June 29, 2018

Quiz Answer: Can you name this country?

I recently posted this quiz:  Can you identify the country that has the highest percent of land ... over 90%! ... covered by desert?   You can read the post and any comments here.

And the answer is ... drumroll ...

Egypt !

Yes, Egypt is considered to be the most desert-covered country on Earth, with over 90% of its land covered by desert.  Egypt is also home to the largest Arabian city, Cairo, with a population of approximately 19.5 million people.  No that's a lot of people!  Another million or so people live in the greater Cairo metropolitan area.

Desert + Human Population = Problems

And when you consider Egypt's population (nearly 100 million people) and desert habitat, you have a number of severe environmental impacts, sanitation among them.  Get this:  Only about 50% of Egypt's population is connected to a sanitary sewer system.  Because of this lack of basic sanitation, and estimated 50,000 children die each year in Egypt ... each and every year ... due to diarrhea.  That's beyond sad.

Getting back to the quiz .... one person guessed Libya.  Libya - who happens to be Egypt's neighbor to the west - is a close 2nd in desert coverage, with an estimated 90% of Libya covered by desert.  So good answer!

I hope you enjoyed this quiz!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 27, 2018

Another Bay Area Bookstore Bites The Dust ... But The Reason Likely Has Nothing To Do With Books

Bookstores ... the brick and mortar kind, anyway ... are becoming a relic of the past.  Both my husband Jim and I are avid readers, and miss browsing in our local Barnes and Noble.  Although located in upscale Walnut Creek, it closed over 2 years ago.  Amazon opened up a bookstore - Amazon Books - in Walnut Creek late last year, but the store is a joke.  With a very limited book and magazine selection, the store's focus is primarily on hawking Amazon electric gadgets.

And speaking of controller-of-the-world Amazon, we can't blame bookstore demise solely on the monstrous mega e-commerce retailer.  Plenty of other bad decisions are ingredients in bookstores' recipes for failure.

Here's one fresh example:  Oakland California's independently owned Laurel Book Store just announced it is closing at the end of August.  But don't blame the books or Amazon for the store's failure.  Rather, the blame - as it often does - appears to fall on the shoulder of bad business decisions by the book store's owner.

You see, Laurel Book Store owner Luan Stauss had successfully operated the bookstore for 13 years in Oakland's Laurel District.  The Laurel District has a diverse mix of culture, stores, and residents;  and a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly shopping district along MacArthur Boulevard.   In other words, a near perfect location for a bookstore.

But this wasn't enough for Ms Stauss.  She kept the store's name, but moved it to downtown Oakland near City Hall in October 2014.  Yep, near Oakland City Hall, the area that is the frequent site of protests and demonstrations, and is completely devoid of a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly shopping district.  Oh, and the store size was 4 times larger than the 900-square-foot store located in the Laurel District.

And what happened after the move to downtown Oakland? Failure from day 1.  No foot traffic. Few sales. Long time customers did not follow her to downtown Oakland. As Ms. Stauss stated to online publication Hoodline last hear, in spite of packed office buildings in the downtown area, "I'm on a block where there's not really a lot going on.  There's not a lot of retail."
Three simple things to consider when business owners make business decisions:
  1. Bigger isn't always better.
  2. For a brick and mortar business, it's location location location.
  3. If it aint' broke, don't fix it.
As a book and newspaper lover, It's disheartening to see yet another bookstore close.  But it appears Ms. Stauss gave little, if any, thought to the three topics above when she decided to move from 13 years of success in the Laurel District.
 
Business Tax or Insurance Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 24, 2018

Taxes: 2017 Tax Legislation May Impact Your Taxes

Let's talk taxes, shall we?  Specifically, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

President Trump signed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law on on December 22, 2017.  This legislation marks the largest overhaul to US tax regulations - specifically the Internal Revenue Code - in over 30 years.  The legislation became effective on January 1, 2018, although many of the Act's provisions are modified over future years. 

And just how extensive were the changes?  Let's just say that my reference book about this legislation  (pictured on this post) is 1088 pages long!

Throughout the rest of the year, I will be devoting more posts to taxes and tax planning, including provisions of the 2017 legislation that may impact your taxes.

And since 2018 is nearly 1/2 done already, don't delay implementing tax planning to determine how the legislation impacts your personal or business tax situation.  Otherwise you may be in for a very unpleasant tax experience when you file your 2018 tax returns next year!

Tax Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 22, 2018

Quiz: Can you name this country?

Quiz Time! 

Can you identify the country that has the highest percent of land ... over 90%! ... covered by desert?  No cheatin' now ! 😊

I will post the answer next week.  Good luck!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 20, 2018

IRS Impersonator Scams: Is that really the IRS calling me?

IRS Impersonator Tax Scams are, unfortunately, ever present.   Here is one easy tool to help prevent you from becoming a Tax Scam victim.

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS but you suspect the person is not an IRS employee:
  1. Record the caller's name, badge number (an IRS employee is always required to provide his or her badge number), call back number,  and caller ID if available.
  2. Call the IRS Identification Validation Hotline at 800-829-1040 to determine if the caller is an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you.
  3. If the person calling you is in fact  an IRS employee, call the person back.
  4. If the person is not an IRS employee, report the incident to both TIGTA (the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the prior link will take you to an online reporting form) and to the IRS via email at phishing@irs.gov , with the subject 'IRS Phone Scam'.  
Have Tax Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 18, 2018

Sid Wonders: Is Daddy Every Coming Home?

Aw, life is always good with our Faithful Canine Companions, Husky-Malamute Mix Sid and Chow Chow-Pomeranian Mix Lexi.

Yep, Sid is a bit of a Daddy's boy ....


"Mommy, is Daddy ever ever coming home?  He's been gone for like 20 minutes.  That's like almost forever in Doggy time!" 
-- Sid the Dog

Every day is a good day with our Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 16, 2018

Slim Jims Meat Snack Sticks: Can You Guess How Many Pieces Are Produced Each Year?

Slim Jims. The worldwide meat-and-other-flavors snack stick that has been around since 1929.

The Troy, Ohio plant that produces all of the Slim Jims snack sticks - yep, just 1 factory does all the work - recently made headlines.  And in a good way.  Efficiency changes made to the plant both (1) eliminated unplanned production interruptions,and (2) reduced waste by 504 tons in a single year.  That's more than 1 million pounds of waste eliminated each year!  From a single factory!

But what really caught my eye was learning how many pieces of Slim Jims the factory produces each year.

Any guesses?
A Billion Pieces of Slim Jims!!

Now that's a lotta high sodium meat snack!

Read more about Slim Jims' production and waste saving efforts in this Troy, Ohio news article.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 14, 2018

AB 626 Homemade Food Bill - A public food poisoning crisis waiting to happen.

California Politicians are at it again.   And this time they are placing public health in great jeopardy.

So what's going on?  Glad you asked.  You see, AB 626, titled the Homemade Food Act, is pending in the California legislature.  If passed, the bill would would amend California's health and safety code by defining “microenterprise home kitchen operations” as legitimate food facilities. Supporters of this bill are supporting it as a way to "decriminalize" (they're word, not mine!) home cooks and bakers who want to legally sell food to the public that is made in their residential kitchens.

As an avid home cook and baker, I have a big .... BIG ... problem with AB 626. Absolutely do not support it. And here's why.

There is simply too much... WAY to much ... public health risk associated with this misguided venture.  Consider the free church-sponsored Thanksgiving meal in nearby Antioch, California 2 years ago.  3 people died and 26 others were violently sickened from food poisoning, suspected to come from roast turkey and/or mashed potatoes that were prepared in private homes and brought to the event to be served.

Do we want a catastrophic state-wide outbreak of similar avoidable events?  We could very well have it if AB 626 passes.

How many of these home-based kitchen operators are aware of critical food preparation factors, such as proper hot and cold holding/cooking temperatures?   Get this:  The AB 626 would "exempt a microenterprise home kitchen operation from various provisions applicable to food facilities, including, among others, provisions relating to handwashing, sinks, ventilation, and animals." That's flat out wrong, with perhaps the exception to certain animals, and a threat to general public safety.  I mean, give me a break!  No handwashing regulations for home kitchen operations?!

Moreover, the bill does not define what the 'other' unnamed food facility safety provisions the microenterprise home kitchen operations would be exempted from.   Can you believe that?!  Guess the politicians just plan on defining 'other' at their leisure, after the bill becomes law.  How convenient. 

Oh, and the bill mentions no requirement of a bond or liability insurance.

A solution alread exists for this issue.  (I'm not going to call this issue a problem, because I do not think it is a problem.)  Solution?  Home cooks and bakers who want to sell their goods to the public can do so by renting shared commercial kitchen space for food preparation.

Another solution for a problem that doesn't exist.  And a disasterous solution at that, one which poses a great life safety risk to California's general public.

Say no to California's Homemade Food Bill, AB 626.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 12, 2018

Sid: Do You Think Sid Loves His Daddy?

Sid.

Our goofy and lovable Faithful Canine Companion.  75-pounds of Husky-Malamute mix.  Found as a stray by an Animal Control Officer, we adopted Sid from a local public animal shelter in September 2014.  He's about 5 1/2 years old now.

And did I say lovable?  I'd say Sid loves his Daddy ... and that Sid truly thinks he's a small lap dog!  😊


Every day is truly a good day with our Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 10, 2018

Bored With Your Meals? Get A Wok!

My Wok.  It is one of the most versatile tools in my kitchen!  It's a 14-inch cast iron wok from Lodge.  Life long durable, this wok is very easy to use, fits perfectly on my gas stove top burner, and has excellent heat retention.  Plus, as an extra bonus, the wok cleans up in a snap.  I also have a lid for the wok; it fits both the wok and Lodge's 15-inch cast iron skillet.  The lid comes in very handy when I want to keep things warm for a few minutes, or when I need to use some vegetable broth and steam to finish cooking larger stir-fried vegetables.

Stir-fry dishes are easy to prepare in a snap.  Sometimes I use a true recipe, other times I just throw together whatever I have on hand, including fresh vegetables that need to be used up.  And the wok is not just for stir fry meals, it is so versatile for general sauteing, including making the best sauteed vegetables.

Here are a couple recent wok-prepared meals:  (1) Shrimp and Bacon with Pea Pods and Yellow Bell Pepper, and (2) Chinese BBQ Pork Tenderloin with Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper.  A snap to prepare and beyond delicious!





Oh, and for great wok-based recipes and general Asian cooking inspiration, visit the Wok & Skillet website!  Both of the above stir fries are based on recipes from Char's website.

If you're looking to simply meal preparation - and jazz up your cooking - get a wok today! 

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 8, 2018

California Primary Election: Voter Turnout Lower Than Low

California's Primary Election was held this week on Tuesday, June 5.  As we always do, both my husband Jim and I voted.

But regretfully, most other registered voters skipped the process and stayed away from the polls.  Our their mail-in ballots, which is how Jim and I vote.

And just how low was voter turn out on Tuesday?  Astonishingly low, as in I can't think of a single word to truly describe the low-of-the-lows turnout.  So I'll give a few statistics instead.

Contra Costa County California, where I live, had a minuscule registered voter turnout of 20.74%.  (Data as of Wednesday, June 6).  This means that in a county with a population of approximately 1.127 million people, 11% of the population - 124,874 voters, including Jim and I - made the election decisions for everyone.

That's beyond pitiful.

And San Francisco was no better.  San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Heather Knight  published this insightful column on the issue.  Ms. Knight looked at San Francisco's vote by mail statistics, and found that the SF Election Department had issued more than 320,000 mail-in ballots.  But as of Tuesday afternoon, only a paltry 80,000 ballots had been returned.

And as for the young voters in San Francisco?  You know, the tech workers who have flooded into the city to live, the young adults who campaigned for Bernie Sanders, and the teens and young adults who protest social issues including gun violence?  Well, they were nearly completely absent.   In San Francisco, just 3% of the received mail-in ballots came from people registered to vote since 2016.  By contrast, 2/3 of the received mail-in ballots came from people age 50 and older.

Ms. Knight spoke to a 20-something year old working in the Chronicle newsroom, who said that many of her friends didn't even know Tuesday was election day.

I've said this many times before, and I'll say it again:  If you are eligible to vote, don't complain about society issues if you don't vote.  Complain' won't solve a thing.  Only action does that.

Onward to the November General Election, where I hope more people will take the time to become informed and vote.
 
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 6, 2018

Cast Iron Cooking: Cleaning is a snap with a Chain Mail Scrubber!

As my husband Jim will tell you, I love to cook and bake.   Some of my favorite cookware and bakeware pieces are cast iron, both traditional cast iron and enameled cast iron.  With proper care, they have life long durability, and have excellent - and even - heat retention.  Plus with use, traditional cast iron develops a wonderful seasoned coating that creates a natural nonstick surface.  Awesome!

My Stainless Steel Chain Mail Scrubber

My Lodge Cast Iron Wok.
Love It!
When cleaning your traditional cast iron, I've found that my good old fashioned stainless steel Chain Mail Scrubber is a life saver.   I keep the scrubber hanging from a hook near my sink.  Clean up is a breeze, once again proving that old fashioned - rather than high tech - is sometimes best.  I bought my scrubber at my local grocery store, but they are also available on Amazon.

Oh, and don't forget to thoroughly dry your cast iron, and give it a light coating of oil (I use avocado oil) after cleaning.  Your cast iron will thank you for that, and only improve with each use.

Happy cast iron cooking and baking!
 
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 4, 2018

Supreme Court Sides with Colorado Cake Baker

Masteriece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips
Reuters photo: Rick Wilking
Well throw me an Uncle Charlie.  I didn't see this one coming.

I have followed this matter (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111) since before the case was heard before the Supreme Court.  The matter centered on a Colorado Cake Baker, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips.  Mr. Phillips - on religious grounds - refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

The gay couple then lodged a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The commission ruled in favor of the gay couple, stating Mr. Phillips violated a state law baring discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Mr. Phillips appealed to state courts, which upheld the commission's ruling.

I listed to the Supreme Court's oral arguments, which to me appeared to be focused on (1) what is freedom of speech, and (2) what/who is an artist.  Based on the Justices' questioning, I felt strongly the Court would rule in favor of the gay couple, although not unanimously.  Justice Sotomayor's questioning, in particular, displayed affirmative support for the gay couple's argument.

But here comes the well throw me an Uncle Charlie interesting part.

The freedom of speech and definition of artist topics are not the Supreme Court's narrow ruling is based upon.  Rather, the Court's narrow ruling written by Justice Kennedy found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's ruling was both biased and demonstrated hostility toward religion.

As Justice Kennedy wrote:
“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”
As stated in this New York Times article about the decision,

"Though the case was mostly litigated on free speech grounds, Justice Kennedy’s opinion barely discussed the issue. Instead, he focused on what he said were flaws in the proceedings before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Members of the commission, he wrote, had acted with “clear and impermissible hostility” to sincerely held religious beliefs.
One commissioner in particular, Justice Kennedy wrote, had crossed the line in saying that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”
Ouch. 

The Supreme Court’s decision does, however, strongly reaffirmed protections for gay rights and includes language asserting that other cases with similar issues could very well be decided differently.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 2, 2018

What Happens When A Fallen Police Officer's Son Asks That A Police Officer Take Him To School?

Ready for an inspirational story?

5-year-old Dakota Pitt's father, police officer Rob Pitt, was recently killed in the line of duty, in a shootout while trying to apprehend a murder suspect.   Before his first day back to school following his father's death, Dakota asked his Mom if one of his Dad's police officer friends could take him to school.

And what happened?  Well, Dakota was driven to school by police officer ... And greeted at school by an honor guard of 70 other officers.

Watch this inspirational news clip from CBS video below.  What an amazing young man!


About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts