Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Beach and the Ocean (4/27/2001)

I'm under reasonably strict instructions to not discuss my wife in my blog, but I still thought I'd share this poem I wrote for her a few years ago.  I hope you enjoy it.  I still feel the same today as I did then.


The Beach and the Ocean
Mike DeCamp


Through the rise and fall

Of the tides of my life,

You are the beach,

Catching my strife.



When the tide comes in

And my spirit does fly,

You are beneath me,

Holding me high.



When the tide ebbs away

And my heart is slack,

You are my horizon,

Calling me back.



As the waves crash in

And then slip away,

You remain constant,

There every day.



As the beach and the ocean

Are always together,

Our love remains true,

Regardless the weather.



Through the rise and fall

Of the tides of my life,

I thank God forever

That you are my wife.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Taxes: Thoughts on "The Shakedown"

In my previous posting, I wrote an allegorical piece of fiction that I suppose was not all that subtle with regards to the subject of taxation in the United States. As a follow up, I thought maybe I’d just come right out and tell you what I think about it.

First, I’m not so radical so as to say that we need to completely do away with any and all taxes. I, after all, do quite enjoy driving on paved roads. I like having policemen around to take care of people bent on doing wrong things, and firemen around to put out fires. It is fantastic to have safe schools staffed with well-trained and devoted teachers. It is wonderful to live in a place in the world where we have unparalleled security provided by the best military available. My issue really isn’t with the idea of the government pulling funds from the citizens in order to pay for services that are provided to all. My issue is really that there seems to be no end to the insatiable hunger for more that has gripped our governments; both national and local.

Most taxpayers lament the big two: Federal Income Taxes, and State Income Taxes. However, have you ever taken the time to consider just how many different taxes you actually pay on a regular basis? Let me list just the ones I can think of right now off of the top of my head:

Federal Income Taxes
Social Security Taxes
State Income Taxes
Local Income Taxes
State Sales Taxes
Excise Taxes
Property Taxes (A tax that pulls from you a percentage of the value of your property every year whether it has provided you any income or not.)
Gasoline Taxes
Cigarette Taxes (Being a non-smoker that kind of hates the smoke, I don’t really mind this one all that much, but the principle is still the issue.)
Inheritance Taxes
Capital Gains Taxes
Corporate Taxes
Special taxes on: Hotel Rooms, Restaurants, Rental Cars, and Airline Tickets
Road Tolls
Speeding Tickets, Parking Tickets, etc (I heard someone say recently that a tax is a fine on legal activities and a fine is a tax on illegal ones.)
Parking Meters
Entrance Fees to State and National Parks
The list goes on….
I’m sure that I’ve missed some. Maybe you can add to my list.

Plus, have you ever considered the taxes hidden in things like your cell phone bill, your electric bill, your gas utility bill, etc? I discovered a couple of weeks ago that I pay over $100 per year in taxes just so my family can have cell phones!

I will also say that our tax system as it is currently designed is patently unfair. The Federal Income Tax rates range from zero to 35% depending on your income range. That concept is unfair at its core. Now, our national leaders in the Democratic Party wish to increase the top range from 35% to 40%! Let’s put that in real terms. For every ten dollars that one in the top bracket would earn, they would have to give four of them to the government….and then, also pay the full list of taxes that I’ve noted above. It is easy to see that someone in that tax bracket could easily pay well over 50% of their income in taxes once it is all said and done. How is that right? So what if they have a larger income, it still doesn’t make it RIGHT to simply take THEIR money because they have more of it!

Let me just say, I am not in that tax bracket. Even so, I still don’t think it is fair. I think it is legal robbery. And, those of us in the lower brackets are accessories to the theft if we don’t stand up and say “no more” to those who would continue to propagate the crime. If you saw burglars backing a panel van up to your neighbor’s house, would you just let them steal at will because you know the neighbor can afford it? Or, would you call 911 and stop the theft? What kind of neighbor are you?

We can do what we need to do as a country with a reasonable and fair tax system. We can take care of the truly poor. We can provide for the national defense. We can provide the police, fire, and educational resources. We can. But, we must overhaul the system, cut the excesses, and create a genuinely fair method of taxation.

We need to think outside the current system…outside the box. We need to create a nationally represented body of independent representatives that can recreate our system without being unduly influenced by special interests and political ties; a special panel represented by every corner of the nation. Who cares if they are Republican or Democrat? This body could act without thought to personal gain or prestige; they could instead act in a way that is in the best interests of the country.

Oh, wait! We already have a body that is supposed to be like that! It’s called congress!

In 1773, there was a protest held in Boston, Massachusetts called the “Boston Tea Party” that was brought on because the taxation system from England had become unfair. The cry at the time was “No taxation without representation!” Now, we have an unfair system of taxation within a system of representation.

Folks, we have a good system. It is time to change the representation.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Shakedown

There once was a poor man who lived in a tiny rented shack nestled up next to a railroad trestle that crossed a wide flowing river in the prosperous community of Freedom, Indiana. He didn’t have much, save the hope of building a future for himself and his family. Just beside his home he added on a small shop where he fixed shoes, and pulled just enough money to feed his kids and sometimes put a little aside to save for a bigger shop. His family couldn’t even afford a decent car to run errands with, so they rode the city bus everywhere they went. It was tough getting by, but he scrimped and saved, and worked hard to build a future.

Next door to the poor man there was a moderately sized general store. This store was owned and operated by a friendly fellow and his wife. Sometimes, when his children were home from school, they would also stock the shelves and help customers carry out their goods. The family lived in a comfortable apartment above the store, and parked their old but reliable car in the alley behind the place. The store was successful, but they still had to work hard and be frugal to keep things going. He was very thankful for the success of his business and had big plans for building it into an even greater success.

On the other side of the general store was large wooded lot with a gated driveway feeding back beyond the trees. What you could not see from the road was that the driveway led to a very large home that sat along the river. This elaborate stone home was occupied by a very wealthy man from the financial market and his family. This man had started out with very little, but had worked long days, a great many nights, and a lot of weekends to build his business into something that would provide not only for his current family, but also supply the needs of many employees, charitable organizations, and provide security for his future generations. In addition, the money he spent in the community had considerable impact on the jobs and lives of innumerable people who supplied services and products for the man, his family, and his business.

All three men knew each other and were friendly enough as neighbors. The wealthy man went to the shoe shop to get his shoes fixed and to buy new ones as needed. The poor shoe shop owner bought his supplies at the general store. The general store owner went the rich man to invest his profits so that he could plan for future development. All three men respected one another and encouraged each other in the success of their businesses because they knew that each one depended on the other in different ways.

However, a fourth man arrived on the scene one day. First, he stopped at the poor man’s shoe shop. He barged into the man’s shop, looked around with disdain, and walked with arrogance over to the man.

“You sure are a sorry lookin’ fella, aren’t you? I can see that you’re gonna need me to provide you with some protection. I tell ya what, you give me 35% of your take, and I’ll be here to make sure that no one messes with ya. What da ya say?”

The shoe repairman was frightened and worried for his family. He was barely making it as it was, so he could never afford to give the man what he was demanding. It would break him.

“Please, mister! I can’t do it! I barely make it as it is.”
So, the extortionist stepped up into his face. “Look, riff raff like you are a dime a dozen. I’ll step on you like an ant. You can pay up, or I’ll see that you’ll loose what little you have.”

Then, an idea struck the shoe man. “Well, you can squeeze what little blood I have in my turnip, or you can go somewhere else where you can find more serious money.”

“You got somebody in mind, do you?” asked the thief.

“Well, the shop owner next door has his own car and a nice apartment above his store. He can obviously afford to pay you more than I can.”

With that, the shake down man left the shoe shop and walked next door to repeat the process with the owner of the general store. When the man walked out of his shop, the poor shoe man thought nothing more about it and went back to his work.

At the general store, the discussion rolled along much as it had at the shoe shop.

“I can give you protection.”

“Protection from what?”

“Doesn’t matter what. I want 35% to protect you. Give it to me or you’ll pay a severe penalty.”

“But, I’ve only just begun to make this store really successful. You’re gonna squeeze me to death. I’d go under.”

“I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”

“How?”

“Don’t worry ‘bout that. Just hand over the cash.”

“Please. I can’t give you that much. At best, I could give you maybe 25%.”

“Not good enough! I need more!”

Suddenly, just like with the shoe man, the store owner had an idea. He thought maybe if he gave the man a new target, maybe he’d leave him alone.

“Well, did you see that driveway next door?”

“Yeah. So?”

“It leads to the home of a very rich man. Go over there. I’ll arrange to give you 25% if you leave me alone, but I bet you could get more from him.”

Once again, the mobster left the shop and walked next door, and the store owner went back to his business. It was going to slow down his success, but he’d make it work somehow. He gave no thought to the rich man, or the plight headed his way.

When the criminal knocked on the rich man’s door, he was very impressed with all that the man had built for himself. The driveway was paved. There was a red sportscar in the garage. The landscaping was immaculate. And the house! Well, the house was huge! He knew he had hit the jackpot!

The rich man opened the door and stared at the strange looking thug.

“Can I help you with something?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think so. I’m here to offer you my protection. In exchange for that, you’ll give me 35% of everything you make. You got that?”

“I’m not giving you 35% of my money! I worked my butt off for that money! That money supports my family and my business!”

“Look, fella. This isn’t really an option you have.” The man patted his colorful jacket just under his left shoulder to indicate that he had the firepower to back up his demand. “You’ll give me what I’m demanding, or you’ll wish you’d never been born.”

The richer man was in a corner. He had no where to turn, so he agreed to the demands. Each week, when his money was allotted, he would set aside the required sum and send it to his “protector.”

As time went by, the strain of the pay-offs took its toll. The rich man would ordinarily buy a new car every couple of years, but instead he just kept getting by with the one he had. His plans to expand his financial services company were put on hold, and he couldn’t pay the landscape company to work on his yard anymore. He even had to save money on his shoes, so he stopped going to the shoe man in the neighborhood, and started buying what he needed at the discount superstore across town. Ultimately, he had to lay off some employees and give others a pay cut to do more because of the burden he was suffering.

Next door, at the general store, things were not much better. He was paying off the protection money, but it didn’t leave very much with which to fund his expansion plans. His kids had to take out loans for their schooling because he could no longer afford to just pay for it. He was getting by. He wanted to add some staff, but that was out of the question.

Even the shoe man, who didn’t need to pay any of the extorted money, was suffering. Sure, his benefactor was true to his word. He sent him some business, but just enough to keep the lights on. However, his other business had slacked off tremendously. Even the rich man stopped coming by. Eventually, he became dependent on the support the mobster supplied.

One day, the rich man came up with an idea. Maybe if I get the guy who owns the store to stand with me, maybe we can run this guy off, he thought. So, he walked over to the store and proposed the idea.

“But, if I help you, he might come and want more from me!” the man countered.

“If we stand together, he’ll have to back off!” explained the formerly wealthy man.

“Well, okay,” he reluctantly agreed. “But, let’s ask the shoe man to help too.”

So the rich man and the store owner approached the shoe man.

“Help us stop this! He’s robbing us blind!” they begged.

The shoe man looked at them with disgust. “You guys have it all! You’re sending your kids to college!” he said to the store owner. “You live in a huge house and drive a fancy car!” he said to the financial planner. “Why should I help you? That guy you’re talkin’ about puts the food on my table!”

“But, he’s robbing us, and you’re suffering too.”

“Maybe if you started coming to my shop again, I wouldn’t be suffering so much. I’m not helping you. This man that you say is robbing you is feeding me. You can afford it! You’re rich!”

So, the two men left disappointed.

“At least you’re with me,” said the financial man as he put his hand on the storekeeper’s shoulder.

“Well, I’ve been rethinkin’ this,” he said as he pulled away from his neighbor’s touch. “If I help him back off of you, he might demand more from me.”

“But, if we stand together, we can stop him from taking advantage of any of us!” pleaded the man with the big house.

“I don’t think it’ll work,” said the man with the apartment. “You’re on your own. Besides, you can afford to pay more. You have more.”

Dejected, the two men parted company.

The store owner walked into his office, set aside the money for the “protection” and called in one his employees. He had to let another one go.

The financial guy walked back up to his house, entered his own office to prepare his pay-off, and then called the gym to cancel his membership. It was one of the latest of ways to save some money. He hoped he could avoid another layoff in his firm.

Over at the shoe shop, the cobbler kept fixing the shoes that the man sent him. He got no more. He got no less. He didn’t dare build his business up because ole Uncle Sam might come after him next, and he could not afford to pay out any protection money!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hide the Vinegar and Taste the Honey

The other day, I had to send an email to a fellow employee at work with whom I’d had a few…let’s say…”communication challenges,” and I copied a few necessary people, so that they could be in the loop on the particular project. I wasn’t mean. I didn’t throw out any sarcastic barbs. In the message, I was nice and I was polite. The interesting thing was that a few minutes later, one of the “copied” people who had been aware of the previous “communication challenges” dropped a note back to me about me being so nice about things. My answer to him? “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

It is an old saying, but one I think bears revisiting in many circles these days.

I don’t like to listen to Bill Maher, but it’s not because he is anti-religious, or because he is liberal on some subjects or radical on others. I don’t like to listen to him because he is mean-spirited toward those who view things differently from him. For the same reason, I don’t like to listen to Keith Olbermann. His political commentary strikes me as demeaning. On the other hand, I’m not fond of Rush Limbaugh and some of the conservative talkers for the same reason. I dislike disrespect whether it comes from liberals or conservatives; Republicans or Democrats.

But, what really gets under my skin are the folks who claim to be Christians, who are acting in the name of faith in Christ, but are hateful, disrespectful, and hurtful to those around them that might see or do things differently. There’s the preacher in Florida that is determined to burn the Koran to make a statement about Islam. There’s the little church in the Midwest that sends protesters to the funerals of fallen US Soldiers because of some convoluted reasoning derived from their stand against homosexuality. There’s the folks that blow up abortion clinics or shoot down the doctors that perform them. The list goes on.

These folks are missing the message of Christ. Our Lord did not call us to change our society by cramming our views down people’s throats. He didn’t call us to march in the streets, or form political action committees. We Christians aren’t here to shout down those who disagree with us, or burn the books of other religions. Acts 2:38 doesn’t say to repent, be baptized, and join the Republican Party for the forgiveness of your sins. And, especially, our faith never EVER calls us to kill in the name of God.

Okay, Mike, why are we here then? What are we supposed to be doing?

“Bless those who curse you.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Love your enemies.” “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.” Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

We are here to spread “good news” that we can have freedom from the shackles by which our own actions have bound us. We are here to give a cup of cold water to the thirsty or a warm coat to the chilled. We are here as ambassadors of Christ to facilitate the reconnection of a loving God to his beloved children.

Do people really think that a huge billboard that reads “Avoid Hell, Repent” is going to give that message? If Terry Jones burns the Koran, will that draw the multitudes to a renewed relationship with God? If we ban some books or boycott some TV program, is that going to change society?

What I am suggesting to you, my dear reader, is that Christians need to but the vinegar back in the pantry and pull out the honey instead. We need to display the sweetness of a relationship with our creator. We need to let the nectar overflow from our lives so that no one can miss the obvious fact that we have been truly changed by the love of God.

Would Jesus Christ burn the Koran? I don’t think so. But I know one thing that He would most definitely do; He would pick up a wounded Islamic Fundamentalist, carry him to the nearest inn, bind up his wounds, and pay for his care. What about you neighbor? Would you?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Penny's Pet Peeve

Penny has a pet peeve. In fact, she is completely ticked off about it. Her highly emotional character has been consumed with anger, and she is about to release it on anyone and anything that enters her path.

You know, we all have them, these pet peeves. It might simply be how someone squeezes the toothpaste tube in the middle, or how someone leaves the toilet seat in the upright position. It may be how your significant other leaves his or her clothes scattered on the floor instead of depositing them in the hamper.

Imagine yourself puttering up the highway. It doesn’t matter which one. It could be I-5 in California, or I-40 in Tennessee. For that matter, it could be the Autobahn in Germany. Anyway, you’re driving along, minding your own business, maybe even speeding a little—unless you’re on the Autobahn—when all at once a little red sportscar passes, then darts in front of your 1987 Chevy Cavalier, only to slow down. Doesn’t that make you a little peeved? Don’t you want to rip his tires off and wrap them around his spindly little neck?

Well, that’s just how Penny is feeling this fine morning. Donald left her all alone again. She hates to be left alone, and it’s driving her crazy with jealousy and envy. He gets to go out everyday and see the world, while she has to sit at home and look at the same four walls. She’s had it up to her neck with his lack of concern about what interests her. This time he will pay! She will sit right there in front of the door, and when he comes in…look out!

When he left this morning, he grabbed Penny by the cheeks, told her he loved her, and said they’d go for a walk and do some talking when he got home. Talk? Right. He does all the talking and she does all the listening. She has to just walk along like an obedient little girl, going where he wants to go, and doing what he wants to do.

Then he walked over and turned on the TV so she could watch it. That’s all she needed, soap operas and Jerry Springer all day long. He must feel compelled to control every aspect of her life. He tells her what to eat. He tells her where to sit. He doesn’t allow her any visitors. She’s had enough! It’s over today!

Sure, she’d tried to express how she was feeling before, but he just wouldn’t listen. Last week, when he’d left her alone, she’d gone into the bedroom and thrown all of his clean laundry all over the room and ripped the bedclothes off of the bed. She thought maybe that would get his attention off of his own little world long enough for him to realize that she has needs too. It didn’t work. When he came home, he was furious. He slapped her around and kicked her until she was a whimpering mess lying in the corner.

This time would be different. She’d had enough of this purgatory he called home. She would make him pay, then leave to find her own life, apart from Donald. So, she waited, watching the door, listening for the sound of his engine and his footsteps on the walk. It would be good; he’d be expecting her to run over and greet him with a kiss like always. He’d want her to shower him with attention, then slink away so he could watch the evening news. Well, not this time. This time she would surprise him.

Minutes turned into hours, and she was still sitting there watching and waiting when Donald pulled into the driveway. Penny’s pet peeve had turned into anger, then to fury, and her eyes were burning embers as he shut off the engine and stepped to the walk. The muscles in her neck tensed as he approached the door.

This was it! Life would be different from this day forward. No more long days all alone in this hot little house. No more taking orders from this pig of a man who cared so little for her feelings. Her opportunity had arisen and she was determined to take advantage of it.

She heard the key in the double-sided deadbolt lock, and she prepared herself for action. Every sense was heightened. She could feel every muscle, every nerve ending. The hair was standing on the back of her neck. Another second or two and he would pay!

The latch gave and the knob turned. She was crouched just behind wall separating the entry from the living room. Donald stepped inside, announced his return, and glanced around. “Penny, where are you?”

Penny emerged from behind the wall and leapt at him. She caught him off guard and wrapped her mouth around his throat, sinking her fangs deeply into his flesh. With one massive thrust, she pulled the life from her master and bounded out the door. Penny was free, as all dogs should be.

End

By Michael DeCamp (July 6, 2001)