THE LUNATICS TAKE OVER – YIPPEE!

Steve Williams: “I am such a mope. I bought about 4500 shares of CN at about $1.25 or so each on average about a year ago. I sold them all about 2 months ago for about $1.35 each cause I was bored with them. Now they close today at 4 11/16. I want to die. I hate this irrational exuberance.”

And yesterday it closed at 5 1/2. I’ve sold most of mine by now, so I’m torn. Because I still have a good bit (at one point, I had a barn full), I should certainly want to see it keep rising. But because I am human, and don’t want to feel like a mope for having sold too soon, part of me certainly wants to see it return to seemingly more rational levels. Worrying about this is what I believe is clinically known as neurotic behavior.

(I don’t know much about neurotic behavior, except from observing myself first-hand, but I was always struck by this distinction between a neurotic and a psychotic. A neurotic feels guilty about everything. A psychotic feels guilty about nothing.)

Jeff: “You say, ‘I have no clue what CN will do today, but especially if it goes up, I will continue to sell.’ What do you mean continue to sell? If the shares are valued at such a price that you would want to sell some of your holdings, why not sell them all? Are some shares more valuable than others?”

Even if I felt I knew for sure what a stock was worth — $20, say, when it was selling at $17 — I would not buy a huge amount at $17 both because I could easily be wrong and also because I know the market often goes to irrational extremes. So I tend to add to a position as it goes down, if I still believe in it (this is generally considered stupid, and often in fact proves stupid: you are supposed to cut your losses and let you profits run) . . . and — by the same token — I tend to sell in somewhat the same way. Granted, until recently, I tended not to hang on past the point I thought a stock was overvalued. (Except where a large tax bite was involved. Then it could make sense to hang on, especially if it were a growth stock that could grow into its rich valuation.) But these days, it’s all but irresistible to keep a little of some wildly priced stock, in part because who knows what these high-tech stocks will be worth; and in part to profit from the mania a little; and because, mainly, I don’t want to feel like a total mope.

TOBACCO

Tom O’Connor: “You know how when you watch a TV documentary on crime, and they’re interviewing some fantastically evil ax murderer, and he comes off as just the nicest, most reasonable person you’ve ever known, and this creeps you out, way more than it would have had he actually been the raving lunatic freak you expected? I just had that experience on the Brown &Williamson website. They’re so slick, so polished, so pleasant and thoughtful about their place in the world.”

Have you seen “The Insider,” nominated for seven Academy awards last week? You won’t find it recommended on the Brown & Williamson website, but it’s dynamite.

Bob R: “Just wanted to point out that whether I support prop 28 or not may not have anything to do with my views on tobacco use. The whole idea of taxing to raise the price of cigarettes so that people (mostly low income people or children) can’t afford to use them seems to me like an ‘ends justifies the means’ argument. Being more of a libertarian, I generally vote more on principle rather than getting carried away with expected results. In the first place, the results are never exactly what you expect. And in the second place, I don’t like setting precedents for using evil means which could then be appropriated for other ends. (What’s next? We put a huge tax on gasoline so teenagers can’t afford to drive, thus reducing the accident rate for those under 21?)

Driving offers many tangible benefits for young people, and for the economy as a whole. And when done carefully, it’s safe.

Smoking, on the other hand, is not safe when done carefully, and tends to diminish, rather than enhance, productivity.

I know Bob was kidding, but still — can you name any other legal product that, when used carefully and as intended (even including chain saws and alcohol, used as intended, in moderation, with designated drivers, etc.) leads to widespread illness and premature death? If not, then maybe tobacco reasonably can be singled out for special, but reasonable, treatment.

I do think that if we need tax revenue at all, and we do, there’s much logic to taxing the things you want to discourage — like smoking — and go easy taxing the things you want to encourage, like work and investment.

THE MARRIAGE PENALTY

Sergei Slobodov: “You might be interested to know that Canadian government, instead of invading Maine (as you much feared), is now debating and will surely pass federal legislation (bill C-23) that guarantees equal legal treatment to same-sex couples, including taxes, benefits, inheritance and so on. It stops just short of legalizing same-sex marriages, although this might also be not too far beyond the horizon.

All the more reason for Canada to invade Maine.

Michael Kjar: “I’ve lived with my partner for 14 years and he cannot inherit my 401K accumulation without taking distributions and paying taxes. We have 10 legal documents between us and a survivorship agreement on the house, yet we still cannot duplicate the benefits of a spousal relationship, especially those that accrue as we grow old together. And don’t get me started about the inequities of medical insurance.

“Almost 7 weeks ago, on New Year’s eve, my partner collapsed while we were running in the neighborhood — an aneurysmal brain hemorrhage. After EMS left with him for the hospital, I ran home and tore through the house to get what? My durable power of attorney and my power of attorney for health care, of course! What else would be on my mind at a time like that? If I don’t have the papers, I don’t exist. (Fortunately, Mark survived and is recovering slowly but miraculously.)”

Jim M: “Two years ago I was transferred from my Government job in Washington, DC to San Diego, CA. You wouldn’t believe how much money I lost out on for not being married to my partner. First of all, instead of getting per diem for two persons as we traveled across the country we only received per diem for me. Then when we got to California and were househunting, we received half the housing allowance for temporary quarters that straight couples received. The clincher was the reimbursement of the costs of selling and buying our homes. I was originally told that because I was being transferred I would be fully reimbursed for these expenses. However, after I filed my reimbursement claim I got a letter from our legal department asking who the other person on our deed was. After finding out that it was not a spouse or immediate family member they insisted on prorating the reimbursement based on the percentage of the house that I owned based on the deed. Well, when we bought the house back in 1987, I was making about 25% of what my partner made. The mortgage lender insisted that the deed be 25% in my name and 75% in my partner’s name. (We had always planned on changing this but since I knew we would be selling the house we just put it off.) So they reimbursed me for 25% of our $17,000 closing costs resulting in a loss of $12,750. How’s that for a non-marriage penalty? Now they’re attempting to do the same on the closing costs of the new home we just purchased.

“PS My best to your better half.

“Jim M.

“PPS See I even followed you advice of putting the PS before the signature. Of course, that means you probably won’t even see this PS. Oh well.”

 

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