Friday, January 27, 2012

Fester's financial advice: Don't count on a tax return

One quick piece of financial advice. Don't plan on getting a tax refund from the government until after you have filled out your taxes. The tax code constantly changes, your life situation constantly changes, deductions come and go, rates change from year to year, a tax refund is simply not something you should count on getting each year.

With tax season upon us I have heard more than one person say something along the lines of “I hope to get my W-2's soon since, I cannot wait to get my tax return”. I believe this is folly, counting on a tax return before you have actually done your taxes is not a good idea. A tax return should be treated in the same way you might treat a win at the casino, it is nice to get the extra money, but nothing you should plan on getting. Even if you have gotten a return every year for the last 10, don't count on one for this year. You are likely to have forgotten some fact that will change your tax liability. It can happen to anyone, a friend of mine only now realized that he owes taxes on his unemployment income which didn't have taxes automatically deducted and he has gone from being confident in getting a return, to possibly having to write a check to the government.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Big Waste

I watched this show on food network called “The Big Waste” and it was about the huge amount of food that is wasted everyday in America, thrown out, discarded and otherwise going to waste. The primary point seemed to be to scold the consumer for being too spoiled for perfect produce and other foods. However, when looked at it from the perspective of an economist and libertarian all the waste seems perfectly natural given the conditions we are forced into as consumers. It is also apparent that waste is not a problem many concern themselves with in very many areas of the food chain.

A big part of the show was showing produce that is discarded because of bruising, misshapen product and discoloration. It was emphasized that there is nothing really wrong with this food. I agree there is nothing inedible about the food, however when I am at the store and see something for sale and it is all the exact same price, even though the quality varies, as a rational being I will chose the best I can get from the selection. Why would a person buy the bruised apples and pay the same price as the non-bruised apples? The fact is that as long as stores refuse to offer more discounted products, they will be throwing a lot of product away. If there was truly a concern for food waste, the answer is simply to incorporate a graded pricing system. Someone might not buy those carrot odds and ends for $2 a package, but for 50¢ they may look far more attractive.

Another part was to show all the food that went into the dumpster. In many places it is illegal to dumpster dive, and even when it is not illegal, many stores and restaurants lock the dumpsters up, either by locking the actual dumpster, or by placing them in locked fenced in areas. If the food is inaccessible it will spoil before it could possibly be saved. Also I recently heard from a co-worker who works in the produce department at a Super Wal-Mart that they are not allowed to take the food that is thrown-out home with them and they must throw it away. I am sure the policy is in place to try and prevent employee theft, but the practice also encourages more waste.

The next part is something Food Network did not directly talk about, but the show made it very clear, government regulations prevent a ton of edible food from being available. In the show they had a guy from the FDA sticking a thermometer in all of the food and he was ready to throw anything out that didn't pass this ridiculous test. The problem was that who knows what temperatures these foods had been at before he tested them. He talked a lot about bacteria and whatnot, but he never tested for anything like that. He said that a chunk of prosciutto was too warm to be safe. What a joke, in Europe you often see salted and smoked meats hanging in the open in stores, meats like prosciutto don't even need refrigerated, but he would not allow the food to be used. They also showed tons and tons of good vegetables that have been tossed out, vegetables that would make excellent food for pigs, but the 1980 swine protection act makes following the law and feeding pigs waste, even straight vegetables, very difficult to fully comply with the law to the point that most pig farms will simply not bother with it and will instead feed them a less nutritious diet of grain based feeds. There are also numerous other regulations that when followed result in a lot of good food going to waste.

Overall I think the show made a good point, that there is too much food wasted, but since the underlying causes of the waste were not addressed I am not sure how much good it is going to do. Instead, it becomes just one more instance of “yeah that seems bad, but not bad enough to change my personal behavior, or the law, or really anything.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rush Limbaugh is a dick

I know this will not be a controversial statement, but Rush Limbaugh is a dick. I don't listen to him and haven't for many years, but back in the early 1990's I did listen to him. I was a real fan and listened after work nearly everyday, I was a ditto head. It wasn't that I agreed with everything he said, but I agreed with many things he said and found the show to be entertaining and I agreed with him enough to not be too insulted. Back then he talked about reducing the size of government, he criticized Bill Clinton for his nation building in Kosovo. He slammed the department of education, the EPA and other government agencies and called for their abolishment, he talked about privatizing social security, and many other things that libertarians would favor along with republicans. He didn't speak much about issues like drugs. So there were a lot of libertarian leaning ditto heads and I was one of them.

Now he has changed, he no longer promotes issues, he is only about the red team versus the blue team. He doesn't care about the issues he used to promote, now it is just about dogging any politician who wears the wrong color. He may pretend he is still about issues, but he only cares when the issue is presented by a democrat, he gives a pass to republicans who promote the exact same thing. This is made extremely clear when it comes to his opposition to Ron Paul, who promotes many of the ideas he trumpeted in the 90's. I saw this clip where a Ron Paul supporter called into his show and claimed to be a ditto head who disagreed with him on some issues and that is why she supports Ron Paul, his response was to claim she could not be a ditto head and must be a radical liberal. I don't think this is a fair portrayal of republicans who support a policy small government, who are against nation building, who are for states rights, and who want to follow the constitution. In most ways Ron Paul supporters are 1990's era ditto heads. I have moved on and would never listen to Rush again, but I can sympathize with this caller, because at one point I was a regular Rush listener, and I can understand being a ditto head who supports Ron Paul. I support Ron Paul, even though Ron Paul is for more government than I would like to see, he is still a big improvement over the other choices. I also would say that I am not a radical liberal and have never been one, and anyone who has known me for any amount of time would know that I am not a liberal in the current meaning of big government warfare/welfare policy. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Drums of war pound out lies, lies, and damned lies

As the drums of war are starting to beat, please keep the past lies, lies, and damned lies in mind whenever you hear the new lies that the media and the politicians will be spewing.