Category Archives: Ordinary Heroes Project

Opinions on proposed tax reform

Excuse the multi year absence from my blog.  But I’m back to talk about Tax Reform.

Full disclosure: my taxes will in fact go UP under this bill.  But I think that’s ok, because overall this makes the right tradeoffs for the country.

Starting at a high level: the #1 problem we face as a country is that we can’t afford the projected growth in entitlements if our economy grows as slowly as it has grown over the last decade (about 1.5% – 2.0% in real terms through 2016 https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GDPC1).

So, regardless of your feelings about fairness or other elements of the tax code, that is the core problem that needs to be solved.  We simply need to grow the economy faster, and that informs much of my belief about policies for taxes, immigration, and the like.

Positives of the tax plan include:

1) Reducing corporate income tax for C corporations.  You’ve heard of corporate inversions, parking money overseas, ability to exchange money between subs, moving IP offshore, etc.  The era when corporations were an effective entity to tax is long gone as countries compete for a business’s domicile and technology removes many of the physical boundaries that kept profits where they were made.  Simply reducing corporate taxes goes a long way towards triggering renewed investment and avoiding the complex list of laws that would otherwise need to be in place to ensure taxes are paid.

The reduced rate should trigger investment, over time, and therefore increased growth.  How?  If a company now retains $800 of $1000 of pretax earnings instead of $690, that extra $110 can be used to invest in improvements in equipment, buildings, etc.  The growth results of this move won’t show up immediately but should permanently step up GDP growth rates.

Corporations are faceless entities, so it is a natural instinct to want to tax them.  However, this tax reduction should benefit the entire economy, and gets a big thumbs up from me.

2) Eliminating the estate tax.  The argument against eliminating the estate tax is that “it is only paid by the wealthiest 0.2%” – in other words, this is a redistribution argument.  However, the estate tax is an incredibly inefficient way to redistribute wealth.  Even the most optimistic estimates of its tax efficiency show it is “average” efficiency.  More likely, the hidden and direct costs of compliance are almost equal to the actual cost that the tax generates for the federal government every year.  The lawyers, accountants, time, and economic contortions to avoid this tax are all wasted to our society.  If you want redistribution, let’s get it another way.

https://www.cbpp.org/research/cost-of-estate-tax-compliance-does-not-approach-the-total-level-of-estate-tax-revenue

https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/bc9424c1-8897-4dbd-b14c-a17c9c5380a3/costs-and-consequences-of-the-federal-estate-tax-july-25-2012.pdf

3) Simplifying and consolidating deductions.  The concept of reducing specific tax giveaways always has interest groups crying how “Un-American” it would be to eliminate their preferred deduction.  Of course, it’s simple to be “for” an ownership society (aka the mortgage interest deduction), “for” kids (the child tax credit), “for” health care (aka deductible health care insurance) – each one sounds wholly justified.  But the combined effect of all of these is that it perverts and contorts the tax code, leads to inefficient economic behaviors, forces us to spend greater time energy preparing taxes, bloats the IRS which has more deductions to argue against, and raises marginal tax rates.  Doubling the standard deduction, as this bill proposes, goes a long way towards making tax forms easier to understand and fill out, and reducing the inefficient use of resources that is tax accountants, people’s time, and the IRS.

Additionally, itemized deductions like the mortgage interest and SALT deductions are regressive.  Eliminating them or reducing their deductibility is a simple way to redistribute without harming tax efficiency (vs. the estate tax mentioned above).

4) Immediate expensing of investment.  Again these investments should grow the economy which is the #1 goal.  Also reduces the complexity of the tax code with its myriad timetables for depreciation.

Negatives of the proposed tax reform include:

1) Reducing the tax rate on “small businesses” (aka S corps and LLCs).  Opening up an avenue for people to redefine what is passive income will lead to all kinds of new tax avoidance, making the carried interest loophole look like small potatoes.  It is almost certain that we see a massive increase in income flowing through these corporations, and a corresponding increase in audits.  If business owners want a lower tax burden and the ability to retain earnings, they should incorporate as C corps.  Best thing to do here is to drive the corporate tax rate down even further but end the preferential tax treatment of S corps and LLCs.

2) Retaining the carried interest loophole.  This is a second avenue used by wealthy people to avoid paying appropriate income tax.  Carried interest is a form of income that pays a vastly reduced tax rate.  A better way to deal with all of this is to have ONE rate – and it should apply to all income, however garnered (including capital gains!).  You then avoid the shuffling of profits to the lowest tax regime or the timing of sales to make sure a gain or loss is short or long term.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Soylent, Metrx, Green shakes, and my quest for a perfect meal replacement

The recent soylent craze (soylent.me) has brought me back to my college years, where I swore by my daily Metrx meal replacement shakes.  The year I religiously took Metrx every morning (with skim milk and a banana) ranks as one of the healthiest of my entire life – I had a six pack, worked out intensely 3-4 days per week, and felt like a champ.

A couple of years ago, I acquired a Vitamix blender, and it once again revolutionized my morning meals.  Instead of powder and milk, I now mix up spinach and protein powder.  It’s great for breakfast, but is definitely lacking as a meal replacement – it doesn’t really have carbs, and lacks many essential nutrients.
Reading about Soylent inspired me to advance my meal replacement a little further.  However, I’m not Soylent’s target customer – why?
1) I’m not trying to eat for the lowest price possible.  Extra money for extra health is a worthwhile tradeoff for me.

2) Philosophically, I don’t like the idea of highly refined ingredients separated from their source food.  Maltodextrin is a key ingredient in Soylent, but this is essentially a corn-derived chemical.  It’s exactly this type of factory processing of food – breaking it into parts and reassembling it – that I think we need to get away from.  I want things that more closely resemble real food.

3) I try to avoid corn, dairy, and soy (three of the most common causes of food allergies).  So maltodextrin (based on GMO corn) is a no-no.
4) I am not looking for a total meal replacement, just a great balance to my diet

5) I believe that low inflammation should be one of the primary goals

So, I’m experimenting with Solyent alternatives.  My starting base is Schmoylent vanilla – http://diy.soylent.me/recipes/schmoylent-vanilla.  Recipe below

cups Oat Flour
cups Rice Flour
1 cup Vanilla Rice Protein
tsp Potassium Citrate
1 tbsp Psyllium Husk Powder
½ tsp Iodized Salt
tsp Calcium Citrate
½ tsp Choline Bitartrate
½ tsp Magnesium Citrate
¼ tsp Stevia Powder
tsp Xanthan Gum
2 capsule Celebrate Multivitamin Capsules
tbsp Canola Oil

I have ordered the base ingredients, but will be trying certain changes.
1) Replace the White Rice Flour with Brown Rice Flour
2) Use both a soluble fiber and an insoluble fiber
3) Use a broad spectrum, complete vegan protein such as Garden of Life Raw Protein
4) Eliminate the salt (I’ll get more than enough at my other meals and I’d like my blood pressure to be a bit lower)
5) Replace Magnesium Citrate with Magnesium Theronate
6) Reduce the Calcium Citrate by about 75%.  The dairy lobby has the US RDA at about 4x where it needs to be, and let’s not forget that “calcification” of your arteries is caused by – guess what – too much calcium.
7) Add a leafy green – rotating between spinach, chard, dandelion greens, beet greens, mustard greens
8) Add turmeric – great anti-inflammatory spice
9) Add Garden of Life Primal Defense Probiotic to aid digestion and improve immunity
When I eat whole sardines with bones for breakfast, I’ll reduce the oil, eliminate calcium, and reduce protein.More to come, wish me luck.

Life Lesson from Scrabble #1

Image

I’ve been playing Scrabble since I was a little kid across the kitchen table from my mom.  When you play as much as I have, you begin to see parallels between Scrabble and life.  Because of this, I’ve decided to start a series: “Life Lessons from Scrabble”.  I certainly do not always follow these lessons myself, but I hope they get us thinking!  Enjoy!

Life Lesson from Scrabble #1 

“Take the situation as it is”

 

In Scrabble, the board is as it is.  The seven letters in your hand are what they are.  You must accept this.  This is a crucial lesson about how to spend your precious time and energy.

 

You could spend time regretting what should have been; lamenting how unfair it is that you’ve ended up with seven vowels when the game’s down to the wire.  Or maybe you’re upset because the open E is now blocked and your elegant 62-point play got busted.

 

The board isn’t out to get you.  Your situation isn’t out to get you.  The only task in front of you is to play your hand the best you can.  In other words, spend your energy in a realm where you have choices and can take action.  Complaining and lamenting don’t change a thing (except your mood, and almost always for the worse).  All great Scrabble players learn to break themselves of the desire to play with a hand or on a board that simply isn’t.

 

Same goes in life.  Maybe your boss had promised you a promotion but just took a job somewhere else and you’re left without an advocate.  Or you were supposed to get in early to work but your child just threw up on the carpet.

 

What should or could have been is always a phantom, a negative suck of energy.  Once something is no longer possible, you might as well be upset that your magic carpet didn’t show up.

 

So ask yourself, what are the possibilities that arise from life as it is now?

 

Can you imagine how different things would be if you could rid yourself of “could have” and open up to “could be?”!

 

7 Best Tips for Getting Things Done

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 10.07.19 AM

Today’s post is different.  It’s not about spiritual matters, it’s about the very concrete and practical; specifically, how to get a project done.  I’ve been reflecting on it as I tackle my own project of creating a new melodic line on a several hundred year old Bach piece.  I’ve had a lot of training in this: project planning, GTD method, etc.  What follows is a distillation of the ones that work best for me.

1)   Have goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, realizable, and time bound.  For more, click here http://topachievement.com/smart.html.  But essentially, you need to state your goal as “write a one hundred word post and put on my blog by tomorrow at midnight”, rather than “blog more”.

 

2)   A related point: many goals are too enormous and daunting when faced in their entirety – break it down into smaller steps.  A useful if overused example: it is overwhelming to try to “climb Everest”, but rather achievable to tie your boots on and take one step.  A good tool for breaking down a goal is the Work Breakdown Structure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_breakdown_structure .  Sometimes the most important thing we can do is define the elements necessary to really get a project done.

 

3)   Related to #1, make a “next action” list rather than a “to do list”.  Saying you need to “repot plant” requires you to think every time (and likely get hung up on) what you actually need to do to make that happen.  Try “go to ACE Hardware and buy new 12” pot”.   http://www.gtdtimes.com/2011/02/10/how-is-a-next-action-list-different-from-a-to-do-list/

 

4)   A nice tip for things that require daily involvement: “Don’t Break The Chain”.  This is a simple technique where you put Xs on your calendar every time you do something (workout, meditate, post on your blog, whatever).  The goal is to keep the chain going!  Apparently Jerry Seinfeld credits this method as the most important element of his success. http://lifehacker.com/5886128/how-seinfelds-productivity-secret-fixed-my-procrastination-problem

 

5)   Set aside dedicated, distraction-free time on your calendar to get the tasks done.  Turn off your internet (really, the best thing to do is actually force it off using a tool like http://macfreedom.com/), turn off the TV, get away from other people, turn off your phone, and have all the things you need in one place.  Then work, distraction free, for up to 90 minutes or as long as attention allows.   Some people swear by the Pomodoro Technique – I personally need more time in a block but agree with the general concept http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

 

6)   “Climb the right wall”.  It’s really important to keep checking in, with yourself, others, and/or experts who have done it before, to make sure you are following the right action path.  It’s a terrible feeling to be getting a lot of the wrong things done, so make sure your ladder is on the right wall.   I recommend checking in weekly to ensure that your idea of how to get things done matches the reality of how it should get done.

 

7)   A related and important point: know when to ask for help from others.  One of the biggest problems is not knowing the next step to take, or being unable to do it without the help of others, or more information, or different resources.  Life is about having allies to help you out: have a group of experts, counselors, friends, etc. who can give you thoughtful advice when you hit those inevitable times when you don’t know what to do next.  Bonus: if you still can’t find the answer, just try to move in the right general direction.

 

Hope you are all doing well on your projects!

Chris

Ordinary Heroes Project – Meeting #3 (Group)

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 5.30.05 PM

Welcome back to the Tavern, men!

Today was a further process of really naming our projects, of narrowing in on their specifics, and committing to them publicly.  We were reminded of the more general goal of this project – that is, living into our project with more awareness, and taking advantage of the format we are in to feel into this and experience it more completely than we otherwise would.

The project is designed to be a metaphor for all of the tasks in our life.  There was extensive discussion of feelings of apprehension, of requests for support, and demonstrations of that support.  Such a joy to be in the company of these men!

Many people had projects that were “things they longed to do but never got to do”.  Or in other words, something they’ve wanted to do one day – and now today is that day!  We were challenged to explore what we were crossing into with our projects.

Follow your bliss…

The Ordinary Heroes Project – Meeting #2

Last night was the second meeting for the Ordinary Heroes Project, this time we met with just our small group, these groups comprise about 8-10 men each.

We met via Fuze, which allows all the participants in our conference to simultaneously video stream with each other.  What a gift to be able to dedicate 90 minutes of an evening discussing projects, motivation, and tapping into gladness with this amazing group!  Our task, to be completed by Friday, is to move towards a project and pick a title for it.  The projects will be posted on our private website, for all to witness, monitor, and support in the coming four months.

Most of our time was spent discussing specific projects.  A common theme was that many undecided men were considering two projects; often one that was more for “the soul’s own joy” and another that would be more of “an act of service”.  Some men were unsure of the specifics of their project but had general direction, yet throughout there was a real sense of support as we all move towards finding an ordinary task that we will do with more vigor, support and accountability than we may have thought possible.

CR is going to be designing a ceremonial pipe that he has been considering for between 5 and 10 years.  DB is considering going to his own personal edge and putting together an internet presence after a long period avoiding Facebook and other such sites.  HS wants to tap into a hobby, surfing, that gives him joy – and is also considering an act of service.  Two men are interested in completing musical projects.  JR will take steps towards starting a business he has always dreamed of.  JC is going to a traditional college to complement his less traditional training.  MW is moving towards a project around fatherhood.

Some key takeaways: this is about awakening a part of you, bringing the journey alive in your daily life, and answering a deep calling.  It is time for all of us to reflect, and as the next step, name your project!  I’m excited to see how we all move forward in the coming weeks.

The Ordinary Heroes Project – Meeting #1

Yesterday was the first online meeting for the Ordinary Heroes Project, a pilot program from Hero’s Journey Foundation where 30 men will spend the next 3.5 months working collectively to bring their individual projects into reality.

I am thrilled to have been honored with an invitation to this pilot program.  The first meeting was marked by a real sense of community and coming together – we all took a brief moment to say hello to the group via video feed – and what a group it is!  Hailing from three continents, five decades, and a diverse array of experiences, it was incredible how quickly the sense of community began to develop – even amongst those who may not have known each other before.

The image and feeling that has stuck with me is the lightness of the burden as it is lifted by others from your shoulders.  I know many of us have begun to resonate with the idea that “Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone”.  As a father of three working to build a family, that feeling is constantly in the background, and just bringing awareness to the possibility of being lifted with the community stirred me deeply.  I am excited for what awaits.

The concept of the “tavern” was prominent throughout, and gave cause for wonderful and bonding imagery (that of all of us together in a private tavern enjoying each other’s company), and a few hilarious laughs (like when Michael passed the “bill” for drinks through his video frame towards Nathan’s).

I don’t know what is to come, but I am ready.  It’s a bit like being on the high ropes and falling off, knowing that it will all turn out okay – let’s trust ourselves gentlemen as we leap together…