Friday, May 30, 2008

It's the economy stupid!

Much has been said recently about the economy. Are we in a recession or not? Several news people and politicians are looking for people who will say we are. It seems everyone believes we are in a recession, but it's hard to find someone in authority to agree.

Well there's a simple reason for it. We aren't in a recession. By definition, a recession occurs when the GDP goes down for two quarters in a row. (The GDP is the cumulative output of our nation - think of it as a paycheck). Not only have we NOT had two quarters of declining GDP, we haven't had ONE quarter of declining GDP.

Let's look at the details for a little bit. A paper in the UK says "US preliminary GDP for Q1 duly came in at plus 0.9pc which rather makes a mockery of all that talk of recession over the past six months or so."

But wait, you may say "The character of this recession is different than those of the past" just like Bill Fox, UT economist. "High gasoline prices, slow consumer spending and declining employment rates do not bode well for a quick recovery this time around, Fox warned." Wow, this sounds serious. It has to be a recession with a UT economist sayign stuff like this.

So what is it? Recession or no? Well, more importantly, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? If we could get every economist to agree that we are indeed in a recession, what should we do differently? The government has already issued everyone a stimulus check (which I still think is stupid and a bad long term decision).

I say it doesn't matter. I know my personal financial situation (do you know yours?). I know what my income and outgo levels are. I know what my major expenses are that are coming over the next few years (son going off to college). I know that both of my cars have over 100,000 miles on them and they could die tomorrow (I hope not).

This didn't happen to me overnight, my son has been preparing for college for 18 years. My cars have been going up in miles for 4 & 5 years. I've made slow steady steps to make sure I was ready for this day. So what will I do about the recession? What should you do?

Answer is simple. Just keep doing what you should have been doing all along. Save for expected expenses. Spend less than you make. And plan to make more. I believe economics is very personal, and reaction to it should be personal also.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cold War tactics

For those two young to remember, the Cold War was a long drawn-out ordeal between the US and the Soviet Union (USSR). There were no hand-to-hand or face-to-face battles (at least publicly), no missiles fired and no bombs dropped. But it was just as real as the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During this time, the US and USSR spied on each other to learn secrets. The fear was that at any moment, missiles could start flying and nukes could start exploding. While this may sound far fetched, it was very, very real. School children were taught how to prepare for an attack at school before my time. By my time, schools realized that in case of nuclear attack, preparation was unnecessary. There were bomb and radiation shelters downtown (I wonder where those went). And at age 22, during the height of Reagan's hype, I even mapped out a plan to get away and a location to escape the coming war.

During this time a favorite tactic of both countries was diversion. The US would publicly talk about things just to have the USSR spend time and effort spying into details. This tactic probably had more to do with ending the war than anything else. It forced the USSR to spend dollars upon dollars. The economic collapse finally did them in and now there is no USSR.

Sometimes, I feel like this happens in life, at work and home. At work, my competitors talk about some grand scheme and I have to go off researching details. After all is said and done, the customer isn't interested, but I've wasted a lot of time and resources. The same thing happens at home, just on a different level, with different players.

Ah, for the days of the Cold War.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial day

Is it the beginning of summer? Or just a time for cook-outs? I went to wikipedia for some information on Memorial Day. While it may not always be the best source, it proved a good resource in this case.

Memorial Day "commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country."

Today my family will celebrate by going to a state park and cooking some hamburgers and hot dogs. Then, we'll possibly take a stroll along some of the paths. Down by the lake or up by the dam.

But we'll also stop to remember some of the folks who made this possible. Some people who fought to make us a country, not a territory. Some people who kept the "united" in United States. Some people who went "over there". Some people who fought an agressive man, and kept him from taking over the world. Some people who never understood why, they just did what their country asked. And some who understood and tried to make it safe for you and me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Any Day Pay Day, How about today - part 3 (Final)

Over most of this week, I've been posting on payday loans. Part 1 dealt with the definition and the reason these businesses exist. It looked at some of the details from the business point of view. Part 2 dealt with two states' plans to eliminate these loans. Today, I'll voice my opinion.

I have to say I learned a lot from this research and I generated some new readers. I also got the attention of some of my "old" readers, so hopefully this last post will get some attention too.

I have to start by pointing out (in case you didn't know) that I'm a conservative, who believes in the free market, capitalism, motherhood and apple pie (with ice cream preferably). The idea of restricting business (actually eliminating it) goes against my grain. Companies should be free to run their business in the way they see fit and these companies are not that profitable (9% according to a little math based on this MSN Money article.

These companies obviously fulfill a need and they actually are less expensive than bouncing a check. For example, someone close to me used his Debit Card for $5 of gas (a small spray). Since he only had about $1 in the account, the bank charged him an extra $35. That's expensive gas.

I also believe in self discipline and each person being responsible for his/her-self. If you want to do something stupid, that's fine with me. I'd really like not to hear about it, but you're welcome to shoot yourself in the foot if that's what you want. After all, Barney Fife can't be the only one with a hole in his shoe.

But even with that understanding, I can't help but believe that we'd all be better off if these businesses closed down. Christian Science Monitor says that smacks of paternalism and I agree. But as a father, I think that paternalism is required sometimes. Just like we outlaw crack cocaine, we should outlaw payday loans and their first-cousin title loans.

This will cause job loss. The folks who work in these places aren't all guilty. They just applied for and got a job (which is a good thing) as a clerk. It's not them that's loaning the money out, it's the company. And they will be punished by losing their job. But so too does the crack dealer lose his job when he goes to jail. His family suffers from his loss of income and unfortunately, the payday lending clerk's family will suffer too.

Consumer credit counseling needs to improve. The best defense is a good offense, consumers need to put money aside so they become their own payday lender in an emergency. One of my readers is involved with Junior Achievements, teaching "kids money basics and how short-sighted and addictive this bad credit behavior is." He does lots of other good stuff, so check out Neil's blog when you can (see it here).

So there it is, my opinion. Please feel free to comment on this or either of the two previous posts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Any Day Pay Day, how about today - Part 2

This is the second in a three part series on payday loans. In the first part, I described the practice and shared some information from a business point of view. While the companies that
give these loans suffer a lot of criticism, their overall profitability is not outside the norm and
they are in a high-risk business (they have a lot of folks who walk away from their debts).

In this part, I intend to share information on what two states (Ohio & SC) are doing to curb pay-day loans and why. Thanks again to David for the tips on Ohio's proposed legislation. In the final part, I'll share my opinion.

I lump payday loans and title loans together, as you typically see these businesses side-by-side.
Title loans typically carry a higher loan amount (up to $1,000 in some cases) and are for longer
periods of time (30 days as opposed to two weeks). Of course, they hold the car title as collateral. According to, "the possible loss of your car makes (title) loans dangerous. If you lose your car, everything else just cascades... You can't access your job or health care and, therefore, you fall behind on other bills, and it makes life almost impossible."

In some states,lenders can only flip a title loan six times. In other states, there are no laws
that require the lender to reimburse the borrower for a car sold for more than what is owed on the original loan. So the lender can make money on your car in several ways.

Ohio and SC are taking steps to limit payday loans and car title loans. In reality, the steps are
designed to eliminate them all together. Ohio legislation is all but done (senate and house to work out details on already approved legislation and a governor who has already promised to sign it). In SC, the bill is all but dead (died in committee).

The legislation limits the amount of interest a lender can charge (Ohio 28%, SC 25%), limit the
number of loans a borrower can get in a year (Ohio 4/year, SC 1/week), and limit the amount of the loan (Ohio - $500, SC - $600). Ohio would also prevent lenders from taking the car title as collateral and sets the duration of the loans to not less than 31 days.

While this may sound like it only limits lenders, it effectively eliminates them. "Cash America International Inc said it expects to close its Ohio lending operations" due to the new legislation according to a Reuter's news article. Also, "Washington set a 24 percent cap on interest rates last fall, payday lenders left the city in droves" according to Christian Science Monitor

Why do critics feel this is necessary? Simple. "Research shows that the payday lending business model is designed to keep borrowers in debt" according to research by the Center for Responsible Lending. "Borrowers who receive five or more loans a year account for 90 percent of the lenders’ business." These companies prey on repeat borrowers and the legislation is designed to protect citizens.

Next post shows my opinion. Feel free to comment on this part, or the previous post.

Monday, May 19, 2008

AnyDay Pay Day, how about today? - Part 1

By special request. One of my readers recently asked my opinion on SC legislation winding its way through committee on payday loans. I offered a teaser about this last week and generated some other interest. Then I recalled that another reader's state (Ohio) was also working
on legislation, so I traded a few emails and got even more information. David's blog can be found at this site. I don't always agree with him, but he provides some good information on matters of politics and an alternative view. So with three people interested, I knew it was important.

This is the first in a three-part post on payday lending. I hate doing this as a series, but I honestly think that this is best for all of us. I feel obligated to present the facts about the business along with facts about the legislation. Only after I've presented the facts on both sides, will I present my opinion.

The timing of this is also important. Someone close to me recently got into some tight financial times and took out their first payday loan. They needed money to pay rent and were told that the late fee was $50 per day (I haven't been able to verify this). So, they walked down to
Cash Advance (or a similar store), wrote a post dated check for $345, got $300 in cash and paid the rent. They knew they had money coming in a few days. (I still have to follow-up to confirm they paid it back).

To describe payday loans, the FDIC says they "are small-dollar, short-term, unsecured loans that borrowers promise to repay out of their next paycheck or regular income payment (such as a social security check). Payday loans are usually priced at a fixed dollar fee, which represents
the finance charge to the borrower. Because these loans have such short terms to maturity, the cost of borrowing, expressed as an annual percentage rate (APR), is very high. Borrowers who obtain payday loans generally have cash flow difficulties, and few, if any, lower-cost borrowing alternatives." (see here)

Payday lending varies by state and not all states allow the practice. Generally, it works like this. You walk into one of these places and write a check (limits are typically about 1/4 of your monthly pay or $500-$600) with a future date on it and you walk out with cash. Fees
vary from state to state, for SC it's typically 15%, in ND (one state I checked at random) it's 20%. This can help you avoid late fees and returned check charges.

Critics are quick to point out that 15% over two weeks turns into 390% over a year. Using almost any definition you can find, that's usury. However, this business has a lot of risk involved. A few years back, I had the privilege of sitting next to a person from Advance America on an outbound flight. He and several co-workers were headed to a convention. We talked a bit about his business and he confided that they rarely cash the checks that people leave behind. Frankly, he told me "those people aren't likely to have money in the bank". According to MSN
they recently increased "the provision for doubtful accounts as a percent of total revenues for the quarter ended March 31, 2008 was 12.6%."

Payday lending can be seen as a product with strong demand. "Consumer demand for the traditional payday loan product remains strong." (MSN Money) In other words, people want (or need) payday loans.

With over 12% expected loss rate, you have to expect these companies to charge high rates. In fact, a quick analysis of Advance America's Income Statement in the MSN Money article shows a Net Income of only 9% of first quarter revenue (down from 13% last year). This is not what
I would consider a high rate of return for a business. By contrast, IBM's income was 9% for first quarter and Microsoft was a whopping 30%. 9% for a very high risk business sounds low in this light.

As mentioned earlier, some states don't allow this type business. Many states (SC & Ohio for example) are looking at legislation to restrict them. Regarding the legislation, Christian Science Monitor (which I believe is neither Christian nor Science) has an article titled "Ban
payday loans? Big mistake
." It says that the idea smacks of "paternalism – the idea
that government must take care of adults because they aren't able to do so themselves." It goes on to say that this "is the ideology behind the wave of politicians determined to limit how much and how often Americans can borrow money."

Government making decisions for individuals? Something only a progressive could promote. Limiting business? Hardly conservative. Sure, some people are hurt by the practices, but should that exclude other borrowers? And shouldn't the individual be responsible for his/her own
actions (an idea I often promote).

Advance America has advice on their website for borrowers who might be hurting. "We at Advance America recommend that you evaluate the costs and benefits of all alternatives before obtaining an advance." I encourage you to check it out at their website.

My next post will be on what some states are trying to do to payday lending and then my third post will give my opinion. Hopefully, I haven't tipped my hand too much here. Please add comments as you see fit. Also, I have MUCH more reference material I'll gladly share and I'll also be glad to debate this via email or my blog.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another reason not to RAL-ly (*Updated*)

Has your stimulus check arrived yet? Still waiting on that $600 (or $1200 or $300) to arrive so you can go stimulate the economy?

Well, it turns out that if you got a Refund Anticpation Loan (RAL), you may have to wait a little longer.

USA Today says "taxpayers whose fees were deducted or who took out refund-anticipation loans are receiving paper checks because those loans involve a third-party bank account." (see the full article here)

Now I personally believe these RALs are a RIP-off. They allow you to file your taxes and then get your money in about a day or two. For fees of $200 or more. I know people who got their refund check in under two weeks. So let's say your refund is $400, you take a RAL (or "rapid refund") and walk out with $200. You've effectively borrowed that $200 for two weeks. I don't even want to think about the interest rate involved.

But now, to make matters worse, your stimulus check is being delayed because of that. Where's the good in this?

(Preview announcement: By special request, I intend to blog on Cash Advance stores next week. Watch this space!!)

*** Update
One of my faithful readers found out (the hard way) that their stimulus check was delayed, not due to a RAL, due to paying Turbo-Tax with the refund. When you file online, you can file free when your income is below a certain level. Above $54,000 in income and you'll have to pay. So, let's say you use TurboTax (I think other tax preparers do the same thing) and find out you'll get a nice refund. You can allow TurboTax to take their fee out of the refund.

However, since TurboTax is an intermediary in the tax process, your stimulus check will be on paper, instead of direct deposit.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Corner sinks

So, I'm in Los Angeles, Ca... City of Angels... Whoever dreamed that up? In what state of mind was the person who said, "this place reminds me of angels"? I'd bet there were illegal substances involved.

The hotel room is nice, but it's just a hotel room. The bathroom has mirrors on two walls and a sink in the corner. I think that saves space. But it confuses me.

When I shave, which mirror am I supposed to look at? If I look, to the right, I can't see my left side. Opposite is true of looking to my left. And if I look straight ahead, I get a strange split view of myself (which has been reported by many around me).

I could turn and face one side or the other, but that's no good, the sink is in the middle.

Somehow, I don't think angels have to worry about stuff like this.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothering Day

Several years ago, I did some research on Mother's Day for my children. I thought I had heard the history before and needed to confirm it. Now, it's time to revisit the reason we celebrate the mothers in our life.

Most people frown on quoting Wikipedia, but their article on Mother's Day is the most exhaustive I know and the facts are backed up elsewhere. It has detail on other countries celebrations as well as the history of the US Mother's day. You can read it here.

"In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war." The idea was pushed by Anna Jarvis' daughter (also named Anna) in her memory.

So it was started by a woman whose mother had died.

What is sad, is that "nine years after the first official Mother's Day, commercialization of the U.S. holiday became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become." This was around 1923, imagine if she were alive today!

Regardless of the commercialization and Anna's (and my) attitude towards commercialization, we should still take this day to honor the mothers in our lives.

First, to my own mother. Thanks mom! You sacrificed for me through my teen-aged years and modelled the way I was supposed to behave in so many ways. I still remember seeing you praying at as the VBS leader, so many years ago.

Second, to my wife. Mother of two that stepped in seven years ago to help me with three more. Sometimes appreciated, sometimes not, you've never quit trying. Thank you for what you have done and are continuing to do for these five (and spouses).

To the mothers of my grandchildren (one born, two in the womb). Thank-you for allowing me to spoil your children. I promise, I will give them back to you once they are full of sticky stuff (hopefully before it comes back out) and complete with toys. It's important that they know Grandpa's best.

To mothers-in-waiting. Patience. Your day will come in God's time. Relax today and enjoy a day of quiet. Those days won't last long.

To mothers-in-wanting. My heart goes out to you. I know that doesn't even begin to make this day any easier for you. Please know that God has a special plan for you and His heart goes out to you also.

I would be remiss if I didn't say something to the mother of my children. As a mother for 15 years, you showed the Way to three very special children. As long as they live, you live on in their hearts.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

subprime - a dirty word

I've blogged in the past about subprime lending, but what does it really mean? Is subprime a dirty word?

First, let me answer the last question. Subprime is not a dirty word. People who borrow money are classified as either "prime" or "subprime". Prime borrowers are ones who have a good credit history, pay all their credit on time and have used credit from time-to-time. The exact definition varies based on who does the defining. Subprime borrowers are ones who have a somewhat tarnished credit history.

Of course, foreclosure, legal judgements, reposessions, bankruptcies or charge-offs do massive damage to your credit history. Also late-payments hurt. Wikipedia says "two or more loan payments paid past 30 days due in the last 12 months, or one or more loan payments paid past 90 days due the last 36 months."

So two late payments or one very late payment means you are classified as "subprime".

So, if it's not a dirty word, what's the big deal? Well, depending on HOW subprime a person is, they may get worse terms on any credit. If you don't need credit, it's no big deal. But if you need/want credit, you may see higher fees, higher interest rates. The idea is that the lender needs these higher fees and rates to offset the higher risk. And of course, they wouldn't take this risk if they didn't think they could get a higher return.

But there are a large number of people who are "subprime" who aren't much "subprime". These people have a few late payments and maybe a few other problems with their credit. They may have trouble getting a loan, but it doesn't say anything about their value as a person.

If you want to read my previous posts click on "My take on sub-prime", "Citibank" or "Foreclosure relief"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How much is that pack of cigarettes?

I got this idea from Dave Ramsey. I've changed the numbers some, but the results are still pretty impressive.

Suppose that a 15 year old decides NOT to start smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and instead puts that money into a decent investment. Do you know how much he would have at retirement?

Take a deep breath - it's $1.6 MILLION.

That's not including any savings on life insurance or doctor bills or inflation (all of which are real and VERY likely). That's assuming a 10% rate of return.

The spreadsheet is available if you want it.

HIPAA gone wild - part 2

Last month I posted an entry called "HIPAA Gone Wild". I described the pain when I tried to find something out from a health provider for my wife. They refused to tell me anything, even though I'd filled out the HIPAA forms and have a full Power of Attorney for her.

Later, she called and they helped her with the information over the phone, no real identification, just a female voice. It could have been the neighbor next door for all they know.

Yesterday, we received a bill from a medical provider. I looked at it and recalled paying it months ago. Sure enough, I found the cancelled check and asked my wife to call them (knowing they wouldn't tell me anything).

They looked and saw that the payment was posted back in March. So why did I get a bill (that doesn't show the posted payment)? No one knows.

Now shouldn't they 1) post the payments and 2) process the correct bills and 3) ensure that when my wife calls, she is who she says she is? Where's HIPAA now?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

We sure could use a little good news today

Ok, I confess I'm old. In 1983, Anne Murray's song hit the charts. Some of my readers weren't even born then. But the song came to me when I was reading a newsletter that popped into my email.

See, we've been getting a newsletter from Troop Scoop. I'm not sure how we started getting it, neither my wife nor I recall signing up for it. But as we started reading it, we've enjoyed it. We don't read all of it, mainly the headlines and the pictures (much to my son-in-law's dismay), but the ideas come through.

Turns out, there are some good things happening in Iraq. Contrary to what you see on TV, hear on the radio, or read in the paper or on the net, there are good things. Now, I'm not going to go off on some conspiracy theory about the MainStreamMedia and I'm not going to comment on Bush's attempts earlier in the war to get good news out.

All I'm saying is that there are some good things going on. Whether you're on the left or the right, whether you want to monday-morning-quarterback 2003 decisions or not, whether you want to pull out or not, you owe it to yourself to find out about the good things happening.

You can go to to get some updates, read the archives and sign up for the newsletter.

A recent newsletter talked about the rebuilding of the hospital in Basra. Iraqi workers on the project are currently installing lighting and running plumbing lines inside the building. The hospital's primary mission is a cancer treatment facility, which will be run by western standards.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Missing money

Last week, a local TV station ran a marathon helping people look for missing money. Their website listed links to several websites that would help you look for the money. None of these charged you anything to look or claim the money.

I looked and found I have more than $100 in the NC Treasurer's office. Now, once I found this, I remembered that I did this a couple years ago and got back some money (I think around $50 that time). Both of these are related to insurance companies, so I'm guessing there was some sort of state insurance department investigation and court ordered refunds. The investigation would have concluded after 1998 (when I moved) and covered several years. I can't recall exactly when I switched to the last company, but I know it was before 1994.

Anyway, I went to and filled out the information (nothing too personal) and then I went to another site to claim the money. The claims process brings up a form that you have to print and mail in. Again, all this looks safe.

So in about 2 months I should have a check for more than $100. Not too bad for a few minutes worth of work.

I highly recommend

P.S. If you're in my extended family, (brothers, sisters, children, in-laws, dogs, etc), I already looked for you. Sorry. No missing money.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Grilled onions, grilled corn

I like cooking. I've posted a couple of times before about my cooking, (see here and here), so I thought I would do so again.

This past Friday, my daughter, her husband and my two-year old grandson visited. They were talking about leaving to go to dinner, so I quickly suggested hamburgers on the grill. I've learned that if you provide free meals for them, they'll stick around.

Since we needed a few items to complete the dinner, my wife headed to the grocery store. When she came back, she included a large onion and corn for the grill.

The onion is my specialty. I stole the recipe from another grill lover and I'm always looking for ways to add flavor (so if you have a suggestion, post it in the comments). It's very easy, I take a large onion (doesn't have to be Vidalia, but that's a good choice) and remove the outer skin. Then I cut it. This is difficult to explain. I cut down the onion as if I was going to cut it into 8 pieces. However (MOST IMPORTANT), don't cut all the way down. This way it holds together. Then I load the cuts with butter. Since I've been criticized for how much butter before, I won't say here. But the key is, don't worry about blood pressure of cholesterol. Just load it up.

The last ingredient is a bullion cube. I like using beef bullion, chicken works too. Sometimse I use two (very scientific). Then the onion gets wrapped in tin foil. If done right, it looks like a hershey kiss. Put this on the grill early and move it around every 5-10 minutes. It should cook 30-45 minutes.

Grilled corn is similarly easy, I'm still trying to find a way to improve it. I just butter the corn and wrap in tin foil and place on the grill. Move it around like the onion and cook about the same time. I'm thinking about adding some salt or maybe even a small amount of sugar.

Oh yeah, we had hamburgers too!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Civil Union

This isn't a subject I typically discuss. It's never affected me or anyone close to me directly (at least to my knowledge). But I heard about a case today that brings this to a new light.

Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller lived in Virginia which does not allow unions of same-sex couples. So they took a trip to Vermont to have their relationship legalized. Of course, since they lived in Virginia (which has a strong law against these unions) their relationship would still go unrecognized.

Lisa wanted a baby. Together (by one report, other reports say no) they went to the doctor's office to conceive along with the help of Donor 2309. Four months after Lisa delivered a little girl, Isabella, they decided to move to Vermont, where their relationship was legal.

But as happens in many relationships, things turned sour. Lisa moved back to Virginia and took little Isabella with her. This is when things got confusing. Seems that Janet wanted custody. The Washington Post has a LONG history of the case here, and it gets confusing. I hope you'll go read it, but you might need to take notes as you go along.

At the heart of the case is which state's laws apply? Of course, if it becomes messy enough to go to the Supreme Court, the question will be can Virginia establish a law to not recognize Vermont marriages. If a homosexual couple marries in Vermont, does Virginia have to recognize it? In the past, I felt like this was a matter best left to the states, but the supremes may decide others.

Reading the details of the story, I'd bet that the case will be decided on some technicality. There are questions about jurisdiction, improper representation and what the mother signed vs what she understood. I'm afraid the supremes will choose not to get involved with the meat of this case and dodge it instead. But be watching the case of Miller v Jenkins.

* updated spelling

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The report of my death was an exaggeration.

Mark Twain said that. There are variations on the quote, but they all say the same thing: "I'm still alive!!!'

I work with mainframe computers. For a long time, people have said the mainframe is dead. In 1994, Client Server Today magazine said "The mainframe is dead. It's time to give it a decent burial and move on."

In 1991, Stewart Alsop said "I predict that the last mainframe will be unplugged on March 15, 1996."

But a google search of "mainframe" will show that the mainframe is alive and well today and if you search "mainframe jobs", you'll get lots of hits with places to go look for employment. And if you look for "mainframe university", you'll see colleges are teaching about the mainframe too.

So who cares about the mainframe? Well, it seems to me that the same story applies to lots of things, and I just wanted to remind one of my readers in particular and hope she uses the analogy.

Gas prices

Last night it cost me over $70 to fill up. This was the first fill-up since Saturday and my travel schedule this week is light, so it's not likely to need a refill until sometime next week. Part of the high cost is the tank size, I was almost on empty and it took a little over 20 gallons to fill up. Gas prices are up all over, fortunately, SC is one of the lowest priced areas in the US.

So what is there to do about the price? Well, one option being thrown out is to eliminate the gas tax. That's around 20cents/gallon. So I would have saved a little under $4 last night. Hmm. I could have purchased a happy meal, but not much else.

Another idea is to establish a "windfall profits tax" on the oil companues. This basically would cap the profit Exxon makes. Hmm. When I studied economics, this was caused a ceiling. Ceilings on price, reduce supply. Reduction in supply means I would have walked the last 10 miles home last night as the gas station would have been out of gas.

Another idea is to reduce consumption. I like this idea. Tell all my customers I won't visit anymore. Of course, that means they won't buy any more and I'll be out of a job. If I'm out of a job, I lose my house and won't be able to eat. Of course, I'd lose weight, but the rest of that is bad. So, after a second thought, I don't like this idea.

So, let's see, if the government wants to do any one thing, it makes matters worse. What if the government takes over all of it? What if the government takes over the oil companies, eliminates profits all together and sells the gas? Anything a private company can do, the government can do better?

In fact, let's not stop with oil companies. Groceries are getting expensive too. Let's have Uncle Sam run the local stores. Then they need to own the farms and food companies where the groceries come from.

I have a vague memory that this has happened before, but can't recall where?