Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs' Nearly-Inspiring Life

I became a Mac fan-boy in 1992, dab-smack in the middle of Steve Jobs' ten-year absence from the company he co-founded in 1976. The early 90s were awful years to be an Apple enthusiast. The company was foundering and the parade of buttoned-down CEOs seemed more interested in grabbing some Microsoft market share than making "insanely great" products. And then there was that whole "clone" escapade. But I hung in there, mostly because I couldn't figure out now to use MS-DOS or cope with it's GUI-like cousin, Windows.
No doubt Jobs learned a few hard lessons from his failed start-up of which presumably led to his founding of Pixar Studios. His return to Apple in 1996, which resulted in the most amazing string of can-you-top-this successes in business history (and I'm not even counting Pixar) was a delight to watch. Kind of a tech-biz equivalent of following Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods through their peak years.

But I had seen enough of his interviews, read enough articles and books about him over the years to know that the man behind the iPhone was all-too-human. (Interesting that besides their Stanford connection, both Jobs and Tiger Woods practiced Buddhism.) And of course, the Steve-quote that's getting so much play right now is from Jobs' 2005 commencement speech at Stanford: "Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there." As far as it goes, that statement is surely true. However, if you watch or read his entire address, you'll get the clear sense that Jobs had no vision beyond this life and was not among those "who want to go to heaven".

And so I came to hold in my hands the work of Steve Jobs' hands. I marveled at his breathtaking success in transforming the music business. I continue to distill lessons from his fanatical pursuit of excellence. His aesthetic convictions about beauty and design resonate deeply within me. I also feel rewarded for my years of loyalty to Apple when I see worldwide embrace of their brand. And yet... a person—not as an icon of accomplishment, success, fame and accolades—his next appearance will be before his Maker. The judge at that review will indeed "think different". Steve Jobs' famed reality distortion field will not carry that day. In the end, despite all the enjoyment and benefit his products have brought into our lives, my sadness at the passing of Steve Jobs isn't merely about missing an amazing innovator, it's about what he's missing by deciding against heaven.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mr. President, would you please raise my taxes?

This question was asked during President Obama's faux "Jobs Townhall", hosted last week by LinkedIn at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. The question in my headline was actually asked. The identity of the questioner and his evasiveness prompt me to ask some questions:
 Q1. Why do Democrats assume anybody opposed to high taxes must be a shill for "Big _____" (insert your favorite evil industry)? Like in 2009, when then-Speaker of the House, San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi, described T.E.A. Parties springing up all across the country as "Astroturf"—her way of saying they're not an authentic, organically-grown movement. Why do Democrats think this way?

A1: Sigmund Freud talked about projecting "one's own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else." Nancy Pelosi and the Professional Left routinely create fake outrage and drum up phony protest marches by busing in people who need to be instructed on what they should chant and why they should be outraged. Not infrequently these malleable folks are even paid to protest. The simple fact that Democrats actually have a name for such duplicitous behavior reveals the Freudian pot-v-kettle nature of their accusations.

When Democrats hold a "Jobs TownHall", they see nothing wrong with planting a retired millionaire—Google Employee #59, and recently-published author—in the audience to pretend he's unemployed. When the President asked where he used to work, the man dissembled: "At a search engine." An honest questioner might have mentioned that he is the founder of a Bay Area organization called Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, which argues that "Americans with incomes over $1 million should shoulder a larger share of the tax burden to pay for Pell Grants, road improvements and training programs." That might've been a more accurate way to identify himself than saying "I'm not working".

So, yeah, when an Ohio plumber playing catch with his son on the front lawn spots Presidential candidate Obama walking down his street and asks "Your new tax plan's going to tax me more, isn't it?" Democrats just know he must have been planted on that street by evil Big Oil. They must have purchased that home and cooked up that fake son in a test-tube provided by Big Pharma. I mean, what normal person would ever think to ask such a subversive question?

Q2: Why couldn't Congress just raise the questioner's taxes?

A2: Because the U.S. Constitution forbids Bills of Attainder (Article One, Section 9) that penalize a certain group or person.

Q3: Why can't the 200 Bay Area "Patriotic Millionaires" and billionaires who want to pay higher taxes them?

A3: They can. They could even choose which agency to pay. If, say, they didn't like the military, they could write a check to the Bureau of the Public Debt. But, of course, they don't do that because they don't want only their taxes raised—they want everybody else making over a certain income to pay more taxes too. So Mr. Google 59's question is yet more artifice.

When the identity of Obama's questioner came to light, two wealthy liberals favoring higher taxes appeared with Bill O'Reilly. Informed of their options to pay above the amount of their obligation, both admitted they were aware of the options but chose to not pay any more to the IRS. Interestingly, each said they calculated what their taxes would have been at the higher rate and then gave the difference to charity.

Q4: Aren't those two wealthy Liberals proving they believe private charities do better than government programs?

A4: Very observant, yes. Or they may have just wanted the tax deduction.

Q5: Why is it that Omaha multi-billionaire Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary?

A5: He probably pays his secretary a very generous salary, pushing her into a 20% or higher tax bracket. But Buffett reportedly derives most of his own petty cash from Capital Gains, which are taxed at 15%. 

Remember a couple of things. First, Buffett previously paid taxes on the money he used to generate those Capital Gains—making his actual tax rate at least double what he's claiming. Lots of economists oppose the existence of the CapGains and Dividend taxes since they are double-taxation. And secondly, if Buffett makes less than his secretary, he is artificially underpaid. Unlike his secretary, he's free to decide his own salary. The founder and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, the most successful diversified conglomerate of all time, could surely command a salary at least as high as the average NHL hockey player if he so wished. But no, he wishes to structure his own income to shield it from high tax rates.

I don't begrudge a Google millionaire or America's richest man the right to live off investment income at low tax rates. I just don't want them to be dishonest and try to mislead less well-off Americans into thinking that "the rich don't pay their fair share".