Thursday, June 18, 2009

COLA on Social Security – Bye, Bye

If you are sixty-five or older or have other eligibility, you probably have some amount of Social Security which you may rely upon. I once thought the program would be useless but found out I was wrong. It has been a very significant feature of my retirement. In my twelfth year of receiving benefits I have watched the monthly checks grow progressively larger and larger.

This is a result of Cost-of Living increases which have been automatic every year for the last thirty-five years. The COLA increases have been between 1.4% and 5.8% over the last decade. For that period, the monthly check has grown by 37.06%. In a world of gasoline at $2.80 a gallon and steak for $13.00 a pound the additional monies help seniors keep abreast of the economy.

In a recent announcement, the Congressional Budget Office has stated that no COLA increases are anticipated for 2010. You will not, according to present plans, have any need to run to the mailbox in January to see what your “raise” will be. It will be $0.00. In the worst year of the last ten (2003) Bill Clinton presided over the lowest COLA of the decade at 1.4%. The amount is determined by who is in congressional control on July 1 of the previous year. The highest was determined by the Bush administration and amounted to 5.8%. In fairness, the increase is not necessarily a result of partisan political intent. It is affected by the gross national product, debt/surplus, taxation flow to the treasury and of course national price indices

It could loosely be interpreted as a state of the nation. If we have had higher prices and higher revenues and the economy is in a state of good health; we see increased COLAs. In the face of mounting deficits, soaring prices, and substantially decreased revenues for the treasury we see the recommendation of zero increase.

One might say, “well, I’m only forty and this will probably change and besides, I have a stock portfolio (Now we will all take a minute to laugh at the ridiculous assumption in that statement) to keep me cared for in my old age.” That will be fine if you have an appetite for a diet of bacon and beans and want to live in your van down by the river. If you are, however, looking for a reasonably reduced activity and modest comforts in your older years on a fixed income, this latest development will have a crippling affect. But wait; there’s more.

Those persons on Medicare Part B are looking at a substantial increase in the withholding of payments to cover the advancing costs which are deducted from the Social Security monthly payment. Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient services are “held harmless” in that the premiums cannot be increased in excess of the COLA, but many who do not have that coverage for various reasons are subject to increased premiums—about 11 million retirees. If the trend repeats in 2011, those 11 million folks will bear the burden of the entire acceleration of program costs.

In May 2007 (the latest figures I have) show the number of people receiving benefits in the US from Social Security is 49,514,000 souls. These include retirees, survivors, dependent children, and the disabled. The greatest portion of that number are registered voters or at the least, eligible to vote. Am I the only one who sees this immense number as a huge threat to the current administration? Fiscal irresponsibility has a price and even the simplest understanding of financial matters will reveal just how foolish this package will become down the road a very short way.

Here, I give a hat tip to the AARP Bulletin (June 2009) for bringing this up. I would link to it but there is no web site apparent. They devoted a little over a quarter page out of thirty-two total to discuss this issue. It is on page 8 of your current copy. Considering their normal hyper-political posture this had to be very difficult for them to report.

It affects me; it likely affects you; it probably affects your mom and dad and it certainly affects your surviving grand parents. Not allowing a 2% COLA payment to that huge number of people will result in a reduced cost of $11,422,000,000. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the 2010 budget at $1,850,000,000,000. Denying the retirees their cost of living allowance will result in lowering that figure by—drum roll please—00.6174%!! Is it worth alienating 25% of the electorate to offset .6% of the deficit? I guess I just don’t understand politicians.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Spaghetti Bowl

If nothing else, three million miles behind the wheel of various vehicles has given me a decent view of some delightful and some extremely dangerous sights. On balance, I have concluded that the 460 mile gravel on the “haul” road in Alaska, the “Bear Tooth” highway in Montana, and the perilous off road passes through the Rockies are relatively tame compared to some urban interchanges.

Living in Las Vegas, one becomes accustomed to the terror, inconvenience, delay and exposure to driving ignorance which is the norm in the spaghetti bowl interchange. US 95 and I-15 come together with a variety of off-ramps and entrances to a highly congested downtown area adjacent to the facility. It is further complicated by ever tightening curving off-ramps which have lured many a high-profile outfit to destruction.

Even the bucolic surroundings on the south side of Joplin, MO and somewhat east at the junction of US 71 and I-44 provide a thrill a minute. Southbound 71 makes a sharp right at the bottom and accesses a shared exit with east bound I-44 traffic exiting to go north on US 71. The sharp curve allows one to enter I-44 traffic at only about 45 mph and attempt to regain the freeway’s standard 75mph while simultaneously dodging traffic trying to exit. Successful completion of the maneuver invariably evokes prayers of thanksgiving.

I could cite many more examples but I really think that this picture will tell you all you need to know.

If you live in any type of urban setting it should appear very familiar. This bizarre photo and forty others are available for your viewing at this web site. Warning: some are quite disturbing but each is very imaginative and capably done.

I can’t just let it go at that so I shall remind you of a simple fact. The same government which haunts your dreams and ruins you future, designs these interchanges. If you want to see what our health-care system will look like in the future; take one more look at the above picture.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Monday Morning Rant 96

The rain on the way to Miami, OK didn’t materialize so I was able to safely go and enjoy the fellowship with the Saints there. Morris Jones came down from Independence and gave the message. After his inspiring remarks, my good wife called and I hurried home to fight the beetle invasion. She indicated a plague of biblical proportions.

A couple hours later I arrived home and remembered she had gone to her nursing duties and there were none to be seen. I looked everywhere among the flowers, bushes, trees and in the grass. I was prepared to spray the armies of pesky critters but they were absent. I double checked around the house, the hollyhocks out back, the bushes out front and anywhere else half-dollar size creatures might hide.. No success. If you are an expert at resolving social conflicts please comment and explain how I tell my wife that I did not feel compelled to spray that which I could not see. This can not end well.

Our New Car Czar

I believe we are now up to about twenty “czars” to manage the recovery of various businesses and functions of government. These officials have been the result of White House appointments which require no congressional approval. Hey, some of them even speak English. I am including the supposed remarks from one of them for your enjoyment.

“Hi, I’m the new Chairman of GM. I don’t know anything about cars but I can guarantee you that myself and my management team of highly qualified MBA’s will interface on a daily basis with President Obama’s team to develop long-range strategies to effectively develop mutually beneficial synergies while still allowing GM to remain out-of-the-box when it comes to building brand loyalty and competitive outsourcing and business process re-engineering of our supply chain efficiencies to increase customer loyalty and targeted demand marketing pricing and advertising cost reduction implementation phase 1, 2 and 3 budget analysis factoring…”

Now don’t you feel better about all these new pricey executives?

It’s not all bad; you can now trade in your gas-guzzler for a huge tax credit against a new car purchase. I currently drive a 1993 Ford Explorer with 248,000 miles on it which would earn a $4500 tax credit since its mpg is around 18.5. The GM (Government Motors) dealers in our area are disappearing faster than Hazel’s deviled eggs at a church dinner so I have no idea where to find one. No ads appear in the local paper so that doesn’t help. As a veteran car buyer, I would be quite surprised if I could not engineer the same difference price without the trade and subsequent tax credit. Oh, I forgot; I don’t pay taxes on my retirement so I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.

Palin Wins the Pipeline Struggle

In a direct quote from the Washington Post on Friday we read: “TransCanada and Exxon Mobil, two rivals in a long-running battle over the construction of an Alaskan natural gas pipeline, have agreed to work together, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who courted TransCanada as an alternative to the big oil companies, praised the agreement.”

This is a win in so many ways. What the Post doesn’t report is the battle Gov. Palin waged to get the OK from the Alaska legislature and the ability to get the two principals to talk turkey and finalize the deal. What is at stake is a 1700 mile pipe line from the rich gas fields in Prudhoe Bay, AK on the Beaufort Sea to a terminal in Alberta. It involves a shared cost of $30 billion for a pipeline which will carry 4.5 billion cubic feet a day when complete. Completion will not be anticipated until 2018. Details on the exact route were not available but a huge portion will come through Canada.

Given the accelerating costs of fuel and the waning of the crude oil fields around Prudhoe, this constitutes an important answer to part of the energy problems we face as a nation.

In the process, Gov. Palin demonstrated a bulldog tenacity to get all involved to hammer out an agreement. While the influx of all that construction activity will have a meaningful affect on the Alaskan economy (and Canada’s) it will mean even more to those in the United States who want to adjust the thermostat on a chilly night.

I personally drove the “haul road” to Prudhoe Bay in 2006 to verify what all the fuss was about. As predicted, I found that most of the criticisms of further projects in that region were from people who have never stirred past the northern suburbs of the District of Columbia. My first observation was the impact on the wildlife which was present in grand abundance. Caribou love the pipeline because it’s warm. Shore birds love the pools around the rigs because they are largely clear. The rest of the critters, foxes, musk oxen, and the smaller animals act pretty much like wild creatures do everywhere; except for a lack of fear of men.

Having lived in coastal Louisiana, I am very familiar with oil rigs and found the ones in Alaska to be extremely well maintained and environmentally scrupulous in contrast. The biggest difference was the high level of scrutiny of visitors to protect the site.

This project will provide actual jobs in the private sector. This is a welcome relief from employment figures based on increased hiring by the government. What a concept!

And finally,

I had a rare treat late this afternoon. Between the new deck and the forest is a mowed space about 12’ deep and at a steep angle leading down to the day lilies. I glanced out the window, no doubt attracted by movement outside, and saw a beautiful Whitetail button buck grazing on the slope. Because of the glare off the window, I remained unseen and the dogs were clueless. I have seen deer on the property before but never 13’ from my desk.

We also added another species of bird to the list this week. A couple of days we have hosted a pair of mourning doves in the surrounding trees. They show little interest in the feeder but add another dimension to the mix. That brings the total to fifteen different types, not including the larger ones that soar by on occasion. I do thank God for providing His creatures for my continuing enjoyment.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon