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    What Has Changed with the GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

    After coming out of tax season, we are entering the time where refunds are in the mail.

    Despite all the excitement surrounding the tax cuts, many of the refund checks we see might only be marginally different from last year. For some, this means a smaller refund. For others, this means that they owe more to the IRS than they have in years past.

    This has left many with questions. One of President Donald Trump’s big campaign promises was to create fairer taxation for the middle class. But there is more to taxes than we see on our refunds now in the mail. The GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been at work longer – and harder — than the many in the public realize.

    The perceived refund shrink is explainable. One reason is quite simple: lower taxes on your gross income each pay period. You might have noticed in February of last year that you had a larger paycheck each pay period than you expected in the past. This is because of tax cuts resulting in less money withheld from your pay.

    Another bright side of new tax legislation is a larger Child Tax Credit for children under 17 years old. Parents can now claim a CTC of $2,000 per qualifying child; a far cry from the $1,000 under old tax laws. This part of the GOP bill is set to be phased out by the year 2025 (Tax Act).

    Unfortunately, as with any tax-related legislation, things are complicated. How beneficial the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is to you depends on your income bracket. If you land between $9,525-$200,000 each year, you were taxed an average of 2% less. The same applies for an income of over $500,000 per year. Those that lie in the $200,000-$500,000 range saw no change to their paycheck (Tax Foundation).

    Also, if you didn’t adjust your W-4s for the amount you wanted withheld in accordance to new tax codes, you may have been impacted negatively (Time Magazine). This explains why some people might end up with an unchanged income compounded by a smaller refund.

    The GOP’s tax bill eliminated personal exemptions as well, which amounted to nearly $4,050 per filer in 2017. Personal exemptions were replaced instead by a standard deduction double what it has been in previous years. For example, a person of single filing status went from $5,650 worth of standard deduction to $12,000.

    All that said, there were also losers in the new structure. With the cap on state property taxes and elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deductions, many who live in the New York, New Jersey, California and other highly taxed states will pay more.

    Year to year, tax codes are a daunting puzzle. Did you feel cheated or triumphant after winding through the maze of 2019’s tax season?

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    Just Because We Can…

    We are all familiar with the adage, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.  There are times when the status quo and the beauty around us that enriches our lives is best left alone, unchanged.

    Enter today’s computers capable of making calculations far faster than humanly possible, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Media touts how wonderful these machines will make our lives. Others fear robots will one day replace us.  All of this is worthy of debate to allay our fears and better inform us of what we can expect.  But sometimes we need to take a step back and think about just how far technology may go if left unrestrained.

    In January, Huawei, the Chinese technology company under fire by a host of governments who fear Huawei is a tool China uses to hack into computer networks and threaten security, announced that it programmed a cell phone to complete Franz Schubert‘s Symphony No8, otherwise known as his Unfinished Symphony.  Composed nearly 200 years ago, musicians and composers have debated for decades about what the symphony might have been if Schubert had completed it.  The conversations were deep and steeped in musical history.

    Now, according to Huawei, a cell phone programmed with artificial intelligence (AI), with some assistance from a human composer, has completed Schubert’s symphony.  Huawei will unveil the results in February.  You can watch their promotional campaign on YouTube by clicking here.

    The AI completed symphony, albeit with some assistance from a human, will no doubt cause music aficionados to argue that no machine can ever replace the genius of Schubert and that Huawei’s exercise is nothing more than a parlor trick.  In some ways, it probably is and relatively harmless in its own right.

    If you watch the video, however, take particular notice of the tag line.

    “If we can do this, what else could we make humanly possible?”

    It all begs the question, “Will computer generated logic someday replace human creativity?”  Are we living on the verge of interacting with the likes of StarTrek’s Mr. Spock or Hal from Sidney Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?  When will “humanly possible” be replaced with “robotically possible”?

    As a society, we need to think more about AI and avoid blindly advancing technology for the sake of discovery.  I know that some would see this as a naïve viewpoint from a Luddite, but the fact remains that we simply do not know or understand where this will lead.  While discovery and exploration have been part of our DNA, past efforts have always had some level of acceptable and manageable risks.  This debate is not about refraining from exploration and discovery.  It is about better understanding where this is all going.  Unlike Huawei’s parlor trick in completing Schubert’s symphony, what Huawei and many other technology giants are doing is anything but a game.

    Consider this.  We simply do not know how AI will affect our grandchildren and generations that follow.  After all, there is no question that we teach today’s children less about how to learn to read and write and more about how to use technology.  Why bother to learn if all you need to do is search Google or ask Alexa for any answer you seek?  Books may soon be doomed to the junk drawer with all of our old music CDs.

    Enjoy Schubert’s completed Symphony No. 8.

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    Let’s Unite America

    When I was a kid I had a friend who always caused trouble for me.  I would tell my mother “It was her idea” as a way of absolving myself of blame and she would say, “If your friend jumped off a bridge would you do it too?”  From an early age, my parents tried to teach me to be accountable for my actions and not to follow someone else on a road that was only going to lead to problems.

    I’m reminded of that story in the fallout of the bomb scare last month.  Prominent figures like the Obamas, Clintons, CNN, Joe Biden, Robert De Niro and others were sent suspicious packages that contained pipe bombs.  Luckily authorities found that the bombs were poorly made with most incapable of exploding. But that does not diminish the threat.  Although no one has been harmed thus far, the incident undoubtedly raises questions about the sender’s ultimate intentions.  One thing everyone “seems” to agree on is that the sender deliberately targeted left-wing public figures, some political and some celebrity Trump critics. This has inspired the blame game and has become another way to potentially weaken the presidency and, by extension, our country.

    The truth of the matter is we shouldn’t be pointing fingers at which party is responsible for such terrible actions. We shouldn’t waste our time blaming the behavior of one specific, perhaps unbalanced person.

    I prefer to ask a very uncomfortable question for some: Could it be that we are collectively responsible?

    I’ve heard what sounds like “It was his idea” from various leaders in this country, which has given rise to everyone acting like nasty kids in a schoolyard.  If Trump’s tone is offensive, then the best way to counteract that is to speak in an opposite, equally offensive manner.  That’s the depth we’ve sunk to in politics and entertainment today.  And at this point, I’m not interested in blaming anyone for starting it.  It simply needs to stop.

    The bomber’s actions are not about politics.  And pointing fingers back and forth is not going to fix anything; it is only going to disappoint citizens even more.  The truth of the matter is that we will continue to disagree politically and that will never end, nor should it. But both parties need to set an example—not react to bad behavior with more bad behavior–and promote peaceful negotiation and consideration for others’ opinions.   Ronald Reagan had reasonable conversations with Tip O’Neil and Ted Kennedy.  Bill Clinton did the same with Newt Gingrich.  These were leaders with polar opposite views yet willing to be civil in their discourse.  One can disagree with their politics, but not their dignity.  Can our current political leaders return to civility?

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    Another Milestone Election Day is on the Horizon

    As we enter the midpoint of Trump’s first term, it is important to note the significance of the upcoming midterm elections.  All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election.  Presently, Republicans hold 236 seats, Democrats hold 193 seats, and six seats are vacant.   On the Senate side, 23 Democrats, 8 Republicans, and 2 independents up for reelection.  Depending on where you live, elections for some Governors and state legislators are on the ballots as well.  We also cannot forget elections at the municipal level, like mayors and local officials.

    A major problem during midterm elections is voter turnout is generally very low.  According to a report by the United States Election Project, approximately 40% of registered voters actually participate in midterms.  The same report found that voter turnout varies from state-to-state, but it is still low overall.  In fact, the voter turnout in the United States for all elections is among the lowest in the world.

    My advice is simple and one of the few views shared by both Democrats and Republicans: vote. Register to vote if you haven’t already. Check your own state but, generally, the deadline to register for the midterm elections is October 12th, 2018 and Election Day is November 6th, 2018.  If you are not going to be near your district on voting day, cast your absentee ballot and send it in by mail.  Deadlines for absentee voting vary from state to state, so be sure to check here.  If you’re unsure of where to go to vote, type in the address you used to register to find the nearest polling place.

    Every vote matters. This country prides itself on providing all citizens with the right to vote and exercise their civic duty.  Most other countries in the world do not.  As a democracy, we value the freedom to choose who we want to be put into office so that everyone has a say. Let’s all take advantage of that opportunity and get to the polls on November 6th.

     

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    Should the Private Affairs of Politicians Be Made Public?

    As a politician, I have seen my fair share of private affairs be made public—including the decisions and mistakes I’ve made in the past. But we were all young, bold, and stupid once. Does that mean that our private affairs, or our past, should be made public? And does it mean that we should be judged by our abilities to serve by it?

    President Donald Trump had an affair with a porn star. Barack Obama smoked marijuana in college. So did George W. Bush. John F. Kennedy had an affair with Marilyn Monroe. And of course, we can’t forget Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

    But should these things that happened in a President’s private life be in the public eye? What do we have to gain by knowing that President Trump had an affair with Stormi Daniels, years before he became president? It has nothing to do with his ability to lead. Same with JFK—did having an affair with Marilyn Monroe affect his ability to lead America?

    We’re public figures. We expect that some of our private lives will be in the spotlight. But our past is in the past. If you judge everyone today and vote them out of office because of what they did 10, 15, 20 years ago, then we’d have no one in office.

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    The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: A Market Devoid of Burdensome Regulation

    First and foremost, I am a capitalist. I believe that a free market devoid of burdensome regulation and taxation creates wealth for everyone — without a need for the kind of socialistic redistribution that is favored by Democrats.

    The reality is simple: taking from those with wealth and who create it, and giving it to those who don’t create it, is a recipe for economic malaise.

    The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was signed into law before Christmas and will begin to be implemented in 2018, will ease the tax policies that the Democrats had set in place and seemed to believe would redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.

    Under the new policy, the legislation reduces the corporate tax rate from a maximum of 35% to a flat rate of 21%; allows increased expensing of costs; and eliminates the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax. These are just a few of the elements of the plan.

    Lifting some of these burdensome regulations for corporations will allow businesses to bring in more revenue. The incentives may also encourage pay raises and hiring, and corporations that have moved overseas or are considering to do so may decide to return or keep their business in the U.S.

    There are those outspoken against this new legislation because they feel corporations are already wealthy.  Is that something we should see as a problem or an opportunity?  The issue is not whether corporations are too wealthy.  The issue is what wealthy corporations do with their profits.  Do they plow it into hiring, investments and development that spur economic growth or do they use the money to increase executive pay, buy back stock and pay higher dividends to shareholders?   High tax rates and burdensome regulations had been bogging corporations down and turning they away from investment. The new legislation will ease some of these regulations.  That will help the American economy and job growth.  But as permanent as the corporate tax reduction may be, that can be changed.  If corporations horde the gains and do not put them back into the economy, then the reform will have failed and should be repealed.

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    Hypocrisy in the Guise of Reform

    It ceases to amaze me how easy it is for Democrats to embrace hypocrisy in the guise of “reform.”

    Take for example their attacks on grants and subsidies to pharmaceutical companies researching much-needed drugs; agricultural companies improving crop yields; and other industries on the Democrats’ hit list – like insurance, banks, and any that support self-regulation over government intervention.

    Yet, at the same time, they voice support for pork-belly projects that build bridges to nowhere and fund energy pipe dreams with no chance of commercial success.

    It’s all just another smoke screen for the Democrats’ ideal to redistribute wealth at the expense of America’s heritage and continued prosperity.

    Grants and subsidies are simply a tool to improve how each of us lives our lives. Used properly, they can provide incredible benefits.

    Used as favors, they demean every one of us.

    Democrats love to give out favors. I don’t.

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    The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

    Just before Christmas, President Donald Trump signed into law the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” The law will reduce corporate tax rate and increase corporate deductions for expensing.  The tax reform also reduces taxes for married couples and single filers.

    The reform is a step in the right direction for businesses and individuals — for one, it permanently reduces the U.S. corporate income tax rate to 21 percent, putting the United States among the global centers with low corporate taxes.  That will presumably spur growth and investment.

    Some critics claim the tax reform is only for the wealthy.

    There is no question that the new tax laws do provide significant benefits to wealthy individuals.  But we cannot deny that the prosperous and wealthy support many of our country’s industry, arts, and culture. Decreasing their tax burdens, defending their rights, and applauding their success will be helpful to the American people overall.  Decreasing the tax burdens of corporations and the prosperous will benefit those who are less fortunate if they are able to properly support social programs, education for the arts, and nonprofit organizations that they admire through funding or donations.  Such arguments are often met with distain by liberals who believe benefits should be denied the wealthy.  Such reactions, however, deny the simple reality that any cut in taxes spurs development and investment.  Critics also say the tax reform does not give enough breaks or savings to the middle class.

    That is simply not true.  Increasing the standard deduction, improving child care credits, and establishing new tax brackets most certainly helps the middle class.  One cannot help but wonder if those objecting to the reform are doing so not because of the law itself but because of the President who signed the legislation.  Once again, we see blind solidarity on the left against President Trump even when long overdue reform is adopted.

    But I do agree with the left on one critical issue that is not adequately addressed in the reform.  We cannot give a pass to those among the prosperous who, instead of feeding society, feed upon it. There can be no more robber barons and corporate raiders who plunder businesses to personally profit at the cost of jobs, families, and homes.  Although this new tax cut legislation is a step to providing savings for American families and businesses, we must remember to weed out those who are only seeking profit for themselves and who offer nothing back to the people who fuel their ability to prosper.

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    Be Thankful for Our Freedoms. Pray for Paris. Demand More from Your Leaders.

    As Thanksgiving nears and we witness the horrors of the Paris attacks, Americans are once again reminded to be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy. But we must also remember those freedoms are only protected by vigilant law enforcement, strong national defense, and an aware citizenry. We all mourn with our allies in France. We all agree that we cannot allow society to become victimized by Islamic extremist barbarians like those who murdered innocent people in France under a misguided belief that their God condones such atrocities. Say what you will about any religion, but none, including Islam and the Quran, justify such cowardly acts. If not stopped they will continue and expand into other countries, including America.

    The reaction of politicians has been all too predictable.

    President Obama, in remarks on Friday, said, “We’re going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice, and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people.” I guess we’ll continue to wait, as we always seem to do, to hear what the president has in mind and what strategy, if any, he will deploy. If it’s placing another 50 advisors into Syria, that is far too little, far too late. Hillary Clinton had little more to add. While her heartfelt sympathy for Parisians is sincere, former Secretary Clinton also failed to express any plan of attack.

    Using an odd analogy, Ben Carson commented that allowing Syrian refugees into the United States is akin to medical malpractice and opined that withdrawing from Iraq after the Gulf War created the vacuum that allowed ISIS to grow. Other candidates conveyed condolences for the losses endured by the French. But some went further, weighing in on Twitter. Ted Cruz tweeted, “We must make it clear that affiliation w/ ISIS & related terrorist groups brings w/ it the undying enmity of America.”

    Not surprisingly, Donald Trump was less diplomatic, tweeting, “President Obama said ISIL continues to shrink in an interview just hours before the horrible attack in Paris. He is just so bad! CHANGE.” and “We need much tougher, much smarter leadership – and we need it NOW!” Even Newt Gingrich chimed in with a tweet, “Imagine a theater with 10 or 15 citizens with concealed carry permits. We live in an age when evil men have to be killed by good people.”

    Not a single politician with a plan. And no doubt as the days pass, we’ll hear more rhetoric from presidential wannabes. The Democrats will criticize the Republicans and the Republicans will criticize President Obama. It will be more of what we’re all tired of hearing.

    Now is not the time for politics and rhetoric. It is a time for decisive leadership. We need to seriously consider an alliance with all other threatened nations, including Russia, to eradicate the ISIS cancer. If that means boots on the ground, so be it. We need to make it clear that we will not stand by while Middle East leaders fail to lend adequate support to the solution, including ending our financial aid if they continue on the sidelines. The leadership of the Muslim community must speak out more forcibly and encourage every Muslim worldwide to cooperate and identify those who mean us harm. We need to strike at the sources of ISIS finances and weapons, even if that means destroying oil wells ISIS controls. We and our allies need to seize, not just freeze, the assets of any financial institution that harbors terrorist funds. Arms dealers need to be held responsible. We know who they are and where they operate. Shut them down. And as regrettable as it may be, we need to think hard before we fight enemies that pose little threat to our heartland. Enemies like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As diabolical as Assad is and as antithetical he may be to our beliefs, his regime poses no credible threat to the United States.

    ISIS is the one enemy that every right-thinking person─including Americans, French, and Russians─agrees must be annihilated.

    President Obama is in Turkey at the G-20 after which he goes to Paris for a summit on climate change. While economic issues on the agenda in Turkey and climate change discussions in Paris are important, they pale in comparison to the ISIS threat. Let us pray that President Obama uses those meetings as an opportunity to build a true coalition and stop being the paper tiger ISIS seems to believe we and our allies are.