RJ's Corner

The case for more tax brackets

The “simplicity” argument for fewer brackets is flawed on its own terms. Figuring out what bracket your income falls into takes five minutes of paperwork and some high school arithmetic. The crushing complexity of the tax code comes before that step, when you have to actually define your income — that’s when the avalanche of loopholes, deductions, credits, and carve-outs piles atop you. Brackets aren’t the problem. Indeed, as Chang showed with a very slick interactive graphic, for the vast majority of the 20th century, the U.S. income tax code featured way more brackets than it does now.

Source: The case for more tax brackets

There are a lot of improvements waiting to be made in our national tax structure but as the source above says reducing tax brackets should be a very low priority in the work. The loop holes put into the structure over the years needs immediate changes.  It’s time to throw them all out and start over again and only add them back with a lot of restraint!  It is a simple as that… But, how to accomplish that is the gargantuan problem especially with a gridlocked congress and all the special interest groups tugging at them.

Obviously from the graph above the largest portion of loopholes have been carved out for the wealthiest among us. I would like to see this graph continued through 2015. I’m sure that the top 1% are now getting a much greater share than they even did in 2008.  That must be so since the middle class is getting less and less. I think I read somewhere that the 1% are not approaching 50% of the total income.

It is interesting to see that the accumulated wealth of the top 1% is now greater than it was just prior to the Great Depression of 1929. I wonder if this is a harbinger of things to come?

I know there are a variety of different approaches to simplifying our tax code. I just hope that whoever finally manages to accomplish this gargantuan feat has the wisdom to do it correctly and to not put in increased burden on those who are struggling the most.

 

I’m a Gadget Guy…

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LARRY SMARR, University of California, San Diego: Big data, as it’s called. And this is about me. Every one of the points on these graphs are a different blood test or a stool test in which I got a data point over a decade.

MILES O’BRIEN: Dr. Smarr began his fantastic data voyage back in 2000 with a desire to lose some weight. And so his self-prescribed testing began. He never looked back, and, before long, he spotted trouble. His self-diagnosis, Crohn’s disease.

So, he brought the data to his doctor, who said:

LARRY SMARR: If you don’t have symptoms, why are you here? I said, because I got data. And he said, well, that’s not helpful. And so I realized, as a lifetime scientist, that the practice of medicine and the practice of science, while they overlap sometimes, are generally different.

Source:  Will real-time health data for consumers add up to healthier living? | PBS NewsHour.

I will readily admit that I am a “gadget guy”. I love new things, especially things that tell me a little about who I am and how I am doing.  The annual  CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is the epitome of gadgets.  When I was in the corporate world I was never high enough on the ladder to get a free ticket to the show. Maybe I should put that on my bucket list for something to get done before I leave this earth?

I am also a scientist so the quotes above quickly got my attention. Being an IT (information technology) scientist I could never understand why the medical field never seemed to embrace information that becomes available. They just seem to be caught in the mode of waiting until something is a visible problem before  being ready to attack it.  They shun artificial intelligence that can help them thread through thousands of  possible causes of symptoms in favor of just using what is in the doctor’s heads.  That never makes much sense to me.

That is not to say that there hasn’t been advances in medical IT. I remember  not too long ago going into my doctor’s or dentist’s office and seeing walls of file folders that kept all patient records. Those have finally disappeared to now reside in a computer system with multiple backups that allow different doctors in different locations access to it. In some cases these records are being scanned to find way to diagnose problems earlier in the process.  The advances are grudgingly happening, just not fast enough for me and other gadget guys.

I can foresee a time when we carry all our personal medical records with us no matter where we go. If we get in trouble in a remote area a medical professional has all the info about us to make wiser medical decisions. He may even plug my data in to his computer and let it help him make his diganosis! Wouldn’t that be something? Maybe we will see some gadgets with that capability in coming years shows?

 

Christianity Is Hard…

2016-01-17_15-46-06.pngThe same Jesus grew to preach radical teachings such as: the first shall be last, love your enemies, grace and mercy shall transcend the law. This Prince of Peace turned tables in a marketplace of greed, shared meals with unclean people, and wept with grieving women. This King marched into Jerusalem on a donkey, was tried by the reigning religious authority of the day, and was executed as a political dissident. His peace did not protect the powerful, it disrupted the systems, brazenly paving a new way and inviting those in the margins to follow.

Christian peace is not about coddling people’s fear of conflict. It isn’t about making sure everyone is comfortable. It does not silence those for whom a lack of peace is a life or death situation…..

If that upsets us, makes us uncomfortable, then we may congratulate ourselves for being on the right track to peacemaking, because that is also where Jesus began. The reigning Roman Empire of Jesus’ day appeared peaceful. Merchants were flourishing, the economy was booming, the religious structures intact to maintain order and complicity from her citizens. Yet behind that veneer of civilization was a superficial peace extracted from violence, a society built on the backs of slave labor and spiritual oppression of legalism.  The cross pierced that veneer, exposing a false peace to make way for lasting peace. Jesus took real action for peace, even when it cost his life. As followers of Jesus, let’s shed the passivity of peace-keeping in exchange for active engagement of peace-making…

SOURCE:  Peace – Red Letter Christians.

I must admit, at least in my senior years, I am a rebel rouser of the Don Quixote variety. That is I seemingly fight for lost causes. Things like less killing because of an overabundance of guns in our society or that we Christians should start acting like Christians. The latter is the topic for this post.

For so many years I comfortably fell into the belief that Christianity is a “something for nothing” religion. That is all we have to do is to say the right words and believe the right things in order to self proclaim that we are Christians. But then I started actually reading the words of Jesus and more importantly taking them to heart. With that simple action Christianity was turned on its head.  It was no longer a do-nothing religion but instead it is a do-everything religion that demands we live up to unthinkable principles. Things like caring for the “least of these”.

As I grow in my spiritual life I can now understand that God is not about going to church on Sunday and hearing  how easy it is over and over again.  It certainly not about just getting into heaven, I’m convinced that is not even an important part of it. Getting into heaven is a “me” oriented thing whereas Jesus was about others as a first priority and I think he intends us to do the same.

Christianity is about living as Christ tried to teach us. It is not just about loving God but also about loving each other and that especially includes those outside our individual congregations. It includes everyone, maybe even most importantly those we fear the most. We need to do a better job of learning these lessons.

Being a Christian is hard work and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise…

If It Was Only That Easy…

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I spend a lot of time at my iMac and iPad so I am used to seeing this type of message. If it was only that easy….

Being Creative…

2015-08-01_16-28-31.pngSome people seem amazed that I have put out about 400 posts a year for over five years here at RJsCorner! But in reality I usually struggle to limit it to that many! :)

I often, like today, have at least twenty posts ready to go online. No, I don’t spend all day at my computer writing. In fact I usually spend no more than part of a couple of days a week engaged in generating posts.  I know my blogging process is probably unique to me but maybe some of you can learn something from it.

My process for daily posts here at RJsCorner is to browse my Internet news sources every morning and saving possible post stories to a draft file.  Other sources are the books I constantly read and of course inspirations from my heroes in life and of course what comes off the top of my head. :)  Most of my post ideas are just a few quotes or maybe a editorial cartoon that gets me to thinking. At any one time there are usually about 30 or more stories in my draft bin. When a story goes there it  somehow starts automatically brewing in my mind.

I don’t fully understand the internal process but I often find that I am at least subconsciously thinking about a couple dozen stories at any given time. Sometimes this process changes the original thoughts almost completely. Sometimes they go almost immediately to a published post and often times some end up in the trash. How I juggle all of this is a mystery to me; it just seems to happen.

2015-08-01_16-25-42.pngWhen my mind spews out just the “right” words  it then goes over to the scheduled bin where it usually sits for a couple more weeks. During this period I review  it several times with slight editions here and there.  As it gets close to the publish date each post gets a final review for grammar, any final thoughts and maybe a picture added. There are also time when like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass where I continue to edit a post even after it has been published. I just can’t seem to leave them alone.

That is my creative process. Sometimes my creativity is so active that I flesh out a dozen posts a day and sometimes a week goes by without any additional words being added. I don’t fully understand the process but one thing I do know is that I am passionate about most everything I write. I also recognize that I am obsessed with writing. It is something that I am just addicted to. I simply can’t not write even if no one cares to read the words I must put them to paper.

I don’t imagine I am unique in this regard. I know some of my heroes in life were addicted to the same thing. Teddy Roosevelt kept daily journals throughout his life. Thomas Jefferson wrote over 10,000 letters in his lifetime. And of course Will Rogers put out daily newspaper articles for most of this life before it was abruptly ended. That puts me in pretty good company if you ask me.

 

All You Can Eat….

2016-01-04_11-13-55.pngI don’t know if the “all you can eat”  is just an American thing or is it more world wide? But I do know that obesity is a very prevalent in America.   Kind of like our obese military budget we rule the world when it come to overweight.

I will readily admit that I, like most American I think, have a weight problem. I gain weight in the cold weather months when I am pretty much a couch potato. Going into this winter season I started out on the heavy side so I knew I had to do something about it.  In the last three months instead of gaining weight I have lost about 15 lbs and hope to lose another five or so before Spring.  I can finally see my feet again! :)

We Americans just seem to have too much of a good thing when it comes to food. Much of  the third world struggles to put food on the table and we mange to put too way much there.  Obesity just seems to be an American tradition now. They say that half our population is now considered obese! We have so many cable TV channels that are geared exclusively toward eating and of course our grocery store shelves are lined with unhealthy things that cause us to put on more and more weight. “All you can eat”  and “super size” seems to dominate our culture these days.

2016-01-04_11-01-29.pngRecently I watched a 2013 BBC movie entitled “Philomena”about an elderly Irish woman who was trying to find her son who was taken from her years before and sold to an American family by Catholic nuns. The lead part was played by Judy Dench. I love everything she as been in and would highly recommend this movie if you don’t mind shedding a tear or two.  Getting to the point, when the Irish lady learned that her son was taken to American fifty years before the first thing she said was that she wondered if he was obese as those American all over eat or whether he might be dead because of all the guns and violence in that country .  In looking into this further, that mentality seems to be pretty prevalent in much of the rest of the world. We Americans overeat and are too violent.

Getting back to the point here, I am personally trying to buck the obesity trend by getting down to the weight I was more than a dozen years ago. As I lose physical stamina in my elderly years I need all the help I can get to stay active and in as good a health as I can.  But, then again, don’t we all??? Shedding all those “American” pounds seems to be a no-brainer….

Spending Less…

Is it a bad thing that I want to consume less this year than I did last year?

canstockphoto3815900.jpgThis is a question I have been contemplating lately. Although I am not making out a specific list for 2016 I have decided to shed myself of much of the stuff I own and to not spend so much this year. It sounds like a noble goal but that very idea seems to have the world in a panic right now.

As I am writing this post, which is actually a couple of weeks before it is likely posted, stock markets are diving into negative territory because China manufacturing is slowing down.  To the capitalists around the world this means that we are consuming less than in the past. To them, if we are not consuming more and more then our economy is not sustainable.

I must admit that I am not much of a fan of pure capitalism. But I’m sure, if you have read even a few of my post, you know that already. Pure capitalism just seems to be concentrated on greed than anything else. Everyone wanting more and more is to me a negative instead of a positive.  Of course I am saying these words with a “western” mentality where many of us are fortunate enough to have discretionary spending money, more and more means buying things we don’t really need. To much of the world “more and more”might just mean putting enough food on the table so that their family can thrive. That is a completely different mentality.

Oil prices are going down because people like me gave up our 18 mpg car for a 35 mpg version and are even driving that one less. That on the face of it seems to be a good thing but to the capitalists it means our economy is shrinking and will soon collapse.

I know earlier I said I am not a fan of pure capitalism but I am a fan of regulated capitalism. Without it our country and many others around the world would not be in the enviable condition we are. Capitalism drives prosperity when it is properly regulated.

Getting back to the initial question, I don’t really care what others think about my decision. I have decided to take up the mantel of “Simplicity” more seriously than I have in past years. I am shedding things that I have not used in the past 5 years and that seems is a LOT of stuff. Thankfully stuff just doesn’t mean much to me at this stage of my life. Right now simplicity is the key to my satisfying retirement, at least for 2016.

Another Hoax, But Still…

There is an email going around now that credits the following list to a speech Bill Gates recently gave to a high school graduating class. It is a hoax in that Bill Gates never mouthed these words.  The list was actually  written by  Charles J. Sykes and published in the San Diego Union Tribune in 1996. But that doesn’t take away from the validity of the eleven rules. It continues to amaze me how these sort of things pass through thousands of Facebook pages  without first being checked for validity.

2016-01-17_12-10-26.pngRULE 1
Life is not fair – get used to it.

RULE 2
The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world
will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel
good about yourself.

RULE 3
You will NOT make 40 thousand dollars a year right out
of high school. You won’t be a vice president with
car phone, until you earn both.

RULE 4
If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a
boss. He doesn’t have tenure.

RULE 5
Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your
grandparents had a different word for burger flipping
they called it Opportunity.

RULE 6
If you mess up,it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t
whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

RULE 7
Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as
they are now. They got that way from paying your bills,
cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about
how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest
from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try
delousing the closet in your own room.

RULE 8
Your school may have done away with winners and losers,
but life has not. In some schools they have abolished
failing grades and they’ll give you as many times as
you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the
slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

RULE 9
Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get
summers off and very few employers are interested in
helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.

RULE 10
Television is NOT real life. In real life people
actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

RULE 11
Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for
one.

SOURCE:  Bill Gates’ high school speech on The Eleven Rules of Life-Fiction!.

If I tried to comment here I would quickly exceed my 500 word limit so I will just say that generally I agree with the eleven rules but might have said them with a little less snarkiness.

The Danger of certainty…

2015-12-15_11-11-52.png“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Though this quote is often attributed to John Maynard Keynes, its provenance is uncertain. There’s no question, however, about its instructive value. The world is confoundingly complex, and will make a fool of anyone who ignores contrary new information. But with our country so politically polarized, the process of adjusting to new facts — so essential to sound public policy — rarely occurs….

Every news event now triggers a ritualized dance of the same, hardened opinions. In the outrage machine of partisan TV networks, talk radio, Twitter, and blogs, any reconsideration of past views and policies is greeted with derisive jeering, as if it were proof of weakness and failure instead of sanity. So everyone remains dug into their ideological bunkers. For a change, wouldn’t it be encouraging to hear a gun-rights advocate say: I’m all for the Second Amendment, but to reduce the death toll of mass shootings, let’s ban magazines of more than 10 rounds and institute strong, universal background checks?

SOURCE:  The danger of certainty.

I will say up front that the very idea of certainty is against my very nature. Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes as Franklin said so many years ago. If you are a critical thinker you question everything and are ready to adjust your beliefs and attitudes when new evidence presents itself.

Wouldn’t that be something to see sanity finally returned to our political processes? But the first thought I had when I read this article was the root cause for certainty is likely religious in nature, not political.  That is, at least among the so called evangelical Republicans who now seem to have a stranglehold on their party.

Many evangelicals cling to the literalist view of their holy document. They take everything in the bible as true without any doubt or questions.  If counting back generations according to their Old Testament text shows them that the earth is only 6,000 years old then everything that says otherwise is a total fraud to them.  With that rock solid certainty how can they ever accept new truths of any nature?

The glimmer of hope on my horizon is that the evangelical community who are the main clingers of certainty continues to shrink among the American populace and if this trend continues they will soon for the most part become irrelevant.

By the latest statistics those who identify themselves as Evangelicals make up about 15% of the U.S. population and about 60% of the GOP primary voters and these numbers continue to shrink on a daily basis. I am optimistic that some day the GOP will return to their conservative pragmatic former selves.  Lets close out this post with a couple of quotes about certainty:

“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides.     Tony Schwartz

“One of the few certainties in life is that persons of certainty should certainly be avoided.”   ― Willy Russell

The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is unchangeable or certain. John F. Kennedy

Since this is such a broad topic I will do another post about it this Sunday concentrating exclusively on its religious aspects.

Chris Christie Flubbed Something Really Basic About American History

2016-01-16_08-14-54.pngNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a bold pronouncement at Thursday’s Republican debate: the founders considered the right to bear arms to be one of the most important constitutional amendments—that’s why it was the second one on the list. “I don’t think the Founders put the second amendment as number two by accident,” he said, adding, “I think they made the Second Amendment the Second Amendment because they thought it was just that important.”

But that doesn’t make a lot of sense—the Third Amendment (which prevents citizens from quartering soldiers against their will) is not more important than the Fourth Amendment (which prohibits unwarranted search and seizure), simply because it has a lower number. Nor would you be able to find many conservatives who believe the Tenth Amendment, which delegates rights to the states, is somehow the least important of the bunch.

The other problem with this line of thinking is that the Second Amendment as we know it wasn’t really the second amendment to be written—it was the fourth. James Madison proposed 12 amendments to the Constitution, but the first two were not ratified by enough states. The original First Amendment concerned the size of congressional districts—not quite as big of a deal in the grand scheme of things as, say, the original Third Amendment (which would become freedom of expression). The original Second Amendment would have prohibited Congress from raising its own pay (it was eventually ratified as the 27th.)

This is all a bit confusing but you have to bear in mind the Founding Fathers were drunk most of the time.

SOURCE:  Chris Christie Flubbed Something Really Basic About American History | Mother Jones.

 

I know I have proclaimed a hiatus on the presidential primary process until some have voted. So, this is not about that but about how too many of us are confusing the facts about our country’s founding.  Just because a guy is a governor doesn’t make him knowledgeable about government matters.  In fact none of the amendments were considered important enough to be put in the original constitution. They were basically added as an after-thought.

But, I am grateful that the amendments are there, all twenty-seven of them.  Well almost all of them anyway.

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