We're keeping it 'low-key' this year so our apologies if we didn't invite you. On second thoughts: congratulations if you haven't been invited!
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With the deadline to solve the latest potential economic crisis in the US rapidly approaching, you have probably heard of the fiscal cliff - but what is it? Here are some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the fiscal cliff.
What is the fiscal cliff?
The term fiscal cliff refers to a combination of dramatic spending cuts and tax increases mandated to come into effect in January. To avoid the cliff, US president Barack Obama has to strike an agreement with Republicans who control the US House of Representatives by the end of the year.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 codified in law a grudging political compromise forcing the government to slash spending by $US1.2 trillion over 10 years from January 1. Next year's cuts, called sequestration, would be about $US109 billion. Also on that date, a package of tax reductions and an extension of unemployment benefits will expire, meaning taxes will rise significantly for most Americans.
Why will this happen?
Democrats and Republicans have long been deadlocked over whether to address a $US1 trillion-plus annual budget gap with higher taxes or lower spending. The Budget Control Act was a poison-pill deal designed to force them to find a less austere compromise, but political wrangling and dysfunction meant no deal was done, and the deadline is now looming.
What happens if it is not avoided?
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says the higher taxes and lowered spending could slice the $US1.1 trillion deficit racked up in the 2012 fiscal year by almost $US500 billion next year. While this would vastly improve the government's financial picture, the CBO estimates the shock treatment would send the country back to recession and push the unemployment rate to 9.1 per cent. Deep cuts would come to both domestic programs and defence spending. Government suppliers and contractors would lose business, and temporary furloughs could be in store for tens of thousands of federal employees. Taxes and automatic pay check deductions would increase for most Americans - reducing the cash they have for spending - and taxes on capital gains and dividends would rise, hitting investors.
What is the debt ceiling?
The US government will hit its statutory $US16.39 trillion debt limit on Monday, according to treasury secretary Timothy Geithner. The limit is set by Congress and if it is not raised, the US will not be able to borrow any more money and would, in theory, be forced to slash spending to make ends meet. Possible, but desperate, remedies would include halting pay to the military, retirement health benefits, social security and failing to pay government debts.
Will the US default on its debt?
Not immediately. The treasury has various extraordinary measures in its armoury, including halting the issuance of securities to state and local governments, which could buy about two months of leeway.
What would a default mean?
No-one is sure: the dollar and US treasury bonds are the primary currency of global finance, and holders do not really have any alternatives. Most believe that eventually the US government would make good on its debts. However, the country's credit rating could be further downgraded, likely pushing up its borrowing costs over the medium-term and possibly diminishing the dollar's cachet in world finance.
What will Congress do?
Eventually, Congress is likely to raise the debt ceiling, but Republicans who run the House of Representatives will use the showdown as leverage to demand spending cuts from the president in return. It is uncertain how high the raised borrowing limit will be, and in any case, any resolution will likely trigger a new confrontation between Mr Obama and Republicans the next time around.
What dit I do?
I liquidated a large part of my share holdings in anticipation of a market fall.
What did the market do?
It went UP!
Asylum seekers on Manus Island, through Amnesty International, have demanded a response from the Department if Immigration by close of business today about a range of things, foremost a lack of air conditioners.
Why didn't I think of contacting Amnesty International when I spent all those years in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Thursday Island, Samoa, Rangoon and Penang Island with not a whisper of an air conditioner?
In fact, the last few days at "Riverbend" have been pretty hot and I could've done with Amnesty International's help to have the Australian government give me an air conditioner.
I had better get started and write them a letter. Mind you, I don't like my chances of getting a reply. I am still waiting for a reply to a letter I wrote to the local council some months ago. Of course, I am not an asylum seeker; I am merely an Australian citizen and taxpayer.
P.S. By the way, a South American scientist from Argentina, after a lengthy study, has discovered that people with insufficient brain and sexual activity read blogs with their hand on the mouse.
DON'T BOTHER TAKING IT OFF NOW, IT'S TOO LATE!!!
Christmas cards are said to have been around since 1843. Well, not with me! I only became a recipient and reluctant sender of such cards when I settled in deepest Australian suburbia in 1985 after a Christmas-less and Christmas Card-less lifetime spent in some of the remotest corners of the world.
My suburban neighbours engaged in an annual 'look-I-received-more-cards-than-you-did' contest by stringing up their Christmas cards across their lounge room windows. With my competitive spirit aroused and short of 'doing a Mr Bean' and sending cards to myself, I began to keep the few cards I received each year until, a few years later, I was able to string an impressive-looking collection across my own window. 'Look I received more cards than you did!'
When asked by one neighbour why a Christmas card on display in 1997 had been signed, "With best wishes for 1989", I told him that some of my friends were dyslexic.
After yesterday's sweltering heat, today's drop in temperature to the mid-twenties is most welcome as is the light rain which I was eager to catch by adding another red downpipe to the carport's roof.
I took the periscope design straight from DAS BOOT:
I hope you're enjoying Christmas as much as I do. I'm slightly pissed which is entirely your fault as I've been drinking too many toasts to your good health and continued good fortunes. May the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows. As for myself, with six new pairs of socks and a like number of new boxer underpants beneath the Christmas tree, I am ready to face whatever the new year wants to throw at me.
Meanwhile, good ol' Miranda Gibson has been listening to the Queen's Christmas Message from the top of her own Christmas tree:
"Tasmanian anti-logging activist Miranda Gibson is spending her second Christmas Day in her tree-top home. Ms Gibson has been living on a platform in a eucalyptus tree, 60 metres above the forest floor in the Tyenna Valley in southern Tasmania, for more than a year. She has been campaigning to protect high conservation-value forests from logging, and says she hopes it will be her last Christmas in the tree. 'I would really like to be coming down in 2013,' she said."
Our short holiday rental season is upon us and the first guests are due in today. All the last-minute jobs are done and the Cottage is ready!
I even managed to bang a few Melamine boards together to house the fridge and microwave.
Come on, all ye faithful, we welcome you to Riverbend Cottage!
The foundations are 6 x 6 metres, and rather than buying a giant carpenter's square, I fell back on Pythagoras' 3:4:5 triangle to ensure all four corners are an exact 90°:
Strange how some simple rules stay with you for the rest of your life! The Rule of 72, for example, by which you determine how long it takes to double your money at compound interest: simply divide 72 by the rate of interest to give you the number of years. Or when your accounts don't balance: if the difference is divisible by 9, it's almost certain to be a transposition of figures. Or π being the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. And the ratio of 3:4:5.
Anyway, the work will continue after Christmas. Watch this space!
As I was lying in bed pondering the problems of the world, I rapidly realized this:
I came back from town with some more liquids to cheer me up over the merry season, some plumbing and hardware stuff for several DIY-jobs to do in between drinks, and this cute little book.
No, I won't give you the answers. You have to buy your own book. Only sex is free!
Well, according to the ABC's First Tuesday Book Club, they are:
With one foot in the grave, I'm glad I've read seven of them already. I guess I just have to catch up with numbers 6, 8 and 9 before my own number is up.
Who is this overweight, conspicuously costumed, nocturnal, breaking-and-entering alien with no visible means of support anyway? Does he collect GST on all the gifts he leaves? Are the elves getting time and a half? Does the RSPCA know about the workload those reindeer face? Does he have a licence for his off-road vehicle, which, by the way, appears to have no running lights for night travel ...
Anyway, I hope it wasn't your "Dear Santa" letter he picked and that all your wishes come true and you have a wonderful Christmas!
The vegie plot, that is: cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, shallots - it's amazing what you can fit into an old cut-in-half watertank. This morning I played human bulldozer and, armed with no more than a pickaxe, cleared some ground around the pond. I've never physically worked this hard. I don't know if it's going to shorten my life; it sure shortens my breath.
Time to take a break with my latest book, The Story of the Fly and How it Could Save the World.
I've just bought another five cubic metres of red euci chips but the spreading of it will have to wait until after sundown as the temperature has already soared to the high thirties.
A bit of weeding in the shady places and then a spot of lunch before sleeping it all off in the hammock.
Ever since the early 1980s when I spent several years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I have had an abiding interest in this somewhat forbidding and secretive country. I therefore was very pleased to hear that Saudi women are now allowed to drive their own cars - see above picture.
Our new neighbours of little more than a year are no longer our neighbours! The removal van has been and gone and the FOR SALE-sign is up.
Has this got anything to do with Council having refused to approve their new fence? No sooner had it gone up than several residents phoned Council and complained. Not me! As I told my new neighbours, having spent the first twenty years of my life next to the Berlin Wall, I could probably bear to live next to theirs for the last twenty. Vive aliisque vivatur!
However, now that they're gone and selling, I asked Council what would happen next. Here's their reply:
I refer to your email of the 3/12/12 regarding the refusal of the above DA and advise the following:
Development Assessment Officer"
There goes $15,000 worth of fencing! And our new neighbours!
No doubt the Canadian economy will take a turn for the worse after a good friend has taken 'vingt loonies' out of circulation and put them in my Christmas stocking. And I haven't even so much as sent him a card!
All I can say is that if all my friends were as generous, I'd still be only twenty dollars richer.
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Imagine a delicious-looking chocolate bar, still in its shiny wrapper, lying on the riverbank. Along comes a middle-aged-looking guy with a fishing rod over his shoulder, obviously out for a day of angling. He spies the chocolate bar, picks it up, unwraps it and pops it in his mouth with a contented smile.
Next he's dropped the fishing rod and his eyes are as big as golf balls. His mouth is all puckered and distended - and now you can see a thin, taut line running from the corner of his mouth straight across the riverbank into the water. The fisherman is on his knees and he's being dragged - reeled in - inexorably into the water.
When next you look, all you can see is the surface of the water with just a few bubbles rising and the fisherman's hat floating beside them.
Makes you think about angling from a different ... angle, as it were, doesn't it?
no-one else does.
After a quick chat with our neighbours across the fence, we were off to Ulladulla for our weekly roast beef at the club, our weekly swim at the pool, and a few other not so weekly things like cashing a cheque and renewing the car rego.
As I stood there at the bank counter, signing the cheque, the florish of my signature was cut short by the chain with which they had tethered their cheap ballpoint pen to the counter. What is it with these people? They want you to trust them with your money but they won't even trust you with a 50-cent ballpoint pen?
I had made out the cheque to "Cash" and written across the top "Please pay cash" and duly initialled it and also produced my driver's licence which was scrutinised at great length even though I'd been in that bank so many times that some staff already greeted me by name. None of which seemed to matter as I was sternly reprimanded for not having crossed out the "Not Negotiable" already printed on the cheque by the bank. What must I do next to get my own money out? Genuflect and grovel?
After she had counted out the fifties in slow motion, she asked with a frozen smile, "Anything else we can do for you today?" Why the royal 'we' and why the qualifying 'today'?
Walking down the main street, I thought for a moment that some epidemic of earaches had broken out. People were all walking around with one hand jammed to the side of their head. Then I realised they were talking into their mobile phones. When did it become mandatory for everybody with an index finger to own one of these damn things?
The Road Transport Authority is never a busy place. I mean, they never have an end-of-season sale or offer 30% off, do they? The old guy who sat behind the counter in past years used to spend more time reading the sports page of the local rag than issuing licences or renewing regos. There was never a queue: you just walked up to the counter and within minutes your business was done.
Not anymore! Technology had caught up with our small motor registry: I was stopped at the door by a computer touchscreen which required me to "Press A for Car Registrations", "Press B for Licences", "Press C for ..." - well, you know those things, don't you?
I was the only customer (or was I a "client" now?) as the idle counter staff - all three of them and just three metres away - watched me from behind their bullet-proof screens (are they afraid of somebody coming in with a licence to kill?) as I navigated my way through "Press 1 for New Registrations" and "Press 2 for Renewals". It took so long, one of them - he must've been trained by the old guy - began to read the sports page again.
Eventually, the machine grudgingly issued me with a computer-printed ticket which read, "WELCOME - Your number is R004. Please wait until your number is called". Presumably mine was the fourth registration for the day. And that at 3 o'clock in the afternoon!
Some minutes later, a tinny computer-generated voice rasped out, "Arrh Zero Zero Four". I walked up to the chap reading the sports page and plonked down my rego paper and credit card. All done! I asked him how much it had cost to instal all this space-age junk but he had already turned back to the sports page.
I was glad to return to the sanity and serenity of "Riverbend" where I gave a quick wave to our new neighbours in that brilliantly white cruiser who had been moored across from us for the past three days.
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
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This blog has no particular axe to grind, apart from that of having no particular axe to grind. I reserve the right to revise my views at any time. I might even indulge in the freedom of contradicting myself. I have done so in the past and will most certainly do so in the future. I am not persuading you or anyone else to believe anything that is reported on or linked to from this site, but I am encouraging you to use all available resources to form your own opinions about important things that affect all our lives and to express them in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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