More Taxes

I got a letter from the IRS. Ominous, I know. I made a stupid mistake on my tax return, filed an amended return, sent them more money and, as a result, I owed them some (but not a lot of) interest. They wanted me to pay them 4 cents more than they wanted me to pay them last month, because, according to them, I didn’’t pay them last month. But I did. I paid it right at the deadline, due to my incompetence, not due to trying to earn more interest on the money in my bank account. I really don’’t have that much money in the bank and interest rates are awful these days. I don’’t think you can even measure the interest I would have earned over that short period of time on $15.00. When I pushed the deadline, I did have the envelope hand-cancelled at the post office just to be sure I was okay.

Automated phone attendants are machines designed to let a computer give you information you didn’’t really need while keeping you from talking to a human being who could help you, for an extended period of time.

I was impressed that the notice from the IRS was dated a week after I received it. Even though I don’’t think they mailed it next week, that’’s still really efficient.  The automated phone attendant was impressively efficient too since it kept me from talking to someone who could help me for about half an hour. It did tell me the waiting time would me more than 15 minutes, so that was right too. I would, however, have chosen different music to play in my ear over a low-quality phone line, and if I had it to do over again, I’’d call from a speaker phone.

But, eventually, through perseverance, and a sore ear, I got to talk to a very pleasant woman at the IRS. She gave me her name and ID number. I was surprised that she gave her name because I’’ve worked in a couple of local tax offices where the people who answered the phone wouldn’’t. They didn’’t want people coming over to their houses and harassing them.

Anyway, the pleasant woman looked up my account, confirmed that they did receive the payment and said the notice must have crossed with the payment in the mail. She also said I do not owe the additional four cents. I, of course, wrote down her name, her ID number and the date and time she told me I was good to go. There are bad apples in any bunch, but this woman is positive example that negative stereotypes of civil servants are anything but universally applicable

I understand the IRS deals with a stunning number of people, so I’’m not really kvetching too much about the long wait to talk to someone who could help. The point I’’m making is the pleasant woman who could help did help. So, thanks to her and to the IRS. I’’m not going to share her name with you, but if anyone from the IRS is reading this and contacts me, I’’d certainly identify and praise her through official channels.

Things I Know

If you get a phone call and there’’s nobody on the other end of the line for several seconds, you’’re being called by an automatic dialing system that tries to anticipate when the human caller will be available to annoy talk to you. Unless you enjoy receiving telephone sales calls, you can probably hang up any time that happens.

Figuring out how to repair the flush valve on my toilet isn’’t satisfying for all the water I’’m saving. It’’s better because I didn’’t have to call and pay a plumber. To paraphrase the credit card ad, $7 to fix the toilet, priceless!

Nothing against plumbers though. I call a good one when what needs fixing is beyond my skills. And that good plumber is very odd. He returns phone calls and shows up pretty much when he says he will. He still charges a lot. I said he’’s very odd, not weird.

$6.90 for returning deposit soda bottles and cans: at five cents a pop, or soda, or beer, that’’s 138 cans and bottles. Either I have to take them back more often, or it’’s a good thing I own a truck.

The only attention I ever pay to professional or college football is when my son’’s alma mater wins a national championship (as in the last two years in a row, Roll Tide!). I played as a kid, but stopped when the other kids started getting as big as me. That being said, the NCAA penalties against Penn State hurt an awful lot of people who had nothing to do with the child sex abuse scandal at the University and nothing to do with covering it up either. The guy who did the crime is in jail. One of the cover-up guys (according to Louis Freeh’’s investigation) is dead. Others have lost their jobs. I don’’t know if they’’ll be indicted, but they probably will be sued and so will the university. As a result of the lawsuits, I hope the victims are compensated and I hope that compensation helps them. I approve of all that punishment, but what the NCAA did hurts the university, hurts students who play other sports that cost more than they earn, hurts other programs paid for from football profits and it hurts the local economy too because a lot of people who have been going to games won’’t go, won’’t stay overnight, won’’t eat in local restaurants. You get the idea.

And, while I’’m happy that my son’’s happy if Alabama wins, all of the SEC schools are among the colleges and universities I believe value football more than they should when compared with academics.

If your insomnia is as bad as mine, you may have seen the show ““Comics Unleashed.”” Judging from some of the topical jokes it’’s in reruns on Channel 2 in New York after Craig Ferguson’’s show. If you’’re looking for a good laugh, there’’s really no need to see it though.

I’’m kind of stoked that I could buy repair parts for an Andersen window more than twenty years old. Still, newer ones are a lot easier to take apart than that one is. I took it apart, fixed it and put it back together again, but if I took it apart another time or two, I’’m pretty sure I’’d break something. You expect product designs to improve and in the case of Andersen windows, they have. The old one I just fixed used balances and one of them broke after close to 25 years. The new ones don’’t use balances and it’’s a lot easier to remove the sashes than it used to be.

Twenty-one people were treated for burns on their feet after trying to walk on hot coals following a program by motivational speaker Tony Robbins. If twenty people ahead of me got burned trying to walk on burning coals, I would get out of the line myself. But that’’s just me. It probably wouldn’’t even take twenty.

I’’ve often wondered how kids survive between the time they stop being cute and the time they start being bigger than we are. This answer from the website jezebel.com may explain it. I believe a man named Doug Barry is the author although I’’m not entirely clear on that because the article I lifted the answer from is an aggregation of news items from elsewhere. ““. . . they say your brain releases crazy chemicals after you have kids to keep you from eating them when they get too heavy to carry and there aren’t any mastodons to hunt.”” I think that’s sarcasm, but it sounds like a real possibility to me as well.

Tax Everybody

President Obama has once again proposed eliminating Bush-era tax cuts, this time for people who make over $250,000 a year. There’’s plenty of room for agreement or disagreement. Yes, the government spends a lot more money than it takes in. You would too if you could print money legally. So increasing the government’’s revenues would help the situation, but raising taxes on those making over $250,000 while it would increase revenue would not offset deficits. In other words, taxing the so-called rich would not raise enough to pay for all the things we’’re already spending money on. Yes, many of the $250,000 income earners are small businesses that can create jobs if their profits aren’’t taken in taxes, but have you seen the job creation numbers recently? Job creation is very slow. And yes, there are plenty of things you or I may think the government wastes money on, but your lists and mine are probably different and the federal government wouldn’’t be spending the money if someone didn’’t want it to.

Then, there is the question of whether $250,000 a year is actually rich. I’’d certainly feel better off if my family income was that high, but I don’’t think I’’d feel rich; upper middle class, probably, but not rich. On the other hand, I live in one of the most expensive areas of the country, I have high property taxes, and a significant mortgage payment. If your house is paid off and you live in a low-cost-of-living area, then $250,000 a year would put you on easy street.

No matter how much sense I make, I’’m not going to resolve the issue here, so I won’’t try. It’’s an issue that will be argued endlessly between now and the November election. What I am going to do is muddy the water because I can, by talking about the other end of the spectrum.

It’’s already true that way fewer than half of the people pay more, way more than half the taxes. Is that fair? Well, way fewer than half the people have way more than half the money, so maybe. And those people with a disproportionate share of the money can use some of it to buy political influence. Some of them do just that. But the people who have less than half the money are in the majority, the overwhelming majority, in fact. And the overwhelming majority can vote for its self-interest if properly motivated. That’’s why certain people are screaming about class welfare.

One statistic that has come up in the tax argument really troubles me. Only 51% of the people in this country actually pay any federal income taxes. A few of the people who pay little or no federal income taxes are rich. Most of their income comes not from salary, but from investments and they pay capital gains taxes, the theory being that low tax rates on capital gains encourage investment and investment encourages the economy to expand.

A lot of the people who pay no income tax at all are not rich by any means. Still, it disturbs me that almost half of the people don’’t pay any federal income taxes. It would disturb me a lot more if more than half didn’’t pay.

Paying taxes does make people feel more a part of the government and the overall society. Not paying taxes does alienate people from those feelings. We’’re already at a point where far too many people feel civic virtue isn’’t a virtue and that civic responsibility isn’’t their responsibility. Someone go look up the contributing factors to the fall of the Roman Empire. You’’ll come across the Latin phrase, ““panem et circenses,”” or its English translation: bread and circuses. I think we as a society are tottering on the edge of that cliff and I don’’t want America as a society to fall over or worse, jump off.

So, whether we wind up increasing taxes on the rich, I propose we tax the poor, but because I used to be a PR guy, I am not going to call it that. I’’ll call it, ““Tax Everybody.”” Seems fair, right? No matter who you are or how much money you have, man, woman, child, citizen, resident alien, undocumented or illegal immigrant, if you’’re here on April 15th, under my proposal, you have to cough up at least $5. I’’d call it a minimum income tax, except we already have one of those and it doesn’t apply to everyone even though you might think it would. I propose that you have to pay this whether you have any income or not.

I don’’t have sufficient information to calculate whether that would raise enough money to pay for the things we’ve already bought for ourselves or obligated ourselves to pay for. I suspect it wouldn’’t, but we do know taxing the rich won’’t take care of that either. However, instead of barely half the people paying taxes, everyone (or more likely almost everyone by the time Congress gets done with it) would pay at least a token amount so everyone would be a little more connected to civic life.

Maybe it would help restore civic virtue and civic responsibility. Maybe it would cause more people to look to themselves to pay for their own bread and their own circuses. Maybe it would only set the doomsday clock of the collapse of America back a few seconds, I don’’t know. When my kids do something that isn’’t working, I always suggest they try something else. What we as a society are doing isn’’t working, so all I’’m doing is suggesting we try something else. I don’’t think it could hurt and it might help. So whether we wind up raising taxes on the rich or not, I suggest we tax everybody.

Sheer Irony

blog-pic-7-20.jpg

I know everything at the ballpark is expensive, but $15 for a Po’ Boy sandwich at Citi Field strikes me as ironic. I’d say it’s delicious irony, but it’s ballpark food.

Update: My son reports in from another dimension and advises that, “It’s called a Po’ Boy because at those prices it makes you Po’.” That pretty much covers the name, doesn’t it?

Things I Want (Or Need) To Know

There’’s a pool company on Long Island called “Brothers 3 Pools” that advertises heavily on cable TV. In the ads, a young woman urges you to remember, ““My uncle makes them: My father sells them.”” Okay, but what does the third brother do? She’s been keeping us in suspense for years.

My friend Wes Richards asked the following question in his blog recently (see my blog roll to get to his blog) and since I want to know the answer too, I repeat it here: If you throw your hat into the ring, it means you’’re in it to win it. If you throw your towel into the ring, it means you quit. If you throw a white terry cloth hat into the ring, does it mean you’’re in and out at the same time?

Khloe Kardashian has a new baby named Penelope. That raises the question, how can you possibly pronounce the name Penelope as if it started with the letter K?

Why do dogs LOVE air blowing in their faces?

Google Voice is, among other things, an inexpensive and practical solution to making overseas calls from the USA. I used it frequently last year to call my son when he was in China for three months. But I haven’’t used it for that purpose in over a year and I don’’t know anyone else who’’s overseas right now. Does anyone know how I can get a refund for the $3.82 in credit that remains in the account? I’’d even be satisfied if I could use the $3.82 to buy music downloads from them.

If cows could laugh, would milk come out of their noses?

Nobody but the security guard works the graveyard shift at a cemetery, so why do they call it that?

Things I Know

Depending on whose count you believe, Republicans in the House have voted to repeal Obamacare 31 or 33 times. They know the bills they keep passing will not pass the Senate unless the next election changes the composition of the Senate. Whether you approve of Obamacare or not, the Republicans in the House of Representatives are not impressing me by taking over 30 votes on legislation they know won’t pass the Senate. I think they’’re turning off a lot more people than they’re impressing at this point, including people who agree with them about Obamacare.

You can buy malted milk powder on Amazon.com, either Carnation or Horlicks. Hell. You can subscribe to malted milk powder on Amazon.com, so you don’’t even have to remember to reorder it.

Now, if you could subscribe to chocolate ice cream through Amazon.com, you’’d really have something. What you’d probably have is chocolate soup, because the delivery company would most likely leave the ice cream to melt on the porch.

I’’ve talked before about the concept of a material difference in accounting. If you’re short a few pennies or even a few dollars (like three or four) on a very large amount of money, it’’s not a material difference, so it doesn’’t matter. Remember that two-billion-dollar trading loss J P Morgan reported a while back? Today the bank reported that the loss is actually $5.8 billion. That IS a material difference.

I don’’t have to go to a podiatrist often, which is good because when I go, it’’s usually for an ingrown toenail and the podiatrist pulls a sliver of my toenail out with a pair of pliers. The doctor does use a local anesthetic which is also good because it only leaves me thinking what an effective form of torture pulling your nails out would be, not experiencing it first-hand. Still it’’s bad because injections of local anesthesia are especially painfully for me.

Bob Kane was the artist who first drew the comic book hero Batman. I went to grade school with a girl who claimed she was related to Mr. Kane. I believed her because she knew who Bob Kane was even though she was a girl and because she had a pencil drawing of Robin signed by Bob Kane in her wallet.

I’’ve been calling my wife Saint Karen for quite some time now on the theory that she has to be a saint to put up with me. I don’’t know why I didn’’t think of this before, but you can buy a Saint Karen pendant or medal. I’’m going to do that, but not just yet. However, if you have need of a Saint Karen medal or pendant, please know that you should shop around. The price for what appears to be the same sterling silver item varies by a couple of hundred percent. The gold one costs about twenty times as much as the silver.

This is not a complaint about Andersen windows. It’s a complaint about a different guy. I like the windows enough to buy lots of them (I’m pretty sure I have 18) for the house I own that didn’t come equipped with them. However, I needed new balances for the oldest one I have. I think it’s the only one that uses balances. A local dealer gave me some hints for taking apart the window and told me he could order the necessary balances if I brought in the old ones or if I provided the information on the lower corner of the window pane, plus the size of the sash. Very helpful. I took the old balances in and talked to a different guy at the dealer. The different guy told me he could only order the balances if I brought in or measured the sash. That’s not what the helpful guy said and you can order them with the old balance’s part number if you know about the Internet. I told the different guy I could order them no problem on the Internet. He was not moved. So, that’s what I did. They cost less and came in only two days. I’m sorry helpful guy wasn’t there. I would have paid a little extra for that kind of customer service. But if you want to charge more, you can’t have different guy not doing what helpful guy said.

Things I Know

Ocean Home Magazine has just come out with what it calls the 25 most desirable oceanfront homes currently for sale in the USA. I do know a couple of people who might be able to afford one of the homes on the list, although certainly not the most expensive. One in East Hampton is two blocks from the ocean. Is that cheating? The one in Alaska overlooks Cook Inlet. Since I can’’t afford it, I don’’t even have to politely decline because I hate to be cold. I do like to look and if you don’’t mind drooling on your computer keyboard, you might like looking too.

Teva sandals stink! Otherwise, they’’re great. I’’ve been wearing rubber Tevas like the current Hurricane model at the beach and for other outdoor activities for years and years. The ones I have on now are about seven years old so they last a long time. I have plantar fasciitis, and my podiatrist thought I was crazy when I told him that my beach sandals are among my most comfortable shoes. But the rubber gives a little while still having good arch support. Teva advertizes that the sandals have a zinc-based anti-microbial technology. I thought the zinc stuff wore out and that’’s why the sandals stink, but I’’ve been reading up on it. Turns out you should wash them even scrub them much more often than I have. I’’m going to try that because other than the fact that they occasionally smell, I love Teva sandals. Don’’t throw them in the washing machine though.

On the 4th of July, two women in East Farmingdale NY were seriously burned when aerosol cans stored under their barbecues exploded. I wouldn’’t have been that concerned about aerosol cans, but the barbecue I own has a cabinet under the burners and by design, you’’re supposed to keep a 20 pound propane cylinder in there. I did that. Once! It gets really hot in that cabinet. Now, I don’t keep anything in it. In fact, when I buy my next barbecue, I’’m going to see if I can find one without a cabinet beneath the fire. The cabinet adds to the expense of the barbecue and I think it’’s too hot to use for storage of anything flammable.

On the evening of the 4th, a 34-foot cabin cruiser capsized in the Oyster Bay-Cold Spring Harbor area of Long Island’’s north shore. Three children trapped in the cabin drowned. Police say they’’re investigating whether the boat was overloaded. I’’m no expert, but with 27 people on a 34-foot boat, I imagine it must have been. Even if it was overloaded, other factors could also have contributed to the tragedy.

On the 20th, I’’m going to see my first Dodger game in 55 years when the Dodgers play the Mets at Citi Field. No, I don’’t think they’’re going to come back, but I do want to assure everyone that I won’’t root for them.

If you have a Facebook application on your smart phone, under certain circumstances, Facebook will populate your phone’’s address book with the names of your Facebook friends and with any contact information they’’ve supplied to Facebook. This is not necessarily a good thing since I almost butt-dialed someone who lives in Brazil the other day.

When my son was in China, I got a Google Voice phone number and used it to chat with him. Now, I use it less often and have it set to forward any incoming calls to my cell phone. That’’s why I was glad my cell phone was off when someone I’’ve never heard of called my Google Voice number the other day at 5:30 AM.

The city council in Houston TX recently passed a $5.00-per-person fee for patrons of strip clubs. Wags are calling it a pole tax. The money is being earmarked to clear a backlog of something like 4,000 unprocessed rape kits. Pursuing rapists is something police everywhere ought to have the resources to do, but I’’m unaware of any evidence that suggests strip clubs cause rape.

If my wife and I could learn to fight with each other often enough, we could probably stop paying for all the cable TV channels that run reality TV shows.

I have a solution for the programmers who work on MS Word’’s grammar & spelling checker as well as for speakers of English. MS Word can’’t discern a correct usage of the word its or the contraction it’’s. So, it almost always labels their use wrong, even when it’’s right. I suggest that all English speakers be like my Irish grandmother and use the contraction ‘t’is instead of it’’s. ‘T’is can’’t be confused with it’’s. Of course, the substitution would bring into common use the contraction ‘t’isn’’t, which is the only contraction I can think of that has two apostrophes in it.

Things I Want (Or Need) To Know

flags-for-internet3.jpg

Do you realize that the phrase ““Independence Day,”” and the phrase, ““The Fourth of July.”” have the exact same number of syllables?

Do you also realize that if we could get everyone to call it “Independence Day” we could have it on a Monday every year?

Andy Griffith passed away at the age of 86. The actor was best known for his role as homespun sheriff Andy Taylor on the ‘60’s “Andy Griffith Show. He also starred in the successful TV series “Matlock.” RIP Andy. But did you ever wonder why he had such a strong southern accent while Aunt Bea, Opie and Barney Fife didn’’t?

Why do they call it the Albert Einstein College of Medicine? The school’’s website describes Professor Einstein as, “The renowned scientist and humanist.”” True. Professor Einstein is no doubt one of the most prominent scientists in history. But he was a theoretical physicist whose discoveries had little or nothing to do with medicine. I don’’t think he was wealthy enough to endow the college and it’s associated with Yeshiva University while he was a professor at Princeton. So, why do they call it the Albert Einstein College of Medicine?

Have you read Rielle Hunter’s book, ““What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter and Me?”” I haven’’t. It’’s been described as a tell-all book: I’’m waiting for her “I’’m never going to say another word” book myself.