I apologize, Governor Kasich

Northmont Kindergarten Sign

Dear Hon. John Kasich, Governor of Ohio;

I apologize for my sight-sightedness with respect to my opposition to your state education budget cuts and SB5, which sought to limit bargaining rights for teachers. Clearly these were bills designed to give smart-ass bloggers like me an endless supply of content for free.

Please forgive my lack of vision. I look forward to the endless bounty of your labors.

I remain your loyal subject,

Rufus Dogg

Northmont Kindergarten Sign

A middle-aged, middle America impression of OccupyWallStreet

I’m a middle-aged mutt in this wasteland between the two coasts commonly known as Middle America. Most of the United States lives here, but we rarely — ok never — get asked about important things like politics and the economy. We are the gun-toting, Bible-banging, slack-jawed, under-educated, corn-fed, polyester-wearing yahoos that the liberal media like to make fun of and Wall Street dismisses.

That is a little harsh. Ok, fair enough. I’ve seen my neighbors in their natural habitat (Kroger during wine and cheese hour) so I get where you’re all coming from. But just because we are out here in your idea of Wastelands doesn’t mean we are any less important and informed as you are.

Try to keep up.

What I know by getting to middle-age
There never was a Middle Class in America. We only ever had two classes; the Rich and Those Who Expected to be Rich (ETBR). It is the American Carrot, that thing that gets dangled in front of us to keep all of us reaching for more. The Middle Class was always a nebulous scale of the lower Rich and the upper ETBR which ebbed and flowed depending on the economy at the time. The indicator of where you were was how much wealth you had relative to what others had.

Equity (or wealth if you want) is a very cold, harsh ledger. There are only two ways you can grow it; invest Liquidity or Time.

For example, if you buy a house, you can add equity only one of two ways: put more cash into the place to quickly reduce the amount of mortgage debt OR accept more mortgage debt and increase equity over time, holding your breath the entire time, hoping the equity will eventually exceed the amount of money you have put in. When the equity teeter-tots over to the asset column, you now have wealth. (Unless others around you get foreclosed on, but we’ll get to that.)

The same thing with those who financed a college degree. They expected that even though the degree cost more than most peoples’ houses, they would get a job and over time, not only pay off the loans but make more than the average salary. (They should have bought a calculator first)

It’s just not that complicated. Most people in the ETBR class have a whole lot more time than liquidity. They trade their time all day long for liquidity with wages, mortgages, three easy monthly payments, etc. The Rich class can choose liquidity or time, depending on the rate of return. A slow rate of return means they can use time. A fast rate of return, they use liquidity. The ETBR class does not really have that choice (or more accurately, the degree of choice is scaled depending on the ratio of liquidity to time one has.)

The lack of choice is mostly what pisses the ETBR off most. This generation thought they had time. They were wrong.

This “law of economics” is about as rock solid as the law of gravity. You can ignore it or deny it, but it is still going to affect you.

People without liquidity tried to accelerate time. People with some liquidity but — not enough — tried to expand the value of each liquid unit too fast. Eventually, the ETBR ran out out time before they had a firm grasp on equity and lost it all. When you are clinging to a rock face on a mountain by your fingertips, when you fall, you don’t just slip; you fall all the way down. It does not matter if you are ten feet up the mountain or ten feet from the summit. (Did you catch that? I equated laws of economics to gravity. Genius. I should be ruling the world by now. Roll your eyes if you got ’em.)

How this all ties into #OccupyWallStreet
I do not support Anonymous or Adbusters. I am not a big fan of the fist-pumping, kill Wall Street bankers rhetoric and other hippy crap like stuffing dollar bills in your mouth and marching like zombies. Sanctimonious hipsters with no life experience annoy me, too. It is unsettling to us out here that the OccupyWallStreet “non-leadership” has connections with these groups if only that they decide unilaterallty who is good and who is bad. I like steak, but the fifth “fact” in their Declaration gives me pause that reads, “PeTA is invited to join us.” All of a sudden, now my support for OccupyWallStreet means I support PeTA? Hell no!

Just because I lean to what this country defines as “left” does not mean I hang with the crazy-left. For the record, people claiming the right of human dignity is not a left-leaning principle. Groups that use terror tactics for good scare the hell out of me just as much as those who use them for evil. In the end game, “there is no good or evil; there is only power.

And she is very, very seductive.

To the middle-class middle America, if a group like Anonymous can target a big bad corporation, what is stopping them from concluding — unilaterally — a mom-and-pop business is supporting a big bad corporation (like Visa) for taking credit cards as payment? I understand how the affiliation is feeding Visa, but the rain nourishes the grass and weeds alike. It is incumbent upon groups like Anonymous to make sure the rain falls on the grass and not the weeds if they choose to pee all over my garden without my consent.

I believe the 1% are and have been exploiting their advantage of liquidity to enhance their fortunes. I also believe the 99% have been exploiting their victimization caused by their unwillingness to learn and adapt to the law of economics stated above.

Money finds the path of least resistance. It is what keeps corporations from innovating, what keeps individuals from having to make changes and politicians from reforming their cheating ways. As we used to say when I worked for The Man; cash hides a lot of sins. The only people entirely unaffected are those who are so rich they could not run out of money if they tried and those so poor they don’t have a hope of becoming a member of the ETBR ever in their lives. The rest are gaming the system in almost every way they know how.

I didn’t buy more house than I could afford nor did I refinance on the house equity I had to finance a non-asset like a college education or vacation. I did not take out or encourage my kids to take out huge student loans so they could attend a swanky out-of-state university. The social contract I had with you, the 99%, was that you would not purchase more than you could afford so that your house would not be foreclosed on or your kids would not be recklessly in debt. We were supposed to be in this together. Without your participation, colleges would not have been able to raise the tuition rates. Banks would not be offering 0% loans if nobody took them.

You broke that social contract by always needing more. I kept my end of the bargain.

I expect the 1% will work tirelessly to extract wealth from me until my last breath. But this much I know also about the 99%: They will not be there to help me guard the gate from the Barbarians. They will be busy guarding their own gates.

What I want
What I want most is my own space that is warm and free from the prying grasp of government tax departments, the whims of landlords, the perils of curable illness and disease or the selfish and short-sighted lust of those in power. Owning my own home is none of these things. Even if I were to get to pay the last payment of my mortgage to the bank, I could still lose my home if I could no longer pay the property tax the county continues to demand. Or lose my freedom due to the ever-increasing criminalization of poverty. Or suffer health problems that deplete the wealth I used a life-time of time to build.

The Barbarians will always be at the gate. This season’s Barbarians are the Wall Street bankers and politicians on the take. Next season, it could be drought and famine. The next could be the City of Englewood deciding that my house sits on a patch of land they want to turn into a park. Or Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield increasing my premiums 38% or denying a treatment they pre-approved. The list of Barbarians are endless.

As I move through middle-age and into old-age, I know that my ability and desire to fend off the Barbarians will become less and less while my desire and need for security and warmth will become more and more. I can already feel the fear and rage creep into my bones when some punk-kid behind me in traffic does that dodge-and-weave thing, trying to pass me as I am not speeding fast enough for him. I feel it in the deep sighs of a younger generation who mistake patience for inaction. I know it in my heart when young women no longer look at me with anything less than pity.

What fears me the most, though, is knowing I will not have enough time to build the wealth needed to construct a gate strong enough to keep the Barbarians at bay. I fear they will destroy me before it is my time to go.

*I don’t think the percentages are split 1%-99% but that is a heck of an effective way to market the movement. My use of the numbers are just a short-hand convenience; no more, no less.

You may find this interesting.
And this.
And this from @Karoli who started me thinking down this path, culminating in this here blog post. Blame her 🙂

Taxes and a disturbing trend

I have never filed a late tax return.

Ever.

It is not uncommon for state, local and federal tax departments to send my corporation a letter, asking for some explanation or asserting that I had not filed correctly or filed and paid on time, etc. I run a very tight ship and these matters usually get cleared up with a prompt letter and excessive documentation proving the date of filing, the date the check cleared and whatever else is needed to satisfy the anomaly.

I hire very good people. They have never been wrong.

It used to be that we would get a random letter every other year or so. It happens. Tax departments are very complicated with a lot of gears and levers and people pushing and pulling those levers. But lately, I’ve noticed that we are receiving letters almost quarterly from every tax department; from Ohio Department of Taxation to Ohio’s Health and Human Services to The City of Vandalia to the Internal Revenue Service. As of today, we have five outstanding tax issues.

FIVE!!!

I have no doubt that all of these will be resolved, but I have to ask: What the hell is going on here? Are these tax departments understaffed? I’d like to think that is the problem because the other alternatives is they are either stupid or malicious. That is not a road I’m willing to go down.

I have noticed, though, that no matter the outcome, the tax department always insists on assessing a late filing fee, even though the return was not late. Yes, we fight that but it is one more step in the process.

Maybe public sector cuts are not the answer. Small government may just mean that critical services gets rushed and too many mistakes happen. Mistakes like this cost private business a lot of money in extra payroll, time away from development, paranoid documentation practices and just needless pain-in-the-ass. All of this is real money.

As a private business, you can’t just ignore a tax letter. Really, not wise. It doesn’t matter how small you are, it has to be attended to right away.

This isn’t a “I hate paying taxes” rant. I get why we pay taxes. Like everyone else (except Warren Buffet) I would like to pay less. But mostly, I would like to not be on the crap end of these letters that seem to come in without rhyme or reason. If that means we should be increasing taxes to hire a few more people to make sure these mistakes don’t happen, I’m for that.

But this random “wheel of fortune” game we seem to now be on ticks me off more than higher taxes. This makes me feel like a sitting duck.

Niggardly

CatDog

Yeah, that’s right. I said niggardly*. Did you gasp?

How about niggling**? Does that also make you squirm?

If you are not gasping, squirming and looking about you nervously, congratulations! Your education has paid off.

If you have no idea these words mean anything other than what they sound like, crack a book.

Recently, Pete Williams used the term Obamacare on air. He was not the first, but he is the first non-FOX News journalist who caught my attention doing it. After years of the right-wing of America hammering that term as a derogatory slam on the president, it is starting to take hold in mainstream media. Eventually they will all give up and start saying it.

The right-wing has warped good words into things that sound bad. Like “compromise.” They use the term compromise as in “we will not give in.”

No!

Any third-grader learns that a democracy only works when both sides compromise — as in working together with mutual respect. If the right really wants to compare government spending to a family budget, it is impossible to do so without compromising.

How about “entitlements” as in “he thinks he is sooooo entitled that he just jumps to the head of the line and takes.” Sounds like someone is getting something for nothing that he doesn’t deserve. The only problem with “entitlements” like Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment Insurance is that we have paid for them. We really are entitled to those benefits! The Left should maybe start calling them Citizen-Funded Benefits (CFBs)

What really makes me scratch my head is when groups redefine terms that are mutually exclusive, like “Obama is a Hitler-loving socialist.” That’s like calling me a cat-dog. Physically impossible, linguistically silly.

Some words lend a degree of specificity to language that allows us to communicate a feeling or connotation that their synonyms don’t. I mourn the loss of my ability to use words like niggardly in public simply because it communicates a deeper level of cheap than “cheap.” It has a more visceral feel. It causes me to say the word and clench my fists, further punctuating its meaning (I’m half French.. we talk with our paws.)

I suppose the most effective way to warp the meanings of common words is to keep the masses stupid. Maybe we can do that by vilifying teachers and cutting education budgets. Just a thought. I look forward to the comments I’ll most assuredly will be getting from members of the uneducated masses.

Now quit masticating your breakfast, get off your homo sapien butt and learn some new words. Don’t put off tomorrow what you can castrate today.

In the meantime, Oswald Bates for president, y’all. Or Rick Perry. Same thing.

*niggardly: cheap, mean, miserly, parsimonious, close-fisted, penny-pinching, cheeseparing, grasping, ungenerous, illiberal; informal stingy, tight, tightfisted.

**niggling: a trifling complaint, dispute, or criticism.

A rebuttal to the debt ceiling speeches

Sean Francis expressed the mood of the country in a 138 character tweet

I was fidgeting around on what my response was to the speeches last night by the president and the speaker when this tweet by @SeanDFrancis popped into my stream. In 138 characters, Mr. Francis summed up the mood of the country and my response in one collective sigh.

Mr. John Boehner, President Barack Obama and the Tea Party; are you listening? This is your America. This IS the American People you continue to cite. We’re willing, we’re ready to do great things but we are all also so very, very tired. Like spinning our wheels in a pit of mud.

All we ask is that you quit pouring water in the dirt and build us a bridge so we can climb out. Did you understand that “balanced approach” metaphor?

Is this thing on?

P.S. And just in case you are thinking about emailing, calling or writing to Boehner’s office, don’t bother. He counts every contact as support for his cause.

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What’s next for NASA? Ummmmmm I dunno

Atlantis Space Shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center July 21, 2011

I watched the space shuttle STS135 Atlantis touch down this morning and I felt as if that was the ending of something really big. I think what is happening is something more than simple nostalgia even though I am part of the generation that saw the first man walk on the moon July 20, 1969.

I think something bigger is happening to the human race, something that is not so good as we think it is. I think we are losing our quest for meaning.

Colleges have turned into trade schools where there is very little learning and lots of job training. Professors are demonized and teachers are vilified. Lots of people have hopped onto the bandwagon of questioning whether or not a college degree is worth the money; not based on whether or not you come out thinking more clearly or having received a strong liberal arts education that gives you the tools to ask questions steeped in meaning, but whether or not the degree qualifies you for a job.

We’ve choked off stem cell research even though it holds the biggest promise in curing cancer, paralysis and other diseases. We’re starving education budgets and breaking unions in favor of giving wealthy capitalist barons tax breaks so they can employ a vast army of under-educated workers they will toss away when joints and muscles break down after years of hard work. We publish books by Snooki and Bristol Palin instead of talented writers. We argue about whether or not gay people are worthy of respect as human beings instead of just accepting the differences. We deny the dignity of health care as a basic human right. We throw away people when they get too old to work. We allow superstition, fear and faith to trump empirical facts and science. We are willing to bring down the most powerful government in the world simply because the man at the top is a member of the wrong race.

For what? A few extra short-term dollars? A few more minutes of power? What happened to our collective quest to discover who we are, why we are here and what our place is in the Universe? Did we give up or are we now satisfied that planet Earth is all we will ever have? Are we satisfied that the Universe really exists as one little race alone on a spinning rock in space, guided by a God we should seek out and worship?

Inevitably, the question of “What’s next for NASA?” gets asked in every newscast and with every interview. The answer is always the same; a short pause and then some mumbling about re-definging direction, cost-efficiency, saving tax money, blah, blah, blah that nobody really believes.

But the real question is: “What’s next for the human race?”

That is what we are really struggling with when the question gets asked.

*The we I am referring to is the human collective, not any one group. Whether or not you is one doing one of the above, you will most assuredly be swept along as the current gathers speed. It is already a raging torrent.

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My political leanings

Someone asked me yesterday what my politics were. I sent out a series of tweets explaining them. New readers to my blog might quickly jump to the conclusion that I am a left-wing, bleeding heart liberal nutbag, but they would be wrong.

They are living in a zero-sum world that a two-party system produces. Real life exists in multiple shades of gray.

Here is what I believe. If you want to stuff these beliefs into one of two pigeon holes and tag me left or right, that is your failing, not mine.

  • I believe we are all connected to each other and my politics extend from that. What affects you, affects me.
  • No man achieves anything on his own. He is helped by the previous generation and those before them and those before him.
  • We should work to expand rights, not take them away.
  • Economic clout does not define the worth of a human being.
  • Job training is not education. A devaluation in education devalues our culture and society as a whole.
  • We should reward for individual achievement, but not at the expense of those who help along the way. No goal is ever made without the rest of the team guarding the scorekeeper or advancing the ball.
  • Government needs to be a COUNTERWEIGHT to business, not an enabler. Business is driven singularly by profit; government should be fiercely committed to protecting citizens from their overlap on personal rights.
  • The only commitment government has to business is to provide a secure and safe environment to conduct business, i.e., safe roads, railways, intellectual property defense, border control, courts.
  • Minority rights are to be protected, not squashed. Majority can take care of itself through the Law of Tonnage.

That damn political party does NOT exist. The parties that do only thirst for power for themselves, not the people they purport to serve.

The Triangle Shirt Company fire

Lest we forget how things were just a hundred years ago. It appears some in Wisconsin and Ohio have already. March 25, 1911 was not all that long ago.

Those who do not read and understand history are not only bound to repeat the mistakes of the past, but drag an entire generation with them. An informed, educated, literate citizenry is essential for a democracy to sustain itself.

I suppose that is why conservatives are also attacking teachers and have declared war on book nerds.