What About Taxes?

USAToday wrote recently about the escalating cost of food, and how food is the third largest expense, after housing and medical care. Does anyone notice an important component left out here? Taxes. I checked the last three years of my accounts, and taxes are far and away the highest expenditure that I have each month.

What’s that, you say? Taxes aren’t an expense? You bet they are. Just because you don’t ever get that money doesn’t mean you don’t pay it. A frequent quote says that the greatest trick the devil pulled is convincing people he doesn’t exist. Believe that or not, the greatest trick our government ever pulled was the invention of tax withholding.

Financial advisors often say that to save money you should take it out of your check before you even get the check – use direct deposit or other means to get it into savings before you have a chance to spend it. Tax withholding is the same – you never see the money, so you don’t miss it – yet you don’t get any benefit of seeing your savings grow.

Somehow the media of this country blatantly ignores taxes when it comes to expenses. According to my files, I spent nearly 40% of my income on taxes last year – federal and state income taxes, social security, medicare and sales taxes. Only 5% on housing. About 3% on medical care. Call it 1% on food. Yet they point out the rising costs of food. Does anyone else notice that something is wrong?

Rather than pointing out how the farmers are going to gouge us, how about letting the government take a few for the team. Instead of regulating how much this should fit in that, back the heck off of the taxes. At the very least, let’s abolish the gravy train that is withholding. If people actually had to write a check each year to cover their taxes, do you think everyone would take it so lightly? I sure don’t.

Local or Express

While I haven’t spent a ton of time in cities with subways or other public transportation – and the public transportation here in Charlotte is limited – it seems that the term express is typically used to indicate a route that doesn’t stop as often.

On the New York subway for instance, the express route will go directly from uptown to downtown – perhaps with only a stop or two around Time Square. Meanwhile, the local route stops at every platform along the way.

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Mamma Mia

This weekend, we took a trip went to Buffalo, Toronto and Niagara Falls. Naturally, I’m sure you’re thinking we were absolutely nuts – and you’re probably right. This isn’t really the time of year to head North. But we purchased the tickets for just $100 round trip, and we were going to take it.

On Sunday, we took a trip to Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre to see Mamma Mia! For those who don’t know, this musical is built around songs from Abba – yes, that Abba.

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No Football Here Today

For those of you who don’t like to hear me bash the government, listen up. Another monster is on the block today – the National Football League. For those of you who don’t know, the Carolina Panthers are in the playoffs this year, and they have a game against the St. Louis Rams, to be played in St. Louis this afternoon.

Some folks here in Charlotte put together a nice fund-raising idea for the Make-a-Wish foundation to try and wind up collections on $1 million. Local folk hero Hope Stout, featured on the NFL telecast of the Panthers victory over Dallas last week, cast her wish to have the wishes of all other Make-a-Wish participants granted. The cost? A cool $1 million.

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AS400 SQL Concatenation

I needed to concatenate some information in a table, and I wanted to do it with a SQL query, but I could not for the life of me figure out how to combine the two strings (one a constant, the other a field name) in order to produce a joined value.

Finally, I found it- concat.

 update tablename
 set fieldname = 'constant' concat 'fieldname'

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Leap Another Month

I’m thinking that life would be much more entertaining if we would leap months other than February during leap year. I mean why do we always pick on the little guy? To be fair, we could just start with January, the next month could go to February for old time’s sake, then we do March, and so on.

The only downside is for those born on leap day. If it’s February 29th, they only have a birthday every four years. When do they celebrate their birthday anyway? I digress. In this scheme, they’d only have a birthday every 48 years (12 months to use, 4 years per cycle). The highest age for a leap baby would likely be 2, since no one is likely to live for 144 years (at a minimum).

Do We Require the FDA?

I know I complain about it a lot, and I understand that there are certain instances where the government is perhaps trying to do the right thing. What I don’t understand is why we’re not allowed to do our own thing if we recognize the potential consequences and make that choice.

If there are people who want the protection of the government inspecting/validating food and drugs, that’s fine. Let them pay for it. On the other hand, if there are people who want to forego those options, they ought to be able to do so.

Recently the federal government announced that states aren’t allowed to get drugs from Canada. This sounds like protectionism at its finest. There is likely a component of such a ruling that’s trying to keep the US drug makers from having to actually face competition. There is also surely a part of this decision that allows the government to keep control of things. Neither is healthy in the long term.

Meanwhile, officials in Montgomery, Alabama are on track to save nearly half a million dollars by challenging this sort of ruling, and that’s exactly what should happen in a free society. If you want to pay for the FDA, by all means you should do so. But if I don’t, then I ought to be allowed to opt out and escape all this unnecessary government regulation. I’ll take my chances with the alternatives, thank you very much.

Sometimes we must depend on our own judgment, and simply live with the results of that judgment. If I want to buy drugs from another country, be they legal, prescribed drugs or those that the government has deemed illegal, it’s none of their business.

Let Me Out of Social Security

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, three Texas counties opted out of the federal Social Security program. After twenty-something years, they’ve had pretty decent results, with workers earning two and three times what they would have with Social Security.

What I don’t get is that no one sees this as a success. I mean it’s easy enough – create a program that bests the one the government has and phase that one in instead. Why hasn’t it happened that way?

Because the government has found themselves another way to keep things funded. All they have to do is keep the program running well enough to pay out some benefits, and everyone thinks that it is wonderful and no one will touch it. It’s long been considered the third rail of American politics, with no one wanting to get near it. So in the meantime, the federal government gets this tidy source of income that doesn’t have to be earmarked for the day they actually have to pay it back, and we fall further in the hole every day.

I tell you what, Washington: Take your program and shove it. I want out. I realize that this means that I will not be able to collect Social Security when I turn 62 or 65 or 90 or whatever the date is when I actually get that “privilege”. I don’t care. I want out, and I will relinquish all rights to money or any other benefits in the future, provided you let me out now.

Obviously this is not an open-ended offer. If I pay into the program all my life, you’re absolutely correct in assuming that I’d want to get something back out of it. So in the spirit of cooperation, I’ll let the offer stand all year. Until December 31, 2004, if you let me out of the program now and forever more, I will not ask for a dime when that date comes later in my life.

You want to save money? Start here. I’m sure a number of like-minded individuals will only too happily give up the “privilege” of allowing you to handle a part of our retirement. I know I can do a lot better with my money, and I’m willing to make this deal to prove it. This country isn’t about liberty any more, it’s about seeing how many places the government can stick their nose in where it doesn’t belong. Some people might like that. I don’t.

Separation Anxiety

Everyone knows that divorce is a common theme in our world these days. Witness of the phrase starter marriage that has worked its way into our vocabularies.

What has got me puzzled lately is how all the details work out down the road. Life is confusing enough when you get a couple of siblings together to divvy up the family jewels (figuratively speaking, I hope). What happens when you bring the stepbrothers and in-laws into the mix?

How about burial plots? It’s hard enough to share custody while the parents are alive. What happens when they’re gone? Does everyone in this extended family get their own section of the graveyard? Is a whole cemetary dedicated to those of you do this time after time?

My grandmother passed away not long ago, and I’m trying to figure out how these things work. I never knew her husband (my grandfather), as he died before I was born. She never remarried, so there really weren’t too many complications, as far as that goes. But it was 30-odd years before my grandmother died (after my grandfather passed). In many cases, that would have resulted in at least one more wedding.

For instance, my grandmother on the other side died several years ago. Her husband, my grandfather, has since remarried. As I understand it, this is at least his third (he is actually my mother’s stepfather). I think that this grandmother will be buried next to her husband – her first, and my mother’s birth father, who died while my mom was young. But what about my (step-)grandfather? They were together for forty years or more. Will he be buried on my grandmother’s other side? What about his new wife (or his prior one)? What about the children?

I’m not making a judgment here – I’m just curious.