Bail Out

So much for bail out.

Got this this morning from my friend Ray, who probably picked it up elsewhere on the ‘Net.

Back in 1990, the Government seized the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada for tax evasion and, as required by law, tried to run it.

They failed and it closed.

Now we are trusting the economy of our country to a pack of nit-wits who couldn’t make money running a whore house and selling booze?

If this is yours and it’s copyright protected, let me know and I’ll pull it immediately.

The Children of Men

Futuristic social commentary by P.D. James.

The Children of MenI just finished The Children of Men by P.D. James. James, who normally writes mysteries featuring her series detective, Adam Dalgliesh, wrote instead of a futuristic world 25 years after the birth of the last-born child. In the world of this book, there are no children, no babies, and no hope for new human life.

James paints a sad picture of that world. Schools are converted into housing for the elderly, colleges now teach courses of interest to adults who don’t have their time occupied by their offspring. Playgrounds are gone. The government is trying to centralize the population in big cities so it’s easier to provide services as the population dwindles and only a handful of elderly people are left.

[This might sound weird, but it reminded me a bit of the retirement town I live in. Of course, there are some children and young people here, but the majority of residents and voters are retired so there isn’t much emphasis on things that would benefit young people. The local school board, for example, was unable to pass a school bond in the most recent vote — people don’t want to foot the bill for education when they don’t have kids in the system. The local Center for the Arts released its 2007/2008 schedule last month, and for the first time since opening about 5 years ago, there isn’t a single family-oriented program on the schedule. Are they giving up on children here in Wickenburg?]

The book has a hero: 50-year-old Theo. Theo is first cousin of the Warden of England, Xan, a self-made dictator first elected as Prime Minister years ago. Xan makes extreme decisions that benefit the apathetic public, by enhancing safety and reducing the cost and bother of supporting the aging population. But a handful of people aren’t happy with his decisions and want to stop him. They go to Theo, hoping he can convince Xan to change things. To say much more would be a spoiler, but I will mention that there appears to be hope for the world when a woman becomes pregnant.

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I enjoyed the book’s fast pace after its initially slow start. A lot of background information was presented in the form of Theo’s personal diary before a third person narrator stepped in and picked up the story. It wasn’t a long book — I read it over a weekend — and the pages turned quickly. Now I’m waiting for the movie based on the book to appear in a Netflix envelope in my mailbox. I have a feeling that the movie will be a lot more exciting than the book, focusing on the events that occur after the pregnancy is discovered, Hollywoodized for maximum visual impact.

Did I like the book? Yes, I did. It made me think. And in today’s world of eye candy entertainment, that’s saying a lot.

HAI — and General Aviation Pilots Nationwide — Need Your Help!

A call for help from Helicopter Association International.

As most pilots should know, the U.S. government is attempting to pass legislation which would, in effect, fund the repeated airline financial bailouts with money collect from general aviation pilots and operators. This will directly affect my business, as well as other small aviation operators. It will also raise the costs on many general aviation services, including, as HAI points out, EMS helicopter transportation and firefighting. These are the services that rush people outside of big cities to hospitals when they have heart attacks or serious car accidents and protect our homes from forest and brush fires.

Here’s an e-mail I just got from HAI. It not only explains the problem, but offers a toll-free number you can use to call your Senators and voice your opposition to user fees.

Congress has reached a critical stage in drafting a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). U.S. Senate draft bill, S. 1300, establishes a new $25 per-flight “user fee” for all turbine powered planes as well as more stringent requirements for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operators. The way the current draft is written, helicopters would not be exempt from this “surcharge”. This legislation will be considered and voted upon by the Senate Commerce Committee THIS WEDNESDAY May 16. It is critically important that you contact your Senator TODAY to tell them to support an Amendment to the Senate Commerce FAA bill to remove “user fees” from S. 1300.

Every voice counts, and your voice needs to be heard in Washington. You joined Helicopter Association International (HAI) for a reason. Helping you to sustain your operations and keeping you abreast of important legislative and regulatory changes is one of the most important jobs HAI performs as your advocate before Congress.

If you have never picked up the phone to make a call on an important issue, now is the time for you to start. HAI has partnered with the Alliance for Aviation Across America, and we’ve made it easier than ever to contact your Senator. The message you need to send to your Senator: ask them to support an amendment to the Senate Commerce FAA bill to remove “user fees” and “surcharges” from S. 1300. Tell your Senator you oppose a federal fuel tax increase for helicopters. Existing helicopter fuel fax exemptions for logging, firefighting, EMS, as well as offshore oil and gas exploration should be preserved.

Please call toll-free 1-866-908-5898 to be automatically connected to your Senator’s office. You may hear a few seconds of dead air while you are being connected. Keep calling. Tell your friends and business associates to call too. Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) serves on the Commerce Committee and it is especially important that he hear directly from HAI members and the families behind the 650+ helicopters in the Gulf.

There is still time for Senators to stand up for small businesses, small towns, and general aviation by sponsoring this important amendment and listening to the voices of their constituents and the helicopter operators affected by requirements contained in S. 1300. Every vote on our side at the May 16 Commerce Committee hearing brings general aviation that much closer to defeating this legislation. The big airlines’ lobbyists will succeed in pushing their costs on general aviation unless our industry acts.

Be informed. Check HAI’s website, www.rotor.com for important updates on the EMS requirements. HAI is working for you on issues of importance to our industry. Make that call today!

Personally, I can’t understand why the U.S. government continues to subsidize airlines that cannot remain profitable. Why is it that some airlines are able to be profitable and others can’t be? Could it be the top-heavy management and huge compensation packages? And why should U.S. citizens subsidize bad financial management with tax dollars?

It is unfair for the government to shift the burden of commercial aviation bailouts to small aviation operators and private pilots. Please — even if you don’t fly or know a pilot — please call or write your Senator to tell him/her that you oppose general aviation user fees and tax hikes.

Flying "Into" the Grand Canyon

A dialog about the idiosyncrasies of flying helicopters in certain parts of Arizona.

I just spent the last 30 minutes or so cleaning up my e-mail in box. I have the nasty habit of not filing or discarding messages as quickly as they come in, so there were over 300 messages to wade through. I’d read all of them and flagged some. I wound up deleting about 1/3 of them, filing another 1/3 of them, and leaving the rest for another day.

Among the e-mail messages I found was a dialog between me and another pilot, Robert Mark of JetWhine. He’d e-mailed me to ask a question and although I normally don’t answer questions sent to me by e-mail — I prefer using the Comments feature on this site so the exchange of information can involve and possibly benefit others — I did answer his. Although I’d like to get the exchange out of my e-mail in box, I want to share it with readers, since I think it has some interesting information.

So here’s the exchange. I’ve mixed Robert’s questions with my answers to make the exchange easier to follow.

Robert:

As a helicopter pilot out west, I wondered if you might be familiar with this Grand Canyon topic.

Do you know if it is correct that tour copters operated through the tribal reservation run to different standards than those that are based elsewhere?

The Chicago Tribune ran a story about the Canyon Sunday and claimed the tribal-operated copters can dip well below the edge of the cayone on a tour where others can not.

It sounded pretty odd to me.

Me:

Helicopters operating on tribal lands with appropriate permits can actually LAND at the bottom of the canyon. This, of course, is on tribal land belonging to the Hualapai and Havasupai tribes in the western part of the canyon — not in the main National Park area.

Please send me a link to that article if it is online. I’d like to read it.

Robert:

Just happen to have that link to the Tribune handy.

So then as a tribal copter, do their pilots train to different standards if they only fly there?

Me:

No, they’re not owned by the tribes. They’re owned/operated by other companies, like Papillon and Maverick, both of which operate in Vegas and at the Grand Canyon.

I worked for Papillon at the Grand Canyon. Training for GCW (Grand Canyon West) consists of spending a day or so with another pilot, learning the route and getting the feel for the density altitude situation. It’s hotter than hell down there in midsummer. Anyone can do it, but they don’t normally train women because of limited housing out there. That’s one reason why I never learned.

Don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s not. Each flight is about 6 minutes long and you’re doing ups and downs all day. The canyon isn’t as deep there as elsewhere in the park. And it isn’t as if you’re cruising up and down the canyon all day. You’re not. Just ups and downs on a preset route. Tedious stuff. Flying the South Rim is far more rewarding.

Thanks for the article link. I’ve flown out there in my old R22. The article describes the place pretty well. It’s unfortunate that many Vegas tourists think GCW is “The Grand Canyon.” It’s just a tiny part of it — and not even the good part.

Robert:

Sorry, but I’m kind of dumb on Native American issues.

Me:

Don’t feel bad. A lot of people are.

The reservations are self-governing bodies within the U.S. In a way, they’re like they’re own countries. They make their own rules, but do have to answer to the U.S. government for some things.

Robert:

So these are regular helicopter tour operators that ALL get a special exemption to do whatever this writer was talking about then? And that comes from FAA or is FAA essentially not involved because it is tribal land?

Me:

Yes, the helicopter operators get permits from the tribes. When I say operators, I mean the companies, not the pilots. They pay a fee to the tribes that’s based on operations (takeoffs/landings), facilities (like landing zones next to the river), and other stuff. Theoretically, my company could apply for (and get and pay for) a permit to do the same thing Papillon is doing. But since GCW is a 2-hour flight from where I’m based, I haven’t tried.

Closing Note:

Since the opening of the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West, I’ve gotten a number of calls from people interested in flying out there. It’s a two-hour flight from the Phoenix area and I’d have to charge about $2K round trip (for up to 3 people; not per person). But the alternative is a 5-1/2 hour (each way) drive. For folks with money to spend, I can turn a two-day excursion to the middle of nowhere into a pleasant day trip. Still, I don’t expect many takers. Not many people are willing to blow $2K+ on a single day of fun.

Check and Tidy Up Your Credit

Take some time with your free credit reports and computer to clean up outstanding items.

I have very good credit and I work hard to keep it that way. I don’t ever want to be denied credit if I need it.

Start With a Clean Shop

The best way to keep your credit rating good is to follow a few simple policies:

  • Don’t sign up for a lot of credit cards. People (and, more likely, computers) who evaluate your credit look at the credit limits set up on your active credit card accounts to see what your potential total liability could be. $5000 here, $12,000 there, $9000 somewhere else — all that adds up, even if your outstanding balance is $0. After all, who knows if you’ll suddenly go on a credit card spending spree and max out all your cards?
  • Minimize personal loan use. A car loan is secured by a car. A mortgage is secured by property. A home equity loan is also secured by property. But personal loans aren’t secured at all. So if you go bankrupt, that’s just another loan a potential creditor would have to wait behind.
  • Speaking of bankruptcy, don’t go there. Declaring bankruptcy should only be used in dire circumstances — for example, you don’t have medical insurance and surgery or long-term treatment for something serious gets you in debt above and beyond your eyeballs. (Frankly, I think the government should provide medical coverage for these serious matters, but don’t get me started on that argument.)
  • Pay everything on time. Everything. Always. I’ve automated my payments through my bank account (not through my creditor’s billpay system) whenever possible. If online billing is not available, I set up to send a minimum amount to cover monthly bills so nothing is ever forgotten.
  • Don’t go into more debt than you have the ability to pay. This seems like a no-brainer, but people do it all the time. All your credit card minimum payments add up, you know. When they get to a point beyond what you can pay each month, you’ll be in serious trouble. And if you have a variable interest mortgage, remember that the monthly payments will go up soon (if they haven’t done so already) and you need to budget for that big increase. (If possible, refinance at a fixed rate or one that remains fixed for at least a few years. INGDirect has a great deal right now that you might want to check out.)

If you want to minimize interest expenses on revolving credit like credit cards, pay them on time in full every month. Not only will you save money — no interest! — but each month you’ll find yourself paying for just the things you bought in the previous month. Sure beats taking a year to pay off things you might not even have anymore.

Review Your Credit Report Regularly

Today, I took a few hours to download, review, and initial investigations for my three credit reports. It was an enlightening experience that gave me some peace of mind.

The U.S. government mandates that TransUnion, experíon, and Equifax must give you their version of your credit report once a year for free. To get your reports, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and follow the instructions that appear onscreen. You’ll have to provide your social security number and some other identifying information. You’ll then go to the Web sites of each credit report provider you selected (I chose all three) to request, view, and print your credit report. I got TransUnion’s and Equifax’s without any problem, but when I tried to get experíon’s, I entered a wrong number for a security question and was told I’d get validation info in the mail to proceed. Still, two reports were enough to get me started.

And no, you don’t have to subscribe to anything or pay $7.95 to get your credit score. (I was tempted to see the FICO number, but did not succumb.)

I found some incorrect information regarding my name (Equifax also has me listed as Maria Chilingerian, although I did not take my husband’s last name when we married and do not use the name at all) and addresses (both had a rental property I own as one of my residential addresses on file). Equifax had a bunch of former employers that were kind of scrambled up. I also found a number of outstanding credit card accounts that I’d opened in a store to get the 20% purchase discount (Old Navy, Pier One) that had never been cancelled. Equifax had a single “adverse accounts” item for an old Alltel bill I’d paid late after a dispute. Oddly enough, it was marked as paid, even though it showed up as an adverse item.

The reports color-code payment history, making it pretty easy to see how good (or bad) you’ve been at paying your bills on time. I was very pleased to see that all of my bills indicated that all payments were on time. I really do try hard.

Both companies offer online dispute investigation for items on the credit report. In each case, I logged in with special identifying information, navigated to the investigation page, and entered correct data or checked off items in a list. For example, I asked both to remove that rental property address and told them that a few credit card accounts indicated as open were now closed.

Prevent, or at Least Stop, Identity Theft

If I’d seen evidence of identity theft, there were boxes to check and forms to fill out to indicate that an item on the report wasn’t mine. This is the main reason everyone should review their credit report periodically. You can see what’s going on in your name and make sure someone else isn’t using your fine credit to finance their round-the-world cruise or new car. But in my case, although the reports were lengthy (I have a habit of taking advantage of those 0% credit card offers for exactly one year), I was personally responsible for initiating every item on them.

I should note here that I once did have my credit card number stolen and used for a handful of purchases before American Express, with the help of Sears, caught on. The whole thing took place over a period of less than a week and I was not held liable for the two charges that got through. No sign of this appears on my credit report. But if someone had opened a new account using my name and other identification information, that would have been very easy to spot.

Don’t Wait. Do it Today.

With identity theft running rampant and interest rates rising, it’s a good idea to go through your credit reports and tidy them up.

After all, who knows when you’ll want to refinance your home, buy a new car, or take advantage of one of those 0% interest offers?