Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend - 2009

It is right and it is our duty to remember our fallen warriors

It's going to be beautiful here in Oregon this weekend, clear with temps in the 70s. I'm hoping for some time in the shop and garden. I'll watch the Indy with a good friend and my darlin' wife will occasionally look in on us. Maybe we'll barbeque. Monday I'll be a designated driver as we tour the local wineries for their annual tasting events.

Larry Swarbrick won't be able to make it.

On Memorial Day every year, and on most other days, I remember him. Fellow student, brother officer, fishing buddy, friend. Above all and forever, friend.

This seems so inadequate:

b. 4/8/1945
kia 8/13/1970

Larry was a big guy, huge really, a powerful Small-College All-American football player back in the days when there was such a thing. Funny, smart, handsome, loving … all the things we all want to be and too often fall short of. He was going to be a wonderful teacher and coach someday. Someday.

From a “Remembrance” of Larry on The Virtual Wall:

When Larry died, the NVA put up a poster: "We killed the giant." Larry was a big man in both size and character: a giant. We won't forget him.

Neither will I.

* * * * *

"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you....and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.....Be not ashamed to say you loved them....

Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own....And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind...."

Quote from a letter home by Maj. Michael Davis O'Donnell
KIA 24 March 1970.

Larry, I loved you.

Keep the light on.

* * * * *

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come.
'Tis Grace hath brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.

Do you remember someone on Memorial Day, someone who gave his or her life so that others could be free? Would you like to say something to or about them here? "I remember. Thank you." would be perfectly fine.

Larry, I remember. Thank you.

And although I have no conscious memory of him, it would be remiss of me not to remember my father, Charles Eugene Stromme. He was a WW II bomber pilot, killed on a routine flight the day before my fourth birthday in 1950, shortly after he had been recalled to service.

Dad, I may not have known you well but I know who you were and what you did. Thank you. Say hello to Larry for me.

From "Teach Your Children" by Graham Nash:

Teach your children well
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Helloooo... California!

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

Arnie's tax plan won't rescue California from its wretched spending excesses. No, it's Barney Frank who wants the rest of us to do that, mostly so he can cite precedent when his northeast states need the same thing. Way to plan ahead, Barn.

Arnie just wants to hold the line at a $15 bil deficit instead of $21bil. Arnie said "What we didn't know in February was that the economy was going to get worse." Say what? Nope, no clue three months ago that the economy wouldn't be just rosy, nosirree, none at all.

Most see today's relevant ballot measures failing. Shades of Gray Davis. Time to step down, Arnie. Bye.

* * * * *

In my own Oregon our pols want to increase our income tax from 9% to 11%, up some 22% but you don't see that figure in the press releases. 9% is the new 11%. More of the same "tax ourselves into fiscal prosperity" notions that haven't worked anywhere else. If 11% is a good idea, then why wouldn't 30% be a great idea? Except for, you know, poverty and inconveniences like that?

They're also kicking around a "tax amnesty" for tax scofflaws, investing a mil to get it going and really, what else can you buy for a measly mil? Lots of stuff, you say? Maybe, but apparently not in Salem. Tax amnesties are generally bad ideas, poorly conceived and poorly executed and not cost-effective. Trouble is, they sound good, like government is finally doing something. I'll write more if this thing picks up momentum.

* * * * *

Cap-and-trade? Has anyone explained this to you in a way that you and your mom could understand? Me neither. Too much like carbon credits, too illusory and too Gore. No thanks.

Carbon tax? Felix Salmon did a piece on it for Reuters yesterday. It's a maybe, nothing more. The thing is, it's purely a revenue item, not a green item, unless the major uncontrolled polluters (India, China, Russia) get on board and why should they? They think that catch-up pollution is their right. Even Yale environment 360 is down on the idea.

Sin taxes ("lifestyle tax proposals" in Senate-speak) are the only easy tax sell in DC these days. That's because smokers, drinkers and dabblers ar each their own minority. It's a tough sell for them, balancing the books on their backs, but easy pickings for folks like the Senate Finance Committee. "Divide and conquer" is their mantra. But the low-hanging fruit is disappearing as alcohol and tobacco use trend downward.

Then what? Just as we're going to get mileage taxes plus gas taxes to make up for better fuel economies, we'll surely hear a push to tax pot, and is it such a leap to then tax all forms of now-illegal products? It's the same logic, after all. The rallying cry will be "I otherwise wouldn't be for this but we're in tough times and besides... it's for the children." Do you really want to tax drugs, porn and prostitution in order to pay for entitlements? Might not fewer entitlements at least be on the table? You make the call.

Sure, it'll be a hard sell for incumbents who are afraid of losing their sinecures, so look for a new generation of grasping politicians to sell this as "Your way didn't work so let's try mine." Change we can believe in. The truth will only be in the footnotes, that we over-spent ourselves into poverty and sold out our kids to pay for it.

God forbid that politicians would try to get a grip on spending or growth in government. It's not in their best interest. See Arnie and Gray references above. Even Colin Powell weighs in with "Americans are looking for more government in their lives, not less." Nope, don't think so Colin. Time for you to re-register.

If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets, and all that don't get wet you can keep. -- Will Rogers

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Focus... FOCUS!

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

I know, I said I was going to write more tax stuff. Still am. No, really. I just couldn't ignore my outrage at the Michael Vick goings-on.

Mea culpa

Michael Vick -- A Not-Reality Show

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

You do know that reality shows aren't the same as reality, don't you? Sure you do, but FoxSports is a little unclear on the concept. It's their job to pimp sports and they do it well. I like sports and I watch Fox but their headline yesterday is too much: "Vick needs an extreme makeover before return".

Let God forgive Michael Vick for being a craven coward, a liar and a torturer of small and not-so-small animals. Forgiving Vick shouldn't even cross our minds. Spare me the platitudes about turning over a new leaf, about everyone deserving a second chance, about PETA promo ads, about doing his time. The Vick boys, with Michael way out in front, have been abusing the trust and good will of others (hello, Ron Mexico) for way too many years and getting away with it nearly every time. When they were caught, lying about their complicity just came naturally because who wouldn't forgive a talented athlete?

These are the days of suspensions and banishment for drug use, at most a self-inflicted injury with minimal collateral damage. I'm all for it, mind you, but let's preserve a modicum of perspective. Imagine two scenes: In the first, an athlete gives him/herself an illegal dose of whatever. In the second, Mike Vick throws stolen/abandoned house pets to vicious fighting dogs for his own amusement, drowns injured animals and invites friends and "fans" over to watch the ghastly and repulsive spectacles at his home. Which of these offends you more and is more deserving of your everlasting scorn? May I suggest Michael Vick?

Now Mike is getting out of jail. OK, can't keep him locked up forever, more's the pity. But inflicting him all over again on the people who love his sport? Say it ain't so.

Vick doesn't need an extreme makeover. That would suggest that there is something within him worthy of redemption. On a religious level I'm fine with his redemption but I don't take it upon myself to participate. That's between him and God. He has offended me, personally, beyond my ability to forgive or forget.

Let Mike live with his memories of what was and what might have been and retain a clear image of what happened and the consequences. Let him answer his creditors in bankruptcy court like an ordinary debtor. Let him look for a job that doesn't bar ex-felons and overlooks his damaged psyche. Stop already with "There goes Mike Vick." Don't inflict Vick on me or my beloved sport any more. We've been hurt enough.

All cruelty springs from hardheartedness and weakness. -- Seneca

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NotBushies vs. NearDems

We tax all the others and pass the savings on to you

What would happen if the gummint stopped giving money to Chrysler and GM? Worst case, they might fold. So we're giving them enormous amounts of our money and ... they're folding. Best case, they might reorganize themselves in accordance with our bankruptcy laws and come back as companies whose continued existence will advance a healthier America, providing jobs and opportunity like they have for a century. Don't pretend that financial hand-outs are going to work for anyone but the bonus-men and the UAW.

Today GM tells us they may abandon Detroit. The undercurrent of much of the bailout discussion is that we pour money into some companies and one result is that major communities like Detroit are saved in the process. Not.

Detroit, to pick just one ruined community, is all but unsalvageable under any circumstances. 40% or so of the kids there don't graduate from high school. Crime is rampant and those who deny it will surely not walk around Detroit at night. If GM leaves or fails, as Chrysler surely will, then what? We will have squandered our national fortune only to make things worse.

Someone has always made cars in America, some darn good cars in tune with market demands. Hopefully they still will but if they don't Americans will still have cutting-edge technology cars to buy, and isn't that all we want at the end of the day?

There HAS to be more to economic rescusitation that dumping money into bottomless pits.

There is.

* * * * *

What are our political choices today? The NotBushies think and act as though they have a mandate to fundamentally change America. The NearDems think maybe they do too, but they won't be re-elected if they identify to the home folks as NotBushies. The NearDems either cozy up to the administration or stay mum and enlightened bi-partisan debate dies. So do ideas.

Does fundamental change really include, as of today, the president of the USA working on Chrysler's advertising budget? That's a change all right, but it's not what we expected from our chief executive. Which party platform included that oddity and what might be its basis in the Constitution? More smoke and mirrors, that's all.

There's no guarantee against hard times, they're gonna come. That's the lesson of "The Ant and the Grasshopper". Remember that one? Remember how it ends? The grasshopper dies because he didn't put anything away for the inevitable hard times. Chrysler and GM didn't put anything away for the hard times and Ford did. Which should survive? Which deserves our support and our government's business? When the prez buys a new government car and truck fleet, to which company should he direct the purchases, all else being equal? Do you think he'll buy from the one healthy company? Nah.

* * * * *

Time to re-focus.

It is a LOT of fun to write a current events blog. Really, especially when it's so easy to find absurdities to write about and the idiots who promote them. However...

This blog was supposed to be about tax collection and in support of a book that I still haven't finished editing. I think I should get back to my original intent. From now on expect to see more tax commentary and less political commentary. I don't know what the ratio should be. I'll tinker with that for a while.

It's not so much knowing when to speak as when to pause. -- Jack Benny

Friday, May 1, 2009

We're In The Auto Business, Like It Or Not

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

The NYTimes led yesterday's story "Barack Obama forced Chrysler into federal bankruptcy protection yesterday so that it could pursue a lifesaving alliance with the Italian automaker Fiat, in yet another extraordinary intervention into private industry by the federal government."

That one should immediately go into the Spin Hall of Fame. The president forced Chrysler? Not a decades-long series of bad decisions and crummy cars? Not the UAW, hoping to perpetuate its existence via taxpayer dollars? Not the fact that none of the auto task force kingpins drives an American car? Not the fact that the marketplace can't stomach any more lousy Chrysler products? A life-saving alliance with Fiat when being part of Mercedes couldn't help?

The prez fired the president of GM and now he's "forced" Chrysler into bankruptcy in order to save it. (See "destroy the village" remark downblog.) These are, indeed, extraordinary times, when a novice president with zero business experience (except for that drug-selling gig) tells us he knows how to fix the auto industry and invests $25 bil or so of our money in his rash confidence.

If you've ever had to do business with the IRS, Social Security, Medicare or the VA, just imagine how warmly you'll be welcomed when you present a warranty claim to the federal auto task force.

Watch for the prez to "force" GM into bankruptcy in a month.

* * * * *

You'd think there's not much going on in Congress, judging by the current hearing on whether or not a collegiate championship should mandate a playoff system. This is one of those "I couldn't make that up" head-slappers.

This meaningless debate is driven Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex. It's no wonder that the GOP is leaderless if this is what they think we send our representatives to DC for. According to USA Today Sports, Barton "told a House hearing that the BCS is like communism and can't be fixed." Communism? Joe Barton is to NCAA sports (not to mention modern political theory) as the prez is to the auto industry. "There's nothing wrong that the government can't fix."

OTOH, the commissioner of the ACC testified regarding the BCS "I think it's fair. This represents the marketplace." Oh right, the marketplace, the same place that already rejected Chrysler. This just in: The marketplace is impotent if the government chooses to manipulate it.

Orrin Hatch has the BCS issue on the Senate agenda for later this year. Dems, you don't have a thing to worry about in 2010. The GOP has already been reduced to firing blanks on the sidelines.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, you aren't going to get the balance of your mortgage reduced by a bankruptcy judge. The administration is unhappy because the Gummint won't have nearly as much say in altering debt loads in bankruptcy court, despite what they promised.

Here's a general rule: Your creditors expect to be repaid what they loaned you, plus interest, not have your loan contract altered by a judge. The prez chastised those Chrysler creditors who wanted to get paid what they loaned or for the loans they bought. It's hard to blame them. They've pretty much given up on getting White House Christmas cards this year, though.

* * * * *

Bob Herbert is a whiney NYTimes columnist who is wrong a lot more than he's right. That's why it's all the more painful when he gets it even partly right. His MayDay story is full of name-calling and shameful posturing but he nails one thing: The GOP has nothing to offer these days. Until that changes, until a leader comes forward with an agenda that resonates with America, we're going to remain a one-party nation, Bob's party. Would that he was wrong.

He's angry that the Dems have to shoulder the burden of the financial crisis. That doesn't bother me and it smacks of post-Bush blame for everything. The prez and Nancy Pelosi's Congress have to take a full share of the blame for that and all the blame for the crisis they are creating for our kids. Hey Bob, you're getting it all your way. Time to shut up about that.

What is troubling is the silence. Where did you go, GOP? What ideas do you have to make things better for all of us, Dems and Repubs alike? Where is your charisma, your leader, your next Contract With America? You'd better find something and someone, and quick, and it better be more than just carping about what the prez is doing. And BTW, Richard Steele ain't it. Like it or not, and many do like it, the prez is out front and he's doing something. He's not hiding. He's bold, or reckless if you prefer. We know what he thinks and we see what he's doing. We don't have a clue what the GOP is doing unless it's just the obvious: nothing.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.

From the song "Mrs. Robinson" by Paul Simon
From the movie The Graduate