Sunday, May 31, 2009

"I can't do that, Dave"....

My buddy Marvin, a farmer up by Mooreland, is fond of telling the story about the time he added a new hired-hand, Ronald, to help with some summer projects around the farm. It was mid August, and one of the projects involved installing a new roof on one of his barns. When Marvin took the new man out to the barn, Ronald informed him that he wasn’t able to climb.

Marvin ensured him that wasn’t a problem, because there was plenty of other work that needed to be done. They then drove to the other end of the farm, where a new fence needed to be built. Ronald was given a set of posthole diggers, and instructed where the holes for the end posts needed to be dug. If you’ve ever built much fence, you probably remember how hot the sun gets and how hard the ground gets around mid August.

When he retuned home for lunch, Marvin saw the posthole diggers leaning up against the barn, and Ronald nailing shingles on the roof. To this day, Marvin maintains that one of his greatest accomplishments in life was teaching the new man how to climb.

We’ve all been in situations where we found out we were capable of doing something we didn’t think we were capable of doing. A few times in my youth, I was convinced I couldn’t possibly get out of bed so early in the morning to milk cows. My father was able to convince me otherwise.

A while back, I was involved in a discussion about an employee who was taking a $3.50 per hour pay cut, in order to relocate with a company that offered health insurance. I offered my opinion that with an extra $140.00 per week, a person could by a high-deductible major-medical policy, open a tax deductible medical savings account, and in the long and short run be money ahead. The general consensus among the group was that people wouldn’t be able to make themselves contribute to the savings account. I suggested that maybe they needed to have a talk with my Dad.

The American people have developed quite a list of things they think they can’t do. The recent economic downturn and resultant budget cuts have caused some cities and towns to consider eliminating government provided trash pick-up. A lot of people are convinced that if the government doesn’t provide the service, trash will pile up and eventually bury us all. But in actuality, there are people who pay for their own trash pick-up, or haul their own trash, with seemingly minimal side effects.

At the federal level, the stakes are a little higher, but the principle is the same. We’ve known for a long time that the Social Security and Medicare systems are paying out more money than they are collecting, and the state of the economy is speeding those systems respective demise. The keepers of the programs recently estimated that Medicare is just 8 years away from financial meltdown, with Social Security meeting the same fate 20 years later.

With so many people convinced that they can’t survive without a government run retirement and healthcare system, I’m sure we’ll see a lot of activity by the government in the next few years trying to make those systems work by raising taxes, lowering benefits, raising qualifications, and lowering expectations.

I’d like to believe the people who will come out winners in all of this are the ones who are able to figure out that they can take care of themselves, and their retirement, and their healthcare, without a lot of interference from the government.

Unfortunately, the way things work now, they’ll end up being the ones who take care of the people that couldn’t, or wouldn't, figure it out.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Big Wheels and your wheels...

I've always considered driving to be a utilitarian act. I use it to get from point (A) to point (B). Outside of a couple years as a teenager, when gasoline was about a quarter a gallon, and "cruising" was an integral part of the mating ritual, I've spent very little time driving just for the sake of driving.

Even though I'm not an enjoyment driven driver, I do appreciate a smooth road to get me to whatever point I'm driving toward. I also appreciate that roads cost a lot of money to build and maintain, and there has never been any question in my mind that the people who use the roads should be the ones to pay for them.

In their effort to come up with enough money to build and maintain the roads in Wayne County, the county council is kicking around the idea of adopting a county-wide wheel tax. Typically with a wheel tax, cars and pick-up trucks pay a set rate, big trucks pay more, and depending on the demographics of the county, farm machinery and buggies usually get some type of exemption.

I expect there will be a lot of opposition to the new tax. I expect I'll oppose it myself. It's not that it's an unfair tax. Except for the deductions that will be granted, it's probably a pretty even way to make sure that the people that use the roads help pay for them.

The problem is it's an excessive tax. We already pay enough taxes to fund our roads. Every time we buy a gallon of gas, the government gets about fifty cents. About half of it goes to the federal government, and about half of that goes to things that have nothing to do with building or maintaining roads. The state does a little bit better, but not much.

Our neighbor to the west, Henry County, has a well deserved reputation for having atrocious roads. A few years ago, in an effort to remedy the situation, they adopted a wheel tax. According to one of their county executives, about one third of that tax money is being used on current road projects. Henry County still has atrocious roads.

So here's a suggestion. Before you slap us with a new tax, why not try spending the tax money you've already taken on the thing you said you were taking it for. Is that really to much to ask?

I'm sure when the new tax is enacted, the county council will blame the state legislature, and the state legislature will blame Washington, but the taxpayers will still pick up the bill, and then vote the same people back into office next election.

So who's really to blame?


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Me thinks thou doth protest too much...

Former Vice-President Dick Cheney has certainly been pounding the news circuit lately, going out of his way to bash Barack Obama's policies in handling the terrorist threat facing America. It seems we've seen more of him in the last month than we did in the last eight years. He's found a receptive audience among some Republicans, who think he's probably right, and some Democrats, who are, in part, hanging their hopes on Cheney's polarizing rhetoric to insure their control of the White House in 2012.

Some of us are having a hard time reconciling Cheney's thinking. Outside of having a different party in control of the presidency, the policies haven't changed all that much.

Gene Healy, of the CATO Institute, made some interesting observations in this article. Among other things, Healy points out that:

"Either way, the claim that Obama has abandoned "essential tools" in the fight against terror is wearing pretty thin. Real civil libertarians aren't fooled by Obama's "kinder, gentler" rhetoric, but Obama knows that civil libertarians are a miniscule voting block. His aim is to convince Democratic voters that he's kept his promises to change Bush's draconian approach to the war on terror.

In this, Dick Cheney is an enormous asset to the president. As Obama quietly adopts the Bush policies, Cheney gives him cover by loudly insisting that there's a meaningful difference here."

Whether in foreign or domestic policy, Libertarians have long maintained that there isn't a nickels worth of difference in the two major parties. Hopefully by 2012 that miniscule voting block will get a little bigger.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Disproportionate response...

Thomas Jefferson stated that it is the natural tendency of government to grow. It's also the natural tendency of government to overreact.

We saw a lot of overreaction in the last month or so as we made our way through yet another flu season. People in the private sector tend to take the appropriate precautions and go on about their business as best they can, knowing full well that there is always the possibility they might catch a cold or the flu. While most businesses continued to operate, our local penal system barred visitors for a couple of weeks.

It's not that I'm opposed to all government over reaction. In fact, I would think we could get along quite nicely if several government agencies and departments would lay low until all danger had passed. Or longer.

And then occasionally, even government gets something right.

I attended a meeting yesterday between the Wayne County Commissioners and representatives of the Wayne County Builders Association. In response to fears that some homeowners might be bilked by less than scrupulous repairmen, the representatives proposed that the county should institute a contractor registration and bonding program. While no specific costs or fees were proposed, modeling a program after those in other areas, which include charges for registration and bonds for all trades, could add as much as $750.00 to the cost of a job in Wayne County. It's not any secret that the customer ultimately pays that cost.

We are entering the season now when people and businesses of questionable character will be approaching homeowners and offering their services. Homeowners should certainly exercise reasonable caution before agreeing to have any work done. Check references, check for insurance, and don't pay anything "up front". That's just common sense.

Thankfully, for now anyway, the county commissioners agreed that we don't need another layer of bureaucracy, or another hand of government in our pockets, covering something that common sense and reasonable precaution can handle for free.

I think that was the appropriate and proportionate response.

And I hope the city of Richmond comes to the same conclusion.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

This is only a test...

There's been quite a bit of attention given to state sovereignty lately, particularly with a number of states passing resolutions reaffirming theirs. The problem with resolutions, whether the New Years type or the state legislature type, is that they don't amount to much if you don't follow through with them.

I was happy to learn that the Montana legislature has done just that. On April 15th, a state law went into effect which exempts guns made and kept in Montana from federal regulations.

I don't suppose the federal government will be able to let this law stand, and I don't know if Montana will prevail.

But it as good a place as any to start, and it does go along nicely with their state sovereignty resolution.

Besides setting an example for some of the less resolute states.

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