Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Mark Zuckerberg”

List of Shame: The 1%’ers Who Dodge Taxes

Let me be clear from the start: this post is not about all those who occupy (excuse the pun) the top 1% of our nation in terms of wealth. This is about those who pay taxes annually to the tune of $1. There are many who worked hard to amass their wealth and are incredibly philanthropic. As the director of a non-profit, I have been honored with many opportunities to meet and work with such people.

These generous people are propelled by a moral code and take a meaningful portion of their money and time to promote social justice issues, to support those in our society who need help – the elderly, the poor, the homeless etc., and provide cultural and educational opportunities that might not be business-viable without such support. This article is NOT about them. I am sure they pay their taxes, understanding that the services they receive – an army to defend them, a police force, fire and emergency response force, the roads they drive on, the street lights…do I need to go on?

But unfortunately there are those billionaires who seem to take pride out of not paying their taxes. These people manage to show a salary of $1. They include such individuals as Eric Schmidt and Larry Page (both Google), Steve Jobs (Apple) from 1997 until his death last year, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Meg Whitman (Hewlett-Packard). And apparently, recently wed and start-up-turned-public Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is about to join this shameful club.

Ironically, these ‘poor’ folk might actually be eligible to receive the kind of government aid that is available for low-income populations. If they keep their personal income under $13,000 they would be able to apply for an Earned Income Tax Credit. While I am sure they won’t collect on this, I hope they appreciate that the taxpayers provide this safety net, but they probably won’t.

There are many ways to ensure that you can live the lifestyle of the super-rich, amass wealth, and not pay taxes. One of these, for example is to hold multiple home equity loans, which is (I think) borrowing money against the values of many of your homes and property. This is debt and therefore not taxable, but it is money for them to jet around and live the life they want. In a country where good folk are losing their homes (their only homes) to foreclosure, isn’t this ironic? There are many other ways and I am not the person to expound on them.

Let us assume that one day the Zukerbergs decide to purchase an island in the Caribbean. Most people who show an income of $1 might be more inclined to buy food, clothes, medical insurance etc., but someone with significant net worth need only cash in a few shares (Facebook anyone?) to make the purchase. For sure, he might have to pay 15% capital gains taxes, but ain’t life a bitch.

To be perfectly clear (once again), I do not resent these people their wealth. I have a deep respect for the philanthropists that I have a relationship with. But I believe in paying taxes and I want everyone who can afford it to pay their share and pay it with grace.

Those billionaires who take pride out of cheating (yes, cheating) our society out of their taxes are screwing not only those of us who pay taxes today, but also failing to help prevent the nation accumulate debt that our children will be saddled with.

For some reason, what hurts even more, is that these people are paying more money for financial advice that helps them avoid tax exposure than I earn in a year…before I pay my taxes.

I work hard for my salary and pay my taxes as I should. I have a right to be angry.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Movies That Matter – The Social Network

Facebook – love it or hate, but it is here to stay (or at least until the next great innovation), and it is a central part of our lives. The fastest growing age group used to be students (no surprises), now it is the 40-60’s. When someone under 120 tells me that they are not on Facebook (usually followed by a tirade against social media), my immediate reaction is that they are simply not connected. I have, however, learned from experience to keep that thought to myself.

Authors actually seem to complain a lot, but this is, I think, a symptom of the I-want-to-be-writing-not-marketing syndrome. Truth is, while you need to be on Facebook, you are in control of how many times you check it and how long you stay on. Kind of like flossing.

But this post is about The Social Network, the movie about how Facebook came about. I read The Accidental Billionaires (the book about…) and really enjoyed it. I would enjoy this movie even if I wasn’t into Facebook. I have a small library of ‘brilliant students at school’ movies (Dead Poet’s Society, Finding Forrester, Good Will Hunting – you get the idea).

The Social Network fits into this theme. The portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and Person of the Year 2010 for Time, is amazing (I have no idea if it’s true), but this is a brilliant mind who can’t fathom the everyday realities of dress (he goes to a business meeting in a hoodie – with the hood on his head), with little social talents, and yet his brilliance is a magnet for other brilliant minds.

It is for us too. As the movie continues, you begin to root for Zuckerberg, hoping he will win through. This happens, I think, without the writers compromising on the harshness or incompatabliity of the protagonist.

Tamim Ansary, a brilliant SF author, shares his recollection of a favorite scene. This is the most memorable scene for me too. It is written in Tamim’s words according to memory, but it is just great. In this scene, Justin Timberlake wakes up in the morning in the bed of a Stanford student that he has clearly only just met. He is lying in her bed and she is just getting dressed.

“What do you do?”
“I’m an Internet entrepreneur.”
“Oh,” she sneers, “In other words, you’re unemployed.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way.”
“Well how would you ‘put it’?”
“I’d say I’m an Internet entrepreneur.”
“All right. What have you entrepreneured?”
“I founded a company that lets people share music online.”
“Uh huh. Kind of like Napster.”
Exactly like Napster.”
“What do you mean?”
“I founded Napster.”
“No you didn’t! Sean Parker founded Napster.”
“Yes. It’s good to meet you too.”

I’m going to leave the last word to Mr. Ansary, primarily because it never occurred to me until I read his review.

“Even more fascinating is the understated way the movie conveys that all these plaintiffs are wrong: none of them invented Facebook, and neither did Zuckerberg. Facebook already existed in the world in potentia: the trick was to see it out there, know what it was, and then create the apparatus that allowed it to actualize itself, to materialize.  Facebook invented itself.”

Maybe this is the definition of brilliance. How many times have I read a great novel and thought: “Gosh, I wish I had thought of that plot/character.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Facebook R.I.P – The End of The World As We Know It

Okay, so this is probably more apt for April 1st, but it is soooooo funny. Frank Lake over at Weekly World News reports that Facebook is closing, like tomorrow.

Mark Zuckerberg, the site claims, wants his old life back, and live like a normal person. Now I’ve read the book (The Accidental Billionaires) and seen The Social Network, and am unclear about how a normal life would be defined.

Now I assume that between the last paragraph and this one, you have checked your Facebook status and are only reading on because it is still there. Phew! That was a close one. This could have been you.

“Man up, dude!” I’m imagining Sarah Palin on a national broadcast trying to arrest the rising panic in the streets.

And if you haven’t had enough (and I hope you haven’t), check out this YouTube from Stephen Steel, the purveyor of such news.

But since this is usually a serious blog, I have to ask: what if… no I can’t do that to you.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

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