Tag Archives: Obama

Is Obama’s Estate Tax Plan The Nail In The Nonprofit Coffin?

We folks who deal with high net worth clients have wondered for years what will happen with estate taxes when the current plan sunsets in 2011. Let me make a guarantee here (which is something I don’t often do). I guarantee that estate taxes will be addressed before 2010 which is when they are set to return to zero and return to 2001 levels when 2011 begins. Already, congress is abuzz with talk about what to do about it. Frankly the estate tax has been the running joke in the planning community for years when congress said that the estate tax would disappear in 2010. People said that they would start to write special instructions for “pulling my plug”, but only if it were advantageous from an estate tax planning perspective. All kidding aside, regarldless of what gets decided, I guarantee that there will be implications. As The NY Times reported in 2005, the last time there was talk about eliminating the estate tax, charities remained shockingly silent for fear that any attempts to block the measure would be donor suicide. I mean really, would you give to a charity that intentionally lobied for higher estate taxes? Are you crazy? Make no mistake, this time, I guarantee there will be legislation being passed and it will have a major impact on both the wealty, and nonprofits.

While many in the nonprofit community have been quite vocal against Obama’s plan to lower the charitable tax deduction, if history is any guide, I don’t think they will be speaking up now. Perhaps they should. I believe that the changes to the estate tax will have a much bigger impact on charities than the income tax deduction. Charities felt that they had nothing to lose by speaking up on the proposed change to the deduction because the change would be bad for BOTH the wealthy, AND the charities. By lowering the deduction, the wealthy would be losing a tax incentive to give to charity (perceived as bad for the wealthy), and the charities would be hurt by that. Nobody had a problem speaking up to say this was a bad idea. The estate tax is a completely different animal and I would argue, will hurt charities much more than the income tax deduction. Have you heard anyone talking about this? Nope. This will be a silent walk to the grave for the nonprofits. Here’s how it will happen.

Year/ Exclusion Amount /Max Top tax rate:
2001 $675,000 55%
2002 $1 million 50%
2003 $1 million 49%
2004 $1.5 million 48%
2005 $1.5 million 47%
2006 $2 million 46%
2007 $2 million 45%
2008 $2 million 45%
2009 $3.5 million 45%
2010 repealed 0%
2011 $1 million 55%

In the above chart, notice that the estate tax exemption amounts have been going up since 2001. From 2001 until 2008, the exemption amounts didn’t go up that much; essentially from $1-2 million. The period from 2001 to 2002, up until recently, was the worst period of time for the markets since the great depression. While the exemption amounts did go up slightly from $675,000 to $1 million dollars, that was not a big increase in real dollars for the wealthy. From 2003 up until 2008, the stock market experienced a bull market while the exemption amounts only increased from $1 million to $2 million. This year however, the exemption amounts went to $3.5 million. That means that a husband and wife can leave $7 million dollars free from federal estate taxes. Compare that to only $2 Million total in 2002 ($1 million for each individual), and that’s a lot of extra millions. Let’s add somthing else here. Portfolios are down much more than the last recession. This means that exemption amounts are much higher, and people have less money. Well that’s great for the wealthy right? How about for the nonprofits? They are still talking about how the drop in the income tax chariable deduction is going to impact them. Folks, wake up, you have a new problem. It’s called the estate tax. While nonprofits have had lots of other things to deal with lately, I fear that what’s being discussed with the estate tax is going to be yet another blow to their ability to continue to operate as they had been.

Before the wealthy shoot me here, let me point out that there’s a fine balancing act that needs to take place here. Nonprofits play an essential role in society and they perform many responsibilities for society that the government isn’t good at and has no place in. If charities are not fundamentally strong, society is worse off and someone else needs to pick up the slack. If the government needs to do more, guess what, that means we all will wind up paying higher taxes anyway. It’s in our nation’s interest to make sure they remain financially healthy.

At present, the latest word on the street is that the Democrats support leaving the estate tax at the current level of $3.5 million. The exemption amount has never been this high before and only time will tell how much of an impact that will have on charities and donations. In my business, avoiding paying estate taxes is one of the primary functions that a wealth manager helps clients peform. While emotion has been the primary driver of charitable contributions, not taxes, I fear there’s a perfect storm that is lining up. For many in the wealth managent community, charity is only a means of avoiding taxes for their clients. Unless an adviser can use charity as a way to save taxes for their clients, they generally don’t bring it up. Doing so means less under management for the adviser and that translates directly to less fees. I assure you, right now, many advisers are just struggling to keep their doors open and discussing charity with their client is the last thing on their mind. The big question is, how many potential donors were lost by dropping investment portfolio values, raising the estate credit amounts from $2 million to $3.5 million, and cutting the charitable income tax deduction?

Just to be clear, I would be in favor of  freezing the estate exemption limits. I feel people pay enough in taxes and they shouldn’t have to pay again when they die. Make no mistake though, this will be another blow for charities. Don’t drop the charitable tax deduction, raise it, by a lot. I’d also be in favor of paying higher income taxes to pay for things like universal health care, education, and alternative energy. I realize you can’t have your cake and eat it too, I just worry that the cake recipe is looking like pie and we’re all going to get some in the face if we don’t think these things through more clearly.

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Filed under ESTATE PLANNING, FOUNDATIONS, NON-PROFIT & CHARITY, TAX

Anderson Cooper 360 Story on Obama Plan to Cut Charitable and Mortgage Tax Deductions

Charity Navigator CEO, Ken Berger talked with CNN’s Anderson Cooper about Obama’s plan to cut the charitable tax deduction.

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Nonprofit Recession Survival Guide to Getting Donations

First the markets, then Madoff, now the Obama administration is proposing reductions in the charitable tax deduction for your biggest donors. What else could possibly go wrong? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the snow day and nobody came to work. One thing is for certain; raising funds in the current environment is much more difficult that it was last year at this time. Here are some specific suggestions and things to keep in mind as you talk to donors:

Speak the Unspoken Truth
Personally, I like this tactic. Call it like it is. What are the most powerful four words in the English language? “I NEED YOUR HELP”. Talk to your existing donors about what is happening and the state of your organization. Tell them you need help. Let your donors know how the current environment is impacting your organization.

Be Specific With The Ask
This is something that is always a good idea. Even before the mess the last year, donor fatigue was certainly an issue. I believe that in general, nonprofits do a poor job marketing themselves when it comes to being specific about their accomplishments, how donations help, and making specific connections between the ask and the impact. Kiva.org is the opposite of everything I just said. Their supporters choose the cause (lending to a specific entrepreneur who needs a loan), and Kiva reports back on the status of the loan from the individual it was given to. It’s a terrific example of the donor getting involved directly with the cause that they support. Strategic, venture, or tactical philanthropy; call it what you want, people have been demanding more accountability in recent years. This trend towards greater accountability and transparency is only likely going to increase. Help your donors go from a “spray and pray” approach go giving, to being focused and knowing exactly what they are giving to.

Create A Donor Adviser Panel
Invite your top donors into a room for a “Manhattan Project” style round table. The objective of the group is not to gang up on them and tell them how badly you need their money, but to come together and brainstorm new ideas for raising funds. Let them know how much you have appreciated their past support and you are offering them a “no money required” way to help make a huge difference with the organization. Ally you want is their input. Not only will they feel appreciated, do you think there might be a possibility they could cough up a little extra after sitting in on that? If I were a betting man, I’d say your odds are pretty good. That’s not the objective though. Remember that. You are after their ideas and things you are not thinking about right now.

Address Financial Fear
Your donors are shell shocked with what’s going on in the markets now. Everyone is. Do you want to be someone’s hero? Address this head on. This is the one I think that nonprofits have traditionally been the most uncomfortable with. Even large organizations that have planned giving departments have struggled with “the line of control” that exists between donors and their professional advisory team. While planned giving folks want to “get that seat at the table”, and be INVOLVED in the conversation with the financial adviser, attorney, or CPA at the time giving decisions are being made, often they are not. Understand that there is a line, and there should be. Generally speaking, the unspoken truth is that donors know that planned giving officers have one motive, to get money for their organization. This is nothing new though, so what?

The real opportunity to be a hero here is to talk about some of the things that donors are afraid of now and things that they can do to feel more financially secure. The number one concern of the wealthy is that they will lose what they have. While this has always been the biggest concern, the fear is now being realized. Understand that unless your donors feel financially secure, they will likely not give at the levels they had given previously. You cannot help them feel more secure, but you can make recommendations that will. One of the things that’s at the top of the list is recognizing that donors and high net worth clients traditionally have had multiple advisers giving them advice. Their accountant is discussing their returns, their attorney discusses their will (or might not have in a while), and their “financial adviser” is talking only about their investments. Most people have no idea who they should be talking to about the big picture and their ability to achieve what’s important to them.  No wonder you have such a hard time getting a seat at the table, that’s because there usually IS NO table. The advice your donors receive is sporadic and fragmented in professional silos and generally NOBODY is discussing the big picture! Markets aside, the tax changes occurring are faster than the drop in their portfolio value and now is a good time for them to be meeting with their team to reassess where they are and reevaluate their goals.

The key to success lies in your ability to have a trusted relationship with your donor, understand what attracted them to you, what inspires them, what they are afraid of, and how to connect them with the appropriate resources who can help them achieve everything that’s important to them. To the extent you make yourself a master networker and not make it about you and your cause, you’ll be a hero. Ask your donors, “How can I help, YOU?”

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Filed under Current Events, ECONOMY, ESTATE PLANNING, Financial Life Planning, FINANCIAL PLANNING, INVESTING, NON-PROFIT & CHARITY, TAX, venture philanthropy

Does Obama Owe the Nonprofit Community an Explanation?

I’ve been discussing Obama’s proposed tax changes reducing mortgage interest and charitable contribution deductions with just about every intelligent person I know who has been following this story. Not one person I talked to can make a rational arguement as to how this directly benefits anybody. I consider myself to be a pretty open minded guy and I want to know what I am missing here. You would think there would be a good reason for this.

I’ve had a few comments from people that it’s necessary to roll back some of the tax benefits that the rich have enjoyed under Bush and bring them back to levels that are Clintonlike. Some have said that the rich can afford to pay more in taxes, while others have said that cutting the charitable contribution deduction won’t impact giving levels all that much. I’ve described myself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal and while I do support adding to education, healthcare, and alternative energy, I haven’t been able to see how cutting the deductions on real estate and charitable contributions fit into the big picture.

These tax issues will only impact indivudials who earn over $250,000 per year in income, so sure, why not take more from the rich for other things. Folks, you are missing my entire point. You might even be surprised to hear that I support raising income taxes (BLAH!!!! Rich, you are no fiscal Republican you CLOSET LIBERAL!!!). Whoa, hold on a sec…I never said that people who have or make more shouldn’t pay more in taxes. That arguement has no part of this conversation so drop it. Second, forget whether this will only have a MINOR impact on giving and people will still give because, yes, most people give because they want to, not only for tax purposes. Folks, I’m with ya here too. Totally agree. Just explain to me what benefit we will see from cutting the deductions on mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

Ok, let’s start with the mortgage issue. For one thing, wasn’t real estate the source of the mess we’re in now? (Don’t start with “No it was those greedy folks on wall street” either). If we want to sove the real estate mess, one of the things we need to do is stop the decline in home prices. How do we do that? Prices will stabilize when credit markets open up and people begin buying again. How do you get people to start buying again? Don’t we want to get investors back into the market? How do we do that? Hmmm…Let’s see…How do you get your children to want to do something? Special treats? Any parents out there? Do you use treats to drive you children’s behavior? How about an incentive to purchase real estate? How about INCREASING the deduction for mortgage interest? How about offering INVESTORS (THE WEALTHY ONES) MASSIVE INCENTIVES to put money into real estate. How about not just limiting it to mortgage interest? Perhaps throw some other goodies in there. While I’m certainly not suggesting that we create a tax incentive aimed only at the wealthy, wouldn’t you agree that this would be a pretty juicy “scheme” to get those “greedy rich folks” to put some of their “bad money” into some of those empty bank owned homes that ar lowering propery values in our neighborhoods. Hmmm, not such a bad idea…I suggest creating some kind of similiar incentives to restore the health of the non-profit community. While we don’t live in a charity (although your spouse or your mother might disagree with you), charities provide a vital role in American society. Without a healthy and thriving nonprofit community, the services that they provide would either go away, or require the government to provide those services. I ask again; doesn’t that sound like a very “big government” agenda to you?

Ok, so the long and short question I pose to you is this: Regardless of what income bracket these rules would impact, does it make ANY sense to you to be removing incentives to investments in sectors that are among the leaders lagging the economy? Am I missing something here because this doesn’t seem to make one bit of sense to me. I certainly don’t claim to know everything since I’m just a Certified Financial Planner Professional, not a politician who knows much more than I. I really do like Obama and what he stands for and what he wants to do for healthcare, energy independence, and education. These areas are broken in my view. These are important issues for the nation and ones that I relate to personally. Frankly,  I don’t think that the Republicans have these issues on their agenda and about the only reason I’m a regiestered Republican is because I generally agree with their economic agenda. To be completely honest with you, I’ve never been registered with either party until this year’s presidential election when I became a Republican and voted for Obama. How’s that one for ya? I like to keep ya thinkin…

Ok, so now you know my concerns and questions. Anyone want to explain this to me? Anyone want to start a new political party?

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Is Obama’s Plan to Cut Charitable and Mortgage Deductions Really Stimulus?

The news is out. President Obama announced plans to cut the deductions for charitable contributions and mortgage interest incurred for Americans who earn more than $250,000 per year and raise the top tax bracket from 35% to 39.6%. I have some very sharp opinions about this proposal. For the sake of full disclosure, I voted for Obama but am a registered Republican. I vote issues and people, not along party lines. You might say I am socially liberal but fiscally conservative. That said, I have big problems with this proposal. Watch a CBS News Video about the plan here.

When I went to school to become a Certified Financial Planner Professional™, economics was one of the things they taught. Specifically, they discussed the role that taxes play within the government, how the Fed and IRS work, and how it is the job of the Executive Branch to drive an agenda through tax policy. Generally speaking, I believe Republicans perceive that adjusting taxes downward equals growth through increased investment, while Democrats view taxes as a way to redistribute wealth. While this is a simplistic way of looking at things, this is exactly the way I see the proposed tax changes that Obama introduced.

I believe that changes in tax policy direct our actions. For example, generally given the choice of withdrawing money from an IRA versus a taxable brokerage account, I would typically recommend that people first take from the taxable account because capital gains rates are typically lower than ones income tax rate that they would be subject to if withdrawing funds from the IRA account. The tax benefit drives the actions. Add a 10% penalty for an early withdrawal on top of an ordinary income tax rate, and the IRA quickly becomes the funding source of last resort. Taxes and penalties drive the behaviors of Americans. Good tax policy is meant to create healthy economies. That is exactly the opposite of what Obama’s proposal does.

Charities are struggling to keep their heads above water right now and the housing market has already gone under. The housing mess is the most pressing issue facing the economy in my view. While the government struggles to pay for all of the various “stimulus” packages, charities that provide essential services for the needy, the arts, and everything else are closing their doors in record numbers due to a combination of losses incurred from the stock market and lost donations from their donor base. In my opinion, the last thing the Obama administration should be doing is creating ANY disincentives away from charitable donations or from mortgage deductions. While some may say that this only impacts the wealthy, we all know how Wall Street has come to Main Street in the last year.

Mr. President, you should be INCREASING the mortgage and charitable deductions to INCENT people into these areas, not reducing them. Rich, poor, it doesn’t matter because while these initiatives may not take effect for some time, perception is reality when it comes to human assumptions. The dire economic situation that the nonprofit and real estate sectors face need all the help they can get in order to be put back on a more solid footing. I believe in the end, these moves do nothing but exacerbate an already bad situation in two of the areas that now require the most help.

Traditionally, charitable contributions have served as a great way to reduce taxes and everyone won. Charities provided services that the government wasn’t as good at providing, Americans got a tax deduction for funding them, and the government didnt’ have to do that job. Everyone won. By changing this balance now with charities struggling already, this will mean less donations, force charities to close due to ANOTHER financial setback caused by poor government policy, and put the onus of providing the services that these charities provided, squarely back on the government’s shoulders. This sounds like a very Democratic thing to do from a fiscal standpoint. As a fiscally conservative Republican, I fear the consequences this will have on the system at a time of such economic distress. There are lots of things I don’t agree with in the Republican party (like energy and environmental policies for one), but when it comes to this proposal, I would never side with the Democrats on this. It stinks.

Last year, I wrote a review of  a terrific book called  “Who Really Cares?”, about the giving habits of Americans, and specifically, Republicans versus Democrats. Since we are on the subject. It might be a good refresher for those thinking about cutting areas that impact giving. It was a great book that anyone interested in this subject should read.

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Filed under Current Events, ECONOMY, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCIAL PLANNING, FOUNDATIONS, INVESTING, NON-PROFIT & CHARITY, TAX

Obama Inauguration Speech Transcript

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

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Barack Obama Inauguration: I Had a Dream (and it came true)

girlskitesmallMy first memory is when I was 5 years old. I went to the beach with my father, and for a long time we ran back and forth trying to get a kite to fly. After a while, my father said, “Son, I don’t think there’s enough wind to fly the kite today.” Undeterred as a stubborn 5 year old is, I continued running back and forth trying to get the kite to fly. Eventually, the kite took to the sky. I never forgot the lesson.

Our parents always told us that we can do or be anything we want when we grow up. Somewhere along the way though, something happens, we become reasonable, allowing our sense of what’s possible become influenced by other people and we lose our ability to dream and confidence that we can do anything.

The American Dream: Get a good job, get married, have 2.5 kids, get a dog, build a 401(k), become successful. But what is a good job? What is success? What is happiness? Many of us take the safe and predictable route in life, doing things that others thing we should do and what we think they expect us to.

We’ve all heard the stories of people who suddenly “wake up and figure out what’s important in life”. Many times these stories come from someone who has had a near death experience or some kind of traumatic event. As the “rational guy”, I never quite understood what it was that they figured out, but glad that they had learned a valuable lesson from such a tragedy. Frankly, I never really gave these kinds of things much thought.  When I had my “Aha”, life changed. I was lucky; I didn’t go through any kind of traumatic experience. I was open minded at the right time.

For the first time, I perceived the world in three distinct groups.  1) There were the people who “got it” 2) The people who were “open and looking for it” 3) The people who were just going through life and existing. The “It” I’m referring to is “what’s important in life”, or the meaning of life and secret to happiness.  For the first time in my life, I realized that making a difference makes me feel fulfilled. The first group, (the ones who “got it”) seemed to say, “Welcome, we’ve been expecting you.” Follow your passions and your dreams and the most amazing things will happen.

Perhaps, “You can do anything you set your mind to”  is a dangerous thing for a 5 year old thing to learn, or perhaps we should all try to live more like the stubborn 5 year old that is in each of us. I started flying kites again, literally and figuratively.

Today, as we witness the magnitude of the moment of the first African American President of the United States be inaugurated, let us remember that greatness begins with dreams and we need to have the courage and conviction to make the dreams come true no matter how difficult the journey. Dreams are where greatness begin.

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