Saturday, December 24, 2011


She decided that this would be the year of the white Christmas.

Snow on the ground. A chill in the air. A fire in the fireplace. Hot toddies and slow mornings snuggled beneath fleecy comforters.

So here we are in Harbor Springs, Michigan, our cottage clearly visible from the road through the naked hardwoods, a string of white lights surrounding the front door, deer tracks on the back deck, and the eighth hole of the golf course stretching forlornly east under its snowy blanket.

Fala, lala, la.

I was sent to the basement to fetch the crèche. It’s in a box, with a lot of little boxes inside, each one containing a figurine. Mary, Joseph, the infant. Cows, wise men. Maybe a shepherd or two.

I scoured the storage room. Looked in every box I could see. No crèche. I began to panic. Surely it is here someplace. She said it was, and she knows about such things.

I remembered the famous shower episode.

We were spending a couple of days with Dave and Lynn Michael at the place they had rented at Black Diamond golf resort. Dave and I had an early tee time. The girls were still sleeping.

I could not figure out how to get the shower to work.

Now I’m not a complete idiot. I’ve stayed in countless hotels and motels, stayed at the homes of many friends and relatives. I’ve managed to figure out how to route the water through the showerhead instead of the bathtub faucet many, many times.

It’s easy. All you do is pull up on the little lever. Or push down. Or sideways.

Of course, first you have to find the little lever.

Sometimes it’s on the top of the faucet. Sometimes, it’s underneath.

But in this case, I was at a loss to find any little lever. I felt the faucet all over. Top and bottom. No lever. No button. No nothing.

Dave appeared. I told him the problem. I also told him that I didn’t want to wake up my wife. She would, I told him, even though half asleep, simply touch something I had not seen and presto, the water would come out of the showerhead.

Dave agreed that such embarrassment should be avoided, but darned if he could get the shower to work either.

Of course, Polly could, and she did, half asleep and went back to bed.

So I kept looking for the crèche.

Polly could find it, I told myself. She said it is down here. It’s got to be here someplace.

When she called me for lunch, I climbed the stairs in defeat and humiliation. I told her I could not find it.

She said she knew it is down there and I should eat my lunch.

Overcome by pride, I insisted that she tell me exactly where the crèche was, so I could bring it up before eating. She described the storage area, said it was on the second shelf.

Downstairs I went. Determined. My search was limited to a single shelf. The crèche could not elude me.

But it did.

I came back upstairs, defeated, frustrated. Whereupon my dear bride led me downstairs and pointed to the box. Right there on the second shelf.

Growing old is uncomfortable in many ways, not the least of which is ineptitude in the ordinary activities of life.

There is no greater blessing than to be married to a woman who is an expert in the art of living.

Even if sometimes you feel a little foolish.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Driving along the Dan Ryan on my way out of Chicago today, my eye was drawn to a billboard advertising a local talk radio station.

The big, bold headline read “TAX THE BILLIONAIRES.”

At first, my conservative, capitalist, free enterprise, work ethic, Republican gut growled with disapproval.

They’re at it again, I thought. The class warfare people, trying to divide America. Playing on the cupidity of the masses. The politics of envy. 99 % versus 1%.

But then I had a second thought. As crass as that billboard sounds, it is in fact expressing a policy that I believe makes sound economic sense.

Bear with me here, this is not so unreasonable.

First off, I firmly believe that the 16th amendment was a mistake, and should be repealed.

For those of you who don’t know, the 16th amendment was passed in 1913. It’s the amendment that empowers the federal government to levy income taxes.

The constitution as originally written provides that all federal taxes levied on the American people must be proportional to the population of the states.

Basically, that would only allow a ‘head’ tax, and not a tax that takes account of wealth or income.

The 16th amendment is the only exception to that rule. A tax on billionaires or trillionaires or millionaires would be unconstitutional if it taxes their wealth and not their income.

I would favor repealing the 16th amendment and replacing it with an amendment permitting the federal government to levy a wealth tax.

A wealth tax would be levied not on what you earn, but on what you own. All of the states already have real estate taxes, and some of them have intangibles taxes which are levied upon the value of investments.

Why tax wealth instead of income?

Very simply because income which is earned and spent stimulates the economy. That’s why everyone cheers when the stores report record Christmas spending. The faster money moves around from buyers to sellers, from earners to businesses and back again, the better it is for everyone.

The worst thing anyone can do with money is to hide it under the mattress.

The parable of the talents teaches us about the social obligation of wealth. Matthew 25: 14-30. The servants who put their talents to work were commended by the master. The guy who buried his talent was condemned as wicked and lazy.

The second worst thing you can do with wealth is to buy gold. Gold doesn’t employ anybody, doesn’t make anything, doesn’t stimulate the economy.

The third worst thing to do with money is to buy government bonds. Unless, of course, you think that the government knows best about how to run the economy.

The total wealth of the United States is around 60 trillion dollars. To replace our income tax would require an averge asset tax of about four percent.

A graduated wealth tax would assure that money would be invested in income producing assets as opposed to being gambled on speculative holdings.

It would have to permit and encourage household savings for retirement, education, and rainy days of course, but, if properly graduated, it would be levied on those with the ability to pay and the obligation to invest in the community.

Capitalism is not a system that can be abolished or amended. It is instinctive human behavior. Free enterprise is nothing more than free people making free choices.

There are winners and losers in the marketplace, just as there are in sandlot softball.

The one thing winners can’t do is take their bat and ball and go home.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


My grandson wants to be an investment banker. A bright young senior at Marquette University, he was here for Thanksgiving dinner and a day of golf with the old judge.

Sitting in the hot tub, we got into a debate about money.

Not his or mine, or even his father’s.

No sir, we got to talking about the national debt, and what can or can’t be done about it.

The premise was a constitutional amendment I advanced in a blog recently:

The treasury of the United States shall issue currency which shall be legal tender for all debts, public and private, in sufficient amount to discharge all obligations of the United States incurred prior to the ratification of this amendment, and, annually thereafter to fund all appropriations of the Congress.

The Congress shall not otherwise have the power to borrow on the credit of the United States.

Joe insists that the plan would be a disaster, would cause hyperinflation, could sound the death knell of the United States as we know it.

I have to confess that’s a possibility, especially if the Congress decides that issuing fiat money is a viable substitute for fiscal integrity.

But if the Representatives and Senators we send to Washington cannot resist the temptation to spend money we don’t have, the federal government is doomed. It will go out of business sooner or later. Better we face up to the crisis and deal with it now, rather than leave it for Joe and his kids.

One thing is for sure: it isn’t getting any better and it’s getting harder to fix every day. Every time the sun goes down, Uncle Sam has borrowed another 4 billion dollars. If we can’t solve a 15 trillion dollar problem, how are our grandchildren supposed to fix a 30 trillion dollar problem?

In the days of the gold standard, there was only so much money because there was only so much gold. The problem with fiat money is that there’s no end to it. At least there’s no end to it unless the law or better yet, the constitution, sets the limit.

Right now, the only limit on our money supply is the decision of the Federal Reserve. Twelve unelected, largely unknown bankers have the financial fate of the nation on their agenda. We have been trusting their judgment for a hundred years, and it doesn’t seem to be working out so well.

Our current money supply is equal to about $7,000 for every American. Our debt burden is over $48,000 for every man, woman and child. Bottom line, there just isn’t enough money to pay off what we owe.

If we expand the money supply to retire the national debt, what would happen?

Wealthy people, big corporations, foreign governments, especially the Chinese, would find themselves with mountains of cash. They buy and hold T bills as a safe place to park their money. Eliminate their parking lot, and they have to invest elsewhere.

There would be no place for them to put their money except in the stock market.

Stock prices would soar. Dividends, as a percentage of stock prices would shrink. Interest rates on corporate and municipal bonds would go down.

Deprived of the safe parking place, money would be forced into riskier investments. Venture capital would become plentiful, as investors look for higher, though riskier returns.

As the market becomes more bullish and volatile, the winners will win less and the losers will lose more. The Occupiers will cheer. Money lost on Wall Street is the quintessential tax on the rich. That’s what the free market does.

My amendment will automatically balance the budget. Since the government won’t be allowed to borrow, it cannot operate in the red. The Tea party won’t be able to complain about government spending. Of course, they may have to start complaining about government printing if and when inflation hits the super market.

But hey, inflation is the free market’s income tax. If we are going to have music, everybody has to pay the fiddler.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


My Pal John Runyon sends me this email with a picture of a naked man squatting over an American flag, defecating for the amusement of several dozen onlookers.

It’s another wonderful day of occupying Wall Street, Oakland, San Francisco or Your Town, U.S.A.

Runyon says I ought to write a blog.

What the heck can you say?

I’m sure there are city ordinances against defecating in public places. The taxpayers have ponied up quite a bit of money to provide a sanitary sewer system to protect the public health, for good reason.

So this jerk doesn’t care about the public health. Doesn’t give much of a damn about his fellow citizens or himself, for that matter.

And quite obviously, he doesn’t like the United States of America.

Makes you wonder what he does care about. Why is he doing it? Why is he out there? Why are any of them out there, making a fuss, taunting the police, getting themselves pepper sprayed, camping out and refusing to go away?

What’s it all about, anyway?

I looked it up on Wikipedia, and I read about the founder of the occupy movement.

His name is Kalle Lasn. Born in Estonia in 1942, he migrated to Germany, then to Australia. In the 1960’s he moved to Tokyo, where he started a market research firm. Now he lives in Canada and runs a company known as Adbusters.

Best I can figure out, Adbusters is a non profit corporation, supported in part by Tides Center, a left-leaning clearinghouse for charitable donations, and by contributions from the general public.

It has to get donations, because Adbusters doesn’t do anything that makes money. They publish a magazine which carries no advertising and sells no subscriptions.

So what exactly does Adbusters do?

It describes itself as an “anti consumerist” organization dedicated to “jamming the culture” of western civilization.

Hard to figure out just what that means. The Adbusters logo looks like an American flag, except that the fifty stars are replaced by fifty familiar corporate logos.

Adbusters has done some good. They came up with “Joe Chemo”, whose last name was shortened from Chemotherapy, as a spoof of R. J. Reynolds’ successful cigarette advertising campaign starring “Joe Camel.”

But Lasn has come a long way from getting people to kick the habit.

Perhaps, at seventy years of age, he longs to return to the Woodstock hell raising of his youth.

Whatever. On August 13, 2011, Adbusters ran a centerfold challenge asking readers and followers to gather on Wall Street and protest the wealth and power it represents. The ad got a lot of attention, especially among young people. The date they picked was September 17, celebrated in the United States as Constitution Day.

Lasn says he got the idea from the riots in Egypt. Of course, he didn’t endorse that kind of violence, and he hasn’t openly called for the overthrow of the government.

But still.

Still you have to wonder what it is he expected his readers to do. This is a man who has said, “I have a feeling that right now, this human experiment on planet Earth is hitting the wall.”

He calls himself a ‘creative.’ That’s somebody who designs advertising. “We are the cool-makers and the cool-breakers,” he says. And he insists that ad men, more than any other profession, have the power to change the world.

His book is called, Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge – and Why We Must.

I can’t wait to read it. Especially the part about how to make the world a better place by depositing human feces on Old Glory.