US Income Tax Time: A Torture Unlike Any Other

Okay, boys and girls, get ready for another pop quiz….put away those IPADs and IPHONEs… clear your desks…and answer this question:

How many pages are contained the the current US Tax Code?

If you guessed 20,000, you’re way low.  In fact, from 2006 through 2010 alone, the number of pages in the tax code increased by more than twice that amount!

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the agency responsible for overseeing the collection of income taxes in the USA.  All persons/companies earning income in the USA (above a very low amount) are required to file an annual income tax return with the IRS and pay any owed taxes by the filing deadline, which is April 15th.  That date could very well be called the “National Day Of Dread” by any taxpayer who is self-employed, owns a home or other property, has rental property, investments, uses a home office, has employee business expenses, pays taxes to other entities, has a spouse who is self-employed, and/or any of hundreds of other conditions.

Over the years, the US tax code has been modified by legislation to cover all kinds of special circumstances.  It now contains an unfathomable number of complex, interacting conditions that people must navigate in order to file their returns;  for instance,  single, married, head of household;  if married, filing jointly or separately?  And how does they know which is most advantageous?  They have to figure it out both ways first.  And they do file separately, who gets the home mortgage deduction, or the medical expenses, or the home office expense?  Who has to depreciate rental property, and how do you do that, anyway?

Very-highly-paid lobbyists have been extremely successful at getting legislation passed which benefits their very-highly-paying corporate special interest clients.  As a result, the tax code has become this bloated behemoth monstrosity within which is buried the information and requirements that the average taxpayer must find, apply and adhere to in order to complete his or her tax return.  Because of the incredibly massive complexity of the code, many taxpayers shell out more money to cover the additional personal expense of engaging either a tax expert, tax accountant, tax lawyer, tax preparation company, and/or tax preparation software, to complete their tax returns  The cheaper software is often used by taxpayers in the hope that they might save a bit of money over having to hire a human to do their taxes.  But sometimes even the software screws it up.  And the taxpayer pays for that, too.

Additionally, the Frankenstein-ish US tax code has become so complex and out-of-control that it is unlikely one will get the same end result from any two of the aforementioned tax prep methods.  But if you get audited by the IRS, that won’t matter. The bean-counting IRS agents will still use the tax code in any way they can to get more money out of you.

Of course, the tax code could be simplified without seriously impacting the level of incoming tax revenue.  But it would require that our legislators stand up to the special-interest lobbyists who have so successfully represented America’s richest corporate interests, such as the oil, health insurance, pharmaceutical, agri-business and other mega-industries.  And as a result of those efforts, many of them pay little or no taxes at all!

For instance, the New York Times reported last week that GE paid no income tax in 2010, despite total profits of US$14.2 billion, and USA profits of US$3.2 (not to mention that their CEO earned double his income, too!).  So these very-politically-powerful folks are in no rush to see anything change.

That’s really too bad, because there are already some well-developed concepts, any of which would be VASTLY SUPERIOR to the torture we endure today in trying to figure out our tax liability (unless you’re a very rich big business):

1.  The “Flat Tax“, which would tax everyone at the same flat percentage of income, with no exceptions, exemptions or deductions;

2.  The “Fair Tax“, also known as the consumption tax or national sales tax; and

3.  The “2010  Income Tax Reform Plan“, in which deductions and loopholes are eliminated and the tax rates lowered to compensate.

But as long as the well-financed special interests possess their well-financed lobbying power over the US Congress, don’t expect to see any major changes, unless they further complicate and further expand the US taxpayers burden, not only in personal taxes, but the hours-long (and sometimes days-long) personal work required to find, gather, and organize the myriad dollar figures for eventual entry onto the tax form… work time that is uncompensated, by the way.  After all, if it were compensated, it would have to be taxed!!

Unless you’re a big business, with staff on board which is a company business expense, don’cha know…WTF!

Oh, and the answer the pop-quiz question at the top of the article:  According to answers.com….

 

 

ready?

 

 

 

71,684!!!!

(check it yourself HERE)

Obama: Right on Libya, But STILL Wrong?

Pop quiz, multiple choice:  When is it okay for the USA, purported to be the last military “superpower” on Earth, to allow a hated tyrannical terror-supporting dictator to murder thousands of his own civilians?

A.  When we have a budget deficit.

B.  When we started an unnecessary war in Iraq, which we’re still in..

C.  When congresspeople didn’t get personally briefed about it, even though they’re in recess.

D.  When Mitch McConnell‘s first priority is to insure Obama doesn’t get re-elected.

E.  All of the above.

If you chose “E”, you’re obviously in tune with a large number of politicians in this country.  Most are republicans and will seize every opportunity to criticize democratic US president Obama for every single thing he does to get the American people to vote for a republican for president in 2012.  Weirdly though, not all the criticism is from the right.

US congressman Dennis Kucinich,ultra-liberal democrat from Ohio has publicly accused Obama of an impeachable offense.  He claims the president had to get congress’s approval prior to the USA joining at least 10 other countries to force a no-fly zone over Libya and to stop Moammar Gadhafi from murdering his own civilians.  And most civilized countries on the planet want this psychotic megalomaniac out of power in Libya.

Kucinich claims Obama, by joining in United Nations Security Council resolution to do just that, violated the US constitution.  Of course, Mr. Kucinich and his 4 or so ultra-left friends are ignoring a little federal law called the War Powers Resolution, which sprang following the 14-year undeclared Vietnam War the USA was crazy enough to get involved in from 1959 through 1973.  And while it’s possible to debate the nature of the danger posed to the USA by Gadhafi murdering civilians, including possible US nationals in Libya on business, there is no doubt that the USA’s supportive, non-ground-forces participation in the international coalition defending Libyan civilians is completely in compliance with binding agreements the USA has signed as a member of the UN, NATO, Geneva Conventions, and other such international organizations.

So much for Kucinich. But how about the criticism from the right?  That’s easy:  Politics as usual.

Y’see…the USA’s role in the present international coalition against Libya nothing more than (for the USA, at least) a very mild repeat of the US’s unilateral military action in the 1986 bombing of Libya and the self-same Gadhafi...25 years ago, when republican Ronald Reagan was the US president!  And that action was not to prevent thousands of civilian murders, but for revenge.  It was retaliation for terrorist bombings of airports in Rome and Vienna in December 1985, and the bombing of a disco in Berlin in April 1986, in which 1 off-duty US serviceman was killed, and 63 others were among the 229 people injured.  Only after the US military retaliation, Reagan announced on TV that he would attack any country that attacks or abuses Americans.

But no accusation of impeachable offense was leveled against Reagan.  In fact, there was no significant congressional criticism at all, even though the USA “went-it-alone” as opposed to its present role as one supportive force in a large international coalition.  Why?  What’s different?

A better question is “what’s similar?” and the answer is “a lot“, regarding the military actions, which are compared HERE.

But politically, it’s night and day.  First, the USA is still fighting two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, both started by republican president GW Bush, who also turned an inherited budget surplus into a huge budget deficit, made even worse by his massive tax breaks for the very wealthy and Wall Street.

Second, the present action was taken by a democratic president, who brilliantly insured that the rest of the world would take the lead, as opposed to the USA acting out its usual GOP role as the Chief Police Enforcer of the galaxy, even if it pisses off the “We are better than anyone else” crowd.  Oh, well.

Additionally, there is major criticism that Obama was traveling on a diplomatic trip to Latin American (which could result in enhanced business opportunities for corporate America).  GOP congresspeople have alleged that the president should have returned immediately, before military action against Gadhafi was started last Saturday.

But wait!  Congress is still in recess and many congresspeople are back in their home districts, politicking and campaigning for their next elections.  So Obama would have had to brief them via telecommunications….just as he did from Peru….hmmm…

Considering that Kucinich and his gang of 4 are an insignificant freak side show, the independents must be taking stock of the hypocritical republican response to all of this and wondering just what the hell were they thinking when they threw their support behind the GOP in the recent November 2010 elections….

And, quite possibly, they’re also thinking…how they won’t make that same mistake again…2012.

Nuclear Power Plants: Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile

The world was shocked by the destructive power of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s northeastern coast last week, as well as the resulting death toll  now expected to exceed over 10,000 people.  But as bad that that is, the worst may be yet to come.

Japan’s 40-year-old Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima is an older design of reactor which uses an actively water-cooled system to cool the fuel rods.  The fuel rods in the reactor core, which produce heat when they are in close proximity, are actively cooled by pumped flowing water over them to prevent them from overheating, melting, and sinking past the concrete vessel they operate in.  Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl had those features.  Both suffered serious meltdowns from interruption to their water systems.

The 8.9 strength tremors caused the Daiichi reactor’s water-cooling system failure when normal electrical power was disrupted.  The backup power generator system, which should have automatically taken over, was also damaged and failed to power the water system.  As a result, the reactor core’s fuel rods overheated and melted, initiating a chain of events including the release of radioactive gas into the atmosphere and possibly a core meltdown which would release radioactivity into the ground and/or ground water.

Exposure to excessive radiation causes cancer and death.  No people know that better than the Japanese because they have direct experience as a result of massive radiation exposure caused by two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2.  Because of this undesirable byproduct of nuclear fission, nuclear power became controversial after those bombings.  Whenever nuclear power plants were being built, anti-nuclear protesters were nearby, picketing and/or otherwise trying to stop their construction.

The last US nuclear power plant was built starting in 1997 at River Bend, Louisiana. Republicans historically ignored the risks of an accidental meltdown in a nuclear power plant (a fact central to the anti-nuclear argument).  The GOP has continually supported restarting construction of nuclear fission reactor power plants in the USA . And until relatively recently, the anti-nuclear movement had the upper hand in public opinion on this issue.

Additionally, the USA has a nuclear waste storage problem, generated by the ever-increasing accumulation of spent nuclear fuel rods.  No one wants them buried in his/her own back yard.

But y;know….things have changed.  This is not your father’s Oldsmobile, as the defunct auto company’s commercials used to allege.

First, the current nuclear power plant design utilizes a passive automatic convection cooling mechanism, which doesn’t require electricity to operate.  Had either Daiichi, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island been of such a modern design which doesn’t require an active water cooling system, they probably wouldn’t have suffered meltdowns and the subsequent release of deadly radioactive contamination.

Second, the rest of the modern industrialized world recycles their spent nuclear fuel rods to make them reusable, but the USA insists upon burying its nuclear waste.  Besides being potentially dangerous from a radiation point of view, it is also extremely wasteful, because recycling spent fuel rods reduces the need for new ones and thus reduces the amount of nuclear waste produced.

Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass, while useful and beneficial, will probably never be able to produce more than 20% the world’s energy needs.  As a result, the only significant way to reduce or possibly even eliminate the use of polluting, global-warming fossil fuels will be a nuclear solution of some sort.  Ongoing research is developing nuclear fusion power, which fuses two light atoms together, leaving no waste or radiation (as opposed to current fission reactors, which split a heavy atom into two lighter atoms, which produces considerable radiation), but these won’t be commercially available for at least 20 years.

That leaves modern redesigned nuclear fission reactors, in which the unavoidable drawbacks have been drastically reduced over the years through continued research and development.  Even President Obama has recognized the value and safety of these evolved power plants, and has called for new ones to be built in the USA.  Most liberals will balk at reversing the previous finality of such plants until they do the research on the modern designs.  If they do, they will find that the “extraordinary measures” that were supposed to keep the old reactors safe in a catastrophe, such as the earthquake in Japan (where they didn’t work), are not required in the new designs.  Plus, the USA should note the efficient example set by the rest of the industrialized world and recycle its spent fuel rods as well.

WE, the PEOPLE!! has never been a big fan of nuclear power, but conditions change, and we all must change with them.  After all, change is the first fundamental driver of the human existence.

Or put another way…Get modern, or get left behind.

 

A Return to McCarthy-Era Paranoia?

It is an irrefutable hard fact that the Taliban and its militant cousin, Al Qaeda, are fundamentalist Islamic organizations.  Their extremely rigid and conservative belief systems promote the destruction of all whom are not like them.  They believe that if they perform a act of suicide that also kills infidels, they will be martyrs of Islam and will go directly to paradise, where they will be rewarded with 72 virgins who will serve them through eternity (why they favor inexperienced virgins is unclear).

It is another irrefutable hard fact that Al Qaeda is responsible for numerous terrorist activities against the USA, UK, Spain and other countries and entities.  Infamous attacks such as 9-11, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City, and the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen are some of the more horrific examples of Al Qaeda’s work.

Because of increased international cooperation and coordination among security agencies in many countries, Al Qaeda has found it more difficult to execute their terrorist attack plans across international borders from wherever it may be located.  As a result, it has increased its emphasis on recruiting new radicals inside the countries it intends to attack.  This is logical since an American would have a much easier time of traveling to, from and within the USA than any foreign national.

Al Qaeda has indeed succeeded in doing just that.  The Fort Hood attack of 2009 and the attempted bombing of Times Square in New York City in 2010, both perpetrated by Americans, are well-documented examples of Al Qaeda’s local radical recruitment program.  And much of this recruitment is the result of the internet writings of an American radical Muslim named Anwar al-Awlaki, born in the USA to parents from Yemen.

It is against this backdrop that the new GOP chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, US House of Representatives congressman Peter King, republican from New York, has scheduled formal hearings next week.  In his own words, the goal of the hearings is “to establish and show the American people that there is a real threat of Al-Qaeda recruiting and of homegrown terrorists being self-radicalized within the Muslim community”.

Because King appears to have singled out American Islam over all other groups in the USA, he has incurred the wrath of mainstream American Muslims, as well as other groups that believe that the American mainstream Muslims have actually prevented more-self-radicalization than the perhaps two dozen known cases since 2001.  Contrary to King’s allegation, the American Muslim community actually has a better than average history cooperation with law enforcement in outing individual Muslims than seem poised to “go over the edge”.  They also point that King, once a Muslim supporter until the 9-11 attacks changed his mind, was also a strong supporter in the 1980’s of a radical terrorist group, known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA).  This does, in fact, beg the question, “WTF?”

Finally, they accuse King of initiating a new McCarthyism via his witch hunt of America Muslims not unlike the witch hunt for American communists in the 1950’s by then-US senator Joe McCarthy, republican of Wisconsin.  Back then, reputations were destroyed and lives ruined by nothing but innuendo, devoid of evidence, facts or merit.  Unfortunately, people will judge others solely upon the mere accusation of wrong-doing and nothing more.

The American Muslim community, already being judged by some as evil because of Al Qaeda’s activities, has endured discrimination, persecution, and even vandalism and attacks as a result.  It fears that the King hearing will only inflame more fear and hatred against its members.  It is probably right, if history is any indicator of human behavior.

King’s hearings, which are designed to examine radicalization of American Muslims, would certainly be appropriate if they penetrated far enough, but they don’t.  To do so, they would also need to concentrate of the forces that produce White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) American radicals such as Timothy McVeigh, who was responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, in addition to David Koresh, who in 1993 torched his entire cult at the Branch Davidian Ranch in Waco, Texas, as well as multiple below-the-radar private militias, many of them ultra-extreme white supremacists, right here in the good ‘ol USA.  And while they’re at it, they might want to investigate people who terrorize children through physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, as well as those who bomb abortion clinics.

In other words, if they really intend to seek out self-radicalization and home-grown terrorism to keep America safe, they should be investigating all sources of self-radicalization and home-grown terrorism, without singling out American Muslims as if they were a sole-source provider.  Certainly radical Islam is one source of self-radicalization, but so is racism, extreme religious fundamentalism, extreme ideology, nationalism, and just plain old fear and hate.

In fact, maybe King should just investigate just plain American sources of fear and hate-mongering.

Think the GOP and Tea Party activists would go for that?   🙂

Even Lunatic Fringe Psychotic Religious-Zealot Hate-mongering Wingnuts Have Free Speech Rights

The Supreme Court today issued its decision on the Westboro Baptist Church‘s hate-filled picketing at funerals of dead American soldiers.

The Westboro Baptist Church is a small, hate-mongering, extremist fundamentalist church headquartered in Topeka, Kansas.  It’s founder, Fred Phelps, began this church in 1955, and describes himself as an “old-time Baptist preacher”.  A disbarred lawyer who hates gays, Swedish people, Jewish people and various other minorities, his has  perhaps 71 members, mostly from his own family.  His daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, is a lawyer and the de facto spokesperson of this church.  Incidently, she is banned from entering the United Kingdom as a person who encourages extremism and/or hatred.

Another of his daughters, Margie Phelps, is also a lawyer and argued the Westboro Baptist Church’s case before the US Supreme Court.

Since 1991, the Westboro baptist Church has traveled around the USA their picket signs at the ready to protest at the funerals of dead military personnel, as well as celebrities if they beleive the press will be there.  Their protest signs read “God hates fags!”, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, and so forth.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/WBC_20051202_sacco-topeka5.jpg

These hate-mongering extremist have recently been protesting a few hundred yards from actual funeral services.  But they’re still in the vicinity with their horribly painful messages of hate, rationalized by their particular version of “Primitive Baptist” Christianity.

Subsequent to one of their signature protests in Westminster, Maryland for Matthew Snyder, a fallen US Marine in 2006, his father sued the Westboro Baptist Church, claiming among other things that the church had intentionally caused him emotional pain by their actions.  The initial court ruling was in Snyder’s favor, awarding USD $11 million (later reduced to USD $5 million).

The church appealed the decision. The Federal Court of Appeals court overturned the lowers court decision, ruling that the free speech clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution protected the church’s protest activities, including their hate-laden protest signs.

Ultimately, the case ended up in the US Supreme Court, where, in an 8-1 decision written by chief justice John Roberts, the court agreed with the Federal Court of Appeals’ decision.

There is no question that many people will disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, perhaps even accusing the court of “activism”.  In fact, one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative members,  Associate Judge Samual Alito, disagreed with the majority, claiming that the Westboro Baptist Church”s activities were outrageous, caused Snyder great pain, and… “the court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered”.  He added that “In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner.”

One huge problem with Alito’s contention regarding “brutalization” is the impossibility of determining a valid standard, or “one-size-fits-all” measurement, for “brutalization”.  The rest of the Supreme Court obviously realized this when they ruled in favor of the protesters.  After all, one person might feel “brutalized” by a message against abortion rights, while another could feel “brutalized” by an opposite message.  Ultimately, free speech would be stifled for fear of an accusation of “brutalization” by someone else.

This case is not dissimilar to a famous 1977 Supreme Court case regarding a protest march by a pro-Nazi group in Skokie, Illinois, a town where many holocaust survivors lived.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the marchers’ right to freedom of speech and assembly, even though everyone acknowledged the hateful nature of the march itself.

In both case, a distinction was made between the hatefulness of the message and the right to express it.  The individual rights in the US Constitution, and in fact human right in general, are not, and never should have been, operative only when the message is agreeable, even though many would wish they were.  Likewise, these rights don’t go away simply because the message is hateful, or hurtful, or discriminatory in nature.   If they did, then those with power would control all communication, and dissent would not be allowed.  This is how some countries on Earth still operate, and how some political leaders try to control their populations.

Put another way, if, in these two cases, the other side would have prevailed, then what would prevent freedom of speech from being overpowered at some subjective point by freedom from opposing viewpoints (even if the viewpoints are from lunatic-fringe, psychotic religious-zealot hate-mongering wingnuts)?  And who would get to make that determination?  State Police?  Big brother?  Michelle Bachmann??

So:  As much as We, the PEOPLE! would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see groups such as Nazis and the Westboro Baptist Church ( are they really one and the same??) shut up, hang up their hatred and take up huckleberry plucking, we’re not willing to sacrifice the First Amendment rights of the US Constitution to silence them, see them hang it up, or or hear them pluck it.