Wednesday, January 30, 2019

WHAT I LEARNED AS A TAX PREPARER

Are you dreading the upcoming tax return?  Not sure how to fill out the forms and what documents are needed?  You are not alone.  

It was a long time ago that I got paid to prepare tax returns,  but I have done tax returns for myself and family up to the present.   H and R Block offered a part time job (I already had a day job), but you had to take a course.  I thought I knew it all, but sadly didn't.

I knew that we had a progressive tax system, but didn't really understand how it works.  The instructor was very good at explaining.  It starts with the premise that everyone has certain financial needs:  food, clothing and shelter.  The exact levels are difficult to determine fairly, but it is generally accepted that some people do not earn enough income to pay taxes.  Others earn enough to survive with more for other goods and they are expected to contribute, but the government realizes many can only spare so much.  Still others, a minority make well more than needed to survive and in fact enjoy luxuries.  Usually they benefit more from government infrastructure than the rest and are able to pay more taxes.

Personally I owned a small amount of stocks and was pleased to learn about dividend tax credits.  The theory being that the country needed investors and many were of the widows and orphan types that needed encouragement and protection.  Many years later I learned that people who earn money through some investments pay a much lower tax rate, one American billionaire who thought this was a shame was Warren Buffet who paid a lower tax rate than his secretary.

My daytime job was selling office supplies and on one call to an accounting firm I boasted that I had taken the course.  The accounting company rep boasted back to me, "you learned the basic facts of how to fill out the form.  We figure how much you can get away with."  I always knew there were people in all income levels who bent the rules.

One memory-a client admitted that he had done flyer delivery for cash payments.  In another previous job I worked with flyer distribution.  I knew that his official income would not result in any taxes owed.  I shamed him into estimating his unofficial income.  We did it in such a way that he still didn't pay any taxes, but we both felt uncomfortable.  More on my circulation career which included a stint marketing flyer distribution:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/my-career-in-circulation-part-3-winding.html

A common strategy I encountered with customers was to overpay taxes and get a nice rebate.  They hated the idea of having to pay extra taxes.  A better way to look at it is you do end up paying taxes that means you had the use of the money beforehand.  If you got a rebate that meant the government had the use of your money.  Forced savings such as buying mutual funds or bonds is a better way and if you register the investment plan you can save money on your taxes.

Another common practice was to buy a RRSP mostly around the month of February to get a tax deduction.  If enough people did this it would be enough to temporarily boost stock prices.  A better strategy would be to do monthly contributions such as to a mutual fund.  Dollar cost averaging helps to optimize fund growth and one overlooked fact is that earnings are protected from taxes until withdrawal.

If your income has any complications it may well pay to seek professional advice  If you income is simple such as wages and standard deductions it is not as difficult as too many people think and free advice is available.

What I had to say about tax collectors:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/04/tax-collectors-dirty-job-frowned-upon.html


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Minority Rights are the key to democracy

This is a cliche for many people, but too many of us need reminding.  Democracy cannot grow without minority rights.

Madeleine Albright. from "Fascism"  states "in a true democracy, leaders respect the will of the majority, but also the rights of the minority.  One without the other is not enough."  More about her book, http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/10/fascism-warning-form-madeleine-albright.html

With every election, we expect everyone to accept the result.  That is how our decisions are made.  However over history we have countless examples of how the majority can be wrong and even sometimes come to regret their decision.  Donald Trump got in without a majority with a platform that seems against minorities as well a big part of what he calls his base.  Too often politicians will set majorities against a minority to win an election.

My concern in this blog post is with minorities, the ones whose vote did not translate directly to power.  The majority/minority split can be in almost every category. (race, sex, age, political preferences).  Ideally every individual should fit into society and contribute to it.

However many minorities are not respected and are even commonly discriminated against.  But examining the concept of a minority any individual can be considered a minority.  There are considered a number of races and even more ethnicities and religious affiliations.  then there are education and employment status.  Sexual preferences are achieving greater public awareness.  We can go further--short or tall (or in between). age  f there are more females in a society than males are a minority, although females may feel they are because they have in effect less political power. 

The point is any one person can be discriminated against, but society is only optimized when every individual is allowed to make a contribution.

Minorities have fought back violently.  Other forms of resistance are not so obvious, but nonetheless impact all of society.

John F. Kennedy quote--"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

Nelson Mandela was very realistic after his years in prison.  He knew the majority blacks needed the educated whites and found ways to alleviate criticism.  Gandhi understood that Hindus were stronger with the support of the Muslims and worked to ally them (and others) to fight the British.  India today has more Muslims than any other nation, although conflicts are still there.

The American constitution and others have tried to give rights to the minorities.  The separation of church and government is crucial.  Although in Lebanon they have achieved some stability by holding some positions of power to specific minorities.  The trend today seems to be to expand minority rights such as for sexual preferences.  The majority normally resists losing their privileged status, but with more contact increase their acceptance.

Proportional voting gives a strong voice to minorities.   One complaint against it has been that too often power is split,  That is true, but when it happens it is more difficult for one party to discriminate against the minority

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Fifth Risk--the latest from Michael Lewis

Whatever catches the fancy of Michael Lewis is apt to receive perceptive insights.  He has a way of gathering information from people who ought to know better.  We are the ones who are better off.  Mostly in this book he talks to good intelligent people about serious concerns.

One example is Lewis has Karen Pence quoted after Trump and her husband's election victory , "You got what you wanted, now leave me alone."

The Trump team was not prepared for a transition.  In 2015 laws had been passed to make transition plans  mandatory.  In short the Trump team was unprepared, incompetent and too often counter productive.  For the most part they were not interested in learning how a department functioned  Both George Bush and Barrack Obama had gone to great lengths to pass on critical information.  Doug Christie was the one who encouraged Trump to set up a transition team.  In the end he got fired by Steve Bannon and much of what he set up was disregarded.

What is the Fifth Risk?  Many mechanisms could have been developed, but the author chose a judgment of one of his contacts.  The risks were the dangers of a Trump government not paying attention to real problems.  It was admitted that each of the listed risks could have been ranked differently and others could be added  The first risk was of a nuclear disaster.  The second risk was North Korea acting up.  The third risk was the unraveling of the Iran deal.  The fourth risk was an attack on the electric grid.  The fifth risk was to project management by which I interpret to mean the government not continuing to monitor scientifically the many dangers threatening the population..

By many people with a conservative philosophy the government is a problem.  This has fostered a distrust and ignorance of the the government functions.  To some (myself included) a function of the government is to protect their citizens.  In many cases this means against the 1% who are exploiting the masses.

One almost comical appointment was for Rick Perry to the Department of Energy.  That was the department he famously forgot in one of the presidential debates.  He confessed he had no idea of its functions which included nuclear weapons controls.  His ignorance is typical.

Government employees are often portrayed as not as smart as private business employees and are not conscientious.  The author was able to find many who do not fit that description and who have been in fact crucial for the health and welfare of all Americans.  For the most part these employees had been ignored by the Trump team.

Another myth seemingly integral to the Trump team is that government cannot get things done as well as private business.  In fact most corporations are not willing to spend large amounts of money and time on research.  That critical function has been done through government.  Mariana Mazzucato had a lot of insight on this matter:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/the-entreprenurial-state.html.

Like other Republican political leaders (and for that matter many Democratic leaders) take up the mantra that regulations stifle business.  What is overlooked is that unchecked corporations will cut corners and usually looking for ways to exploit consumers.  Many feel that the 2008 recession can be traced to lack of enforced regulations.    Allowing more money into the political process assures that many decisions will be tinged with vested interests.  Most of the Trump appointees were focused on doing away with regulations that hurt profits rather than protecting citizens.  A prime example was deleting information on climate change.

Funding for research was routinely cut (partly to allow for tax cuts) and also loans to startup companies particularly for renewal resources.  Conservatives were quick to point out the mistake loaning money to Solyndra.  Nevertheless the loan program did succeed to give American renewal resource companies to boost energy preparedness and pay for itself. Oil interests are constantly fighting renewal resources.

Nutrition has been a concern of government that is resisted by many food manufacturers.  Meat inspectors, researchers, etc have been instrumental in saving lives.  Nonetheless Trump appointees
take the side of profit seeking corporations..

Michael Lewis as always gets into an issue in depth.  There are so many anti-Trump books and articles out, but also adamant defenders.  It is hard to stomach that not only behind the scenes but fairly visible the Trump administration is not on the side of the "people" as they love to claim.

Maybe Americans will appreciate the positive contributions of the government as the shutdown affects over 800,000 employees taken off their jobs or forced to work without pay.  Countless services will be curtailed and businesses that depended on the spending of federal employees will notice a drop in revenue.  The lack of financing for farmers and small businesses will be slow down the economy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

MEMORIES FROM 2018

2018 has come and gone.  Some more memories to capture before they slip away.

The easiest in some ways to forget are those who are no longer with us.  Some left some good memories.  There are of course many others who could have been mentioned.

Lisa De Macio married to Sam with two great kids, Nicole and Gregory and one grand-daughter Chloe.  At one time she taught English as a second language, the same as my sister Rebecca.  Lisa went on to help people with disabilities.  She didn't want people to cry over her death so she planned her own memorial down to a lot of thoughtful details.  Some high school friends from Havergal College were instructed to make sure humor was added to the memorial and they did.   Sam gave a speech part of which I remember,  "When you leave here, her love will go with you."  I remember her father in law Peter (who married my mother in law) liked to take her out to a favorite Greek restaurant in Burlington--we all came to love.   She had degrees from the University of Toronto and Ryerson.  One small detail given by a friend of hers was she recommended the book by Viktor Frankl--"Man's Search for Meaning"--one that left a deep impression on me.  Sam was right--she left her mark and the rest of us are better off for it.

Sridevi was a Bollywood actress, well regarded in her sphere, but probably not well known among western movie goers.  During a vacation in New Zealand I went to an Indian restaurant, Shiraz in Whangerei and noticed they had sweets including ladoo.  I had never tasted them before, but remembered them from a wonderful movie, "English Vinglish"  in which Srivevi played a woman whose husband and children mocked her for not speaking English.  The movie set up circumstances where she learned to speak English secretly, but all the way through her pride and joy was a business making ladoos which I indulged in during my New Zealand vacation.  I went on to see her in her earlier days when she played romantic leads and a more recent memorable movie "Mom" that is well worth seeing.  I was looking forward to new movies, but will have to content myself with her older films.

Stephen Hawking died during the Paralympics.  From an earlier speech  just before the 2012 Paralympics I would like to.quote:  "We are all different there is no such thing as a standard or run of the mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.  Look up at the stars and not down at your feet."  Another quote, "However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do and succeed at."  Not only gave us science understanding, but also contributed to humanity.

Anthony Bourdain.  I love eating, but my attraction to him was his bringing new cultural experiences.  It was upsetting that he committed suicide, possibly due to addiction problems.  We did learn of exotic food items, but more importantly learned about different cultures and how we all have a lot in common starting with a love of communal eating.  In the first video I saw of him he was participating in a hangi which eventually became a bucket list item for me that I finally indulged in on my recent trip to New Zealand.  See below.

Kofi Anan, former secretary General of the U.N.  A voice of reason in a turbulent world.  After retiring Kofi still had words worth listening to:  https://www.facebook.com/Channel4News/videos/2188262544720258/UzpfSTEwMDAwMjk4Mjc2OTIzMzoxNzA3ODI0MDA5MzI3MDA4/

Aretha Franklin left behind a lot of good songs. The one I most remember is RESPECT and I was surprised to learn the original Otis Redding version was a male demand for a woman to be his servant.  She made it an anthem with a different theme.  I have come to appreciate she had other songs, many of which were written by her, but many were covers that were appreciated by the originators including Carole King and Simon and Garfunkle.

John McCain someone we all have to respect.  He was labeled Republican, but in fact he was more free of labels than just about any politician.  More than for others he made decisions based on what he thought was right.  This link is something to remember:  https://twitter.com/kylegriffin1/status/1033524441752457216?s=12



David and Krista presented us with Calder to join his older sister Hannah.  Apparently Calder is already a Toronto Maple Leaf fan.












We finished off 2017 and started 2018 in New Zealand with a memorable holiday.  One of my bucket list items was a Maori ceremony coupled with a hangi.  A Christmas gift from Michael we enjoyed was the best view of Auckland with one of the best meals at Orbit 360, atop Sky City.  Perhaps adding to our enjoyment is that we escaped a bad storm and cold spell back in Ontario. For more details check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/01/starting-2018-in-new-zealand.html

The Winter Olympics are always something that draws my attention.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/winter-olympics-2018.html

Paralympics a few weeks later is something I have come to appreciate what men and women can accomplish despite life's sometimes unfairness:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/03/2018-winter-paralympics-triumph-for-all.html

After three years of tests and wondering, Heather was diagnosed with MS, the progressive kind.  She actually was relieved as she thought her problem might be a brain tumor.  Heather is still mobile, but needs a cane and tires more easily and even falls on occasion.  When the parking lot where she works was tied up with renovations a drive to work campaign had a number of people involved.  We became involved in the MS Mandarin walk campaign and accumulated 9 walkers and cheerleaders--one under one and another close to 90.  We raised over $2,000, but the struggles carries on.  In  a separate fundraising Heather raised enough money for an Alinker ($2800) in a few days.  It boosts her mobility while retaining some muscle use and also allows her to see people eye to eye.

Doors Open Hamilton always seems to fall on the weekend the weather is finally good enough to start getting our yard ready for the summer.  Still I try to keep the tradition alive.  Cannon Knitting Mills has been an empty building I walk by on my way to the dentist, but they have big plans for it.

As Heather reached the age of 40 we decided to have a big party.  It happened that a distant cousin from Atlanta, Lana Wachniak and her husband Bill were in town and wanted to surprise my mother in law.  Heather had friends and co-workers visit.  A lot of baking and cooking was appreciated by the guests.  Heather emulated her birthday photo from age one.

We live within walking distance of a tour boat and this year were able to take advantage of a free community tour.  Hamilton is known as an industrial city and we were able to appreciate the steel plants along the shore of Hamilton Harbour.  But there is also a little bit of nature and art along the way.

A memorable moment for Sharon came when Heather took her to a Blue Jay game as a birthday present.  After the game they encountered a big problem.  The underground parking was flooded and they were delayed for over an hour.  But during  that time Heather spotted Buck Martinez, now broadcaster for the Jays and encouraged Sharon to get his autograph and then a photo.

Another once every four year event was the World Cup.  As usual there were a lot of good games.  The winning French team was mostly made of immigrants or the sons of immigrants.  Croatia provided the other finalist.

40th wedding anniversary of Frank and Connie.  We attended the wedding and were surprised to learn that Sharon is related to her school friend Connie.  Frank came to Canada as an infant with his parents leaving Hungary during the 1956 Revolution.  Family and friends gathered to share memories.






Supercrawl celebrated its 10th anniversary.   It is amazing such a big event is just down the street.  More details:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/09/supercrawl-on-its-tenth-anniversary.html 


I attended an event that would have been on my bucket list if it had been conceivable.  A Bollywood backup singer, Arijit Singh has become my favorite male singer, but he was based in far off India and even though he did tours they were to big cities.  Out of the blue an announcement was made he was performing in Hamilton at the First Ontario Centre within walking distance.  I had not been to any arena type concert in decades, but wanted to see this.  As it turned out it was billed as a Toronto event as I suppose it was more suitable for marketing.  It was a bit of a shock because it was too loud for my ears and an arena doesn't have the right acoustics.  He is a very nuanced singer.  Still I was impressed with the level of musicians backing him and I was also impressed at how long he performed.  He was on stage for over three hours with only a five minute break.  I still love his music, but will stick to a quieter atmosphere.  I suspect most of my readers have not even heard of him.  Nonetheless he has a massive world wide audience and is well worth finding and listening to. 

The Art Gallery of Hamilton BMO International Film Fest was in October.  I always attend the Trailers and Teasers show as you learn about a wide number of movies.  We went to see "Puzzle" starring Kelly MacDonald and Irrfan Khan.

Each year I get to go to the Royal Winter Fair on behalf of The Rider and I get to meet some interesting people.  Jessica Phoenix is a very likeable person who has overcome adversity to win gold medals for Canada had her story written up by Julie Fitz-Gerald.       Here they are at the Ontario Equestrian booth.





This past fall was another gathering of friends from M M Robinson high school plus spouses, friends and some offspring plus Chef Luther..  A few more hit the 65 mark with three cakes from Sharon.






We returned to our traditional New Years' Eve party for food, drink and conversation with close friends.  Sharon outdid herself and my sister Rebecca helped out.




Restaurants eat up money and time, but I love them and consider them a form of art with a lot of potential for beauty. Some memorable  visits in Canada were to Bangkok Spoon, Loaded Pierogis ,Gate of India,  and Mesa,
Looking back to New Zealand restaurants fond memories of  in Whangerei found an Indian dessert, ladoo at Shiraz; Newmarket Sun World Chinese Restaurant, Orbit  360 way up  inSky City;  Pakuranga mall has a weekly market--enjoyed Char Kuey Teow, a Malaysian booth with long lineup, difficult t find a seat, but worth the effort.

Read over 30 books and would like to remember a few:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/12/my-favorite-books-of-2018.html 

Saw over 300 movies and here is what I want to remember: bit.ly/2R505Gh

top 3 blogs of 2018

Starting the year in New Zealand: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/01/starting-2018-in-new-zealand.html

my favorite book of the year  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/12/21-lessons-for-21st-century.html

animals after vegans:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/01/what-happens-to-farm-animals-when.html

To read  about 2017 check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/01/2017-another-year-to-remember.html