Q1 – Death and Taxes: When a successful business or corporation shows an interest in relocating to a new city, town or municipality, if the business in question employs a fair amount of people or generates a significant amount of business or prestige for the local area, city officials will often woo or entice the company by offering significant tax breaks. Similarly, when a successful company indicates that it may move its headquarters or manufacturing facilities to another locale, officials offer the same–tax abatements (a reduction of taxes or an exemption from taxes granted by a local government on a piece of real property for a specified length of time). They say there are two things in life that are certain: Death and Taxes. Do you think businesses should be granted tax breaks by local governments or should they have to pay their property taxes just like everyone else?
A1 – In a perfect world, such incentives would be unnecessary. This is not, however, a perfect world and small towns that depend upon a particular business to keep a large number or, in some cases, even a majority of their citizens employed may find such measures advisable for the greater good of the community. It is nauseating to hard-working taxpayers who enjoy no such benefits, but the flip side of that argument might be that hard-working taxpayers would not have a job with which to pay taxes were it not for such a program. The other issue is the precedent set by such a program: Once a business enjoys such perks in one community, there becomes an expectation that similar incentives will be enjoyed in all communities and that factor begins driving business decisions.
Q2 – Politics and Religion: After speaking to an evangelical church last Sunday in a traditionally conservative South Carolina town, U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama said that Republicans no longer have a firm grip on religion in political discourse. “I think its important particularly for those of us in the Democratic Party to not cede values and faith to any one party,” Obama told reporters outside the Redemption World Outreach Center where he attended church services. As everyone knows, separation of church and state is a political and legal doctrine that basically states that government and religious institutions are to be kept separate and independent of one another. Some would say that the two principles–secularity of government and freedom of religious exercise–are what make the United States the greatest place to live on Earth, while others would argue that secularity is our greatest downfall. What do you think? Should religion play a part in which candidate we elect as the next President of the United States?
A2 – My belief is that the Founding Fathers designed our system of democracy so that religion would not play a role in the Presidential election. Unfortunately, that simply is not how it has worked out. Recall the hoopla surrounding President Kennedy’s Catholicism, for instance? Now we have the controversy that follows Mitt Romney. Even though I am a Christian, I am dismayed when I hear political figures talking about their religious beliefs, even though I know that it is impossible to completely compartmentalize your life. In other words, my spirituality informs everything I do to some extent, although I scrupulously strive to separate my personal beliefs from my professional pursuits. I have written openly about the intersection of my beliefs and business with respect to the biggest case I ever handled, but I did not do so openly until the final ruling was handed down, I knew there would be no further appeals, and the matter was officially ended, making me free to reveal some of the “behind the scenes” details, as long with my personal experiences and feelings. That was a highly unusual situation, however, that could never be duplicated.
Q3 – Home Ownership: Foreclosure filings across the United States nearly doubled last month (compared with those from September of 2006), as financially strapped homeowners already behind on mortgage payments defaulted on their loans or came closer to losing their homes to foreclosure. Without naming names, do you know anyone impacted by or who is facing foreclosure?
This time around I am not acquainted with anyone personally impacted by a foreclosure, but know plenty of people who have tried, with varying degrees of success, to sell their homes. And I have a friend who lost her job with a major mortgage lender a few months ago — she was part of a massive lay-off.
By “this time around,” I refer to this latest housing market downturn. I knew folks who were hurt badly the last time California’s housing market “adjusted,” but I think my removal from the situation this time is due to the fact that I am older, i.e., not in the first-time buyer age range and, from what I’ve heard, that is the group hit the hardest.
Ironically, I live just a few miles away from Stockton, recently given the dubious honoring of having the highest foreclosure rate in the nation.
Sadly, we all saw this “bust” coming . . . I have been hearing stories about “creative financing” for several years that have left me scratching my head, saying, “What are they thinking?” (Recall that I hold a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting!) Not to mention the prices being paid for homes in this part of the country. We all knew it couldn’t last. I used to joke that if you owned a home in California for more than five minutes, you amassed equity and could sell for a profit! Developers could keep up with posting ever-higher prices on their billboards. Now they are covered with “price reduced” in ever-larger fonts.
I am fortunate that I own my home, have no intention of ever moving or selling, and don’t really care about the market value of my house. Since I’m here for the long-haul, I can ride out market fluctuations. My kids can worry about all of that when I’m dead. People think I’m joking when I tell them that I grew up in this house and plan to die in it, after which my kids can haul off my carcass and decide what to do with it. But I’m really not joking. That is my plan.
Q4 – X-Ray Vision: Earlier this week, at an airport in Phoenix, Arizona, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a pilot program to test a new airline passenger screening system capable of spotting threats hidden underneath clothing. For now, passengers selected for “secondary screening” can opt to forgo a typical pat-down and instead walk through a device that allows security screeners to view the person without their clothing getting in the way. (In other words, whoever is watching the security scanner gets to see you in the buff.) The TSA insists the machines cannot store images, but some privacy watchdogs are not buying it. Moreover, the TSA says that the people watching the scanner sit in a remote location and are not able to tell the actual identities of the thousands of bodies they’ll be looking at all day. How do you feel about this? If this screening process became a mandatory condition of boarding an airplane or entering a building, would your protest the process by simply refusing, or, is this just another reasonable measure to protect everyone from those who wish to cause us the greatest amount of harm?
I’ll take the pat-down, thanks. It will be conducted using basic law enforcement techniques right there in the security line with many other persons watching. Under no circumstances would I submit to that type of invasive x-ray procedure. I don’t think they have any hope of getting that technique universally implemented while there are still lawyers practicing in this country who under Constitutional principles.