Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yarn Along--Almost late but not quite!

Joining the Yarn Along at Ginny's Small Things...what a great blog.  You should visit.

Here's what I'm currently reading and working on:

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  You MUST read this.  Everyone must read this.  I can't explain how incredible this story is.  I absolutely loved it...just finished it a couple of days ago, and even stayed up until 1 in the morning reading one night.  Now, my husband will tell you there is nothing that can make me stay up that late.  But this book did it.

The project is a skirt from Knitting Wrapsody, out of Cascade Ultra Pima.  I was making it for a swimsuit cover-up.  When I thought I was getting a pale turquoise swimsuit and also that I would enjoy the pattern, I was excited.  But Athleta was out of stock in the turquoise, and so I have a royal purple swimsuit.  The pattern is also four rows of okay plus one row of major PITA.  So I'm kind of meh about it now.  I think if I had something I was excited to knit I would be knitting a little more.  I'd like to start a navy blue cardigan for P so it will be ready to wear for school.

Here is a picture of one of my completed projects from an earlier Yarn Along:

This is D with her wrap, exactly as I expected her to use it.  She likes to wrap up in it while she reads in bed at night.  A fun pattern...I am pretty sure I'll make #3 this winter.

Now I have to go see what everyone else is making!

ps:  This is not my second downer post that I mentioned yesterday!  I am working on it and should have it ready tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fast and Furious

I've got two serious posts, this one and the next, and then we'll be in need of more comic relief.  I've started this post a couple of times, but I just get so mad and then the post veers off the rails.  Hopefully this time it will stick.

The title of this post, "Fast and Furious," refers to an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau (ATF) project.  The aim was this:  (a) get guns into the hands of Mexican criminals; (b) wait for the guns to show up at a (Mexican) crime scene; (c) and finally bring down the Mexican drug cartels based on the guns present at the scene.  Please don't ask how (b) follows (c).  It never worked.

In the past few weeks, Congressman Darryl Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley have gone public with their investigation of "Fast and Furious."  In months of requesting documents from ATF and Justice, they would receive page after page that looked like this:

Did Justice think they were being cute, or did someone need to buy time?  What an insult!

News of FnF began to leak out in December, when an ATF whistleblower finally blew loud enough.  Unfortunately, the only ones who picked it up were the "wacko" gun-rights advocates, not the "respected" main stream media.  Finally, in January, World Net Daily (not exactly a bastion of moderate thought!) also ran with this story.

Right now, at least TWO United States law enforcement personnel have been killed by guns sold in the FnF program.  Don't you wonder what the FnF planners THOUGHT would happen?  I am pretty sure that a Mexican crime scene would involve more than loitering or possibly some spray paint on a wall.  As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure that a Mexican crime scene involves a lot of bodies everywhere.  Did this NOT matter in any way to the people planning this stupid pursuit?

So, Stupid Action Item (SAI) Number One:  Someone was going to have to get killed for this to work.  What a disgusting, reckless disregard for human life.  Oh, it would probably just be some stupid drug dealer?  Well, I'm pretty sure that all the people on this map would disagree with you.
Go Here for the interactive version:

Yes, I know that only a fraction (between 12% and 17%) are due to guns from the US, so only a fraction of those (1/4? I'm guessing here) are due to FnF.  Which 3% would you like to have still alive?

SAI Number Two:  The gun dealers participating in this had to keep their mouths shut, while simultaneously being excoriated by the same Federal Government that had planted cameras in their shops for FnF.  Yes.  While this program was going on, other people at Justice, and even the President himself, were blaming escalating border violence on the gun dealers.  (And check the date on that Justice link!) Read that again:  While this program was going on, other people at Justice, and even the President himself, were blaming escalating border violence on the gun dealers.  And someone was feeding stories right to the Washington Post during the months immediately after FnF came to light, blaming the ATF agents in the field for losing guns!  Which leads us to...

SAI Number Three:  The guns sold as part of the program were required to fall from sight.  This is directly contrary to standard ATF procedure.  (Go about half-way down this article to find the agent's testimony.) Remember, we aren't talking about one gun to one guy, once a month.  This was dozens of guns, several times a week, to one person.  Standard procedure is to follow the buyer until the gun is recovered.  FnF required the guns to leave the oversight of the ATF agents, on the hope that they would magically reappear at a crime scene. 

Excruciating, isn't it?  The list of outrageous actions goes on, including the very hands-on actions of the ATF director himself.  Kenneth Melson requested and was provided with the web addresses of the webcams set up in the participating gun dealerships.  He would personally watch the sales of guns from the comfort of his office in Washington.

In the last couple of days, two of the ATF whistleblowers have been threatened with firing.  One claims to have receieved a letter of termination.  There is an atmosphere of protection and fear that is pervading the ATF.  This action on their part shows just how rotten an agency it is.  There isn't one mission the ATF fulfills that could not be adequately addressed by another agency.

The Department of Justice is also rotten here, though.  ATF should not be the only ones to pay for this fiasco.  Like the Black Panther case that came to light last year, this has politics written all over it.  Blocking the Congressional subpeonas and then failing to cooperate in any way with the subsequent investigation have shown their true colors.  The question at Justice is not "Did Holder know?" but "How MUCH did Holder know?"

Finally, note again the utter hypocrisy coming from the executive branch.  One agency had to co-op (legal and law-abiding) gun dealers, encouraging them to take actions that they themselves knew to be stupid, even illegal.  At the same time, other agencies were decrying the violence south of the border, blaming the wide availability of guns in this country and specifically the same border-state gun dealers!  One might even believe that they were using FnF to create chaos in Mexico, so that they could then justify shutting down gun-dealers and restricting gun access to law-abiding Americans.

There is so much available to read about this right now.  Below, I'm linking to a bunch of articles and the Congressional record:
Report from Congress
Excellent Timeline 
Several articles as story broke
Video of Agent

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lighten up, already!

I realize I've been kind of downer here on the blog.  Following the economic news these days can do that to a girl. 

But today, I stumbled upon...Wave at the Bus!  What fun.  Bill and I looooove to embarrass the kids, and we do it early and often.  So you have to love this guy, who went out to wave to his fifteen-year-old on the bus on the first day of school.  When the son hated it, Dale knew he had to continue.  This is the result.

They sound like a great family who know how to have fun together!  And based on the response to their blog, it sounds like there are a lot of normal, happy families out there doing their best to raise their children with an intact sense of humor.

Have a wonderful Saturday.  Now, go out and embarrass those kids!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

True Words

Written by Victor Davis Hanson:

10. Reduce much of what Barack Obama says, advocates, and tries to implement and you find a particular kind of despised but uniquely American species in his cross-hairs: upper-middle class, making $200-800,000 a year, employed as a professional or small business person, living in the suburbs or small town America, children in non-Ivy League private and public colleges, a nice house, perhaps a vacation home, boat, 2-3 nice cars, residing outside the east and west coasts without an aristocratic pedigree, for whom food stamps are as much an anathema as is Martha’s Vineyard or Costa del Sol.
Massive debt, ObamaCare, vast expansions in federal spending, new regulations, affirmative action, open borders, and environmental legislation are all targeted at this profile. He neither generates the cheap sympathy accorded to the distant poor nor wins the envy and admiration of the tasteful idle old money or the new mega-rich. When I see him plugging away on his vacation on a Sierra Nevada highway — a club cab new Chevy V-8 truck pulling a sleek powerboat or fancy trailer with two jet-skies — I think of a doomed wooly mammoth soon to go down amid the ropes, nets, and missiles from a vast array of gleeful hunters.
He is writing about my family.  And he is right.  When I read it I got that sick feeling right in the pit of my stomach, because in the last six months I have seen how we have become the bad guy.  How did this happen?  How did hard work to build something, employ people, and make money become awful?  When did PROFIT become a dirty word?

Unpredictable regulation is killing small business.  I believe it is a deliberate attack.  My husband has just gone through two and a half months of hearings with a government agency.  He's been joined at the hearings by the other major players in his industry.  After endless rounds of meetings, tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer fees for his company (and hundreds of thousands in fees overall) and several weeks of lost time at work, they reached an agreement on the recall of a part that had not caused one single death OR injury.

Then, just last week, he received not one but TWO notices from two other federal regulatory agencies about his parts, including one about the plastic polystyrene.  Polystyrene is everywhere, from styrofoam cups to bike helmets.  There was a third warning about fiberglass.  These notices are good indications of recalls and lawsuits coming in the future.

Add on top of this are the regulations regarding employees, especially the unknowable Obamacare.  My husband's company provides good benefits for their employees.  I know, because we get exactly the same insurance.  But what is coming?  We aren't big enough or important enough to get a waiver. 

I also read this recently.  Atlas Shrugged as truth, not fiction (cribbed from Dan Mitchell's blog):
Nobody professed to understand the question of the frozen railroad bonds, perhaps, because everybody understood it too well. At first, there had been signs of a panic among the bondholders and of a dangerous indignation among the public. Then, Wesley Mouch had issued another directive, which ruled that people could get their bonds “defrozen” upon a plea of “essential need”: the government would purchase the bonds, if it found proof of the need satisfactory. there were three questions that no one answered or asked: “What constituted proof?” “What constituted need?” “Essential-to whom?” …One was not supposed to speak about the men who, having been refused, sold their bonds for one-third of the value to other men who possessed needs which, miraculously, made thirty-three frozen cents melt into a whole dollar, or about a new profession practiced by bright young boys just out of college, who called themselves “defreezers” and offered their services “to help you draft your application in the proper modern terms.” The boys had friends in Washington.

"Friends in Washington."  So that's what we need.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Shop-keeper's-eye View of Regulation

A couple of days ago I read this very interesting post by Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man.  The post is here, so go read it.

Fascinating reading, and so are the comments.  A few cast doubt on the idea that government can interfere with a small business so much that it becomes a drag on the economy.  I'm pretty sure they have absolutely no idea what they're talking about!

When I started my business I would have never, ever believed how much the government would have their hands in my little business.  My shop was the simplest possible business model:  buy things at one price, sell them at a higher price.  That's it.  So here's what the government, from local all the way to the big Federal Gum-mint, made me do:

I set up as an LLC, which involved a trip to the lawyer and then submitting forms to the Secretary of State in my state.  (1)  I had to also get a sales tax number from the state (2) which allowed me to collect sales tax.  That one took a while.  I submitted a different form to the IRS to get my Federal Taxpayer ID number, sort of like a SSN for corporations.  (3)  Not so bad.

So I needed to open an actual shop.  The space had to be remodeled, and the city had to sign off on the plans.  (4)  And of course I needed a sign, and so that plan also had to be submitted to the city.  (5)  I also needed to get an occupancy permit, the rough equivalent of a business license, from the city.  (6)

Six things, so far.  Not so bad.  But wait!  I needed employees, because I had no plans for doing this on my own.  I had to get a different number from the Department of Labor (7) and then fill out application forms for Unemployment Insurance Payments to start.  (8)  I also had the forms you are familiar with if you've ever had employment:  the Federal form with all the basic info so you can get paid (9) and a state form, again for unemployment insurance (10). 

Okay, up to ten, and I haven't opened my doors yet.  Don't misstep opens the door for the government to poke their noses around in ALL my business!  A tightrope, for sure.  But let's get started, and sell something!

Once a month, I file and pay my state sales tax (11).  Once a quarter, I file and pay the income tax for my employees--state (12) and federal (13).  Oh, wait, my employees didn't work enough to pay federal income tax.  But there was STILL a form to say that they didn't make enough, so I didn't owe (14).  Social Security withholding was a different form and a different method of payment (15).  And once a year I have to file a property tax statement and pay property taxes on my inventory!  (16)  Did you know that businesses have to pay a tax on their inventory at December 31?! Yeah, me neither. Also at the end of the year are my employees' 1099's (17) and my corporate tax return (18).

While I'm open, the Fire Marshall can come visit and tell me to cover up my back door exit sign.  (No joke, that happened one year.)  (19)  The code enforcers can stop by and tell me to raise or lower my sign and take signs out of my window.  (20)  The Department of Labor will stop and inspect the back storage closet to see that I've posted the mandatory "Know Your Rights" poster for my employees.  (21)

Craziest of all, one month after I sold the shop, the new owner received a notice from the county of an audit that they would perform as of 12/31/10.  WHAT?! They sent a long list of paperwork they needed for the audit, including some information from my personal tax return.  (22)  We got through it but what a pain!

Many, many of these reporting requirements are addressed by having a reliable accountant, which I did.  But that has a cost, the cost of compliance with tax regulation.  And one thing to point out is that I had only part-time employees.  Were I to have full-time employees, we would have to worry about health care in the next couple of years.  I have to say there would be TREMENDOUS incentive to cut everyone back to part-time to avoid the whole issue!

I'm not arguing for or against any of these requirements (well, maybe a little), but there are just so many!  It's a Byzantine process, trying to satisfy each one of the government entities that believe they deserve a piece of my business.  How can anyone doubt that these requirements are a drag on small businesses, and that each layer is another business or two or three that doesn't form, where the owner just decides it's not worth it.

So, is all of this regulation worth keeping some great ideas out of the marketplace?  What have we missed out on?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Spenders and Savers

P broke her piggy bank this week.  This is a very big deal in our house.  Here's the pig:

And here's his impending destruction:

And here's the loot:

She had saved $198.87!  I was shocked and amazed.  To be honest, I don't remember how long she's been saving, but I do know this is her second piggy bank.  She knew immediately what she wanted to buy:

After putting aside $20 for church, she had plenty, and I am delighted to buy her a blue cover for it.

After she got done counting, her younger sister D sat and looked at that pile of cash.  "It's not fair!" she exclaimed. 

"No, it is fair.  It is just persistence and consistency that allowed P to do that," I said.  What an econ lesson right at the table!

"That's right, D.  You just have to put your money right in the bank, as soon as you get it, and then it saves up.  Otherwise it is too easy to spend." That was from P.  Such wisdom at nine!  I wish I could say I taught her that but I didn't.

Isn't it interesting that D's first response was "Not fair!"  It's to be expected from a child of seven.  Then I reminded her how she had saved up $15, and then SHE decided to buy herself a new pair of shoes.  (Shoes that she is very proud of, might I add.)  So she got a new pair of shoes from the Gap, and her sister did without while she saved for a Kindle.  (Unbeknownst to me.  Do I even live in this house?!)  And after a little reflection, D was okay with that.  She will NEVER save up for a Kindle, but I'm pretty sure she's got lots of great shoes in her future.

How often do we hear this in the news?  It's not fair, that he works hard and makes a lot of money.  It's not fair that she was careful with her choice of college, didn't take lots of loans, and now can enjoy no Sallie Mae payments!  It's not fair that they saved their money, put 20% down on a house, and got a conventional mortgage.  It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair.  The little exchange at my kitchen table put it all in perspective:  a bunch of children who have never been taught to defer pleasure grow up to be adults who look for "fairness," equality of outcome, rather than equality of opportunity.  Food for thought as we strive to raise good kids into better adults.

"The harder I work, the luckier I get."--Samuel Goldwyn

Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer Reading: Thomas Sowell

One of the lovely benefits of selling the shop is that I get to read, at least a little.  This is my summertime reading right now:

I am a political junkie but lately feel like I've reached the end of my knowledge on some things.  I am looking for a firm foundation in basic principles.  My husband read this book about a year ago and highly recommended it.  It is exactly what it says, a primer on economics, meant to be used as I am, or even as a college-level textbook.  (Light reading!)

I've just completed the first part, a section on Prices and Markets. Here are some quotes from the book that I've highlighted during my reading:

Life does not ask us what we want.  It presents us with options.  Economics is one of the ways of trying to make the most of these options.

(Discussing profits and losses)...losses are equally important for the efficiency of the economy, because losses tell producers what to stop producing.

Knowledge is the most scarce of all resources.

(In discussing fluctuating price levels) However, the fact that water seeks its own level does not mean that the Atlantic Ociean has a smooth, glassy surface.  Waves and tides are among the ways in which water seeks its own level.  (In other words, just because prices fluctuate doesn't mean the prices are wrong or the markets bad.)
People tend to do more for their own benefit than the benefit of others.

And one of my favorites so far:

Economic policies need to be analyzed in terms of the incentives they create, rather than the hopes that inspired them.

That last one is crucial.  Way too many programs are started with the best of intentions ("hopes") but create incentives that actually work against the original purposes.

I wish I could list all of the very interesting things I've read about:  price supports for food in ancient Rome; rent control all over the world; the evolution of the grocery industry in America.  This is good food for thought.

Here is the first in a set of videos with Dr. Sowell.  It is a nice change of pace to see a person interviewed in a calm, intelligent way, with no "gotcha" moments.  If you've never heard him, this is worth a watch:

I'm also well aware of Dr. Sowell's conservative political leanings.  So far, though, his conservatism looks to me to be rooted in his rational view of economics, rather than having his political views give flower to his economic ideas.  I'll be looking for something other views soon, just to round out my education.  Suggestions welcome!