My friend Nina Smith has a small business in Vermont: she’s a media producer and trade show designer in North Puffin where she works about as much as she wants and has time off to garden or swim in the brief summer and to ski on good winter days. Most of her clients are out of state so her business occasionally sells them goods at retail but not very often and only on special order. Still, she has a Vermont Sales Tax ID and has to file the Sales and Use Tax Return annually.

She called the tax department.

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies…

“I am now on hold with the Vermont Tax Department for the second time,” she told me. “It took two hours the first.”

“We are currently experiencing higher than normal call volume…”

VT Tax changed to a new website. “VTbizfile” morphed into “myVTax” but it’s not “” It’s “”


Vermont Tax changed our business ID numbers. And passwords last only six months which is a real boon for annual filers.

Of course, no one at the tax department ever actually communicated any of this.

“I was even online for the current instructions earlier this month,” she said. Those are still at the same old link and don’t mention the changes.

Tax Examiner Vander (not his real name) got exasperated the first time Nina called; Vander rushed through trying to get her logged in. “Just file the return manually,” he finally said, guiding Nina to right area of the new website.

She had to call back. See Vander didn’t give Nina her new VT Business Account “SUT” number. The PDF return won’t print without the SUT number. “I can do the ‘manual’ filing online without that but the site insists I pick a filing month. I’m an annual filer. He didn’t tell me how to handle that, either.”

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies…

“We are currently experiencing higher than normal call volume…”

Nina didn’t collect any sales tax this year — all of her sales went out of state — and she doesn’t need to make a payment. “They do require me to file, though. It should be easier to file a zero dollar return but I guess they needed to collect their due by costing me time instead.”

Tax Examiner Mary (not her real name) finally answered. Mary was patient. Mary was knowledgeable. Mary walked her through it step by step. Nina now has a gen-you-wine myVTax account and was able to tell the state she didn’t owe a penny.

At least we hope so. The site never told her her return was accepted.

Obviously myVTax has learned from my friends at !@#$%^Comcast. Sometimes you get a star but most of the time you hang on hold for a couple of hours before talking to someone who doesn’t help.


Another Doc Gorn

Medicaid cut payments by 20% back on the first of January this year.

I'm from the Government
Dr. Laura Bellstrom closed her pediatric practice in St. Albans, Vermont, last week. She’s number four in a county that had 11 pediatricians at the beginning of the year. We have seven now. I know half a dozen of her now-former patients from North Puffin alone.

Yeppers, between ObamaDon’tCare and “expanded” Medicaid, we’ll cover everybody, absolutely.

Oh. wait.

The Guardian reported on the little costs that rack up thanks to what the Unaffordable Care Act doesn’t cover. Family members now have to pay for their own coverage. The co-pay for an asthma inhaler cost $7 before Unaffordable Care Act. “Then it went to $30. Then $60. Now it’s $100, every month.” A friend is fighting the mental fog of Lyme disease. Her insurance won’t pay for a treatment that will get her off Doxycycline therapy.

Kaiser reported that the “family glitch” in the Unaffordable Care Act means many mostly middle-income Americans remain uninsured because they can’t afford their insurance at work but make too much to qualify for the income tax prebate “subsidies.”

Several million did get coverage through the Medicaid program in states that opted to expand it. Now, since Medicaid ain’t paying its bills, look at what happens.

For the record.
Voting for the Unaffordable Care Act in the House: Florida Democrats Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Alan Grayson, Alcee Hastings, Ron Klein, Kendrick Meek, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Robert Wexler plus Vermont’s sole representative, Democrat Peter Welch.
Voting for the Unaffordable Care Act in the Senate: Florida Democrat Bill Nelson plus both of Vermont’s senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and “Independent” Bernard Sanders.

Dr. Laura Bellstrom. Gone. Three other pediatricians. Gone.

6,000 kids in northwestern Vermont lost their docs this year.

Six thousand.

Pediatricians are in the spotlight now, but similar problems face primary care providers for adults, said, Vermont Health Access commissioner Steven Costantino.

Shrinking provider networks under the Unaffordable Care Act mean you not only can’t keep your doctor, you may not find a doctor.

The solution hasn’t changed since the Unaffordable Care Act passed in 2009.

1. Do not raise taxes to pay for care. Do not raise government “fees” to pay for care. (Politicians are suggesting both. Again)
2. Throw da bums out.
3. Do not raise premiums to pay for care. (Politicians are suggesting that, too. Again)
4. Throw da bums out.
5. Reform the health care system. It’s still broken.
6. Did I mention, Throw da bums out?

Merry Christmas.


Roads! We Need More Roads!

This bright idea is making the rounds among the True Believers on social media these days:

Millions are unemployed and our roads and bridges are falling apart!

Will all these political proposals really create jobs? If so, why not just keep adding new programs until we achieve full employment? Heck, according to USDOT, we get 47,000 new jobs per $1 billion spent building roads. Let’s guess that it costs about $5 million to build the average mile of road (not so far off overall), so that works out to 235 jobs per mile.

The US labor force stats show 7.9 million unemployed.

Bernie’s right. All we need is to build about 34,000 miles of road and there won’t be a single, solitary unemployed person anywhere in the country!

My work here is done.



“I can see my breath!” I complained during walkies Friday morning.

“Wimp,” a passing resident said almost sotto voce.

It was 15°F colder in Southwest Puffin than in North Puffin on Friday.

Some Solar Deniers would have you believe that Global Warming caused this dip in temperature.

I’m an engineer in real life but I also have a 98% useless undergrad degree in Math.

Today is the last day of the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season. I took my hurricane shutters down last week.

Terminology: A “hurricane” is a tropical cyclone. In the western North Pacific, these storms are called “typhoons” but similar storms in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans are known as “cyclones.”

Hurricane modeling fascinates me. As the season ends in the Tropics, we relied on computer projections that gave our forecasters the results we see as a colored “cone of uncertainty” on the weather maps. Generally speaking, the models can narrow down a north Atlantic tropical cyclone to a path that falls in the … North Atlantic.

Spaghetti Model of Atlantic Hurricane TracksThere are four or five excellent global hurricane forecasting models. Those models solve the equations describing the behavior of the atmosphere over the entire globe. Remember that. These numeric (or “dynamical”) models — called ECMWF, GFDL, GFS, and UKMET — each take hours to run on supercomputers. I was surprised to learn that the U.S. National Weather Service uses the less useful NAM model for only North America and the surrounding waters. There are also statistical models as well as simple trajectory models and hybrid statistical/dynamical models. The National Hurricane Center maintains a list of all of the tropical cyclone track and intensity models.

Here’s one percent of the two percent use that I get from my useless Math degree: I know enough math to know I absolutely could not write the equations for one of these models.

I also know enough math to know the four best hurricane models blither off into uncertainty in a few short days.

“The global warming scam … is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen I have seen.”
–Harold Lewis

The IPCC’s man-made Global Warming model simulations cover the period to the year 2100 and beyond. Not five days. Not 500 days. Not even 5,000 days. The IPCC says their model of man-made Global Warming is fixed out to 31,000 days.


We can’t predict whether it will rain on South Puffin today (there’s a 10-20% chance) with any certainty but we can predict the temperature there on November 30, 2100.


Global Warming models solve the equations describing the behavior of the atmosphere over the entire globe. Sound familiar?

Let’s consider the hurricane models we count on.

Tropical Storm Kate formed out around the Bahamas on a Monday morning just three weeks ago today, an occurrence unexpected by forecasters in the November of an El Niño year. That pries another nail out of climate models, too.

By Veterans’ Day, Hurricane Kate had become the fourth hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season. Kate tracked north away from the Bahamas, passed well north of Bermuda, and pretty much bothered only the fishies.

Strong El Niño events typically bring the Atlantic season to an earlier-than-usual close because the subtropical jet stream gets an increasing boost toward late autumn. Despite that, Kate did become a hurricane but was tamed a couple of days later. Dr. Jeff Masters noted that the “only” Atlantic hurricanes observed since 1950 during El Niño Novembers are Ida (2009), Florence and Gordon (both 1994), the “Perfect Storm” (Grace in 1991 which was actually a Halloween storm), Frances (1986), and Martha (1969).

“Only”? Six seems like a lot of “onlies,” since there were November hurricanes in only three non-El Niño years — 1998, 2001, and 2005. (There was also a Cat 1 hurricane in the Azores in December 1951, plus Alice in the Antilles in December-January, 1952, and Lili in December, 1984. 1951-2 was an El Niño year.) I think there have been 21 el Niño years since 1950.

What have we learned?

  • I’m thinking Dr. Jeff Masters is as good at hurricane reporting as at global warming prediction.
  • If we aren’t good enough at math to predict an atmospheric event as big as a hurricane over a summer, we aren’t good enough at math to predict a 4.3°C temperature change over a century.
  • We don’t know how to terraform a planet.
  • I hate outdoor walkies when the temperature is 4°C.

Maybe the science ain’t as “fixed” as the Far Green would have us believe, hmmm?

Hmmm, indeed. British public schools used to “cane” students for performance as poor as these predicters keep turning in.



“We need to go on strike!” My friend Lido Bruhl shouted.

From the You Can’t Make this Stuff up department.

“They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on,” democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said in a speech Friday.

The minimum wage is the least an employer can pay an hourly employee; it has been pegged at $7.25 an hour since 2009; some states and cities have raised their minimum wage higher than that.

Many politicians want to raise it to $15/hour.

Just 4.3% of hourly workers 16 years old and older earn at or below the prevailing minimum wage but 42% of all U.S. workers earn $15 or less. Since about 60% of the U.S. workforce of some 122.9 million full time workers overall are paid hourly, more than 70 million workers now make less than that magic $15/hour. (BLS defines full-time workers as those who usually work 35 hours or more per week.)

“We need to go on strike!” Lido “Lee” Bruhl is a now retired newspaper editor who lives on Social Security with help from his wife and his daughter Greta.



What’s a state-run lottery?
It’s another extra tax on people who can’t do math.

Let’s start with some basic facts about Social Security today.

“If it weren’t for Social Security more than one-third of us older Americans would be living in poverty,” he said. “As it is, we worked all our lives and now we’re living on minimum wage!”



Regular readers may recall a chart I created last year to compare the minimum wage with the Federal Poverty Line. People working for minimum wage have consistently earned more than the Federal poverty level every year since 1957. Here are those figures updated.

2016 Minimum Wage Chart

Among “elderly” Social Security recipients, 22% of married couples and about 47% of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. Ouch!

There are 41,362,000 elderly recipients. About half of them receive the average “benefit” of around $1,300 per month or less. That’s about $43 more per month than minimum wage. And it is considerably less than that after deducting for Medicare premiums.

The definition of poverty is income below $11,770 this year. Working 40 hours at minimum wage earns you $15,080. (Heck, if you work 35 hours at minimum wage, you earn $13,195.) And the average Social Security check will bring in $15,988 this year.

We don’t need to argue about whether “poverty” in the United States doesn’t look at all like the hand-to-mouth existence of the poor in, say, Mexico. If you can afford cigarettes and a smart phone, you aren’t poor.

“I don’t smoke. I can’t afford it,” Lee said. “I don’t have a smart phone for the same reason.”

Now for the politics (and you thought I’d never get here).

The American retirement system is designed so smart politicians can keep American workers and retirees alike in servitude to the government but the idea of raising the minimum wage is designed for people who can’t do math.

Want to know why politicians want the minimum wage to rise?
The income tax you pay goes up when your paycheck goes up.

Want to know why politicians want wages to rise?

It’s simple. The income tax you pay goes up when your paycheck goes up. The income tax rate you pay goes from zero at minimum wage to about 13%, meaning you’ll owe $4,060 when your paycheck goes up to $15/hour. All those new taxpayers.

What happens when 70 million people get a raise to $15/hour?

The first thing that happens is a brief surge in government revenues as payroll taxes skyrocket.

The second thing that happens is 25 million people get their hours cut. The politicians forgot that part.

The third thing that happens is 25 million new unemployment applications. The politicians forgot that part.

The fourth thing that happens is 10 million pissed off workers because they no longer make more than minimum wage. The politicians forgot that part.

The fifth thing that happens is an inflationary spiral. The politicians forgot that part.

The sixth thing that happens is an increase in the Federal Poverty Level. The politicians probably remembered that part.

And almost 21 million Social Security recipients won’t be able to afford the stamp to write to their Congress Critter because they will suddenly be back under the poverty line.

My friend Lee Bruhl was right.

We need to strike.

He’s just wrong about the reason.