Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Voter ID

I saw an interesting story yesterday about voter id requirements. I've followed this story as a part of my "compassionate conservative" approach to things. Or as I like to say it "think globally, act locally." What this means is I try to vote and think conservatively, then do local things compassionately.

Globally, I think a conservative approach is best for everyone, but then I also realize that there are some people who need a helping hand and when possible, I try to be that helping hand. I give to many local charities and volunteer close to 100 hours each year to help low income individuals and families in their tax preparation.

The voter id law passed by SC was done in an attempt to keep voter fraud in line. The idea is that by requiring an id, illegals won't be able to vote. Some of the opponents have noted that there has never been a case of voter fraud in SC, so the law is unnecessary. They also point to the 200,000 registered voters who do not have a valid SC id (yes, 200,000). They point out that most of these 200,000 are minorities and that, they say, shows that the law is targeted at suppressing minority vote.

Proponents of the law have offered to help un-identified, legal voters get the necessary documentation. Also, the NAACP (which opposes the law) is offering " to drive people to get their picture ID and even finds sponsors for those who can't afford one. I guess both sides can agree to help some of those impacted.

I honestly don't know how I feel about the new law and won't argue either way. But assuming that it stays in effect (the supreme court is reviewing), I think that the offers to help people get their ID is a great way to help people. But what if the people don't want to vote? According  to the story I read yesterday (seen here) a lot of the people impacted have no "interest to go out and get a picture id." The story goes on to say "A lot of people don't want to vote. A lot of people say, why should I vote, it doesn't matter."

Unfortunately, I think this lady is right. It's not just about voter id, or even voter education. In order for more people to be interested in voting, politicians have to stay true to their beliefs and state those beliefs clearly. Then, we the people, can vote our hearts and feel that our voice is being heard. Whether it's voting someone into office or kicking someone out, we want our votes to be heard.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who is responsible for Yogurt-gate?

This morning on NBC news, I saw a story that was affectionately called "yogurt-gate." (I couldn't find a link to the NBC story, but here's a link to a similar story)

It seems a group of college students in Denver, Co. were close to the President and shaking his hand as he went by. Suddenly, the President's pants were covered with yogurt. The story tells that the young woman (later identified as Kolbi Zerbest) spilled the yogurt.

In the interview this morning, Miss Zerbest explained that she had placed her yogurt on a pole and the paparazzi hit the pole, spilling the yogurt. She also said that "technically, it was (her) fault."

So, who's responsible? Miss Zerbest accepted the responsibility. Why would I bother to blog about this? Because I want people to realize that they have responsibility. When Miss Zerbest purchased the yogurt, she became responsible for it. She should have placed it in a location where it was safe.

Spilling yogurt, even on the President, isn't a big deal, but too often people don't accept responsibility. Instead they quickly say "it wasn't my fault." I have to confess, I've even been guilty of this at times. But if you accept responsibility, and treat every situation as potentially volatile, you might not spill your yogurt.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

Tax season is over and I stopped blogging near the beginning, so I haven't had a chance to share about my experiences. As some readers will know, I've worked with taxes the last four years as a part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The program is established by the IRS and includes training (online or book) and certification to assist taxpayers with their taxes. We use software designed specifically for the VITA preparers and have support from the software company.

Locally, the program is coordinated by the United Way, who provides laptops and additional "volunteers". I put the word "volunteers" in quotes as the people are typically Americorps workers. I don't know a lot about Americorps, but I think the workers get a small stipend (and medical benefits) for their work and have to provide a certain number of hours. They can use their VITA time as a credit for those hours.

This year I went through certification to the Advanced level (Basic-> Intermediate-> Advanced) and stepped up to Site Coordinator certification. (last year I didn't do Site Coordinator, but did Military, Cancellation of debt and Health Savings Account certification). I also stepped up to the responsibility of Site Coordinator 1/2 time at one of the sites where I work.

This year we had to take an ethics test as a part of certification. The ethics questions were VERY basic, but the scary thing is that you know someone has violated each of the codes they gave us.

As a part of the program, we're not allow to discuss any details about the taxpayers. I can tell you that this year was busier than the last two years. I also believe that I processed less W2-G (unemployment) forms than previous years. I think these two facts show that more people have jobs. They may be lower paying jobs than they had previously, but they have jobs.

I also think I did more past-year (2010 & 2009) taxes than in previous years. These are people who didn't file for some reason or another (one person said he was asleep that year - must've been a good nap!) and they want to get caught up. It makes me feel good to help people like this. As someone who pays a lot of taxes, I'm always anxious to help others pay their fair share.

There were some low points to the year. A few people seemed intent on cheating the system or making up numbers. One man came in the last day (we were slammed and a volunteer short) and wanted me to do his 2010 taxes. I was unable to help him. He honestly believed he didn't need to file, as he was retired. The IRS sent him a letter explaining differently. I felt bad for him, but simply didn't have time. I did do his 2011 taxes.

Lessons for next year is for me to start earlier. The site coordinator role was less intense (but more nerve-racking) than I imagined. But there was more training available that I could have used greatly. Also, I should have done the training on Cancellation of Debt (one case came in, I handled it after a lot of research) and Health Savings Account (three taxpayers needed help - two were family). These areas aren't so complex, but a refresher would have been good.

I also had a chance this year to explain to a fellow conservative IN DETAIL how the Earned Income Tax Credit works. It was an enlightenment to him that I had so much information and that some of his information was wrong. Any reader who wants to know more, or thinks the program is full of holes, needs to send me a note and I'll help them understand the details. I'm not justifying the program, I'm saying this is how it works and if you want to eliminate it, you have to say so explicitly (my biggest complaint with the "Fair Tax" and 9-9-9).

I plan to continue and to be site coordinator again next year (if needed). The work is very rewarding. I tried to recruit a couple of people this year and failed. Next year, won't you help? I'll be glad to help with training and information.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What would Chuck Colson say about Chuck Colson?

In case you missed the news, Chuck Colson died over the weekend. I first found out by reading a tweet about his life, then searched and found out about his death.

I need to start by saying I didn't (and still don't) know much about Colson. I know he was involved in Watergate, but couldn't tell you how. I know he had a religious experience in prison and started Prison Fellowship Ministries.   I listened to some of Colson's radio commentaries, and while I agreed with them most of the time, I didn't care for his style and can really only recall one (see below). He's just never been that interesting to me.

That said, I was amazed at some of the vitriol that I saw in some of the commentary this weekend. They pointed out his crimes, his attitudes, and his strong, conservative Biblical views, all in a very negative way. This made me think: What would Chuck Colson say about Chuck Colson?

Which brings me to the one commentary of Colson's I remember, or at least remember partly. The premise was based on a sign that he saw that said "don't help a good boy go bad."  The sign was promoting a Boy's Club of some sort and asking for donations. Colson's comment was that they weren't good boys, they were bad boys - born to sin just like the rest of us. A better goal would be to help a bad boy go good.

Anyone who doubts this, needs to work with kids. You don't have to teach a kid how to lie or how to steal. You don't have to teach them how to be conniving. Just this past weekend, I saw a kid who was told not to step onto a soccer field, step one foot across the line and look back at the adults as if to dare them to punish him (they did). This behavior is ingrained into boys (and girls).

Which is what I think Colson would say about Colson. That he was a sinner.  Not a good person at all. And in many ways, those who have only vitriol to share are right. And they can boast that they are simply saying what Colson would say about himself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What did you do with your $40?

There's a big push on right now to save the payroll tax break. If you haven't heard it, you're probably not listening to the TV or radio or getting your news from the internet. Are you living under a rock? The White House is even using their website to encourage people to tell their congressman "what $40 means to you and your family." However, I think the White House  is asking the wrong question, they should be asking "what did you to with your $40?"

See, the tax break is already in place. It has been for over a year now as an attempt to stimulate the economy. All of 2011, you got the tax break, and hopefully were stimulated. Of course, most people weren't stimulated, but it's clear if you look at the tax rates here. The tax break was debated (Ad nauseam) in December and was extended for 2 months. Using the assumptions that got us to $40, you should now have received $160 in tax breaks. What did you do with that? Do you feel stimulated? If you want to read more and are in the mood for a long paper on this stimulus payment (and why this was ineffective), the Federal Reserve Board has written a long white paper at this site.

It turns out most people don't know what they did with the tax break (see here), but a lot of people are ready to give congress low ratings for something they know nothing about. That's why in December, congress reversed itself and extended the cuts. After all, these guys are up for re-election and if the public complains about something, even if it's something the public doesn't understand, congress listens.

So where does the $40 number come from? Well, it's based on the "average" income of $50,000. I've sent emails to a few news organizations that mess up the math and say it's $40 per week, it's actually only $40 every two weeks. And it's actually lower, as it assumes 25 paychecks a year, not 26. I guess if you take two weeks vacation without pay it works out. But if anyone tells you it's $40 per week, ask them if they are making $100,000, because that's what they have to be assuming to make the math work. (the news organizations I've emailed never responded).

The tax break is "fair" - it's evenly distributed among the poor and the wealthy. In fact if you look at a percentage, it's more for the low-income people. For the "average" person making $50,000 it's 2%, for someone making $200,000 it's only about a 1% savings. And for people who don't get a W2 or 1099 for their income (like several of the super-rich candidates), there's no savings at all as a result of this "tax break."

So, before you call your congressman to tell him what you can do with the $40, think about what you did with the $40 tax break you're already receiving. This isn't going to give you an EXTRA $40, it will just leave things the way they are.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My name is RB and I endorsed this message - National Defense

Delayed posting - very sorry. Last week was busy, then a brief, but needed mini-vacation.

I'm back to laying out my presidential platform planks - explaining what I think are the most important issues facing this country over the next four years. It's a remake of a series I did four years ago, I'll review my comments from then and update as required.

My first issue - the one I think is most important is National Defense. If we don't defend our nation properly, we will have no nation to defend. Even with Osama Bin Laden gone, there are still a lot of people out there who intend to do us harm, and to interrupt our way of life. In 2008, I thought we were due for another terrorist attack, that hasn't happened thanks to some very good police work.

Looking at our defense status, I earlier said "Iraq is over." That's true for our involvement. The US failed to negotiate an extension to our efforts there. I'll talk more about that in my post on foreign policy. I don't think Iraq is a defense concern at this time. They have a limited army and no navy or air force. While Afghanistan is far from over, our involvement will be soon. They are not likely to be a threat and - at least for now - don't seem to be a breeding ground for terrorists. Of course it was our ignorance that led to 9/11 - not watching places like Afghanistan to see who was trying to get rid of us.

The current budget outlook calls for major cuts in defense and we're relying less on boots-on-the-ground and more on drones-in-the-air and special ops. This makes for good politics in the US as drones don't come back in body bags and they don't have pictures taken with prisoners in Abu Ghraib or over dead bodies. But I can't help but wonder what the world thinks of our shoot-first-ask-questions later approach to taking out bad guys. It also seems a little cowardice to pull the trigger from Md where the enemy can't shoot back.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for taking the least dangerous approach to taking these people out. But we were accused of being cowboys for going into these places, how much more will we be seen that way due to drone attacks?

In the area of defense, I'm most concerned about the Pacific rim at this time - N. Korea and China don't like us very much. Fortunately, I don't think either is likely to attack us. They may attack allies, (S. Korea, Taiwan, and countries on the India sub-continent). We will have a choice to either ignore them as we did when the Russians attacked Georgia or to lend aid.

Personally, I think we should continue to work diplomatically in these areas. There is little to be gained from our involvement. In fact, I can't think of a single area in the world at this time that needs our involvement other than possibly Iran and the Straits of Hormuz.

Ships with aircraft should be positioned near the straits to ensure continuous access to the shipping lanes. Dredging ships and other equipment necessary to clear the seaway should be positioned nearby, in case Iran decides to do something stupid (and I would announce it THAT way).

That said, we cannot afford to let out military to fade away like we did in the Carter and Clinton years. We must keep developing skills and weapons both for boots-on-the-ground and for bombs-on-the-ground. We learned a lot in Afghanistan and Iraq, that knowledge should be put to use. Robotic technology that lets soldiers defuse IEDs and spy on the enemy needs to be perfected and produced en masse. We should focus on tools that detect IEDs before they develop.

Piracy off the coast of Africa seems to have settled down, but additional development and vigilance in this area is warranted.

That's my take on national defense, what's yours?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

My name is RB and I endorsed this message - Platform priorities

Yesterday I explained that I wanted to lay out what I thought were important priorities for the Presidency 2012-2016. This will be the planks of my platform should I decide to stick with the idea of the run (it will have to be a write-in campaign).

In preparation, I looked back at what I said in 2008. I think the same issues apply, so I'm going to steal heavily from my ideas back then. One difference I notice between 2008 and 2012 is the lack of focus on change. In 2008, almost every candidate was talking change (both the D's and the R's). Well, change happened, we went from a Republican in the White House to a Democrat. Some might say too much changed, some might say too little. But change happened.

My focus will be pretty much the same as last time, with some change thrown in for good measure. Here are the areas I see that need to be addressed for the next four years. This post won't tell you my opinion on any one topic, but instead will list topics I intend to cover later. They will be somewhat in priority order, but that's subject to change (there's that word) later on.

In my platform, I intend to address these topics:
1. National Defense - Iraq is over. Afghanistan will be soon. The current budget outlook for defense means major cuts. We're relying less on boots-on-the-ground and more on drones-in-the-air and special ops. Where do we go from here?

2) Foreign affars - Russia, Pakistan, Iran, India, Europe, Africa, South America, China (including trade) and Mexico (including immigration) - My only update to this list is to add the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Israel, Syria, etc) and North/South Korea

3) Isolationism vs. becoming entangled in the affairs of other nations - it seems one candidate wants us to pull back and focus on US alone, I'll look at my ideas four years ago and update them.

4) National economy - Jobs, training, mortgages, housing, taxes and spending. I know you think this should be higher. When I look at the economy, I'll explain why it's ranked #4.

5) Healthcare, education and abortion, global warming, carbon credits (hopefully, I'll explain why I grouped these)

6) Points of light - This is an old George H Bush idea. I mentioned it yesterday in a phone conversation with a friend and think it needs to be addressed.

What did I leave out? What do you, the voter and my readers, want me to address?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

My name is RB and I endorsed this message

I'm in it to win it. I'm the one you Hope to Change. I Believe in America. All of those catchy phrases go here.

You see, 4 years ago yesterday, I started a series of blog posts declaring my candidacy for president. In those posts, I laid out my platform, my ideas on every topic. I also laid out which pieces of that platform I thought were most important and the order of importance.

So, I decided to do that again. I will look back at what I said four years ago. And to start that out, I'm going to cut/paste my comments from that blog post here, so you don't have to go back via links. Here it is with updates in {brackets}:

My name is RB, I endorsed this message and I'm running for president

When I turned 35, I announced to all my friends and neighbors that I was running for president. I had examined all of the recent candidates and announcements and decided I was equally qualified.

However, it was not an election year, so I soon bowed out. Now, 14 {18} years later, I'm re-announcing my candidacy.

Since I'm entering the fanfare a little late, I'll plan a slow entrance. I'll start by announcing and deciding my platform. This will help all of my followers (thanks mom) decide which of the current candidates should be elected to hold my place until I'm truly ready. In fact, he or she could revoke the constitutional amendment that placed term limits on the presidency so that once I win the office, I can retain it forever, in the spirit of my senator, Strom Thurmond.

So, over the next several weeks, I'll post my ideas on the presidency and what I believe are important subjects to be covered. Since I'm a formulas and function kind of guy (see my post on functions), I'll also put some sort of priority or weighting with each idea. This way and astute reader could write a simple function for Excel to decide which of the current candidates best fits my model.

Regular readers will know that I've already stated there was one candidate I could NOT vote for, that's Rudy G. See my reasoning here. They may also note that I've suggested Jenna Bush for president (see here), but it's going to be a while before she's eligible. Other than these two items, I haven't decided who I will vote for. I fully expect to make that decision as a part of this exercise. {My anti-Rudy reasoning has softened some. I'm still not sure I can vote for a man that has committed that particular sin, but over the last four years I've become less focused. Romans 3:23 comes to mind.}

So be looking for my posts. Tell your friends and neighbors, dogs and cats, dead uncles and aunts to all vote for me (it works in Chicago). Seriously read my posts and comment on them. If you disagree with me, feel free to say so. I reserve the right to flip-flop as often as Clinton and Romney have been accused. After all, one man's flip-flop is another man's shoe.

{In reading the comments from my post four years ago, it looks like David of this blogsite,  offered to be my Yard Sign Creator. Hoping he's still available}

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Do sweat the small stuff

Sometime back, a popular saying was "Don't sweat the small stuff". This was usually followed by the corollary, "and it's all small stuff." Lately, this has been on my mind a lot, or more correctly, the opposite has been on my mind - "do sweat the small stuff."

It's by sweating the small stuff - mastering those seemingly meaningless tasks - that we gain the abilities we need to do the big stuff. In his book "Outliers", Malcom Gladwell mentioned the "10,000 hour rule claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours." That seems like a lot of time to become a master, but if you look at it as 40 hrs/wk for 5 years, that seems to fit accreditation requirements in a lot of jobs. Five years to become an "expert" seems reasonable. Five years of sweating the small stuff doesn't seem that ridiculous. Gladwell points to The Beatles and Bill Gates as examples of his "10,000 hour rule" (read the book for more details).

When my kids were young, we handed out chores. We started with small tasks, for example cleaning there room with our help, and expanded to bigger tasks (loading the dish-washer, cutting grass). In our work lives, we typically follow a similar process, working with co-workers at first, then leading projects. By sweating the small stuff, we show our employers that we are capable of moving on to bigger stuff.

It turns out this idea is not new, I didn't invent it and neither did Gladwell. I keep repeating Matthew 25:23 which says "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."

Sweating the small stuff means different things to different people. It may mean showing up on time for a job that you really don't like. It may mean a little extra polish in the spit-and-polish (and a little less spit). It may just mean doing the things you know need to be done without expecting any recognition.

What does sweating the small things mean to you?