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Showing posts from March, 2009

Stop and Laugh

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Okay, enough serious stuff for now. Here's a laugh from Lewis Black, one of my favorite comedians.




Spring Cleaning

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If you visit my blog periodically, you may have noticed I have made quite a few layout changes. I guess spring and not working inspires me to redesign. I am using a modified grey-press template. I tend to know enough (X)HTML and CSS to get me into trouble, but I usually opt for the trial and error method of programming. I backup my current template, then make a big value change and preview it to see what the setting controls. If it is what I want to change, I then go back and try various other values. That's what I've done here.

I'm mostly finished. I still have not restored my entire list of published bookmarks, but aside from that, most of the changes should be minor after today. That is, until next spring. Let me know what you think. Suggestions welcome.

Georgia Retirement Tax Advantages

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Georgia offers a variety of tax advantages to people 62 or 65 and older, which encourage retirees to live in Georgia. I've been researching this for several years since it is likely Georgia will be my state of residence during retirement.

This post does not include all of my research, but I am including some links at the end for those of you who would like to do more research. I recommend that you consult your financial or tax advisor before acting on any information here.

For the 2008 tax year, if you are 62 or older at any time during the tax year, you can exclude the following income (up to $35,000 for an individual or $70,000 for a couple) [GA 2008 income tax instructions]:
Interest IncomeDividend IncomeAlimonyCapital GainsTaxable IRA DistributionsTaxable PensionsRental, Royalty, Partnership, and S Corp. IncomeUp to $4000 of Earned Income
Georgia does not tax Social Security income, so it is not included in the $35,000 exclusion. By 2013, this exclusion for those 65 and older will…

New York Agrees to Reform Harsh Drug Laws

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Baby steps. We often make progress in baby steps. Changing the drug laws in New York state is a small step in the right direction of ending drug prohibition altogether. I don't advocate an end to the "drug war" because I favor drug use. I do not. I favor it because drug prohibition is not working and has not worked. Just as our nation found that alcohol prohibition did not work in the 1920s and 1930s, so too will it one day end the failed policy on drugs.
Gov. David A. Paterson and New York legislative leaders have reached an agreement to dismantle much of what remains of the state’s strict 1970s-era drug laws, once among the toughest in the nation. The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison. The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 milli…

A Case Against the "Fair Tax" - Part 2

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Part 1 is here, where I primarily describe how such a regressive and expensive tax would negatively affect me and most other people in lower income tax brackets.

This part examines the real costs of the tax, which its proponents say will be a tax rate of between 23-30% on all retail sales for personal consumption of new goods and services. I gleaned most of the information in this section from FactCheck.org, a website that is well known for its fair and unbiased analysis of facts. I encourage you to read the entire article at Fact Check, since my bias against the tax is clear.

There are various views of the actual tax rates that are discussed in the article. For example, under Bush, the President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform in 2005 calculated that a 34% rate would be needed to make the program revenue-neutral. In other words, government tax revenue would not be lost. Furthermore, the panel asserted that "fair tax" supporters used questionable accounting methods to come …

Helicopter Dentist

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So have I written that I joined a local group on Meetup soon after I lost my job? I don't remember because I'm so addicted to CNN since I'm not working, I'm just living vicariously through the eyes of journalists and politicians. I even watch the White House daily briefing when its on. I think someone is getting a divorce soon...on no, that's the soaps.

When I do come up for air, I enjoy this Meetup group. They do all sorts of fun things. I've joined them on several trivia nights at a local pizza place and at a couple of parties in the hosts' homes. I network at the same time. I'm not the only one in the group who is unemployed. I've learned stuff. Plus, we always place at trivia and get a discount on our next meals. Cheaper food for the unemployed!

One of the newest members of the group told us on Monday that she (still can't recall her name, but I know all the Cabinet members now) had the wildest thing happen. She was walking to Blockbusters and…

Free Credit Reports Online

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Most folks know to check their credit reports periodically. If you are searching for a job or are trying to refinance a mortgage, you should check your reports before you begin. Prospective employers and staffing companies often check credit reports before hiring. If you have any incorrect information, you should attempt to get the information corrected as quickly as possible. Years ago, I had some incorrect addresses on mine. I disputed each instance and they were not on the reports I viewed today.

You can get at least one credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies. In Georgia, you are entitled to two reports each year. The easiest way to start is to visit www.annualcreditreport.com. I did this today and turned down all of the $$offers$$ presented to me. I then was able to access all three free credit reports. I printed each to a PDF file, using PDFCreator.

Your credit score is not part of your free credit reports. If you really need to know your credit sc…

Memories of the Pantheon

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If you ever get to Rome, don't miss the Pantheon. I've visited the Pantheon on two separate trips to Rome. The first time I encountered it, I was just wandering around Rome, getting kind of lost as I often enjoy doing on trips. Then there was this moment of serendipity, and there it was. Moments such as this can make any trip worth the time and expense.

The Pantheon is considered the best preserved monumental building from the Roman Empire, and it is a marvel to enter and experience, perhaps after one visits some of the Roman ruins. Then you can get a better mental image of what Rome may have been like, in terms of architecture, in ancient times.
When I visit very old places, I like to think of who may have stood on the very spot where I'm standing. I like to think of the historical events that happened there. Instead of just busily taking photos that will soon be forgotten, I prefer to live in the moment of being in that place. So it was with the Pantheon.The building has …

If I Could Afford to Retire Anywhere, It Would be in Cannes

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Ah, Cannes! What a town! Cannes has a wonderful year-round Mediterranean climate. While the beaches in the South of France are rocky, they actually bring in sand for the main beach. The famous Cannes Film Festival takes place here every year, with famous people from around the globe.

I stayed here with my late first partner, Mike, when we were celebrating our 15th anniversary. We stayed at a cute, inexpensive hotel, run by a gay couple who knew little to no English. It really put my limited French to the test, but we had a gay old time.

The town of Grasse, France is a short bus ride away. Grasse is the center of the perfume industry in France. About 2/3's of France's natural aromas are produced there.

Paris is my favorite large city, and it is just a fast train ride away from Cannes. Ah to dream.

Uniting American Families Act

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AP Photo

This bill (H.R. 2221) and S.1328 before Congress need to become a law. Here is one very good reason why (emphasis mine):
Senator John F. Kerry is urging the US attorney general to reunite a gay married couple in Massachusetts who were separated in 2007 when a federal judge ordered one of the men to return to Brazil.

Genesio "Junior" Oliveira, who is married to Haverhill advertising agency owner Tim Coco, returned home in August 2007 after he lost his asylum case and appeal, which was based on his story that he had suffered a brutal rape and discrimination in Brazil.

In a letter this week, Kerry asked Attorney General Eric Holder to overrule the lower court and grant Oliveira asylum. In the letter, Kerry criticized Immigration Judge Francis Cramer for rejecting the asylum plea even though Cramer had found the testimony credible. Kerry said it was "outrageous" that Cramer noted that Oliveira was not physically harmed by the rape.

"The injustice of the initia…

Rush Flushed With Only 19% Favorable Rating

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Pie Chart Source: CBS News

If you didn't know how unpopular Rush Limbaugh is, you've been hanging out with the wrong crowd. With a 19% favorable rating, he is more unpopular than Bush was upon leaving office.

One wonders what his corporate advertisers are thinking by exposing themselves to this kind of unpopular public sentiment. However, I do know that people who hate RL still listen to his program, so maybe that is the advertising draw.

I believe "trash in, trash out," so I refuse to listen to his crap. I think sometimes people just look for reasons to get mad, so maybe that explains why Rush-haters still listen to his show. What is really odd about this poll is that 41% of Americans claim not to have an opinion about RL. What's with that? Are that many people living in a bubble?

Attorney General Halts Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensers

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I guess they'll have to change the scripts for the next season of Weeds. Humboldt County can breathe easier too. Are we actually witnessing the beginning of the end to the "war on drugs" in the United States? Maybe this is just a baby step to end the "drug war," but at a minimum it will allow people who suffer horrible pain or have no appetite to be free from the drug police. Oh yeah, don't forget the AG by his action has affirmed states' rights on this issue.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday outlined a shift in the enforcement of federal drug laws, saying the administration would effectively end the Bush administration’s frequent raids on distributors of medical marijuana. Speaking with reporters, Mr. Holder provided few specifics but said the Justice Department’s enforcement policy would now be restricted to traffickers who falsely masqueraded as medical dispensaries and “use medical marijuana laws as a shield.” [NY Times]
I bet this wil…

Continuing Outrage Over Pope's Condom Remarks

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There is continuing outrage over the pope's remarks against using condoms, given the magnitude of the AIDS crisis around the world, but especially in Africa. As I said in my previous post, the pope's comments essentially mean that the catholic church supports genocide in Africa.



Pope Endorses Genocide in Africa

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Believers Report Source: catholicreview.org

There are many reasons for people who have some religious faith to deviate from orthodoxy. This many be Reason 1. (See news story below.)

I believe that the pope's and the catholic church's stance on this issue supports genocide in Africa.

I would guess such fantasy land stupidity is one of the prime reasons that is driving many folks away from religion in the United States. Almost 40 million Americans either claim no religion or claim to be an agnostic or atheist, a huge increase in the past 18 years.
Pope Benedict on Tuesday reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS as he started a visit to Africa, where more than 25 million people have died from the disease in recent decades. [Reuters]

Whaz Up?

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I want to digress a bit from all of the policy issues I've been writing about recently to update everyone on "things." Last night our Marietta PFLAG chapter had a very successful (in terms of attendance and in donations) showing of Milk. I did not count, but it looked as if we had about 30-40 people in attendance. Thanks to everyone who helped make last night a huge success.

I've been giving serious thought over the past couple of weeks to a career change...sorta. I am looking primarily for two types of work now and planning on a third. I am focusing on writing/editing jobs with non-profits and entry-level positions in journalism, with an emphasis on the former. I know some people consider blogging to be journalism. I think there are some journalists who are bloggers, but there are few bloggers who are journalists. My limited experience in journalism dates back to my student newspaper days at Mercer. My experience with non-profits has been on-going over my life.

Additi…

Jon Stewart Takes on CNBC's Lack of Journalism

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Jon Stewart got very serious last night on The Daily Show about the lack of journalistic objectivity, veracity, and quality of CNBC in this on-point interview with Jim Cramer. It is often rather serious and sometimes uncomfortable to watch, but I encourage you to watch it. If you follow Jon Stewart, Jim Cramer, or CNBC, this is must-see TV.

Update: I had to strip out the videos and the actual links because of technical issues with Comedy Central. Visit these URLs to see each of the three unedited segments or visit The Huffington Post, which overcame the technical issues.
http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=221516&title=jim-cramer-unedited-interview
http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=221517&title=jim-cramer-unedited-interview
http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=221518&title=jim-cramer-unedited-interview

Healthcare Costs

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Chart Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation

I'm writing again about healthcare because I feel so passionate about the issue. If you are sick and cannot get good healthcare, the rest in your life doesn't matter much.

If you have health insurance and know the full cost (including any amounts paid by your employer), you may be able to compare your own annual medical expenses compared to this chart. BTW, I tried to find more recent dates, but 2003 was the best I could find in this easy-to-read format.

My COBRA insurance premiums will cost me about $4800 a year, if my premiums do not rise. This does not include the discount from the one-time 9-month stimulus law assistance. COBRA premiums can and often do rise, so $4800 could become much more quickly. Once COBRA expires or my former employer no longer offers a medical insurance plan or is bankrupt, whichever comes first, then I am at the mercy of private insurance companies covering me with pre-existing chronic problems, such as hypert…

Economics 101 in 60 Seconds

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One of my dearest and best friends, Diane, sent me the link to this NY Times Op-Ed essay. I've mostly known what the author writes, but he really puts it all together very well. This is a quick read, and I urge you to read it if you want to understand why we are where we are today. Here is just a morsel:
The right-wingers were crafty: You smother the dream by crippling the programs that support it, by starving the government of money to pay for them, by funneling the government’s revenues to the rich through tax cuts and other benefits, by looting the government the way gangsters loot legitimate businesses and then pleading poverty when it comes time to fund the services required by the people.

The anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist summed the matter up nicely when he famously said, “Our goal is to shrink the government to the size where you can drown it in a bathtub.” Only they didn’t shrink the government, they enlarged it and turned its bounty over to the rich.

Our Immoral Tax Laws

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I have previously posted an essay (link) opposing the so-called fair tax. I wrote mostly about how this proposed change of tax policy would negatively affect me and folks like me. I intend to post more against the "fair tax" in the future, but this posting is about another unfair area of tax policy: the fact that non-labor income (e.g., capital gains) is taxed at a lower rate than earned income (e.g., W-2 pay).
There are effectively two tax systems in America: one for the very rich and one for the rest of us. Income from stock dividends and capital gains, which makes up a disproportionate amount of the earnings of the very rich, is taxed at 15 percent. But the bulk of what the rest of us earn — wages and interest from savings accounts — is taxed at up to 35 percent. Though President Obama’s recent tax proposals are progressive and comprehensive, his reforms don’t do nearly enough to address this significant disparity. [NY Times]When Congress enacted an income tax law after th…

Holy Economic Collapse, Batman!

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We all know things are bad, but do we really know they are this bad? I didn't. If this guy is right, we are at game level one. Watch out for the asteroids!

Tell me what you think after reading the article. I don't know what some of it even means, but it is scary as hell.

Mortgage Update

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I called HUD today and got through easily by phone. I do not qualify for any HUD programs because I am unemployed and my mortgage is not owned by either Freddie or Fannie.

However, if I want to refinance later in the year and am still unemployed, I can count Social Security income to refinance, assuming I decide I want to take early Social Security. Because I have high equity in my home, the Social Security income should be sufficient to allow me to refinance, maybe even at a lower interest rate.

BTW, the HUD person I talked with was very helpful, and I was on hold for less than one minute. That is outstanding service in my opinion. I also received a toll-free number if I want to talk to a HUD-qualified housing counselor and I was told exactly where to find HUD-approved lenders on the HUD website.

All in all, this is not the best news in the world, but I can see "a light at the end of the tunnel."