Thursday, November 16, 2017

Now you see it, now you don't. Now you see it....

So, whatdaya' think of our new middle class tax cut?  Slick, huh?

I'll make this short and simple because I know few of you are into this boring minutiae.  Unless your name is Rockefeller or D Trump or even WJ Clinton, after the initial bone they'll toss you, you're not going to benefit from the "middle class tax cut" the US Senate is now trying to ram through before their holiday recess.

If passed, everyone would receive a tax cut in 2019.  But after that the various provisions that benefit those generally making less than $75,000 begin to expire....they're NOT permanent....and by 2027 they'll see a tax INCREASE.  Only the provisions that are likely to benefit the upper income class, and businesses, will remain in place. 

Our politicians tell us that our businesses are not competitive with much of the rest of the world because our business tax rate is DRAMATICALLY higher than anywhere else.  That's a very deceptive truth.  Our tax RATE is indeed very high, but no business pays that rate.  After they take all the deductions the tax code allows them, the EFFECTIVE tax they pay....their taxable income....is not much out of line at all.  A modest cut to close that remaining gap is indeed justified, but nothing like what they're trying to sell us.

President Trump's Chief Economic Adviser, Gary Cohn, formerly of Goldman Sachs, was caught off-guard at a recent CEO's conference when they admitted that only a few would take their tax savings, if Congress passes new tax cut legislation, and use it to increase their "capital investment".  In other words, grow their business and create new jobs.  Truth is, they're already enjoying record high profits.  They're cash-rich already!  This is why the stock market is at an all-time high.

So what exactly are businesses doing with their record profits?  Primarily increasing their dividends and buying back their own stock.  Example:  Last year Apple, GE, Pfizer, McDonalds, Gilead Science, Microsoft, Boeing, AIG, Express Scripts, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, Oracle, Alphabet (Google), CVS Health, Disney, Wells Fargo, Visa, JP Morgan, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs collectively bought back $189 BILLION of their own stock.  Just 20 companies, in just one year. (Source: Standard & Poors)  

If these companies, or many thousands of others, had wanted to expand their businesses and create more jobs, they had more than enough cash available to do it.  We have no shortage of investment capital!

So what will it take to spur businesses to expand and hire?  DEMAND for their products / services. (Hello..."supply and demand".  Ever heard the term?)  If the middle class received the bulk of any tax cut, they would likely use it to buy a new TV, or a new laptop, or maybe even put it toward a new car or a new house.  When businesses see their products flying off the shelves, they'll expand and hire.  Until then, what's the point?  Unless they can SELL more of what they make, why make it?

Is this so hard to understand?  Bottom line, the promised "middle class tax cut" does virtually nothing for the middle class long term.  Provide REAL tax cuts for the working class and they'll buy more, giving business the incentive to grow in order to keep up with the new demand.

Please, send a short email to your Senators and tell them you're on to their slick shell game.

S


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Did I know her? You mean the cute 14-year-old girl with the long legs, blonde hair, green eyes, and the overdeveloped bossom? No officer, I never saw her.



Alabama Senate candidate Judge* Roy Moore....a special kind of odd.


*Is it proper to still call someone who has been a judge twice, and been removed from his bench twice, "Judge"?

If you keep up with the news at all you'll know that "Judge" Roy Moore is the Republican candidate running to fill the unexpired seat of former Alabama Senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  It's said he would be by far the most conservative member of the Senate if elected, which would make him someone the Republicans could count on to vote with their bare majority on things like tax reform, health care reform, etc.  He was their darling....until it was alleged he molested a girl back in 1979, when he was 32 and she was only 14.

That girl, now all grown up, is Leigh Corfman.  She has given details of the incident, and has friends from that time who say she told them of her "relationship" with Moore, but as of now it's legally nothing more than he-said-she-said.  There is no stained "blue dress" such as the one that tripped up Bill Clinton.

Judge Moore says he didn't do it and that it's all politically motivated, asking why all this has come out now, just weeks before the special election?  Fair point.

Background:  Mr. Moore is a graduate of West Point, and went on after his military academy graduation to serve as a MP, including a tour in Vietnam.  There he was so unpopular with his men (he was a Captain by then) that he admitted sleeping on his cot surrounded by sandbags, worried they would "frag" (kill) him with a grenade while he slept.

He later went to the University of Alabama where he received his Juris Doctor degree.  He eventually worked his way into the judiciary where he was twice elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, and twice removed, for not enforcing laws he personally objected to.

In 2002 he founded the non-profit Foundation For Moral Law, and between 2007 and 2012 personally received over $1M from his foundation, which somehow exceeded the amount of revenue listed on its public tax filings.

Here we are today, with candidate Moore being accused of sexual misconduct appearing on the Sean Hannity show, defending himself.  He did a pitiful job of it.  When asked if he dated teenage girls when he was in his 30's he said it "would have been out of my customary behavior".  He went on to say, "If I did, I’m not going to dispute these things, but I don’t remember anything like that".  

Ahh, not exactly a convincing denial there, Roy, but as mentioned, there hasn't so far been any evidence presented that a court could use to convict.  That's what his supporters are basing their undying support for him on.  "Prove it" they say.  Should you vote against someone just because they've been accused of something?  

Think of it this way:  If your job required you and your family to relocate to another city, and you needed to find a new OB/Gyn for your daughter, would you send her to a doctor who had been accused of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl?

With the Alabama Senate seat likely to be the one to cast the deciding vote on many crucial social issues the Republican's will put forward next year, the country needs a thoughtful civil servant.  Judge Roy doesn't seem to fit that description IMO.

Still, he could win election.  Then the issue will be whether the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to seat him (Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution says each house of Congress is the final arbiter of who it seats) or accept him and his all-important vote while gritting their teeth and keeping him at a distance from the rest of civil society....even the suggestion of sexual abuse of an underage minor is something hard to ignore.  This could get very interesting.  

The conundrum is, it's impossible to prove a negative...you can't prove you didn't do something that never happened.  But, regardless of his ideology, if you were an Alabamian, would you vote for Judge Roy Moore for the US Senate, or let Dr Roy Moore be your daughter's OB/Gyn?

S


Thursday, November 9, 2017

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem....


Millions of Americans across the country are demanding gun control in response to the new reality of seemingly monthly mass shootings, and just gun violence in general.  I'd like to ask those of you who agree with this sentiment to participate in a little exercise.  I'm not baiting anyone, but looking for some real (possible) answers to a real problem.

My exercise goes like this:  If you were a member of Congress and you wanted to introduce a bill relating to gun control, what would you include in your proposal?  For example, "Prohibit the future manufacture, importation, and sale of automatic / semi-automatic rifles", or "No handguns larger than ___ caliber", or "No magazines containing more than ___ rounds".  Would you address the 250-300 million guns that are already in public hands?

Question 2:  If enacted, how would you enforce it?  Would you leave it up to local / state law enforcement, or the ATF, or the FBI, or all the above?  Regardless, it would seem like they would have to take time away from other duties to enforce your new gun control law.  Do you think that's wise?  Or would you establish a new law enforcement body to police just this one thing?  Who would pay for this?  Would this be an "unfunded mandate" (requiring someone to do something, without providing them the funding to do it)?

Question 3:  What would you do with those brought in for violating your new gun control law?  Our Constitution allows everyone their day in court.  By all accounts our court system, at every level, already has a considerable backlog of cases waiting to be heard.  Would you provide for a new, single issue "Gun Violation Court"?  If so, this would require physical courtrooms and offices, clerks, bailiffs, judges, etc.  How would all those be paid for?

Question 4:  Assuming you could resolve Question 3, what would you do with those convicted?  I'm going to assume that in your new gun violation roundup you would also automatically include those you find who are already prohibited from possessing a firearm, such as previously convicted felons.  I would also assume you would go after black market sellers, too.  Do we have enough state and / or federal prisons & jailers to handle them all?  I've heard it costs tens-of-thousands of dollars to incarcerate one prisoner for just one year.  How would these costs be funded?

One final rule:  You can't just say, "I don't know how they'd do it, but they'd just have to find a way", or "I dunno, they're smart guys up there in Washington.  Let them figure it out."  Put on the table some concrete ideas that real lawmakers could build on.  Even if you can only contribute a little, you'll be light years ahead of those who are just perpetual whiners.

Now, independent of this exercise, tell me....what do you think the odds are a real bill similar to what you've suggested would have of garnering the votes of 50% +1 in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and be signed by the President?  (Forget for a second the NRA exists.)  

Thanks for participating.

S


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Misconceptions about guns


Once again guns are in the news in a big, and sad, way.  The news media is full of new gun control proposals, and are also reporting a lot of things that are simply untrue.  I'm not going to say they are necessarily being deceptive, but are simply misinformed.  Let me give you some facts:

First of all, gun makers...Glock, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, etc...do not sell guns to the public.  They don't have any factory outlets.  They sell only to Federal Firearms License holders.  Broadly speaking these are your gun stores.  To get a FFL these retailers must go through an extensive background check themselves and pay a substantial yearly fee. They are also regularly and thoroughly audited.  Every gun they get in, and every gun that goes out, must be properly documented.  If the FFL holders aren't responsible, blame the government who improperly vetted them, not the gun makers.

Anyone buying a gun from a FFL dealer must have either a current state "License To Carry" a gun (which itself requires substantial vetting) or get approval from the Federal database that says they are not convicted felons, "wanted" for any reason, have never been committed to a mental institution for treatment, have no restraining orders against them, have never denounced their citizenship, have never been dishonorably discharged from the military, and a few other things, too.  Failure to properly submit gun buyers for a background check can result in a major fine to the FFL dealer, or even the revocation of their FFL.

You can NOT just buy a gun on the internet, give them your credit card number, and have it mailed to you. You can buy one from an out of area FFL dealer and they will ship it to a FFL dealer in your area who will then process your background paperwork, and if you pass, deliver it to you.  The local dealer will generally charge about $50 for his paperwork service. 

Roughly 60% of all gun sales are handled through FFL dealers and are documented.  The problem with this gun purchase database, known as the Federal Instant Criminal Background System, or NICS is that it won't work if all the courts around the country, both civilian and military, don't report all their convictions, restraining orders, etc.  If those aren't reported, the NICS will have no reason to deny a gun purchaser.  This is what happened with the Texas church murderer. 

The problem is with the other 40% of gun sales.  Federal gun law allows individuals to sell their personal guns to anyone they wish.  This was meant to allow sales to friends, neighbors, relatives, etc, but it is sometimes abused by people who buy guns from any source they can, legal or illegal, claim them as their personal gun collection, and then resell them without background checks.  All sales are off the books, there are no receipts given, and I doubt any taxes are paid by these sellers on their lucrative underground business.

Why would someone buy a gun this way?  First of all used guns, like used cars, are generally less expensive.  But there are also a surprising number of people who simply don't want the government to know they have guns.  THEY DON'T TRUST THEIR GOVERNMENT.  They fear that some day there will be a knock at their door, where federal agents will come in and rummage through their residence and confiscate their weapons.  This fear is what sustains many "militias" dedicated to the preservation of the Second Amendment.  Rational or not, it's a real fear.

Finally, and this is the REAL bugaboo in the firearms controversy, there is a thriving black market in stolen, untraceable guns.  There is a forcible home burglary approx every 14 seconds somewhere in America, netting crooks 1,000,000 guns a year.  When a burglar has a choice between stealing your TV, your laptop, your jewelry, or your guns, he'll choose your guns every time.  That's because there is a vast underground criminal network that caters to those who can't pass a NICS background check.  Think gang-bangers, convicted felons, criminals who consider a gun a "tool of their trade", etc.  All these lowlifes know each other, and know any gun they can imagine is available for the right amount of green cash money, no questions asked.  It's surprisingly easy to buy this way.  (I'm told.  I buy my guns the legal way.)

This last subset is responsible more than all others by a wide margin for our reported gun violence.  The other loopholes can be addressed to some degree, but if that happens it will just drive more people to this criminal underground to buy their guns. 

"But other countries have strict gun laws and their incidence of gun violence is minuscule compared to ours."  True, but they don't already have 300,000,000+/- guns floating around their country.  They don't have a 250 year history of private firearms ownership or a Second Amendment.  Old habits die hard.  Genies don't go back in bottles.

So what CAN we do?  Concentrate on this last subset.  When a convicted felon is stopped by the police for anything, search them, and their car.  If they're found in possession of a gun, off to jail they go.  Our cost to incarcerate will go up dramatically, but it will cut down on gun violence.  How bad do we want it?  The same goes for those who have been dishonorably discharged from the military.  They should be treated the same as felons when it comes to  gun possession.  

The mentally ill need to be identified AND HELPED.  Take away the stigma of mental illness, enabling those who need help to step forward and ask for it.  Our societal cost to treat mental illness and provide mental health facilities and hospital beds will go up dramatically, but it will cut down on gun violence.  How bad do we want it?

There ARE things we can do to address gun violence, but they will cost money, and no politician is going to advocate raising taxes to pay for them.  The taxpayers want to have their cake and eat it too.   Life doesn't work like that.

S

Monday, November 6, 2017

Are we really this inept? (correct answer: yes we are)

Instead of showing the face of the murderer who killed 26 people using an AR-15 in a small town church in Texas yesterday, I'd rather show the photo of this good, brave citizen, Stephen Williford, who retrieved his AR-15 and returned fire, by all accounts saving many other lives.

The evil shooter was an Air Force veteran who was given a "Bad Conduct" discharge after receiving a Court Martial and spending a year in the brig (prison) for abusing his wife and child.  Also, in 2014 the evil shooter was arrested for misdemeanor animal cruelty in Colorado and given a differed probationary sentence.  

Now we learn the Air Force failed to notify the FBI of his court martial for spousal abuse.  Why?  Did Colorado notify the FBI of his recent misdemeanor conviction?  Apparently not.  Are we really this inept?  Either would have prevented him passing a background check and buying a gun through normal, legal channels.

Meanwhile the Texas Department of Public Safety (our State Police), during their standard vetting process, learned something and refused to issue him a license to legally carry a weapon.  What did the Texas DPS learn, and how did they learn it?  (Kudos DPS.  This is why our Texas firearm license holders have such an exemplary record of responsible gun ownership.)

The Federal Instant Criminal Background Check System won't work if felonies and recent misdemeanor convictions (and a few other disqualifiers) aren't reported.

But even if he had been legally disqualified from buying a gun, with an estimated 1,000,000 guns stolen every year, there is a thriving black market in cash-and-carry firearms transactions, and this is where most bad guys get their guns.  The system is full of holes that let bad people obtain guns.  "Black markets" pay no attention to laws....never have, never will. 

There are no more blatant examples of people who should NOT have guns than this Texas church shooter.  Those convicted of family violence, and anyone who would cruelly harm an animal, IMO don't deserve a second chance to prove they can handle something as deadly as a gun.   

Meanwhile we need to see to it that good people like Mr. Williford get the recognition they deserve for stepping up and confronting active shooters and saving lives.  This is a classic example of guns in the hands of good people doing good things. 

S


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Welcome to America! *conditions apply

Immigrants waiting to be processed at Ellis Island, circa "long time ago".

Once again immigration is front and center in the news.  This time it arrived there after an immigrant from Uzbekistan, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, rented a truck and mowed down numerous cyclists in NYC, killing 8.  The extended controversy is that he was admitted to America on some sort of a lottery based on "diversity", meant to allow people from places who seldom immigrate here have a chance for a better life.

President Trump is dead-set against such diversity immigrants, citing numerous grievances, most of them bogus.  (The flood doors were not just opened allowing anyone access.  There was still vetting to make sure the newcomers weren't dangerous felons, etc.)  Instead he wants to limit new immigrants to those who can bring skills and talents America needs.  He calls it "merit based" admission.

This contrasts markedly with our history of welcoming the world's "tired, poor, and huddled masses, yearning to breath free."  In the 19th and early 20th Century boats docked weekly with immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, Hungry, Lithuania, and elsewhere who brought with them few advanced skills.  They were, however, used to hard work, and that's how they made a place for themselves in America.  Agricultural labor, assembly line workers, and general unskilled labor were always needed.

Times have changed.  Today we have all the agricultural laborers we need available from Mexico, if only our guvment would get their shit together and establish some reasonable rules for their legal employment.  Manufacturing is moving as fast as they can to more mechanization, where one technician at a console can oversee a dozen robots doing the work that many humans used to.  And we have far too many high school dropouts as it is whose lot in life will likely be as unskilled labor forever.  In short, I doubt we need any more unskilled, general labor, which is too often what new immigrants are when they arrive here.

While I am anything but a fan of Prez Trump and the Tea Party, I find it hard to fault the idea that new immigrants need to bring with them skills and talents that will benefit both them and America.  I don't mean to suggest they all need to be doctors or IT professionals.  They can be mechanics, plumbers, electricians, construction equipment operators....we need people with those blue-collar job skills.  And to be compassionate, we could encourage businesses via tax incentives for example, or any other social non-profits/churches, to sponsor and agree to train unskilled immigrants who are willing to work hard and learn.  That would be the best possible win-win.

My head says this is reasonable, yet my heart says it's wrong to just ignore the millions of people who are stuck in lives of utter despair overseas.  We're better people than that.  What I'd like to do and what I realistically can do are not the same.  This is a serious conundrum.

What I do know is that we can't just keep kicking the can down the road.  We need a real immigration policy that is good for America, and helps as many people as possible move here and improve their lives, too.  Meanwhile Congress is being pulled in various directions by special interests who benefit from us not having a coherent immigration policy.  These Beltway puppets are the ones we need to export ASAP, if we could only find countries dumb enough to take them.

S


Friday, October 27, 2017

The media should put me on retainer....I'm quite the soothsayer!



It seems the news media has somehow discovered there is something fishy smelling at best, and maybe illegal at worst, about the sale of a uranium mining company to Russia after the Clinton Foundation, a philanthropy run by her husband, William Jefferson Clinton (aka POTUS 42), received "contributions" from Russians close to the uranium deal. 

BIG SHOCK!

Well put me in for a Pulitzer Prize!

I wrote about this very sort of sleaze in this blog back on June 9, 2016.  The Clinton's IMO set up a pretty sweet scheme whereby "contributions" were made to the pure-as-the-driven-snow Clinton Foundation, then Senator and later Sec of State Hillary Clinton blessed a transaction favored by the same contributors. I doubt they'll find any paper trail on the subject as a casual comment and an understanding nod over dinner between husband and wife sealed the deal.

This is what our politicians do...."one for me, and one for the country".  They go in with a modest net worth, and leave public service filthy rich.  Coincidence?  Methinks not.


To save you from scouring my blog archive (in the column on the right), below is what I wrote 16 months ago.  As Yogi Berra would have said, "It's deja vu all over again."

S

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So why won't I vote for her [Hillary Clinton]?  It's all about trust, or lack there of.  For starts, it's hard for me to separate the activities of the Clinton Foundation run by her husband and her duties as a Senator or Secretary of State.  There is no clear demarcation. 

Under federal law, foreign governments seeking State Department clearance to buy American-made arms are barred from making campaign contributions, a prohibition aimed at preventing foreign interests from using cash to influence national security policy.  But nothing prevents them from contributing to a "philanthropic foundation" controlled by policymakers.  (A tidy little loophole, wouldn't you say?)

Admittedly the philanthropic Clinton Foundation has done a lot of good for a lot of worthy causes.  But mixed in with its good deeds are lots of highly suspicious "coincidences".  While it was perfectly legal for anyone to give to the non-profit Clinton Foundation while Hillary was a sitting US Senator and a cabinet official during the Obama administration, the potential for abuse was off the chart.  As an aspiring public servant, she should never have let herself be put in such a compromising position.  It was simply a bad decision of the highest order.

Consider this:  In 2011 while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the State Department approved a $29 billion dollar sale of American-built fighter planes to Saudi Arabia, despite the pleas of many that a deal that large would upset the delicate balance of power in the region.  The deal was even considered a "top priority" for Ms. Clinton personally.  Is it just a coincidence that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contributed $10 million dollars to the Clinton Foundation, and Boeing contributed $900,000 just months before the sale was given official approval?  

In fact, in just three years (2011-2013) under Hillary Clinton's leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion dollars worth of arms sales to 20 nations who had given contributions to the Clinton Foundation.  This number is over twice as much as was approved by the State Department in the same time frame during the last term of George W. Bush. 

*sniff*....What's that smell?

And does this seem odd?....Hillary Clinton switched from opposing an American free trade agreement with Colombia to supporting it after a Canadian energy and mining magnate with interests in that South American country contributed to the Clinton Foundation.  

In fact, 13 companies lobbying the State Department paid Bill Clinton $2.5 million in speaking fees while Hillary Clinton headed the agency.  Even if it was a coincidence, just the appearance of impropriety is staggering!

And then we get to her (likely) coziness with Wall Street.  In that regard she seems more like an old-school Republican.  Doesn't it seem suspicious that she was paid $1.8 million dollars to make just eight speeches in less than two years to big banks?  And just this election cycle, based on their campaign contributions to date, she is far and away their favorite candidate.

Do you think they sought her out as a speaker because of her good looks and personality, or could it have something to do with the fact that maybe, just maybe, they felt their relationship might soon pay big dividends if she were to become President of the United States?  Whether true or not, the opportunity to personally gain from her official position and her relationship with Bill's Clinton Foundation is just too tempting.  She sleeps with the guy, for crying out loud!

Spend just a few minutes on Google and see all this and much more documented for yourself.   

Yes, I know...."They all do it."  But they aren't ALL running for President.  We've been giving such shenanigans a blind eye for too many years now, and IMHO it has resulted in the mess we're in today.  We can't afford to put someone in the White House who could with the stoke of a pen put a fast buck ahead of our national interests.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I'm gonna be in hot water for this one!


Front and center in the news these days is tax reform.  Republicans go so far as to call it a "middle class tax cut", even though the facts suggest otherwise, that the middle class will get a very small slice of the tax cut pie.  But now some details are emerging that are bound to be controversial, and one in particular finally addresses something I've thought long and hard about.

Whenever someone says "home mortgage interest deduction" most people usually quickly nod off, except those few who actually receive that tax write off, and they sit bolt-upright.  Here are some numbers to illustrate where we are:  Roughly 65% of Americans own their homes, meaning they don't rent.  Of those, roughly 60 don't get a tax write off for the interest they pay on their mortgage because they either have no mortgage (their home is paid for) or they owe so little on their mortgage they're better off just taking the "standard" personal tax deduction.  

If you do the math you'll find that 61% of Americans are subsidizing the other 39% to own their homes.  I find this mildly amusing because these 39% are often the same ones who protest the loudest about the subsidies/write offs government gives to large corporations for various reasons, referring to it scathingly as "corporate welfare".  Umm...so subsidies "for me" are good, but not "for them"?  *snicker*

The traditional justification used for a mortgage interest deduction is that it promotes home ownership, which in turn promotes more civic activism and more informed citizens.  They supposedly go to the polls and vote more often and are more involved in local issues, schools, etc.  Unfortunately that argument just doesn't hold water.  There is ample evidence that shows it is the level of education and income that leads to more civic involvement, not necessarily home ownership.  (Home ownership among younger, well educated, affluent adults is slowing dramatically as they are marrying and starting families later in life.)

Of the four countries shown here that compare demographically favorably with the US, we are the only one who still allows mortgage interest deductions.  With or without special tax advantages, home ownership for all four hovers around the same 65-68%.

"But...but...without that deduction, we'll never sell any houses!  We'll all DIE!!"  So says the Realtor and builder trade groups.  (Full disclosure...I've been a homebuilder for 45 years.)  Not so fast Kemosabe.  Remember back in the 1980's (?) when the IRS began phasing out the interest deduction allowed on credit card debt and auto loans?  The cry back then from those industries was the same gloom and doom.  Truth is the financial services and auto industries were unfazed.  The deductions were phased out over a number of years, giving people time to prepare and adjust for the new reality.

Here's where it gets interesting for me.  As things are now, people are incentivized to buy the biggest home they can, with a helping hand from the IRS.  In my area at least families of just two or three people are convinced they need 4,000 square foot McMansions.  (More full disclosure...I build 4,000+ square foot McMansions.)  Imagine how much more efficiently we could use our resources if families of 2 or 3 scaled back their expectations and lived in 2,000-2,500 square foot homes?  Well appointed, custom quality, super-energy-efficient smaller homes.

I predict MORE people would buy smaller, more affordable homes, even after factoring out the tax deduction.  Builders would build more homes, employing more architects, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, etc.  Our home ownership rate would go UP.  Realtors would sell more homes.  Lenders would make more loans.

Who would lose if the mortgage interest deduction was phased out?  The 39% who now enjoy it, and the tax preparers who will no longer be needed to itemize taxes when everyone goes the standard deduction route.  And the property tax collectors who right now want nothing but BIG houses in their communities because of the tax $$$$ they bring in.  (But if they'll look a bit further down the road they'll realize more smaller homes vs fewer big homes should make this all revenue neutral.)

Who wins?  The taxpayers, all of us, because we'll see another 70-100 BILLION dollars in our treasury every year.  And if the IRS used that $70-100B to fund the doubling of the standard tax deduction for everyone, then we'd have a true middle class tax cut.

Am I missing something?  Your opinion?

S


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Killing the goose that laid the golden egg



Capitalism is described as "an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit."  That's it in a nutshell, and it's worked better and benefited more people than any other economic system the world has ever known.  But somewhere along the way our system of classic capitalism has been compromised, subverted, and dare I say even perverted.

My brother and I are the owners of a privately held corporation, meaning the two of us are the only stockholders.  On an almost daily basis we do things above and beyond what is required by any regulation because we feel it is the right way to do business.  This costs us a bit more to deliver our product, and reduces our profits somewhat, but we're still doing OK, and our clients say they appreciate our extra effort and attention.  We'll never get rich doing business this way because we're "leaving money on the table", but we sleep well at night.

Today's publicly held corporations can't afford to leave money on the table.  They must lie, cheat, and steal to squeeze every last penny from their customers.  If they don't, their thousands of stockholders will demand a change in executive leadership and/or dump their stock, possibly tanking the company.  If their product can be made the slightest bit cheaper, they'll do it.  Cutting corners has become a fine art.  Profits come first, always!

Consider this:  Pharmaceutical manufacturers employ tens of thousands of brilliant researchers who spend years developing and testing new drugs that improve our quality of life, and in many cases actually save lives.  They're amazing people doing incredible work.  God bless them!

One of their creations was "opiods", drugs that can help those with chronic pain.  This was a godsend for those hurting.  But according to the new rules of what I call "perverted capitalism", pharmaceutical company executives have no qualms at all about turning these miracle drugs into an addictive nightmare for millions (?) of people.  Opiod abuse has now become a national crisis.  Lives and families have been torn apart, all so the drug makers can maximize their profits.  Shame on them!

And, yes, they know exactly what they're doing.  They know they're producing many times more opioids every year than can safely be prescribed and used by actual patients.  Through their lobbyists they even pushed a bill through Congress last year that prohibited the Drug Enforcement Administration (the DEA) from investigating and interdicting massive opioid shipments to "suspicious" distributors.  Had the drug companies failed, the DEA would have put a huge dent in their profits, and to them their profits are more important than peoples lives.  That's just wrong!

Then we have corporate mergers that have the effect of reducing competition and inflating their bottom lines.  Remember when we had Exxon and Mobil and Chevron and Texaco?  Now we have Exxon/Mobil and Chevron/Texaco.  United and Continental merged to form the new United Airlines.  Delta and Northwest merged to form the new Delta Airlines.  American and US Air merged to form the new American Airlines.  Fares are up, and customer satisfaction is down, but airline profits are at record highs.  

Remember when Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and many others were all independent companies?  Now they're all owned by giant retail conglomerates.  Walmart and Amazon have taken over their sectors, too.  Remember local hardware stores, mom and pop restaurants, community banks, and independent car dealerships?  There are relatively few still in business, left behind in the race to merge, "increase synergy", and maximize profits.

And do I even need to mention corporate subsidies, aka "corporate welfare"?  What the hell is that all about?  Did they think we wouldn't notice?

I've heard it said your "character" is defined by how you behave when no one is looking.  If that's so, then many of our players today have terrible character.

It's no longer about doing what's right, but only about what will make the most money and what they can get away with.  At many businesses today doing "right" will get you fired, that's how cold blooded we've become. We're being attacked from within, and we're losing.  Capitalism in 2017 is NOT your daddy's capitalism!

S


Thursday, October 19, 2017

How could this happen?

Any school kid has seen pictures like this of pre-WWII Germany where hundreds of thousands of ordinary Germans flocked to get even a glimps of Adolf Hitler as he promised to pull them out of the hard times they were in.  

"How could this happen?  Didn't they see Hitler for the hateful madman he was?"  

Well, no, not really.  Hitler inflamed even the slightest prejudices most people had and convinced them better times were ahead if only they would trust him.  Prejudices against Jews of course, and the mentally and physically handicapped, and Slavs, and pretty much everyone who had it better than they did, too. 

"Times were simpler then, and people were just very naive.  That could never happen today.  We're much better educated and too sophisticated to fall for anything like that."

Really?  Have you not seen FOX News, or MSNBC, or read Breitbart or Huff Post or any number of other slanted sources of information?  We all have our prejudices, and there is one group or another out there looking for you, hoping to turn you into one of their disciples.  IMO we're even MORE susceptible today of falling into the camp of one evil group or another than Germans were back in the 1930's.

Examples?  President Trump has his "base", those who refuse to believe anything at all negative about him.  Any evidence of a tainted election victory is just sour grapes, "flip-flopping" on issues is just his way of keeping his opponents off balance, etc.  They have tasted his brand of Kool Aid and apparently loved it.  They aren't going back.

Then you have the anti-Trumpsters who can find absolutely nothing good to say about the President.  Everything he says is dismissed out of hand.  THEY are always right, and HE is always wrong.  More Kool Aid consumed.  They aren't going back.

Antisemitism is still with us.  Racial tensions are flaring...White Supremacists, Antifa...Charlottsville was NOT spontaneous.  Protestants still view Catholics warily.  My generation looks unfavorably at today's kids and their dress, music, attitudes, etc.  Gay/straight, Believers/atheists, stand or take a knee...the issues, and ardent followers of each, are almost endless.  And however they might believe, they are unlikely to ever go back.  Some believe those who own guns are just a bunch of knuckle-dragging, Tea Party bubbas.  Umm...I own guns, and I am ANYTHING but a knuckle-dragging, Tea Party bubba.  Ewww!  *Oops, even I have prejudices*

My point is, we are NOT too sophisticated to fall prey to being radicalized.  If you think you're too smart to fall for such shenanigans, they're probably already reeling you in.  Apparently we haven't learned the old lesson of history repeating itself.  I hope this ends better than last time.

S

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How much is too much?

How big is too big?

For better or worse, I live in one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country.  I say "for better or worse" because for years now I've been looking for that sweet spot that's big enough to have everything I need/want, but not too big to be overwhelmingly congested.  Everywhere I look these days all I see is more construction.  I'm losing ground to "overwhelmingly congested"!

Smaller towns love growth.  More people means more grocery stores, and retailers, and more tax revenue to support filling potholes and building new, state-of-the-art schools.  More restaurants and theaters and maybe a few more doctors and even a new hospital, too.  The improving "quality of life" in turn entices companies looking to relocate or expand to move in, and the cycle repeats itself.

My DF/W Metroplex is now pushing 7.2 million residents.  Houston has 6.7M, Chicago has 9.5M, LA has 13M, NY has 20M, London has 18M, and Tokyo has 38M (metropolitan areas in total).  Which begs the question:  How big is TOO big?

At what point does growth stop being a positive and become a negative?  How many steak houses or burger joints do you need?  Or pediatricians and 24-hour corner urgent care clinics? Or AMC  theaters?  However many you might think appropriate, ask yourself if it's worth the traffic congestion, and road rage, and crime, and the daily frustrations that tie us in knots?  At some point are we really just taking one step forward and two steps backward?

Who benefits, really, from all this growth?  The landowners and developers, for sure. And the select few contractors who can build all those highways and mid-high rise buildings.  And of course the bureaucracy.  More people means more tax revenues, and higher salaries for those who hustle new businesses and make more rules for the rest of us to follow.

It seems like it's all just a giant ego trip.  "My city is bigger than yours.  My airport handles more flights.  My skyline is more dramatic."   Virtually everyone benefits a little I suppose, but IMO most of us are just treading water at best.

My fear now is that someday I might actually be able to move to my dream destination, some comfortable mid-size town in Colorado, only to be run over by a stampede of people fleeing Dallas and LA and Chicago who are following my lead.

Umm, now that I think about it....I didn't write this.  You never read this.  Nice not talking to you.  Bye-bye.  ;)

S

 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Some Medicare info for you....a good read if you're 65>, or have insomnia



Last week I received from my Medicare adviser a simple overview of what the next round of Medicare will look like.  I thought I'd share it with those of you who are at or near Medicare age.  This info is for supplements, insurance that covers what Medicare doesn't.

NOTE:  These are NOT Medicare Advantage programs.  In those, Medicare just gives an approved company a lump sum and then bows out.  For better or worse you're then their problem.  Many of the Advantage plans seem to cover more, but there is always small print.  They are basically HMO's/PPO's, meaning you have to use THEIR doctors and hospitals.  They may also say they include prescription drugs, but not ALL drugs are on their included list (their "formulary").  Be careful!

MEDICARE SUPPLEMENTS


Medicare has deductibles and co-pays ... lots of them. These deductibles and co-pays change every year, but this is what they look like in 2017:


PART A DEDUCTIBLES AND CO-PAYS (the hospitals)

Day one deductible: $1,316
Days 2-59 co-pays: $0 per day
Days 60-89 co-pays: $329 per day
Days 90-150 co-pays: $658 per day

Skilled Nursing Facility co-pays: $164.50 per day (Maximum 100 days)


PART B DEDUCTIBLES AND CO-PAYS (the doctors)

Annual deductible: $183
Co-pays after the deductible is met: 20% co-pay of everything WITHOUT LIMIT.

Whoa!

You don't have to be a Mensa member to see that an unexpected illness could cost you a ton of money if you had original Medicare and nothing else.


THIS IS WHERE SUPPLEMENTS COME IN

Medicare supplements (Medigap plans) are private insurance plans, regulated by Medicare, that pay all or part of the aforementioned deductibles and co-pays.

There are eleven different kinds of supplements, identified by letters A to N, each one covering different pieces of those deductibles and co-pays. The most popular plans are Plan F and Plan G since they cover the most.
 

A Plan F covers ALL of Medicare's deductibles and co-pays. Plan G covers all of them except the Part B annual deductible of $183. Since Plan G has a premium that's $400 per year less than Plan F (on average) it's always the better value.


Here's a little known fact: Because supplements are federally regulated, those with the same letter are identical except for price! They have to cover the exact same things.


WHAT DO THEY COST?

Premiums are based on your age and your zip code. In Frisco, TX, there are at least 26 different companies offering Plan F supplements. The premiums for a 65 year old female range from $120 per month to $369 per month - for the exact same thing!

The least expensive plan is not usually the best value because those are the plans that have the largest renewal increases. If your plan costs $120 per month in year one but jumps to $180 per month in year two, it's no longer a good deal. And if your health is bad, or your medications give the insurance companies a scare, you'll be stuck with that plan and its ever-increasing premiums.


MY RECOMMENDATION

There are some supplement companies that have proven to be reasonably priced and have relatively low annual premium increases.


They are, in alphabetical order: AARP, Aetna and Blue Cross. As those of you who have been to my office know, Aetna has always been the plan that starts out the least expensive of the three and stays that way over the years, so that's usually what I recommend. In addition, if a husband and wife both go on the plan they get a 12% discount.


Once you have a quality supplement, there should be no need to change. They will all have some rate increases each year on your anniversary date, but those increases should be manageable.


CAN YOU CHANGE SUPPLEMENTS?

If you have a supplement that is NOT priced right, can you do anything about it? Maybe. You can apply for a different supplement any time during the year, but the plan you're applying for will ask you three pages of health questions, review your medications and talk to your doctors. If they don't like what they see, they will decline you and you'll have to stay where you are.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Hope this helps.

Regards,

S  


Monday, October 9, 2017

Ahhh....America....we have a problem


We seem to be a very odd bunch.  By "we" I mean the upset, disillusioned, gun toting Americans among us.  First the "upset, disillusioned" part:

We have a lot of societal issues.  Minorities feel the deck is stacked against them, and they want fairer treatment.  White supremacists feel that if minorities receive better treatment, it will be at their expense.  

Every kid who can strum a guitar thinks he's going to be a rock star, and every kid who has any athletic ability thinks he's destined for professional sports stardom.  Virtually all hit the reality wall eventually and find their life's work will instead be on a loading dock or at the paper mill. 

Too many seniors had expected a comfy retirement, only to find their life savings vanish when they found themselves with unexpected and overwhelming medical bills, or their 401K's cratered, along with the company they worked 40 years for.  At least they still have their Medicare and Social Security, right?  Umm...maybe not.  Hungry tax-cut vultures are eyeing them both. 

It's been a given that each generation of Americans will be better off than their parents.  Not so fast.  The middle class has been losing ground for the past several decades.  Kids are told they need a good education, then find themselves saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans they have trouble paying back.

Blue-collar middle class Americans have been especially hard hit.  Many have seen their jobs outsourced to Mexico or Asia, and the replacement jobs they can find don't pay nearly what they need to maintain their former lifestyle.

Even comfortable white-collar Americans, who seem to have it all, say they feel overwhelming, intense pressure trying to keep it all.

Obese / short people know they'll never make it to a company vice-presidency.  Those offices are reserved for beautiful / handsome people.

And then we have our addictions....alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc, all impairing our ability to attain the good life.  Even those who take legitimately prescribed medicines....have you read the side effects today's meds bury in the fine print?  Besides the ever popular constipation and / or diarrhea, they often include "violent reactions and suicidal tendencies".  Yikes!

And scorned lovers, and lost promotions, and...

Which leads us to the "gun toting" part:

We do have a LOT of guns in America.  An estimated 300,000,000 plus.  The problem comes when some of those mentioned above just snap, unable to contain their anger.  Then they go after those who they feel are responsible for their misfortune, such as what happened in Las Vegas last week.

Now we're hearing calls once again for gun control.  "Stop making and selling 'assault rifles'", they say, "and we'll see less gun violence."  OK, fine.  Outlaw "bump stops", and suppressors, and even new AR-15's.  (Note: an AR-15 is NOT an assault rifle, legally speaking.)  With 300,000,000 guns already out there, does anyone really believe a disturbed person won't be able to get one?  (Another note: 1,000,000 guns are stolen and presumably resold every year on the black market.)

The fact is, unless we can get a handle on these (and other) societal issues we face, we're just putting a tiny band-aid on a sucking chest wound with gun control.  Once again, as has become the American Way, we're looking for a quick, easy way out.  We're in denial.

S