Monday, April 27, 2009

Adventures with Al, Part 2

Traveling with Al Ulven could get interesting at times, as a previous post showed. Reaching back into the murky depths of my childhood memories, there was one time that I wish I remembered more about. That was the mid-1970's expedition to the upper peninsula of Michigan to visit my half-brother Jud and his first wife, Therese. They lived up in the Houghton-Hancock area and for some reason Al decided to go with us. Perhaps he wanted to see the mining ranges up there, as he always had a curiosity about anything involving trade history around the Great Lakes. Curiosity has been said to kill the proverbial cat and Al was filled with curiosity about many things. In this case, it wasn't fatal but it certainly led him into a little trouble.

Somewhere just across the border into Michigan, a decision was made to take a short cut involving a back road that was parallel with the main highway. I do not know who made the decision, but with my father and Al being the only drivers, my suspicions lie with one or both. Back roads can be very inviting, offering scenery and local color you otherwise zoom past. Al loved back roads and my father's shortcuts were a subject of family legend. My late mother would have remembered whom to blame, no doubt.

While back roads can be enjoyable in good weather, taking them after major storms can get tricky. We got far enough to be in the middle of nowhere when the car ceased all forward movement. I'd say this is my first memory of mud so deep it sucked shoes off and stopped a car in its deep, deep tracks. The four of us piled out of the car and surveyed the muck after multiple failed attempts to get free. It was not taking us anywhere.

After some literal head scratching, Al and my dad tried to push it out. That did nothing but give everyone muddy pants legs, adding to the growing misery. Didn't seem to phase Al one bit though. There is an image in my mind of him sitting on the car, smiling despite the heat and dire predicament.

Hours went by, long hours. At some point, a decision was reached and a search began along the roadside. Some distance down the road, some old boards from a broken down fence were found and quickly brought back to the embedded car. After a few tries, the car finally found its caked wheels meeting dry road and we continued on. Al's laughter as we finally got going still lingers, for he'd won one of his small victories in life. It was something I'd get used to over the years.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fair tax at the Tea Day Tax Party in Rochester

April 15th wasn't your average income tax day, a truly grassroots movement sprouted up across the country fueled by anger at Democrats and Republicans who have been spending like drunken sailors and now want even more of the public's money. My father and I attended the Rochester, Minnesota event on the behalf of the Fairtax and I was to speak. When we got there early, the crowd was already around the reported 300 and continued to swell. By the time I spoke, it was easily over 500 and I would guess around 800. It was hard to tell, as there was a lot of churn over and people wedging themselves in wherever they could. They were a very well behaved lot, made up of people from various center-right factions and the atmosphere was festive.

The following is my speech as prepared, it ended up being altered due time restraints and a very vocally involved audience -- something I'm not used to:

So what is the Fairtax and why is this guy talking about a new tax on a day of protesting tax increases?

The Fairtax is a revolutionary replacement (not reform) of the federal tax system. Why is it revolutionary? Well, it requires the repeal of the 16th Amendment that established the income tax and the abolishment of the I.R.S. Does that sound good to you? How does replacing all the other federal taxes such as Social Security, Medicare, estate (or death tax), and corporate taxes sound?

The Fairtax replaces them with one national sales tax of 23% that is only collected at the point of retail sale. What that means is that you only pay a federal tax when you buy something for personal consumption and it will be collected at the cash register. No more filling out 1040’s! Right now, it is estimated that $265 billion a year is spent on tax preparation. How insane is that we have to pay out of our pockets for the privilege of giving more of our money to the government?

There are hidden imbedded taxes at multiple points along the supply chain for anything we buy at local stores that we are oblivious to, but cause a lot of headaches for business and are eventually passed down to us consumers. Getting rid of them simplifies everything and we will get to see what we are really paying. For the small business owner, it means that you don’t pay taxes on payroll, stock, and equipment needed for the business.

Not only does the Fairtax bring true transparency to taxation, it will supercharge our economy, leading to growth – something we aren’t seeing anymore. Right now, we are seeing corporations flee the country due to increasing taxes that make it incredibly hard to operate in the United States. If enacted, the Fairtax will cause the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to increase by a staggering 10.5 percent in the first year alone! What does that mean? It means more jobs (4%), more production (12%), and a real increase in wages (8%).

Our country is in crisis. We are looking at a staggering amount of debt in the new federal budget. Newt Gingrich wrote this little nugget of information today:

“• If you’re a 50-year old-with a college degree, you will pay approximately $81,000 over your working life just to pay the interest on the debt in the Obama budget.
• If you’re a 40-year-old, you’ll pay $132,000.
• And if you’re a 20-year-old, just starting out after college, you will pay a whopping $114,000 just to service the interest on the debt created by the Obama budget.”

It is true the Fairtax won’t do anything about out of control government spending, but it is start of bringing sanity back to an insane situation. In 2008, $3.42 billion was spent on lobbying in Washington, D.C. – that equals $6.84 million per legislator. What was over half of this lobby money aimed at procuring? Tax breaks. This is how federal legislators dispensing favors and exercise personal power, by selectively choosing who gets to pay less in taxes. And people wonder why our government has gotten corrupt! Think of all the time wasted on it, time that should be spent on actually getting things done and listening to the people instead of lobbyists. The Fairtax will take away that abuse of privilege and time by transferring the power of when we are taxed back to the people. It will be the greatest transfer of power from a government to the people since the Revolution.

Everyone will pay under the Fairtax, there won’t be any exemptions. There won’t be any tax dodging like there is now. Everyone pays their fair share. This isn’t a merciless system, the poor and elderly won’t be penalized, as there is going to be a “prebate” (rebate that comes in advance) that is calculated to cover the taxes on needed items such as food and shelter. This is based on the number of people in the family; for example a family of four would get between $406 and $537 each month, depending on its makeup. It doesn’t matter how much they make, this applies to everyone. Those who have more money will spend more and that spending will be what is taxed. Combine that with used goods not being taxed and you have a fair system that will enable the poor to work their way up and out of poverty. This is a country founded on the idea that we can make better lives for ourselves and the Fairtax will not change that, but enhance it.

In their great wisdom, our founding fathers created a constitution that understood our rights were self apparent, God given and inalienable, not something granted by the whims of the government currently in power. Real power lies in the hands of the people, but the people have to make their voices heard. There is a reason the 1st Amendment to the Constitution is the first in the Bill of Rights. Without free speech, the D.C. establishment would be able to completely ignore the people. What we see here today and across our great country is only a beginning. You must make your voice heard and continue to be heard!

I just want to thank all of you for coming out and exercising your Constitutional rights to be heard and seen. We have to exercise our rights to keep them. Thank you for being good Americans.

The Fairtax is a grass roots movement, those at the top won’t make this kind of reform unless, we the people, demand it. We need your help to make this happen. Please visit our table or our website for more information and to volunteer.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Adventures with Al, Part 1

Knowing Al Ulven was a unique experience, I think many will agree on that. For me, this was mainly due to his way of turning little chores into somewhat epic quests on many an occasion. This always was accompanied by an absolute cheerful optimism that everything would work out the way he planned it, even if it didn't.

Some of my earliest memories of Al revolve around Ulven Drugs, his drugstore in Spring Grove, Minnesota. For a little kid in the early single digits of life, it was a place of wonder. We lived in a rented house out in the countryside and didn't have a lot, so going to town was a big deal. Being the early 1970's, Al's pharmacy wasn't just there to dispense medicines, it was partly a general store. It had one of the most impressive arrays of candy I'd ever encountered in my short life, toys, greeting cards, office supplies, and best of all -- comic books!

Al was a cheerful presence there, always knowing everyone's name and story, making what was normally a chore seem like entertainment. One thing that defined him was his ability to make his own fun, no matter the circumstances. The best part of it was that Al shared the fun with those around him.

One such occasion was a night time trip around Christmas, where we were taken to the mysterious and previously unseen bowels of the drug store. In other words, the basement where he kept merchandise. The shelves towered over me and were quite amazing, it was hard to imagine so much stuff in one place.

To my surprise and delight, Al informed my family that I could choose a toy from those on the shelves. I don't remember what it was that I chose, other than it was a pull toy of some kind (yes I was that young). There was a kind of joyful magic to all of this and that is what stuck in my head, not the toy itself.

It is my earliest concrete memory of Al, little did I know there would be more memorable moments involving the small town pharmacist.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Our Pal Al

My father and I went out tonight to eat, gather in some groceries, and possibly visit an ailing friend. When we got to the nursing home, I spotted a gurney being prepared next to a van/hearse. It was then that I knew we were too late and sure enough our friend Ellsworth "Al" Ulven had passed away a matter of minutes before.

Al befriended our family in the early 1970's and our families did a lot together over the years. As time went by he became a bachelor again and my parents continued to play three handed Spades with him. When I got older, I found myself roped into different misadventures with him at the beginning of the decade onward.

One memorable misadventure was assisting Al in retrieving the trailer to his beloved boat that he acquired after retirement. This little escapade involved sneaking the trailer through back roads, as he decided to pull the empty monstrosity with his battered old station wagon. While it had a hitch, there was no provision for wiring the lights, which meant it shouldn't be on the road. That meant sneaking around on back roads, mostly gravel, in a station wagon that acted like it was going to die at any moment.

Compounding the problem was that it was a 95 degree day, with humidity around 98 percent. As the exhausted car pulled the heavy trailer, it became too much for the engine and it began to overheat in a very serious way. That did not deter Al, for very little could once he decided to do something. At first, we pulled over and turned the car off to cool the engine, then started uphill again. The overheating came back with a vengeance.

So I recommended lowering the windows and cranking the heater all the way up, an old car trick I'd learned from a TV show on restoring autos. That helped somewhat, but it wasn't comfortable. Then the rain began. Only so much water was allowed in before we had to raise the windows and only so much suffocating heat could be tolerated before we had to lower them again. This went on for an agonizing hour, as we could only make about 20 mph at best in the hills. Often we were creeping at a much slower pace.

None of this phased Al in the slightest.

Eventually, a real thunderstorm passed through that forced us to the side of the road. We waited it out and after it had passed, the temperature had dropped radically, giving the car cool enough air that it could labor home.

After we backed the trailer into his yard, Al turned to me and cheerfully said, "Pat, my boy, we made it!" followed by one of his satisfied chuckles.

That was Al.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

All Things Come to an End

It struck me as strange but appropriate to read about the cancellation of the daytime soap opera "Guiding Light" a few days after the anniversary of my mother's death in 2003. My late mother was a devoted fan of the soap, having followed it from radio to television and I remember her watching it every day. In fact, it was such a fixture in her life that I watched when I was sick, unable to attend school. After her death, I only caught a glimpse of it once in a waiting room at a clinic, recognizing only one actor and marveling how much it had gone downhill. Apparently, budgets became minuscule as ratings declined and they were using digital cameras.

I suspect the growth of "reality" television eroded the salacious appeal of the daytime soaps, now viewers can watch real people exhibit scandalous behavior in narcissistic bids for fame and fortune. How could fictional characters compete with sad madness and dissolution of actual people? Of course, the change to the culture of women working, even if married, had a lot to do with the declining ratings.

Personally, I think soap operas did great damage to the fabric of our society, with the constant infidelity, lying, scheming, and torn apart families. This was a very bad influence, especially on the teenage girls who watched it. So I'm not mourning the passing of the show.