Friday, June 22, 2018

Watch where you step....there are mines EVERYWHERE!

With immigration front and center again these days, we'd better be careful what we wish for.  There's a huge "unintended consequences" minefield out there.

I don't believe those who are saying we need to slam our borders shut and deport all illegals here now are thinking it through all the way.  If they get their wish, any nasty, dirty job that needs to be done, especially outdoors, might not get done.  Need to pour any concrete or spread any asphalt, put on a new roof, or have any landscape work done?  Haha....good luck!  Do you think your favorite restaurant can keep its doors open without them?  Farmers everywhere are already reporting they're having trouble finding seasonal help to get their crops harvested....much of it is now just being plowed back under.  (Wouldn't THIS be the ultimate "national security" crisis?)

What we need is an expedited method of vetting those who want to immigrate here, say within 2 or 3 months, vs the current 2+ years.  This long wait time is what drives many to just wade the river.  Let them apply at US embassies and consulates in their home countries and GET THEM AN ANSWER WITHIN A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF TIME.  We need to bring illegals out of their thriving underground economy and make them full taxpayers.  Right now they pay little more than the sales taxes on their daily purchases.  Lets vet them, and if they're good people, welcome them and put them to work.  And if they aren't, turn them back / send them packing. 

Now, about those kids separated from their's still wrong.  Why are we punishing the kids for the sins of their parents?  And I don't want to hear about what Obama or Dubya did.  Wrong was, is, and always will be WRONG!


Monday, June 18, 2018

"Thank you for your order. You should expect delivery in about 2 years."

I remember a number of years ago talking to a guy who worked at a local hardware store.  He was Hispanic, worked all day, and then went to evening classes at the local community college.  I was pretty impressed with him.  I asked him if he was here legally, and he said, yes, he was, and so were his parents, but his uncle was not.  I asked him why his uncle wasn't, and he said after waiting two years on his paperwork to be processed, he finally just gave up and waded the river to get here for a job.  

I've heard since that a 2+ year wait is not unusual.  My understanding is that both the Democrats and Republicans say they would welcome legal immigrants, but they had to go through the proper channels and jump through the proper hoops first.  Fair enough.  

So here's my question:  I googled "Samsung TV's" and it found 1,410,000,000 responses in .53 seconds. I can buy a gun and it takes the FBI about 15 minutes to do a background check on me to see if I qualify.  I can go through a fairly exhaustive Texas Dept of Public Safety background check in order to legally carry a firearm in about two months.  In this age of the internet, massively powerful computers, and nano-fast search engines, why should it take TWO YEARS to get a background check on some guy from Mexico?  And I checked....yes, they have computerized record keeping in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and elsewhere in Central America, too.

I also want strong borders.  I want to know who we're letting in.  I want to know they aren't felons, aren't currently wanted for a crime, etc.  But if we drag our feet for a ridiculous TWO YEARS and still can't complete a background check, why should we be shocked if they just sneak in?   It seems to me we could control our borders much better if we had the cooperation of a proud, secure, legal immigrant population.  

Or is there some other more sinister ulterior motive that explains why we throw up all these roadblocks?


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Don't go lighting your cigars with $20 bills just yet

This morning while making my rounds I saw this on the front window of a Domino's Pizza store:

How can they pay "UP TO" $15 an hour "OR MORE"?  Which one is it?  I think I'd go for the "MORE".

The official US unemployment rate recently dropped to 3.9%, the lowest since the Pilgrims beached their boat in Massachusetts, before it was Massachusetts.  Historically the stats people say 4% is considered "full employment"....anyone who doesn't have a job now just doesn't want to work.

Here in my area of the northern DFW Metroplex (Plano, Frisco, McKinney, etc) they say the unemployment rate is somewhere down in the 2% range.  Pizza delivery drivers can get $15 an hour, and McDonald's is begging for help, even offering starting pay of $12+.

Yesterday I was talking with my steel fabrication vendor and he said it was just he and his son....they can't hire and keep help, and they pay very well!  My electrician has been trying to hire for 2 years with no luck.  Construction material prices are continuing to climb.  We try to buy 300 yards of concrete and can't get anyone's attention at the concrete plant....they're shipping tens of thousands of yards daily to commercial construction sites.  We're small fry!  Any materials with a petroleum base have gone up dramatically along with the recent increase in crude prices.  Talk of import tariffs isn't helping, either.

It wasn't long ago that the cost of living in my area was below the national average.  Now, according to one report I saw recently, the CoL in my immediate area has surpassed the national average.  Property tax bills are hitting homeowners hard after a few years in the doldrums.  Standard and Poor's Case Shiller home price index actually says our area's home prices today are OVER valued.

Where am I going with this?  "Make hay while the sun shines" as they say, but be cautious.  Make all you can while you can, as these good times will eventually go flat just as other overheated good times have in the past.  Just recognize where we are in the economic cycle and don't let yourself think this is the "new normal".  Remember what happened to those who got fat and sassy back in the run-up to 2008?

Let's all enjoy our good fortune today and be grateful, but not let it go to our head.  Been there, done that.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

A somber Friday and a fun Saturday

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a ceremony at the Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery honoring my late friend Ted Short.  I had never been to this site before and I must say I was impressed.  

The facility was immaculately maintained and the service was attended to by US Army personnel and a local Korean War veterans group.  It was a fitting end of service for a good man.  The grounds absolutely felt as hallowed at those at Arlington National Cemetery, which, if you haven't been there in person, you have to see to understand and feel what I mean.


Today, on a lighter note, the Ms, Jax, and I made a run to the McKinney Farmers Market for some fresh vine ripened tomatoes and some tamales.  No, I didn't know there was such a thing as a tamale farm either, but trust me, I've tasted their latest crop and they're delicious!

Then it was off to the Spoon Cafe in historic downtown McKinney for brunch, where Jax the One-Blue-Eyed-Wonder Dog stood guard to make sure no dropped morsels made it to the ground.  His perfect record is still in tact I'm happy to report.

Now it's back home for a siesta.  Maybe later when it's cooler I'll venture out to check on our neighborhood ladies bikini volleyball team.  (Or not, depending on whether the Ms reads this first.  ;)


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The American Dream....or is it?

For roughly 65% of Americans, owning a home means you've realized the American Dream.  Everyone has a vision of living on that picturesque tree-lined street with quaint homes and neatly manicured lawns.  That's what my generation, at least, was taught to aspire to, and there's nothing at all wrong with that.  If you have a young family (or nowadays grandkids living with you), or have a constant stream of out-of-town friends who come to visit, or if you just want bragging rights among your circle of friends, then by all means enjoy your American Dream home.

But frankly, home ownership isn't what it used to be. Things change, people change, and circumstances change. We were told owning a home brought with it huge tax benefits, and it still does....for about a third of us.  Sixty five percent of us own homes, and of those, half either have mortgages with so little balance left (or no mortgage at all) they miss out on the tax break. 

Many people naively think when they get their house paid for they'll be living virtually free.  Hardly!  In my area just the property taxes and homeowners insurance can easily be $1,000 a month on a middle class home.  Speaking of....yes, you can make a handsome profit due to appreciation, at least on paper, but the tax collector wants his money RIGHT NOW!  Rapidly increasing taxes are forcing some homeowners out of the homes they've lived in for decades.

Then there are the maintenance and repair costs.  Yikes!  Here in North Texas we used to have one damaging hail storm every seven years, on average.  Now we're having them yearly, including one just last night that will keep insurance adjusters and roofers busy for the next year.  Homes still need painting, and HVAC systems and water heaters and appliances still need to be repaired/replaced.  Carpets need to be cleaned and/or replaced, too, and wood floors need refinishing.  

And of course there's the lawn maintenance.  *cringe*  And here in termite country, those little bastards will eat your house out from under you if you don't stay ahead of 'em.  Oh, and "updating".  Remember that old fuzzy wallpaper?  Ewww.  Even if those old harvest gold appliances still work, they went out of style back in the Nixon administration.  Get out your wallet.

Even though my credit is primo and the banks say I can easily qualify for a modest home loan, I'm just not feeling it.  Years ago we parked ourselves in a nice apartment while I looked for a small lot to build a new home on.  It didn't take long to realize renting was actually, for me/us, a good alternative to owning.  I've had good neighbors (an OB/GYN, a respiratory therapist, a Realtor, etc), my car is in a secure, gated, concrete parking garage and safe from the weather (hail), and the mechanical units are somebody else's maintenance problem.  And every few years when a newer, nicer community opens up, I'm free to move.  

True, my rent goes up a bit yearly, but no more than my taxes would go up if I owned.  I feel no need to build a home to accommodate my furniture (I have no family heirlooms), I don't need a 3rd or 4th or 5th bedroom, and I jettisoned my ego years ago.  

There will always be quality builders and Realtors to cater to the 65% who want to be homeowners, but there's a lot to be said for nice upscale apartments, too.  The empty nester, downsized lifestyle is actually pretty sweet.   :)


Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Age of Outrageous

There have always been people who acted, dressed, and behaved somewhere outside the mainstream, but they were usually mocked, laughed at even, and not taken seriously.  Just in my lifetime, however, I've seen this attitude change dramatically.  Time doesn't stand still.

While the early rock 'n roller's music was...ahh...different, they still looked pretty "normal" with their suits and ties.  Baby steps.

But then came the rebellious '60 's and the hippies and Woodstock an all the rest.  Long stringy hair was in, along with tye-died shirts and sandals (if not bare feet).  Grunge was in, to the shock of The Establishment.  And it wasn't just a few who joined the movement, but kids by the MILLIONS became the "sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll" generation.

At about that same time outspokenness, for better or worse, arrived on Main Street.  Archie Bunker laid all his prejudices out for us on All In The Family, and the battle lines were drawn.  Some loved Archie, while others were repulsed.

By the 1970's, the more outlandish the better.  That's how you made a name for yourself, that's how you stood out in a crowd, and life was now all about "standing out".  Kids wanted more than ever to be like KISS or other shock groups of the time.  Outrageous became cool.

  Today we have the social media phenomenon.  True, we now know what all our friends had for lunch, and everyone loves the cute photo of me and my dog I just posted, but it also gave sicko's a stage to shock us with their outrageous-ness.  A couple of misfit kids in Colorado shot up their school and became folk-heroes to many other kids, who in turn shot up their schools in Connecticut, Florida, Texas, and    ?_,  copy-cat style.  

A terrorist mows down a hundred innocent people on a street in France, and before long a copycat does the same thing in NYC.

Now we have a President who just makes up stuff on the fly and Tweets about it at 4 AM to his adoring base, and they all but foam at the mouth.  "If it's on the internet, it must be true!"  

Now conservative Roseanne Barr can call a black woman the offspring of an ape, and liberal Samantha Bee can return the insult by referring to Ivanka Trump on live (cable) TV as a "cunt".  REALLY?

To me the take away on all this is that the more outrageous you are, the more attention you bring to yourself, and that apparently makes it all OK.  That isn't necessarily bad.  I liked Elvis and Janis Joplin, Steve Jobs and even that Gates guy.  Many brilliant people who did good things were often unconventional looking (Albert Einstein) and acting (Robin Williams).  But too often people are using their individuality and outrageous-ness to hurt and insult and destroy.  If we some day crash and burn, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.  Lets not encourage and enable those who are destroying us.  There's nothing cool about hurting and insulting and destroying.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

So now do you feel old? Well, do you...punk?

My friend Frank recently posted on his Facebook page this photo of TV's MASH characters Cpl Maxwell Klinger, now 83, and Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan, now 80.  (The title is a nod to 87-year-old Clint Eastwood if you didn't catch it.)

And if you're curious, Marilyn Monroe would have recently turned 92, Neil Armstrong would have been 88, Elvis would have been 83, Sophia Loren is 83, and youngsters Raquel Welch and Roger Staubach are 77 and 76 respectively.  Yikes!  And to add insult to injury, this year will mark the 50th anniversary of me being honorably discharged from high school.  These are things you don't really think much about, until you think about them.  Then it's like, "Sumbitch, where has the time gone?"

This is not meant to be a downer post.  Just the opposite.  I've seen some pretty amazing things that Generation XYZer's might have only heard about on Twitter, maybe.  I DON'T envy them at all.

Now consider this:  The average American today lives to be 78.7 years old, which has dropped recently and is below the 80.3 year average of other OECD advanced nations.  Some of that is due, they say, to poor lifestyle choices, and some due to lack of adequate healthcare.  Regardless, all of us are one day closer to kicking off today than we were yesterday. 

All the recent prescription drugs that are advertised on TV got me to thinking.  One is a treatment for those who have non-small-cell cancer that has spread.  It says Optivolumovoriousoptomoline (marketed as YippieJuice*) can "give you a chance to live longer".  That concept, "living longer", baffles me. Why does everyone want to "live longer"?  Is that some great virtue?  Why would you want to squeeze out a couple of more months/years of feeling like crap?  Just to prolong the inevitable?

We seem to put way too much time and effort in trying to hold on.  Just think of Max, Hot Lips, Marilyn, Elvis, Sophia, and all the rest of your childhood icons as forever young.  Then just live right, be kind, help those you can, hurt no one, and go on about your business.  What's gonna happen is gonna happen. ;)


* Now don't go running to your pharmacy asking for some YippieJuice.  I might have just made that name up.