Thursday, December 31, 2009

Death and Taxes...

The story goes that back in 1896, the infamous outlaw Crawford Goldsby, a.k.a. Cherokee Bill, stepped out of his prison cell, took a look at the gallows he was about to climb, and stated "This is as good a day to die as any".

That may have been the case for old Crawford, but it's not necessarily the case today. Through what some would consider a grave error on their part, congress is allowing the Estate Tax to disappear for a year. So if you're one of those people who believe that you should be able to leave your possessions, or your farm, or your business to your children, and you've been feeling poorly, it would behoove you to at least try to hang on until January 1st.

On the other hand, if you don't get along all that well with your heirs, you might want to keep your "do not resuscitate" orders hid until after January 1st, 2011.

Just in case.


High Resolution...

John Mellencamp has a pretty tough New Years resolution to keep, if a million people have their way. I’ve always been a fan of his music, if not his politics, so I was glad to hear the other day that he was going to quit smoking. Maybe. Apparently, John has agreed that if his son can get a million people to sign up as friends on the cyber community, Facebook, he will give up cigarettes. As plans go, I guess this sounds like a good one. I'm not sure if his decision would be different if 2 million people asked him to continue smoking.

I quit smoking about 25 years ago on New Years Day after I bet a couple of buddies $100.00 each that I could. We all three made the same bet. Turns out I was the only one that collected. And it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the motivation, or the $200.00, but in my later years I’ve often wondered why good ideas can’t seem to stand on their own merits. If it was a good idea for me to quit smoking for $200.00, wasn’t it just as good of an idea to quit for $20.00, or for nothing? I think I would have gone ahead and quit even if someone else had offered me $300.00 to continue, but I guess I'll never know for sure. Nobody offered.

Anyway, I hope Mr. Mellencamp gets a million people to agree that he ought to quit. But if he really wants to quit, I hope he’ll do it for half a million people. Or maybe just because his son asked him to. Or better yet, just because he thinks it is a good idea.

I'd like to see a lot of people make a resolution to do the right thing just for the sake of doing the right thing this year. I'm not sure basing our decision on what most other people think or do, or what seems to be the most profitable is always the best way to go.

Many years ago my Mom warned me about jumping off the bridge just because my friends did. I considered it sage advice, although thankfully it was never needed. (I did follow Stinky Wilmont out of the hay mow in an unthinking moment of distraction once, although it wasn't nearly as high as the bridge, and that's a story for another time.)

A couple of weeks ago Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska decided to vote for the health care bill after being offered $100 million for his state. Now, I'm not a big fan of government involvement in the health care business. I'm even less of a fan of this newest intrusion. And I do understand that there are people who genuinely believe that it is a good idea. But I have to wonder, if everybody in the country who is opposed to the bill would have passed the hat and offered Mr. Nelson $150 million, could we have headed this thing off?

I know that sometimes the majority is right, and sometimes the majority is wrong. And sometimes I agree with the majority and sometimes I don't. I suppose it's possible that one person could be right while everybody else is wrong, just like it's possible that one person could be wrong while everybody else is right.

However it works out, I resolve to spend 2010 doing what I think is right. As for Senator Ben Nelson, as far as I'm concerned he can go jump off the bridge.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Socially unacceptable...

I've heard and read a lot of discussions over the years about the differences between socialism and communism. In the last year those discussions have become a lot more lively and acrid as the people who draw little distinction between the two do verbal battle with people who prefer to separate the two. There are adamant opinions on both sides of the fence. Depending on your point of view, there may be some differences, but I've never really seen any. Both rely on government force to exist. I suppose there could be a voluntary socialist society somewhere, but they always seem to end up requiring force to make sure everyone volunteers.

I feel the same way about most political parties. The differences in their programs are a matter of degrees, if there is a difference at all. Controlling people requires force or the threat of force. Except for the people that want to be controlled. Or don't care.

I ran across this quote the other day. I think he was probably right on this one:

"Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire." - Robert A. Heinlein

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Don't take this personally...

There won't be any political opinion in this post. Just stuff that makes me feel good. Last year Mom and Dad celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Along with Mom and Dad, 57 of their 61 descendants got together for a celebration:

Last Sunday, we got together again for the Bell family Christmas. We commenced to doing some ciphering and figured out that babies #68, #69, and #70 were going to be coming along this summer.

This weekend, my immediate family celebrated Christmas with our four grandbabies:

and found out that Michael and Brooke were going to be adding baby #71 this July:

Life is good.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let's make a deal...

One of my favorite stories that always seems aprapos whenever politicians start wheeling and dealing, concerns a man who was sitting next to an attractive young lady in a bar. After conversing fo a while, the man asked the woman if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She eagerly replied that she would. He then asked if she would sleep with him for ten dollars. Greatly offended, the young woman snapped "NO!!! What do you think I am?", to which the man replied, "Oh, we've already decided that. Now we're just haggling on the price."

Nebraska senator Ben Nelson decided to sell his vote on the Senate health care bill for about
$45 million. For starters, anyway.

Nebraska may have got the money, but a lot of other people got screwed.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feeling a little pale...

Always looking for ways to protect us from ourselves, (and raise money) the government is looking to put a tax on Tanning Beds, citing skin cancer concerns.

Aside from the obvious racially discriminatory nature of the tax, I worry about the definite possibilty that just like in the Mark Twain story, The Prince and the Pauper, politicians may also decide to tax the sunshine, (or the windows that it shines through), considering that sunshine causes a lot more cancer than tanning beds cause.

For a long time it has been hard to name three things that the government doesn't tax or regulate.

It may soon become impossible.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

The real thing...

I saw the other day that the United States Department of the Treasury is warning us to be on the lookout for counterfeit bills that seem to circulate around the holidays. I don't know if they are more prevalent by percentage now, or if the increased spending this time of year just draws more attention to them. I do know if everybody dealt in cash, it would take a lot of paper to furnish enough bills to go around.

I wrote This Story a while back explaining how long it would take to print to print enough money to cover the governments new spending proposals of $3.9 trillion. The point of the story was that each sheet of $100.00 bills contains 32 separate bills. If they print one sheet per second, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year(366 on leap years),it will take about 10 years to print that amount.

You might think that in the spirit of pitching in and helping out, the government would welcome the help from some enterprising individual that would like to help in the production of those bills. After all, it's not like the money the government prints is really backed up by gold or anything other than some government promises.

Just recently, Nevada businessman Robert Kahre found out the government promises about money aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Twenty dollars just ain't what it used to be, I guess.

At any rate, no matter how good you think your copier is, don't be tempted to print money that might fool people into believing it's real.

The government doesn't like the competition.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

All Aboard...

When I decided to go into business for myself 35 years ago, I had more than a few concerns about whether or not I was making the right decision. Two of those concerns were what I was going to do about health insurance and retirement. As soon as I figured out that for all practical intents and purposes I was never going to have what most would consider acceptable health insurance, and that I was probably never going to retire, it took a lot of the pressure off.

Regardless of the wisdom of that decision, we have managed to survive so far, through a few wide spread economic recessions, and more than a few personal economic depressions, owing greatly, I realize, to the fact that my wife works three jobs. I have friends that I went to school with over forty years ago that are retired. I also have friends that I went to school with over forty years ago that are looking for a job.

I have noticed over the years that some jobs seem to weather a recession better than others. Bars seem to do alright. Uncle Fred used to say that people drink to celebrate good times and forget hard times. Maybe that's why.

Government jobs seem to hold their own pretty well, too. Sometimes they even get better. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (I don't know how many people work there), while the private sector was losing almost 4 million jobs last year, the government gained 150,000. While opinions vary on how private sector jobs will fare in the next couple of years, there seems to be a widespread consensus that new federal programs will require about 450,000 new public sector jobs by 2013.

Along with adding employees, the government is also increasing wages. According to an article by Dennis Cauchon in USA TODAY :

"The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal salary data.

Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.

Federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time — in pay and hiring — during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector.

The highest-paid federal employees are doing best of all on salary increases. Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009, the most recent figure available.

When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000."

He goes on to add that "The growth in six-figure salaries has pushed the average federal workers pay to $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector." That doesn't include the annual federal benefits of more than $41,000.

On the other hand, the number of private sector jobs is now at or below the 1999 level, and falling. And with the added burden of all the money the private sector is going to have to kick in to pay for the new government jobs and spending, it doesn't appear many new jobs will be created in the private sector anytime soon.

I guess that leaves those people looking for a job with fewer options. You could get on the wagon and go to work for the government. You could start a business and create your own job, or you could hang around the private sector until someone retires and get a job so you can help pull the wagon.

Or you could buy a bar. You'll still have to pull the wagon, but at least there will always be someone there to help.