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John’s workplace rules.

As each hour seems to bring another revelation about perverts and sexual predation in the workplace, there are people who still remember a different culture.

John, a long-retired businessman, passed on last year, but before he died, he gave these rules for workforce management to his grandson. Since John retired in 1987, some of these rules may seem strange now, but in over thirty years in business, there was never even a hint of scandal connected to him or his business.

  1. Never be alone with a member of the opposite sex. If you must meet with a woman in the normal course of doing business, have another employee present, do it in the open office, or make sure all doors are open at all times.
  2. Have a dress, speech and comportment code. I required business formal dress for all employees, and that included skirts at the knee or below. Suggestive jokes or vulgar speech were a firing offense after one warning.
  3. I hired people, especially women, at least 20 years older than myself, and I preferred that they were married. I didn’t like employees to date each other. If that happened, one of the two had to choose to leave my employment.
  4. Employees of both sexes were expected to keep their hands to themselves.
  5. Being attractive was not a hiring requirement for either gender. (John joked that his peers often said he only hired the “old and ugly.”)

Asked if he would consider himself a prude, John said he didn’t think he was, but he hired people to be productive employees. He felt that for eight hours a day, they should be able to focus on his business.

In typical John fashion, he opined “I ran an accounting firm, not a dating service or whore house.”

In today’s world these rules must sound strange, and you can just hear the claims of discrimination whispering in the background.

Maybe that’s why life seemed a lot simpler then, back when rules were not made to be broken.

Tax reform on life support?

Never mind the administration’s public face of optimism about tax reform.

The only way the Senate passes anything, even just something to compete with the House version, is if voters in the states represented by the holdouts apply enough pressure to sway their senators to vote for it.

That’s theoretically possible in the case of all but three or four senators. Trouble is, that’s likely to be more than twice as many as necessary to torpedo the bill.

There are at least three senators who simply have no pressure points to  target.  Flake, Cornyn and McCain are not candidates for re-election next year, and thus can follow their own inclinations.

None of these men have hidden their utter disdain for the President, a disdain that often translates into opposing anything at all that he supports.

Add to that the public’s uneasiness with the corporate tax reduction, and it becomes increasingly unlikely that the public pressure exists to sway these holdouts.

While the public will happily spend or bank any tax savings, there is something else that doesn’t make Mr. and Mrs. Average American happy at all.

That something is the sense that big corporations are being handed a perk rather than an opportunity.

Democrats for their part have been quick to tap into that perception and frame any corporate tax relief as a gift to the millionaires and billionaires, continuing their strategy and emphasis on creating and maintaining class warfare.

Additionally, there is the administration’s inability to fully sell their middle class tax relief plan to the country as a positive. People just aren’t buying it yet.

Although it is popular to point to the Reagan tax cuts as the ideal outcome expected from this legislation, most people alive today didn’t see that evidence.

What they did see, and now remember was that the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 didn’t keep the economy from  imploding during the Great Recession.

Opponents of the so-called supply-side or trickle-down economics point to the increase in the deficit without a corresponding increase in real income, i.e. overall wages, as evidence that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is just another gift to Big Business.

For the average person, pointing to the galloping stock market as a positive works in exactly the opposite way as the Trump administration intends.

What people see is that Big Business and investors are making out like fat rats in a fast food dumpster, while they still struggle to pay the bills.

Many companies are recording record gains in their net worth on paper, as their stock prices accelerate towards the stratosphere, judged against the values in 2016.

The obvious question from middle America is this one.

If corporations becoming more wealthy is a good thing, why aren’t those same corporations using their newly created wealth to raise wages and hire more people already?

Viewed with a bit more detachment, it can be fairly argued that they are, if the falling unemployment rate and newly created jobs figures are factored into the mix.

The problem is, almost all of those good stock price numbers are based solely on faith.

Investors and corporate interests are universally reacting to the President’s promise of tax relief and reform.

Unless Congress helps him to deliver on that promise, what went up can just as quickly go down.

TGIF – November 17,2017

What’s middle income mean in terms of SALT?

When it comes to political talking points, the details matter.  You constantly hear that middle income taxpayers in high SALT states are all going to pay more in property taxes, or that a $10K deduction wouldn’t cover very many of those people.

But what IS middle income?

The answer to that is location specific.  For instance, a person living in Twin Falls ID., making $65K a year would need to earn $168,617 in Manhattan, NY or $129,623 in Brooklyn to maintain comparable lifestyles, according to money.cnn. com’s cost of living comparison calculator.

Housing is 536% higher in Manhattan and 316% more in Brooklyn.

However, in Rochester NY, you would only need to make $74,138 and housing is just 26% more expensive. In  Utica, NY the numbers are even closer, $73,696 and 22% respectively.

San Francisco CA is fairly comparable to Brooklyn. However, the top state income tax rate in California is 13.3%, while New York’s is 8.82% as of March, 2017.

So when you hear that all the “middle income” folks in New York would be hit equally by  removing or reducing the SALT (state and local tax) deduction, take it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

No matter where you live, $500,000 to 1 million a year (where the 39.6 tax rate would apply under the House tax plan) is still a lot of income. Maybe if you’ve got two kids in schools costing upwards of $50,000 each annually in tuition, it doesn’t go as far as you would like, but you won’t need a tin cup under the new tax plans.

One place that does seem to have some room for improvement in the House plan is at the 35% rate, where the single tax filers bracket begins at 200K, but only adds an additional $60K for a married couple. In the two lower brackets of 12 and 25% the single limit doubles if you are married.

Unless you define middle income and do the comparisons, the talking points are just so much hot air.

Maybe castration isn’t just for pets?

Honestly, the news has turned into one unending issue of the  National Enquirer. Who knew you would need to ban your smaller children from watching “World News Tonight?”

There is nothing even close to right about the allegations of sexual predation. If all or even most of them are true, and at least for these most visible ones, there is little doubt that something bad did happen, even if it was 20,30 or 40 years ago. If nothing else, the victims are finally getting their day in the court of public opinion.

Still if you ban all the men (and women, who can be pretty raunchy in their own right) who have made sexually explicit comments or touched someone inappropriately from society, we may need to investigate a 21st century secular version of the Immaculate Conception.

One commentator had the right idea…we know now that people who have been sexually attacked or even repeatedly harassed are no longer in a mood to keep quiet. Just stop doing it. We can’t fix the past no matter how many committees are seated. Prosecute the actual crimes if you can, but gender warfare doesn’t do anyone any good. And really, all men are NOT pigs.

Better late than never.

On November 4, the last Honor Flight for 2017 took off from Milwaukee, WI to bring another 150 veterans to Washington D.C. to view the memorials to their service. For many it was the recognition they never got for their service at the time.

The next time you see some jackass kneeling for the national anthem, or burning a flag, think about these service members, the ones on the flight, and the ones who never lived to see the memorials.

Honor Flight flies about six times a year.  If you want to know more, you can visit their website here.

The truth about polls.

Once in awhile, someone in the business of political polling actually slips up and tells the truth.

So it was on Wednesday, when, during one of those “expert on parade” segments on a popular business show, a former executive of a polling company said something like this: Read more…

Is cyber warfare no big deal to Washington?

Last Sunday there was a congressional hearing involving what amounted to the excoriation of the management of Yahoo, Verizon and Equifax regarding data breaches that exposed customer data.

Consumers are rightly outraged that these massive companies either won’t or can’t protect our data.

They are even more outraged that a company could actually profit from it, either by charging to put credit locks on their accounts or as in the case of Equifax (which controls the credit monitoring company, Lifelock) by trying to sell them a product to correct what are essentially the company’s own failings..

Many of the committee member questions were those you have probably would have asked yourself, and frankly, some of the answers were infuriating, particularly from Equifax.

But one point was missing.

Granted, some of  the companies in question and a hundred more like them apparently don’t use all the tools at their disposal in a timely fashion. Others, at least as detailed by former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, hire outside contractors to run mock attacks to identify vulnerabilities before they become actual breaches, often at considerable cost, yet are still unsuccessful.

In the case of retail or consumer-based businesses that drives up the cost of everything we buy today.

However one beleaguered attorney did bring up a point about public-private partnerships to deal with cyber security that the members promptly ignored. That almost gave the hearing the appearance of a mock trial.

These breaches are nothing more than cyber warfare, so why isn’t there an effective government strategy to deal with them in a global context?

What proactive steps is the government taking to protect all of us, even Equifax?

Yes, it does reactively send out patches for existing breach possibilities, but quite frankly, the government itself has suffered some pretty stunning security failures, à la the OPM breach that compromised more than 20 million Americans.

Yet even today, just buying a Apple phone can shield the bad guys from discovery.

The face of warfare today has changed a lot from 1941, the North Korea mess and the Middle East notwithstanding. Today the death of one soldier in a combat environment brings about a very public  investigation not unlike that of a murder in a civilian setting.

If only we had the same level of political concern and public zeal in the case of cyber defense.

The strategy of placing the onus on millions of private companies to individually protect us is laughable. Expecting private citizens to adequately protect themselves is even more ridiculous.

It’s perhaps fair to say in hindsight that the internet genie should never have been taken out of the bottle, but we are apparently stuck with it now.

That leaves the rest of us wondering when the government is going to take the threats it presents seriously.

Or do the DoD, DHS and NSA think these hackers and cyber criminals are part of the JV team too?

 

Do we need recruits this badly?

Has the Army lost it’s ever-lovin’ mind?

One of the more salient features of the Bergdahl matter (or was it an investigation?) was the revelation that he was probably mentally unfit to serve and should have washed out in basic.

So with that sterling example in mind, the Army has now decided it will take some people with diagnosed mental health challenges such as bi-polar disorder and self-mutilation (thought by some mental health providers to be a symptom of suicidal tendencies.)

Supposedly, this change is because the Army isn’t able to meet it’s recruiting goals, at least partially because many recruits can’t pass the physical fitness requirements.

So the answer to that should be to accept the mentally unfit?

Serving in the armed forces, especially in combat, never leaves the veterans unscathed.

Sometimes the effect is good, giving the aimless a sense of purpose and a place to belong.

Far more often the effect is less efficacious.  Being shot at and shooting back on a regular basis isn’t something we are born wanting to do.

Luckily for most of us, there are people who accept the risks and keep the rest of us from having to experience that reality in our living rooms.

Ask ANY combat veteran, and you’ll learn that when the chips are down, the only people you can count on are the people in the metaphorical foxhole with you. Those are the people you will willingly lay your life on the line to protect, because you know they’ll do the same for you.

What happens when that person next to you  is having a manic moment because he or she is off their meds?

The Army says it only grants waivers for these conditions after having carefully reviewed the applicant’s medical records. That didn’t seem to work out well in the case of the Texas shooter or Bergdahl.

After reading the story that exposed this new policy, one veteran said,

“This is just more PC bullshit. Serving isn’t the same as having a desk job or driving a bus.  Listen, I don’t think people should be ostracized because they have a problem, but why put them in an environment where they are set up to fail? What about the people who depend on them for their very lives? This decision is wrong on every level. If that means I am stereotyping them, tough shit.”

The reason given for this change is a drop in recruitment numbers. Unfortunately, given the way children are raised now, the problem of finding enough volunteers may only get worse.

There are no safe spaces on a battlefield.

That may well lead to a resumption of the draft. If that happens, you can bet that the Canadians may well become proponents of a wall of their own.  Between 20,000 and 30,000 young men hopped our northern border in the 1960’s, and given our cream-puff culture today it might be a lot worse in the future.

It’s one thing if a nation can’t defend itself.  It’s quite another when it doesn’t even want to.

The people on tax cuts – KISS.

Forget all the bird goo about filing on a postcard or writing off property or local taxes. Those things are political talking points and while important to some, don’t seem to reflect everyone’s judgments of the tax cut bill.

Most people seem to be looking for a significant rise in their spendable take-home pay.

When you boil it all down to the bare essentials, if anyone in the so-called middle class doesn’t see an immediate benefit, this is all going to go down as a failure even if it does result in more jobs and better Federal revenues.

As one man put it “I’ve already got a job, so more jobs isn’t the first thing I think about when I hear ‘tax cut’ .”

We still don’t know how all this political maneuvering will affect withholding taxes, and we won’t until something actually gets signed by the President, since the regulatory changes always have to follow any new law.

That creates uncertainty in both the business and worker community.

For instance, will the W-4 as we know it will be a thing of the past? With the loss of the personal allowances, maybe employers don’t need to know how many people there are in your family.

Right now, it is unknown whether the withholding tables will tax you according to your estimated net or gross pay.  If you are single and currently earning say, $45K a year, will the withholding not kick in until you have earned more than $12,000, or will it apply to all your wages, creating an automatic refund at the end of the year?

Those are just a few of the questions being asked by the people who are actually going to be affected by these changes, and so far there aren’t many answers out there.

For instance, the days when you could juggle your take-home pay by claiming more or fewer dependents might be gone.

It’s possible that the days of using over-withholding of your taxes to create a humongous annual refund check will end. Responsibility for saving may now fall on taxpayers shoulders.

That’s not to say no one cares about being able to itemize deductions at the end of the year, but for even more of us than at present, it won’t be possible to do so.

That means that all the benefit has to show up every payday and if you are filing on $25K or less, that’s currently estimated to be about $5.00 a week under both the House and Senate versions.

With all of the competing claims as to the amount it will save on taxes, the public is expecting to see that theoretical extra $1200 a year in spendable cash and $5 a week isn’t going to cut it.

Other, more affluent (but not wealthy) taxpayers point to the fact that the President’s economic advisers are Democrats as a reason for the highly unpopular SALT provisions and the Senate’s insistence on retaining seven tax brackets. They see it as a left-wing “stick-it-to-rich”  strategy masquerading as tax reform.

As for the Senate version, the decision to put off the corporate tax cuts for a year seems to make the shaky assumption that Republicans will retain their majorities in both Houses. That almost never happens in the first mid-term after a Presidential election.

Almost no one who has talked to Musings believes this is directly about the middle class, and most of them don’t trust big business or Congress enough to believe that everyone will suddenly have their pick of good-paying jobs as result of this legislation.

There are pockets where competition for some employee classifications is raising wages, but the effect is spotty. There are still plenty of employers advertising for office help or shelf stockers or delivery drivers at $8.00 an hour.

The rush to an all online economy on the other hand is actually costing local entry level jobs, and that effect is only forecast to increase in the next ten years and beyond.

The Obamacare mandates are still there, making it difficult for small businesses to grow.

The insurance subsidies also take a large bite out of the Federal budget, while failing to provide affordable healthcare for most of the people in the middle class.

Retirees are often seeing large increases in their Medicare Part B and D premiums,  as well as no to miniscule spendable increases in their Social Security income.

Most of all, the whole tax cut issue has turned into strictly a series of political talking points.

If the polls are right and President Trump’s favorable numbers are actually falling as much as reported, these are the issues that are costing him.

For all of the feverish rhetoric on both sides of the aisle, all issues for voters are of the personal kind, and that’s something Washington doesn’t now, has never, and will never understand.