Month: April 2016

Some Thoughts on Sin Taxes

Since tax day just passed, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tax codes and why they’re written the way the are. Sexy topic, I know, but as a small business owner and all-around decent citizen, taxes are both painful and necessary. Any time a new tax idea is introduced, I’m interested, because it affects me.

I’m not going to address the politics behind tax policy. We all know that if a politician proposes a tax on, say, new cars, then the automobile industry will lobby hard to block that tax. Politicians are paid off, corporations make deals and donations, etc. But that’s all (sadly) behind the scenes.

The part that is front and center is when a politician proposes a new tax so that those tax monies can be used for a new and important social program. And to make this tax more appealing to voters, said politician decides to target “sin” products, those things that are bad for us but make us feel oh so good, like alcohol, cigarettes, soda, or fast food. I mean, we don’t want people being unhealthy, do we? So hey, let’s add a dollar to every purchase of a soda, and that dollar can pay for universal preschool! Win, win!

But let’s think this through:

1. The goal of the tax is to pay for a program that low- and middle-income families cannot afford on their own. (Because, of course, high income people can pay for their own preschool, and won’t qualify for the program.)

2. Who are the major buyers of “sin” products? Multiple studies say it is low-income people.

3. If #2 is true, then…low-income people will actually be paying for their own program!

Defies logic, doesn’t it?

Another point:

1. A “sin” tax has the added benefit of encouraging people to be healthier. The higher price should be a deterrent to purchasing those taxed products.

2. Studies demonstrate that this is the case, at a certain price point. Let’s assume the tax has pushed the price high enough.

3. So what do people do when they can no longer afford their sin of choice? They look for an alternative. If they cannot afford a soda but want a sugar boost, they turn to a Snickers bar. If they can’t afford the Cafe Mocha, they will buy a black cup of coffee and dump three packets of sugar in it. Or a black market will develop for the sin item. You’re not actually saving anyone’s health with this approach.

4. But it has been demonstrated that people will turn to healthier alternatives if they’re available and the right price. Taking up vaping in favor of smoking is one such example. But this switch was due to the free market, where an entrepreneur brought vaping to the market and showed it to be a viable (and healthier) alternative to smoking. If vaping hadn’t been available (studies show), those people would most likely still be smoking cigarettes.

And another.

1. If you want to pay for a program that helps those will lower incomes, you need those with higher incomes to pay for it.

2. Again…sin products are disproportionately used by lower income people. Taxing these products will hit these people the hardest. These taxes are regressive, meaning they are the same for everyone, no matter their income, so that means they are “higher” for low income people, because they count for a greater percentage of their income. If you make $1 and I make $10, and we both pay $1 in tax on our soda, you’re paying 100% of your income, and I’m only paying 10% of mine.

3. If the goal is to get high-income people to pay for these programs, it makes more sense to target luxury products for these taxes.

And let’s not forget the inherent dictator-ness of these taxes. You’re telling me what to eat and what to drink and what to smoke. I’m in charge of my own health, thanks.

Kobe Bryant Reminds Me Why I Love Sports

I grew up in a sports-fanatic home, but I’ve gotten away from watching professional games. Cheating is rampant, money is over the top, too many of the athletes are criminals.

But I stumbled on Kobe Bryant’s last game with the Lakers tonight, and I’m glad I did.

There’s something about watching an athlete perform that prompts a visceral reaction. The grace, the concentration, the strength, the coordination…it can bring me to tears.

And Kobe did it right. Not only did he rise to the occasion in an incredibly pressure-filled situation…but he smiled while he did it. He laughed. His pure joy for the game shined in his performance. His final game will go down in history.

He was a kid who revered the Lakers. All he ever wanted to do was play basketball. And he won the golden ticket, playing for twenty years for the team he loved.

What an example he is. Find what you love, and go at it hard. Dedicate yourself to being the best. Thanks, Kobe, for a wonderful career. What a way to go out.


Been to San Francisco lately? Don’t bother.

I physically felt ill writing the title to this blog post. San Francisco was one of my favorite places, and my husband and I have made many wonderful memories there. For his birthday a few years back, I even pulled a Pretty Woman and flew us up there one night just for dinner.

We just got back from a family vacation there. We’d never taken the kids, as we were waiting until all four were old enough to appreciate it. We were so looking forward to it!

Things started off well. We left Orange County before 5 AM, and we drove straight to Muir Woods. The weather was beautiful, the kids were in awe, everything was A-okay.

We drove to the battery above the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog has dissipated, and we got great pictures.

Then we drove to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, a visit to the USS Pampanito, and some play time at Musee Mecanique. We were thrilled to get a great parking spot at a parking meter close to these attractions, in a busy area. We couldn’t get into our hotel until 3 PM, and it was about 2:30 at this point.

Yes, our car was full of EVERYTHING we brought.

Call us stupid. We were. We’ve visited this city countless times, and we live near LA, and we know you’re not supposed to leave visible things in your car. I left my purse, hiding it under the seat and under a jacket, but I took out every credit card, my driver’s license, all my cash, and stuck them in my pocket. Nothing of consequence was in there.

We came back to the car around 5:30, and our passenger window had been smashed. My purse and our son’s phone were stolen.

At first, I was incredulous. This couldn’t have happened without a witness. People were constantly walking right by! And as my husband sat on the phone with our insurance company, and I sat on hold with the SFPD, every single passerby commented and expressed their sympathy. So why didn’t one of them call the police earlier?

It soon became clear.

A man walked by who lived nearby and pointed out a camera on the wall next to us. “Go in and talk to the security guard at Williams Sonoma,” he suggested. “I’m sure they caught the thief on tape.”

Then an employee of Williams Sonoma walked by. She said, “I’m so sorry. This is a known occurrence. At least two or three windows are smashed here every week.”

A known occurrence? The police know that windows are being smashed and they don’t at least put up a sign to warn you?

I was handling the police call, so naturally, I dialed 911 first. I told the operator it wasn’t a direct emergency – the theft had already occurred – but we needed to file a report. She said the police don’t come out for property theft, and she directed me to call 311, the SF help line.


The help line operator, Tony, told me the same thing. The police don’t come out. You have to file your report online, but only if less than $1000 worth of stuff was stolen. If more was stolen, I had to go to the police department and file a report in person. He directed me to the police department in the Tenderloin. If you know anything about San Francisco, you know that this is the one area you DON’t want to go to. I told him as much, asked for a different station location, and he hesitated. “I can’t really comment on the area,” he said. “But if you’re with your husband, you should be okay. It would be ironic if your car was vandalized outside the police department.”


Meanwhile, our 18yo and our 15yo went into Williams Sonoma to inquire about the video. The guard was very helpful, and they found the footage of two young black men breaking into our car and stealing our stuff. We couldn’t get a copy of the video (it requires a request in writing to the security company and paying a fee for the CD of the footage), but he was nice enough to let our son videotape the footage on his phone. The video is grainy (you can see it on my Facebook page), but you can see the two men, you can see them pull up in what looks like a new car, one drives and the other smashes and grabs.

So I call 311 back and tell them I have the video. The operator (I got the same Tony again by luck) was stunned. He said in all his time working there he’d never had someone call with suspect info. He said that there’s really nothing they can do, even with the video. He said to go the Tenderloin PD, but since the theft was under $1K…don’t expect much.

We went straight to our hotel after this. We drove past curb after curb littered with broken glass. I don’t think we would have noticed it had our car not suffered the same fate.

The kids were nervous and scared. We don’t even lock our doors at home! Now I know that crime can and does happen anywhere, but this was a different level. These smash and grabs are happening on a regular basis and the city does not care.

My husband spent a couple of hours trying to find a place to replace our window. He finally found one that could do it the next morning, but they cautioned us that it’s a 2-hour procedure, and it’s first come, first serve. We debated – he could drop the rest of us off somewhere and then meet us when the window was finished, or we could all go together. The kids wanted to stick together. I felt bad for them – our first night in SF was ruined, then our morning would be ruined, as well. But it was what it was.

We got a later start than we wanted. My husband was still dealing with our insurance company (USAA – they are wonderful). So it was 10:00 by the time we got to the auto glass place, in a not-so-nice area. The place was full – there were ten cars ahead of us. The guy there was very nice and understanding. He said he does about 30 of these windows a day. According to him, three years ago, SF decided not to prosecute these car break-ins. If the thief is caught – even in the act! – they will only give him a ticket, and that’s only if he has ID on him! So a thief just has to leave his wallet at home, and he knows he’s in the clear.

So…we had to wait. Fine. The kids were hungry, and there was a Burger King down the street. We were kind of under the freeway, and you could see several homeless encampments set up along the fence. Homeless people roamed the streets. Now, this is nothing new for SF, but I have to say, the level of decay is something I’ve never seen there before. The streets were filthy. We had to step over piles of human excrement. The smells were so bad that our kids were breathing into their sleeves. We finally got into the Burger King and breathed a sigh of relief. Sort of.

There were two homeless people inside, just sitting. Fine. We ordered and sat down to eat, my husband and I ate one table and the kids at another next to us. One of the homeless men eyed our food then dug into the trash can near us. He pulled out some half-eaten food and sat down. Our kids were wide-eyed, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for them to see this. It’s heartbreaking.

Our 11yo had a bacon cheeseburger, and he pulled off the bacon to eat separately. The other homeless guy approached the table, grabbed his bacon, and walked out the door. Everyone in the restaurant (maybe 15 people) watched, craned their heads…but no one said anything. I mean, what can you say? What do you do? Obviously, the guy needed the food.

But that’s not the point. The point is that being “friendly” to homeless people by letting them squat wherever they want is NOT a service to anyone. Is it really dignifying to let them scrounge in the trash? To have them peeing in the streets?

Which is why you now see port-a-potties all over the city. I guess I’d rather have the port-a-potty in front of my house than a river of urine, but are those the only options?

We finally got our car back, and we started our vacation anew. It was tough. Broken glass is everywhere. The homeless are everywhere. The filth is everywhere. And this makes me so sad. I LOVE this city. But after this experience, I won’t go back.

After talking to a lot of locals and doing research, property theft is up 40% in the last three years since the city got soft on crime. And that statistic is only as good as the number of thefts reported. We didn’t end up making a report (our insurance company said SF theft is high, and did not require us to file a report). Many locals don’t bother reporting the crimes. They’ve had their windows smashed multiple times, and some have resorted to rolling down their windows, leaving the glove box open, and putting a sign in their window that says, “Nothing to steal! Please don’t smash my window!”

So why is the city doing this? The consensus from locals seems to be that 1) the city doesn’t want cars – they want everyone to walk – so they don’t care what happens to the cars, and 2) they believe that crime is born out of desperation, so the thief must need the goods more than you do.

How fucking insulting to poor people.

And I have video of my thieves. They were not poor, I assure you.

The locals need to wake up and take their city back. Vote these ridiculous politicians out of office. Maybe the locals don’t want tourists, and they’re fine with driving tourists away, but I’d hate to see the economy if tourism died. That’s a short-sighted view.

Again, this is bigger than one little smash and grab to some clueless tourists. Yes, we were stupid. But had we known how prevalent this crime has become, we would have done things differently. We have visited this city twenty times, and we’ve never seen things this bad.

And that brings me to my final point: why aren’t people talking about this? Locals know all about it. Why aren’t you screaming at the top of your lungs that your city has gone down the tubes? Why do you let crimes go? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Thank you, SF. You just took away my children’s innocence. And you’ve ruined a beautiful place. I feel sorry for you.

Dennis Prager’s Discussion of Secular Conservatives

Here’s the article:

Let me start by saying that I am a secular conservative. I am not religious, and I have no idea if God exists or not. My label as a “conservative” stems from my belief in small government and fiscal responsibility.

So I have no religious axe to grind. But I admit, I find the subject of religion fascinating. People are willing to die for their faith! People make profound life choices based on FAITH. Billions of people!

Dennis Prager is brilliant, though controversial, and he always leaves me with something to think about whether I agree with him or not. This article of his, in particular, brings up an important discussion. I think everyone should read it.

First, I am often maligned as a conservative female. Those on the left cannot understand how a woman can be a conservative. Apparently I have aligned myself with old white men who want me barefoot and pregnant, and if I do dare to get a job, those same men will pat me on the ass as I walk by them in the hallway and will tell me they take their coffee black, one sugar.

Come on. My thinking is this: I vote based on my belief in small government and fiscal responsibility. Social issues have no place in government (I don’t want the government telling anyone what to do beyond the basic “do no harm”).

That doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions about the social issues. I do. And they’re on the liberal side. So I have a problem: no party fits me. I want abortion to be legal, gay marriage to to be legal, a strong national defense, and low taxes. I am left to vote for politicians who will support my fiscal policy concerns, and then to vote individually for acts or propositions that support the social issues I believe in.

I don’t think I’m alone.

And that brings me back to Prager’s article. I love the idea of secular conservatism. But Prager suggests this is not a good thing for society.

I automatically bristle at that. Must I be religious to be moral? Must a people be religious to form a moral society?

Liberals bristle at this, too. The left tends to be secular, yet of course the majority of people on both sides have a sense of morality. But the question under debate is, if morality is not defined by a higher power of some kind, then it may be defined arbitrarily. Subjectively. Anything can be moral.

Religious people believe God defines morality. They have an absolute set of standards to behave by. Secular people have two choices: look within for a code of morality (which is subjective), or look to the government.

The left looks to the government. Sugar hurts people, so we need a law that you can’t buy a soda bigger than 16 ounces! Smoking is evil so we need to outlaw it in public!

But here’s just one example of how that thinking goes wrong: the left wants to ban cigarette smoking and legalize marijuana smoking. We could debate the nuances all day, but the point is that there’s no real logic to this. It’s entirely subjective.

Or how about this: the left wants equality between the sexes, they tout feminism, and then…they vote for Hillary Clinton. She stayed with a man who not only cheated on her, but treated women like dirt. She maligned and sought to destroy the women that Bill had affairs with. I’m not blaming her for her husband’s actions, but I still wouldn’t hold her up as the poster child for feminism. But since she’s a “woman,” I guess her behavior is okay. We need a woman in the White House!

And this: Christians can’t even put a Christmas tree up in the town square, but Muslims should be allowed to wear the hijab everywhere. What happened to religious freedom for all?

You could say the same about the right. If the right believes in the sanctity of life, how do they reconcile a pro-life position with a pro-death penalty position? There are nuances here, too, but you get the idea.

The religious right would be able to point to their religion as the reason for their stance. The rest of us are relying on 1) innate reasoning, 2) science, 3) ???.

I don’t have the answer. I’m not saying one way is better than the other. But it’s interesting to think about.

And Dennis Prager takes it a step further. He asserts that godlessness has led to disaster in the West. He writes, “And why do secular conservatives think so many affluent and well-educated Americans have adopted left-wing dogmas, such as feminism, socialism, environmentalism and egalitarianism as their religions? Because people want to — have to — believe in something. And if it’s not God and Christianity or Judaism, it’s going to be some form of Leftism.”

I think this is true. And I think adopting any “ism” as your “religion” is problematic. But I don’t think it has to be this way. Just because I’m not looking to God does not mean I will become an evangelical socialist.

But this isn’t about me. Or you. It’s about society at large, about human nature. Without religion, is society doomed? Are we better off if the majority of people in America are religious?

The problem is some of the religious dogma that tends to be hateful, like the anti-gay marriage stance. Or the pro-life movement that puts a lot of young women at risk. Secular people cannot get past these issues.

So for now, I’m okay with secular conservatism. I wish there was more of it. Bring on the party that believes in:

1. Marriage equality.

2. Legal abortion before the fetus can live on its own outside the womb.

3. Strong national defense ’cause they are some crazies out there.

4. The right of the populace to arm themselves (because government is a threat to the people – see history).

5. A strong welfare system that helps those in need and encourages them to get back on their feet.

6. Helping the mentally ill.

7. Local control of education.

8. Freedom of religion.

9. Getting money out of politics.

10. Supporting the entrepreneur and the small business, and checking big business.

Oh party, where are you?