I Have a Gripe

August 6, 2011

POTUS, Congress and the S&P

It was announced last night after the markets closed that the S&P downgraded America’s “AAA” rating to “AA+,” claiming a variety of issues, including the political tone in D.C. and lack of specific plans to reduce the nation’s debt, to name a few. There was push back from the Obama administration, citing a potential “math mistake” in S&P’s calculations, however, the rating agency still moved ahead with the downgrade.

Now, in my opinion, there is plenty of blame to go around. You have the Congress, which is about as organized as a kindergarten class; you have our “Deflector in Chief,” who is the champ when it comes to blaming and delegating to everyone else; and finally, you have the S&P, who didn’t see the recent recession coming and thought all the questionable mortgages that got us in trouble was a great idea.

Here’s the best part of the whole mess – China took full advantage of this opportunity to lecture us on how we manage our bills. We are borrowing from our enemies and giving money to countries that hate us. Does anyone else see an issue with this?

What we should really do is take a hard look at where our funds are going and make a conscious decision to help our citizens FIRST. We also really need to look at the tax code and both really have everyone “pay their fair share,” to steal a phrase from our President. Right now, 51 percent of all citizens do not pay income taxes of any kind. So, our country is expecting 49 percent of the citizens to carry the load for everyone. This is an impossible task. By moving to a flax tax, everyone is truly part of the solution.

We also need to really address and develop a real immigration policy. Illegal immigration is a huge suck on the economy that is unnecessary.

So, where is everyone right now who should be handling this issue? Well, President Obama is at Camp David and Congress is on summer break. Awesome. Here’s an idea – how about you all come back to work, check your egos at the door and do your job!

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July 15, 2011

The National Debt and Common Sense Solutions

OK, it is time for all the boys in D.C. to put their big boy pants on and use the common sense God gave them to resolve this budget issue. I have some suggestions; some are easy, some may take a bit of a spine, but they ultimately make sense.

First the easy ones…

The politicians keep talking about not being able to “cut checks.” I realized that they aren’t just using this figuratively. They are LITERALLY cutting checks! Who still does this? Transition over payments like Social Security and the like over to direct deposit.  How much could that save just in paper, printing and postage? If someone insists on getting a physical check, charge a $10 fee.

I mentioned previously about using technologies like secure Sharepoint instead of (again) wasteful spending, such as printing out the budget.

Now some tougher, but still common sense solutions…

First, MOVE TO THE FLAT TAX. Approximately 45% of the American population do not pay any taxes. That same 45% also utilize the largest majority of government resources. Everyone should pay something in taxes. While we are a very compassionate country, we need to switch from giving a handout to giving a hand up. By simply handing out money and/or services without actually helping to acquire something, those individuals are doomed to staying on the bread line. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Social Security needs help…a LOT of help. If you are under the age of 40, you should have the opportunity to opt out. Additionally, if you are under the age of 40, raise the retirement age to 67. When you reach your retirement age, you should get only what you pay into Social Security. If you didn’t work or pay into the system, then you get nothing. Period.

Take a hard look at “pet projects” to see which are working and which are not. Every project has its own set of fans, so some will be tougher to cut than others, but again, people must start to use the common sense God gave them.

Again, these are just a few places to start. Look at some of my other national debt common sense solutions to learn more.

What would you do?

April 23, 2011

The Truth About Property Taxes

Let’s face it, paying taxes is far from fun. It is, however, a necessary evil. This money goes to various local, county, state and federal needs and programs to help make sure roads are plowed, police are a moment’s notice away, and children are educated.

Now, we all have programs we want to see supported and ones we want to see cut. For example, I often hear people complain about how the majority of collected property taxes go to support the local school district when they do not have a child in school. There is something important to remember about this potential sticky point. The value of your home is in direct correlation with the quality of the local public education system.

Think back to when you were purchasing your home, what was one of the first questions you asked the agent? “How are the schools here?” Even when you are taken to a property by a real estate agent, they often start off with information related to the school system. They will even steer you away from certain towns because their school system may not be considered “of high quality.” Whether someone has a child or not, the answer to that question will definitely affect real estate buying habits.

Generally speaking, those who complain the most about their property taxes are the elderly and those without children. What the elderly forget is that when their children were going through school, someone else who didn’t have children in school was flipping the same bill. Maybe they forgot that little point. Others who do not have children are also paying towards that same school budget, which will help keep the value of their home up.

Now before you get a knot in your shorts…yes, there are certainly areas where money is wasted in the public schools and yes, as tax paying citizens it is our responsibility to understand what our tax burden is and how it is spent.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, if you live in New Jersey, like me, you know how high the property taxes can be. Due to the high tax burden in this state, many are moving away and some businesses have left for other states with a smaller tax burden. Add to that the current negative opinions of “those greedy, lazy teachers” and their union, there are many on a witch hunt to further vilify the connection between public education and property taxes.

Some also complain that their property taxes are too high. Well, that may be true, however, it is important to remember every home will be assessed differently. Do you live in an urban area or a small rural town? Do you have a McMansion or a small two bedroom colonial or condo? Do you live on the waterfront or on a small piece of property with no “major amenities” to speak of? All these issues are taken into consideration and go into the tax assessment on a property. If you disagree with your assessment, you are completely within your right to challenge it. It is important to remember, however, that if you go from a small house to a giant McMansion, don’t be shocked when you get a major increase.

To steal a line from our President, “let me be clear;” I am far from advocating for MORE taxes. Additionally, I don’t particularly mind paying my taxes. I just want to reduce the amount of waste involved and look at what taxes are being spent on – such as healthcare for illegal aliens. Cut that out and we could save billions.

Ultimately, by spending more time examining how to eliminate waste, instead of going on a wild witch hunt spending money unnecessarily, the taxes collected can go towards important things, like our police, fire department, school systems, infrastructure and more.

April 8, 2011

If I Controlled the Federal Budget…

So yet again, we sit and watch the children down in D.C. fight over spending, saving and the federal budget, real people understand what is involved in living within a budget. We all talk about “if I controlled the budget, I would do THIS.” So, here is the way I would control spending and the federal budget.

First, cut financial support for the following: Planned Parenthood, NPR, National Endowment for the Arts and ALL earmarks. If a project or plan needs funding, it should be able to stand on its own merit instead of being snuck in without notice.

Next, if an individual is in need of a program like Welfare, Food Stamps, WIC, etc., you need to show positive proof you are here legally. This will cut down on those who shouldn’t be here fraudulently taking advantage of a system in place for those at risk.

Third, change how Social Security is managed. You only get back what you pay in. You get one lump sum, tax free, at age 65. Period. If you didn’t work and didn’t pay into the system, you get nothing. Again, you need to show proof positive who you are in order to prevent fraud and identity theft. If you decide to work after age 65, Social Security will not be taken out of your paycheck.

Eliminate Obama’s so-called “health care reform.” Allow people to purchase across state lines and let the market set the rates. Let’s face it; if the feds can’t manage Medicare, how will they manage health care?

Secure the borders and deport all illegal immigrants. Now you may be asking what this has to do with the budget. Well, we spend billions on policing, arresting and housing illegals in jail. They enroll their children in our public schools and fraudulently collect entitlements. They cost us money. We would save money by securing our borders and shipping them back.

If you collect Welfare, you should “pay back” eight hours of work time for each week of entitlement you collect. This time could go to help out in their local community, such as working in the public library or planting flowers in a park.

Most importantly, move to a flax tax. This way everyone pays their fair share. Besides, if Timothy Geithner and Charles Rangel can’t pay their taxes properly, what chance do we mere mortals have? Yes, that was meant to be sarcastic.

One important change I believe should take place is that if a government shutdown takes place, military should be paid. Period. Right now, if the government shuts down, they aren’t paid. These individuals are putting their lives on the line and their families struggle without them. The very least we can do is make sure they are properly paid.

Well, there’s my “off the top of my head” list on how I would handle spending and the federal budget. What would you do?

March 11, 2011

Wayne, Flooding and Taxes

Filed under: Finances,government,Manipulation,New Jersey — alvb1227 @ 1:39 am

So as I sit here with my laptop listening to the pounding rain, I decided to check out the weather coverage on NJ.com. I came across the following caption:

“Paula Bush who has lived on Hobson Ave. in Wayne since the 1950’s crossing the avenue to check her brother’s house. They are hoping to have their houses bought out so they can relocate. Flooding along Hobson Ave. in Wayne, NJ, along the Passaic River. (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)”

I almost choked.

I remember reading awhile back about potential buyouts for Wayne and was able to find that article on NorthJersey.com and I am just as sick now as I was the first time I read it. I even did a blog post about it awhile back.

Now, I do feel bad for those who suffer through these floods year after year, however, everyone in Jersey knows that Wayne is the state’s flood capital. If you were stupid enough to buy a house in a flood zone, especially in Wayne, then I’m sorry, but you get what you deserve. Why should we as tax payers buy you out? Everyone is screaming about wasteful spending. Well, this is wasteful spending.

These are not people who suffered through a freak flood. We are talking about homes that flood year after year after year. I remember as a kid going to the Willowbrook Mall and watching my mother navigate the car through multiple small ponds in the parking lot. Mrs. Bush and her husband should know this, since according to the caption they have been in Wayne since the 50’s.

It is no secret that Wayne floods. The real secret is how the government is trying to push these buyouts through without people knowing.

February 22, 2011

The American Labor Movement – A Brief History

All that seems to be on television lately is the “war against the unions” and how they are bankrupting our country. I thought I would take a moment to remind everyone about what unions have done in the past and continue to do now.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have several family members who are in a union. I am not and was actually turned down for the typographer’s union after graduating college because I wasn’t a “traditional typographer.” I believe the unions have done and continue to do a lot of good, however, at the same time, they have not kept up with the times. My rejection is a perfect example.

The first labor law to protect working children was first put into law in Massachusetts in 1836. Massachusetts’ chief justice, Lemuel Shaw ruled in 1842 that a strike for a closed shop was legal. By 1886, the Knights of Labor was a champion for the unskilled laborer and encouraged and fought for its African-American membership.

Since then, unions have fought for safe working conditions, the eight-hour working day, supported equal rights and equal pay in the workplace for minorities and women, a minimum wage, healthcare and more. The concept of the “weekend” is because of unions. The entire country celebrates “Labor Day.” Whether or not you participate in, or agree with, the union and labor movement, you have benefited from it.

That is what they have done right. Unfortunately, there are plenty of things they have done wrong. I don’t believe that a majority of dues should pay for supporting political candidates. They have not kept up with the times in areas of education and training, technology, accepting membership from technology-based changes in the industry (like me) and of course, contributions to healthcare and pensions.

What is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio and my beloved New Jersey is shameful. I would think most reasonable people understand they have to contribute more to their pensions and healthcare benefits. It is disingenuous, however, to expect unions to give up collective bargaining or make a union member make a huge jump in contributions in one year when so many families are already hitting tough times and barely hanging on.

These Governors don’t understand that their hateful comments about “union management” ultimately hurt those who actually do the work every day. I guarantee, this is the new class warfare.

So both sides are right…and wrong. All this back and forth isn’t helping anyone. To quote my Grandmother: “fight nice children.”

February 16, 2011

My Perspective on the Budget

So the President released his budget plan this week and of course the GOP has their own plans. Of course, this lead me to want to jot down my thoughts on how to handle the budget.

Now first and foremost, I am far from a financial genius. I do, however, have a brain and on occasion, have been known to use common sense. To me, this is a common sense approach to spending.

First, can someone explain why the budget is still printed…on paper and ink? Anyone ever hear of a secure sharepoint? They definitely need to look at Congressional/Presidential printing. I would think that could save a nice chunk of change.

Next, look at all the places around the world where we have military bases. Do we really need all these different bases? Close some of those bases and reassign those troops stateside. That would both save money and bring home our wonderful military so we aren’t spread so thin.

Third, address illegal immigration. Now, before you go off the deep end on me, hear me out. Illegal immigration goes beyond an immigration policy or national security. It sucks up valuable resources, such as public education, ER care and other social resources. This all costs money. If we get our act together by resolving our illegal immigration policy, it will solve multiple problems at once.

Now, let’s address Congress. First, they should stop automatic pay increases. Whether or not they vote on the increase, they get it. Additionally, in order for Congress and the President to get what we “common folk” have been dealing with, they should each take a five percent paycut. Additionally, everyone is complaining about public employees, their benefits and other so-called perks. In order for a member of Congress to be vested FOR LIFE, they must serve for five years. New Jersey teachers must teach for 25 consecutive years to be vested. How about some outrage on that? Five years? Seriously? Also, upon retirement, they receive 80 percent of their salary as a pension. For starters, drop it to 70 percent. Finally, they should contribute three percent annually to their healthcare coverage both while in Congress and when they “retire.”

Moving on to the Department of Education. Cut it out completely. It isn’t needed and all it does it use its funding to stick its nose into local affairs. It just makes things more complicated.

Next up, Social Security. Let’s face it, more people my age believe that Area 51 exists than they believe that they will get what they have paid into Social Security. And to be clear, Social Security, like unemployment, is not an entitlement. An entitlement is a gift from the government. Welfare and Medicaid are entitlements. Our taxes go to social security, therefore, it is not an entitlement. The President should follow the recommendation from his debt own commission and raise the retirement age. Additionally, you should be allowed to “opt out” of Social Security. I would rather have that money in my check and decide how to invest it than leave it to the government.

Finally, move to a flat tax system. This way there are no loopholes, everyone pays in, regardless of their income level and has a vested interest in what happens to our nation. Currently, two percent of the wealthiest individuals pay over 40 percent of the taxes and will never use any of the services they support. Everyone, regardless of income level, should pay taxes. Otherwise, it is just a handout, which prevents people from feeling the pride of providing for their well-being. Additionally, just think of how many jobs could be cut. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to see a smaller IRS?

Well, that’s where I would start. I think these cuts would provide a solid start in getting federal spending on a real cost-cutting plan.

What would you do?

February 1, 2011

The Arts & Music Should Still Matter in Our Schools!

Filed under: Education,Finances,General Annoyances,New Jersey — alvb1227 @ 12:43 pm
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As all my readers know, I am a great proponent of the arts in our public schools. I have said repeatedly I am the person I am directly because of my involvement in my school’s music program growing up. I even married a band director!

Well, yesterday I read an article on NJ.com about a string teacher that was laid off in Paterson, but he still comes to the town on his own time on Saturdays to continue to teach his kids at a local church…for free. He uses his unemployment check to buy instruments and he makes his own instrument repairs. This makes me proud, sad and angry all at once.

First, I am so proud of this teacher. He personifies all that is right about New Jersey education. A large majority of teachers in New Jersey (as well as around the nation) take their role very seriously. They look at their position in the community as a true calling and understand the responsibility of shaping a child’s future.

I am sad that such a good teacher lost his job. You can just tell what he does is so important to him. He gave up a lucrative career playing music around the world to teach in a district with at-risk youth. He should be applauded instead of laid off.

I am angry that, as usual, the arts and music are considered fluff in schools today and are often the first thing to be eliminated from a district. There has been study after study that the arts and music have a direct impact on how well a child does in school. If we are trying to make such a huge push on math and science, you would think that schools would everything in their power to have their students succeed. Those tools to succeed should include programs in the arts and music. But no, it is much more important to do standardized test after standardized test. Yeah, that really makes a difference.

While it is a movie, if you have ever seen “Mr. Holand’s Opus,” this actually has some very true moments. While I love this movie, it makes me angry because hits a little too close to home. There are two quotes from this movie that really ring true to me:

“Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”

“The day they cut the football budget in this state, that will be the end of Western Civilization as we know it!”

Today in our society, we are too quick to cut the arts and music over sports. We value professional sports players who are often terrible role models for our children. Just look at Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, Dante Stallworth…I could go on and on. The real role models are our teachers, police officers, fire fighters and members of the military. But they are just considered “ordinary,” so they really don’t count. Teachers are mocked more than revered. And while our New Jersey Governor claims to not be in the business of bashing teachers, his constant assault on the teacher’s union has trickled down to an even lower opinion of teachers by the public than before.

I was never a “sports kid.” I was a “music kid.” I understand sports have an important place in today’s schools, however, music and the arts should not be immediately cut as a cost saver. All too often sports are one of the school’s “sacred cows.”

So, I say shame on your Paterson school district and all the other schools around the nation that are so quick to cut the arts and music without fully understanding all that music and the arts do for their kids.

January 24, 2011

The Real Story About New Jersey’s State Pensions

Filed under: Economy,Finances,New Jersey — alvb1227 @ 7:47 pm
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As of late, it has become very fashionable to beat up on state employees, their unions and so on. Especially in New Jersey. Now, while I am not a huge fan of the union establishment, I will stand up for those public servants just about every time.

There is an important story that is not being told about the New Jersey pension system “issue” and I feel it is important to get this information out. For close to a quarter century, the state government has been using the pension system as their own personal piggy bank.

From NakedCapitalism.com:

“Governor Chris Christie skipped the required $3.1 billion pension fund contribution last year. He claimed this move was to force reform, but what impact does another $3.1 billion failure to pay have on an unfunded liability that was already over $50 billion?”

Now, it isn’t any secret that Christie has been gunning for the teacher’s union and their membership since his candidacy. I really what to know what a teacher did to him as as kid. Personally, I think Christie is turning into a one-trick-pony: beating up the teachers of this great state.

I am disgusted by those who make it sound so easy to just cut benefits because these state employees are lazy and looking for handouts. I ask if any of these individuals have ever walked into a classroom? Anyone remember Columbine? Pulled over a car unsure if the officer will be shot? I highly doubt it. Despite what some believe, these are not easy jobs.

Are there bad teachers, police and other state employees? Sure. Just like there are bad private sector employees. However, I do believe the large majority of them are good people who go into public work to truly serve their communities. Like I said, these are not easy jobs.

So, while those are finding it fashionable to follow Christie’s rhetoric and beat up on the NJEA and teachers, I ask you really think about who really started us all down this slippery slope.

November 11, 2010

The Debt Commission Proposal and Common Sense

This week the Debt Commission released its preliminary findings and suggestions and as many said, there’s something in it to offend just about everyone. I am one of those people.

As usual, this proposal hits a disproportionate population. The top earners in this country already pay close to 40 percent of the taxes. This hits them even harder. The Commission also calls to eliminate several tax deductions the middle class utilizes regularly, such as the mortgage interest deduction and the child deduction. They have also proposed a 15 cent increase on the gas tax. They are claiming that this is not their complete findings, but a way to start a conversation.

This hits the middle class hard. Unless you live in a major metro area like New York City, you have to drive to work. While the mortgage interest deduction isn’t huge, it is a nice incentive to those who purchase a home. The so-called rich already pay a ridiculous amount of taxes and they are more often than not the small business owners who work to grow their businesses and create jobs. Additionally, while they pay into social programs the most, the large majority will never utilize the programs they fund.

I still say people are overlooking some key points. First, we need to go back to some core principals. Should the federal government really be providing healthcare, a retirement fun (i.e, Social Security) and other social programs? I say no. For example, if Social Security is cut, that can put a substantial amount of money back in people’s pockets, which they will have the option to put back into the market through product purchases, save for a down payment on a home or save in their own retirement fund.

When it comes to healthcare, we should absolutely provide whatever care our vets need. Period. However, Medicare and Medicaid should be eliminated over the long-term so as to not jar our current elderly that rely on those programs. Instead, how about allowing individuals to purchase health insurance over state lines in order to find the most competitive price? This allows the free market to be more competitive so individuals can shop and compare to find what they need.

There needs to be a limit to what social assistance individuals receive. We have all  heard of families on Welfare for generations and the current idea being floated around Washington to have open-ended unemployment. I believe this nation should provide a hand-up, not a hand-out. Give people the tools to learn a skill, get a job and take pride in themselves by becoming a contributing member of society, and ultimately pay taxes to help sustain the nation.

I also believe illegal aliens are sucking up a huge amount of local, state and federal resources. From having to educate illegal children to  employers not checking identification to ensure they are hiring legal Americans. There should be stiff penalties for companies who hire illegal aliens and we need a tougher immigration policy. This directly affects the size of different programs and the costs associated with them.

I also think we should consider going back to the gold standard. Prior to the gold standard, we had no debt. It forced the government to live within their means and set a budget. Just like families all over America. There were times in the past it was suspended, such as during the Civil War, but it was reinstated.

Finally, I still say we should go to the Flat Tax (also called the Fair Tax by some). This makes sure everyone plays an active role in keeping our government moving forward. Currently, close to 50 percent of Americans do not pay income taxes of any kind. They have no personal stake in the federal government. I find this completely unacceptable. This would eliminate the IRS, saving millions upon millions while taking in more taxes from the population. According to individuals like Tim Geithner and Charles Wrangel who have claimed ignorance due to the complicated tax code. Why not simplify that code by using the Flat Tax? Problem solved.

Now I am hardly a financial scholar, but I think we as a nation are making a huge push to find common sense solutions to these seemingly complicated problems. Sometimes the answers are right in front of us if we have the intestinal fortitude to take the step and develop them into real solutions.

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