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Opinion Editorials

Which will win in 2012, universal opportunity or universal equality?

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Paying their fair share

Nearly one of six Americans are now using food stamps. Fully 47% of us don’t pay income tax. We’re taxing the top 1% of income earners — who earn about 20% of the nation’s income — at a rate resulting in that group paying 40% of each year’s personal income tax bill. Meanwhile, those heartily supporting such an inequity, complain loudly, often in a whiny tone, how those same folks still aren’t payin’ their fair share. But that’s not the most alarming factor. It’s the origin — a self-righteous sense of entitlement to others’ hard earned cash.

This year’s coming election will, more likely than not, either strengthen the entitlement crowd, or begin, ever so slowly to turn the tide. In my lifetime we’ve been so damn dumbed down, I suspect it’ll be the former. If I’m correct, and they continue steamrolling their way to a life of complete reliance on government, the disappearance, in one form or another of the producers will begin in earnest. But the constantly erroneous use of the phrase, ‘. . . total reliance on government . . .’, allows them to keep their real benefactors under the radar.

The government doesn’t produce anything. Many of my friends would vehemently disagree, offering examples unfit for these pages. However, what government does, when it comes to money, it two basic things.

1. They take from people and businesses.

2. They distribute it as if it’s theirs.

The entitlement crowd

Ironically, though hardly a shock, most citizens in the entitlement crowd would recoil in horror if asked to agree publicly and unequivocally with the reality that it’s the 53% of us categorized as producers who’re financing the government’s largesse aimed their way. See, when you’re entitled, you’re, well, entitled. You deserve to have your personal cost of living provided by those who work to accomplish the same end.

Back in the day, when the subject of equality came up, it was universally assumed, as a matter of common sense, and rational thought, that ‘equality of opportunity’ was the topic. Over time, this American core value, has been rendered virtually dead.

If you’re a progressive thinker, it’s really all about engineering equal results for all. Many of the unintended consequences of this collective belief system have been hilarious — and it’d be fun and enlightening for readers to contribute their real life examples.

A fork in the road

The direction of our beloved United States will find itself at a fork in the road this coming November. As a nation, we must, once and for all, decide the crucial issue of our times.

Are we a people who’ve shed blood and given lives for over two centuries for the equality of opportunity for all? Or are we destined to follow the path to destruction taken by collectivist nations like the USSR, who tried, stupidly, vainly, to ensure universal equality of results.

As we ready ourselves to vote this fall, we all need to look inside ourselves, with the naked brutality of pure honesty, and decide if it’s universal opportunity we cherish, or universally equal results.

Jeff Brown specializes in real estate investment for retirement, has practiced real estate for over 40 years and is a veteran of over 200 tax deferred exchanges, many multi-state. Brown is a second generation broker and works daily with the third generation. With CCIM training and decades of hands on experience, Brown's expertise is highly sought after, some of which he shares on his real estate investing blog.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Peggy

    January 9, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Big Problem with your analysis of how the government spends tax money. They spend it on defense, defense, defense, defense, social security, Medicare. Not much left for the disenfranchised to whom you are referring as the recipients of socialistic handouts. I guess you are talking about unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs, the bums! And special needs children with medical probs–what should be done with them so they won't burden the good working people of America? These aren't a drop in the bucket compared to DEFENSE. Who's whining? You are!

    • Jeff Brown

      January 10, 2012 at 6:53 pm

      Nice try, Peggy, but those are your words, not mine. I can speak for myself, and you just read the words.

      Do I think there should be 100 weeks of unemployment payments? No. The government is not our keeper, Peggy. And those who think it is, are destined to learn the hard way what every collectivist in history has learned. It simply doesn't work. There is no problem with my analysis, which is why you attempted to put words in my mouth.

      Predictably, the takers attack defense. Never mind most of them, and most of European takers would be leading lives of virtual slavery, or never been born if it wasn't for the evil insistence on America and it's people to keep the nation strong.

      America was built on producers, not takers. Takers are the pilot fish of any economy. Without producers they disappear.

  2. Korak

    January 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

    You should have just ended that little diatribe with "You kids stay off my lawn!" Your bio indicates you have a fair amount of some level of business experience. (At least with 1031's, etc.) Your stats in the opening paragraph are pretty weak. You pulled the equivalent of switching from per capita numbers to gross numbers like neighborhoods do for crime rates, etc when it helps. Do you actually hold the opinions expressed here or is this just linkbait for AG?

    • Jeff Brown

      January 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      It's a fact that nearly one of six Americans are using food stamps. Do you dispute that? I'm not playin' with numbers, Korak. You are. Our country is being slowly brought down by those who're happy for handouts. I'm a producer. You can't have what I produce. You want it? Or would you rather live in a nation founded upon hard work, earning your keep, and equal opportunity?

      The rest is collectivist drivel.

  3. Arn

    January 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Jeff Good buddy you seemed to have touched a nerve. I agree with you on the fundamental question in the 2012 elections. The big 3 entitlements take 40% of the federal budget. Defense is a smaller portion of the budget. My question to Peggy is "why isn't defense spending considered a stimulus?" Peggy where does most of the money go for defense? Answer to American men and women in our military and to American companies that build products needed by our military that employ PAY ATTENTION American workers! Personally, I would rather have our tax dollars go to defense (one of the things the fed govt should be involved in) than Solyndra or to Acorn. Or iis stimulus only money paid to public employees, environmentalists, and other groups sure to vote Democratic?
    I normally have great faith in the American people but like you I have my doubts as the Entitlement Culture spreads. It is so much easier to blame someone else than look in the mirror. I have friends who say the purpose of our income tax system is to redistribute wealth. When I say I thought taxes were to pay for the cost of governing, they are dumbfounded.

  4. Arn Cenedella

    January 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    For those that wish to discuss national fiscal policy on the basis of actual data instead of on talking points supplied by MoveOn.Org, please go the the Obama White House Link:

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/

    I beieve you will find the cost of SS and medicare/caid are by far the two largest expense categories about 40%. I will note defense is 20% and the social safety net called in an 1984 Animal Farm twist "income protection" is also about 20%.

    We may disagree about the numbers, but let's at least know the numbers before inaccurate statements are made.

  5. Peggy

    January 10, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Arn, those figures do not take into account retired military pay and the cost of compensation in the form of VA benefits to the former military which kick the cost up dramatically. However, as I stated defense, social security and Medicare are the big ticket items on the budget, not FOOD STAMPS! That was my point.

  6. Jeff Brown

    January 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Geez, Peggy, I didn't think readers here needed a Dick 'n Jane writing style. Here's the point, sorry for not bolding it in the post.

    When almost one of six Americans are on food stamps, we're in deep trouble. THAT'S THE POINT.

    Connect that very disturbing fact with another — just short of half of us don't pay taxes. Do I need to spell out the point of that stat too?

    WE'RE BECOMING A TAKER NATION, AND THE PRODUCERS HAVE HAD IT UP TO 'HERE'.

  7. Tim

    January 11, 2012 at 12:27 am

    Jeff,

    Great article. I've shared it on FB in hopes that some of my liberal friends can see the facts in the simplest of terms. Unfortunately, the "Peggy's" of this nation don't do facts well. They refuse to accept that my money is MY money. If the Gov't was held powerless to take MY money and give it to their entitled friends to fund their pet entitlement programs, would liberals feel it was within their own power to come to my home and take it from me? Will liberals acknowledge that they are empowering the Gov't to do their dirty work for them?

    I've been VERY blessed to have had the opportunity to become part of the 1% (EVIL ME)… but it took a LOT of hard work. When I was 9 years old (1970) I remember someone coming to our house to conduct an interview for food stamp eligibility. My dad came home from work at that moment and asked the gentleman to leave. He then brought the family together and apologized for having the Gov't consider us poor… that we'd be fine… and that we didn't take charity from anyone. He never made over $9/hr his entire life and with 6 kids that money didn't go far.

    I started working at 12 and have worked ever since. No college. No silver spoon. No unemployment. No foodstamps… Just a deep seated belief that when opportunity presents itself you'd better jump at it and ride it as long as you can. I, in turn, do my best to offer opportunities to those that need one. Some bite and others don't. I had my own brother-in-law turn down a $28/hr position because his unemployment check was only $200/week less than his takehome would be and he never had to leave the couch. How's THAT for growing the "disenfranchised" population?

    Liberals don't understand the dangers of increasing the power of the Gov't. Liberal leaders don't understand history enough to realize they are useful idiots. Hitler executed his top party officials after he rose to power during Nacht der langen Messer (Night of the Long Knives). They were no longer needed. He got his powerful Gov't and he could use it to give and take as he pleased. (To all the liberal flamers… This does not mean Obama is Hitler! It means that a powerful Gov't SUCKS BAD!!!)

    Without Liberty there is no opportunity. Without opportunity we are all equally enslaved.

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

4 simple tips to ease friction with your boss while working remotely

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Find it challenging to get along with your boss while working from home? Here are a few things you can try to ease the tension.

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Woman stressed over laptop in remote work.

Most people probably feel like their relationship with their boss is fine. If you’re encountering friction with your boss for any reason, though, remote work will often exacerbate it—this is one instance where distance doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Here are a few ways to remove some of that friction without adding to your boss’ overflowing plate.

According to CNN, determining the problem that exists between you and your boss should be your first step. There’s one caveat to consider, however: Your boss’ boundaries. Problem-solving on your own time is fine, but demanding more of your boss’ time—especially when you’re supposed to be working—may compound the issue.

An easy way around this is a low-impact communique—e.g., an email—sent at the beginning or end of the workday. Since that’s a more passive communication style that takes only a minute or two out of your day, it’s less likely to frustrate your boss further.

If ironing out the issue isn’t your prerogative for now, examining your boss’ parameters for success is another place to start. Does your boss prefer to receive multiple updates throughout the day, or do they want one summative report each morning? Do you respect your boss’ preferred communication styles? These are important questions to ask during remote work. If you find yourself reaching out more than necessary, for example, it may be time to cut back.

It can also be difficult to satiate your boss if you don’t know their expectations. If you’re able to speak to them about the expectations regarding a project or task, do it; clarifying the parameters around your work will always help both of you. It is worth noting that some supervisors may expect that you know your way around some types of responsibilities, though, so err on the side of complementing that knowledge rather than asking for comprehensive instructions.

Finally, keep in mind that some bosses simply don’t communicate the same way you do. I’ve personally been blessed with a bevy of nurturing, enthusiastic supervisors, but we’ve all had superiors who refuse to acknowledge our successes and instead focus on our failures. That can be a really tough mentality to work with during remote periods, but knowing that they have a specific communication style that hampers their sociability can help dampen the effects.

As always, communication is key—even if that means doing it a little bit less than you’d like.

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