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Tom Purcell HeadA quarter of a million dollars.

That’s the amount that I’ve paid in FICA payroll taxes during my working career, according to my recent Social Security statement.

FICA, which stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act,” “is a payroll tax that helps fund both Social Security and Medicare programs, which provide benefits for retirees, the disabled and children,” says the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The FICA tax also will partially fund — at least I hope it will — my retirement years.

My statement says I am eligible to begin receiving Social Security payments of $1,851 a month when I hit age 62.

If I wait until I am 70, I’ll receive $3,370 a month — which is a nice little chunk of dough.

However, if I had invested the $250,000 FICA deducted from my earnings on my own, I’d have, according to my money manager, more than $1.5 million socked away.

If I drew a conservative 4 percent of that $1.5 million every year, I’d be collecting a $5,000 retirement check every month right away.

Of course, that is assuming I would have saved and invested all the money that FICA took from my weekly paychecks.

More likely, me knowing me, I would have blown most of it on nicer cars and more vacations.

Saving money for your future is hard, even for more-disciplined people.

My parents raised six kids on one income and had a lot of big bills along the way, so saving money for the future was not always possible.

They now rely on the Social Security payments they receive every month to help them cover their basic expenses.

Millions of elderly Americans are in the same precarious financial boat.

The Social Security Administration reports that about 40 percent of Americans 65 and older receive half of their retirement income from Social Security — and about 13 percent rely on it for 90 percent or more of their income.

It takes some of the sting out of the 15.3 percent FICA tax that is imposed on my self-employed earnings to know that my contributions are helping others get by in their old age.

But will Social Security be around to help me in my old age?

Social Security is now paying out more than it is taking in and the funds working taxpayers contribute now go directly to Social Security recipients.

But what about the Social Security “trust fund,” which saved trillions of the surplus tax contributions that had rolled in for years?

The partially good news is that it will not run out of money until 2034 — at which time Social Security payments will have to be reduced, taxes will have to be raised or more money will have to be borrowed.

The bad news is that its funds were “invested” in government bonds, which the federal government happily spent on day-to-day budget expenses, such as foreign wars, food stamps and the national debt.

As the great columnist Charles Krauthammer explained in 2011, the Social Security trust fund is filled not with money but with special-issue government IOUs that can only be repaid by raising taxes or borrowing even more money.

In any event, it’s anybody’s guess how much my monthly Social Security checks will be, so let me make the guys at the Social Security Administration an offer.

How about you give me back my 250 large in return for removing me from your rolls?

What do you say, SSA?

Hello?

Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Post-Election Day musings

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Chris MetitationsAnother Election Day has come and gone.

In the news media sector, elections are both a big business and a fun spectator sport. 

For those of us tasked with reporting on the elections, it can be quite a thrill to watch results trickle in from various polling locations, and to see how certain races evolve through the course of the night’s tallying.

If, like me, you’re a reporter/media person who lives in the county you’re reporting on, it can also be a bit of a let-down at times, if your choice candidate did not win, or if a race your eyes are upon ended up in a runoff, after you’d hoped it go in a more decisive direction.

Speaking of, I imagined one, maybe two, of the primary elections in Tyler County possibly going to runoffs, but I could have never imagined four out of five contested countywide races going that way.

So, there’s another stop on the train ride that is the mid-terms here, prior to November’s general election. Whoever wins the Republican runoff for County Judge, and wins in November, it will be strange to see a different face at the head of county government, after Judge Jacques Blanchette has served for so many terms, but encouraging that so many folks have stepped up with willingness to serve.

The same goes for the other contested races in our county, and it’s encouraging, as well, to see so many younger folks with that heart of service appearing on the ballots.

As I alluded to earlier in this scrawling, some of the elections didn’t go the way I’d hoped. Case in point: Texas has missed out on having a true statesman in a powerful office (Ag Commissioner) this go round. Also: I’d really hoped for better picks going to the general election for the gubernatorial and Guv Lite races, but that’s just how those things work. Abbott, Beto and Dan Patrick have the name recognition, and most importantly, the serious coin to get on that ballot.

In terms of statewide legislative action, next year will see another legislative session, and hopefully, if there’s a good deal of new leadership in Austin, there will be less focus on inane folderol. In other words, personally, I’d like to see some real, meaningful diving into the school finance issue as well as the monolithic property tax issue. There are others, to be certain, but those are at the top of mine (and many’s) lists.

I think what most Texans would like to see is a tackling of actual issues, and a cease-and-desist on the nothingburger that is Critical Race Theory, as well as a moratorium on bigotry dictating policy, i.e. the recent Transgender law. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Hopefully we’ll get some folks into office in Austin who value public education and trust teachers to be experts on curriculum and instruction. 

For those who notice the little quotes appearing on the front page of this newspaper, there’s a reason why the bit from Plato appeared on last week’s edition about the measure of a man and power. 

A similar quote comes by way of Stan Lee, who scripted the eternal line “With great power, comes great responsibility,” which is actually a paraphrase of a sentiment expressed in classical texts and in some sacred texts, but most know it phrased the way Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben said it. 

Another quote that seems applicable is attributed to George Van Valkenburg: “Leadership is doing what is right when no one is watching.”

Getting things done for the people will take working together and healthy discourse/debate. The toxic model of political wargames doesn’t bode well anywhere, not in Austin, not in Tyler County. 

For all those who find themselves with titles in November, courtesy of the electorate, it boils down to three words: service above self.

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Peaceable – but not harmless

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Back in September of 2021 a new Texas law went into effect allowing permit less carry of handguns. At its must basic definition, permit less carry means that, with certain restrictions, anyone who can legally buy and own a handgun, can carry it, openly or concealed, within the state.

This column isn’t about gun control. Or about whether it is a good idea to carry a handgun. The decision to carry a handgun is a very personal one. The most fundamental right a human being has is the right to defend their life or their family’s lives against someone trying to take it. Similarly, no one has a legal obligation to defend either themselves or others, including third parties (unless you are a law enforcement officer). Whether you have a moral obligation to do so is, again, a personal decision.

If you decide to carry a gun, though, you need to decide before something happens if you are really willing to use it. Self-defense situations usually happen and are resolved within seconds, at very close distance, with three rounds fired.

When someone is trying to kill you, there is no time to sort out the moral or legal details of defending yourself with deadly force. As my dad drilled into me from age 7 when he gave me my first rifle, never point a gun at anyone or anything you do not intend to kill or destroy. There are two old saws related to this: You can’t recall a bullet, and there is a lawyer attached to every round you fire. If you are not certain that you are willing to draw and kill with that weapon, please do not carry it.

Now, I don’t recommend strapping on a gun and putting yourself in sketchy situations. That kind of aggression is going to get you in trouble. Even if you get what you are looking for, a confrontation, you aren’t going to like the legal firestorm you will have to endure. Ask Kyle Rittenhouse. Even if you win, you and your family will go through hell.

Most of us though, are peaceable. We don’t go out looking for a fight. We interact peaceably with others. We avoid sketchy situations. We are, in appearance, exactly the kind of people bad guys decide to steal from, or carjack, or assault.

Bad guys often believe that because someone is peaceable, they are also harmless. The perfect mark for a crime. And they are often right. And if you carry a gun but are unwilling to use it to save yourself or other innocent people, I contend you are morally wrong, regardless of the legal implications.

We should be peaceable, but not harmless.

All of this is to try once again to make a point.

The U.S. carries a very big gun. Every day thousands more innocent people die in Ukraine because of the atrocities committed by Putin and his army.

If we don’t have the courage to use that big gun to defend innocent people, why spend $700 billion a year to keep it loaded? Because we fear Putin’s nuclear weapons? Then he can blackmail us into retreat and invade any country he wants knowing we will never attack him militarily (as the Biden administration keeps reminding him via the media).

The U.S. clearly needs to be a peaceable country. But it cannot remain harmless.

 

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Ukraine conflict fuels ag uncertainty

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Wheat is among commodities that could be impacted by conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the near- and long-term. Texas A&M AgriLife photo Laura McKenzieWheat is among commodities that could be impacted by conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the near- and long-term. Texas A&M AgriLife photo Laura McKenzie

By Adam Russel
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Communication Specialist

The Russian invasion brought devastation to Ukraine, but uncertainty and volatility fueled by this conflict are rippling through U.S. and Texas agriculture markets. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economists said both Russia and Ukraine do not represent major destinations for U.S. commodities, ranking 56th and 80th, respectively. However, the conflict’s impact on global trade, trade alliances and infrastructure could ripple throughout U.S. sectors in the near- and long-term future.

Russia imported between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion of U.S. agricultural products annually until imports fell to around $200 million to $300 million over the last five years, following its invasion of Crimea. David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, Bryan-College Station, said this type of conflict creates a “factor of chaos.” The invasion may not directly impact U.S. supply chains, but it will likely disrupt specific sectors, commodities and products as well as create uncertainty, which typically leads to market volatility. For example, Anderson said the invasion and subsequent sanctions against Russia could further complicate U.S. fertilizer supplies and prices. He noted one major fertilizer product component comes from a Russian-based company.

Anderson said this type of conflict directly impacts lives in that region, but it also creates worry and uncertainty throughout all sectors and markets that ripple through the U.S. economy and many other countries to varying degrees. “We are blessed to live in a big, diverse nation where we produce an exportable excess of many basic agricultural commodities,” Anderson said. “We do import a lot of fruits and vegetables and coffee, but none of that is coming from Ukraine or Russia.”

Wheat is among commodities that could be impacted by conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the near- and long-term. Mark Welch, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension small grains economist, Bryan-College Station, said the futures grain markets, from wheat to grains for livestock feed, will likely be affected most by the invasion. Ukraine and Russia together are expected to account for about 30% of global wheat exports in the current marketing year.

On Monday, Kansas City July wheat contracts, which represent harvest contracts for Texas producers, fluctuated wildly but were expected to trend higher, Welch said. Corn and soybean prices were also trading higher. “We are pretty deep into the current marketing year for wheat, which ends May 31, so I do not know how much more wheat is left to be shipped in the next few months,” he said. “In that respect, the timing of this invasion may limit short-term impacts. Certainly, damage to port infrastructure or shipping restrictions in the Black Sea will slow trade and make it much more expensive.”

China announced it is open to grain shipments from Russia. This would provide an outlet for Russian grain sales and help China meet its grain import needs. Much like what happened during the tariff war between the U.S. and China, trade alliances and flows may shift, Welch said. “It’s really tough to say right now because there are more questions than answers,” he said. “Uncertainty fuels volatility, and when commodity supplies tighten, any disruption to the market can make an impact.”

Anderson said Ukraine and Russia will have very little direct impact on U.S. protein markets, but the conflict could impact some trade sectors indirectly, including protein production.

According to a CME Group’s Daily Livestock Report following the invasion, the impact of restrictions on Russian protein purchases in the world market are likely to have no impact on global trade of those items. Russia once relied on imports for proteins like pork, poultry and beef, but has reduced its dependence by increasing domestic production. In 2010, Russia imported around one-third of its pork, but increased its production by 26% and is now a net exporter of pork. In the early 2000s, more than half of Russia’s chicken was imported, but by 2010 imports dropped to 27%. Last year, Russia imported 5% of the poultry it consumed, but also exported the same amount.

Beef has been more difficult to secure because of land requirements, know-how and domestic preference, according to the CME report. Russian beef consumption has fallen 32% since 2010, and much of its beef imports come from neighboring ally Belarus.

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Broadband future is bright

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Broadband

By Kelty Garbee, Ph.D.

We stand at a pivotal moment for our state, especially our rural residents and underserved communities. That’s not just big Texas talk and swagger, it’s backed up by significant leaps forward in policymaking and funding that should drive a more connected Texas.

We know our challenges. According to a report by the Texas Governor’s Broadband Development Council, more than 819,000 Texans do not have access to broadband at home. And, while some communities may have reliable access to high-speed Internet, a gap in adoption of technology persists due to affordability, inconsistent service, or a lack of skills and devices to get connected.

Broadband remains a critical need for underserved urban and rural communities. Now, for the first time, the policy and budgetary stars are aligning to spring Texas forward at lightspeed. Just one year ago, Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed broadband an emergency item allowing broadband bills to move swiftly through the legislative process.

This month, the state’s broadband office, created through House Bill 5, embarks on a Broadband Listening Tour across our state. Comptroller Glenn Hegar will tour 12 communities to get Texans’ insights about internet access and collect public input to help drive the state’s first broadband plan. For those unable to attend, a public survey available on the Comptroller’s website provides additional opportunities for input.

HB 5 set in motion a response that begins to address the long-running challenges facing high-speed Internet connectivity and adoption in Texas. Then came funding from the massive Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The $1.2 trillion package dedicates $65 billion to broadband expansion. The Lone Star State could receive more than a billion of those dollars. That’s in addition to $500 million Texas lawmakers allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal coronavirus relief package passed last spring.

Funding will go toward physical infrastructure in rural and other underserved communities. In some areas, subsidies will help Texans secure broadband access for their homes and businesses. An estimated 29% of Texans meet the income eligibility criteria established by the federal government to access grants to help pay for high-speed internet service.

We must be smart and deliberate, yet expeditious in our approach to dispersing these funds. We should fund a statewide broadband demand study to ensure that we are planning and building for the future. A study like this would increase opportunities for local communities to draw down federal funds to support broadband investment, deployment, and access. This is especially vital to rural communities where coverage ranges from non-existent to inconsistent at best.

Broadband in rural Texas isn’t simply a Field of Dreams, where “if you build it, they will come.” We must continue working together to ensure infrastructure, affordability, and adoption of broadband across our entire state. A connected Texas — one that brings the power of high-speed internet to rural and underserved communities — is a way to ignite a bold, brash entrepreneurial spirit that’s quintessentially Texan and will drive our state forward.

The Broadband Listening Tour and survey give Texans a chance to weigh in on our future. Make your voice heard, and let’s connect Texas.

Dr. Kelty Garbee is Executive Director of Texas Rural Funders, a philanthropic coalition that works with rural communities to develop and implement solutions to their unique needs. Online at texasruralfunders.org

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