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.