Thursday, April 30, 2009

How about a real new deal?...

Stinky Wilmont was one of my best buddies back in the days at Millville Grade School. I probably ended up in more trouble than I should have whenever I followed his lead, but I also had a lot more fun than I would have if Stinky hadn’t been around.

Occasionally though, Stinky would embark on some adventure that I felt pretty sure was destined to end in tears, and either my better judgment, or fear, would get the better of me, and I would decide to leave him to his own devices. As the years and grades passed, and my judgment got better, partly because some of my fears were well-founded, Stinky and I kind of drifted apart. It may have in part also, because Stinky’s judgment never really showed any signs of improvement. I don’t think there was any animosity between us, just my realization that Stinky and I might not have the same goals or values.

When Indiana started its lottery, I remember a woman in town who was absolutely obsessed with it. After she had nearly depleted the family checking and savings accounts, her husband contacted all of the places in town that sold lottery tickets, cashed checks, or loaned money, and told them that he would no longer be responsible for his wife’s debts.
I don’t know for sure how much legal weight his action carried. But if she couldn’t control her habit, I guess this was a good first step instead of just jumping into a divorce. I don’t know whatever became of the situation. I hope it all worked out for them.

Just recently, Megan McAllister, the fiancée of accused CraigsList killer Phillip Markoff, decided it might be time to reconsider her decision to “stand by her man”, cancel their upcoming nuptials, and move on with her own life. Probably a good move on her part, I think.

In their most recent sessions, about twenty state legislatures have introduced or discussed resolutions re-declaring their sovereignty as states, and re-asserting the limited power the federal government is granted under the Constitution. The basis for these resolutions is the 10th Amendment of that Constitution, which declares 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.”

Many years ago, Thomas Jefferson noted that “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” It seems we’ve been pretty complacent over the years about yielding our liberties to an ever growing government. There aren’t many things we can do anymore that don’t require some sort of government permission or license. Even getting together to protest against the government often requires a permit from the government. And for the most part, it seems the American people have pretty well accepted that.

The renewed interest in State and personal sovereignty seems then to be more tied to the federal government’s insatiable appetite for spending. It might be the official federal debt, which recently passed $11 trillion, or the unofficial debt (which includes the federal government’s unfunded liabilities), which has been estimated at over $60 trillion. It might be the hundreds of costly mandates the federal government has, without Constitutional authorization, imposed upon the States. Perhaps there is finally a realization that all of this debt will eventually fall on the people of the States, and a realization that it is more debt than taxpayers can afford. Perhaps it’s simply a common sense survival instinct that tells people to avoid things that will probably end up causing them harm.

Whatever the reasons, it may indeed be time for the States to take a critical look at where the federal government is leading them, and negotiate a new deal with that government.

Or at least make them abide by the old one.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Step Two.....

They say the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem.

I was happy to see so many Republicans taking part in the TEA Party protests that took place last tax day, complaining that government had become to expensive, just like I was happy to hear Cal Thomas proclaim that both Democrats and Republicans were guilty of overstepping and overspending.

I'll be happier if some of those protesters realize and admit that all of this overstepping and overspending didn't start with Barack Obama and the Democrats. If they realize and admit that that the federal debt doubled under the watch of George Bush, and that the doubling started when Republicans controlled both branches of Congress.

I'll be even happier if some of those protesters decide to take the second step, and actually do something about the problem. When they realize that electing more Republicans in the next election won't solve most of what they were protesting about.

I've heard people claim that a lot of the protesters didn't really have any ideas or solutions for solving the problem. I've heard claims they were just mad. That may or may not be the case, but it really doesn't matter. At least they've taken the first step, in admitting that there is a problem.

There are a lot of ways to trim government spending. Libertarians have been offering them for years. Here are some of the milder ideas. You can find more in the Cato Institute’s “Handbook for Policymakers, Seventh Edition.”

• Avert the oncoming fiscal crisis in Social Security by indexing initial benefits to changes in prices, instead of wages. Saves $47 billion annually by 2018. Without reforms like this, the program will go bankrupt or force trillions of dollars in destructive new taxes or borrowing.
• Turn Medicare into a block grant and freeze federal spending, forcing states to pursue cost-cutting reforms. Saves $227 billion annually by 2018.
• Eliminate the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, a $352 million corporate welfare program.
• Eliminate the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, another $369 million in corporate welfare.
• Eliminate the Energy Department’s nuclear energy research programs, $695 million in welfare that should be undertaken by nuclear energy investors.
• Turn Head Start over to private charities, saving $687 million annually. Since its inception Head Start has shown no substantive increase in inner-city literacy rates.
• Eliminate the Bureau of Indian Affairs, saving nearly $2.5 billion a year.
• Eliminate funding for the United Nations and other international programs, saving nearly $1.6 billion annually.
• Eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, saving $350 million annually.
• Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, $278 million a year in welfare for wealthy arts patrons.
• Eliminate the Small Business Administration, $530 million in welfare for businesses.
• Eliminate the $935 million a year in Postal Service subsidies and force them to further privatize operations.

Those are just a few cuts, which alone save taxpayers $282.3 billion. I'm sure many more will be suggested in the next four years. Hopefully some of those suggestions will come from mad Republicans. Hopefully some will come from voters who aren't all that mad, but still realize we have a problem.

Hopefully they will vote like they really want to solve the problem.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Worst First...

Someone gave me a book a few years ago, called "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Journal". It has a lot of suggestions on how you should react if you find yourself in a tough situation, like being stuck in quicksand, or locked in the trunk of a car, or riding a runaway camel.

We don't have any quicksand around Hagerstown that I'm aware of, and I've pretty well given up camel riding, but it also has a lot of blank pages so that you can write down your own solutions to worst case scenarios that you are more likely to encounter in everyday life.

It's probably a good idea to have an escape plan in place if your house catches on fire. I'm a big fan of locating all the exits whenever we go into a restaurant, just in case. If I ever run off of the road and end up in a lake or river, I have an escape plan so that I don't drown in my truck. I'm still working on a plan to keep from drowning in the lake or river once I get out of the truck.

A lot of government units across the state and country are facing budget short-falls, and are scrambling to find solutions. As I've said before, I don't understand why the government has to wait for an emergency before they start trimming wasteful spending, but apparently that's how they like to operate, so I guess we'll just have to make the best of it.

I do think it would be a good idea to have a plan to reduce spending in place beforehand, though. My good friend Mike Kole had a good suggestion on the matter a while back. He suggested making a list of all of the programs and services that a city, town or county provides. Each member of the governing body would then assign a numeric value to each service, giving the service they deemed most important the highest number, and the the service they deemed least important with the lowest number.

The program or service recieving the lowest total would be the first eliminated. If that didn't save enough money to meet the budget, the process would begin again, and continue until the reductions were sufficient.

There were also suggestions that police and fire protection should be left out of the equation, since politicians are also fond of threatening cuts in essential services first, an attempt to scare us into just shutting up and paying more taxes, I suppose.

Anyway, I don't know if we've reached the worst-case scenario yet, but it wouldn't hurt to have a plan in place for when we do.

Just in case.


Monday, April 13, 2009


From the "Good News, Bad News" department.

First, the good news. Apparently President Obama and his family have decided to adopt a new pet, a type of Portuguese water dog named Bo. I'm sure Malia and Sasha are very excited, and whether or not Bo realizes it, he's set up for a pretty easy life for the next 4 or 8 years. (I think that's 28 or 56 in dog years).

Now for the bad news. Reports are surfacing that Bo may be in arrears on his dog tax.

President Oboma reportedly claimed it was merely an oversight on Bo's part, and promised to have the taxes and penalties paid before Bo assumes his First Dog duties.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Green Car? No Thanks...

The other day on the radio somebody suggested that we should start buying green vehicles. All I could think of was "been there, done that". The first car I ever drove was green.

It was a 1965 Rambler American. Dad bought it shortly after my older brother got his drivers license. I think four of us kids learned to drive in that car. It had really ugly vinyl seats, and an AM radio that only picked up WOWO and WERK.

It had a 196 cubic inch engine.

I got a ticket in it once for attempted speeding.

In my moderately-hippie days, I bought a 1963 Ford Econoline. It was hand brushed chartreuse green. Green shag carpet and green wheels. Somebody had replaced the original engine with a 390 cubic incher, and built a big plywood box around it. Then they covered it with more green shag carpet.

For the life of me I can't remember where I left that van.

I had a 1978 green Chevy truck. It rusted out before I got it paid for.

I've owned all the green vehicles I care to own, thank you very much.

And what's wrong with white, anyway?


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Hold the celebration...

You might think that those of us who don't imbibe should be relieved that the statewide support for the Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse will come from a doubling of the alcohol tax. Except that once the tax is adopted, its pretty well been decided that taxpayers across the state can be forced to sports complexes in other parts of the state.

If the next legislature decides that the alcohol tax isn't enough, and that an extra state-wide income tax is needed to support another stadium, or field house, or convention center, it won't be that much of a stretch.

That's the problem with giving one group of legislators, or one governor, or one president to much power. The next group of legislators, or the next governor, or the next president gets to use that power also.

There is a bill being considered now at the federal level that will allow the Treasury Secretary to confiscate what he considers to be excessive pay from employees of companies that accepted bailout funds.

Here's a report from the Libertarian Party:

"Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is sponsor of the "Pay for Performance Act," a bill that gives the Treasury Secretary absolute power to confiscate "obscene salaries" from every employee of a private company that accepted bailout funds.

Somewhere Hugo Chavez is kicking himself for not thinking of this.

There are no standards whatsoever for what constitutes an "obscene salary." It is entirely up to a politically-appointed official to determine -- with no guidelines other than his own whims -- whose paychecks are grabbed by the government.

So what gives an unelected federal official who can't even pay his own taxes absolute power to determine what your paycheck should be? In a heated interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto, Grayson actually said the Constitution's guarantees of "due process" and "equal protection" gives the Executive Branch the unquestionable, unaccountable power to dictate private sector pay."

There's not much question that this bill is aimed at the executives and the millions of dollars in bonuses that they received. And probably as long as the present administration is in power, that's where the focus will remain.

But if history is any indicator, there's a good possibility that the current administration won't be in power forever, and there's also a good possibility that the current party won't be either.

And the next administration might take a different view on which people in a company are making to much money, or even how much is to much. Or even what qualifies as a bailout.

But that's the chance we take when we give "our guys" to much power.

"Our guys" might not always win.

At least I know mine don't.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Does anybody know the number for 911?...

I have a couple of friends that are having a disagreement with the local post office concerning their mail delivery. I wish them luck in getting their disagreement settled quickly and amicably. I always figured if you upset the postmaster, you could be setting yourself up for some real heartaches.

Some people you just don't want to upset. That's why I'd never make a scene and send a meal back to the kitchen in a restaurant. After insulting the chef, you might be considerably better off with the first offering instead of the second.

That being said, I think 911 dispatch is an important service, even though I've never used it. I needed to call them one time, but I couldn't remember the number.

The system is funded in part by a surcharge on land-line telephones and cell phones. Land line users currently pay 99 cents a month for the service, while cell phone users pay 50 cents a month. If you've got both, you pay twice. The cost of affluence, I guess.

As the trend moves away from land-line phones, the surcharge totals the 911 system receives has dropped, down a little over $50,000.00 last year, according to reports. And as it should, the Wayne County Council is looking at ways to replace those funds. My personal feelings would have them lean a little more toward user fees to make up any shortfalls, but that's just me, and besides, they've already decided on another route.

The Council voted at their last meeting to increase the surcharge on land-line phones to $1.53 per month. They have to vote again at their next meeting before it takes effect. That doesn't sound to bad if you say it real fast, but it means they are replacing $50,000.00 of lost revenue with a little over $200,000.00 of new revenue.

I'm sure an influx of this much money makes it easier to manage the system, but we aren't experiencing the best financial situation right now. A lot of people have lost their jobs, or had their hours reduced. While most county employees received a 2% raise, some 911 employees received a 16% raise:

Dispatch – Wireline 911 #009 - Salary Ordinance Amendment
From: To: Effective
#1164 Supervisor @ $34,923.00 #1164 Supervisor @ $35,269.00 1/1/09
Mr. Barry Ritter, Director of E911, asked Council to approve the above salary ordinance
amendment. Gary Saunders motioned approval of the request, seconded by Jeff Plasterer
and the motion passed unanimously.

Part Time Range @ Part Time Range @ 1/1/09
$11.00 to $13.69/hr $11.00 to $15.87/hr
Next, Mr. Ritter requested approval for the above change in the salary ordinance. Mr.
Saunders said this was discussed a personnel committee, and the group agreed the level of
training and experience for a part time dispatchers warrants this increase. Gary Saunders
motioned approval, seconded by Al Dillon and the motion passed unanimously.

#1350 Part Time Comm. #1350 Part Time Comm 1/1/09
Specialist @ $13.69/hr Specialist @ $15.87/hr
#1351 Part Time Comm. #1351 Part Time Comm 1/1/09
Specialist @ $13.69/hr Specialist @ $15.87/hr
#1352 Part Time Comm. #1352 Part Time Comm 1/1/09
Specialist @ $13.69/hr Specialist @ $15.87/hr
Mr. Ritter then requested approval to increase the part time range. Gary Saunders motioned
approval, seconded by Monica Burns, motioned passed unanimously.

I hope the council decides that in these trying times they need to keep our emergency services operating effectively and efficiently. I also hope they decide not to take more from the citizens than is necessary to accomplish those goals.

I also hope I don't have to call 911 for a while.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Simple enough...

Frank Schuler was the County Extension Agent when I was a kid in Henry County. Besides looking after the 4-H program in the county, Frank also kept the local agricultural community informed on the latest news from Purdue University, and helped people with their gardens at a time when a lot of people still depended on a garden to help feed the family.

One of my favorite stories about Mr. Schuler involved a lady that was worried about some type of bug that was eating her tomato plants. She had captured one of the offending critters, placed it in a Ball jar, and hauled it down to Frank’s office.

When she handed the jar to Frank, and asked his opinion on the best way to kill such a bug, he carefully and thoughtfully examined it from all angles through the jar. He then loosened the lid, dumped the bug out on the floor, and stomped on it.

A lot of times we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be.

This month is when most of us get to file our income tax returns. It’s a pretty complicated system. There’s close to 70,000 pages in the federal income tax code. Individuals, businesses and non-profit organizations spend about 6 billion hours and $265 billion every year figuring out, filling out and filing forms.

It’s so complicated that the Internal Revenue Service spends $11 billion every year just getting it collected. It’s so complicated that United States Representatives and Senators can’t seem to get it right. Even the United States Secretary of the Treasury has admitted to being caught up in the confusion.

A lot of us have our taxes figured by a professional. Probably a good idea, but taking your records to 10 different tax services will most likely result in 10 different answers on the amount you owe, depending on how many of the 70,000 pages they have read.

Even the IRS itself can’t avoid confusion. An IRS audit of a company in Hagerstown a couple of years ago resulted in 3 different conclusions by three different agents. I guess you should be as careful about choosing your auditor as you are about choosing your accountant.

Of course, even if they were able to make the income tax simpler, I’m not sure they could ever make it fair. A few years ago, Willie Nelson went “On the road again”, trying to raise $17 million the IRS claimed he owed in back taxes.

Now, I know Willie has made a lot of money in his life, and I know that we have to pay taxes to provide for government services. But I also know Willie uses the same roads, and receives the same police protection (although maybe a little more police attention), as a person that pays $1000.00 in income taxes, or a person that pays no income tax at all.

I simply can’t imagine how the government figures any one person could owe $17 million for the same services another person is receiving for little or nothing.
If the government was really concerned about making things simple and fair, they could eliminate the income tax and the IRS. They could fund legitimate government functions through a sales tax that everybody would pay. And if they were really concerned about the poor, they could exempt food, lodging and medical care from the tax.

Of course, looking at how the government handles things, I’m not convinced they’re all that interested in making things simple and fair. I think they’re more interested in collecting money. Sometimes $17 million at a time.

It’s just that simple.

Labels: ,