What about my refund? I thought we got a tax cut!

don’t you wish?

Last year my wife got a large tax refund, this year she owes taxes on a lower salary!! What gives? Wasn’t there a “tax cut” effective in 2018? Yes, there was, mainly in the form of almost doubling the standard deduction, though people who are used to itemizing and were able to deduct state taxes, found that the state tax deduction was limited. But that’s not the reason most people got smaller federal tax refunds or ended up owing instead of getting a refund. Folks, what does a large tax refund mean? No, not a 4K TV at Walmart. It means you have lent the Federal government money through withholding all year. The larger the refund, the bigger the no interest loan you have involuntarily made! If I asked you, “would you rather have your own income during the year or lend it to the federal government at no interest for the year?” I hope you would choose to keep your money. “But that refund is like a savings account” you say. Well, these days most savings accounts pay about .25% interest, so lending to the government at no interest doesn’t entail much of a loss. But is that the point?

Normally, the federal government moves with all the alacrity of a glacier, but in 2018 it struck at the speed of a rattlesnake strike in changing the withholding schedule. Employers starting withholding less immediately, and it suddenly felt like a tax cut….until refund time. Uh oh, many people suddenly realized there’s a direct relationship between getting a bigger paycheck and a smaller refund, unless you got a raise. I advise all of them to study their paystub and see how much is taken out for what, especially social security. I was “self employed” (meaning I had hundreds of employers, I just called them clients) most of my working life, so understanding how much I was being taxed was never a problem. I always did my own taxes. Early on, I discovered that the vaunted tax deductions applied only to income taxes, not social security taxes, which were called self employment tax. Without deductions, my self employment taxes were always more than my income tax. You’re shocked? You’ve looked at your paystub and your F.IC.A. and Medicare taxes are a lot less than income tax withholding? Guess what, your employers pay half of those taxes.

While you’re at it, examining your paystub that is, there’s another little item that might open your eyes. That’s what is deducted for health insurance, if any. You think that’s a lot? Look at your W-2 at the end of the year to see what your employers pay for your health insurance. It’s usually way more than what you pay. Upsides and downsides usually go together. Big tax refund, less of your money to use during the year; self employment freedom to make more, but no employer to pay half your FICA or your health insurance. I believe they are called trade offs.

Ant and grasshopper….social justice version.

While searching the internet for articles about poverty, development and entrepreneurship, I came upon an updated version of the old Ant and Grasshopper fable. It was supplied as an answer to the question, “Why is India still a developing country” on Quora.com, by Bhartendu Ja, who lives in India, so the names and ministries might not mean much to my U.S. readers. However, you all get the gist, and if you’re really curious, you can research the names. I did, but if you are too lazy to do your own and think I should supply you with the fruits of my effort, call a press conference. I will tell you that they are either “social activists” or politicians–big shock–and CPM is Communist Party of India.
Original Story: 
The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter. The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs dances plays the summer away. Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold. 

Indian Version: 
The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter. The Grasshopper thinks the Ant’s a fool and laughs dances plays the summer away. Come winter, the shivering Grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the Ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving. NDTV, BBC, CNN , and Asianet show up to provide pictures of the shivering Grasshopper next to a video of the Ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. 

The World is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be that this poor 
Grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Arundhati Roy stages a demonstration in front of the Ant’s house. Medha Patkar goes on a fast along with other Grasshoppers demanding that Grasshoppers be relocated to warmer climates during winter . Mayawati states this as ‘injustice’ done on Minorities. 

The Internet is flooded with online petitions seeking support to the 
Grasshopper. CPM in Kerala immediately passes a law preventing Ants from working hard in the heat so as to bring about equality of poverty among Ants and Grasshoppers. Railway minister allocates one free coach to Grasshoppers on all Indian Railway Trains. 

Finally, the Judicial Committee drafts the ‘Prevention of Terrorism Against 
Grasshoppers Act’ [POTAGA], with effect from the beginning of the winter. 
Education minister makes ‘Special Reservation’ for Grasshoppers in Educational  Institutions in Government Services. The Ant is fined for failing to comply with POTAGA and having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, it’s home is confiscated by the Government and handed over to the Grasshopper in a ceremony covered by NDTV, BBC, CNN. 

Arundhati Roy calls it ‘A Triumph of Justice’. Railway minister calls it ‘Socialistic Justice’. CPM calls it the ‘Revolutionary Resurgence of the Downtrodden’ .

Many years later… 
The Ant has since migrated to the US and set up a multi-billion dollar 
company in Silicon Valley. Hundreds of Grasshoppers still die of starvation in India , …AND  As a result of losing lot of hard working Ants and feeding the grasshoppers, India is still a developing country…!! 

The theme of the original story was the value of delaying gratification, planning for hard time, especially when you know winter is coming, and of course hard work. It did not encourage sharing, charity or begging. The grasshopper died of starvation and exposure. There is no record of his having asked the ant for help nor of the ant offering food or shelter. In the “real” world, the grasshoppers, the indigent, could avoid dying of hunger and exposure, and could be and often are offered food and shelter. Their biggest problem is not that they danced and played their way through the summer, nor that the ants, the working people, are miserly. Some times the people myself and doing well, for hit a temporary rough patch, and need temporary help to right their ship. The chronically indigent often struggle with addictions or mental illness, and need far more help, but I am convinced from my conversations (with many panhandlers) that they are still the minority of indigent.

What stopped the grasshopper from asking the ant for help? I believe the root of the problem of most indigent individuals is the wrong kind of pride. And neither our own help programs nor the policies that Mr. Ja was mocking and barely exaggerating, do anything to address pride. What do I mean? I will give you two representative examples. Back in 1988 when I got married, I was laid off from my job, by surprise, a couple of weeks afterward. My wife had a job with a major department store, but I had to contribute. You might say my pride demanded it. I felt it was my responsibility to provide for us, even though she could also, but that didn’t relieve me of my responsibilities. This wasn’t pride, it was being grown up. So I took a job with Eddie Bauer, taking catalog orders from the east coast. I started at 5am Seattle time. After my shift I tried selling various items “door to door.” Very unpleasant. During my trips to the downtown Bauer offices, I would be approached by multiple panhandlers. The kind of pride I am criticizing is this: One young guy who approached me appeared sober, so I told him that Eddie Bauer was still hiring, and the working conditions were decent as were the wages. When I told him the salary, he said, “I’m not working for that, I’ll continue to put my hand out.” I ended up going into business for myself and doing well. Him? I have no idea, but his direction was not encouraging.

Example two was a homeless older man living in his van. His tale of woe was that the social security office was denying him benefits and he had to live in his van, so I decided to help him. The truth slowly unfolded. Gus was actually a citizen of Greece, but he had lived here for over 50 years, working as a handyman for undocumented cash. He never applied for citizenship, never contributed a cent to social security, had a daughter in Greece who wanted him to live with her, but she had “too many rules”. I also found out that he had lived in a transient shelter in town, but the director told me that he had offered Gus a job as resident handyman, which included a salary, free room and board with his own room. Gus turned him down, “too many rules”, again. That was the story of Gus’ life, “no one’s going to tell me what to do.” Or, I’m the grasshopper, I play, no one’s going to tell me to prepare for winter. What I called the wrong kind of pride.

Can a negative be proven?

He’s a racist. How do you know? He’s white, isn’t he? Let him prove he’s not racist. The handy flowchart above represents the challenge of trying to prove a negative–in this case, that someone who has been accused of being racist, is not racist. It reminds me of the question “have you stopped beating your wife?” Comedian Henny Youngman, once and perhaps still the “king of one-liners”, used to beat that joke to death, unlike his wife, who survived the years of “take my wife” double entendres. Sigh, you’d have to be a Baby Boomer to appreciate that joke. So, back to our favorite shibboleth, racism. I say “favorite”, because there’s no accusation that gets a faster denial….which is the main point of the accusation! The only kind of person who doesn’t mind being called a racist is…..you guessed it, a racist. The kind of person who most frequently calls someone else a racist is the one who benefits from calling someone else a racist. Is that what we call a “race-baiter” or “race-hustler”? What attitude or set of beliefs, exactly, is racist? Our flowchart deals with actions, and whose attitude is more revealed by it. Which of the actions along the top row are definitively racist? What about the accusations in the second row? Are they an accurate assessment of the meanings of the actions? If not, then what is their purpose? Who accuses? Can you define racism without falling back on the godlike ability to know the heart and mind? Is racism hating someone because of the color of their skin or country of origin? If so, how can you prove what is inside of a person? Most of the failed efforts by government to eradicate poverty and define disadvantaged groups were based on assumptions of inability of those groups to raise themselves. Was that love, or truly racism?

Which brings me to the guy who probably gets called a racist more than any other individual–President Trump. According to the following objective and balanced (ahem and various throat clearing sounds) media, Huffpost, Washington Post, NY Times, indisputable evidence of his racism is expressed by these headlines: “He attacked Muslim Gold Star parents.” “He questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States.” “He treats racial groups as monoliths.” “He stereotyped Jews and shared an anti-Semitic meme created by white supremacists.”He treats African-American supporters as tokens to dispel the idea he is racist.” “He called Maxine Waters a low IQ person.” “He referred to Haiti,  El Salvador, and “various African countries” (Yemen, Somalia) as “shithole” countries.”   

I am not saying he is or is not racist; knowing what is in his heart and mind is the province of God alone. I personally suspect he harbors plenty of racial and ethnic prejudices, but what I suspect is irrelevant. The issues here are: 1. The futility of trying to prove a negative; 2. Judging on what a person does rather than what he says.

1. Since I am using President Trump simply as an example of the futility of trying to prove a negative–that he isn’t racist, I have to consider three factors about the charges: Are they accurate? If so, are they evidence of racism? Do the accusers reap a payoff for making the charges? The last point is very different from asking, “what are their motives?” I am not God, so I can’t know motives, but I can see for myself the payoff. We’ll get to that. As to the accuracy of the charges, I can acknowledge they are probably more accurate than not, but they fail the test of being evidence of racism. Regarding those “Muslim gold star” parents, Khizr Khan and his wife (whose son, Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq), what Trump actually said in the Stephanopoulos interview, when asked to comment on Khizr Khan’s claim that Trump had “sacrificed nothing and no one,” Trump replied: “Who wrote that? Did Hilary’s scriptwriters write it?” Following that interview, Khizr Khan told CNN’s Jim Acosta that ‘Trump is a black soul‘ and has a ‘blackness of his character, of his soul.’“This behavior is totally unfit for the leadership of this country,” he said. Trump defended himself on Twitter, saying that while Humayun Khan is a hero, the GOP candidate’s policies are about “radical Islamic terror and the weakness of our leaders to eradicate it.” Some uncomfortable facts: Khan’s law firm financially benefited from unfettered pay-to-play Muslim migration into America. A snapshot of his now deleted website, as captured by the Wayback Machine which takes snapshots archiving various websites on the Internet, shows that as a lawyer he engaged in procurement of EB5 immigration visas and other Related Immigration Services.” Once attention was focused on him, he deleted his firm’s website. What about Trump’s quip about Hilary’s script writers? Khan used to work for a powerful D.C. law firm that represented the Clinton Foundation. Hilary was touting Khan’s family all over the DNC as a direct rebuke to her opponent’s (guess who) Muslim policies, and Trump’s quip called attention to that; it was not a criticism of Khan. I also wonder, since Khan used “blackness” twice as a proxy for evil, why was he not called out as a racist? Naive of me, it wad more important to get Trump, and Khan is a Muslim, another PC-protected group. 

Speaking of which, the “total and complete Muslim ban” was campaign rhetoric, but actually restricted immigration from seven countries–Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen–which are either failed states or sworn enemies of our country, and were put on the list of probable sponsors of terrorists by the Obama administration. Is that ban valid evidence of racism? Not to me. Lots of people questioned whether President Obama was born in this country, and there were five other historic presidential candidate “birther” controversies, all of which were against white men. Once again, not evidence of racism. If treating racial groups as “monoliths” was evidence of racism, then the entire democrat party and all the liberal media are racist. Treating “African Americans as tokens” means he appears to befriend them (when it’s to his advantage). The parenthetical phrase requires the ability to read his mind. As far as his stereotyping Jews as evidence of being anti Semitic, isn’t his son-in-law Jewish? Maxine Waters does act very much like a “low IQ” person. She’s even ridiculed by Walter Williams. Is he racist too? Instead of “shithole countries” he should have said “failed states”, and they are. Privately, many of us, including the media, consider Haiti, Somalia, Yemen, El Salvador and the like shithole countries.

So all the charges of racism I copied from Huffpost, WaPo, and NY Times (there were others that I didn’t copy) are not evidence of it; they are “row two” accusations that are hurled with a payoff in mind. It’s no deep state secret that President Trump and the major media are hostile to each other. It would take willful ignorance to deny that the major media, especially the three I cited, want him out of office and preferably in jail. The payoff in crying racist! is obvious.

But let’s carry the concept over to individuals. Proving a negative to someone who hates you and avows to get you is plain impossible. What if someone wanted to get me with a charge of racism? They could not find a single person in my life and history who could truthfully show anything I said or did was racist, nor anything in my blog that denigrated a race, or a person because of their race. Not that the lack of evidence would stop them from accusing. I would be foolish to act as if I had the burden of proof. The burden of proof is always on the accuser!! Since you cannot prove you are not something, the accuser better have significant proof that you are that something. If they don’t have the proof, it’s slander, and if they published the charges, it’s libel, and therefore worth suing over.

Finishing up here, what is the more accurate judge of the heart–what someone says, or what they do? What is more important for a President, his words or policies? I wish Trump’s words were leavened with more prudence, but then again, the media and the Democrats would be less revealing about their character. Or not. Those same blockheads also denigrated President Reagan, whose charm and humor were as far from Trump as can be. Maybe it isn’t about proving a negative, but getting and retaining power.