Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Day With Newt

"I'm not a natural leader. I'm too intellectual; I'm too abstract; I think too much."
- Newton Leroy Gingrich

Poor Newt should have realized it was over last week when he was bit by penguin, but he's slow to process these things. You know, because he's an abstract intellectual and has to think things through. Even after losing five more primary contests yesterday, he's still officially in the race for another week, with plans to likely drop out on May 1. My guess is that he bet somebody that he'd make it through April.

But it reminds me of how, after he resigned the post of Speaker of the House in disgrace, in November 1998, following investigation into his ethics violations, he still hung around Congress another couple of months, clinging to his seat there till January 1999. And then all America figured that, like Dick Nixon, we wouldn't have Newt Gingrich to kick around anymore.

At the time, I was working for an organization called HandsNet. We were kind of like a nonprofit AOL for human services professionals. It was a fun and exciting time, and somewhere between surviving the Y2K scare of 1999 and not surviving the dot-com bust of 2001, my boss, Michael, and I were invited to participate in a forum on public policy and the Internet.

It was a fairly intimate group - no more than 100 people - assembled in a meeting room at San Jose's Fairmont Hotel, with tech execs, local politicians, and Michael and I representing the nonprofit ".org" space. We were taking our seats and looking over the agenda when a gnome-like little round man with sunken cheeks came waddling into the room with a small entourage. I turned to Michael and said, "Poor SOB has to go through life looking like Newt Gingrich." We each laughed.

Then the introductions started... Oops. It was Newt.

My memory of the day was that, much as I would have liked to confirm his evil bastardness with some heinous statement or another, he turned out to be a good participant. He did not try to dominate the conversation, and when in dialog with others he listened respectfully, and his responses showed that he heard the other person's points - even if he didn't agree.

At the end of the day I felt that his leaving Congress had humbled him. I also felt that I had gotten a glimpse of Professor Gingrich, and that he wasn't quite so bombastic and egotistical as Speaker Gingrich had been. His full political rehabilitation to where he would be considered by many to be a semi-plausible contender for the Republic Presidential nomination would take another decade. And, as we've seen, in that decade his arrogance was fully recovered as well.

I mentioned this meeting a couple of weeks ago, when I was catching up with Michael over lunch. He had no recollection of either the forum or of crossing paths with the former Speaker. So it goes.

And so we bid farewell to the 2012 Presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich. We'll miss him. Well, Michael won't, but somebody will, I'm sure.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Income Tax Blog

It seems apt that the final weekend before 2011 tax returns are due should start with Friday the 13th. I completed our returns and filed electronically last month, although I didn't mail the required checks until this past Monday (no refund here).

Back in January, I wrote about Mitt Romney's 15% effective tax rate. Around the same time, in the Statue of the Union Address, President Obama also talked about how wrong it is that millionaires should pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, or teachers, policemen, or other middle-income earners. To illustrate the point, Warren Buffett's secretary was sitting with the First Lady in the audience.

"The Buffett Rule" was introduced to correct this, with the simple premise that those with over $1 million in annual income shouldn't pay a lower tax rate than middle-class families. To promote passage of the Buffett Rule, the White House has posted a "Buffett Rule Calculator" - just plug in your income and your taxes, and see how many millionaires pay less than you do!

So, how did I do (actually, for my wife and I, filing jointly)? After deductions, we had an effective tax rate of 17% - higher than 37,600 millionaires. Some of our income is taxed at the 25% bracket, but our over-all effective rate is 17% thanks to some generous deductions, primarily the home mortgage interest deduction.

That deduction alone reduced our income by nearly 14% and had a dollar value greater than a full time job at the federal minimum wage. Think about that for a moment. We are not rich by any stretch, and are frankly going through some lean times. Even so, we write off from our income more than many people earn.

With the rich dodging taxes above, and the working poor struggling with a sub-standard minimum wage below, the gap is getting wider. The Buffett Rule is a small, symbolic step, and I support it, but it's just the tip of the iceberg in getting our economy working for everybody again.

(Tell your Senators to vote for the Buffett Rule by clicking here...)

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