Monday, April 29, 2013

Income Tax Irony

History and politics are full of ironies. One of my favorites is the income tax. The majority of the Federal income taxes collected in America is in the North and from states that are generally considered Democratic leaning. Much of the wealth in our nation is still in the North. Yet, most of the complaining about taxes comes from the conservatives and/or Republicans ... the South.

In 2007 numbers, California and New York (Texas and Florida being next) paid the most taxes for obvious reasons, they are huge. Because of this per capita numbers make more sense to use in this discussion. The highest tax payers per capita are all Northern states (in order Delaware, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island).  The opposite is true as well, the lowest tax payer per capita are Southern states and/or a Republican states (in order West Virginia, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina and Montana).

Those who complain the most, pay the least. Something to think about the next time a tornado wipes out a trainer park in the South and FEMA comes to the rescue.  The North is paying for it and the South is complain about it.

The further irony here is that if it were not for the South attempting to secede from the Union, there would be no income tax.  President Lincoln introduced the Federal Income tax to pay for the Civil War.  At the time only the wealthy were taxed and it was public information. Anyone could find out how much you paid by checking public records. The Confederacy also instituted an income tax but had difficulty collecting (imagine that). After the war, the income tax was declared unconstitutional in the 1890's.  We went 30 years without a Federal income tax. The government's main source of income were tariffs. The problem with tariffs is that they are not very stable during war time because ports are no longer safe.

The nation needed a revenue source to pay for World War I, so we made it constitutional by passing the 16th Amendment in 1913. We have a Federal income tax ever since.  Up until the George W. Bush administration, war was usually a good excuse to raise taxes.  He was the first President to actually cut taxes during war time (for his two wars).  I guess you could call it ironic that Republics complain about Obama's spending after the debacle of the Bush years, but that isn't ironic, that is just politics ... and a little bit of stupidity.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

We Are Boylston

Before moving to Vermont, I lived in the Boston area for ten years. For five of those years, I worked in Copley Square in Back Bay.  It was a great location to work. Lunch breaks were spent walking to the Public Garden or doing a loop through the brown stones of the South End.  On Thursdays, during the summer, members of the Boston Symphony would give a concert (in quartets etc.) in the Square in front of Trinity Church.  After work, I could walk to Fenway to watch a game. Every New Year's Eve, while I lived in Boston, was spent in Back Bay for Boston's First Night celebration (Boston founded this event).  At First Night I was exposed to some of my favorite musicians like  Vance Gilbert and Jim Infantino.  I also saw Reeves Gabrels (guitarist for David Bowie) jam him guitar with a vibrator in one of Copley Square's specular churches. First Night is also where my wife and I had our first kiss. So yes, I do have some emotional connections to this place.

The best day of the year in Boston is Patriots' Day.  The Red Sox have an 11am game always at home in Fenway.  Provided that they don't go into extra innings you could leave the game at the end to catch the Kenyans cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon or at least some of the better runners... if you are tall enough to see over the crowd. Everyone is in a good mood which is rare in this city. An air of good feeling and generosity is in the air. If I didn't have the day off, I could watch the crowd at the Marathon from my office window. I could see the tops of the heads of the runners bopping over the crowd as they headed down Boylston Street approaching the finish line.  At lunch a group of us would head down into the crowd to join the excitement.

In the recent years, we (Americans) have witnessed some horrific events on our shores, like 911, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Newtown shootings (to name only a few). None have affected me like the bombings in Boston earlier this week. The mix of emotions that filled me while watching the event unfold, through my tears, ranged from rage, sadness, fear and paranoia. I felt paralyzed by the event for quite some time not able to work. As the ashes settle, as we mourn our dead, tend to our wounded and acknowledge our many heroes, you have to wonder the long term affect of this event.

For many people of the world their only exposure to Boylston Street will be the images of a bomb going off and the carnage thereafter. For me, Boyslton will be always be a street of excitement and commerce, of bustling crowds, lost tourists and bad drivers. It will always be the home of the Boston Public Library, the first library in America to allow private citizens to borrow books for free.
It is home of the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) and Hines Convention Center.  Boylston not only has great bars like the Pour House, McGreevy's and Whiskey's but it has probably the happiest Dunkin' Donuts in the New England (at least it was when I frequented the place).

Boylston is a common name in Massachusetts.  Many towns have a Boylston Street, there is a town and a hall at Harvard called Boylston. When I lived in Boston, a friend once told me that Boylston was the name of a doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, who helped immunize the city of smallpox in 1721 which isn't entirely true. Dr. Boylston indeed immunized 247 people with a revolutionary technique he learned in abroad.  Of these patients, six died, three of whom were his oldest patients. Boylston was great uncle of President John Adams and philanthropist, Ward Nicolas Boylston.  Adams' mother was a Boylston.  It is Ward Nicoloas that the street, town and hall are named after.

Perhaps the legacy of the Boylston Street/Boston Marathon bombings will be a positive one. In addition to all the death and calamity, we saw great heroism. In the videos of the event you see just as many people running into the mess as you see running away. You saw crowds of people huddled around each other helping, pitching-in however they could.  You hear stories of runners who after finished the marathon and ran a few more miles to donate blood. I heard of someone creating a spreadsheet on their smartphone of names and address of local who opened their homes to displaced individuals. Let the name Boylston be known for what for what it originally was known for on this continent, for philanthropy and generosity of spirit. We humans, we Americans, we New Englanders and Bostonians are not those two young scumbags that caused the calamity.  They are one-off's, oddities, strangers. We are much better than that.  We are Boylston!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Luck and the Marshmallow

I don't believe in luck, not much anyway.  I used to have a track coach in high school that used to say in his speech before our meets, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. You've been preparing all week, now is your opportunity." If we succeeded, we were not lucky, but because we had worked at it.  In any competition, unless dice are involved, very little has to do with luck. It actually has to do with training or practice. Life is a lot like this. Life is more like chess than it is like craps.

I have a great situation for employment at the moment. I work for one of the greatest entities on the planet, a world renowned organization known for intellectual prowess and philanthropy. I work out of my home, telecommuing.  I enjoy my job, I have no commute and I am paid well. I get a little annoyed when I am told that I am lucky.  I have this position from working extremely hard for a very long time. I have worked many jobs lots of them with low pay, long hours and on off-shifts. I approached everyone of them as a learning experience even working the loading dock and coaching high school track. They were an opportunity and a stepping stone to something better. I put myself through college by working these crappy jobs sometimes with obnoxious bosses and awful working conditions. I partied some in college, but not as much as others. I always had a paper to write, a program to code or a textbook to read. I have always had my eye on a long-term goal as opposed to short-term gratification. Now, here I am. I am goals met, feeling gratified. So don't tell me that I am lucky. Prior to my last job, I had been laid off four times in a row. I saw the layoffs coming so I left my last position for my current position, an organization known for having a lot of money and not laying anyone off.  That wasn't luck but planning or as my coach used to say "preparation."

The concept of long term goals over immediate gratification isn't a new one, but it is obviously not for everyone. According to the Marshmallow Study, it is something we learn at a very early age and it is one of the biggest determinations of success.  The study, done at Stanford University in 1960's and 70's, took 32 preschoolers (16 of each gender) and offered them a treat now or a treat later (15 minutes). The treat would be a pretzel, a marshmallow or a cookie. The kids were told that if they waited for the treat later, they would get two. They repeated this a few time increasing the reward and the time interval each time. They made note of which students choose what and followed up on them years later.  By 1990, the delayed gratification students had a higher average SAT scores. Later follow up showed the delayed gratification groups to have better police records, lower BMI's, more financial success and education.  The delayed gratification group scored better, as an average, in every aspect of life.

I hope there is a student reading this right now, who is in the middle of writing a difficult paper or struggling with some a difficult concept in school. The student is taking a break from their studies and on the net looking for a distraction.  He/She is looking out the window at the beautiful spring weather and thinking of hanging it up. They have a friend urging them to go to throw a ball around or head to party or bar.  I say to you: hang in there, it will pay off. You get plenty of marshmallow later if you don't eat it now. Luck has nothing to do with it.