Monday, October 26, 2009

The Enemy Is Us - Again!

Have we gone nuts? If this nation faces a long-term economic problem it is health care costs for the elderly followed shortly behind by the fact that the Social Security system is going to run out of money.

So, what is our government doing about this impending crisis? Investing in ways for us to live longer! Give me a break!

The best example, and it has been going on for years, is the government's war against smoking tobacco. The anti tobacco zealots tell us that smoking will shorten our lives by years. A recent study by some British researchers put it at 10 years.

What do you think would happen to the question of the solvency of the Social Security system if the actuarial assumptions for life span were shortened by 10 years? I don't have a figure for you but I'll give you a guess that the system would be so rolling in dough that they'd be talking about increasing Social Security benefits, not the need to reduce them.

Smokers are super patriots! Not only are they attempting to shorten their life expectancy, they are paying all sorts of extra taxes to do it.

When Congress enacted Social Security back in 1935, the average life expectancy was 61.7 years and you had to be 65 years old to collect. In other words, when they enacted Social Security they didn't really anticipate having to pay benefits to many people. The average life expectancy at the time for African-Americans was only 53.1 years, but that's another story. The only people who had a shot were white females and their life expectancy was 65.0 years. The latest word is that life expectancy is 78.1 years and rising.

Fatsoes beware! When they first went after smokers it was just a matter of setting aside a little space for those who didn't smoke. Who could object to that? Then came a reversal where they set aside a little space for those who did smoke. Well, that wasn't quite the same thing but we didn't have the good sense to see the writing on the wall. Then came things like no smoking in public buildings, period! Now there are proposals floating around that would ban smoking on public beaches and parkland.

Why? The only possible excuse for this madness is that they want us to live longer.

So, here's a warning to those who are trying to save the country from insolvency by eating themselves to death. (Research shows that being obese shortens your life just as much as smoking.) When there is a proposal to set aside a little space in restaurants for those who are not obese, fight it with everything you've got. If you don't, the next step will be to set aside a little space for the fatties and it will go downhill from there.

I, fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be, am somewhat detached from the madness. Earlier this year, about a month before my 65th birthday, after five days in the hospital for something that had absolutely nothing to do with smoking, in a moment of weakness when my wife said, "You haven't had a cigarette for five days. This would be a good time to quit," I promised her that I would. It must have been something in the water. No, the problem was that while I was in the hospital they kept me on a rather strong patch. I was getting so much good stuff I had little or no desire to light up. That was almost eight months ago and rarely a waking hour goes by that I don't crave a cigarette. I suppose that I should add that I'm 5'7" and weigh about 140 pounds. How I'm going to help Uncle Sam out by kicking off a few years early is beyond me.

Pogo was right. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Enemy Is Us

Walt Kelly had a great line in a Pogo strip that went something like. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Nowhere is this more true than on the question of Congressional earmarks, the nasty little millions of dollars that members of Congress make sure go to favored constituencies to buy support and/or reelection.

Everybody, well, almost everybody, hates earmarks and members of Congress who sponsor them. The picture that comes to mind is some fat cat contributor who is getting mega bucks for his business as a quid pro quo for all the campaign cash.

NOT! Think again. It is us.

Just the other day there was a story in The Washington Times saying that already this year state and local governments had already spent more than $80 million in our tax dollars to pay lobbyists to get more money from the federal government.

This isn't new, it's just getting bigger - dare I say "worse" - because of the recession.

Several years ago I attended a conference where a panel of conservative members of Congress were asked about earmarks. There was embarrassment in the air. To a man (and a woman) these opponents of earmarks confessed to seeking earmarks in appropriation bills at the request of local governments in their districts.

I'm a conservative of sorts and I'm interested in politics so around election time I give some money to local government candidates. As a result I'm on a first name basis with several of them and they usually return my e-mails. Well, when I got home from that conference I sent an e-mail to my local office holder friends asking whether they had spent any of my (our) local government tax dollars to pay lobbyists to try to get earmarks from Washington. Guess what? Not a one replied.

It is my strong sense of things that at least some of these conservative local office holders are spending my tax dollars to get our representative in Congress to put earmarks in legislation. Since my Congressman, a "conservative" Republican, is somewhat of a king of pork in his own right, I doubt that the lobbyist has much of a job to do.

Back to the idea of hating earmarks. I should have added that we hate earmarks, unless of course, they are sponsored by our own fine and upstanding member of Congress and they do something really neat for your home town.

Pogo had it right. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Will Rogers famously said, "I never met a man I didn't like." I think that I've found a modern corollary. I've never met a man who was overpaid.

I'll bet that the Wall Street bankers who are hauling down millions don't think they are overpaid. Can you imagine that the guys who can throw a ball into a basket better than most and who are making so much money only the wealthy can afford tickets to the games think they are overpaid. What about the guys who make millions reading the evening news on network television, don't imagine for a moment that they think they are over paid. I'll bet that the firefighters in Vallejo, California who drove the city into bankruptcy with their six figure salaries didn't think they were overpaid. I'll bet that the auto workers who brought General Motors to its knees with excessive costs of employment and benefits don't think they are overpaid. How about it? Can you name a person who will admit to being overpaid?

There's a point to all this. The more something costs the less we buy of it. That's true of almost everything. You may say, "Yeah, but I've got to buy gas for my car." But look what happened people not only started driving less, they started buying more fuel efficient cars. What about food? We all have to eat. Yeah and the restaurant business is in trouble because people are eating out less and people are grilling burgers instead of steaks.

I don't know about you but I'd rather be employed at a job that paid a bit less than be unemployed at a job that paid a bit more. Maybe what we need to do is take a cold hard look at ourselves and what we do and ask ourselves whether we're worth it.

Don't worry. I already know the answer. Of course we're worth it. I've never met a man who was overpaid.