Audio Clips

17 April 2008

DNA Collection

The AP is reporting that the feds now intend to collect DNA from everyone they arrest, not just convicted felons. I don't know about you, but that gives me the screamin' willies. If I get arrested for whatever reason and charges are dropped or I'm found innocent, why does the government need a sample of my DNA? Listen, the reality is that most likely nothing bad would come of this. But that's what they told us when they passed the 2% income tax 70 years ago too.

15 April 2008

Taxes - My Patriotic Duty?

Walter Rodgers wrote a piece for the Christian Science Monitor called "Taxes - My Patriotic Duty". His thesis is that too many people complain about paying taxes. We should instead dutifully pay our taxes without griping and feel "patriotic and virtuous". In Mr. Rodgers' words, "Genuine patriots don't complain about their patriotic obligations."

I can't help but wonder on which side of the Boston Tea Party he would have found himself.

14 April 2008

How I Stopped Worrying About Al Qaeda

I am reading "Overblown" by John Mueller and find it fascinating. The basic idea is that we need to step back and ask ourselves if all the hyperventilating over terrorism is worthwhile. He starts out saying that perhaps we need to take the steps we are taking, but let's stop and ask first. Maybe we don't need to go to the extremes we are.

Using statistics, Mueller puts the impact of terrorism in perspective. He makes the point that some degree of risk is simply a fact of life and that we are "absorbing" 40,000 traffic deaths each year which is far in excess of the number of people who are being killed by terrorists each year. So as an economy and a country we're already dealing with large numbers of people dying each year in ways that, strictly-speaking, could be prevented. Although, I don't know how hip people would be to a 13-mile per hour speed limit.

With that in mind, do we really need to be spending billions of dollars for questionable airline screening technologies? Do we need to be jeopardizing the rights of Americans by questionable search-and-seizure methods? Do we need to be scaring people by constantly yammering on and on about the potential for terrorist attack? Probably not.

No one would argue that loss of life is something to be dismissed, but giving up our wealth and freedom is not going to bring the returns that people seem to think. There are limited gains to be had for every additional dollar given to fight terrorism and, frankly, there are no gains worthwhile for every ounce of freedom we give up to the terrorist threat.

Breathe easy. Enjoy your family. Take a walk. Read a book. Go to work. Save a little. Spend a little. Stop worrying about terrorism and start worrying about the loss of liberty that the reaction to terrorism could cause.

13 April 2008

One more item, a chuckle

The Parade magazine also had a quote from Jerese Kimbrough who is a dancer from Brooklyn and makes $3,200 per year. She said: "Dancers are severely underpaid. I work seven days a week. Something has to change." Yeah, how about your career?

Corporations Don't Pay Taxes, People Pay Taxes

Parade magazine (I know, I know, not exactly a bastion of intellectualism) had their annual "What People Earn" issue. I always find this issue interesting because I get to look at how much people earn all over the country. Just my idle curiosity getting satisfied. So anyway, they had an article entitled "Are You Paying For Corporate Fat Cats?" First off, I get tired of the inane stereotyping of people in business. Let's stop using invective and have a conversation instead. My main point, however, comes in response to something the article claimed that I disagree with.

In the article they state, "Last year, corporations shouldered just 14.4% of the total U.S. tax burden, compared with about 50% in 1940." Let's stop and think about this for a minute. If I were going to rewrite this sentence, I would change it to "Last year, corporations once again paid 0% in taxes just as they have done for the last 6,000 years." Why would I write that? Simple, it sounds more interesting and it's true. Corporations don't pay taxes.

Corporations are a structure for the purpose of running a business. Corporations are owned by the shareholders and sell goods or services to their customers. When a corporation "pays taxes" it is either excess money that they have collected from their customers or part of the profit margin that would go to the shareholders. In other words, the taxes that are paid by corporations are really paid by the shareholders of that corporation or the customers. Corporations don't pay taxes. People pay taxes. You're not paying for "corporate fat cats". That 14.4% of the "total U.S. tax burden" paid by corporations was indeed paid by you though. You paid for it in the price of the goods and services you bought or you paid for it in lower earnings from the stocks that you own. And trust me, you own these companies if you have any mutual funds. So stop worrying about corporations paying their fair share. They're never going to pay their "fair share." They can't.

Now, what's our fair share? That is an excellent question.

A solution to unemployment?

Governor Schwarzenegger says that by putting $750 million of California bond money to work we will be creating jobs. So, let me get this straight. By taking money from taxpayers (even if it's taxpayers in the future, bonds are still going to be paid back with taxpayer money) we can create jobs? Well, if it's that easy, why don't we just take ALL the money from the people and "create" jobs with it? Let's be honest. It may create jobs, but it does it at the expense of other jobs that are not created. If we tax a business so that a government-paid job can be created, it keeps that business from expanding, which will cost jobs. So we're not at a net gain or a net loss we're just at zero except that the government decided what kind of job to create rather than you or I deciding that. I'm not saying that the bonds shouldn't be issued, but let's not pretend that projects paid for by bonds are some miracle job-creator. That's just ridiculous.

07 April 2008

Is It Too Much To Ask?!

The Associated Press reported today that the Veteran's Administration is being audited after inexplicable charges on VA credit cards such as $26,000+ to a Las Vegas casino and $8,000+ to The Sharper Image. Unless there is a pressing need for new methods of personal defense for our Veterans or perhaps new methods of treatment, I can't see why government workers would be spending our tax dollars on items from this company. Is it too much to ask that these despicable people be fired and charged with theft. (I figured treason would be to much to ask)

In response to the allegations one VA auditor said, "It's all being looked at", which means "Holy crap, someone noticed and I'm getting a call from the press. I better pretend to care." I work hard to give my money to the government. Is it too much to ask that they shoot these people at least pretend to be responsible with our money?

Just a question.


06 April 2008

Barney Frank's Misunderstanding of the Problem

Last month Representative Barney Frank began his campaign to rescue homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure. In an editorial he wrote in the Washington Post he wrote:

The negative consequence of this cascade of foreclosures has turned out to be more damaging than predicted. Of course, individuals whose homes are foreclosed suffer the most, and in some cases it is a suffering to which their own irresponsibility contributed. If they were the only ones being hurt, the arguments for simply letting things take their course without intervention would be stronger.

But there are concentric circles of victims. First, the people who own homes in those neighborhoods that have a high rate of foreclosures will see their property values decline, and a spread of blight will diminish the quality of their lives. Second, communities where foreclosures cluster are hit with a double whammy -- a need for more public safety and other services to deal with the foreclosed properties as well as a drop in the tax revenue that occupied homes contribute. Third, the economy as a whole weakens as the problems spread even more widely.

His concern is that if Congress doesn't act then people who acted responsibly will be hurt. However, I would argue that those who acted responsibly will be hurt if Congress does act. There are several problems with his pretext for intervening and some consequences from the intervention that he is overlooking. First let's tackle the problems with his reasons for intervening.

One of Representative Franks' stated concerns is that those who don't get foreclosed upon will see their property values decline and their neighborhoods become blighted. When someone buys a house there is no guarantee that their property value will go up over the time that they own their house. (You can ask my mother-in-law who has told me that their ability to buy high and sell low in California real estate markets is almost legendary.) Just as there is no guarantee that when I buy a stock it will be worth more when I go to sell it. The government is not in the business of guaranteeing a gain on our investments. (Actually, since we have the government agency FDIC, the government is in the business of guaranteeing a gain in some of our investments. But it shouldn't be.)

As to the concern of blight, this is really an overstated problem. Foreclosure rates are up to 2.43% now. Now I don't know about you, but if I live in a neighborhood of 200 homes and 5 of them are in foreclosure I wouldn't be concerned about blight even if those 5 houses were abandoned. I will grant that there are pockets of the country that are experiencing more dramatic problems, particularly those areas that in past decades were heavily dependent on a manufacturing economy. Again though, it is not the place of the federal government to guarantee that I live in a pleasant neighborhood. Who of us really believes that the government has it in their power to guarantee that anyway.

If you live in an area that is blighted I feel for you. However, if you don't want to live in a blighted area, you are more interested in that than any D.C. bureaucrat could ever be. Take up the gauntlet and work with your neighbors and friends to improve the situation. Organize Neighborhood Watches to keep vandals from destroying unoccupied homes. If you don't have the desire or energy to take on the problem, sell your house and move. Why should I have to put up the money or energy to make the changes that you're not willing to do. One of the key principles of life is that no in government is ever going to care as much about the things that impact your life as you do. Don't rely on them to make the changes and improvements that you and your friends and neighbors can do more effectively. That can be applied to so many areas of life. Take matters up with those around you who have the same concerns and solve the problem yourselves.

Now, Barney Frank shows great concern for those whose houses are threatened along with those, but he doesn't seem to notice that any bailout proposed would hurt others. Congressman Frank wants to provide $300 billion to insure questionable home loans. The problem is that money is being taken out of my pocket to insure these loans to people who shouldn't have gotten loans in the first place. My wife and I don't own a home. We rent because it is far too expensive for us to get a mortgage here in California. We could have qualified for a mortgage because I have the income for the qualification, but then the mortgage would have been 40-50% of our income. Of course, we could have done an ARM or interest-only loan like so many others did, but I think the wisdom of not doing that has been proven in the last year or so. So instead of rewarding our frugality and wisdom, Congressman Frank wants to punish us by taking money out of our paychecks to show compassion to people who made foolish decisions with their money. Sounds fair to me.