Saturday, March 21, 2009

Recap of the News Headlines

This week has proven very fruitful for news to make fun of.

Obama warns no room for error on Stimulus waste
Two quick points. 1) Wasn't there a lot of waste already built into the stimulus (I guess when our elected officials finally get around to reading it they will know)? 2) This on the heels of "discovering" that certain companies which took government funds paid bonuses.

Obama's gas mileage claim sputters
So, the Model-T gets better gas mileage than the modern SUV. I have no problem if that is true. Maybe we should spend the millions allocated for new cars for the federal government to buy Model-Ts (they are American). What you say, and give up the comfort of CD players, air conditioning, cruise control (heck driving faster than 50 mph), cup holders, all wheel drive, all season radial tires, power windows, power steering, sun roofs (or even roofs), oh yeah, and those pesky emission controls that cause modern cars to pollute 99.99% less than the Model-T. This statement by our President shows that he knows nothing about technology.

AIG sues its owners the Taxpayers for $306 million
So, since we have taken over AIG, they owe us (the government) $165 million from bonuses paid out of our money. Meanwhile, they apparently overpaid us (the government) $306 million in taxes that they would like back. More and more, it looks like we should have let AIG fail back in September and dealt with the pending Apocalypse. It would have been less complicated, and cheaper.

Agenda on track despite massive deficits
Oh good, I was worried that with the price tag going up every day (the CBO estimates $2.3 trillion more in deficits over the next 10 years for a total of $9.3 trillion), that the agenda might be derailed. Just pray we don't hit a speedbump and balloon this thing out of control (or did we do that already).

US, Mexican Security Chiefs to Meet on Gun Trade
Oh goody. Maybe we can start to get some of those great Mexican guns. I am tired of having to send all of our machine guns, hand grenades, and rocket launchers south of the border. Last time I went to my local gun store, the shelves for these items were bare. Even Wal-Mart was sold out of RPGs and I can usually count on them to carry everything, especially the cheap ones made in Cambodia.

Numbers Prove It: Capitalism Cuts Poverty
Stating the obvious is not news. While not everyone may realize this, it doesn't stop it from being a fact. This should read: Capitalism eliminates poverty. Let's just compare a couple of examples: USA and Cuba. USA and Soviet Union. USA and Angola. USA and North Korea. If you think there is poverty in America, you need to get out and see the world. There are people in America who have less than others. There is no poverty. India has poverty. Bangladesh has poverty. Sudan has poverty. North Korea has poverty. Guatemala has poverty. Venzuela has poverty. The USA, Canada, Great Britain, Norway, France, Switzerland, and Japan don't have poverty.

Insecticide may play role in obesity epidemic
I always thought an epidemic was something you didn't have control over. Like Spanish Influenza or the Bubonic Plague. Obesity is a matter of overeating. So, unless there is some food cartel cramming our gullets full of their wares, maybe we need to eat a little less. Not to state the obvious again, but insecticides kill off bugs which allows for a larger harvest, which makes food cheap, therefore we have more money to indulge our appetite.

Healthy Diet, Exercise ward off deep body fat
Please tell me the reporter that wrote this story did not get paid.

Microsoft adds Shortcuts, Security to New Browser
I know this is a novel concept, but Firefox, Opera, and Konquerer have been doing this for years.

Bank CEOs criticize Bonus tax
Oh, the problems with reactive legislation. First we have a banking crisis that the government has to get their hands into to fix. We force everyone to take money (whether they "need" it or not). Then we ram through some legislation which protects said banks bonuses (without reading the legislation of course). Then banks pay the bonuses. We get mad. Pass legislation to tax those bonuses (probably without reading it again). The banking executives (who have already acquired enough wealth to live comfortably for the rest of their lives) decide they have had enough and retire. There is a massive vacuum in the banking leadership. The banking system collapses because now it is really being run by monkeys pecking away at typewriters (they were the only ones who would take the job at the pay the government was offering). Which puts us right back where we started (except a few trillion dollars poorer). Except now when we go to the zoos, there are no monkeys to see. And New Yorks banana imports increased a hundred fold over night. If I can find a commodities dealer that trades banana futures, I might have to take a long position next week. Please Senate, do the right thing and kill this bill.

US Journalists 'Illegally Intruded'
What an outrage, trying to hamper the press. How could anyone in this day and age not realize the importance of journalists. What is that? North Korea. Tin pot dictator (who may have died months ago). Oh, he doesn't even allow food aid to go to his own starving people? Huh, they don't respect the Bill of Rights? Oh, they have never heard of the 1st Amendment? Good thing they don't kill political dissidents as well...

Americans make odd spending choices in tough economic times
Americans make odd spending choices in good economic times. How else do you explain the limited success of the Yugo and the Chia Pet?

Rhode Island Strip Club to host Job Fair
You know the economy has to be bad when strip clubs can't even fill their openings. Oh wait, that would mean that there are jobs that need workers. That can't be, the economy is in the tank. Maybe the key to the economic recovery is to open more strip clubs. Afterall, they do a good job of "spreading the wealth around."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Have AIG Pay the Money Back to the USA? Yeah Right.

So, now that we have all of the indignation over the fact that Congress is a horrible manager, er I mean that AIG paid out bonuses, our great elected officials have come up with lots of solutions. My own Senator Mr. Grassley suggested that they do the Japanese thing and apologize or commit suicide. Of course he had to back track later and say that he really didn't mean for them to kill themselves. Oh really, what does commit suicide mean, Mr. Grassley? You are an embarrassment.

Our tax cheat Treasury Secretary Mr. Geithner has promised us that he will make sure we minimize the loss to tax payers over the AIG bailout. Wait a minute, I thought when we were sold this gagglefest that we (the USofA) were going to make money on our "investment"? Now, we realize that it is flushing money down the toilet? OK, some our leaders realize it is, us common folk realized that several months ago.

One solution several in Congress have advocated is having AIG pay back to the US the amount that they spent in bonuses. So lets see, we gave them $170 billion, they paid out $170 million, and are going to pay the US back $170 million. So where is that money coming from? Oh yeah, the $170 billion that we gave them already (or the next $30 billion when they ask for it).

What I really like is that the Administration is saying they just found out about these bonuses this week (or last week). This tells me one of two things. 1) You're lying, you knew about it before, and realized that legally there was nothing you could do, so you decided to wait and play it for the most political capital you could. 2) You're complete morons and have no oversight into the whole financial mess you are supposedly trying to fix. Either way, you look bad. Real bad.

I have a great idea. When I invest, and the investment turns into a bummer, I cut my losses and sell. I then study what went wrong to learn my lesson for the next time. What we should do is realize that our investment manager (Congress) made a huge mistake (bailing out AIG). Sell (quit all the bailout money and sell whatever stock we own), cut our losses (does anyone actually believe we are going to get anything out of this?). Then we can study the problem (Congress got us into the financial mess in the first place) and learn our lessons (don't trust Congress with anymore money than is necessary, I would put that figure at around $1 trillion, $600 billion of which would be for the Defense Department) and go on with life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Much is Your Wedding Dress Worth?

I am sure I will catch some flak for this but I thought it bears saying. Some things in life have intrinsic value. Take my coin collection for instance, there is a market for coins. And while my coin collection may not be extensive, I could easily sell it and gain some extra cash.

My baseball card collection from when I was a child also has intrinsic value. Not much mind you, since the vast majority of them were from the late 80s and early 90s when everyone was collecting baseball cards so all of the major manufacturers produced billions of them (funny how that works, increase supply, and the value goes down, sort of like money). In any case, I have been toying with the idea of liquidating the baseball card collection on Ebay. Of course I would have to find it first. I am sure it is somewhere in my attic, but I can honestly say, I haven't looked since before I was married.

Which brings me to today's topic. Marriage. Or more specifically, how much is that wedding dress worth? Ten years ago when my wife bought her wedding gown it cost $250. She loved it. It had a detachable train and lots of fancy beading. She looked beautiful in it. At first she had an idea that our daughter might want to wear it for her wedding. I asked her if she wanted to wear her mother's dress from 25 years ago and she responded with a definite no. I explained that styles would more than likely change and our daughter wouldn't be interested (besides, I am going to heavily encourage the whole eloping thing, and after our wedding and reception my wife is on board with that idea).

Then she had another idea, she could use the material to make a confirmation/baptism dress. OK, that is something that I could live with. It would mean storing it for several years. Well the time has almost come, we got the dress out (it has moved 5 times in various boxes). After going over it, my wife decided she really didn't want to try sewing and cutting the satiny material (plus the panels would make transferring a new pattern difficult). So we did what any capitalist would do and shopped for a new dress.

Eventually, we found something that my wife and daughter liked online. For $50, my wife would have had to make the dress from her wedding gown in under 7 hours just to be equal to minimum wage (good thing we still have cheap labor in the world where people get paid $3 a day to sew and it is much better than being sold into prostitution which is the only other option).

Even better, we ordered the dress on a Saturday night, and it arrived on Tuesday (that was with the slow shipping). Showing once again that private companies (in this case UPS) could efficiently deliver packages faster and cheaper than the government (although I do like the USPS flat rate boxes for very heavy items that make it very cost effective).

So with the new dress here, I convinced my wife to Ebay her wedding dress. This was a difficult decision because of the sentimental value to her. My coin collection also has sentimental value which outweighs its intrinsic value (hence the reason I still have it). We may think sentimental things are valuable, but it is completely intangible, and what one person values, another may think is worthless. However, I find that selling things with sentimental value are much more difficult than selling things with intrinsic value for a loss. After making the decision, she put the dress on gain so I could take pictures. She still fits in it after 10 years and several children. Not only that, she was able to breathe!

This it was matter of uploading the pictures on Ebay and posting the listing. For several days we bit our nails as no one bid on it, then we got our first bite. 99 cents! I was optimistic that this might encourage a bidding war, but alas it didn't. The dress sold for 99 cents.

Now, I calculated, that all the time my wife actually wore the dress (including fittings, the wedding, the receptions, portraits, and again for pictures 10 years later) she was wearing the dress for less than 12 hours. I wear my clothes each day for longer than that. So what is it about wedding dresses that women will spend hundreds (and sometimes thousands of dollars) for the perfect gown that they are going to wear hardly at all. Is there a market for wedding dress rentals?

I hope that the person who bought our dress enjoys it and looks as beautiful for her wedding as my wife did for ours. Plus, since she got it at a bargain basement price, she has a much better chance of recouping her investment on Ebay when she is done. Looking at several other wedding dresses on Ebay, there were some that were nicer, but all were more expensive. Ever since I started Ebaying in 1998, I have always trusted the auction market and started my merchandise at 99 cents. Sometimes it worked out great (I sold a free pool table for $341) and sometimes it doesn't work out (our headboard didn't sell at all). In this case, the seller should be happy. If the dress turns out to be nothing what she thought, it could always be burned in a fireplace and the heating value is worth 99 cents.

So if you are still hanging on to your wedding gown a decade later, why don't you make someone else happy and find out how much it is worth!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why Worry About Earmarks, When We Have AIG?

So Congress and the President are worried about bonuses that AIG paid out. This is the same Congress and President who passed a $800 billion stimulus package that does anything but stimulate and a $410 billion spending bill with $7.7 billion in earmarks. Let's look at these for a minute.

AIG received approximately $170 billion in aid. They have given out about $170 million in bonuses. Or 0.1%, one tenth of one percent. Not too bad since we were told that if we didn't help out AIG then the whole world was going to implode on itself and the four horseman of the apocalypse would be running rampant. Oh yeah, and there is the little thing that the vast majority of the bonuses were contractual obligations agreed to before AIG was ever helped. I know it may be a difficult concept for some, but some people work through a contract, and therefore get paid according to the contract.

If you really want to see the four horseman, just let the government have the power to null and void any contract at will (sort of the like allowing bankruptcy judges to "re-write" the terms of a mortgage). Then what would be the point of making a contract at all? You never have a clue what the government is going to do (not that you do anyway).

So AIG pays out 0.1% of the taxpayers money and we are in an uproar. Meanwhile Congress recently passed a $410 billion spending bill with $7.7 billion in earmarks. That is 1.9%, or nineteen times the rate that AIG paid out in bonuses. Obama's talk of the spending bill being last year's business is a pile of malarky. Congress held the bill over specifically because they weren't going to get the spending they wanted under the last president (which considering the amount of spending that he did allow is impressive). So this bill is all the current Congress and Administration's. You can bet if McCain had have been elected with the same members of Congress elected, the bill would have been passed and signed before Thanksgiving. Sorry Mr. President, you have to take responsibility for this.

Why is it that taking responsibility is so hard? Truman said, "The Buck stops here." So far this administration has said, "Let's print some more Bucks, then no one will blame us, because the Bucks will never stop!" Geithner was the "only" one who could get us out of this mess, so inspite of the fact that he is a tax cheat we had to approve him. Yet we see that he really doesn't know what to do. A couple of weeks ago we were on the cusp of the Greater Depression. Now, the economy is sound and things are looking better? Hogwash! You can put all the lipstick on the pig you want. It is still a pig. Or you can wrap a rotting fish in gift paper, it is still a rotting fish.

I really don't care about AIG's bonuses. While the government may have not had the foresight to see that bonuses would still be paid, I expect government to not have foresight, they have no reason to. The only people who should be upset at AIG is the stockholders. If a company that loses $62 billion (which is more profit than ExxonMobil made last year), can still payout hundreds of millions in bonuses, then maybe the people writing the contracts need to looked at again. But, if the stockholders are content enough to keep electing the same board of directors who approve of those contracts, then they only have themselves to blame.

Sort of like the people who voted for Change, without specifying what kind of change they wanted...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

In Search of the EBR Part III

First, I found a Hi-Point 9mm Carbine. While this wasn't a gun that was affected by the AWB it was specifically designed with the AWB in mind to not have enough qualifying features to make it "illegal." So I needed it for my EBR collection. Pictured below is the Hi-Point Carbine. Yes, it is butt ugly.

The red dot scope was from Wal-Mart, I really didn't like the iron sights. Hi-Points are made in America and they are cheap (retail price for this new is usually under $200). Being that it is 9mm, the most popular centerfire pistol cartridge in the world, ammunition is plentiful and inexpensive. It is a very fun shooter, and great for plinking. Some people like the ugliness of the carbine, I however, like things that look cool. This just looks ugly.

So I had to change it around. ATI is the only company that makes an aftermarket stock for the Hi-Point. Good thing it is very nice looking. So one day after work I took this apart to switch out the stock. The plastic stock from hi-point is flimsy once all of the screws are removed (there were five screws in the butt alone to keep it rigid. It is two pieces so my kids enjoyed playing with those "shooter guns." The young son was carrying both around and could have been a mini Terminator. The ATI stock is much more rigid and feels like it could take a beating. I decided to name my EBRs (sort of like the horses in the Kentucky Derby), so I present to you Ode to AWB.

It still needs a sling. Why? Because it has swivel studs, that is why. I'll probably sight the red dot in at 50 yards and leave it there.

Next, I had to satisfy my AK-47 urge. While Americans may have spread capitalism to the world, the Russians are learning quickly. The Izhmash Arms Factory has been supplying Russia with firearms for more than 200 years (so they are a very stable company). They are the current suppliers of the Russia's AK-47s and AK-74. The Saiga line was made based on the AK-47 action and is chambered in several calibers. Naturally, I had to go with the original, 7.62x39.

There are some differences with the AK-47. For one, this is the hunting rifle version. It has a standard plastic stock (no wood furniture). It comes with a 10 round magazine. Also, the trigger is farther back on the receiver. The great thing about this fireare is that, unlike other AK-47 like rifles you can buy, this one is all Russian parts (most AKs have an American receiver, trigger group, and a few others). In the US, there is this pesky import law, 922(r), which requires that firearms that are made based on an import prohibited design (i.e. AK-47) cannot have more than 10 foreign made parts. While some may say that this law is to keep dangerous weapons out of the US, I think it is protectionism through and through. How is a US part (made to the exact same specifications) any different from the Russian or Romanian part? Answer: its not. But some people feel better if our EBRs have American made parts on them. The Saiga is legally imported as is (in the hunting configuration) and has 14 total compliance parts.

So in order to change parts to make it more like an AK-47, I have to make sure I replace 4 compliance parts. I looked at various configurations and prices and then thought of a brilliant idea. Why don't I make it as a "stick it to the 922(r) and hi cap magazine ban at the same time?" I believe in obeying the law. So I must comply with the 922(r) requirements. But I also laugh at the fact that some people get their underwear in a wad when they hear of magazines that hold more than 3 rounds (ok, 10 rounds). Plus since the Saiga comes with a 10 round magazine standard, I could correctly use the term high capacity magazine if I got a 30 round one for the Saiga.

In order to make this I needed a new buttstock (1 part) with SAW pistol grip (doesn't count since the Saiga doesn't come with a pistol grip) and a 30 round magazine (3 compliance parts) that are made in the USofA. Tapco makes a great T6 collapsible stock with pistol grip, and Pro-Mag has the 30 round Saiga magazines (not the AK magazine there are some minor differences which affect the feeding of ammunition).

(Note most people replace the buttstock trigger group and hammer to get in compliance and also make a mod on the receiver to compensate for the ammunition feeding difference. This makes it so they can use the cheap AK magazines. I didn't do this because I wanted to make a different statement.)

And I call this Salute to 922(r) Stupidity:

The great thing about this is since the magazine is part of my compliance parts, it is illegal for me to insert the original 10 round magazine (Russian made). By law, I am required to use the high capacity American made magazine. I love this country!

Finally, I also purchased a Saiga 12. I didn't include a picture yet because essentially, it looks like the I haven't done any modifications to it yet, because I don't want it to make the same statement as the AK-47 Saiga. It already is listed as an assault weapon in California (although, if you use any weapon to assault someone, isn't that an assault weapon as well?). I have been thinking about painting it hot pink (thereby making it an Evil Pink Shotgun). Can you imagine the looks I would get as I shoot 10+1 shells of 00 buck and obliterate the target (and stand). I might have to try using it shoot multiple clays on one throw? So I haven't decided for sure what I am going to do. I will take any suggestions, especially ideas of names for this third EBR.

In Search of the EBR Part II

During this time the AWB expired and I was learning a lot more about firearms and Evil Black Rifles in particular. I was around a lot of Navy personnel and went shooting with them on occasion. Usually, they would be practicing with a Beretta 9mm pistol that they had to qualify with. I tried this out and liked it a lot. Then I had to buy my first non .22LR ammunition. What a sticker shock. I was used to getting 500 rounds for $10. Now I was paying $15 for 100 rounds. Oh well.

Shortly hereafter, I realized the purpose of the 2nd amendment (I had known it before, having read the Federalist papers and other writings of the Founding Fathers but now it became a part of my understanding). I also realized, that the AWB didn't ban anything except the manufacture of certain features. Identically functioning guns were made while the ban was in effect. Furthermore, I started paying attention to the rhetoric of the gun debate and saw how the public was manipulated (either knowingly or unwittingly) by the gun control crowd by blurring the definitions of guns and working off of people's ignorance (I still don't think anyone should hunt with a fully automatic weapon, but I realize now that the AWB did absolutely zilch to prevent that - it is already illegal in every state).

I now had a desire to acquire an EBR. But I had a problem, money and necessity. My wife and I had made a plan for our finances and we were working the plan. Along the way, several children were born and they tend to take up a lot of ones resources. Additionally, my wife had grown up without guns and wasn't comfortable with them. I have taken her shooting with me. Since I didn't have excess money and it wasn't in our plan, I never broached the subject with my wife.

Then President Obama was elected. This still didn't make the EBR button click. Until I read a week later that they were flying off the shelves. With talk of a new (even more draconian) gun ban, I had to bring it up with my wife. I went shooting with one of my friends who has several EBRs and after firing an AK-47 (semi-auto), a big grin came across my face and I knew I had to have one. The AR-15 was nice although, it jammed about 10 times over the course of 200 rounds. I like guns that don't jam. Someone else at the range had a Hi-Point Carbine which we shot and both my friend and I liked it. I was hooked. I needed to get some EBRs.

We went to a gun show and I picked up a Mosin Nagant for $75. It was in great shape and shoots well. I like the nice loud boom that it makes when you pull the trigger. The magazine spring must not be working right, because I have to load each round in the chamber individually. While it was a military rifle that was used on a "foreign battle field," it doesn't qualify as an EBR. I could sporterize it with a new composite stock, but I happen to like the fact that I am holding a piece of history in my hands. It has some etching on it that look like an American serviceman's name and serial number with an 81st next to it (could have been a trade from someone in the 81st airborne who met with some Russian troops in Europe - "Here, have my M1 and I'll take your Mosin Nagant as a souvenir." Maybe.), I'll follow up on these at a later time.

After looking at all of the firearms, I really fell in love with Russian guns. They are cheap and they fire each time. For a plinker like me, that is what I want. (Plus they really tick the gun grabbers off, because I am not even buying American.) In order to get an EBR, I needed to be able to spend some more money. Then I did my taxes and at the opportune moment (read this) I asked my wife if I could get an EBR. I was floored when she said yes. At the next gun show, I went and picked out 3 EBRs that I wanted.

Friday, March 13, 2009

In Search of the EBR Part I

I have always loved firearms. One of my first memories is beating a bush in the front yard with a toy gun (actually, I have no idea if it was a toy gun or a stick, but I thought it was a gun). My parents let us have cap guns when we were kids and we loved them. But my brothers and I could turn anything into a gun. A stick became a rifle (or sword - depending on if we were being knights or soldiers). Legos were wonderful for building things, including firearms. And my Mom bought us a marble set that had ramps and other things, which we naturally turned into guns.

We when went to Disneyland, we bought frontier rifle cap guns to bring back. For halloween we dressed as pirates and had single shot pistols. In fact, when our church put on a play ("The Sound of Music") my Dad cut out several wooden props to be used as pistols for the German soldiers. We later turned these into rubber band guns. And all of this by the time I was 8.

Sometime when I was 6-8 I had a friend who had a BB gun that we would occasionally shoot. There was an empty cul de sac behind his house with a hill so it was perfectly safe to shoot old coke cans. This was fun, I never did ask my parents for a BB gun, because I could always use my friend's.

In Cub Scouts, for Summer Day Camp I was able to shoot my first real firearm, a single shot bolt action .22 rifle, with iron sights. That was a blast, too bad they only let us shoot 5 shots. I couldn't wait for the next year. And the year after that. All of the sudden, BB guns, just didn't have the same mystique that they used to.

Since my family wasn't a hunting family, we didn't have an arsenal of firearms. In fact, I think my Dad had a single revolver that he would shoot occasionally (I'll have to ask him to include it in my inheritance, although I probably will have my brothers to fight for it). I had some friends that hunted, although it seemed most of them did bow hunting. So, then only shooting fix I could get was once a year.

Then I became a Boy Scout. At Scout Camp there was a shooting range that you could go to as many times as you wanted. It was still just a bolt action rifle that you had ten shots with at a time, but there was always an opening. I went at least twice a day and somedays I would go as many as 10 times. I just couldn't get enough.

I was on staff at Scout Camp one year, and while I didn't get to shoot much during the week (I was on waterfront staff because it paid more), on the weekends when all of the scouts were gone, we could shoot to our hearts content (we just had to buy our own ammo in a town that was 2 hours away, good thing .22LR is cheaper than dirt). I thought I had hit paydirt.

Right before my family moved when I was 15, my boss gave me and my brother .22 rifles as a going away present. I have to admit, if I ever make a top ten list of gifts I have been given, that will be near the top. It was a Marlin Model 60 semiautomatic with a 17 round tube magazine. I still have it to this day and shoot it more than any other firearm.

I joined the ranks of America's gun owners. (My boss had checked with my parents to make sure it was OK to give me the gift). I loved it and went shooting with my Dad whenever I could. In high school, I found friends who also had firearms and realized what a small arsenal I had. Then again, I figured the only "need" for firearms was to hunt, so I was satisfied with what I had.

I graduated high school about the time the Assault Weapons Ban and the Brady Bill occured. At the time my political ideas with these two bills were uninformed at best. I figured you would never need a machine gun to hunt a deer (besides, that would ruin all the meat as you put 20 holes in it), so I didn't see a problem with the AWB. The Brady Bill however, I had something in the back of my head telling me that this was wrong. Mr. Brady had been shot when I was much younger so I didn't know all the details. Guns weren't a high priority (energy issues were my main interest) so I didn't follow them much. But, it just didn't seem right what the Brady Bill was doing (note that I didn't say "said it did" - which would be keep guns out of the hands of criminals). No one wants firearms (or any weapons) in the hands of criminals. Unfortunately, limiting the ability of law abiding citizens to acquire firearms also limits their ability to effectively defend themselves against armed criminals.

I recognized that self defense was a legitimate purpose of firearms (actually, a primary purpose) and began to research more. My first year in college was spent in the dorms and firearms were not allowed. So all I had was a BB pistol which I used to shoot wasps in the hallway (this is a fun way to get rid of these pests without angering the entire hive). Once I was living in an apartment, I retrieved my rifle from my parents home and went shooting regularly.

After getting married, I stopped by our apartment manager's office one day and saw they had an auction going on for all of the stuff that people had left behind. A saddle, computers, and other things, and I saw a shotgun. It was just a single shot break open, but I decided I needed to add to my firearms collection. I won it for $35. After sitting in a gun case for several years, I finally tried it out and it worked fine.

I did start to see some of my other friends' firearms at this time, a riot shotgun, a .357 revolver, .30-06 hunting rifle. I liked all of them, but never was able to shoot them. I had someone from work who owned a BAR (the fully automatic kind) and he went shooting with my boss every now and then (he owned several hundred acres). I never had the chance before I moved.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why Taxing the "Rich" Doesn't Solve Our Deficit Problem

In order to cut the deficit in half (which has already tripled in one year), Obama plans to keep his campaign promise and tax the "rich" so that we can make up the difference. Alright, so he also has a unrealistic picture of growth while we are taxing the "rich." The problem is, it won't work. It hasn't before, and it won't now.

"Rich" really needs to be defined (along with "Middle Class" which 90% of Americans think they are a part of). Who are the "Rich"? Politicians take a simplistic approach and say anyone who makes more than $250,000 is "rich," but really, these people just have high incomes. "Rich" has more of a connotation of wealth, not income. But lets play along anyway and pretend that everyone making over $250,000 is "rich" and needs to be soaked.

We can tax them and get some more money. This will work for a year (maybe). Unfortunately, taxes are an expense that thinking people and businesses take into account when making decisions (for better or for worse). Let's take a sample family. I love these because they are so fake you can make them however you would like.

John is a doctor who makes $250,000 a year. His wife Jane is a college professor making $100,000. They have 2 children. So they are rich. Right now, they donate $40,000 to charity, pay mortgage interest of $40,000, and they put $40,000 into tax deferred retirement accounts. So $120,000 of their income is not taxed. So their actual income that is taxed is $230,000. Which after tax credits is about $50,000.

Then the new tax structure goes into effect because John and Jane aren't paying their fair share. They are "Rich" after all. If nothing else changed, then John and Jane would end up paying about $7000 (taking into account he higher tax rates and the lower deduction rates that have been proposed).

Except that John and Jane are thinking people, and they may decide that with this extra expense, it may not be worth it to continue with the lifestyle they have. They do some calculations and figure if Jane stops working they they lose $100,000 of income (of which $40,000 was spent on state and federal taxes - including SS). However, they could take their two children out of private school which was costing $25,000 already (she is a college professor so she may want to home school them). Decrease their charitable donations by $10,000. Decrease their retirement contributions by $10,000. And sell their home and move into something lower priced and only be spending $25,000 a year on mortgage interest (a $15,000 savings). Let's see, we add that all up all of those savings 40+25+10+10+15 = $100,000. And they haven't even started to cut back on their day to day lifestyle. With one parent at home, there may be several advantages (in fact, she may volunteer for a charitable foundation and provide them services that are worth more than the $10,000 she was donating before).

What does their tax situation look like now. $250,000 - $25,000 interest - $30,000 charity - $30,000 retirement = $165,000 or paying about $30,000 in income taxes. Do you think they can still live comfortably on $165,000. Oh yeah.

This underlines the problem with trying to tax the "rich" (aka high earners) as opposed to the middle class and poor. The "rich" make enough money to have options and can afford to decrease their income to avoid paying taxes (legally) and have a better lifestyle. The middle class have fewer options since the majority of their income is used for mandatory expenses. The poor have no discretionary income. So they don't have any options.

So instead, let's tax wealth (i.e. the really rich). This is done through capital gains taxes, wealth in the form of stocks, bonds, and real estate is taxed when sold. Except for a problem here. "When sold" means if you don't sell it, it isn't taxed. Do you think maybe rich people would decide not to sell stocks then? We already have a home capital gains deduction that shields about $250,000 of profit from the sale of a home. If we raised the capital gains tax rate, would we maybe see stocks not be sold? Problem is, that is the exact opposite of what we need. There is a glut of homes on the market and stocks at the prices they are at basically means the same thing. What we need is people to buy them (hence, someone has to sell them).

How about this, we will enact a larger excise tax on luxury items like yachts and airplanes that only the rich would buy, then the poor won't pay that tax. Oh, wait, we tried that already under Bush I, and all it did was kill the yacht industry in the US (who employed middle and lower class people) because the rich stopped buying yachts (it was discretionary for them). So much for the poor not paying that tax.

Whenever we enact policies that are counterproductive to growing the economy, is it any wonder that the economy doesn't grow? Moreover, since government hasn't been known to be the fastest movers on issues, but they certainly like to talk it all up, are we really surprised that the economy has tanked since the election of someone who promised that he would enact policies that do not grow the economy (in spite of all of the hope and change he spouted)? America voted for change, maybe next time they should be a little more specific.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Presidential Gifts

I started this as a little blurb on Facebook, and after a couple of comments, I thought that I would expand on it more.

I know that the budget is tight right now, but surely we can get a decent gift that isn't from Office Depot whenever we are meeting with foreign dignitaries. Not only that, but shouldn't we make sure that we have the right translation. After reading this , I am curious as to what the State Department has been spending all of their money on. Was there nowhere that had a dictionary with the correct spelling? (To give them credit, the two words "overcharge" and "reset" have two letters difference).

Perhaps when we see Rosetta Stone commercials in the future, they won't mention the State Department using their product. Really, was there no one they could ask for what the right word is? I mean, no defectors or past Soviet premieres that are residing in the US?

One other thing with this, are we so amerocentric that we couldn't put the Russian word in Russian? I know that growing up when I was trying to teach myself Russian, I had to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Has Russia since romanized (use the western alphabet) to express their language? (A quick check to some Russian websites - no they were not mail order bride ones - found that they are indeed still using the Cyrillic alphabet). I knew they wouldn't do something like that, Russians have an enormous pride in their country and culture that they wouldn't abandon their language like that.

So I am curious, why the cheesy gift? We have pretty much showed the Russians two things. 1) We are too cheap to buy you a real gift. 2) Plus, we don't care enough to use spell check or even use your language. That led me to another cheesy gift we gave here . Huh? This is suppose to be our best ally. Even Pres Bush gave him a bomber jacket (not something Mr. Brown would wear, but something cool nonetheless) that can sit in a museum someday.

What would be really funny is if we gave these DVDs to PM Brown and they were for the USA region, not the UK/Europe region (different region DVDs do not necessarily play in each others DVD players). From these two examples I would say that Pres. Obama needs to seriously look for a concierge/gift selector (hopefully one who has paid his taxes).

I could do this job. And I would be willing to do it for only $100,000 a year (as long as I don't have to relocate to DC). My assignment would be to select gifts and facilitate the purchase of gifts to world leaders. Some may laugh at this, but gift giving is serious business in some cultures. The last thing we want to do is start a war over a box of See's candies (which I love, but some dignitaries might find that on the lower end of acceptability).

When I was younger I went to NYC with my uncle. He took me in to Tiffany's and Stueben Glass and mentioned that this is where we (the United States of America) buys gifts for world leaders. Yeah, I can see why we would spend our money there. In College Station, TX I went to the George Bush Presidential Library several times. They always had a display of gifts that were given to the president (they all actually belong to the people of the USA, the president doesn't get to keep them). The best were the jewel encrusted gold swords from Mali and other African nations we rarely hear of. Those guys KNOW how to give a good gift.

Can you imagine a meeting in the near future as we sit down with China and they pass across the table to us a 1/10 scale model of the Qin Shi Huang Di's Terra Cotta Army, each one individually hand painted. And in return, we slide a piece of wood from the Pottery Barn that says "Home is Where the Heart Is" (no offense to the Pottery Barn, I have been meaning to get something like this for our kitchen but haven't found the right one yet). Do we expect them to take us seriously after this?

China: "We will not buy anymore of your debt!"

US: "OK, just don't break the potpurri vase from Crabtree & Evelyn."

Surely, in the trillions that Obama is planning on spending, we can allocate a few more dollars to gifts. If not, please let me know that the US is too cheap to do it and I will buy them myself, just so we can keep our reputation.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Recap of the News Headlines

Once again I recap the latest headlines. I haven't read all of the stories so if my comments don't relate, then our keepers of the 4th branch of government aren't doing a very good job.

Uncle Sam Takes His Share From Jobless Benefits
You have to love government bureaucracies sometimes. People pay unemployment insurance to the government (ok, their employer pays it but it gets passed on to the employee through lower wages). Then, when drawing unemployment the government doesn't withhold anything (like they do in your normal paycheck). So come tax time, people that are unemployed find themselves owing all of the taxes. Some of them will probably pay penalties on it. Oh well, at least if they pay their taxes this year, they are better then several of Obama's appointees.

Bulldozer Goes on Rampage in Israel, Driver Killed
A couple of things wrong with this. 1 - It was a front end loader, not a bulldozer. 2 - Last I checked, inanimate objects (including ones with engines) are incapable of acting for themselves (hence the term inanimate). In reality, this was a terrorist who decided to use a construction implement to cause carnage. Notice that what stopped him was being shot, although the police don't say who shot him (Israeli's in the military are required to have their weapons with them at all times, even when out in public).

House Passes Mortgage Bankruptcy Bill
Yeah! Now if the Senate agrees, I get to help you out with your mortgage payment because you were stupid, irresponsible or both. Some may say that it is the evil banks that will take the hit. Well, I own those evil banks, so whether it is taxpayers (me) or stockholders (me) I get screwed. Maybe I shouldn't be so responsible with my money?

Clinic Owner Accused of Botching Abortion, Throwing Away Live Baby
Even if you are pro-abortion and believe it is a woman's constitutional right, if a doctor only gets 1 year in jail for discarding a live baby like common trash, this country has no hope. Last I checked this was called murder (probably 2nd degree since he intended to kill the baby in the womb which is legal).

Parties Blame Each Other for Worsening Economy
Guess what? They are both right. For six years, the Republicans acted like socialists and never saw a spending bill they didn't like. For the last two years, Democrats have been socialists and passed every bit of spending they could. Now we have a President and Congress who want to spend for spending sake without any debate on the matter.

Arctic Summer Ice Could Vanish by 2013
Finally, a return to the way things were hundreds of thousands of years ago. Maybe we could plant some hydroponic lettuce up there.

TV Converter Box Coupons Start Flowing Again
It is things like these that make me wonder if the Founding Fathers would even recognize the country they built. When did it become the federal government's responsibility to make sure you can watch TV? I know we mae fun of the French and their war fighting abilities, but right now all a country would have to do to take over America is promise us free internet access and a Latte every Saturday.

GM Running Out of Cash
Does stating the obvious (particularly what was obvious several months ago) count as news?

22 Georgia Legislators Fail to Pay Income Taxes
With the wealth of options Obama had, it is easy to see why several of his appointees didn't find it convenient to pay income taxes. Maybe this is something that we should all try.

Teen Hid Gun in School Ceiling, Planned 'Harm'
I thought schools were gun free zone's and there was a magical force field which prevented criminals from bringing them on the property. What, you mean there isn't? Well then certainly if this punk decided to use the weapon he hid, there would be other responsible law abiding people who would have access to guns that could stop or mitigate the 'Harm.' What, you mean there isn't? The school would have to call 911 and wait 10 minutes for the police to show up? Well, good thing it was only a revolver. So unless you are one of the unlucky 6 that he shoots first (or 36 if he has a few speed loaders) then you should be fine. And what is this a AR-15 semi-automatic rifle (isn't that redundant, aren't all AR-15's semi-automatic)? A Mini-14 assault rifle (I highly doubt that since there is no Mini-14 assault rifle - there is Mini-14 sport utility rifle which is only semi-automatic -- assault rifles are select fire weapons that are capable of full auto fire modes). And 200 rounds of ammunition. If we are suppose to be worried about 200 rounds of ammunition, what happens when I go to WalMart and buy a couple of 550 boxes of .22LR. Do I now have an ammunition dump? Other than the irrational fear of guns that this article is trying to portray, this kid is a punk. He should be tried and locked up. If the guns were obtained illegally, then that needs to be looked into and his accomplices prosecuted.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Presidents and the DJIA

I thought it was time for another one of my analyses of something that I heard in the news. This time, I heard that the DJIA has lost more in Obama's first month, than any other president's first month. Well, from a point wise this is too easy to prove, it has lost 600 points in his 1st month in office (and continued to go down since then). What is more applicable is to look at the percentage change.

For this I decided to look at three values since 1928. The value of the DJIA after the November election. The value of the DJIA on swearing in of president. The value of the DJIA one month after the swearing in.

E to I E to 1 I to 1
Obama -17% -23% -7%
Bush 2nd 4% 6% 1%
Bush 1st -3% -2% 1%
Clinton 2nd 13% 14% 1%
Clinton 1st 0% 2% 2%
Bush 5% 9% 4%
Reagan 2nd 1% 3% 2%
Reagan 1st 0% -2% -1%
Carter 0% -2% -2%

Nixon 2nd 4% 0% -4%
Nixon 1st -2% -3% -2%
Johnson 2nd 2% 1% -1%
Johnson 1st

Kennedy 5% 8% 3%
Eisenhower 2nd -3% -4% -1%
Eisenhower 1st 7% 4% -2%
Truman 2nd -1% -4% -4%
Truman 1st

Roosevelt 4th 3% 8% 5%
Roosevelt 3rd -2% -8% -7%
Roosevelt 2nd 3% 5% 2%
Roosevelt 1st -13% -8% 6%
Hoover 23% 20% -3%

This table shows the percent change in the DJIA from election to inauguration, election to 1 month, and inauguration to 1 month. Some may argue that the between the election and the inauguration shouldn't count for this president, but I disagree. The president at this point is a lame duck and I believe that Wall Street will operate in anticipation of the policies that the president-elect touted during his campaign.

President Obama has had a drop of 7% from inauguration to 1 month. Only two other presidents have been this dismal. Roosevelt in his third term also lost 7%. Ford lost 15%, of course Ford was never elected either. So we could accurately say that the DJIA has lost more in the first month of Obama than any other elected president.

If we look at from the election to one month, Obama's DJIA has lost far more than any other president. While the majority of this was in the time before the inauguration (-17%) there was also 2 1/2 months between election and inauguration. So overall, the decline has been steady (further supporting my hypothesis that Wall Street anticipates the policies of the president-elect).

So let's go a little further, how do Republicans compare to Democrats in this respect:

E to I E to 1 I to 1
Republicans 4% 3% -2%
Democrats -1% -1% 1%

This doesn't look like there is that much of a difference between the parties. Besides, betting on the market going up about 4% between election and inauguration of a republican, there isn't much difference between the two parties. What this tells me is that over time both Republicans and Democrats have had policies that Wall Street supports and is against. No one is the hero and no one is the big demon.

Let me look at the DJIA over the president's entire term. I looked at it from election to election and inauguration to inauguration.

Election Inauguration
Bush -12% -25%
Clinton 237% 226%
Bush 53% 45%
Reagan 123% 135%
Carter 0% -1%
Ford 26% 26%
Nixon -20% -18%
Johnson 33% 31%
Kennedy 18% 12%
Eisenhower 123% 120%
Truman 71% 82%
Roosevelt 159% 198%
Hoover -76% -83%

The best presidents for the stock market have been Clinton, Roosevelt, Reagan, and Eisenhour. The worst have been Hoover, Bush (43), and Nixon. The best single term or less president was Bush(41). The list is the same whether by election or inauguration. The only notable differances between these are that Bush(43) numbers are only half as bad from election versus inauguration and Roosevelt has a 20% decline between inauguration vs election (although since he died in office this isn't quite an equal comparison). Some insights, even though Ford started out dismal (-15%) his term (which was only 2 years) ended with a 26% increase overall. Nixon and Hoover started out looking bad and ended up even worse.

And if we compare Democrats and Republicans:

Inauguration Election
Republicans 14% 7%
Democrats 43% 20%

It's pretty clear, Democrats have been kinder to the market. In fact, besides Carter who basically saw a flat market from the start to the end of his term, every Democratic President has had an increase of at least 18% (which was Kennedy and he only served 2 years). The great disparity in the numbers of inauguration and election, further support my hypothesis that Wall Street looks to the president-elect after his election.

Since the % decrease since the 2008 election of the DJIA is unlike anything any other president experienced, it is difficult to project what the market will continue to do. Needless to say, Wall Street does not like the economic policies advocated by President Obama thus far.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Plea to All Gun Owners

I must admit, I have been rather nonplussed at some of the comments that I have seen in blogs and comments to blogs from "gun rights advocates" concerning the President and his Attorney General (notice that I keep them in quotation marks because I feel they are anything but). There are several out there (not all) who are chanting the mantra of "there getting 'em one bullet at a time" or "from my cold dead hands" or other similar phrases. This at a time when certain people are trying to demonize gunowners only helps to feed the fear that we are in some ways fanatics looking to "cap someone." If we want to maintain our rights to keep and bear arms at this time then this language has to stop. The more it is promulgated then the more we will be ostracized.

So you know where I stand let me make something clear. I believe the 2nd Amendment declares the individual American's right to own and use firearms and that the government cannot take that right away (it is kind of hard to say it any more succinctly than the Founding Fathers did). The purpose was not for hunting or collecting or even just plinking around. Those are all ancillary to the purpose envisioned by the Founders. They understood that an armed citizenry would be able to keep the formation of tyranny in check (whether by a king or an elected representative) and thus be prepared to fight for their rights if they were ever abrogated by the new government. These people new what rebellion was because they had just lived it.

Now is not a time for armed rebellion against the government of the United States. To do so just because we don't like who was elected would make us the same as any tin-pot dicatorship that has a coup once every 2 years. However we must continue to be vigilant in speaking out in favor of our rights and opposing those through all legal means that which to quash those rights.

In order to do this we must educate people and bring a knowledge of firearms to them. This cannot be done through the written word. No amount of blogs or letters to the editor are going to convince people that "assault weapons" are no more dangerous than any other gun. The only way to convince people is one on one instruction. Jay G (of MArooned) and the Armed Canadian as well as many others have a standing offer to take any new (or even long forgotten) shooter out to the range to teach them the basics and let them throw some lead at paper. This is something we all need to do.

There are thousands of different firearms and multiple ways that people use them (see another post of mine). There is bound to be a combination for everyone that they can enjoy. If is up to us to help them find that combination. Guns have become "mysterious," "evil" objects because of the way they are incorrectly portrayed in the popular media. We have to counter this.

It is estimated that there are 300 million guns in the United States and about 40-60 million households own them. I would be pleased to see that every law abiding American own a firearm. In order to make this happen we cannot hide our love of guns from other people. We need to talk about it like we talk about our car (no one gets offended when the car nuts go off on hemis and cubic inches). Here is a list of things we should all be doing to help people understand our rights:

1) Invite others to go shooting with you (especially those who don't own guns). This is the reason God gave us military surplus ammunition and the .22LR. No one should have to pay for anything on their first trip to the shooting range. Additionally, you should take enough of a variety of firearms that the new shooter can figure out what they like and what they don't. You shouldn't take so many that they feel overwhelmed. Probably 4-7 is enough. During this time you should bring an "assault weapon" so that they can understand what the political mumbo jumbo is. This shouldn't be a preaching session, just a learning session. Most important, let them shoot off as much ammo as they want. Your rights are worth it.

2) Take your spouse and children (if they are old enough) shooting with you. This is a great date, and kids like to see watermelons and other fruit exploding. I'll make a standing offer to President Obama. Contact me and I will take your wife and daughters shooting on a family outing to Iowa (afterwards if your daughters want to play Barbies with mine, they are more than welcome). During the family outing we can fire any combination of handguns, rifles, or shotguns. I have "evil" assualt weapons that you will find aren't that scary, and I have real military rifles that were used in wars (OK, so maybe they just sat in a storage box for decades, but you can thank the Communists managed economy for producing too darn many such that us capitalists had to buy all of the surplus for our enjoyment). I don't know what experience you or your wife have with firearms, but I'll wager that I can have your wife shooting circles around you with a .22 at 50 yards in one lesson. Moreover, if your family (including daughters) do not have a good time, I will take you out to eat. Otherwise, I would appreciate you taking my family out to eat as gratitude for the experience.

3) Follow up with the people that you took shooting. Maybe they are interested in buying a firearm for themselves. Maybe they would like to go shooting with you more regularly (they can buy the ammo). Maybe they know someone else who would like to have a range experience.

4) Keep your eyes open at the shooting range. Make sure everyone there is having a good time. There is nothing worse to a new shooter than having a clod of a boyfriend take her with only a 45. Kindly show her that there are a lot more calibers that she may like better. My favorite is the .22LR because it is so dang cheap, I can literally shoot 1000 rounds at the range for less than $25. Have I mentioned the the .22LR is God's gift to gun owners. I took my wife handgun shooting for her first time and I made sure I had her start on the Browning Buckmark .22LR. I was using a 9mm Beretta myself and having a blast. After about a box of ammo, I let her try the 9mm. She didn't like it. That's ok. I let her have the .22LR and she was happy with it. Another time I went to the range and a dad brought his two sons. They had a makeshift target that wasn't working so I let them borrow my extra stand. Then they couldn't get their airgun to work so I let them borrow my Marlin Model 60. What could have been a disaster for the kids turned out to be a fun outing.

5) Teach your kids about guns. They are never too young to learn. Like teaching about drugs or sex, you need to make sure it is age appropriate. Right now, mine are all too young to go shooting, so they only get to see me clean them and get them ready to go to the range. When I buy a new one, I show it to them and let them hold it (always making sure they follow the 4 Safety Rules - which God probably intended to be put with the 10 Commandments but figured that 14 commandments just doesn't have the same ring to it).

6) Be welcoming of all gun owners. While some snobs believe that their firearms won't be targeted and other wackos believe the ATF is going to knock on their door tomorrow, they are still a part of our group. Every group has people who live on the fringe. We are no different. We do need their support as much as anyone else.

7) Take a Boy Scout troop on a shooting outing. While the Boy Scouts are supportive of firearm education and safety, their merit badges and scout camps are restricted to a narrow range (for rifle it is a .22 at 50 ft). Let them shoot lever action, a miltary surplus rifle, and an "assault weapon." Sure it may not qualify them for a merit badge, but they will have fun doing it. After you have done that, take a Girl Scout troop to do the same thing (I don't know if they have any shooting badges). Girls should know how to handle firearms just the same as boys.

If we are to maintain our rights, we must be vigilant in teaching people and sharing with them about those rights. Not by threatening the violent overthrow of the government, but by getting people to understand and enjoy the tools which our Founding Fathers knew were necessary for that purpose. That way, if (God forbid it should happen) the need does arise for armed rebellion again, we will not have to deal with 1/3 of the country supporting us, 1/3 against us, and 1/3 indifferent. If we have 2/3+ always on our side (and electing representatives who believe likewise) then there will be no need to use these instruments for their intended purpose.

Have fun at the shooting range!