Saturday, May 30, 2009

IRS and the Social Security Number

"Where's my refund?" I ask the IRS website.  After filing our taxes on April 14th, I knew that it was about time that the refund be deposited in our account.  Well -- it turns out that I made a clerical error in transcribing the Social Security Number of one of our children.  So, in the eyes of the IRS, my $700 refund has turned into an $800 balance due.  Dumb mistake, that's for sure.  Especially since I had made a similar mistake a few years ago when I thought I knew one of the kids' Social Security Numbers by heart.  Not Quite, it turned out.  So, that year I received a similar notice.

The solution is actually very easy.  Last time, I just phoned up the IRS and they brought up my file and I informed them what the correct SSN was.  They made the change, and the refund was processed.  I'm expecting it to be similarly easy this time.  

So, this brings up another subject.  If the IRS is so very vigilant and careful in establishing that SSNs are correct, how are so many illegal aliens able to find jobs when they are supposed to be using valid Social Security Numbers as a prerequisite to gaining employment in this country?  Twice in the last five years a federal agency, the IRS, has caught a one digit error in the Social Security Numbers used on our 1040 forms.  Can't the INS (or is it called ICE now?) or the Department of Labor be as effective as the IRS in screening out phony or invalid Social Security Numbers?  The answer is that the government clearly does not really care about the issue of jobs going to illegal immigrants.

I haven't even discussed the ridiculousness of having to obtain Social Security Cards for newborn babies.  Remember -- the first two letters of the Social Security taxes taken out of your paycheck are "OA," as in the Old-Age and Survivors Disability Insurance program.  Yet we require these ID cards for minors and pretend we do not have a national ID card in this country.  

6/02/09 UPDATE:  The phone call to the IRS took about 20 minutes of time, most of that on hold, but yes I had mistaken a 0 for a 6 on a Social Security Number and that caused the IRS to reject the Child Tax Credit and Dependent exemption.  I simply gave the correct number and the refund will arrive in about 20 days.  It's nice that they allow these mistakes to be corrected so easily. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

This Week's News

Although some big events happened this week (Supreme Court nomination, North Korean nuclear test, GM to be 72% government owned, California's Prop 8 affirmed) I haven't really felt anything was worth writing about.  Now all four of these are major, but they are also quite predictable.

The nomination of a liberal woman to the Supreme Court by a liberal President is not a surprise.  Sonia Sotomayor's viewpoints will no doubt be to the left on all issues but that's what you get when you elected Barack Obama.  One of my favorite journalists, Charles Krauthammer has some excellent advice in today's Post on how to deal with the nomination.  Simply talk about the real life consequences of her views and accept the inevitable that she will be confirmed.  

As for North Korea, can there be any doubt that they see Obama as weak and that they know that there will be no effective response to their actions?  This has been building for over a dozen years, since Democratic Secretary of State Madeline Albright looked the other way in the face of North Korean advances towards the development of nuclear weapons.  President GW Bush was weakened by Democratic efforts against him in the wake of the Iraq difficulties and thus by 2006 he lost his ability to treat North Korea like a part of the Axis of Evil.  Had we been able to put politics aside and unite as one, perhaps the North Korean threat could have been checked in 2005.

GM?  It just seems bizarre to me that the US government is going to own this company.  Boy, am I glad I realized that owning stock in a company that was under the thumb of the U.S. government was a big mistake.

Prop 8 Upheld -- Thank goodness the rights of the people of California were not overturned by the California Supreme Court this time.  Do you know what the US Census says that the homosexual population is in America? The 2000 U.S Census Bureau found that homosexual couples constitute less than 1% of American households. And yet, Americans when polled by Gallup, vastly overestimated the homosexual population to be closer to 25% of the population.  Why?  Because of the effective political and cultural campaign waged in the media.  They want you to believe their numbers are much bigger than they truly are.  

Thursday, May 21, 2009

American Idol

What?  I thought this was a politics blog?  Sometimes the culture and politics intersect so I thought I'd  take a look at the results from last night's American Idol and what it says about the United States, if anything.

Here's what happened:  A regular-looking (okay, good-looking according to the female fans) 23 year old guy wins American Idol.  His competition, A 28-year-old man who many describe as flamboyant.  And he has a great voice.  But what it comes down to in this competition is popularity.  And, in my opinion, Kris Allen comes across as more real and authentic than Adam Lambert.   A guy who likes to wear eyeliner and dress up in costumes may do well on Broadway, but will he win a mainstream American popularity contest.  Apparently not.  Adam fits in well with performers like KISS and Queen.  Kris is more of a James Taylor kind of guy.  I like both kinds of music, and hopefully they both will have great careers.  But this week's vote shows that America is more mainstream than a lot of media people and others would like us to believe.  Is this analogous to the No on 8 result in California last November?  Perhaps.  The American people are generally quite  tolerant of alternative lifestyles but it is a big turnofff when they are flaunted in their faces.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Politics and Cars

Yesterday, President Obama announced that he will seek (or was it mandate -- does he need Congress to approve?) to require higher overall MPGs from vehicle manufacturers.  I believe this was also combined with lower emissions requirements as well.  Wonderful goals, right?  We all want to get higher miles per gallon and we want to emit as little pollution as possible.  So, why am I against this?

Three reasons.  One is that the government has just taken over two U.S. auto manufacturers and is now saddling them with even more requirements that will further reduce sales, because it forces the price to go up.  In one sense, it makes the most sense for the Democrats running the U.S. government to just run the car companies because they set up so many of the rules and regulations for how to build a car that they might as well just build the cars and trucks themselves.  Can you imagine being an entrepreneur today who wanted to start up a new car company?  No, the smart creative types are getting involved with computers and biotechnology.  

Remember how the Democrats chafed at the restrictions placed on embryonic stem cell research by Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush?  They argued that these restrictions hindered creativity and progress in researching cures or treatments for many ailments.  Well, all the restrictions placed on the car companies over the last 40 years are what has killed the American automobile industry.  

The second reason I oppose this is similar in that the government has taken another step in killing the fun out of cars.  Thinking back to the glory days of GM and hot rods and Pontiac GTOs and TransAms or Chevy Camaros or Ford Mustangs.  Cars were fun! Now what do we have?  Boring cars like the Toyota Camry or the Honda Accord.  

Safety, fuel economy, and emissions regulations have boosted the price of cars to excessive levels.  $20,000 is probably just a starting point for a new car.  So, with prices that high, how many cars and trucks will one person buy in a lifetime?  Not as many, that's for sure.

A third point to consider is that there are inevitable safety tradeoffs when we raise the fuel economy standards as people are forced into smaller cars which are proven less safe than larger cars when involved in a crash.  So, to save ourselves from the mythical threat of Global Warming, we end up causing more real deaths as people are driving smaller cars.

Friday, May 15, 2009

More Americans “Pro-Life” Than “Pro-Choice” for First Time

Gallup Poll released today.  Check it out!

The details are a lot more nuanced than the headline, but it is encouraging that most Americans still are troubled by abortion.

I have looked around the internet to see how this poll has been covered.  It's hard to judge by internet reports whether it is getting prominent coverage or not.  One of the great things about newspapers is that you can see how the editors prioritize the importance of the stories they report.  Front page means something.

As usual, Rush Limbaugh had some excellent comments today.  Limbaugh said on his May 15th radio broadcast: "See, I've always known that abortion was a 50-50 issue.  I don't think it was ever an 80-20 pro-choice majority.  It never was."  Here is a link to the transcript. 

Chrysler Axes Its Dealers

Earlier, I discussed the Chrysler bankruptcy.  Yesterday, one of the results of the bankruptcy was announced.  Chrysler would sever its relationships with one quarter of its franchises.  Nearly 1000 dealerships will be shut down.  This is something that would be very difficult to do if not for the filing of bankruptcy.  Chrysler believes that they have too many dealerships.  But from what I understand, the dealerships are not a cost to Chrysler.  What they really want to do -- long term --- is reduce the competition that now exists when there are so many dealerships for the same make of automobile.  Which means higher prices.  The reality is that the margin for most dealers is very slim on the sale of new cars.  They really depend on repairs and used cars to make money.  But without the Dealership imprimatur, most of these businesses will probably go out of business.

We have been Dodge customers for many years.  Although we have only purchased one vehicle from a new car dealer, we were continually shopping and looking at cars for much of the last 15 years.  We spent a lot of time stopping in at Chrysler/Dodge dealerships in the Washington area.  A lot of those dealers will no longer be associated with Dodge.  

As I stated in my earlier posting, I have a real hard time envisioning us buying a new Dodge in the future.  And if we, loyal customers, cannot be counted on, what future does this company really have?  The cutting of dealerships may or may not help the bottom line, but when I have to go farther to get my car serviced and have to compete with more customers to get parts or to have my car serviced, I am sure that I will not be a happy camper.

Sadly, I predict that, like Circuit City last year, these bankruptcy measures have only begun the process of the eventual liquidation of the Chrysler company.  It would take an incredibly creative and talented individual along the likes of a Steve Jobs or a Lee Iacocca to remake this into a successful company.   And with the government and unions so heavily involved in all automobile manufacturing, but especially GM and Chrysler these days, I just cannot see anybody ever having enough freedom to run this car company successfully.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Letters to the Washington Post - The Paper Trail

It will all be out in the open now.  The paper trail.  My letters to the editor of the Washington Post.  I went into their archives, did a search and have downloaded all my published letters to the editor.  They can be found at this link.  Seven letters.  1995, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009.  I think it helps that I only submit one every couple of years or so.

Over that time, two letters to the editor were not published, so 77% of my submissions made the paper.  One of the unpublished letters was considered for publication but not printed.  The other letter was actually one of my favorites.  It concerns the war in Iraq and a 2005 opinion piece comparing Iraq to Vietnam.  I thought I used some good information in my letter, but I am sure there are a lot of people much more qualified in Washington D.C. to write on the issues of history and war than I am.

Of course, that means that I have already exhausted my allotment of published letters until 2010.  Oh well, I can always just write directly to the author of the offending article.  Now, those letters get totally ignored!  Amazing.  You'd think the authors might acknowledge their readers, but they seem to be unable to take criticism.  If their mailbox is so full of offensive letters that they don't bother to read the e-mail, then maybe they shouldn't publicize the e-mail address.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chrysler's Bankruptcy

Last week, Chrysler began the process of declaring bankruptcy.  Or, should I say that President Obama declared bankruptcy for Chrysler.  How weird was that, I thought.  The President of the U.S. is declaring that a private company is going bankrupt.  Shouldn't the president be making statements about a company after the declaration is made in a court?  But such is where we find America today.  The May 7, 2009 edition of the Detroit News has an article which reinforces some of my points.

My then-fiance set us on the road to being a Chrysler family in April of 1985.  Her grandparents offered to buy her a  car for her college graduation.  After trying out various cars at the Hertz sales offices in Burlingame, she decided to buy the 1984 Red Plymouth Horizon.  A car that still is with us today.  The car served us well -- taking us cross-country numerous times.  It sits at 240,000 miles.  (Yes it mostly just sits these days.)  The Chrysler rebound from their 1979 bailout was remarkable.  Lee Iaccoca had transformed the image of the company.  In 1991, I had learned that a Carroll Shelby version of the Omni/Horizon had been produced in the mid-80's and that those cars were becoming collectors items.  So, I sought one out and bought a pristine one for about $3200.  Later, I found another one in more tattered condition for $300.  I soon felt buyers remorse for spending so much on the first Omni GLH Turbo, so I put an ad in the paper and sold it for the same price as I had paid for it a few months earlier.  I decided that it would be too hard to keep the pretty GLH in such good condition when we did not have a garage.  It felt like it would be a waste of money. So, we kept the $300 car and eventually got it running well.  

Since then, we have purchased two more Chrysler vehicles.  The sedan has been all right, but probably has had too many repairs to be considered a good value.  The van has been just about perfect for 6 plus years.  Since I do a lot of the maintenance and repairs of the vehicles, it does make sense to own similar makes.  

But this bankruptcy and especially the government involvement in the company makes it highly unlikely that this loyal Chrysler consumer will buy his next car from that company.  Admittedly, I have been a poor consumer by limiting my choices to one domestic automobile manufacturer.  It was bad enough when my 1983-1984 Democratic presidential primary experience had convinced me that I always needed to buy American.  Now I had limited myself to just one of those three companies.  Not very smart.

Hopefully, we are still a few years away from needing to buy a new car. But when we are, you can bet that all makes will contend for my dollar next time.  

Specter loses seniority

It looks like Senate Democrats have changed their mind about letting Arlen Specter keep his seniority when it comes to committee assignments.  Last week, Specter seemed to be assured that he would still be considered as a 29 year Senate veteran which would place him ahead of any Democrat elected after 1980.  Well, those "junior" Democrats did not like seeing Specter jump over them in committee leadership.  So, Specter will be the LEAST senior Democrat on just about all of his committees.  

Everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, saw this move for what it was ---  self-serving for Arlen Specter.  Now, if his party switch really mattered, then maybe the Dems would have given him what he wanted.  But the Democratic majority is so great that his one vote won't really matter.  He had already proven to be a Democratic vote anyway.  I think everyone is happy that Specter just got shafted!   No one likes self-serving acts of disloyalty.