Grandchildren, taxes, drama

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Excerpt from thoughts on the rewards of being a grandparent by Malcolm Forbes:

"Getting older has its own rewards. Like grandchildren. As I know from seven of our own, the joy of them is unleavened by the parental necessity of incessant naysaying, carting, feeding and fussing. No matter what their age you can treat grandchildren as people you love, not people you're totally responsible for raising. It's an inestimable advantage to hear and to grant, to sympathize and empathize with them. Of course, you've paid your dues. All the mistakes you made with your kids you can avoid with your kids' kids."

Tuesday morning our son Jon and his wife Victoria blessed Wendy and me with our 13th grandchild, Katya, a 6-pound, 14-ounce healthy, wonderful little girl. Mother, father, big sister Yuliana and grandparents are all doing fine.

Tax preparation costs -- A bird watcher's guide to the tax season: It's a turkey, and it comes in April: We'll pay more than $300 billion in tax reparation costs this year just to obey federal tax laws. In fact, we'll spend more hours on tax forms this year than all the hours spent building American cars -- in their best year. We'll still come up $350 billion short of what is owed, mostly because of mistakes. It's so complex that the secretary of the treasury, the nominee for secretary of health and human services (actually, both of them) and even the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee claimed ignorance on their underpaid taxes recently. Adding to tax season misery, Congress' error in drafting the alternative minimum tax threatens millions of "wealthy" families making as little as $75,000 a year. Our tax system even confounds the IRS who won't let you count on their previous advice if an audit occurs.

An albatross around the neck of the economy: Trillions of investment dollars offshore that could be producing jobs here in America stay away because we have the second-highest corporate tax rate in the world. We tax the engines of our economy-work, savings and investment -- to the detriment of each. We put a tax cost on every hiring decision. We punish success with ever-higher taxes. Few American business decisions are made without first reviewing the tax consequences -- in a system where debt is more favorable than wealth. Embedded income tax costs give foreign producers a price advantage over American products, undermining the "Made in America" label. The highly regressive Social Security and Medicare payroll tax works against self-employment and makes climbing out of poverty far more difficult.

Does the sun come up because the rooster crows? Selling off pieces of the tax code is big business in Washington, with tax-writing committees driving a recession-proof, billion-dollar-a-year tax lobby practice. This practice chokes the tax code's 67,500 pages of regulations with arbitrary and all but indecipherable provisions. Class warfare over tax policy is a staple of Washington with advocates, scholars and tax experts flocking together for ritualized battle. The truth that business taxes are passed onto consumers or depress job growth, wages and benefits is studiously ignored with ostrichlike focus.


Abraham Lincoln once asked an audience how many legs a dog has if you count the tail as a leg. When they answered "five," Lincoln told them that the answer was four. The fact that you called the tail a leg did not make it a leg.

It is too bad that Lincoln is not still around today. He might emancipate us all from our enslavement to words.

When you call something a "stimulus" package, that does not mean that it actually stimulates. The way individuals, banks and businesses in general are hanging onto their money suggests that "sedative" package might be more accurate.

This is not a new phenomenon, peculiar to this administration. President Bush's "stimulus" package did not stimulate either. The same was true back in the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "pump-priming" by spending government money to get private money flowing. -- Excerpt from a column by Thomas Sowell

Another tax-simplification proposal is the flat tax advocated by such as Steve Forbes, who recently editorialized as follows:

Flat tax, anyone? Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's tax troubles -- a result, his handlers had said, of tax code complexity -- underscore the need to drastically simplify that code with a flat tax, where you could file your return on a single sheet of paper or even a postcard.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service issued its annual report to Congress. (The service is part of the IRS and was designed to help taxpayers resolve complaints with the agency that can't be resolved through normal channels.) The report was an eye-opener as to just how horrifically complicated the code has become. Americans spend 7.6 billion hours a year complying with tax-filing requirements, the equivalent of 3.8 million full-time jobs. The code gets ever more complicated, expanding by about 1,000 words a day -- with 500 changes last year alone. Nothing is simple. One example: Congress passed a law allowing beleaguered homeowners to exclude from taxable income home-mortgage debt that is forgiven by lenders. But the form is utterly bewildering, and the law itself is full of nitpicking rules about how much of the forgiven debt can actually be excluded.

By the way, with a flat tax, Geithner couldn't have gotten into the trouble he did even if he'd wanted to.

Whatever happened to real drama? "I came to a shocking realization the other day," said theater reviewer Louise Kennedy of the Boston Globe. "I can't be shocked by any play that bills itself as shocking."

In a lame attempt to seem cool and edgy, modern playwrights are focusing on such topics as child abuse, incest and torture. One production I recently saw employed buckets of fake blood and flying body parts. Another featured an affair between a 40-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl. I've been more bored than shocked. And I think I know why. All these onstage acts of violence, all these "daring" confrontations with hard sexual truths, are nothing more than a desperate attempt to compete with the graphic imagery of TV ad movies.

But real theater is about character and relationships and illuminating the hidden recesses of the human soul. The action unfolds in language, not in visual gimmicks like sex toys and buckets of blood. Great playwrights such as David Mamet, Sam Shepard and Shakespeare were able to create gripping drama -- and, yes, shock audiences -- purely through the power of words. So spare us the freak shows, please.

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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