06
Oct
11

Steve Jobs, the “Welfare Mom”, and Occupy Wall Street

I keep hearing more and more about the Occupy Wall Street protestors in the media, and it is almost as annoying as the endless Amanda Knox coverage.  This rag tag group of leftists and bitter, disenfranchised young people should in no way be compared to the demonstrators that were part of the Arab Spring.  Protesting against a tyrannical dictator is honorable, but camping out in the financial district with an endless list of complaints in a country where you have abundant freedoms and opportunities is completely different.  That is more like a spoiled kid who has too much time on his hands.

I understand that times are hard right now, but how does it help anyone to demonize Wall Street and make a list of demands.  Where is the personal responsibility these days?  Have we become so addicted to government entitlements that now people are coming up with lists of demands for our government?  Do people have nothing better to do, or do people just like protesting or being part of a movement?

If you truly want to help the economy, get out there and work hard and be productive.  If you can’t find a job, get out there and volunteer, create a blog, and brand yourself for employers.  Just find a calling and work hard to try and make it happen.

Steve Jobs was the prime example of someone who  found his calling and worked extremely hard to create a profitable company.  He is basically the Walt Disney of our era.  Sure he got lucky and hit the jackpot with the Macintosh, but his vision, drive, work ethic and attention to detail are values that would have led him to success even without the element of luck that started the exponential growth of his company.  These values seem to be missing from people these days as more and more people seem to feel government should provide or make things more equal for them.

Another example is the “Welfare Mom” who created a million dollar company through hard work and a very aggressive approach.  Again, there is always an element of luck in these type of success stores, but the underlying values are the same.  Not everyone will find the same level of success, but usually if you hold strong values and work hard, you are going to find some level of success and self-sufficiency.

Life is never going to be fair, and all the governmental intervention in the world cannot improve the economy or create more income equality.  We are headed for some major stagnation in our economy in the next few years, and protesting is not going to help your situation.  Instead of occupying streets that could be better used for commerce, get out there and be productive.

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21
Sep
11

Tax Reform, Inequality, and the Glut of Middle Class Loopholes

Tax reform has been in the forefront recently.  With Obama’s “Tax the Rich” speech earlier this week and John Boehner’s comments last week on long-term tax reform, I am starting to worry that my Small Business Tax Guide that I am writing will be outdated upon release.  Although, even though it makes more work for me, I am actually in full support of some major tax reform…just not the kind Obama or Boehner are advocating.

It is no wonder John Stewart is so popular these days – both parties continually provide great content with the endless circus of playing politics and getting nothing substantial done.  Boehner and the Republicans are overly-protective of those over $250k in adjusted gross income and their sacred tax cuts, while Obama and the Dems are overly-protective those under $250k in adjusted gross income and too afraid they will lose the middle class votes they so desperately need.  It is all a circus and much of it could have been avoided had they all just made a hard decision back in December 2010.

The Bush tax cuts were all set to expire as of 12/31/10, which would have reverted much of the tax code back to 2001 and raised taxes for everyone by at least 3% or more.  It should have been an easy political move for both parties as “technically” they would not have been “raising taxes”, and they could have blamed it on the recession.  Yes, it could have brought upon the double-dip sooner, but we might have averted the downgrade and it would have been a fair solution as everyone would be paying more to help with the deficit.  What did they do?  They extended all the existing tax cuts and actually added new cuts.  Biggest mistake ever…

Now we are dealing with an even larger deficit, a downgrade, a double-dip, and all the while our politicians are playing politics with the usual, tired arguments from both sides.  This debate over what is “fair” in taxation drives me crazy.  You cannot have parity in a tax system that has been so infused with social policy.  Until the Internal Revenue Code is stripped of all these deductions and credits created by Congress as another means to affect social policy, we will never have parity.

The Washington Post had an excellent article on the glut of deductions and credits that have been given to the middle class over the years, which you never hear mention of from Obama or anyone in the middle or lower class.  These deductions and credits have become entitlements for us over the years, and they also create a large amount of tax inequality among taxpayers.  Now, I myself am a benefactor of many of these deductions; however, even though I would stand to lose tax benefits, I think it is only fair to discuss middle class loopholes if you are going go on about the rich and their loopholes.  Plus, I am willing to pay more tax if there was more parity in our tax system.

While I appreciate my child tax credit, why should taxes be lower for population contributors than non-contributors?  Do we really need to be encouraging people to have children these days?  I was unaware our population was shrinking so much that such an expensive tax subsidy was needed?  Wow, I guess I need keep up on current events.

Then there is the mortgage interest deduction (yeah, that worked out really nice!).  Sure, homeownership is important, but at what price tag?  Plus, is it fair that responsible renters pay a higher tax rate than homebuyers who foolishly bought more than they could afford?  Lastly, has anyone studied the benefits of this tax break to see if we are even getting any benefits?  By the way, studies by organizations ending in “Mac” or “Mae” don’t count.

Employer paid health insurance premiums not being taxable as wages to the employee?  This made sense back in the 70’s when premiums were fairly immaterial in amount.  Now premiums are a very material cost, which translates to a large deduction for businesses that is not taxable income to the employees.  Usually, when there is a deduction somewhere, you have corresponding income on the other side of the transaction – it is a basic principle.  This creates mass tax inequality between those working for large companies or governmental agencies and those working for small businesses.  A phased in change to this rule could greatly help the deficit and bring about tax equality.

Want a few more?  Sure…

Non-cash charitable contributions only lead to abuse and waste tax preparer and IRS auditor time.  Would Goodwill and other charitable organizations really get less if we ended this deduction?  I seriously doubt it.  Plus, is it fair to non-itemizer who cannot claim this deduction?

Earned income credit…don’t even get me started.  Get it out of the tax code and call it what it is – welfare and income assistance.  EIC only complicates returns for our poor citizens.  Their tax returns should be easy to prepare without assistance.  H&R Block must have a good group of lobbyists.

The whole idea of injecting social policy into the tax system is really ridiculous.  Considering our current credits and deductions, I think Congress should consider the following:

  • “I didn’t blow money on a flat screen I could not afford” tax credit,
  • “I don’t drink light beer” tax deduction, and the honorable
  • “I didn’t walk away from my upside-down house and actually kept making payments even though I could have walked away” tax credit.

Point is – if we are going to talk tax inequality, all adjusted gross income levels need to be examined and everyone should have to pay to fix this mess.  Yes, we have bad income inequality right now, but that is the result of some macro issues we have little control over.  For example, technology has been quietly eliminating jobs for years and the gained efficiency has created more and more profit for owners, but taxing the rich and redistributing their income is not going to solve anything in the long-term.  This is part of our ever evolving economy, and I do not think there is any one quick solution that will fix it all.  Politicians shouldn’t act like they hold the answer, and at the same time, we should not be foolish enough to buy into their politics.

Ok, back to writing my book…

05
Sep
10

No Tea For Me

Mark Driscoll made the two following posts a few days ago:

Beware of anyone who talks a lot about God but not Jesus as the only God. Beware of anyone whose commitment is to country above Kingdom. Beware of anyone who talks of morality but not redemption thru the cross.

 

If you really love your country you will preach the gospel of repentance to everyone – the sinners on the the left and the right. You will labor for the well being of the church & the transformation of the culture by the gospel & not by mere morality.

I love it!  Driscoll normally avoids politics on either side but I thought this jab was appropriate.  My guess – he probably heard one too many Christians talking about the Glenn Beck rally as a great thing and couldn’t take it anymore.

Now, I have been staying away from politics for quite awhile now, and I noticed some people were almost annoyed with me for it.   Sorry – it was a much needed break and I was honestly tired of it all.  However, I have to break my silence and agree with Mark Driscoll on the rally and also the Tea Party movement in general.

I just do not get the Tea Party movement.  Sorry…I am a fairly strong social conservative; I am a definite fiscal conservative, and with foreign policy I am still very much a neo-con; however, for some reason I just cannot relate with this new wave of conservatives.  Perhaps it is the absence (or silence) of the anti-war movement that has made me a much less vocal conservative?  Maybe it is the recession and the new challenges we are facing?  Maybe I just don’t want to call myself and others “patriots” (lame).  Sorry – just being honest Comrade.

Actually, I think I know what it is.  They speak so strongly against things – policies, legislation, taxes, reform, etc – yet they do not seem to have any good ideas to contribute.  They spoke loudly against health care reform; however, they did not really give any concrete ideas on how they would fix the problem.  They complain about taxes, but they do not give detail on what specifically they would cut from the budget and how they would raise additional revenue once there were no further budget items to cut.  I could go on and on, but my biggest complaint about conservatives right now is that they are not putting forth good, concrete ideas and only complaining – which is what the liberals did for eight years and it infuriated me just as much.

If the economy was as great  it was in the 90’s, health insurance was affordable, and everything was going well in government – then maybe I would understand the side that rails against reform.  However, now is not a good time to fight change and argue for the status quo.  If you have better ideas for change, that is completely different, but you can’t tell me you like the way things are right now or even how they were in 2008.

The only common ground I can find with the Tea Party people is immigration, the common enemy of environmental wackos, and maybe foreign policy.  Other than that, I think I may need to start making friends with the Libertarians if the Tea Party starts becoming the main conservative movement.  At least they are a little more fun to be around.  I mean, they want to legalize everything, so the have to have a good party. 🙂

Actually, even better – I could join Driscoll and other Christians who care more about God’s Kingdom than country or political movements and parties.  I figure I have a lot of personal transformation that still needs to take place, and transformation of the culture around me is not going happen by rallying against things and calling myself a patriot.

12
Aug
10

Amplified Narcissism

For the past few months or so, I have managed to fast from talk radio, politics, and everything related that used to get me all worked up. Occasionally I hear snippets, and of course I have to keep up on legislation affecting the tax code; however, for the most part I steer clear of the spin from either side. I have to say – it has been great.

Now, I must admit – I have had a lot of distractions lately that have made it easier to avoid politics, but overall I do not miss it at all. I haven’t given up on my political beliefs, but I no longer feel the need to take up the defense or argue with people. In fact, now I get kind of sickened by the political rants spewed by people on Facebook and blogs. You have liberals calling Glenn Beck and conservatives bigots, racists, and everything in between while glorifying themselves as enlightened intellectuals. Then you have tea party conservatives railing against the immorality of liberals, while also glorifying themselves. When you take out the issues and just listen to the language and the attitudes, they are are both saying the same thing. It is all about lifting yourself up by finding a an “enemy” in an stereotypical opposing group or cause. It is outright narcissism on both sides and technology has only amplified the disease.

No, I am not becoming a liberal or a feel-good moderate. I still am very much a fiscal and social conservative. Honestly, I have just been through some very humbling experiences the last few months with the house deal falling through, the stupid deer incident, family members losing jobs, and most recently the re-emergence of a certain hated disease in the family. Seriously, it has been one thing after another and it has taken me to some lows that I have not felt in awhile. It gave me a lot of compassion, made me appreciate what I did have, and made me appreciate people more.

I have very staunch liberal friends and I also have very conservative, religious friends – take away all the political crap we spend too much time talking about and they are all great people. I just wish the liberals could stop the intellectual elitism and the conservatives would stop trying to legislate morality. Maybe then we could all relax for a bit, enjoy a good drink, and talk about things that actually matter.

07
Jul
10

Broken Bootstraps…

The last eight months have been one hell of a rollercoaster…some great highs and lows.

I pulled my bootstraps and fixed up the house in 2 & 1/2 months so we could put it on the market – just in time for tax season.  I got everything lined up for a mortgage, emptied the house to storage, and after a little over two months we had two competing offers on our home right at the busiest point of tax season.  We accepted an offer, I worked into the waking hours of the night so that I could view homes during the day, and after a week or so we stumbled upon an excellent deal that was slightly above our price range.  We offered what we could and actually got an accepted offer, which was amazing.  I got the mortgage lined up, did everything I was supposed to, and had everything lined up for an amazing deal, tax credit, and a great interest rate.  On top of that, it fit perfect with my my narrow mortgage window due to some circumstances with becoming a partner that would affect eligibility with the new strict rules.  We had everything in place…

That was until a week before closing and when we found out that our buyer had some credit issues.  A delay to fix the problem was only suppose to take two weeks; however, two weeks became four and the problem was finally fixed only to reveal a new problem – our buyer no longer qualified under the lender they had been set up for.  Another three weeks pass and now a new problem with the buyer’s downpayment with only a week and a half until the federal credit becomes out of reach.  It has been a never ending, colossal eff up on the part of our buyer and her inept mortgage broker.

It has been heartbreaking to get so close to moving and to have it ripped away from us last minute.  The worse part is that we had everything in line, we did everything right, and we were responsible with our credit score.  We were not stretching ourselves too thin financially and we had waited until a perfect time to buy; however, someone with marginal credit who had hired poor quality service professionals was screwing everything up for us and making us lose a great opportunity.

This horrible experience really challenged my beliefs on a number of fronts.  I haven’t switched to the dark side, but I definitely think the whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ideology is bunk.  In this great, free society, you can work very hard, do everything right, and make the right moves to capitalize on opportunity.  However, there will always be that factor of luck and chance  that has nothing to do with how hard you work.  Even worse, their will always be the chance that there will be interference by those that are not as responsible and/or do not work as hard.  We are not islands – our opportunities can be ruined by those who do not have it together financially.  It is a free market, which means stupid people are free to make choices that will not only affect them, but also those that are doing things right and do not deserve the consequences of other people poor decisions.

It sucks…and at worst, it has made me more cynical and I no longer trust people.  However, I am moving on and re-listing.  It was a learning experience and it only makes you stronger (supposedly).  We have little control over the opportunities that come up in our lives, but it all about what we do with those opportunities, so right now I am going to dust myself off and get right back and try again.

The worst part about going through something like this is you get a lot of lame “churchy” answers from people.  We had a whole range of cliche phrases about doors, windows, and even people who went as far as to tell us we just needed to be content with what we had.  I have to laugh about it now, but it is very frustrating because I do not believe God has a “plan” for what house you are going to buy.  If that were true – where does end…does he have a plan for what shirt you are going to buy, what type of food you eat, and what type of computer you should buy (well..if you really love Jesus, you already have a Mac…jk).  Seriously, I do not buy into any form of “health & wealth” theologies or any similar ideologies that try to explain or add meaning to situations like this.  Opportunities and luck come just as easy as misfortune and poor timing – things just happen and you have to to work with life gives you.  Funny thing is, we often take pride in things that are the result luck, good timing, and circumstances and attribute it all to our hard work or blessings from on high.  Now your hard work or blessings may have something to do with it, but luck and timing often have a big part, and if you place pride and meaning it that – eventually disappointment is going to shatter your ideology.

03
Mar
10

Your Mother Should Know

I know it is tax season, but I am sick for the second time in two weeks and wide awake, so why not an update.  Sorry no Trim the Fat Part Deux or any politics…something a little more personal for a change.

Many things on my mind lately…

I think I hit that stage in life that your parents warn you about when you are a teenager – you know that cliche line that “someday you will listen to them” and “respect people older than you”.  I know, it is horrible, what is wrong with me?!  I knew everything 10 years ago…apparently that is going along with my hair that is falling out.  Seriously though, I realized how much respect I have for those that have many more years and experiences under their belt.  This may seem of little importance to you, but it was a struggle for me – especially in the church.

Growing up in a church that was more conservative in nature and would not allow drums on stage, I quickly became prideful of our “new” music, “new” type of church services, and the style of the youth services.  I created a lot of division and dissent in my day…and now I regret that a pastor had to talk to me about the problem on multiple occasions.  When fads of the “post-modern” church, the emerging church, the “too cool for skool” hipster movement, and the “lets do everything different for the sake of it” movement came out, I became a strong advocate and would talk down about churches that were more traditional.  Basically, I ignored the input from the older generation and I saw the new ways of doing church as blameless and pure and the only way church should be done.  Yeah, again – not proud…at all.  I would like to say it was from the paint chips or the power station I grew up by, but I was just your young, naive “jerk for Jesus” in full effect.

What changed it?  A big part of the change came about because when I started going to a church with mostly all young people.  It was great at first – I admit.  The music was great, we did a little “slapa-da-bass”, and the drums would sear your eardrums.  We had wine at communion, we had worship stations, and we had a ton of people completely new to the concept of church.  The problem was that after a while, I really missed talking with people that were actually going through a different phase of life (other than popping out babies and getting established).  Fortunately, I started talking with someone my Dad’s age who helped with the band and I also became good friends with a couple 10 years older with older kids.  It took awhile, but soon I realized how much I looked forward to talking to these people and hearing about their life experiences.  I got to see issues with children and teenagers that I will most likely have to deal with in the future as a parent, and I also got a lot of wisdom from them regarding the church, our journey as Christians, and life in general.

A recent example just stands out to me on this topic.  We were at the house of a good family friend and there were a lot of kids and they were opening and closing a door.  I was scared that someone was going to get their fingers slammed in the door, so I tried to get them to stop by taking to them and constantly coming back in to scold them (sounded reasonable to me).  One of the grandmothers just comes down the hall and sticks some towels on the top of the door.  Seriously, the problem was solved in seconds as the door would no longer close.  I was just kind of amazed for a few minutes by the wisdom of this woman…seriously – she should write a blog about parenting because that was brilliant.  Here I am doing all this work repeating myself and yelling talking loudly to the kids and she simply puts a towel in the door so they can still play without getting hurt…that only comes from experience and it got me thinking and wondering why we do not seek more wisdom from the older generations in new, younger churches?  Did our division and pride prevent us from receiving some great insight and wisdom?  Would discipleship be so much more effective if we met with someone 15-20 years older who has been through all the stages of raising children, been through new struggles that we will face, and dealt with issues within the church that we will be experiencing in the future?

For me, I compare it to the small firm, public accounting career path that I have been on 10 years now.  You start out of school to find you really know very little and that for some reason, all that book smarts does not help much with the practical and varied tasks you face.  All work is reviewed, so you quickly learn from your errors, but most importantly, you realize that you have to listen closely to everything your mentor does if you want to learn the career and do it well.  In my early years, my office was next to the owner/CPA, so I quickly learned that his open door was a great asset for me.  I began to learn how to talk to clients, how to handle complex questions, and a ton about the clients we were providing service to.  In later years, I got to sit in on client meetings, audits, and consulting appointments.  Having a mentor is a great thing and you really learn a majority of the tax & accounting knowledge from them.  Last year, I started with new mentors and it is great as now I have two – double the knowledge!  I have  learned all new approaches, methodologies, and tax rules through the reprogramming phase, but it is the same drill as before – I soak up as much knowledge as I can and model myself after them.

Church is not that different – we should have mentors that we can journey along side with and gain wisdom from.  It bums me out that many churches have become so homogeneous in recent years with all the emergent this or that.  If anything, the new movements in the church have failed largely because of the fact that there was a shortage of wisdom and a drive to “do things different”.

Much of what inspired this for me was the loss of great woman of wisdom that our church unexpectedly lost to a stroke.  In the month before her passing, we had started talking each week at church.  Granted, it was mostly about real estate since she was an agent and the fact that we had just listed our home, but she came up to me every week that month, sharing stories about their houses that they sold & purchased, encouraging me about selling my house when interest had temporarily dried up, talking about how they were one improvement away from completely restoring their home, and just making me feel loved and encouraged.  Even though I knew her for a very short time, her passing really shook me up.  One of the older members that I had always talked with and had a great respect for left the church late last year, so I had really been looking for new people to talk to and learn from that were no longer in the kid phase.  I thank God for the short time I did have getting to know her, but it just hurts.

Anyway, it has been an interesting journey since then.  I am still reading a lot of Ecclesiastes and it is great because it has mellowed me out a bit.  Not that I am apathetic or do not care about principles and ideas, but I just realized that I needed to dull my attack when debating with people or discussing politics or issues (thanks Dad).  It is so funny that we get our knickers in a twist over things that in the end do not matter that much.  We get behind new ideas or ideologies, but it is nothing new and we are really just driving around a cul-de-sac endlessly repeating the same mistakes and recycling old ideas.  Someday I will get to mellowing out about music, but for now I have just had a lot of my ideologies shattered (good thing).  I have always been against expressive worship and people that are zealous about everyone else worshipping their particular way as I am very reserved and prefer much less expressive worship.  However, God has been convicting me on it as I have realized that we just need to chill out and learn to meet in the middle and learn to worship together and learn from each other.  Also, God has really convicted me on my theological upbringing as I was raised in churches where women were rarely made pastors – a complementarian view if you will.  However, God has thrown a wrench into my neat theology by showing me a great example of a woman pastor doing an excellent job in the last few years.  It just gave me a new openness as God doesn’t work in our little predefined box.

14
Jan
10

Trim State Govt Fat – Part 1: Food Stamps

The debate over measures 66 & 67 has produced poor arguements and commercials on both sides and the real over-emcompassing issue has been largely ignored – how can we fix our State’s financial mess and trim back the budget while maintaining and improving effective services.  It is the question that the legislature chose to avoid by taking the easy way out; however, to be fair, I have been disappointed with conservatives in this area as our politicians always claim that cuts can be made, but we see little in the way of actual detailed ideas.

Why not start my own list?  Granted, I am no politician, nor did I waste my money by investing in a Poli Sci degree (my apologies if you did).  I am just an average, hard-working middle class conservative who sees dumb people and wasted government money everyday.

Part 1 – Food Stamps

This issue has just recently come to my attention, and just to make it clear – I have no problem with the program or helping feed those in need.  In fact, it is an important service that needs to be provided by government, organizations, and/or the Church.  However, what I have issue with is the amount given to families and how it sets them up for failure.

Per DHS’s website, the average cash benefit per month for a family of three is $528!  In talking with people more familiar with the benefit, families of two make approximately $400 and families of four over $600 a month.  Now, I know many families of four that are trying to keep their food budget down to $400 a month, and I would think that most families of this size that are responsible with their money are going to try and stay around that figure.  Why do we give more money to the needy than a reasonable non-needy family is able to budget for a month?

If you are needy, the State should not be giving you a generous amount to spend on food – it should be enough to get the basics so that your family stays healthy.  If you are broke, it follows that you should be eating as low cost as possible.  As Dave Ramsey says – beans and rice, rice and beans.  Instead, the needy are eating better than families that have jobs, pay taxes, and are wise with their money.

The biggest problem with this is that the State is getting needy families used to eating off larger budget than their future income after food stamps will be able to support.  The system sets them up for financial failure as they get used not having to clip coupons, shop wisely, and organize meals to minimize cost.  This is actually more harm than help and a great waste of taxpayer money.  I would imagine that many return or try to stay on food stamps as it is much easier than having to live on a normal budget.

My solution?

Trim the amount down substantially to the budget levels of normal, responsible people and educate those participating in the program.

Part of the program should require you attend courses on grocery shopping on a budget, nutrition, coupon clipping, meals planning, and personal finance.  We should get volunteers from the community to help with this and we should invest in these people so that when they get a job and get off food stamps, they can setup a budget based on the income and “eat within their means”.

Personally, I don’t know much about grocery shopping or meal planning, but I would be willing to volunteer helping these people with personal finance and budgetting.  Instead of just standing by while the State throws money at them to try and help them, we should be volunteering our time to help them in ways money cannot.  Not only would we see better results, but we could probably cut down the DHS budget significantly.

Just my two cents…