Things I Know

If you are an adult male wearing a tuxedo on stage at the Oscars or any other award show, and you wear a hat on an indoor stage, you are calling attention to your baldness, not disguising it.

My son got a job three months ago, so I can tell the economy is improving, but it isn’t improving fast enough. Therefore, I’m appalled that birth control has become a major campaign issue. I wish all the Republican candidates for President would take a page from former President Bill Clinton. Republican candidates, repeat after me (and after President Clinton too): It’s the economy stupid.

Right after I commented that Congress hadn’t dealt with the expiring payroll tax rate reduction, they did. I believe the two events are unrelated. I don’t believe any member of Congress has read what I write since I stopped working for Congress during the second half of the twentieth century.

For various reasons I won’t go into, painting the inside of my house is taking a lot longer than I anticipated. Except for minor touch ups, I have now finished the dining room. I have a little electrical work to do, mostly involving selecting and installing a light fixture.

Today the dining room: Tomorrow the guest room.

One thing I’ve learned is that for a typical do-it-yourself paint job, buying paint in five-gallon buckets is a bad idea. Latex paint is heavier than water so, including the bucket, and the lid, I estimate five-gallon buckets of latex paint weigh 55-60 pounds. If you don’t think that’s heavy, try lifting one, and try pouring from one without spilling anything. Plus, if you don’t use it up quickly, theres more space inside the partially filled bucket for dry flakes of paint to form, then drop into the paint, and mess up your nice, smooth finish.

I don’t know for certain that the New York State Real Property Tax Law is the worst one in all the fifty states, but after working with it again last week, I find it hard to believe it isn’t.

I wrote a lot of stuff about the Grammy Awards, but I didn’t get around to posting it. It’s no longer germane, so I won’t post it. Once you die, your situation hardly ever changes, so I think that coverage of the death of an important celebrity, and Whitney Houston is just one example, is usually overblown, especially if said celebrity dies on what’s known in the business as a slow news day. It went so far, and was in such bad taste that I even saw an article that speculated on what actor would get the kind of publicity Whitney Houston’s death got if said actor died right before tonight’s Oscar awards.

I’m not terribly interested in the Oscars, because I believe the last movie I saw in a theater was about Rocky and Bullwinkle. I am, however, looking forward to Spring Training baseball games on the radio. Among the things I find most relaxing is washing, and waxing the car while listening to a baseball game on the radio. Once baseball games are on the radio you can hasten the change of seasons by driving around with your car windows down, and a game on. Spreading the baseball around helps spread the warm weather baseball causes around too.

Friday was the fourth anniversary of this blog, but I didn’t have anything profound to say about it, so I didn’t say anything about it. Perhaps, despite my best efforts, I am maturing at least a little. On Tuesday, I will probably not have anything profound to say about Leslie’s birthday, but I will pause, and remember. I can’t remember people’s names, but humiliating moments in my life are easy to recall, no matter how long ago they happened.

Things I Know

I hope now we can start talking about baseball. Nine days to pitchers, and catchers.

If Jeremy Lin is going to insist on being the newest NBA sensation, he needs to learn to speak into the microphone at news conferences.

The Giants won the Superbowl.

I don’t think they even have ticker tape anymore, so I recommend they change the name of ticker-tape parades.

Sir Paul McCartney has been one of the most famous people in the world for 48 years now. He got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 9, 2012.

Attention State of California: Yes, I would like your 214-page vacation guide; no, I won’t give you my phone number. You don’t need it to send me the guide, but you won’t send it to me if I don’t supply it. I won’t supply it, hence no vacation guide for me.

We’ve already established that I need five utility knives, and four retractable metal measuring tapes for me to know where at least one is at any given time. I recently established that I need two saws of the kind you use to cut holes in wall board to know where one of those is. Right now, I know where both of them are. I needed to cut a hole for an electrical box and couldn’t find the first saw. No wonder. It was in a storage box in the attic, not on a pegboard in the basement where it belongs.

Here’s another tip about what are called old-work electrical boxes. You need a level to cut the hole because you dont want the box to be crooked on the wall. If it’s new work, the wall studs should be plumb, and square. ¬†You attach the boxes to the studs before you install wallboard, so you need a level to install the wall, but not to install the electrical boxes.

Repainting my dining room reinforces what I already knew: The people who lived here before we moved in couldn’t mud wallboard very well. I don’t know why, but I can’t do it anywhere near as well as I once could either.

Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever found a home repair the former owners of my house did that was done correctly.

My cell phone only works from the battery. If the battery dies and you plug it in to recharge it, the phone still doesn’t work until the battery has achieved a specific level of charge. It won’t work if it’s plugged in and the battery’s removed either.

Speaking of batteries, it wasn’t a dead one of those that kept me from starting my Toyota. I couldn’t jump it to start it either. When I get it to run, I’m going to sell it. It’s a low-mileage Corolla. But since it’s 21-years-old, the low mileage is 152-thousand.

Some battery chargers you can buy for cars won’t charge the car’s battery if it’s completely dead. It needs a little charge in it or some chargers won’t work at all.

Last Saturday in this space, I mentioned that I hadn’t heard of Congress discussing extending the reduced rate for social security payroll taxes again even though it’s due to expire at the end of this month. I heard about it this week. Same story as last time.

That Inconvenient Dedicated Tax

Since it is now early February, everyone who gets a paycheck has gone through at least one pay period under the reduced social security tax the congress passed and the president signed just about as late as possible in late December. Reckless is a good way to describe how the US Senate, and the US House approached extending that payroll tax reduction

During the debate, the Republicans in the House were correct that a two-month extension was no way to deal with tax policy, but voting against it would have been incredibly bad PR, so they acquiesced. Now, a little over a month later, we have a little less than a month to do it again. Have you heard any talk about another extension? Neither have I.

FICA is what the government calls it instead of Social Security tax. It stands for Federal Insurance Contribution tax. Reducing that tax was a bad idea in the first place. I know it was intended to fuel the economy by putting as much as $40 per pay period into lots of people’s hands, but let’s face it, $40 a paycheck is not a huge amount of stimulus.

Reducing the income tax would not have worked in the same, simple way because a lot of people don’t pay income taxes, but everyone who works on the books does pay the FICA, or Social Security tax. Cutting that tax was a bad idea because it’s the only tax dedicated to paying for Social Security benefits, and Social Security is severely under-funded if it’s going to meet the obligations we don’t even need an actuary to see coming.

Dedicated taxes are the ones that any government passes for a specific purpose. The FICA tax to pay for Social Security is one. The federal tax on gasoline is another as are lottery proceeds earmarked to support education as New York and some other states do. Dedicated taxes are good politically because they are more palatable to the electorate than most other taxes. Would you pay a gasoline tax to have a good interstate highway system? How about a Social Security tax to provide retirement and disability benefits? Or your local government may tell you it has to raise property taxes to hire more cops, and firemen or to avoid laying off the ones you already have.

So what’s the problem? Needs change and so do the sources of the taxes. At first, the gasoline tax went to pay for federal highways like US 1 and US 101 or interstate highways like I-95 and I-5. But when most of the highways were built, the tax collected too much money. Did Congress reduce the tax? No. It siphoned some of it off to pay for mass transit, and for highway maintenance. Then, the gasoline crisis hit so people bought more fuel-efficient cars. Even though gas prices went up, tax revenue went down. That’s why there are some in Congress now trying to come up with a way to charge us by the number of miles we drive each year, rather than by the amount of gasoline we consume.

In the case of Social Security, when the program started in the thirties as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, most people died before or just after they reached retirement age, there were a lot fewer people in the USA, and the ratio of workers to retirees was a lot higher than it is now. Today, we have twice as many people in the USA, a larger percentage of them than before are retired versus still working, and far too many are unemployed, so they’re not paying either.

In other words, expenses have grown much faster than revenue, and every projection shows that trend will continue. Therefore, both houses of Congress, and the President in their extremely finite wisdom, teamed up to cut the tax without cutting the expenditures or providing another way to pay for Social Security. What would your family’s balance sheet look like if that’s the way you ran your finances?

To make up for difference, the government prints more money. If each of us did that, we’d go to jail, but it’s legal for Uncle Sam. The reduced payroll tax may stimulate the economy. It doesn’t look like it from where I sit, but maybe it does. Printing more money does cause inflation. That’s down the road a bit folks, but it’s coming, trust me. When inflation does arrive, it will wipe out either all or part of the stimulus that the Social Security tax cut is creating, if it is creating one which is arguable.

I’m against dedicated taxes in general, but I’m against lowering this one in particular because even before it was lowered, it didn’t bring in enough money to pay for the programs it was already supposed to pay for. You may have noticed through all of this that I haven’t mentioned the so-called Social Security Trust Fund. That’s because there isn’t one. All of the Social Security taxes go into the general treasury.

Things I Want (Or Need) To Know

When I read that CBS is resurrecting the show “Person to Person,” it led me to wonder if they’re resurrecting Edward R. Murrow too.

Have we reached the point in this country where you have to cheat on your spouse in order to run for public office? If so, that’s one more reason I’ll never run.

Attention iTunes programmers: I don’t want the program to automatically download anything, so how (other than giving the program the information it wants) can I stop it from asking me twice to sign in every time I open the program to listen to some music?

When I turn on my Android phone, it says “DROID!” quite loudly in a strange voice that sounds as if it might be machine generated. Does anyone here know how to turn that off? The voice, not the phone. I know how to turn the phone off. I thought maybe I could replace the sound file that generates the word with a sound file that’s silent, but I can’t locate the appropriate file.

Since they have Caterpillar earth-moving equipment, why have I never seen any Moth or Butterfly earth-moving equipment? It seems as if it would be a natural progression to me.

Has the TV Show “Cheers” really been off the air for so long that when you hear that song on TV, you think of State Farm Insurance and not the show?

Grey Goose Vodka is now running a TV commercial that uses the song “C’est Ci Bon.” The song is over 50 years old and, like its title, the entire lyric is written in French. This makes me wonder what demographic Grey Goose intends the ad to appeal to when vodka is generally thought of as Russian, and advertisers typically want to appeal to an audience fewer than 54 years of age because advertising agencies think older people aren’t influenced very much by commercials.