Monday, January 27, 2014

Planning for Death?

Sounds morbid, doesn’t it.  But it’s wise.  And actually, can be quite healing for the family.

Are you an aging parent in that grandparent/great-grandparent stage of life?  Do you have aging parents?  If so, are you talking about, and planning for the final departure, that inevitable last goodbye?  If not, why not?  Did you know that refusing to talk about one’s inevitable departure upon this earth is not only unwise it can also be quite hurtful to your family?  Hurtful, how so and to whom?

The loved ones you leave behind will be faced with having to make major decisions upon your death, perhaps with little or no time to appropriately process and think about their consequences—if, that is, you have not adequately discussed these things prior to your final departure.

Upon your death, wouldn’t you rather have your family spend precious time together fondly reminiscing and reconnecting, and enjoying each other’s comforting solace, rather than hurrying and scurrying, and worrying about the business aspect of death—what to do with the body, looking for legal documents, wondering about money and expense, and so-on and so-forth?

Your local funeral director can provide a list of information that you need to consider.  You’d be surprised at all the little/major things that a family must think about and decide upon, once a person is pronounced dead.  Depending on the age and cause of death, there are questions of organ donation, burial or cremation, a memorial service versus a funeral service, open or closed casket, how many death certificates to order and why, etc.  It is much, much better if these questions are more or less answered before one’s demise.

Death and dying is a reality of life.  One should neither hide this fact from one’s children nor from one’s self.  Speak both casually about it as well as plan a special family time to discuss important issues and questions about your will, preferences, and desires regarding what is to happen to you or a loved one upon death.

It is not being morose.  It is not being negative.  It is not being rude and inconsiderate of a loved one’s life.  In fact, it is the opposite.  It can perhaps be one of the most considerate and respectful things one can do with someone whose life is on the decline.  Talking openly, respectfully and realistically about one’s impending death can be freeing, releasing, and healing on many levels—relationally, emotionally, and spiritually to name a few.  Individuals who avoid and resist facing the inevitability of the death of a loved one often have the most difficult time with it, both during the dying process as well as afterwards.  Family members need to talk openly about it, in order to adequately deal with it.

Do yourself and your family a favor.  Talk about your final departure, your last goodbye, express what it means to you, including how you want your family to handle your remains.  It’s good, it’s wise, and can be very redemptive and healing for everyone involved as well.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ban SNIPES Now! Drop Those Irritating TV Ad Streamers

Okay, this may sound petty, but I’m fed-up.  It’s those dag-nabbed Snipes.  Know what I’m talking about?  Those highly infuriating in-your-face TV ads that stream across the bottom of your screen, advertising another movie or program, distracting from and even blocking parts of scenes from the movie or program you are presently watching.

Yes, people have been complaining to the network stations about this.  No, thus far, station networks are simply ignoring the complaints and continue to interrupt and invade our program watching with intrusive animated ads, blocking subtitles for example and other parts of movie and program scenes, while doing so.  On top of that, they even superimpose large TV station logos that are set at the corner of the screen, all the way through a program or movie.  It’s quite put-offing!

I say that we viewer/consumers don’t have to take it.  After all, they do it because they think they have the power (might makes right) to do it.  We, the average viewer, are too passive and think we can’t do anything about it.

We could unite and say enough is enough!  Perhaps we should threaten them with a “We refuse-to-watch” day (or week, or month even).  Whatever it takes to get their attention and show them that we mean business.  They need to get the message: Quit interrupting our programs with your Snipes, Streamers, and Logos.  Do your advertising during the commercial-break, not plopped right over the ongoing show or movie itself.

How hard can it be to get a movement going?  Use your Facebook and Twitter connections.  Call it what you will: “Quit Sniping” day or “We Refuse to Watch Snipes” day, or whatever.  We can commit ourselves to collectively turn off the TV in unison and show the networks that we mean business.  What’s our message?  NO more SNIPES!  We will no longer tolerate the rude interruption of our favorite programs and movies by these annoying graphic animated ads scrolling across our TV screens.

Remember, their business depends on our viewing habits.  If they lose viewers, they’re out of business.  If we mean what we say, they’ll have to listen.  After all, they do depend on us being faithful viewers.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What does W. Virginia’s Chemical Spill Teach Us?

So-called Tree Hugging Environmentalists are often bashed and ridiculed for their determined effort to save endangered animals and plants, what is often viewed as insignificant though exotic flora and fauna.  Yet, over and over again we witness ecological disasters that are directly linked to humans.

To put it mildly, I’d say that, collectively speaking, we humans are proud, arrogant, and overly self-confident to the point of being ecologically and environmentally abusive in the use of our science and technology.

Fracking companies, energy and oil companies, chemical companies, and their allies, who include business investors and their political lackeys, tirelessly take the offensive in assuring the populace that there is little or no threat to the environment in their daily operations—especially if they are merely storing dangerous chemicals.  Their message is simple: “Not to worry!  Our plants are well-built.  We have plenty of redundant safety measures in place, dependable machinery, a well-trained and trustworthy workforce, and a highly efficient emergency procedural protocol that we follow, to ensure public safety and environmental protection.”

Yet, always, somewhere, sometime, somehow, something bad happens.  Either there are structural flaws, or machinery break downs, or safety-measures are ignored, or it is a simple case of human error—good intentions coupled with miscalculations or misjudgment, misinformation, or plain ole ignorance and stupidity.  This is NOT a perfect world and there are no perfect humans.  Mistakes WILL be made!

So what have we learned?  What should we learn from such accidents and disasters?  I’d say the following is a good start.

First we learn (or are reminded of the fact) that there are no guarantees.  There never will be and never can be a 100% guarantee that nothing will go wrong.

Secondly, we can never be too careful when it comes to taking appropriate steps to assure that we are protecting and preserving irreplaceable and invaluable precious resources, such as basic clean drinking water.  (Note for example: We must have available clean drinking water to survive!  Period!!  There is no exception to this basic human need.)  Thus, it is better to error on the side of caution.  Therefore, tough regulatory oversight serves the populace best, as opposed to weak and mild or impotent oversight that does little to actually assure that companies are in compliance with expected safety measures.

Thirdly, we must be willing to pay for the extra precaution.  Higher standards of safety and protection may cost a little more.  So be it.  It is worth the cost in the long run.  A little more caution and expense up-front far outweighs the cost of cleaning-up or recovering from an ecological and environmental disaster.  We have to raise the value of environmental health and stability as being more important and economically beneficial to us than our mere exploitation of it.

It’s not that we should shut down these companies, for our present lifestyle depends on their production outcomes.  However, these companies should not be seen as the sole heir and proprietary beneficiaries of our precious natural resources.  They, us, we, all-of-us, need to be held more accountable for how we are using and exploiting our natural resources.

Lastly, perhaps it’s time we begin to mold or shape a different kind of environmental economy.  The earth is OURS collectively, not them and theirs singularly.  Gone should be the days when big company executives have the power and right to claim this and that natural resource for the taking, just because they have the money and power to do so.  What the executives of these powerful companies may not realize is that they live here on this orbital island called earth, same as everyone else (unless, with the use of their powerful finances, they find a way to escape earth itself, to go off and live in a better place, which is highly unlikely), that being the case, they need to become better neighbors to their fellow human beings all the way around.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Same Tax Advisor has Two Very Different Messages…

Our church recently hired an outside payroll service.  Our very capable volunteer treasurer was doing it all, budget, bookkeeping, payroll, etc.  We needed to lighten her load a bit.  But that’s not my point.  That’s just the backdrop.

Our new payroll service rep is a professional.  He knows and understands all the intricacies of payroll responsibilities, including income tax laws, rules, and regulations.

So, as he was reviewing my salary package—income, benefit compensation, tax deductions, mileage and expense reimbursement forms, etcetera, I was struck by the tone and accent of his line of questioning and the apparent attitude he seemed to take-on as he addressed each item with me.

Of course how one hears and receives another person’s tone and/or attitude in a conversation is subjective and interpretive.  Nevertheless, finding myself becoming more intense in tone, almost defensive, I decided to address why I was becoming somewhat irritable about the conversation.

In effect, this is what I said to him:
You know what irks me and why I have some intensity in my voice as I respond to some of your line of questioning?  It’s this: If I were a very wealthy client, you would have a whole different set of questions for me.  Instead of making sure that I am properly paying every last tax I owe (which I am), you would be informing me about ways I might be able to avoid paying taxes on my wealth.  You would be telling me about special tax loopholes, various and assorted ways I might escape paying taxes altogether.  But, instead, since I am a little guy with an average size paycheck, you are here to tell me in no uncertain terms how I must show every bit of income I receive and must defend every possible deduction I might dare take, so as to ensure that ‘I do the right thing’ in paying Uncle Sam what I owe.
And, do you know what his response was?  He said that I was right!

He went on to tell me how the very rich don’t pay “income” taxes in the same we do, because they don’t receive a common paycheck.  They earn their money through investments and that money is taxed differently.  It’s called “Qualified Dividends.”  In short, whereas the average American paycheck may be reduced by about 25% because of taxes, the wealthy person’s dividend investment earnings are taxed about 15% (qualified dividends).  That is a whopping 10% difference!  The average American worker’s income may be taxed about 10% higher than what wealthy Americans pay on their investment income tax--and THAT is what the Republicans are defending when they loudly protest saying, “Don’t raise taxes!”

Back to my discussion with our newly hired payroll tax advisor: until the moment when I directly addressed the dynamic of our conversation, I felt as if his tone was one of an adult to a child, in effect, the adult wagging his finger at the child, saying something like, “Now, Johnny, we must make sure that you are doing the right thing and paying all the necessary taxes that are expected of you.  We must be careful not to make any mistakes for it wouldn’t be right to cheat Uncle Sam of what is rightfully due him.”

Knowing that this very same tax expert would have been obsequiously bending over backwards for me, to show me multiple ways I could avoid paying more taxes than I had to, and informing me of every existing tax loophole I could possibly take advantage of, had I been a millionaire, his atttiude was grating on me.

This is what irks me about our present tax system.  It is unfair and imbalanced, favoring the wealthy.  The wealthy have little need for favorable treatment in tax breaks; yet, they are the first ones to receive the best tax-breaks and tax-loopholes, as compared to people like you and me, the average middle-class American.

Does this truth irk you as much as it does me?  Let’s see, this is 2014.  It’s an election year, isn’t it?