Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Over The River And Through The Woods"

Andrew and I will be in Minnesota for Thanksgiving.

We will leave very early Thursday morning. If our flight is on time, we will walk in the door of Andrew’s parents’ house a few minutes past 9:00 a.m. Thanksgiving morning.

There are four daily non-stops each way between Boston and Minneapolis. Because of headwinds, flights from Boston to Minneapolis take 3 hours and 20 minutes, but flights from Minneapolis to Boston take only 2 hours and 45 minutes.

I have no classes tomorrow, so Andrew and I cooked up a storm this evening. I think both of us have food on our minds, as we are looking forward to a Thanksgiving feast, so we decided, ourselves, to get things underway early.

Tonight we prepared and ate a six-course dinner. There was no theme to the meal and, strictly speaking, the courses were eaten out of order, but we did not mind. We had a lot of fun preparing the stuff and listening to music—and we managed to get rid of lots of food we otherwise would have to discard, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, which was the purpose of our work.

Our first course was white-bean soup (we had leftover ham we wanted to use). Our second course was a seafood soufflé (we had small amounts of different seafoods we wanted to use). Our third course was fettuccini with shredded steamed vegetables and a light Alfredo sauce (we had small amounts of diverse fresh vegetables we wanted to use). Our fourth course was boiled chicken, which we ate with white rice and fresh green beans (the main event around which we planned everything else). Our fifth course was fresh fruit salad, made with bits of everything from pineapple to coconut to grapes to apples to oranges to peaches to raisins to nuts, put together with whatever fruit we were trying to use. Our sixth course was pear/chocolate tarts, which we made from scratch (they actually turned out).

I think we will do the same thing tomorrow night. Already, I know we will have the rest of the white-bean soup, and make another fresh fruit salad.

Andrew and I decided tonight that we want to put up a Christmas tree after we return from Thanksgiving in Minneapolis. We did not erect a Christmas tree either of the last two years, but that was because we spent much of the last two Decembers at Andrew’s parents’ house, where there was a large tree to enjoy.

This year, we think we may need a Christmas tree to make our December festive. Our problem is where to put the tree. Our apartment is small, and there is no obvious place to erect a tree.

Andrew says we may be forced to put the tree in the bathtub!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Day After

Tomorrow I will mark a quarter century of existence: I will turn 25.

From tomorrow, I will never again be able to complain about anyone or anything because, at age 25, I alone will be responsible for my life, my circumstances and my achievements.

From age 25, if one is disappointed in one’s life, one’s circumstances or one’s achievements, one need look inward and nowhere else. At age 25, one is responsible for one’s own shortcomings. Blame may no longer be directed elsewhere.

Nothing significant happened on Saturday, November 19, 1983—except, in my family, my mother had to go to the hospital that afternoon, around 1:00 p.m. Once my parents arrived at the hospital, my mother and my father sat in their car in the hospital parking lot for about thirty minutes while my mother tried to decide whether or not my birth really was imminent. After a particularly painful contraction, my mother announced, “Yes, this is it”, and she and my father entered the hospital. I arrived that evening.

While nothing happened on my birth date, a few things of note occurred in the month of November 1983.

Worldwide ceremonies were held to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther.

Chrysler put out its first Minivan. Microsoft issued version 1.0 of its Windows operating system. The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an all-time high.

The space shuttle Columbia lifted off, launching Spacelab.

A bellicose Soviet Union was in the process of dying in November 1983, having met its match in Ronald Reagan. An ailing Yuri Andropov failed to appear that month at the annual parade commemorating the 1917 Revolution, signaling to Sovietologists in the West that Andropov must be mortally ill (which he was). Roman Catholic Bishops in France voted that month, overwhelmingly, to approve the use of nuclear weapons as a necessary and legitimate tool against Soviet aggression. The first cruise missiles to be deployed in Europe were installed in Britain in November 1983. West Germany approved the installation of tactical nuclear weapons on German soil in November 1983. The Soviet Union walked out of intermediate-range nuclear weapons talks in Geneva that month (Reagan announced that the Soviets would soon be back at the bargaining table, and they were). The rancorous Left mindlessly protested all of the above.

The most significant event of the month in terms of popular culture was the airing of one of the most-watched television movies ever. It aired on the day after I was born and its title, suitably, was “The Day After”. It was a widely-derided and quickly-forgotten movie about the nuclear annihilation of America. The rancorous Left mindlessly lauded the film.

The specious but fashionable science topic of the day was Nuclear Winter.

Cabbage Patch Dolls were the hot Christmas toy.

“Joshua” was the ninth-most popular name for newborn American baby boys in 1983.

Everyone in America was reading two books, one fiction and one non-fiction: “The Name Of The Rose” by Umberto Eco, a book now largely disappeared from view but the most recent novel that was both a scholarly work and a bestseller; and “Modern Times” by Paul Johnson, now an acknowledged classic, possibly the most influential and respected book of the final quarter of the 20th Century, still in print and still selling mountains of copies each year, read and quoted everywhere.

Andrew was three years old in 1983. According to Andrew’s mother, Andrew couldn’t understand why he couldn’t go to school with his brothers every morning.

Much has changed in the last twenty-five years, but much remains the same. My parents still live in the same house they bought in 1983. My father still works at the same law firm. My mother still works at the same CPA firm.

Life goes on. Some things remain constant. Some things—the deaths of grandparents, the arrivals of younger siblings—change.

Twenty-five years is a long time. I have now been around for a quarter century. For the first time in my life, I feel old.

I also, however, look forward to the next twenty-five years.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vox Populi

It is going to be fascinating to watch lower-income Americans yelp as they begin to shoulder a far larger share of the national tax burden in future, whether through direct or indirect tax assessments.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, in 2004 (the last year for which such figures are available), one per cent of Americans paid 37 per cent of the national income tax burden, five per cent of Americans paid 57 per cent of the national income tax burden, and twenty-five per cent of Americans paid 85 per cent of the national income tax burden.

America’s top income groups, since early 2008, have been rapidly shifting assets to insurance investments (insurance investments are nontaxable at federal, state and local levels), shifting assets to tax-exempt bonds and tax-exempt funds, establishing and funding trusts, and creating various corporations, including real estate corporations, in which owners may benefit from aggressive depreciation schedules, match cash flow with expenses, and tightly control capital distributions.

My father is an attorney who does a fair amount of estate and trust work, and my mother is a CPA. Both noticed a dramatic pickup in business by March 1 of this year, as clients—business clients and individual clients—began to move their assets from capital-producing but taxable investments into tax-exempt, tax-sheltered and tax-favored investments, all with the view of shielding assets from higher tax rates or from taxation altogether.

By June 1, this trend had become an avalanche. Both of my parents have been swamped with work since the beginning of the summer, and their work burdens have only increased, week by week, ever since. They will be working day and night between now and December 31.

This shift of assets is entirely predictable: the investor classes realized that they were about to be hosed and they took preventative action, as they always do. The net result is that higher-income demographic groups will be paying a far lower portion of aggregated income taxes in future, forcing governments to look elsewhere to make up tax revenue shortfalls. Governments—federal, state and local—will be forced to look to the lower middle classes, which have been more or less exempt from income taxation for years.

This is pure Economics 101. Imposition of higher taxes always results in lower tax receipts. The effect will be more pronounced than usual in 2009, however, because the investor classes had plenty of advance notice and plenty of time to take preventative action—and they did so, in spades, in large part because they were hocked off by the populist rhetoric coming from the Presidential campaign.

In 2008, every attorney and every accountant in America is raking it in, while their clients are removing billions upon billions of dollars of assets from the reach of the tax tables. Tax receipts in the first quarter of 2009 will plummet, perhaps as much as fifty per cent, sending all governments into crisis.

In 2004, according to the same IRS figures, the bottom fifty per cent of taxpayers paid only three per cent of all federal income taxes, and the bottom seventy-five per cent of taxpayers paid only fifteen per cent of all federal income taxes.

The free ride for these groups is now over, because governments will have no choice but to begin taxing these groups much more heavily because there will be no other groups to go after in order to squeeze more revenue from the populace.

Americans making less than $75,000 will become tax targets, pure and simple, taxed directly and indirectly in ways they never imagined. It will be interesting to watch the actions of this group, because this is the same demographic group that voted Democrat in 2008 and because this is the same demographic group that will suffer massive job losses over the next several years.

Corporations and businesses will begin laying off millions and millions of workers next year. Companies are building up inventories right now and accelerating business activity into 2008 for tax reasons, all sound preparations for cutting costs and reducing taxes in 2009. The inevitable result will be massive job losses. Most of those job losses will be permanent.

It is ironic, yet somehow fitting, that populists will be the ones who will do the suffering in the next few years.


What is it about wives of Democrat Presidents not being able to pass their bar exams?

Clinton’s wife failed the District Of Columbia bar exam on her first try, and never risked a second attempt.

Obama’s wife failed the Illinois bar exam on her first try, but managed to pass on the second attempt.

The District Of Columbia has one of the three most competitive bar exams in the country (the other two are California and New York), so perhaps Clinton’s wife should not feel too embarrassed at flunking the D.C. bar exam.

However, Illinois has one of the very easiest bar exams in the country to pass. People can literally walk in off the street and pass the Illinois bar exam.

A fresh law school graduate who flunks the Illinois bar exam has to be very, very stupid indeed. Such a person must be exceedingly humiliated.

Up to now, the most prominent person who never succeeded in passing the Illinois bar exam was journalist and gadfly Studs Terkel, whose bar failures colored the remainder of his life. Terkel forever after suffered from a terminal case of sour grapes, perhaps the world’s worst case ever. Terkel spent the rest of his days writing very bad books in which he railed relentlessly against the successful.

Anyone who has ever tried to read a few pages from one of Terkel’s books—which are unsophisticated beyond belief—can immediately comprehend why Terkel, master of the painfully obvious, could never pass the bar exam.

It is again ironic, and yet again somehow fitting, that the insufferably populist Terkel died a few days ago, only days before he might have lived to witness a populist win the White House.


The best joke I heard during the Presidential election was from Andrew’s father: “The only way for the Republican Party to gain Jewish votes is to advocate Palestinian rights.”


The best cartoon I saw about the outcome of the election: