Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Path to Independence

When last you left your intrepid hero, I had fully implemented my telecommunications master plan. Upham Manor had freed itself from the grip of Comcast and was on its way to significant cost savings on telephone and cable bills. In keeping with my theme of full disclosure, I wanted to briefly describe a bump we ran into and to provide some other follow up as to how this grand adventure has unfolded.

In short, I love this thing. It works great. You could stop reading right there and run off to buy your own and you'd more than likely experience the same success that I am currently having right now. However, it's worth noting that if you do experience a problem, their tech support is quite possibly as bad as it could get without ceasing to exist altogether.

My initial installation was smooth, easy, and fast. I put the device into a USB port and, after answering some very easy configuration questions on their website, I found myself making phone calls. For most readers, I would expect the story should end there, happily. However, over the next 36 hours, I ran into problems. For no reason I could ascertain, calls would occasionally be made in which neither party could hear the other. The connection was in place, but there was no sound. I troubleshot my sound settings. I reinstalled the device. I tried a wide array of things on my end that I thought could be the problem. Soon, I had to contact MJ's tech support.

Their tech support is only accessible via a live chat that is launched through their website. Moreover, it is well camouflaged, there are other options that run interference for it, and when you do finally succeed in reaching them, you're as likely as not to get disconnected. In short, I "spoke" to no less than 10 reps and found none of them to have even the smallest clue about what they were doing. It was very apparent that they were doing little more than opening a canned list of responses at random, copying a paragraph, and pasting it into the window for me to read. I got pretty angry several times.

But I solved the problem. (No thanks to them.)

Being a techie type, my network at home is a bit more complex than what the average person might have. Unlike many people, I have a hardware firewall that I use for network security positioned between my cable modem and my internal router. In spite of the necessary ports being open on both TCP and UDP, this firewall was somehow hindering the MajicJack intermittently. My solution has been to install the MajicJack on a computer outside the firewall in the DMZ and to guard it with Microsoft's software firewall. It was a little extra work, but I rather enjoyed tinkering with it.

If none of this means anything to you, then go back up to the first paragraph of this section and stop after you read, "In short, I love this thing. It works great." That's all you really need to know. I will leave you with the final thought that it's a good thing that MajicJack works so well out of the box, because if you do have a problem, you're on your own.

Awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome. For $8 a month, I've found that I can watch a movie on Sunday night, put it in the mail on Monday, and have a new one at my door on Wednesday. For the life of me I don't know they do it. I don't watch very much TV, so being able to count on watching a movie of my choosing every three days is more than I can keep up with. And that doesn't even address the instant access they provide to movies online. When I sat down to make a list of movies that I'd like to have in my delivery queue, I found that most of the movies and other shows I wanted to see, I could watch on demand instantly over the Internet. That means that Ben gets to watch Caillou and Bob the Builder whenever he wants, and I can enjoy more choices than I can keep up with.

It's my opinion that only the most die-hard, zealous, TV addicts need to pay for cable now. For everyone else, there are better solutions.

I'm saving money on TV and phone. Unfortunately, my joy is tempered by the fact that everything else seems to be going up and up in its prices. I just spoke with my oil man today. Oil has gone up 20 cents in the last three days. It's early October. No one has even turned their heat on yet. But some jackass in government or somewhere thought it would be a good idea to make gas and oil a "commodity" item and now it's being bought and sold on the market like T-bills or pork bellies. Why not put milk and eggs up there? That way, every time some clod-pole in Nebraska farts in the field and some Wall Street trader hears about it, they can raise prices on those basic necessities too.

Independence. That's what it all comes down to, is independence. Disentangling yourself from the absurdity of "markets" and "industries" and the asshats that run them. I don't want to be a part of these systems anymore! I'll sink my own well, I'll construct a wind turbine, I'll burn my own garbage, and I'll find away to disconnect myself from my town, the utilities, and the all the rest of the companies that dictate our lives. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty darn tired of being treated like a cow in a stall. Every time they want more money, they just walk over and hook up to us and suck us dry. Well, I'm breaking out of my stall. I don't know how yet, but I'm an American, I'm a Yankee, and I'll find a way.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Everything is Proceeding According to Plan

Over the last few months, I've been making some noise in this blog about my efforts to trim the fat from our household budget. In June, I posted a blog about my plans to save money on our TV and telephone bill. As of this past week, those plans have been put into effect -- and with marvelous results.

The plan in a nutshell was to eliminate our expensive cable TV package and replace it with a cheaper a la carte solution. In August, I contacted Comcast and told them to cancel my cable TV and telephone service in the middle of September. The Internet service was to remain in place as this would provide the foundation of our new multimedia-telecom solution. Cable TV was replaced with a combination of Netflix and MajicJack's IP telephony system became my phone service.

How We Did It
As I mentioned, I gave myself about 30 days lead time to set up a Netflix account and to order and install a MajicJack. While this was certainly a good idea and the right way to go about it, true to form, I waited around until the last minute with my finger up my nose and then had to scramble to get everything done. Even still, with crunch time upon us, I was able to swap out the old services and set up the new ones with remarkable ease.

Netflix - Setting up a Netflix account was a no brainer. I went to the Netflix website and in very short order, I had myself an account and a short list of movies in the queue to be sent to us. I opted for the $8.99 a month plan. This allows us to receive one DVD at at time which we can exchange as often as we want. We also gain access to a large library of movies and programs that we can watch instantly over the Internet. It was this instant access that I was primarily interested in. The DVD is really just a throw in for me. I needed to be able to provide Benjamin with "Caillou On Demand." And believe me, when he wants to watch it, it's a demand.

My biggest concern was bandwidth and available PC power. My high end gaming PC is upstairs in my office safely tucked away from Ben's little fingers. That meant that the older laptop was going to have to suffice for streaming this online content in the parlor, at least until I invest in something bigger. Would it be powerful enough to pull the load? The answer was a resounding "yes." Our old Dell Latitude D610 laptop (1.7GHz processor with 1GB of RAM) has been more than adequate for streaming cartoons and movies. I plunk Ben on the couch with a pillow, prop the laptop up in front of him, and he sits there very contentedly watching his favorite shows. Now, when he wants to watch Caillou, he says, "Watch Caillou on puter, Dada?"

The first DVD arrived Monday and I watched it last night. One of the real strengths to this service is that you don't have to pay return postage -- you receive a postage paid envelope that you simply drop the DVD into and send it off. Frankly, for $9 a month, I don't know how they make a profit after paying all that postage.

MajicJack - This was the bigger unknown to me. I had read enough reviews to know that it did work, at least for the majority of people. However, there were a number of reviews from people who said it was poor quality or just unworkable.

The device arrived by mail ( and claimed to be very simple to install. And it was. I plugged it into a USB port on the front of my computer and my Windows XP operating system immediately picked up on it and configured it. A window popped up and informed me that I would need to answer a number of questions in order to complete the installation and activate the service. The first few questions were marketing offers. "Do you want to buy additional MajicJacks?" "Would you like to sign up for additional years of longdistance service?" I didn't even know if the thing would work yet, so I wasn't about to hand over more money.

Once I pushed through these offers, I found one that was of more interest to me. I had been reluctant to discard my old phone number since it had been in the family for over 40 years. MajicJack isn't able to port your number over to its service, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that for $10 a year, I could choose a "vanity" number. I probably shouldn't have, but I elected to spend the $10 to pick up an easily remembered phone number.

I completed the process, submitted my data, and, after one minor glitch, I was up and running. For whatever reason, I didn't get a dial tone immediately. However, I unplugged the MajicJack from my USB port, plugged it back in and voila! Dial tone. I promptly ordered a celebratory pizza. Just kidding. I called Janet's cell phone, and then my mom. Janet didn't answer, but my Mom said that the call was very clear.

We've been using the MajicJack for three days now. All the calls have been clear and crackle free. Frankly, I think we're already at the point where we don't even think about it. I still have to look into the voice mail, call waiting, and other services that MajicJack provides. Also, at the moment, the caller ID isn't showing up on our phone's panel so I'll need to look into that as well. Hopefully, the caller ID won't be a problem. One big plus is that not only does MajicJack support 911 services, but it also provides 411 for free. That's huge in my book. Comcast would charge $2 per use of their information service.

What's Next?
I think the next step is simply logistical. Regretably, my wide-screen LCD TV doesn't have a VGA port to allow me to plug into a computer. So, at the moment, I'm either watching movies sitting at my desk in my office or we're flopped on the couch with a laptop on our knee. Neither of those works well for a family movie time. Someone did tell Janet that we could connect our Wii game station to Netflix and thereby stream movies to the TV. That is something definitely worth looking into, though I'd prefer not to have to rely on a wireless connection that much.

I plan on arranging a comfortable corner with a family computer where we can gather around a good size monitor and watch shows together. The PC will need to be secured to prevent toddler's hands from banging away at the keyboard or from trying to load peanut butter sandwiches into the DVD drive. (That would be bad.) I guess that's Phase II of the master plan.

The Final Tally
OK, so here is the bottom line. The numbers in my June post are accurate. I've traded a $165 dollar Comcast cable TV, telephone, and Internet package for a collection of similar services that now cost me only $65 a month. With the Internet that we retain from Comcast, we also have "basic cable." That gives us NBC, CBS, and ABC, as well as about a dozen other channels. Those provide us with news, sports, and local broadcasting. Everything else comes from the Interwebs.

Current Monthly Costs
$165 (Comcast bundle: TV, phone, Internet)

New Monthly Costs
+ $52 + tax Comcast Internet & Basic TV
+ $3.33 MajicJack per month (Paid $40 up front for the device and 1 year of service)
+ $9 NetFlicks (1 DVD & online content)
+ $0 Hulu and other online TV providers
~$64 Total Monthly Costs

Savings: $100 each month

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Impending Doom: Or, How I Got What I Wanted and Screw the Rest of You

Reprinted from Market Ticker

The Only Part That Mattered In Obama's Telethon

Yes, telethon.

Let me direct you to the only question that had value from an investment perspective:

SANTELLI: "Mr. President. If I were to ask an investor would he invest in a company that for every dollar it spent it had to borrow 42 cents, I think that investor would think long and hard. Now if you look at the amount of money the government takes in and the amount of spending, those are pretty much the numbers for our government right now.

Does it bother you that 42 percent of our spending is borrowed even understanding that we have to deficit spend under tough times. How long can the U.S. continue to spend in that fashion without potentially hurting our long time financial health."

OBAMA: "Well, it bothers me a lot. It bothered me when I was running for office and it bothered me when I arrived and I had a $1.3 trillion deficit wrapped in a bow and waiting for me in the Oval Office.

So, the answer to Rick's question is we've got to do something about it. And we have to do something about it fairly rapidly. The first thing you do is not dig it deeper. That's why this tax debate is important. We can't give $700 billion away to some of America's wealthiest people. We've got to make sure we're responsible for our budget, that's point #1....

The one thing I have to say to the public is that about 60 percent of our budget is entitlements, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And a lot of the discretion I have is somewhat limited on these programs.

Now part of the reason health-care reform was so important is because the biggest driver of our long term budget deficits is Medicare. If our economy is growing at 2 or 3 or 4 percent, but health care costs are going up 6, or 7 or 8 percent, than the budget will blow up no matter how many cuts I make in other programs..."

Right. But notice how he sidesteps this and tries to turn it into a growth problem? It's not.

19.6%: Social Security
16.1%: Unemployment/Welfare
12.8%: Medicare
8.2%: Medicaid/SCHIP
56.7% - right now, here, today.

100% - 42% = 58%, or basically the portion of the budget that encompasses entitlements.

Entitlements consume, for all intents and purposes, every dollar of tax receipts in the here and now. Not tomorrow, not as growth in medical spending occurs, not in the future. [Emphasis mine - Gleno]

Right here, right now, today.

Note that we haven't spent one nickel on defense yet. Nor have we paid the interest on the debt, which is quite mandatory. Nor have we funded one of our so-called "discretionary" programs, including Homeland Security, Energy, Education, HUD, Department of State, Veterans Affairs, Justice or anything else.

What President Obama told you is that The Federal Government has no plan to deal with this, not now and not in the future. It cannot even meet its own entitlement spending from the taxes it collects, leaving the entirety of the rest of the government, including national defense, to be put on the credit card.

You were told, today, that our government is insolvent.

Not "might become" insolvent if we don't change our ways.

The United States is insolvent, right here, right now, today, and The President announced it for all who cared to listen worldwide on national television.

President Obama says "we can't afford" that $700 billion. But that number is over 10 years, as are all numbers proffered by the CBO and other agencies when talking about the budget and debt. Those numbers are thrown around because they make you think they're big now, which is especially important when a politician wants to lie to you about what they can and will do about deficits tomorrow.

In point of fact it's $70 billion a year, or about $5.8 billion a month.

The Federal Government accumulates, at today's run rates, approximately $4.1 billion in deficits per day.

That is, this big fat "$700 billion" amounts to roughly 5% of the deficit, and that is what we would "collect" if taxes go up and people do not shift behavior as a consequence (but they probably will.)

Got it yet?

The "Bush Tax Cuts" are absolutely irrelevant to this discussion. The problem is not found in taxes and cannot be solved via tax policy. President Bush, via signing Medicare Part D, dramatically exacerbated this problem, but he was hardly the one who started it. For that you need to look back to FDR and Eisenhower, along with all the others since including The Right's "standard bearer" Ronald Reagan.

It is mathematically impossible to solve this problem without dramatically cutting back on entitlement spending - by something approximating one third to one half.

That isn't going to happen (voluntarily) either.

So as an investor you are reduced to one - and only one - question:

How long will the "bubble view" of both Treasuries and Equites hold up - that is, for how long will people buy both stocks (at ridiculous bubble-spending levels where the government is providing 12% of GDP's gross amount via deficit borrowing) and bonds (funding said 12% of GDP) before those very same people have sink into their skulls The Admission The President of The United States just made on National Television: WE DO NOT HAVE THE ABILITY TO FUND THE GOVERNMENT TODAY AND STRUCTURALLY NEVER WILL, BECAUSE HE DOES NOT HAVE THE DISCRETION TO DECREASE SPENDING IN THE PROGRAMS THAT CONSUME ALL OF PRESENT TAX REVENUES.

That's it folks. That's the only question to ask as a long-term investor.

For how long does the mass-delusion last?

Nothing else matters, because when (not if) that delusion ends the valuations of both stocks and bonds are going to collapse.

Not "dip", not "recede", not "sell off."


[Gee, think we might want to get entitlement spending under control? Do such things as government involvement in health care and "Recovery and Reinvestment" spending still sound like a good idea? - Gleno]

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burning Islam

It is rather astonishing how little attention the story of this burning has received, and yet it is compelling -- and very telling -- about the nature of the people involved. Imagine, an organized event, hosted by religious zealots, where people gather to watch a burning. Clearly these people want to send a message to all who witness it about just how serious about their religious beliefs; about just how strong their convictions are. And yet, no press, no media takes note of it.

Of course, I'm talking about the story of a young boy in Africa who was burned by Mohammedans. How they entered his village; how they forced him at gunpoint to gather firewood. Then, when the wood was piled up and it had been set ablaze, they demanded that the boy convert to Islam. They threatened him. He refused, saying that he was a Christian and that he could not deny Christ. When it as clear that he would not convert, they threw him onto the fire to burn alive while his family watched.

I'm guessing you haven't heard of this or of the countless other acts of violence, murder, and deprivation that are part of the daily routine that Mohammedans perpetrate upon Christians and other non-Mohammedans. I'm guessing that you didn't hear about it on MSNBC, CNN, or in the Boston Globe.

You can see the story reported on YouTube here. The boy survived, though his body bears the scars of vicious cruelty perpetrated by the Mohammedans. (See 0:14 through 0:43 for this account. View further for additional examples.)

You didn't hear about this story, but I'll bet that you did hear about the tiny church in Florida whose pastor has announced plans to hold a rally at which he will burn a Koran. How many people will die in that fire? I'm guessing far, far fewer than will die today at the hands of militant Mohammedans. Yet, where is the focus? Where has the press and media leveled its aim? Which story is our airwaves being inundated with?

In your entire life, have you ever heard of the US military telling a private civilian what to do or not do in regards to their free speech -- and a church at that? Give me another example where the Secretary of State has spoken publicly and officially about the intentions of a private citizen.

Let me tell you what Secretary of State Clinton should have said in her statement. In a rational world where Americans aren't cowering from Arabs and their ultra violent religion, she would have said this:

The United States does not condone the actions of the individuals involved at the "Dove World Church in Florida. However, the United States vigorously guards personal freedom and the right of these individuals to their protest Islam and to exercise their freedom of speech. Be it known here and now, that if you commit any act of violence against American citizens, here or abroad, we will end you.

Any country that claims to value freedom of speech and will not stand up and defend their own for exercising it, isn't worth the paper their Constitution is printed on.

Today the American people are beset on all sides by enemies such as we've not seen before in our history since our earliest days as a sovereign state. We have fewer allies than ever before, and this at a time when the Arab-Persian world, fueled by the hate-mongering of Moslem zealots, is once again pressing against western society. What's worse, the very government that is charged with our protection is one of our biggest obstacles to our safety. They have refused to secure our borders. They have sued those who have attempted to do so themselves. They excuse the construction of Moslem mosques at Ground Zero as "religious tolerance" yet they turn their backs as millions of Christians are persecuted around the world.

Yet, one fringe group of Christians speaks out (as is their right) against Islam and threatens a symbolic act of defiance, and the government -- our government -- rushes to the defense of those whose stated intention is to hurt, kill, and enslave us.

We have indeed met the enemy.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Philosophy of Liberty

Whether or not you watched the previously posted video, I think you'll find this one is both educational and enlightening. It does a fantastic job of presenting the reality of life. I caution you, watching this is not a passive endeavor. It's not a cartoon, it's an education. Ponder it. Mull it over. Let it sink in.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Me is Mine, You is Yours

What I think is so significant about this song is that it makes it clear that we're really no different now then when mankind first "signed" the social contract. This being the case, why in the world have we allowed ourselves to drift so far away from it?

My thanks to Purely Politics for making me aware of this video.

There is Only Zul

I recently have been shopping online for a breakfast nook. One of the websites I visited offered live online chat with one of their representatives. I had a few questions, so I figured I'd give it a try. But I was also feeling a bit frisky and wondered just how much I might get away with. Here is the transcript of the conversation.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The World of Financial Make-Believe

Last week while listening to NPR on my car radio was the first time I heard the word "deflation" used in conversation regarding our current economy. I was completely flabbergasted by the very notion of it. Since then, I've heard the word used several times in various media sources. According to these sources, deflation is a very real concern of the present administration and of many economists.

A simple, cursory analysis of this idea by the casual observer clearly demonstrates a fundamental problem: That is, just how completely out of touch our government and economic minds truly are with the people they are supposed to be serving.

Deflation? Are you kidding me? I find this assessment utterly repugnant. If they can really claim that the prices of goods and services are falling, then I've got to ask what reality they're living in, because it's clearly not mine. All across the board, my family's cost of living has skyrocketed. Here are just a few examples.

  • I posted here some time ago that the Bank of America credit card I've had for over 15 years lerched up from a reasonable 6.9% interest rate to over 13% for no other reason than to help BoA attempt to recoup money lost on other people who had defaulted on their credit debt. (See my post, "An Open Letter Sent to Bank of Amerika", April 2009.)

  • My health insurance jumped $70 per month in the middle of the of the contract year. Each year, when your company renegotiates health insurance costs, they invariably go up. However, this time, even after the annual increase, the insurance company increased our premiums by $70 right in the middle of the contract!

  • Food prices have skyrocketed. This spring, watermellons, a big favorite at the manor, were selling for as high as $9 a piece. (Not pesos, dollars.) Even now that they are in season, they are still seen for over $5 each.

  • The Commonwealth of Massachusetts increased its sales tax from 5% to 6.5% on virtually everything.

  • Gasoline prices, though stable lately, saw an enormous surge in prices since the beginning of this recession. Gasoline prices, when adjusted for inflation and in 2010 dollars are 21% higher than the historical average of $2.39 a gallon. Essentially, gas prices are 50 cents per gallon higher than what one would historically expect.

This last one is the one that angers me more than most. Gasoline is the prime mover in our economy. Nothing gets to stores without having been moved by trucks. Food. Clothes. Building materials. Everything you've purchased from a store in the last week was delivered to that store by truck. That means every increase in gasoline prices not only costs you at the pump, it is passed along to you in every item you buy in the form of increased prices.

Do the "experts" know what they're talking about when they say that deflation is a very real risk facing the country? I'm sure they think they do. I'm sure they did their math correctly when they punched in all those little numbers and counted all those little beans. But where they fail is that they don't live in reality. They live in "an economy."

You and I don't live in an economy. We live in our homes. Homes we have to pay to heat (and cool). Homes in which we have to feed and cloth our families. Forgive my provincial attitude, but I don't give a damn about the global economy. I care about what what problems come up my driveway. That's where reality begins and ends.

No doubt you're now thinking that I don't have a clear grasp on the interconnectedness of things. Of job markets and trade deficits. Of supply and demand. Please be assured that I do. But countries and governments and, yes, economies, are made up of individual building blocks. Those building blocks are called families. And it is there where the health and well-being of our country is made or broken.

There is a voice out there coming from the Left that says Americans pay too little for gasoline. That Europeans pay far more for gasoline and that in order to bring societal policies about that they prefer, that to "change the American people", we need to dramatically increase the price of gasoline.

Let me explain to you right now that anyone who advocates that sort of foolishness is no friend of the American people. This is going to be a surprise to many on the far Left, but this country wasn't founded as a service to those in power. This country, and my family, are not some sort social experiment for public administrators, politicians, and policy wonks. It was founded for those of us who work hard and who want to live without the constant intervention of the government. Nor do I exist as simply a link in a chain that connects large corporation to their profits.

If by scaling back my spending, by making due, and by doing my best to drive down the prices of goods and services I negatively impact the government and our financial infrastructure, then tough. I don't exist for their benefit. And I'm not asking them to exist for mine. Me and my family come first, and I expect you and yours do as well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Taking Out the Trash

You're an American. You live and work in a place where more and more you find yourself and your daily life affected by people who are in the country illegally. These people, criminals, you find are not only here illegally, but a great many of them are involved in other illegal activities. So you act. You press for laws to be enforced, and when they are not, you push for new laws. Lo and behold, you get them.

Now, given the fact that the criminals that you're attempting to deal with are foreigners, namely Hispanics, you are pretty sure that the Politically Correct/Leftist Extremists are going to come after you and try to put a stop to your actions. And they do.

But what you may not expect is that this resistance comes in the form of your own Federal Government -- the very same Federal Government that is charged with doing the work that you now find yourself having to do. The very same Federal Government that has very similar laws on the books that REQUIRES them to do the work that you're now doing... the work that they are trying to prevent you from doing.

Can someone explain to me how the Federal Government is attacking a law as being unconstitutional when the law was intentionally written to mirror the Federal Law that is in place? On what basis is this law "unconstitutional"?

Justice Department Attorney Edwin Kneedler argued that the law would "burden the federal agency that responds to immigation-status inquiries."

I guess that's lawyer talk for "it would make them get off their fat asses and do what they are supposed to be doing in the first place."

Let me quote the Associated Press article from 8am today:

"Opponents say the law will lead to racial profiling and trample on the rights of the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Arizona."

What? Wait, stop. What was that?

What was what?

Say that again.

What? The racial profiling part?

No. The part about illegal immigrants.

Oh, "trample on the rights of illegal --"

Stop! Right there. That part.

You heard it: The rights of illegal immigrants.

Read this aloud with me. The Federal Government is suing the state of Arizona and preventing it from protecting its citizens and economy because it wants to protect the rights of criminals.

It's time to take the trash out. The next time there's an election in your area, remember this. There is a large faction of people in our country who are in elected office for their own personal gain and couldn't care less for the best interests of their country. John Kerry comes to mind. He called illegal aliens in Massachusetts his "constituents."

I'm fit to be tied right now.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When Will Atlas Shrug?

Even the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual gathering of the country's brightest lights, isn't Obama country anymore. Lloyd Grove on the president's waning support among the intelligentsia.

You’d think the well-heeled and enlightened eggheads at the Aspen Ideas Festival—which is running all week in this fashionable resort town with heady panel discussions and earnest disquisitions involving all manner of deep thinkers and do-gooders—would be receptive to an intellectually ambitious president with big ideas of his own.

In a way, the folks attending this cerebral conclave pairing the Aspen Institute think tank with the Atlantic Monthly magazine might even be seen as President Obama’s natural base.

Apparently not so much.

“The real problem we have are some of the worst economic
policies in place today that, in my judgment, go directly against the long-term interests of this country.”

Mort Zuckerman

Obama’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers, and his departing budget director, Peter Orszag, can expect heavy weather when they land in Aspen later this week to make their case to this civic-minded clique of wealthy skeptics.

“If you’re asking if the United States is about to become a socialist state, I’d say it’s actually about to become a European state, with the expansiveness of the welfare system and the progressive tax system like what we’ve already experienced in Western Europe,” Harvard business and history professor Niall Ferguson declared during Monday’s kickoff session, offering a withering critique of Obama’s economic policies, which he claimed were encouraging laziness.

“The curse of longterm unemployment is that if you pay people to do nothing, they’ll find themselves doing nothing for very long periods of time,” Ferguson said. “Long-term unemployment is at an all-time high in the United States, and it is a direct consequence of a misconceived public policy.”

Ferguson was joined in his harsh attack by billionaire real estate mogul and New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman. Both lambasted Obama’s trillion-dollar deficit spending program—in the name of economic stimulus to cushion the impact of the 2008 financial meltdown—as fiscally ruinous, potentially turning America into a second-rate power.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Crazy Singing Fool

This Sunday at church, I sang during the offertory. It was the very first time I had done anything like this in my life. Not only did I sing alone, I sang a capella. I was a nervous wreck. Sweat was pouring off of me. Fortunately, it was hot out with 140% humidity, so people may have thought it was just the heat.

I have been playing my mandolin in the church Worship Team for several months now, quietly singing and blending in. Because of this, I suppose the average person sitting in the pew thinks I must be talented or what not since I'm up there with the other actual musicians. No. This is not the case. I am a faker. A poser. I know only enough about my chosen instrument to be dangerous. My only "credential" is that I love music and, more importantly, I love the Lord. Thus, I'm drawn to the Worship Team. I fully expect at some point it's going to dawn on someone just how horrible I really am. They'll wave the music to a stop. Point at me and shout, "You! Off the stage!"

The song went well from my perspective. In that, I mean, I did not screw up. I did not forget the words. Nor did I pass out or throw up on myself in the middle of it. For that, I am pleased.

More importantly, I felt I made an honest offering of the song to God, and that those who were stuck listening to me understood and felt the meaning of the words I was singing.

I'm glad I did it. And I think maybe God was too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Turning Amish

My flanks are collapsing, my center is beaten in -- I am attacking!

These words, sent in a dispatch by a French Marshall to his commander during a battle, demonstrate great indomitability, a trait that I hold in the highest esteem.

It may sound somewhat incongruous to how some of my friends perceive me, but I am at heart a creature of defense. It is not generally in my character to go on the offense, to attack, to seek out and conquer the new. To the contrary, I find it difficult to motivate myself toward offensive maneuvers. By my very nature, my goal is not to beat you; rather, it is to firmly establish myself so that I may not be beaten. Indomitability.

This holds especially true in the battles of money.

In my last blog, I discussed the retrenchment that we have been going through at Upham Manor. We're falling back, digging in, and fortifying our position to hold fast against the current economic tempests as well as to prepare for the impending additions to our family. In the not too distant future, my family will experience a dramatic 67% increase in size. In our early days, Janet and I were able to effectively demonstrate that two could live as cheaply as seven. However, I am now determined to show that five can live as cheaply as, well, as something that is very cheap.

With the second car now gone; new purchases being curtailed; efforts underway to sell anything that's not actively being used; and that which is in use having its life extended by repair and refurbishment, Janet and I have begun to identify sources of financial drain upon the manor. We've come up with a short list of services that we believe can be curtailed or eliminated.

Cable TV

I recall as kid my first exposure to cable television. A friend took me to his grandparent's house where we were going to watch some cartoons. We watched shows I had never heard of before. Awesome shows. I was fascinated by the fact that there were no commercials. "It's cable," he said. "There are no commercials because you pay to watch."

"Pay? Pay to watch TV?? That will never catch on."

Remember those days? That was the whole point of cable television, you paid to watch it and in return you didn't have to watch commercials. But look at how that has changed. Now, you pay even more money, and still you're treated to a constant succession of commercials. What is worse still, is that the networks have the gall to take up the bottom third of your screen with advertising WHILE you're watching the damn program! I've written letters repeatedly to the networks voicing my aggravation over this. I've never heard one syllable in response.

I've had enough. Overpriced cable TV must go.


Currently, our telephone is packaged in with our cable television bill through Comcast. I can't complain about the service other than to say that it's difficult to determine its value vis a vis our usage. One positive aspect of our phone service package is that we receive unlimited calling for all local and long distance calls as part of the bundle.

A few months ago, my cell phone contract expired. I didn't bother to renew it. Frankly, I haven't missed it at all. Janet still has a cell phone which she is reticent to give up. Though she isn't out of the house as often as she'd like, we still think it's good for her to have one. (I suppose having one cell phone in the family in the 21st century isn't entirely a bad thing.)


Also coupled into our Comcast bundle is our Internet access. This is largely my Achilles heal. I can't live without it. Given my continued addiction to World of Warcraft not to mention StumbleUpon, I'd likely go insane without access to the Tubes.

Janet is plugged in as well. I frequently get updates throughout the day of how the kids are behaving, who's pinched or poked whom, and what new thing they've learned during the day. Janet needs an outlet while at home with the brood, and besides, she often uses the Web for educational activities like watching animal videos and such.

The Plan

A couple days ago, I was telling my boss and his boss about my master Plan to save money and cut expenses. I asked them if they had any opinions about various alternatives that I was considering. My boss, who drives a very similar Nissan Maxima to the one I just sold, sat there incredulous. He's still astonished that I, another Maxima aficionado like himself, could ever have parted with my Maxima.

"Are you turning Amish?" he asked me.

To be honest, I had to think about it for a moment. He was asking in jest, but the notion struck me as rather appealing. I began to envision myself pulling up to the office in a horse and buggy.

"If you come in here sporting a beard without a mustache, I'll kill you," he continued.

The Comcast bundle we have provides Cable TV with some HBO and other movie stations, our telephone service, and a 12Mbps pipe to the Internet. The monthly cost is $139 before taxes and the $7 monthly fee for the DDR. (I'll miss being able to record shows and rewinding live TV at the press of a button.)

I called Comcast to find out how much it would cost me each month to have only Internet access, with no TV or Phone service. I was told $59 a month. Oddly enough, however, if I go with Internet access and basic cable (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc), the price goes down to $52. No brainer there. So we're going to change our Comcast subscription to include only high speed Internet and basic cable.

We don't watch much TV, but we do want to have some additional options for visual entertainment. The solution? and Netflix.

Hulu is a website that provides a great deal of television programming online. I've used it in the past from time to time to find an occasional movie or episode of a TV show. You can't always find exactly what you want, but there is quite a bit there to choose from.

In addition to that, we're going to open a trial account with Netflix. The first month is free. Thereafter, for $9 a month, you are given one DVD at a time and a host of other instant access, online programming. I've been told that their children's selection is large. If they have Thomas the Tank Engine we'll have everything we need.

Telephone was a more interesting question. I didn't want to rely on the cell phone, primarily because, well, I hate cell phones. Also, they're expensive at all tiers of service. I checked into Vonage. Vonage uses the Internet to connect your telephone calls. Vonage offers several service levels, including $10 a month for 200 minutes of local and long distance. We could probably live with that. However, it's the unlimited local & long distance for $26 a month plan that would make the most sense. But $26 a month (plus taxes)? That's still over $312 a year in phone bills I think I can do better.

And I did.

MajicJack. Yeah, I know, it sounds a snake oil solution, but according to every reputable source I've read, it works. MajicJack is another technology that uses the Internet to connect your phone to the telephone network. You get unlimited local and long distance calling for, get this, $20 per year. Not per month, per year. It costs $40 to buy the jack and that includes the first year of service. There is currently a one month free trial offer. I'm going to give it a try. If it works, works well, and works reliably, we may have a very inexpensive long term solution. The one drawback to this solution is that you cannot keep your current phone number. That bothers me. But, it may prove worth it.

The Numbers

Current Monthly Costs
$165 (Comcast bundle: TV, phone, Internet)

New Monthly Costs
+ $52 + tax Comcast Internet & Basic TV
+ $3.33 MajicJack per month (includes jack purchase
+ $9 NetFlicks (1 DVD & online content)
+ $0 Hulu and other online TV providers
~$64 Total Monthly Costs

This plan provides an estimated savings of $100 per month. Is that enough for all this effort? Well, all told it's around $1,200 a year. If I got an extra $1,200 a year in my bonus, I'd certainly notice. Besides, if we're careful of accounting for that freed-up $100 a month, we can do some nice things with it. The key is to not let the new found money slip away into the void of the checking account.

But don't forget, the point of this exercise is that I believe I can get the same services to which I am now accustomed at a much lower cost. If this test works, we really won't have given up much of anything.

So, at the risk of being labeled a weirdo (or at least even more a weirdo), the plan is to take my family down the road to Amish Country. Or at least to an even more tight fisted Yankee Land.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Yankee Principles

I am a Yankee. Not in the co-opted sense of the word that refers to the despised New York sports team, but in the actual definition of the word. A New Yorker is not a Yankee. Real Yankees are found in New England, not in New York. (I could go on, but that's a story for another blog.)

Yankees are known for frugality, a "make do or do without" mentality. The phrase "Yankee ingenuity" refers to the sort duck tape and wire approach that Yankees are known for in making things work -- and keeping them working --rather than spending money to buy a new one.

When I built myself a room in the garage, my "mead hall", I needed a great deal of plywood. Plywood at Home Depot was running about $18 a sheet. Instead, I found a guy who was selling sheets of plywood that had been previously used as a subfloor in a warehouse in New Bedford. I had to pull about a million nails out of them, but I was able to get them for just $2 a sheet. I had the time. I saved the money. (

More recently, I've been a Craig's List fanatic. This website was made for Yankees. When Janet told me she wanted to buy a new $250 baby carriage for the babies we're expecting, I quickly found the same one, used, on Craig's List for $75. (What? I didn't mention she's carrying twins? That'll have to be my next blog.) We bought pair of children's playground structures for the yard and saved about $500 over the cost of new ones.

On the other side of the ledger book, I've been selling anything I can pull out of my garage. Yesterday, I sold a small swimming pool for $70 for which I had paid $110 last year. And I don't plan on stopping there.

Last Sunday, I sold my beloved 2007 Nissan Maxima. I think I've mentioned my love of all things Maxima in this forum, but, if I haven't, let me just say that I've owned a succession of four Nissan Maximas, going back to 1994. I never buy them new, preferring to get them off lease at much cheaper prices. This last one, was the best of the lot. I often say that not only is it the best car I've ever owned, it's likely the best car I'll ever own. It was handsome, fast as heck, and fantastically reliable. There is nothing like a non-American car for reliability, and I can't say enough good things about the reliability of Nissan Maximas.

But now that Janet is running a home day care, it dawned on me that the only time both cars are gone from the driveway is on Sunday morning when I leave early for worship team practice and she's still home getting Ben ready for church. That's it. Otherwise, there is always a car payment parked in the driveway gathering dust. I asked myself why? Then I asked Janet what our payments were and how much insurance was each month. When she answered, I didn't hesitate. I posted the car on Craig's List that day.

I was able to sell it for just over $5,000 more than I owed on it. That, and a savings of over $400 a month in car and insurance payments made this decision a no brainer. That's a chunk of change that, in the middle of a recession, I'm more than happy to not send to someone else.

So we've become a one car family. (Yeah, you guessed it, we kept the minivan.) But I don't care. These days, I'd reuse toothpaste if I could get it back into the tube. Belts are tightening around Upham Manor and, rather than being bummed out about it, I find it rather exciting. With everything I look at around the manor, I think to myself, "What advantage can be made of that? Do I need it? Can I sell it? Can I fix it? How long will it last me?"

My next goal is to eliminate cable TV. That's not going to be an easy battle. Janet enjoys having it. I suppose I do to, but I don't enjoy the absurd price we're paying for it.

I think I just found the topic of my next post.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Free Pass

Here's a question for you: Given our society's penchant to question everything, why is it that the homosexual lobby and Islam are given special status?

You can say anything you want on TV about Jesus Christ and Christianity. You can make accusations against any company, organization, or group. You can decry the Boy Scouts; turn your fathers and fatherhood into a laughingstock; slander politicians and citizens alike.

But no one dares say a word about gays and about Muslims. Heck, even Comedy Central and South Park are afraid to mock Mohammedans. Why?

Because the homosexual lobby has money and the Muslims have bombs?

What's the answer? Discuss.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Going Up

There are few things my brain gets bogged down thinking about more than the price of the things that my family needs.

Every time I pass my local gas station, I eyeball the price of gas. I use it as a sort of bellweather to indicate the general outlook of my personal budget. You see, probably like most of you, I don't have the option of wandering into my boss' office and dictating an increase in salary.

"Hi Glen, what's up."

"Yeah, hi there, Boss. Yeah, um, it looks like I'm going to have to charge you another $82 this week. Yeah... Greece's national debt figures were released today and I'm just not feeling confident about how it may effect the export figures for France. So, I'm going to have to, you know, have you pay me another $82 this week. Oh, yeah, and $98 next week. Yeah, that'd be great."

Seriously, why is it that everyone but you and I can randomly dictate their prices and we're forced to pay it? If there is an explosion of an oil well, prices go up. If there is a rumor of war in the Middle East, prices go up, if consumption goes up, prices go up, if consumption goes down... prices go up.

Why can't I hang a little sign outside my door with my ever-changing rate? Whenever the wind changes direction, I'll just stick a number card onto the sign with a new price.

Watermellons are right now selling for $9 each. Nine dollars. Not pesos, dollars. Each. A piece of fruit costing nine dollars? When I think about $9, I think about an hours worth of work at a low paying job. Should a watermellon cost me an hour of my time? I don't think so.

So when do we get to say, "That's quite enough already"?

Instead, all I hear from people is, "Well, what are going to do?"

I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll go without. I'll make my own. I'll grow it, build it, find it, or create whatever the "it" in question is before I'll let some scheister make off with my time. (Time=Money.)

Which leads me to my next post.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Trade Ya?

If you're between the ages of 14 and 19, you should be learning a trade in your spare time. Whether that means your working Saturdays or on your school vacations, you should be working with someone who can teach you how to make, build, or fix something tangible.

If you're 21 years old or over, you should already know how to build, make, or fix something. If you don't, learn.

When I was a boy, I'd often work with my father on Saturdays helping him on his aluminum and, later, vinyl siding and gutter jobs. I hated it at first. Most of my time was spent picking up small chips of siding and wood off the ground and out of bushes and generally keeping the job site clean. As I got a bit older, my dad had me running the saw. Eventually, I learned how to use a utility knife to cut vinyl siding freehand. (You want a useful skill? Learn to cut well with a utility knife. You'll never go hungry.) Ultimately, I became his cut man. He'd be up on the staging measuring pieces of siding for me to cut and hand up to him. Frankly, thinking about it now, I wish I'd never bothered to go to college. He and I could have been a pretty good team.

When I was 16, my dad got me a summer job with a mason he knew. While my friends were all earning $3.35 an hour stocking shelves or serving food, I was making $6.50 and hour and learning important skills to boot. I learned to mix mortar and concrete; and I learned how to set brick and block. It was hard work. Brutally hard work. I thank God I did it.

During another summer, I worked with a company that poured concrete foundations. I learned how to set the forms and how to pour concrete footings and foundations for a house. You don't know what heavy is until you've tried to throw an 8' form back up onto the truck.

I've worked with a landscaping company dropping large trees in sections, planting shrubs, and installing sod. J'ever lay sod in the pouring rain?

Before I started college, I spent two summers working for a small roofing company. The owner used to wear an army cap with the words "Slave Driver" written in felt pen on the back. I started off doing nothing more than lumping the packs of shingles up the ladder all day long for the other guys to install. Eventually, I was taught to lay the shingles myself. After that, I learned how to weave them, how to cap the roof, and how to measure a roofing job.

All told, formally worked with every aspect of general contracting except plumbing and electrical work, and I've certainly experienced enough of both of those to install sinks, toilets, spigots, electrical outlets, and lighting fixtures without the aid of a professional.

OK, so what's my point?

The point is that as an adult homeowner, I've saved myself untold thousands of dollars doing a wide range of projects for myself that would otherwise have required hiring a professional.

The Mead Hall wouldn't exist without the skills I learned when I was a teenager. The brick patio in my backyard would still be a compost pile and patchy grass without those skills. I've painted every room in my house. I used an excavator to break down a retaining wall. I've installed dimmer switches, outlets, and chandeliers. I've installed a gas oven and the range hood over it. I laid ceramic tile on my kitchen floor and linoleum in my basement. I've replaced toilets well as faucets. This spring, we're adding a small addition to our home. The only reason I'm not doing it myself is that I don't want to take the time off from work. But my experience did warn me that the quotes I received for $25,000 were way overpriced and it enabled me to find a contractor to do the work for only $14,000.

This is a short list of what I've been able to do for myself. I could also point to the work I've been able to help others with.

Last week, Math Guy asked me to help him install ceramic tile in his bathroom floor. The job should have taken about 3 hours. But once the old linoleum had been torn up, it was clear that this floor would never adequately hold ceramic tile. Sometime in the 1950's, a previous owner thought it would be a good idea to cut out floor joists to make room for plumbing lines. It took us all of Saturday to shore up the floor, but dammit, we got it done. We laid a new subfloor and a layer of duraboard. On Sunday afternoon, he had himself a very nice tile floor.

I don't buy the notion that these skills aren't for everyone. Everyone should know how to do something, especially you beings who call yourself "men." These are basic life skills. I don't do this for a living. I've never wanted to do this stuff for a living. Heck, I've got a graduate degree from Virginia Tech. I work in the IT field. I'm as soft and spongey as the next pathetic lump sitting in a cube farm. But when I got laid off from IBM, I picked up my hammer and saw and paid the bills for almost two years as a carpenter.

Learn to do something. Sooner or later, you'll be glad you did. You'll find you'll either enable yourself to do something you'll be proud of later, save yourself some serious money, or you'll help a friend with the same. OK, maybe you don't have anything to sheetrock and plaster in your own house, but your friend will, and he'll be willing to replace the starter in your car if you help him out.

Get it?


Monday, March 22, 2010

Ain't That the Truth

“First of all, then we have to say the American public overwhelmingly voted for socialism when they elected President Obama. Let’s not act as though the president didn’t tell the American people – the president offered the American people health reform when he ran. He was overwhelmingly elected running on that and he has delivered what he promised.”

-Al Sharpton

Not to say I told you so, but I told you so.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Attack of the Arrogant Jerks

The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Wednesday night criticized Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) for voting against the Democrats’ signature healthcare bill.

“We even have blacks voting against the healthcare bill,” Jackson said at a reception Wednesday night. “You can’t vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man."

Well, I guess that settles it. The Supreme Black Leader has spoken.

When was the vote taken to elect "Black Leaders" anyway? I must have missed it.

And Now a Word from Our Treasurer

The Masscare Massacre
On Sunday, White House political adviser David Axelrod appeared on ABC's "This Week" and tried to brush aside the message sent by Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) improbable election. "Senator Brown comes from a state that has a health care plan that's similar to the one we're trying to enact here," Axelrod said. "We're just trying to give the rest of America the same opportunities that the people of Massachusetts have."

Appearing after Axelrod, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could barely contain himself. "The American people are getting tired of this crap," Graham spluttered. "No way in the world is what they did in Massachusetts like what we're about to do in Washington." Actually, says Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill, the two health care bills are very much alike -- and that's exactly the problem.

Both health care plans rely on the individual mandate, subsidies, and exchanges intended to match buyers with health insurance plans. "If President Obama and the Democrats repeat the mistake of the health insurance reform adopted here in Massachusetts on a national level, they will threaten to wipe out the American economy within four years," Cahill said, launching an all-out offensive against Romneycare in Massachusetts and its cousin Obamacare nationwide.

Medicaid costs have continued to explode, rising from $7.5 billion to an estimated $9.2 billion since the Massachusetts health care law has taken effect. More people now have coverage, but of the 407,000 newly insured only 32 percent paid for their insurance entirely on their own. The remaining 68 percent were either partially or wholly subsidized by the taxpayers. Only 5 percent of newly insured Massachusetts residents who are not receiving any taxpayer benefits obtained their coverage through the state's "Connector" health care exchange.

What's more, according to figures obtained from Cahill's office, only 23 percent of those enrolled in the state-managed health insurance programs pay anything toward their coverage. About 99,000 newly insured Massachusetts residents now receive free coverage through Medicaid. Another 87,000 receive 100 percent taxpayer subsidies through the Connector's "Commonwealth Care" program. And another 26,000 are legal immigrants ineligible for federal subsidies who benefit under the Commonwealth Care Bridge program.

Not only has health care reform cost the state an additional $4.2 billion, but small businesses and consumers are getting walloped. Health care costs continue to skyrocket. Insurance premiums have jumped 12 percent over a two-year period. So much for bending the cost curve.

In a conference call yesterday, Cahill blamed both conceptual flaws in the bill and Gov. Deval Patrick's implementation. "We haven't changed the way we deliver health care. We haven't changed the way we pay for health care," he said. "Nothing's changed about the cost structure but we've blown a huge hole in the budget to increase coverage by 400,000." Just more people are being moved into a broken system, largely at taxpayer expense.

Cahill argued that the consequences of repeating this at the national level will be even worse. First, Massachusetts already had a high percentage of its population covered. The 2006 Bay State health care reform only insured another 4 percent. In many states, the percentage of uninsured is far higher. Second, as even critics of Cahill's analysis of Romneycare acknowledge, Massachusetts has benefited from both subsidies and regulatory concessions from the federal government.

"Who, exactly, is going to bail out the federal government if this plan goes national?" asked Cahill. He implored "the federal government, Democrats, and Obama" not to "make the same mistake we made in 2006." "There is a reason people in Washington want this pass to quickly," Cahill continued. "We're going to be paying a lot more money."

Reporters asked Cahill for some of the benefits. Did near-universal coverage in Massachusetts bring about a drop in the reliance on emergency room care? No, the state treasurer replied. What about cost benefits from preventive care? Not that Cahill was aware of.

Could it have been better implemented by, say, Mitt Romney rather than Deval Patrick? "I could probably agree with that partially," Cahill allowed. "I certainly have some concerns about how Governor Patrick has implemented it." But Cahill called the bill "fatally flawed from the beginning."

The treasurer noted that the theory was by increasing access, it would bring down health care costs. Instead Massachusetts has seen costs increase almost across the board. Those costs, he said, "are being passed on to businesses and consumers in the form of premium increases."

Cahill's timing has as much to do with Massachusetts politics as the looming national health care debacle. Elected state treasurer as a Democrat, Cahill bolted the party last July and is running for governor as an independent -- a designation shared by 51 percent of the commonwealth's registered voters. This stance allows him to outflank the Republican candidates, tap into the sentiment that propelled Scott Brown to the Senate, criticize the Democratic incumbent, and distance himself from his former party.

But by forthrightly attacking an approach to health care reform that has been embraced by Republican darlings, Cahill may be doing conservatives -- and the country -- a service. "The insurance companies were at the table, the hospitals were at the table, the large providers were at the table," he said during yesterday's call. "The taxpayers and small businesses weren't at the table. It appears to be repeating itself at the national level."

Massachusetts nearly derailed the federal health care juggernaut once before. It remains to be seen whether Cahill can get that to repeat itself at the national level too.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Function of Government

On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.

- Thomas Jefferson

To the liberal milieu, there is no end to the purposes and devices to which government could be applied. Any list presented here of the follies of governmental intervention and imposition upon society, industry, and private citizens would be not but a superficial and tabloid account of the of encroachment this construct has made into all spheres of our lives. Government far overstepped its bounds in the 20th century, usurping authority and power never intended for it.

Why? Why was this allowed to happen? Where were those who were supposed to be keeping tabs on government?

It's been said that the only thing that evil requires for its spread is for good men to do nothing. It can be argued that the same goes for government. When good people do nothing, that is, when responsible people and companies fail to carry out their responsibilities, government steps in to fill the vacuum. This holds as true for banks and businesses failing to manage themselves with ethical practices as it does for parents who fail to provide for, or who outright abuse, their own children. Governmental spread is often by osmosis. Where there is an insufficiency of (self) control, the government will step in and take control. "We understand that individual responsibility is the foundation of a free society," stated the Patriot Post in its March 11th online issue. Unfortunately, we now live in a society where people are anything but responsible.

Governance is the system of control that manages a polital unit. Whether that unit be a sovereign state, a province, or a locality, in a civilized society governments will exist in some form or another. In the United States of America, the Federal Government is divided into three branches, each mandated by the Constitution with separate and distinct powers. It is a compelling and often ignored precept of this Constitution 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" (Amendment X). These are the reserved powers, those powers that are forbidden from federal assumption. The Federal Government is entitled by the Constition to exercise only the express powers, that is, only those powers that have been enumerated and specifically granted to the Federal Government.

Enter the Necessary and Proper Clause. This clause provides The Congress with the power "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers [the enumerated powers]".

"All laws" encompasses quite a lot and the introduction of this clause provoked bitter controversy among those debating our Constitution. Anti-Federalists argued that this went to far and would enable The Congress to grow out of control. Federalists insisted that this clause was necessary in order for The Congress to execute the powers that were enumerated, and nothing more. The Federalists won that debate.

This was our Rule of Law, that there are supreme laws (i.e. our Constitution) that manage how we make laws, when we make laws, and what a law can do.

Unfortunately, today, it too often is the case the The Congress has altered this clause to include "all laws ... for carrying into execution the foregoing powers and anything else we feel like doing."
Liberals today have departed from our Rule of Law. Instead, there has been, since Roosevelt's New Deal, a tremendous power grab, an exponential increase in the reach of government into areas not enumerated by The Constitution and only speciously connected to that which is "necessary and proper." Far too often, if it feels good for their constituents, then politicians will argue the necessity of a law or governmental program without any thought of what the Constitution dictates.

And that is my point in this blog -- if it's not in the Constitution, if the Constitution doesn't provide for it, then the Federal Government has no business doing it, whatever it is.

You'll notice I haven't mentioned a single program. I'm not arguing against government run health care, or research into methane gas emissions by cows, or the NEA. I don't have to. It's already clear that these intrusions into such areas by the Federal Government are wrong. Constructionists and Constitutionalists don't need to roll around in the mud arguing against political pet projects and programs. It's already clear on the face of it that such projects are unconstitutional.

Think about it. Think about how far away we've wandered from the vision of Thomas Jefferson's Federal Government. Think about the enormous benefits to our society that could be had if we would simply shed these extraneous programs and massive overspending and reform our Federal Government into what was intended.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Putting the Cart Before the Ass

Nancy Pelosi on the Health Care Bill:

"[W]e have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away
from the fog of the controversy." --House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

Are you scared yet cuz you should be.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

I'm from the Government and I'm Here to Help You

This is a topic I've been wanting to blog about for some time now, and it's one I think might generate some interesting comments. Namely this: What is the purpose of Government?

Before I post my thoughts, which I shall do shortly, I'd like to solicite yours. What are the functions that government should perform? I'm not looking for "promote the general welfare" sorts of answers, I mean specifically, can you enumerate those areas that the government should be involved in? When the Federal Goverment took over GM and and ensured the American people that GM auto warrantees would be backed and honored by the US Government, was that in line with your principles of what government is? Should a government warrantee privately owned and privately sold vehicles? How about Health Care? Education? The Air Force? Should it monitor what we eat?

I'm genuinely interested in your thoughts. Let's hear them. I'll post mine soon.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Greatest Story Ever Told (or Why I Was Late for Work)

 For the last couple weeks, I've sort of taken a hiatus from my blog. I did this because of the disappointment I've felt at being unable to attract new readers. Heck, for the most part I can't even get the old readers to leave a comment so I don't really know if anyone is reading any of this anyway. I suppose that's the blogger's ultimate dilemma. Sure, you're talking, but who's listening?

So I've decided to give it one more go with my best effort. Yes, that's right, I'm going to tell my finest story, the best story I have. This is the the most remarkable thing that's ever happened to me. This is a tale I call the Cow Story.

I was living in Weymouth, Massachusetts at the time in a fantastic apartment that sat on the shores of a quiet little pond that was frequented by ducks and geese and swans. Everyone who visited there agreed it was the best apartment a single guy could ever want. The only problem I had with the apartment was it's proximity (or lack thereof) to the office where I worked. I worked in Methuen.

For those of you acquainted with Massachusetts, you'll realize that living in Weymouth and working in Methuen is a bit like living in Anywhere, USA and working in Hell. Not only is it not a nice place to work, but getting there kills you. What's more, once there, not many people get out. Methuen is forty-five miles away from Weymouth, but the path thereunto is intersected by Boston. Yes, a major city with which you'd otherwise have no concourse is neatly nestled smack dab in the middle of your commute. That means you are fighting rush-hour Boston traffic twice each way and you don't even have the benefit of working in Boston.

Each morning I would wiggle my way up Route 3 from the South Shore all the way into Boston, and then have to drag myself back out again, going northwards toward New Hampshire. Then, after a day's work, I'd have to turn around and do it again in reverse. In the summer, Friday evenings coming home were the worst. Then you'd not only be fighting the regular commuters hacking and slashing their way home, but they would be joined by the vacationers who were on their way to the Cape for the weekend. On a good day, this commute would take me an hour and a half of hard, Boston-level driving. Three hours a day in stop and go traffic and I wasn't even in L.A.

I drove a '91 Nissan Maxima. It was my first. I've since had four. Love them. But the first was a real gem. It was the GXE, what Nissan called its luxury model. It had a fantastic Bose stereo system, a sunroof, leather interior, pearl-colored body, a suspension that would rock a baby to sleep, and it was a rocket. It had this little button on the stick that when you pressed it, the manual claimed, it would engage the overdrive. In reality, it revealed a hidden Jamesbondesque exhaust port that would blast flames out the back end and throw you back in your seat as it broke the sound barrier. It would go through schools. Janet hated me for ever getting rid of it.

And so the story begins. (550 words or so later.)

This Methuen office was at the end of a long bumpy road in an industrial park. At the beginning of the street on the right hand side are the offices of Nabisco, the people who make Oreos, Chips Ahoy, and Nilla Wafers (those delightful cookies you used to soak in drool and squish in your fist as a toddler.)

Further up the road is the Shaw's Supermarket warehouse. Every morning, migrant workers from exotic places like Lawrence and Wilmington would line up outside the docks and hope to be chosen that day to work carrying boxes and to be beaten with sticks.

Somewhere along this road, though I did not know it at the time of this story, there is a stockyard where cattle are kept before they are sent off to market.

As I barreled up Rte 93 North, I looked down at the expanse of my high-tech, digital dashboard to check the time. I needed to hurry or I might be late to work. I was the manager of the technical support staff for not only the Methuen office, but also for all of the offices in the northeast. Though my boss was 1,000 miles away in Skokie, Illinois, there were other managers in the office that sometimes had snide comments to make if my morning odyssey ever resulted in me being late. That was annoying. I pressed the accelerator harder. In response, the car's computer intoned, "Approaching Warp Factor 5." I adjusted myself in my seat and ordered the on-board Replicator to fix me another cup of coffee.

Soon, I approached my exit. The retro-jets fired slowing my craft to a manageable velocity to take safely take the turn. I descended the ramp and narrowly made the light at the bottom. That saved me a couple extra minutes, I thought. I turned left onto Pelham Street and proceeded to Danton Drive, the long bumpy road running through the industrial park.

I checked the clock once more, relieved that I had plenty of time to get to the office. I slowed the car down as I continued down the increasingly bumpy road.
Up ahead, an large Ford pickup truck rumbled toward me down Danton Drive. It was one of those three-quarter ton models with with an extended cab that screams, "Why yes, as a matter of fact, I am compensating for something." These trucks never (ever) come in contact with dirt. Their bed is merely a vessel for transporting the owner's ego from one place to another.

This particular truck was also towing a large cattle trailer. Quite suddenly, as the track passed me, the heavy door of this cattle trailer swung open, almost crushing the front end of my Maxima.

With a sudden reflexive surge, I grabbed the wheel with both hands and lurched the car to the right, barely avoiding the would-be wrecking ball of the swinging door. The truck rumbled passed, leaving me fighting to regain control of my vehicle. Incredulously, I stared into the rear view mirror realizing that the driver had no idea of the peril he carried behind him.

"Oh, my gosh, he's headed for the highway! He's going to kill someone!"

I spun the car around and gunned the engine in order to pursue -- and intercept -- this fast moving hazard before it reached the highway. My car bounced hard along the road. I was surprised to see how fast the truck was moving. I pushed the pedal harder and leaned into the wheel.

I was getting closer now, the trailer looming ahead in my windshield. The trailer's wide gate continued to swing precariously as the truck bounded along the road. I needed now only to cautiously pass the truck, staying clear of the gate and watching for any on-coming cars.

But then, from the darkness of the cattle trailer, an interesting thing happened. Two large eyes appeared from the shadows. These were subsequently followed by the rest of the cow to which they belonged.

"Holy crap."

The cow stepped forward into the light and seemed to take in it's situation curiously. It stood there for a moment, chewing cud, and remained still.

Then it moved forward a bit. And then again. It was now dangerously close to the trailer's edge.

"No. No! Don't you even think about it!"

The cow's head moved up and down, left and right as it began to ponder this new position in which it found itself. Then, it looked straight forward taking note of the pearl colored Nissan Maxima that held its position just 20 feet away.

Our eyes locked.

The cow and I regarded one another.

For that moment, I would tell you that the cow and I formed a telepathic bond with one another. Words were not exchanged for, as you know, cows do not understand human languages. Yet there was communication. The communication went thusly:

"Don't do it. I know what you're thinking, but don't do it."

"I must."

"No! Please, listen to me! This is a mistake! Don't do it!"

"I'm sorry. I must do this."

At this the cow lifted it's leg and made it's first step forward off the back of the trailer.

Now, it occurred to me at this point that cows are not stupid animals. No cow would willingly behave in such a way as this without some impetus. In my mind, I began to speculate on the events that led up to this pivotal moment.

I imagined that, just a few moments ago, somewhere, up near the front of the trailer, the cows must have been standing about mundanely in the darkness as cows are wont to do. At length, one cow must have spoken up.

"Hey, Bossie?"


"Gate's open."

"Yeah. Yeah, it is." [sounds of cud being chewed]

"I dare ya."


"I double-dog dare ya."

"Screw you. I'm not going out there. Get Bessie to do it."

[two cows in unison] "Hey Bessie..."

It is common knowledge that cow peer pressure, next to only the principle of compounding interest, is perhaps the most powerful force in the universe.

And so, I sat with horror and disbelief as this cow lifted its leg and took its first step out of the trailer. The telepathic connection between the cow and me was quickly broken, but not before the cow sent one final message:

"This was a bad idea."

It was clear to me that the cow had drastically misjudged the height of the trailer from the road. It had also tragically misjudged the speed at which the trailer was traveling. I gathered from what happened next that this particular cow had never stepped out of a moving vehicle going anywhere near the 47 miles per hour at which this truck was currently traveling.

Instantly, the cow stiffened. Its entire body went as rigid as if the cow had been carved from a single block of oak. This had the effect of not only causing the cow to bounce horrifyingly, but also causing it to literally propel into the air some twelve to fifteen feet as the cow tumbled end over end bouncing along the road like a hubcap.

Again, I jerked the wheel veering harshly out of the way of the incoming bovine. The cow flipped past me and continued down the road, still rigid, still in wide-eyed shock. I pulled the car back into my lane and gazed in astonishment in my rear view mirror. At this point something caught my eye in the windshield.

Two more cows appeared at the end of the trailer. (Recall, please, the facts about cow peer pressure.)

With no delay other than to imply, "We're with her," these two cows proceeded to step nonchalantly out of the trailer and into the path of my car. One more cow followed close behind these two. Each seemed completely indifferent about what they were about to do until they realized what a terrible, terrible idea this had been from the start and they found themselves prisoners of inertia, foundering and flipping down the road at 45 miles per hour. Again, each one went rigid in wide-eyed surprise with this new, sudden, and painful awareness of both speed and gravity.

For me, behind the wheel of my '91 Nissan Maxima, I suddenly knew what it felt to be a World War II bomber pilot trying to dodge flack as I roared toward my target. I weaved back and forth, pushing my rack and pinion to its limits as I violently swung the wheel left and right trying to avoid a game ending collision with an on-coming cow.

The truck was starting to pull away from me now as the driver continued obliviously along his way. He was taking the right onto Pelham Street and would be shortly be entering the on-ramp to the highway.

I recovered from my evasive action and spurred the Maxima forward with everything she had. Seizing the opening, I swung my car around the trailer's gate as it continued to flail wildly, and zoomed down the opposite lane barely getting in front of the truck before it reached the on-ramp. I waved, blew my horn, and forced him to a stop. Startled by this, he rolled down his window and stared at me. I leaned out of my window and shouted at the top of my lungs, "Dude! Your gate flopped open and all your cows fell out!" (To this day, I still don't know why I worded that sentence the way I did.)

The absurdity of this statement, and my delivery thereof was only mitigated by his response. It was as though he was channeling Scooby-Doo; his eyes widened and he replied in a cartoon voice, "Aahrreeeallry?"

We turned our vehicles around drove back to the scene of the carnage. I fully thought there would be puddles of hamburger all over the road, but, to my amazement, the cows, all of them, were standing around on the lawn of the Nabisco building, grazing as if nothing unusual whatsoever had happened.

"What are you going to do? Can you get them back in the trailer?"

"No. We'll have to drive them down the street back to the stockyard."


"Yes. I'll need you to use your car to help me drive them forward along the road and into the pens. Stay behind them, blow your horn, and try to keep them together."

The rest of the story is less clear in my mind. I suppose the adrenaline was wearing off at this point. I know it took us some time to get them off the grass and into the road. After that, I can recall slowly driving along behind the cows blowing my horn and leaning out the window and yelling "Gyah! Gyah cow!" as I herded them up Danton Drive, past the Shaw's warehouse, and back into the stockyard. As you would expect, this took no little time.

When we reached the stockyards, the man gave me nary a thank you. He was more concerned with getting the cows back onto the truck and getting on his way. I asked him if the cows would be okay. He told me it didn't really matter -- they were headed to the slaughterhouse anyway. This bummed me out a bit, but I figured that, well, at least the meat would be tender.

I walked into the office and to my desk. One of the managers saw me walk by and felt compelled to say, "Hey, you're late."

"Yes," I said, "Yes I am."