Desert signs

Retired sailors I knew moved too become desert dwellers. “Seen enough ocean, “they say. “Here there’s only beach!”

On the way to Zion NP, flowering Joshua trees, and one bored alien – extra terrestrial type- wave at my buddies as we travel east. Maybe, aliens find the same relief on their journeys?

.
No Dan, Joshua trees aren’t pine
green hitchhikers

Tax disincentive

There are two certainties in life: Death and taxes. And a third, “if it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true”. But there is also another truth. Politicians, bureaucrats and their backers (the news media, bankers, billionaire investors, or celebrities), all stir up chaos for their opponents, whip up groups of like-minded people by pretending to care for them, and make all sorts of speeches promising better times ahead.


The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.

Will Rogers, via Brainyquote.com

While people my age have heard all this nonsense before and are less inclined to go along, the palaver is not meant for my age group. Psychological journals, in various published studies, revel in the obvious. Young adults between 18 – 27, are more idealistic, much less structured in goals, exhibit more fluid work ethic, and are more motivated by income “fairness” and other talking points they read on social media. By the time men and women reach their Thirties, with stable jobs, goals, and families, these issues, rhetoric, and ‘social-justice’ activism become much less an influence. But the common talking points in social media and in politics today is how unfairly wealth is distributed. As a child, I was raised that hard work, skilled effort, ethics and morals would, over time elevate my station and economic success. There was plenty of room for anyone to become wealthy and provide for their families without blaming and taking from others. What changed?

Paying their “fair” share?

In 2019, I fear that people who have contributed to the economic well-being of the country for the least amount of time or produced the least amount of economic goods and services are being made fools of, by the wealthiest, least added-value members of society: politicians and bureaucrats funded by taxpayers. It is not that young people are in any way less important or less credible in their contributions and feelings, but forty percent of the Congress is far wealthier than those they represent. While every taxpayer in the United States can voluntarily contribute more to fund the Government, donate to charities for causes they feel strongly, and volunteer to aid those they feel are under-served, are there any who voluntarily give more than they are legally required? But most demand that Government support causes and constituents that are better served through local donations. And despite all the rhetoric we hear, does any public servant reside in public housing, use public transportation, or donate salaries and perks to the underprivileged?

Many, like one of my old college buddies, are worked up frequently about the lack of fairness and greed exhibited by members of a certain American political party, though there is plenty of blame to go around. Tonight, I am more worked up by my miscalculation on our annual income tax returns for Federal and State. We owe a large amount of income taxes due to the change in the approved deductions and income limits for other deductions. This is due to the “Trump Tax Cut” enacted in 2018. Researching the new tax policy, there are two ends of the economic spectrum that are benefiting, though the wealthiest Americans are benefiting far more.

Who benefits from the new tax plan?

With change in the standard deduction, doubling it to $24000 for those who file a joint return, many do not have to file complex returns. While there is some who think that increasing the “standard deduction” will reduce the incentive to make charitable contributions by lower middle-income workers, the tax policy really changes the taxes owed by the higher wage households- reducing the graduated scale of highest earning workers from 39 to 37 percent. And if those individuals are business owners, the rate may drop to 20 percent.


The people are hungry: It is because those in authority eat up too much in taxes.


Lao Tzu

For those caught in the “middle”, such as older taxpayers whose grown children are no longer family deductions, their seniority at work may elevate their incomes to higher tax brackets, and all the expenses of living and home ownership, there are disincentives to continuing to be an employee. But retirement also may come at a cost. Withdrawals from qualified retirement plans prior to age 59.5 incur income taxes and penalties. Some states like California tax retirement pensions, and with public service pensions largely unfunded, these states increase taxes to provide benefits and sacrifice the maintenance of infrastructure – roads, schools, and vital services.

Entrepreneurs and tax sense

Like many, I chose security of being an employee over most of my working life. But being a “worker” and not a “business owner” in 2019 has its tax disadvantages. Fair, ethical, and legal provisions used in the last twenty years have been significantly changed. While younger workers at lower wages and with young families may find some benefit from new tax provisions, others in the “Middle Class” are not as fortunate. Older, still working, married adults with now-adult children, who may still be providing for certain of their needs – no longer can claim them as deductions for tax purposes. Those fortunate to own homes in high property tax states, are limited in the amount they can claim federally- basically paying taxes a second time on the same income. Others, such as small business owners have complex tax rules to follow. The “Trump Tax Cut” seems to be flawed.

Some regulations should have come with bold print. With retirement savings such as employer 401K plans, IRAs and healthcare savings accounts available, these come with certain stipulations. Pre-tax income placed in flexible health spending accounts must be used within the calendar year or are lost; certain employer health plans can place pre-tax earnings in an account which can grow year after year, even into retirement, but must be used for medical expenses – or are taxed heavily. And for higher wage earners, traditional Individual Retirement Accounts, money invested for the purpose of reducing income taxes does not provide the immediate benefit sought.

The wealthiest Americans are fairing a lot better in 2019 than before. While true that the top 20 percent of all wage earners contribute the largest share of the revenue to fund the Government (50 percent of working Americans pay little income tax, while three percent contribute most of all), the overall taxes for those wealthiest Americans – many of whom are business owners – dropped significantly. I’m beginning to think that wealthy politicians are being disingenuous. They are not feeling nor acting in private like the outraged they claim to represent.

If people want to participate more fully in the “American Dream”, operating a successful business seems to be the vehicle to do so in 2019 and into the future. Except perhaps in California, or should the country decide to follow the anti-capitalist and anti-constitutional policies that have been voiced since the President’s election. A look at statistics indicates that the country is not in jeopardy of an economic crisis as some suggest. In the United States in 2017, the median family income was $61,000; in California, $81, 000, according to the US Census Bureau. While there are many who are at the extremes in California and elsewhere, there are many who have gained wealth and property through operating successful businesses.

Paying closer attention to income tax, balance sheets, and government policies that affect income is necessary. But that comes with age and the acquisition of property. All the rest is just politics.

grinders and coffee

Mention grinders to an older Navy veteran, generally brings to mind the large parade ground we marched around in Bootcamp.  But “grinder” also means a particular type of sandwich. In Southern California, while there are different names: submarine sandwiches, hoagies, and grinders, there are some places that are vastly different than the franchises that pop up everywhere.  And in El Cajon, California, not far from my home, is an institution 50 years in the making, The Grinder.

I actually only stopped in Thursday night at the request of my son, a Vocational Nurse working the evening shift, for a sub specifically made there.  It might have been my first visit though I have lived in the area twenty years.  After a long workday and a long, rainy evening commute,  but I would drive an extra few miles for a sandwich.

It was not a fancy place.  A video game table of the sort I had not seen in thirty years  was against the wall.  On the walls, were  Navy-themed art, a Bible quote,  articles on the history of this deli, a plaque honoring fifty years, and pictures of local kids.  But the one I noted just before ordering was the image of the late Chief John Finn,  Medal of Honor recipient (Pearl Harbor) on the wall. The kids working there know whose picture it is.   San Diego County is a military community, and El Cajon in the part known as “East County” is home to a large population of veterans going back to the Second World War.

“where do we eat and what show do we go to?”

On date night, quickly planned,  even the retired Senior Chief’s understanding wife may have felt a grinder was sub-expectations.  The mall was packed with Friday-night families.  As it turned out, a little pastry and coffee with live music at a coffee house we like was perfect.  We knew the music and lyrics; the acoustics were okay, and probably because the band and their fans are all about the same ages,  they concluded at a reasonable hour on a Friday night.  7:30 is almost bedtime.

So much for foodies partying into the wee hours (7:30PM)

Quest for non-Fire, Ice Tea and a Paleo-donut

In the late summer in the American West, life has challenges including “excessive heat” warnings, brush and forest fires, snarled traffic, and where to go for a getaway that is  not “tourist pricey”.     Living in a region that everyone heads toward:  beaches, nearby islands, amusement parks, and mountain retreats, I want to avoid all these in summer.   Of course,  getting out away from the crowds of people for the weekend leaves the desert  and the deep sea.   Without a boat of my own, the sea is out of the question and the desert – only a few foolhardy migrants and the Border Patrol are out there in August.

Last weekend, in a spur-of-the-moment outing to celebrate my birthday,  my spouse and I thought we would go to Catalina Island off the coast southeast of  Los Angeles.  With no ferry seats on a return trip that day,  we looked elsewhere.  The popular amusement parks like Disneyland were off-limits, not because of the crowds, but because our annual Pass does not permit entry during the popular summer months for tourists.  And Nature was also causing chaos.   Brush fires along destinations we alternately considered were, like the Spirit blocking the Apostle Paul’s travel to Asia, directing me to go north up the I-15 freeway.  And so we went to Temecula, about sixty miles north of San Diego.

Yet no road trip with my wife is properly prepared unless she has a large cup of  fresh – or at least, recently-brewed UNSWEETENED ice tea at launch and part-way through the adventure.  I could write reviews on scores of places , “convenience” stores and “fast food” drive-in windows, who must not sell a lot of unsweetened, fresh tea.  When you no longer tolerate sugary soft drinks, water is about the only other choice. Even the dozen brands of bottled iced tea are a last resort.   Does anyone really like a passion-fruit-flavored Iced Tea beverage?  (For my European and British-tradition tea drinking readers,  while you have no idea whatsoever about “iced” tea as a beverage,  it is consumed by the millions of gallons annually in the United States. I have had Britons and Irishmen in those respective countries look at me as completely mad when I described brewed tea, refrigerated and poured over ice.)

Once her tea is secured, and the approximate travel time between consumption and the need for the first bathroom stop is calculated in my driving computer ( my head) we set off.  As anyone in Mid-Life, who travels frequently with their spouse, that is, fifty-ish,  the climate control in the vehicle is a frequent issue.  I generally like the air conditioning ON in the car anytime the outside temperature is above 75F.    Normally we are at opposite extremes -when she is cold I am hot.   When I am comfortable, she pulls out a sweatshirt or a jacket.  If roll a window down, she wants it up.  And so on.

At least now with our lifestyle that can at times be confused with the “Atkins diet”, the “Keto diet”, “Paleo diet” or “vegetarian”-ish, we do not bother with correcting folks.  I can eat anything, though I choose more often to eat healthy food and in smaller portions.  So what is the meaning of “Paleo donuts”?

The Paleo diet seems to be at odds with any encounter with donuts.  However, as some may be aware,  I have been focusing on a better diet and exercise for much of the last eight or nine months.  I do not subscribe to fads, particularly ones identified with the eating habits of extinct people.  But on our travels into Temecula, we found a farmers’ market I talked about in an earlier post .   I spotted a vendor offering samples of donuts and like a smart aleck, opined that that they would have to be gluten-free or Paleo -diet friendly for me to accept.   Those were.

When someone has the opportunity to eat his own words, and if they are in a donut,  I will.  Without regret or “cheating”.  A sliver at a time.