Tuesday, January 31, 2012

They've seen the light!

I see in today's news that Congress is moving forward with a couple of pieces of legislation President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address last week.  The "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act" would prohibit members of Congress from buying/selling securities based on inside knowledge they learned during hearings, etc.  Also, the "Buffett rule" is gaining headway, requiring those folks wealthy enough to have an adjusted gross yearly income of greater than $1M to pay a minimum of 30% of it in taxes.


I wonder if the "light" Congress has suddenly seen is the light bulb of a great idea that simultaneously clicked on in all their minds, or the light from all those torches being carried by the lynch mob assembled in the parking lot?  I also wonder how many obscure, innocent-sounding loopholes they've planted in their legislation?  (They're very good at that, you know.)


S

Monday, January 30, 2012

World....meet Luke


Many years of nagging persistent persuasion finally paid off for K this past weekend.  She got her dog.  When she and I met she already had Emma.  For whatever reason, Emma bonded with me instantly.  I couldn't go from one room to the next without her tagging along.  K said I "stole" her dog.  What can I say?  I have that effect on women.  *sarcasm at it's finest!*

For reasons I'll never understand K wanted a tiny little Yorkshire Terrier.  It's no secret this would not have been my chosen breed, but, hey, it's her dog.  I like my dogs a little more "robust".  I mean, if the canine world was a 9-course meal, Yorkies would have trouble qualifying as an appetizer. Maybe more like a mint on a pillow at bedtime. 

Some day I'll get me another dog, probably another mini schnauzer as I like everything about them.  But Luke is here, now, so I've got to walk a tightrope.  Of course I want to help take care of PLD  (Poor Little Dude), but I can't get so chummy with him that he likes me more than K.  If that happens again I will be relegated to the dog house.  (I wonder if those things come in an XL?  With maybe a big screen and a mini-fridge?)

For now Luke is behaving himself very well.  He and I can circle each other for a while longer this morning, then I must go earn money for more kibbles.  I'll be back later with a damage report.  ;)

S

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The "check list"....with photo

Taxes prepared and e-filed.  Check.


Money coming back?  Check.


Money burning hole in pocket?  Check.


Kelly gets a new dog?  Check.


Going shopping for dog stuff today?  Check.


Sleepless night ahead?  What do you think?  



NOTE:  It's the one on the right.  ;)



S

Friday, January 27, 2012

Not enough zero's on the check

Did you hear that Costa Crocierie SpA, the subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corp that owns the Costa Concordia, is offering all un-injured passengers on that ill-fated ship $14,460 apiece as compensation for their little boo-boo?  Italian lawyers are obviously not as aggressive as American lawyers, that's for sure!  If that happened here there would have been an entire fleet of lawyers in rubber dinghies circling the sinking ship passing out business cards before the Captain had a chance to say, "Chao, y'all."


I'm anxiously awaiting our W-2's and donation summaries to arrive so I can do our 2011 taxes.  This is the one time of the year when I'm sorry I don't own a home any longer.  The write-off was nice!  Still, I think the care-free lifestyle we've enjoyed these past 2+ years has more than trumped the write-offs we've missed.


Speaking of taxes, did you see where Mitt Romney (really....who names their kid after sporting equipment?) paid $44,000 MORE in taxes than he should have?  Experts have looked at his newly released tax return and concluded he overpaid.  If it turns out he's elected President I hope he doesn't put his tax man up as Sec Treasury.  As if we're not totally screwed now!  


I'll leave you with these words of wisdom for the weekend:  As my uncle with the bad liver once told me, "Always take life with a grain of salt.  Plus a slice of lime and a couple shots of tequila."  :)


S

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A question for you....

How do you end a conversation when the subject being discussed no longer interests you?  If you're terribly blunt you can just say, "This no longer interests me.  I don't want to talk about it any more."  Most of us, however, aren't that blunt.  I know I'm not.


Sometimes you can be saved by a phone call from someone needing your attention.  There is one gentleman, a fellow builder and a really nice guy, who comes by our jobsite now and then for a visit.  I enjoy him for a while, but he just doesn't know when to leave.  If my brother happens to drive by and see us outside talking, he'll call me in 5 minutes with an "urgent" message.  Then I run off to handle the "emergency".  *whew!*


Some people are like a dog with a bone...they just won't give it up.  You try to change the subject, but they keep coming back to whatever topic they were on.  I think some people just like to hear themselves talk.  They repeat themselves, making the same point over and over.  OK already.  I get it! 


You usually can't just avoid these people forever as they are often co-workers, relatives, neighbors, etc.  You have to see them and you want to be polite, and you certainly don't want to hurt their feelings, but you just want to keep moving.   


How do you politely extricate yourself from a conversation that you've long since lost interest in?


S

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

One to remember

I remember many years ago when I was a student at Harvard-on-the-Plains, more commonly known as Texas Tech University, Lubbock had the mother of all thunderstorms.  It lasted most of the night and was just a flash of lightning and clap of thunder one after another after another.  I remember I turned off the lights and, just to see if it was possible, read a chapter in a textbook using just the illumination from the lightning.  The next day everyone I saw looked like they hadn't slept all night, probably because they hadn't slept all night.  FLASH...BOOM!  FLASH...BOOM!  It was a crazy night.


Last night here in Dallas it wasn't quite that intense, but it was still memorable.  So far we've had more lightning strikes than you can count, and 2.5" of rain with another 2+" expected before the storm moves out.  Our area lakes, which are all several feet (or more) low, are getting a nice fill-up.  We've been on Stage 2 or 3 (I can't remember which) water restrictions for months, and we've been warned that if we don't get some major replenishment before spring we'd soon be on Stage-whatever-is-the-highest.  That would mean short showers and ducking behind trees for "relief".  Just for the record, La Nina sucks.


Did anyone watch The Prez on TV last night?  I actually watched the replay this morning and thought he made a great speech.  Now let's see if he can deliver on any of it.  I thought it spoke volumes when he mentioned the banking/financial reforms and congressional insider-trading reforms that were still needed, and then the cameras panned the Republican delegation to show them all staring at their shoes.  Or maybe they were checking their pay envelopes they were handed by the banking lobbyists as they entered the House chamber.  I couldn't tell which.  At least the Democratic delegation slipped theirs into their coat pockets to be counted after the cameras were turned off.  Smart.   :)


S

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Rain, rain, go away"...no, wait...PLEASE STAY!



"I don't need no stinkin' trainin'."  Smart dog.  Haha!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain is always to me a good news / bad news sort of thing.  We desperately need more rain here in drought stricken Texas, but as a homebuilder, rain wrecks a construction schedule.  In a perverse way, not having a home under construction right now is good because we're expecting rain all day and night....2-3 inches of the liquid sunshine, and now I can enjoy it.   I have a couple of errands to run today, but otherwise I'm sticking close to home.  I asked K what needs to be done around here (I'm really scratchin' for something to do, can you tell?) and she said I could clean out the pantry.  How do you "clean out" a pantry?  Do you dust the cans, or maybe arrange them in alphabetical order?  Geez, I'm bored, but....

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So Mitt Romney made $42M last year, but paid only 14% in taxes.  I think people are outraged by that for the wrong reason.  I don't blame him for taking advantage of every deduction and loophole available to him.  You would, too, and don't lie and say you wouldn't.  I blame congress, who WE elected, for allowing those loopholes to exist in the first place.  And to say, "Yes, they (congress) are bad guys, all except MY guy, and he's good" is why things never change.  Just because your congressman sent you a birthday card or gave you a commemorative paperweight isn't reason enough to vote for him/her.  At the same time they were robo-signing your card they were emptying your pocket in order to subsidize 'ol Mitt and his buddies.  Think about it.

S  


Monday, January 23, 2012

Vietnam 1, USA 0

When I shop now I pay close attention to where things are made, looking for an alternative to "Made in China".  Over the weekend I looked for a new vest, but found a grand total of 0 made in America.  The one I eventually bought was made in Vietnam.  At least it wasn't "Made in China", but really, is there any difference?


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I read a very interesting article over the weekend about why the USA has such a hard time competing in the new global economy.  The story began with President Obama asking Steve Jobs (this conversation was in February, 2011) what it would take to get Apple to bring their production back to America?  Jobs replied, "Sir, those jobs aren't coming back."  Then it goes on to describe in layman's terms why.  (It describes one electronics assembly factory, Foxconn City in Shenzhen, China, where 230,000 employees work 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, many living on-site in company dormitories.  If they get a new client they can hire 3,000 new employees overnight and begin work immediately.)  It was a real eye opener.  It's a long, but worthwhile read.  You can read it here if you're interested.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Over the weekend Mr. & Ms. "W" moved in to the new home we just finished building for them.  Their big crisis was that the movers stole Ms. W's purse.  Besides the obvious money and credit cards inside, her purse also contained ALL the keys to their new home.  They had a locksmith come out and re-key all the locks, paying him the emergency / weekend price of $800.  I'm thinking it should have cost a fraction of that, but the guy pulled up out front and saw their $1.3M house and had an instant price increase.  (I think they got robbed twice this weekend!)  Then to rub salt into the wound, when the cops got there, they found the original keys!  The crooks tossed 'em.  

Looks like I'm playing Suzy Homemaker today.  I need to make an appearance at work, but I should still be home by early afternoon.  To give K a break I'm going to wash clothes and clean out the refrig. I can't imagine doing that full-time, like my mom and most mom's of the 1950's did.  I'm afraid my brain would atrophy.  

Gotta go.  Fabric softener awaits.  ;)

S

Friday, January 20, 2012

MORE new home photos

To pick up where my last entry left off, here are some more photos of the home we recently completed for the "W" family:



The entire back curved wall of the master suite has a great view of the rear yard.





The master bath and adjoining closet.  Both are much larger than I could get in a single photo.  The master shower is awesome!  It is obviously large enough for 2 people, and has body sprays, a rain head, a traditional shower head, and a hand-held shower wand.



At the top of the stairs, visible from the foyer, is a small round, domed room that will soon hold a baby grand piano.  They entertain a lot and like to have a pianist playing in the background while they dine.  Sweet!



 The children's study upstairs, opening to a reading room and a small balcony, both sharing a nice view of the water feature (formerly a quarry) across the street.



The back yard will have a pool by next summer, I'm told.  I especially like the patio with it's masonry fireplace and outdoor kitchen.  :)









Special details abound, such as the copper gas coach lamps on the front of the home, a kid's homework desk right outside mom's kitchen, a discreetly hidden electrical outlet and internet port on the kitchen island (they don't like wireless), lots of exquisite painting details such as on the staircase, a bar with a wine chiller, and even programmable chromotherapy lighting in the master bathtub to set a mood.  


Super energy efficient, too.  Icynene foam insulation in all the exterior walls and wrapping all the a/c ducts, (4) tankless water heaters, Energy Star everything, Trane 16 SEER mechanicals, Low-E vinyl clad wood windows, etc.  A smart investment!

Three more bedrooms (five total) and three more baths (also five total) aren't pictured, so just use your imagination. That's it. As of 8 AM today (Friday) this home will be recorded in a new owner's name.  I hope they enjoy living here, and hope you enjoyed seeing it, too.  :)

S 



Thursday, January 19, 2012

New home photos

For the past 10 months my brother and I have been building a new custom home for Mr. & Ms. "W".  We put the finishing touches on it today, and tomorrow their family is moving in.  It has 6,000 square feet of living space, plus an over-sized 3-car garage, a large covered patio, an upstairs balcony, and a 600 sq. ft. unfinished bonus room suitable for future conversion.  It is valued at $1.3M (Dallas money, as opposed to California money or Manhattan money....BIG difference).  As promised, photos (you can left click to enlarge if you wish):




The front facade is mainly native stone, with brick accents.


Entry is through a pair of 9' tall custom steel doors with wrought iron accents.


The foyer features a curving staircase leading up to a Juliet balcony.


The view from the Juliet balcony.  The space above the door is a reading room accessible from the upstairs "children's study".


To the left off the foyer is the study.  NOTE:  These photos were taken before the wood floors had their final application of polyurethane sealer.


To the right off the foyer is the formal dining room.


Further back is the family room with views of the rear yard, and open to the kitchen, too.


Ahh...the kitchen.





The kitchen features true gourmet-quality appliances....Wolf range, ovens (3), warming drawer, and microwave, 48" Sub-Zero refrigerator, Asko dishwasher, plus an instant hot water dispenser, a pot-filler over the range, etc.  


And a pantry in need of....everything.



A hallway behind the kitchen connects to a mother-in-law suite with en suite bath....



...and a media room / home theater.  The electronics will come later.


The utility (futility?) room....


...and a small mud room for the "chirren"...


...accessible directly from the 3-car garage.

That's enough for now.  I'll bore you with more later.   :)

S



Black humor

Have you heard what they're calling Francesco Schnttino, the captain of the stricken luxury liner Costa Concordia who is accused of abandoning his passengers and crew as he sought to save himself first?  "Chicken of the Sea"


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There's a restaurant in my area called The Son of Texas, owned by legendary restaurateur Dale Wamstad.  He's quite a character.  He's made a fortune establishing and then selling places like Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, III Forks, and more recently the Silver Fox.  Now he's promoting his new venture by bringing "a deck with your check".  He brings a deck of cards with your bill and you draw one card.  Draw a 2 and you get 2% off your bill.  An 8 gets you 8% off, etc.  A 10 or a face card, 10%.  An Ace, 15%, and the Ace of Spades, your dinner is free.  I think it's a really good gimmick, and it seems to fit his reputation.  He has a very gracious public persona, but according to a recent newspaper expose in private he's known to be a bear....a big gambler, a business cheat according to many of his past partners, and last but not least, a spouse abuser, at least verbally.  His ex actually shot him 3 times and was acquitted.  He must have been one bad SOB!  


The final push to get a new home finished is exhausting for me.  Up until the very end it's easy to just make phone calls and get done whatever is needed.  I have a "guy" for everything.  At the end, however, there isn't a general handyman to do all the piddling little details that need to be done.  All those tasks fall to me. They really aren't hard, but they're just exhausting.  And at night I go to bed and just lie there, thinking of all the details I have to tend to the next day.  After nearly two weeks of this I'm whipped.  After today...tomorrow at the latest...it should all be over with.  Can't get here soon enough!

Gotta go.  Y'all have a good day.  :)

S

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The End Is Near!

The big home we've been building for the past 10 months will be completed this Friday, ready for the new owners to move into on Saturday.  Yesterday I received the C/O (Certificate of Occupancy) from the city, so technically it's finished right now.  We're still doing clean up inside and we have one last coat of polyurethane yet to apply to the wood floors, and THEN it will be 100% to my satisfaction.  So when I say "the end is near", it's really a good thing because it comes with a nice paycheck.  I'll take photos tomorrow morning and have them to share with you here tomorrow evening (if anyone cares).


In other news, K has decided she's ready for another dog.  I had told her she could have whatever she wants, and to my horror she wants a little yappy Yorkie.  *sigh*  Oh well, a deal's a deal.  I'm sure it'll be cute, but a dog that's about the size of a gerbil just doesn't do it for me.  I'll really have to watch where I walk, and sit, too.  Still, having another dog around will bring back a semblance of normalcy to the Lowandslow household.  She hopes to be able to get him next month.  For now she's acting like an expectant mother.  Haha!


Have a great day everyone.  :)


S

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How lazy is this?

If you live in the Washington, DC area and have a yearning for a Super Sized dose of cholesterol from Burger King but you're too lazy to drag your fat arse to their drive-thru, you can now just call 'em and they'll deliver.  They're test marketing the idea of home delivery at four of their "restaurants" in our beloved nation's capital with an eye to taking the idea coast-to-coast. It seems they now have a "proprietary thermal packaging technology which ensures the Whopper is delivered hot and fresh, and the french fries are delivered hot and crispy."  


If Lazy-Boy is as smart as I think they are they'll soon be coming out with a new, heavy-duty, double-wide reclining chair. I can see a big demand for it....in Washington, DC.  And eventually coast-to-coast.  Just think of the "expanded" contestant pool (pardon the pun) for The Biggest Loser!  :)


S

Monday, January 16, 2012

I'd make a lousy diplomat

Doesn't anything newsworthy ever happen in Australia, or Denmark, or Chile?  Every morning I pull up the news and find the same thing day after day:  Iran this, Pakistan that, Iraq...Egypt...Afghanistan...Syria...Libya...etc. I'm sorry, but I flat don't give a rats ass what happens over there.  That part of the world is just a giant hell hole as far as I'm concerned.  It's almost as if blowing stuff up is their idea of having a good time.  And let's face it....if there wasn't oil in that general area, the rest of the world would write it off, too.  


Yes, I believe we should share our food and humanitarian supplies with people who are hurting wherever they are, but that generally isn't the way our foreign aid policy works.  Most of our generosity goes to governments, who promptly split it up among the top politicians and generals, the people be damned.   Last time I looked we had people right here at home who had bare pantries, and we had bridges and roads right here that were crumbling.  And unemployed people right here who would love a job building / repairing those crumbling bridges and roads.  And broke taxpayers right here who are tired of trying to buy friends all over the world.  What is it Dr. Phil says?  "....and how's that workin' out for ya?"  


I doubt I'll get many comments to this post because, honestly, this is about as un-PC as you're gonna get.  I don't care.  This is my vehicle to vent.  Venting complete.


S

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sex sells

It seems there were some ruffled feathers at this year's Consumer Electronics Show over the presence of "booth babes".  Anyone who's been to a car show is very familiar with what I'm talking about, but apparently they're just now becoming fashionable in the nerdy world of consumer electronics.  The term simply means attractive, provocatively dressed young ladies who mill around by their sponsor's booth attracting attention.  People, mainly men, walk over to get a closer look and are snagged by the product rep and given a pitch and some literature.  


And quite frankly, it works.  Sex (appeal) sells products.  You think Go Daddy would be where it is today without Danica Patrick?  So, I'm wondering....why aren't there "booth hunks"?  Don't tell me women don't like to see good looking men.  George Clooney?  Daniel Craig?  Matthew McConaughey?  Ashton Kutcher?  (I really don't get that one!)  Dos Equis "The Most Interesting Man in the World"?   


We all like to look at good looking people, whether they're in a movie, on a magazine cover, at a trade show, or just walking down the street.  And there is a HUGE mega-billion dollar industry that tries to get us to believe WE are good looking people, too.  (See, there is an upside to myopia!)  So what's the big deal over "booth personnel"?  ;)


S

Saturday, January 14, 2012

On your mark....get set....GO....

....to McDonald's.  


While there's nothing wrong with it, it just seems funny to me that McDonald's is a Top Sponsor of the Olympic games.  They're paying $100M to the IOC to sponsor one summer and one winter game.  "Big Mac....the Breakfast of Champions."  I dunno.


What's next?  The Buick Grand Prix of Monaco?  The Poligrip/Depends Molokai Surfing Championship?  Or to reverse things, the Red Bull Bingo Invitational? 


Marketing gone terribly wrong.  ;)


S

Friday, January 13, 2012

Will we never learn?

We seem to have it in our mind that "bigger is better".  We Americans like things BIG.  We Texans like thing REALLY BIG.  Trouble is, as we're always prone to do, we take things too far.  


Once this country's largest air carrier American Airlines is today in bankruptcy.  Now comes word that Delta Airlines and US Airways both might make a play to buy American.  We're supposed to have anti-trust laws to guarantee competition, but IMO meaningful anti-trust regulation / oversight  fell by the wayside long ago.  In just the last few years, Delta absorbed Northwest, United absorbed Continental, America West merged with US Air, Southwest snatched up AirTran, and pretty obviously American will be swallowed up by somebody, TBD.  


The same with banking.  I remember hearing experts say 20 years ago that some day there would be only a handful of mega-banks left.  As there was a local community bank on every corner at the time I thought this a ridiculous prediction, but look were we are today.  We're well on our way.  Homebuilding:  Today a handful of national homebuilders control over half the market, and their share is growing.  Retailers:  Think Wal Mart.  'Nuff said.


A hundred years ago we broke up "big railroad" and "big oil", rightly proclaiming it would be good for competition, and therefore for the people.  I understand the principle of "economy of scale".  I also understand the reality of "too big to fail" and "moral hazard".


Once again we're getting run over, and we just sit here and meekly take it.  The people we've elected to look out for our interests are failing us.  I guess we're getting what we deserve.


(Sorry for the boring post.  I guess I read / think too much.) 


S

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My first....

No, not that first.  *wink*


My friend Stephen recently gave us a story about his first pet, a rat.  My first thought was, "A rat? What an odd pet."  Then I remembered my first pet, and all of a sudden his rat started looking pretty good.  


When I was about 8 my dad took a friend and me to the state fair.  Somewhere in there amidst all the booths and rides and hucksters we found a vendor selling tiny little chameleons and dad bought us boys both one.  They had a string with a slip-knot on one end tied around the little lizard's neck, and on the other end was a safety pin.  You attached the pin to your collar and let the critter crawl around on your shirt....mine eventually taking up residence on my shoulder.  I can't remember if I ever even gave it a name, I say "it" because I had no idea if it was a male or a female.  Looking back on the whole episode there were two factors that made this possible at all.  One, my mom didn't go with us to the fair that year (no way in hell she would have let be bring a reptile back into her house), and two, this was before PETA.


When we got home my dad told me to take it straight to my room and don't tell mom.  Somehow mom found it anyway, and let us all know in no uncertain terms she was NOT happy.  I promised to take care of it, keep it in my room only, yada yada, and she agreed to let me keep him...er...her...er...  


Until she changed her mind the next day.  That's when I was called to the Principal's office to take an emergency phone call.  Well, at least it was an emergency to my mother.  It seems that my chameleon had slipped its knot and was loose somewhere in her house, and she wanted me home right then to hunt for it.  You would have thought a Bengal tiger had escaped from the circus!  Jeez, could that woman scream.   


Long story short, we found the poor thing several days later sunning him/herself on a window ledge in the den.  Right behind mom's chair.  *ouch*  I last saw it scurrying off into the shrubbery by the back door with my mother in hot pursuit,  swinging a broom.  Adios, amigo.


S

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"They got the elevator, we got the shaft"

I've become fairly knowledgeable about the financial deregulation of the 1990's (although I'll stop well short of calling myself an expert) and the door it opened up for the "blow-and-go"....actually more like "smoke-and-mirrors"....first decade of the 21'st Century.  As we're now painfully aware, all that gee-wizz "financial engineering" that brought Wall Street (used generically to include the big banks, hedge funds, insurers, brokerages, etc) immense wealth actually produced little of real value.  Many respected scholars and actual insiders to what was going on told us years ago that we were on a very slippery slope, but they were drowned out by the lobby for those raking in BILLIONS of dollars in commissions and bonuses.  Those were heady days, and we didn't want to hear any bad news.  Things turned out just like that old song said they would:  "They got the elevator, we got the shaft."


Now here we are in 2012, an election year.  Mitt Romney appears to be on a roll and will likely be the Republican nominee for President.  He was one of those who profited mightily from those deregulated times, and so are his current financial backers.  They really want to see him elected as they have visions of returning to the good 'ol days (for them at least).  They assume he'll call off those who are clamoring for re-regulation, and based on what he's said so far in his campaigning, he will.


I'm no fan of Barack Obama, or more specifically, I'm no fan of the Obama administration.  IMO, he has surrounded himself with advisers who are doing him and the American people a disservice.  They are individually brilliant, but collectively inept.  "What is" and "what could have been" are, sadly, two very different things.


So what will our likely choices be this November?  More of what we have now (how depressing is that?) or a replay of what we had before (YIKES!).  Some choice, huh?


S

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Just a couple of guys out for some Saturday fun

A friend recently sent me a link to this video that I found to be absolutely fascinating.  It's footage of some wingsuited base jumpers doing their thing somewhere in China.  It's apparently some sort of Red Bull stunt.  They wear suits that have webbing between their outstretched arms and their bodies and in between their legs that in effect make them human flying wings.  The first minute has footage of life in a big Chinese city....nothing to do with the theme of the video, but still interesting....then moves on to a tourist attraction somewhere in mountainous China.  It's definitely worth watching.  

I can only imagine the size of the cajones of the first guy who tried this.  Or maybe it was a woman.  Hmmmm....

S

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tax cheats

A few years ago I had a Realtor bring to me a Vietnamese couple who owned a liquor store in south Dallas, an area where I'm sure almost all transactions are in cash.  They had a large down payment, and drove a new Mercedes (the BIG one) and a new Toyota SUV.  I later learned the Realtor arranged for them a "no documentation" loan, more commonly called a "liar's loan".  That was an apt description as they only claimed to make, jointly, $13,000 a year.  Hmmmmm.


Just last week I had an oriental gentleman approach me about building him a new, very expensive home, asking if we could have a contract showing a sales price several hundred thousand dollars less than it actually was, with the balance made up in cash.  I refused.  I'm sure he was trying to document that his house was worth less than it actually was (to save on property taxes), or was trying to burn off some unreported cash income, or both.  Either way he was scamming the system, a system that is now in a deep hole, a system that us honest taxpayers are now being asked to sacrifice for.  I also had a man of middle eastern descent (?) recently propose something similar, too.  It seems many of our new immigrants are bringing with them  from "the Old Country" their casual attitude about paying taxes.  Just look at the troubles today in Europe, particularly in Greece and Italy, where tax avoidance is rampant. Believe me, it's not just "over there."


Last Friday the IRS reported that taxpayers here still owed an estimated $385 BILLION from 2006, that's net AFTER the $65 BILLION they collected through audits.  (That could amount to as much as $3-4 TRILLION in lost revenue over 10 years!)  In fact, they admitted they had a voluntary tax compliance rate of only 83%, and I would imagine its only gotten worse these last several years due to the troubled economy.


So let's review:  Our government is a TRILLION dollars a year short of break even, they're cutting back on everything from social services to military spending to paper clips, yet 17% of all taxes owed go uncollected.  Considering how much (probable) tax fraud I've seen right here in my own back yard, imagine how much goes on all across the land?  We're punishing the good, honest folks who pay their taxes on time by cutting back their services or threatening to cut back their Social Security, Medicare, etc, while the cheats are living the good life.  And don't even get me started on the massive tax breaks the rich have bought for themselves.  Grrrr!


OUR SYSTEM ISN'T WORKING!  No band-aid is going to fix it.  We need some extreme, deep changes.  And just replacing  a figurehead at the top isn't going to make a hill-of-beans difference.  The person at the top doesn't control the system; the system controls devours them.  Remember these words.  


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The glitch in my "Buy American" plan

I don't buy many things sight unseen.  I do buy a lot of things online, but I'll usually go to a store first, see / feel  the product, then go online to price-shop and buy.  (If it turns out my local retailer has a reasonably competative price, I'll just buy it there and be done with it.)  This is compounding the difficulty of my "Buy American" plan.  It doesn't do me much good to get a list of products made in America if I can't see / feel it at a retailer in my area.


Yesterday I went by REI Co-op, an outdoor products supplier.  I perused sleeping bags for K (I've had a good quality down one for years) and found that every single one they had was made in China.  Then I looked at vests they had on sale.  (I figured if everyone thought a vest was enough to keep them warm, maybe they knew something I didn't.  It just seems like half a coat to me.)  Again, none were made in America.  Their REI house brand, Patagonia, North Face, Marmot, Sierra Design....none made here.  A few were made in Vietnam, Bangladesh, or Indonesia, the rest from China.  The same with bicycles.  My one ray of hope was in kayaks.  I found one I like very much that was made in North Carolina.  It made my short list.  Actually it's a list of one.  It was a rather depressing trip.


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I have to work this afternoon and again next Sunday afternoon, but after that, the weekends are all mine.  Unfortunately, my weekdays will be all mine, too.  I haven't heard back yet from the doctor who I bid recently.  I do know they visited Friday with a banker I referred them to, so things are moving, just at a snails pace.  But after I get the current home I'm working on finished in a couple of weeks (photos forthcoming), and until I get a firm contract signed to start another, I'll be effectively unemployed.  It isn't as bad as it sounds as there will still be a nice income stream from the recently completed home.  Trouble is, I don't like to rock.  Or whittle.  :(

S


Saturday, January 7, 2012

North Dakota invades Texas....w/ UPDATE

Actually I should say "North Dakota State University invades the Shops at Legacy".  (That's where I live.) Last night K and I went out for our usual Friday date night, then returned to our neighborhood to find the mother of all traffic jams.  What the....?  We managed to finally get to our controlled access parking garage, then walked down to Fun Street to see what all the commotion was about.


Background:  We live in a mixed use neighborhood....townhomes, apartments, and a large Marriott hotel all surrounding a small man-made lake, many upscale (read: overpriced) boutiques, an indie theater, a very popular jazz bar, and dozens of eateries of every description.  The main drag is Bishop Street, but I call it Fun Street because it is.


Things are usually jumpin' on most Friday nights with a thousand or so people milling about.  Last night there were 5-10 THOUSAND people on the street.  Most were wearing attire proclaiming their allegiance to North Dakota State University.  I asked a couple of guys what was going on and they told me NDSU was playing Sam Houston State University for the NCAA Division I Football National Championship in Frisco (a few miles north) on Saturday.  This was their Super Bowl, and our Marriott was their alumni association headquarters, reception hall, and party central.  Woo Hoo!


They were a happy, fun bunch.  (Wouldn't you be if you got to leave North Dakota for a few days in January?)  We referred a few who asked to the best area restaurants depending on their tastes and pocketbooks, and enjoyed seeing them having such a good time.


I suppose I should root for Sam Houston State U since they're a Texas team, but I'm not.  I want my new friends from ND to go home with great memories of their road trip, and making that looooong drive back north while nursing a crushing defeat (and maybe a hangover, too) would be a definite bummer.


GO NDSU!   ;)


S


UPDATE:  North Dakota State won, 17-6.  :)