Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Payroll Tax Cut

‘Hip Hip Hooray! The Senate graced us with a tax cut!!’ Or did they?

Congress voted last week in favor of extending, by two months, a payroll tax cut allowing the citizens to retain an extra 2% of their pay checks. “A tax cut is a tax cut, right,” ask the citizens looking for reassurance. Not exactly. These payroll taxes are earmarked specifically to fund, or ill-fund, Social Security. The end result is a deepening of an already vacuous funding hole.

Social Security already lacks the money needed to pay current benefits. This rerouting of 2% back to the tax payer simply means that the Government will shortly be asking for the money back to repay Social Security for the additional short changing this will cause. “We’re gonna have to raise taxes because we just don’t have enough money to pay Social Security,” we’ll be told by the Federal Government with a vacant look on their collective faces. To put it in terms as seen by this Klem, ‘Don’t tell me that you’re buying me a milk shake only to ask later for the funds to be returned in full plus interest.’

If you want to stimulate the economy beyond the purchase of Christmas presents, which this essentially accomplishes, make it a tax cut that will actually stimulate. This stimulating effect may be achieved by implementing a tax cut that households and businesses can make intermediate and long term decisions on (tax cuts on income or capital gains are two examples). Allow people to make spending decisions going forward into the future. Businesses must be able to plan on tax cuts for them to have a positive effect. So let them make plans to retain a larger percentage of their gross sales to reinvest back into the business in the form of buying equipment, constructing new buildings, and hiring new employees.

A two month 2% tax cut allows individuals to buy Christmas presents for the family. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of both presents and family. But I’m not in favor of a tax cut that will later obligate me to pay for the presents of someone else’s family. That’s what’s happening here. Those 46% of Americans who pay no Federal income taxes [46% figure was obtained from] are probably fully in favor of this bonus because they’ll have no obligation to pitch back in to fill the Social Security funding hole. Me? I’m feeling gypped.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

$10 Million in Cash!

Wife Klem and I saw Fast Five recently, a fun movie starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. A high-culture ‘art house’ piece it’s not, but it’s fun occasionally enjoying a film for the visual pleasure in lieu of scintillating dialogue. Justification for the viewing aside, the film raised an interesting topic. How would $10,000,000 in cash change one’s life?

In the film, a crew of thieves in Brazil aim to steal $100 million in cash from a drug dealer mogul. If they succeed, each of the crew members would get $10 million. Initial thought is, ‘Oh yeah! $10,000,000 is a life changer!’ But after some thought, the fact that it’s all cash raises a few problems: [1] You can’t take it home to the United States because you can’t carry such massive amounts of cash across borders without raising unwanted questions, [2] You can’t keep it safe in the bank because you can’t simply bring a series of duffel bags stuffed with $10M in cash to the bank without raising unwanted questions, [3] and then there’s the theft and life-safety exposure that comes with possessing $10M in cash. Not only could the stash get stolen, but who knows what danger a person may be willing to cause in order to steal the $10M. So Wife Klem and I got to thinking, ‘How could $10 million in cash improve our lives?’

Despite the hurdles noted above I’d be delighted with the problem of having $10,000,000 to bog me down. For simplicity purposes I allowed myself the luxury of starting with the $10M already in my possession, no border crossing conundrum with which to contend. I don’t think, however, I’d be able to quit my day job because it’s questionable I’d be able to convert enough of the cash quickly enough to pay all the monthly bills. For example, consider the monthly mortgage. I guess I could go to the bank monthly with a bag of cash to pay the bill, but I’d prefer to avoid any such questions about the origin of the stash. You also can’t pay off the balance of the mortgage with the cash because of the same concern. Traditional bill paying is also problematic without the ability to write a check or make a electronic payment. In order to do that you must first be able to get the hefty load of cash into the bank. Other areas, however, would easily flourish if one found themselves flush with ill-gotten cash.

Retail purchases would become a snap! Groceries, clothes shopping, meals, gas, and entertainment suddenly all become cash purchases! How swell to buy merchandise with no trailing obligation for payment! I’d open additional bank accounts, possibly as many as eight to ten, and make weekly cash deposits. Not huge enough amounts to raise eyeballs, just enough to be of functional use that can slowly be ciphered, by means of electronic payment or check, into retirement accounts and stock market transactions. Donations would also be an easy outlet, unless the charity started asking uncomfortable questions about the source of the ‘bottomless bag of cash’.

Money laundering was raised as a possibility for consuming the cash. This degree of difficulty, however, seems like too much work. We could periodically bring a briefcase full of cash to a casino, convert it to chips, and later go back to cash out, but we’d still be bogged down with cash, it’d just become ‘scrubbed’ cash. Wife Klem had the astute idea of opening a Check-cashing business! Bring us your checks, we’ll hand over cash, and everyone’s happy. A legitimate business to convert the cash! Except, of course, at that point we’d actually be working instead of just enjoying the easy life. Sure, we could just hire employees, but we’d still have the hassle of being involved in the rat race. Not as good as simply being worth a cool $10,000,000 and be free to spend it at will, as opposed to being obligated to surreptitiously disseminating it with the burden of trying to remain anonymous. Giving off the appearance of being worth $10M would be a luxury we’d be unable to portray.

In conclusion, $10,000,000 in cash would come with some inconveniences, but I’d be happy to try to prevail and triumph. But, yes, I would feel compelled to keep my day job.

Monday, October 31, 2011

My First Lesson in Compassion

Summer 1976

I was nine years old and my older brother and I were sitting on the front concrete walkway at home observing a line of ants. Well . . . we were maybe doing more than just observing the ants. In fact, mischievous youngsters that we were, it’s even possible that we were in possession of a magnifying glass at the time.

On this bright, hot summer day, my brother expertly maneuvered the magnifying glass to produce a small solid beam of havoc-wreaking sunlight. He was able to blast ants one after another, and by blast I mean kill. This meant instant death to each of these miniature social insects that was unfortunate enough to catch our attention. Impressed, I asked for an opportunity to wield the magnifying glass myself. He consented and handed over the instrument of destruction.

The magnifying beam emanating from my clumsy handling was not as crisp as I had seen him produce. Nor were the results as decisive as he had achieved. Turned out I was doing little more than punishing and crippling the ants, not killing them. Each ant I engaged became crippled up and writhed around in pain. It was an ugly scene I had orchestrated, even to these nine year old eyeballs. I was harshly damaging these little guys and it wasn’t right.

My brother leaned over the carnage-riddled mess, extended a finger and, one by one, squished the ants that I had assaulted, putting them mercifully out of their misery. “You don’t want to hurt ‘em,” he compassionately instructed while killing them.

And so it was that I learned compassion from my sensitive older brother.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Epic Saturday

Team Klem had an exciting Saturday this weekend past. Every member of the team had something to be pumped up about.

1) The day started with a local Family Health themed 5k run followed by a 1 mile walk/run. This event had Wife Klem pumped, she was running the 5k. Running visibly brightens her spirits when it’s her against the road. She acted as the catalyst in getting the family signed into participation.

After a short respite the family 1-mile run/walk got underway. I was planning to fulfill my mile obligation by walking, but at the onset both Klem kids started running! It was a small crowd so we were not concerned about losing either animal, for me it merely meant that I was now going to have to increase my pace until this ‘running with the crowd’ novelty wore off. I was not initially alarmed because I figured the kids couldn’t possibly run a whole mile, but after a short walking stint in the middle, daughter Klem bolted again. ‘Here I go,’ I thought to myself. Down the home stretch she even accelerated her pace and was pulling away from me! I really liked that. Not that I was now running instead of my preferred easy jog, but the fact that the kid was so energetic. This was awesome!

Wife Klem and I have concluded that the boy’s track event may be the 1/2-mile, as he held a significant lead over us at the 1/2-mile mark, and the girl’s event might be the mile. She was the first Klem to cross the finish line.

2) Neatly wedged in between the 5k and the 1-mile events was a ‘healthy breakfast’ that was made available to the participants. With some concern I thought that ‘healthy’ was code for ‘meatless,’ but the breakfast was included in the entrance fee so I was going to make the best of the offering and gorge on whatever was being served. But I was pumped to find that ‘healthy’ and ‘meat’ could find room to cohabitate. The menu included a crescent sandwich with cheese, sausage patty, and eggs (it sat in my belly like a half-serving size of a bowling ball, but there was no limit so I ate three of them), oatmeal (I added chocolate chips and dried cranberries, but it was still oatmeal), juice, and a banana. It was not delicious, so I made up for that deficiency by engulfing a large quantity of it.

3) The girl has been pumped about the rapidly approaching Halloween season. She’d been asking these last few days if we could get the orange bin out of the garage, this vaunted orange bin houses the Halloween decorations. Saturday afternoon, at the consent of Wife Klem, the desired bin entered the house and the contents were rummaged, to her delight, and Halloween decorating commenced!

4) The boy was pumped about Independence Day. Not the 4th of July Independence, but the film from 1996 starring Will Smith. I’ve mentioned previously about the boy’s interest in outer space and aliens. After dinner we went to the big bed upstairs and watched the aliens attack earth and try to take over. [Spoiler alert: Humanity was not eliminated.] It’s not a great film, but it sure was fun watching with my guy. Next weekend we plan to watch War of the Worlds from 2005 starring Tom Cruise.

Life is a pretty good time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer Highlights

As summer comes to a triumphant close and the kids conclude their second week of a new school year, I reflect back on a fine three months. My summer highlights in order of occurrence:

1) Alaskans. My brother and his two daughters visited from Bethel, Alaska and stayed the whole summer! They bunked at our parents’ abode, a 30 minute drive from us, and we saw them every weekend. That was super getting an opportunity to gorge on these folks because we typically get them for only a week or two every year.

2) iPad acquisition. Wife Klem gifted me an iPad, or iPal as we sometimes say at home, for Father’s Day. It’s a fun toy whether you’re a video gamer, like to read books and newspapers electronically, or enjoy watching movies on a neat portable screen with super resolution. For me? It feeds my video game fix and I stream movies from Netflix. I know, this does not have the waft of a titan of industry, but I have embraced my humanity. When we go on vacation, though, I leave the iPad behind to give myself a break from its enchanting affect.

3) Movie watching. My boy’s interests are morphing and growing up. Not grown up, but growing up. We now watch movies together with a shared interest rather than choosing a child’s movie obligating the parent to please the child. Sure he still likes movies that are geared to kids, but he also enjoys End of the World genre films (i.e., 2012 starring John Cusack) and space alien-related films, both goofy (i.e., Men In Black) and scary (i.e., Skyline). We’ve got more movies slated for viewing that we’re both looking forward to seeing in due time (i.e., Cowboys Versus Aliens, Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, and War of the Worlds).

4) My sister got married! It was a very fun weekend seeing her calmly and cooly orchestrate her wedding shin dig and enjoy herself. I never saw the smile leave her face the entire weekend as if there was no stress or pressure. Oh, yeah, and I like her husband and am pleased to be able to call him brother. The wedding ceremony by the pool with the rolling hills as a backdrop and the wedding churros and mousse, because wedding cake just isn’t enough for a foody.

5) Swimming. My daughter learned to swim this summer! She is rumored to have swam a few feet under her own propulsion last summer, but the results were inconclusive and were not repeated. This summer, though she clearly owned swimming! It’s a relief knowing that if she takes an accidental tumble into a body of water she’ll be capable of swimming to an edge and getting out.

6)Washington state vacation. Wife Klem’s people live in Washington and we eagerly go every year. The typical daily routine: a delicious breakfast, a hike, lunch on upscale sangwich fixings, swimming, nap, a top shelf dinner, and a movie at night topped with a beer! Also mix in a few beach visits to look for sea glass plus a bike ride. Those, my friends, are the ingredients for an above average vacation heavily loaded in favor of relaxation.

7) NFL lock-out was resolved. I dig watching professional football. The emotional swings, the highs and the lows, over the course of a three hour game at relatively low consequences make each game, or most games, a fun experience regardless of who’s playing. Fall and winter would be knocked down a notch without the boost they receive from the NFL. Maybe this sounds like silliness, but I will dig it from September through Super Sunday in February, then long for its return next September.

8) Pacific Grove vacation. We go to Pacific Grove, near Monterey, California, every year for a family vacation; my parents, a brother and his family, relatives in the Bay Area, and, if we’re lucky, additional family from out of state. [We scored the Alaskans this year, which was big!] A week of daily family walks along the coast, thrift shopping, an auction, sea glassing, horsing around with family, and enjoying cool overcast beach weather when the temperature at home reaches into the 90s and higher. Plus, a few fancy desserts of caramel apples and gourmet cookies enhance the high esteem enjoyed by Pacific Grove.

9) Dungeons & Dragons. My boy played D&D for his first time while we were in Pacific Grove (me, him, and two of his uncles). My guy really got a kick out of it. So much, in fact, that I’m in the process of studying up on the rules so that we may go adventuring again just the two of us. It takes hours to play and the rules are very involved. We have Christmas break slated for a D&D adventure. This is a turning point, of sorts, as mentioned above about sharing movies with an equal interest. This is a turning point in that we are sharing the fun equally rather than the parent simply orchestrating play time for the child.

10) Figs. Our neighbor dropped off a batch of figs last week and they were delicious! The day after I finished the last fig they brought another batch, larger than the first! This evening I ate eight figs. A delight, was this consumption! Nine more remain to be consumed tomorrow. At which point my fig inventory will be extinguished and I’ll be clamoring for the next drop off.

Life is grand!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Video Game Season - Canceled!!

The football lock-out between the team owners and the players union ended this week after five months of negotiation. The 2011 football season has been saved! But what would have happened if common ground was not reached and there was no season? What was my back-up plan? I’d have been video gaming instead of football watching.

‘You’d play video games instead of watching football,’ you reply to me with a shrug of your shoulders and a questioning look. Yes. I know, that’s weak, but that was my Plan B.

I admit to you my weakness for football viewing. Two scenarios could have negated the season for me:

1) If the owners and players could not reach an agreement and decided to forfeit the 2011 season, or

2) If the owners and players reached an agreement too late to play the entire season and decided, instead, on an abbreviated schedule. [example: 12 games rather than 16.] At that point my plan mandated that I would have skipped the NFL until next year.

In scenario (1) there would simply have been no games to watch. Under scenario (2) motivated by my disgust for how both parties of the NFL handled themselves, I would have self-imposed my own lock-out and not watched the games. In either case, Football season would have given away to Video Game season. The football games would have been a considerable temptation though, but I would have relegated myself to video games. Certainly we agree that my back up plan, had it become necessary, sounds less than heroic. Regardless, thankfully such harsh action is now obsolete.

Football games dating back to my youth are etched crisply into my memory. The age old question, ‘Where were you when JFK was shot?’ Well, I was not yet alive then. But I do recall where I was when I was watching my first Super Bowl [January 1976, the Steelers beat the Cowboys 21-17]. [I was lying on the floor, we had deep dark green carpeting, in the family room. I recall it was a bright sunny day.] I also recall where I was during the viewing of every Super Bowl since then. I can reflect back on significant games dating back to the 1970s remembering where I was and who was there (i.e., 1978 - the Holy Roller game where the Raiders intentionally fumbled the ball forward twice into the end zone on the final play of the game to beat the Chargers, 1993 - Buffalo Bills coming back from a playoff record 31-point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers, 1982 - Joe Montana’s pass to Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone to beat the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game and propel the 49ers to their first ever Super Bowl ever, 1985 - Joe Theismann’s leg getting brutally broken on Monday Night Football followed by opposing player Lawrence Taylor wildly signaling for the medical crew to tend to the shattered player). Great memories I could list for another page or two. I look forward to adding more memories this football season.

Hopefully you’ve got a few things in your world that make you tick. For me, one of those things is the NFL. Week 1 commences September 8. Happy footballing. Or if you’re disgusted, play a video game.

Game on.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Bridge To Nowhere

I hail from a family that is large in number and spread out, five siblings in all. One sibling resides in Alaska but is spending the summer with our parents in Southern California. Another local sibling and I plan to take advantage of this summer of proximity. ‘How so,’ you may be compelled to query. Last weekend we hiked the Bridge to Nowhere, a trail in Azusa. We plan for this to be one of several such engagements to capitalize on this above noted proximity.

The Bridge to Nowhere is a ten-mile round trip to a grand concrete bridge built in 1936. ‘A five mile hike to a bridge,’ you say out loud with a puzzled look on your face, ‘Why not just take the road leading to the bridge.’ There was once an asphalt road, but it was washed away shortly after its construction and was never rebuilt. The bridge and road were a depression-era make-work project from the Federal government. But anyway, really a neat bridge!

I was expecting a quaint neat little hike, but not so. To our bewilderment there were already 100 cars and two buses parked at the trailhead by the time we arrived at 7:50 am! The trail itself was loaded with hiking traffic. We arrived at the bridge to find a bungee-jumping business with 40 paying jumpers! Truth, the Bridge to Nowhere was now a bungee destination!

Regardless, nice hike. We also observed a dozen people along the river panning for gold. Five hours round trip. We hope to encounter less traffic on our next hiking venture during this summer of proximity.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Play With Better People

‘Play with better people’, wrote Cousin Roger in a recent letter. Certain things spark memories long past, for me. This statement impressed me lots and reminded me of college on more than one account.

1] I lived in the dormitories my first year at UC Santa Barbara. Dudes two doors down from me smoked out hard the first night of school. [Smoked out not of the tobacco variety, but of the dope variety.] The waft emanating from their dorm room was abundant and unmistakable. They did the same on night #2 and successive nights. The trend remained a constant.

When we crossed paths in the hallways, dining commons, and community bathrooms, the dudes and I, we offered a courtesy ‘hello’ in passing. You know, a guys gotta be polite. They didn’t last the year at university. There was possibly an academic issue leading to that result. I didn’t play with them while we lived in proximity, I sought better people. People not functional dependent on the herbal delight.

2] In my third of five college years I lived in an apartment building loaded with college students and cockroaches in every unit. Fun times, all the students, and the cockroaches didn’t bother me nearly as much as they should have. After a weekend visiting my folks at home I returned with a box of cookies from grandma. It was Sunday night and I made a few visitations offering cookies to chums in my apartment building. One fellow, a roommate of a friend, declined the cookie but said, “Wait, I want to show you something.”

I sat on the couch watching Sunday night television and ate a cookie. He returned with a pistol, beaming with pride, was he. “You want to hold it,” he asked sliding it across the coffee table.

“No, thanks,” I said, “I’m good.” Cookie down, commercial break on the tv, and I exited into the cool safe night. I found better people to play with. People not haphazardly suggesting guests handle the contents of their munition’s chamber in an effort to impress.

‘Better people’, they’re amongst my favorite.