they don't agree to allow Hoosiers to vote on making the property tax caps part of the Indiana Constitution, we can still sign up, by December 31st, for an exemption to insure that our property taxes don't increase by more than 2% over the previous year's taxes.

Well, not everybody can sign up for the exemption. The gross assessed value of your homestead can't exceed $160,000.00. Other than that, you're good to go.

Unless you're under 65 years old. If you're 25, and trying to raise a family, you don't qualify. As a matter of fact, if you're any age under 65 you don't qualify. Other than that, you're good to go.

Unless you make more than $30,000. Then you don't qualify for the exemption. Other than that, you're good to go.

So really, the only people that don't qualify are the ones who are under 65, or whose home is assessed at over $160,000.00, or who make over $30,000.

I always wondered how to make property taxes fair and equal.

This must be it.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Do as I say, not as I do...

About 40 years ago, Arlo Guthrie blasted his draft board for questioning whether or not he was moral enough to kill people after having been accused of littering. I always thought he raised a valid point, although I still didn't think it excused his littering.

A couple of recent events remind me of Arlo's plight. Illinois Governor Blagojevich has been accused and all but convicted of planning to sell Barak Obama's Senate seat for an undetermined amount of money or favor. A despicable abuse of power, no doubt, and deserving of all of the wrath other officials are heaping on it. But I recall a couple of months ago when 58 members of the House of Representatives turned down an ill-advised bail-out of Wall Street, only to change their votes when offered $130 billion.

I wondered at the time if a Senator cost more than a Representative. Apparently we'll have to wait a little longer for an answer now.

We're also witnessing the prosecution by the government of Bernard Madoff, a con man who bilked investors out of billions of dollars in an elaborate Ponzi scheme, where Madoff used money from current investors to pay previous investors. The plan bears a striking resemblance to the government's Social Security plan, except that under Madoff's scheme, people were not forced to participate.

Still, fraud is fraud, and I hope Madoff is vigorously prosecuted. In fact, I'd be tickled if they went after everybody that commits this type of crime.

I realize that there are a few duties that we should grant to government instead of to individuals.

But there are also some actions that need to be prosecuted, regardless of who or what is guilty of instigating them.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

217 years old and holding...barely...

December 15th is the 217th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. That's the first ten amendments to our Constitution, set in place to protect our already existing rights from government usurpation. There is a wide range of views on how effective they have been in accomplishing that goal.

Certainly people of the libertarian persuasion can cite many examples where they believe government has ignored our protections, especially those afforded by the first, second, fourth, fifth, ninth and tenth amendments. Other groups place varying amounts of importance on some of the amendments, while placing none at all on others.

I'm a big believer in individual rights, and a big fan of anything that serves to keep the government in check. Which is why I believe the Bill of Rights needs to be rigidly interpreted, and why people need to understand they still have the same rights even when it isn't.

I wrote this opinion back in 2005 to express some of my thoughts on rights. I still believe it's right....

The recent uproar over certain pharmacists’ refusal to provide “morning-after” birth control pills due to moral objections showcases the misconception of rights that many people have. Does a pharmacist have the right to refuse to sell a product he or she finds morally objectionable, or does a woman have the right to purchase a drug that the FDA has approved for sale? The answer to both questions is yes.

Oddly enough, many of our elected officials seem unable to grasp the concept of rights. In California, legislators are drafting legislation that would require pharmacists to provide any lawful drug, regardless of their moral or religious beliefs. Apparently they believe they can give someone the right to force someone else to do something that person finds objectionable. At the same time, legislators in Washington are drafting legislation that would require employers to make allowances for their employee’s religious beliefs. Apparently they believe they can give an employee ( perhaps a pharmacist), the right to refuse their employer’s orders, (perhaps an order to sell birth control pills), without a fear of repercussion, so long as the refusal is made on religious grounds. So what happens next? Does the pharmacist go to jail for not providing the drug, or does the pharmacy owner go to jail for forcing him to make the sale or firing him for not making the sale?

Maybe the solution lies in the realization that government cannot grant rights, that every person in the world is born with the same natural rights, regardless of the type of government they live under.

Every person has the right to purchase what someone else wishes to sell. If your pharmacist decides he will sell Bayer Aspirin but not Tylenol, you have the right to get mad, you have the right to walk out the door and find a pharmacist that sells Tylenol. You don’t have the right to force the offending pharmacist to sell Tylenol.

When an employee goes to work for an employer, they come to an agreement. The employee agrees to perform a service in return for benefits. The employer agrees to provide benefits in return for services provided. When they can no longer agree on services and benefits, they have the right to part ways in search of other employers and employees. This is our system of free enterprise and contract law. It works well with minimum government intrusion. Government has no reason to step in until someone tries to forcibly prevent you from going to another pharmacy, or until an employer defrauds an employee, or until an employee defrauds an employer.

Your rights cannot conflict with someone else’s rights. If something you decide to do requires or leads to the initiation of force against another person, then it isn’t a right.

Yes, you have the right to join with any number of people and pool your resources for your retirement. No, you don’t have the right to force someone to join your group.

Yes, you have the right defend yourself against violence. No, you don’t have the right to initiate violence.

Yes, you have the right to donate to any cause or charity you choose. No, you don’t have the right to force anybody else to donate.

Yes, you have the right to seek an education. No, you don’t have the right to take someone’s home if they decide they don’t want to pay for your education.

Yes, you have the right to own and control your property. No you don’t have the right to control someone else’s property.

Yes, you have the right to prevent people from smoking on your property. No, you don’t have the right to prevent people from smoking on their property.

Rights belong to individuals. While every person in a group has rights, belonging to a group does not give you more rights than a single person.

This group of people that is our government needs to realize they cannot grant or take away our rights. They can only protect those rights, or prevent us from practicing them. I’d prefer a government that protects them.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Smile and the world smiles with you...

...unless your trying to get a drivers license.

In it's latest efforts to assure that people aren't too happy, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles recently announced that persons posing for their driver's license photograph will no longer be allowed to smile.

Apparently smiling distorts facial features to the point of confusing the software program the bureau is using to identify the applicants. I guess they might have a point. I know there are times, when my wife is upset and scowling at me, that I would swear she's not the same person I married.

Not that there's a lot of smiling going on at the BMV anyway. Our local branch, long since closed, had been going downhill ever since Viola retired and the state sent its people in to run things. I always thought it was their way of keeping the locals from being quite so upset when our hometown office finally closed. I recall one instance, when after 4 trips to obtain a license plate for a small trailer, and after being sent away 4 times for additional documentation, I informed the clerk that I would simply take my chances on pulling the trailer without any plates. Surely if the police stopped me and executed me on the spot, it could be no worse an experience than I had already endured.

I never have understood exactly why the BMV exists anyway. I don't believe it should be necessary to ask the government for permission to drive on public roads, as long as I pay my road use taxes and obey the rules established to protect other drivers. And I don't know why they should charge more to drive a new Cadillac down the road than they charge for my old truck to drive down the same road. I guess just because they can.

I figure car dealers and insurance companies can keep track of vehicle ID numbers, and communicate that information to the police when necessary.

And besides, there are plenty of other government agencies that will make sure we don't smile too much.

At least without a license.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Dare not...

The playground equipment at Millville Grade School was limited, to say the least. We had a two-seat swing set for grades 1 through 4, and a four-seat swing set for grades 5 through 8, although by the eighth grade none of the boys would be caught dead on the swing sets, unless they were swinging their girlfriend, or hanging from the cross bar to impress a prospective girlfriend. There were also a couple of teeter-totters if you didn't mind getting splinters in places where you couldn't see to pull them out, and a slide, which wasn't bad as long as you played on the slide before you played on the teeter-totter.

Since there were always more students than seats on the playground at recess, many of us were faced with the challenge of inventing our own entertainment, not always supervised, and probably not always within the boundaries of accepted social practices, even by Millville standards.

My old pal Stinky Wilmont was one of the best at making alternate entertainment a little more exciting. To the simple act of climbing the big mulberry tree, for instance, he would add the twist of shinnying out on the limb that hung over Summit Taylor's ash pile, lowering yourself to the fence that separated Mr.Taylor's property from the school yard, and then walking the fence down to the Lilac bush, all before Principle Baker finished his smoke break and came out of the furnace room and caught us in this presumably dangerous activity.

Now, under the Millville Grade School unwritten but understood playground code, Stinky could dare any of us to accept the challenge and complete the course. Doing so successfully would win the admiration of the rest of the gang. An unsuccessful attempt might draw the scorn of Stinky and Mr. Baker, but you could normally count on at least a little sympathy from the gallery.

From time to time, if the challenge seemed overly outrageous or dangerous, the daree could always issue a double-dare, (a precursor, I believe, of the now famous double-dog dare),to the darer, wherein the challenger had to complete the task first. Of course, this meant that the double-darer was now obligated to also complete the task, or risk the scorn of the entire student body.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. Our government is about to hand a bunch of taxpayer money over to the Big 3 automakers. $15 billion just to get them through March. We don't know how much the next installment will be.

When Congress told the CEO's of GM, Ford and Chrysler to come up with a business plan to justify this investment, they temporarily parked their private jets and drove back to Washington in electric cars. At least they were in the cars when the television cameras were rolling. I guess that's a plan.

O.K. Here's the deal. Congress is going to give them the money. Even though it doesn't have the authority to do so. Even though over 60% of the American public is opposed to it. Congress and the CEO's must see something in the plan that we don't see. And if they think it's a good plan, they should be happy to invest their personal money and savings into the companies.

In fact, we should double-dare Congress to do just that. We already know we're going to be forced to do it.

What do we have to lose?