By the time you're reading this column, I'll be in Romania, continuing my research into the evolution of its tax system, including related investment, evasion, compliance and corruption issues.
It's truly amazing to watch its relatively young tax code change and develop, as well as look at the impact it has on employer and taxpayer lives.
However, an additional benefit of being there (and Bulgaria) is to have an opportunity to talk with people from all walks of life about their perceptions of us and other issues, including politics, poverty, energy concerns, pollution and so on.
You want to talk about pollution? Although vastly improved from 1989, some situations are still appalling. In the northeast industrial area you have towns like Baia Mare and Copsa Mica that still have pollution you can see, smell and taste.
The residents of some towns in the area have a life expectancy of 50 years. Lead in the soil is close to 100 times the permitted levels with vegetation lead levels close to 25 times accepted levels.
No meats or crops are sold outside the area; and the residents, being so poor, have no choice but to eat homegrown crops. Also, there are hundreds of miles of polluted rivers from metal poisoning and cyanide spills from gold mines. And we complain about our industrial pollution?
As to poverty, how about living on less than $400 a month, which is what the vast majority of the population does.
Three years ago, a friend took me to a peasant village where he was negotiating the purchase of land. We went three miles overland because there were no roads and basically no contact with the outside world, save marketplaces where they sold their produce.
Some of these people live on less than $5 a day. Their homes consist of one large, dirt floor room where chickens, pigs and ducks run in and out all day.
Obviously, they have no electricity, no heat except for wood and coal, and bathing takes place in the nearby creek.
There are no endless government handouts, but the people don't complain a bit. Everyone was friendly, and they were even going to slaughter a lamb on my behalf until I begged them not to.
All in all, an eye-opening experience. Our poor in contrast would be their upper middle class.
But enough on that topic. How about the oil situation last week, where the price of a barrel dropped almost $15 in three days. I'm sure we'll hear Congress praising those dastardly futures speculators for selling short and saving the day.
Didn't they blame the same investors for causing the price to run up and for making "obscene" profits? Speculators/investors don't care if the markets are rising or falling. They can profit either way as long as they GUESS right.
Most logical people will continue to see it as an economics result. Supply stays the same, demand decreases (people making painful choices) and the price goes down.
Also, the news of President Bush lifting an 18-year-old presidential ban on offshore drilling helped. All the world has to see is that we are serious about increasing our readily available supply, continue to conserve sensibly, and release some of our strategic petroleum reserves, and OPEC and other suppliers will start sweating profusely.
Your move, Congress.
Are you going to do what more than 70 percent of the population desires, which is to start drilling where the oil is abundant, or do you want to continue your partisan whining?
Are you going to bring the issue up before your August recess, or are you going to let the pain continue for many people? I guess you can't expect much from a Congress that has a 9 percent approval rating, according to recent polls. Even Bush is still at a 34 percent approval rating in one poll.
I don't know whether logistics will prevent me from getting another column sent next time, so I would encourage you to go to an impressive website referred to me by a conservative friend.
It was a response by a person rebutting Howard Dean, teachers, professors and the media's description of a Republican as "a rich, greedy, egotistical individual, motivated only by money and the desire to accumulate more and more of it at the expense of the government, the working poor and all whom they exploit."
The person's response, in a paid advertisement in The Washington Post, certainly was a slap in the face to the above groups and made them look pretty foolish. Since it's hard to distinguish between a Republican and a Democrat, I choose to read it as conservative versus liberal.
You'll find a reprint of the ad at www.whatiam.net. I hope you enjoy it.
Tom Sears is a professor of accounting at Hartwick College in Oneonta. He can be reached at SearsT@hartwick.edu. His column appears every other week.