Thursday, January 29, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire - Movie Review

The Oscar nominations are out and for the first time as far as I can remember, Clara and I haven't seen all of the nominees. We began to cure this Saturday by seeing Slumdog Millionaire.

Visually stunning and with a compelling soundtrack, Slumdog is a movie like you've probably not seen before, and that's enough, isn't it? The story is Dickensian - it's Oliver Twist in India - so it's traditional in that sense but it's a clear case of style over substance and it's style carries it through. It's positive resolution to what could've been a glum plot makes it a strong contender for best picture. Stay around for the end credits, they're a delight as well.

A wild ride, and highly recommended.

(I'm not sure if we'll see the other best movie nominees; frankly, they leave me a little cold and there are other movies I'd like to see)

The Limbaugh Stimulus

No matter your political leanings, you might agree Rush Limbaugh's proposal makes sense:
Congress is currently haggling over how to spend $900 billion generated by American taxpayers in the private sector. (It's important to remember that it's the people's money, not Washington's.) In a Jan. 23 meeting between President Obama and Republican leaders, Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.) proposed a moderate tax cut plan. President Obama responded, "I won. I'm going to trump you on that."

Yes, elections have consequences. But where's the bipartisanship, Mr. Obama? This does not have to be a divisive issue. My proposal is a genuine compromise.

Fifty-three percent of American voters voted for Barack Obama; 46% voted for John McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Give that 1% to President Obama. Let's say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion -- $486 billion -- will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% -- $414 billion -- will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.

Then we compare. . .

Scoff if you will but Limbaugh makes a perfectly good point: why not have things both ways? When energy costs sky-rocketed last summer, the debate was over more exploration and conservation. Why not both? Why not drill more and encourage "green" energy development. Let the marketplace of ideas settle this thing.

I believe you know the answer to that as well as I: this is politics. And politics doesn't pay if both sides win. And politicians aren't in it for you or me. They're in it for themselves.

Bipartisanship and the Weather

At last, there's something I can agree with Obama about:
After his daughters got a snow day Wednesday, President Barack Obama wants to see a little bit of "flinty, Chicago toughness" applied locally.

"When it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things," a joking Obama told reporters Wednesday morning.

"My children's school was canceled today because of what? Some ice."

Today's the third day the girls are home from school. No, all of the streets aren't bone dry and clear but they're perfectly passable, especially on the main streets. I'm sure it has everything to do with the "safety of the children" but, come on. We're burning snow days here, snow days we may still need later in the year. It's just late January.

Emily's perfectly fine with it; Rachel less so.

Well, maybe tomorrow. For now, I'm glad to be in complete agreement with the President.

(And how likely to you think it will be that I'll use the tags I've used on this post again? Looks like the weather is a great uniter.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike dead at age 76

I didn't know Updike had lung cancer:
John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, prolific man of letters and erudite chronicler of sex, divorce and other adventures in the postwar prime of the American empire, died Tuesday at age 76. Updike, best known for his four "Rabbit" novels, died of lung cancer at a hospice near his home in Beverly Farms, Mass., according to his longtime publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

I was a fan long ago and I greatly admired his skill with words but his seeming inability to pull back from his explicit sex scenes finally drove me away. Yeah, I'm a prude. So?

Still, there's plenty of Updike's work to enjoy, and his essays are quite good. A few years back, he'd gotten into a literary dust up with Tom Wolfe but I remember thinking Updike's position lacked merit though I don't remember why. The lengthy of his career and prolific output should have earned Updike the Nobel Prize and while we all know it's more about politics than it is literary merit that gets you the prize, I believe Updike's politics should have been liberal enough to get him in. Who knows why he never snagged the Nobel.

Updike's death diminishes American literature.

That's not much from me, so let's go to National Review Online. Here's Rick Brookhiser:

I wrote about John Updike in The Way of the WASP. I went through a phase of reading him wall-to-wall. It cooled off, but I still go back to his comedies of damnation (Roger's Version and The Witches of Eastwick), and his book about his Jewish alter ego, Bech: A Book. (Don't think there is such a thing as a hilarious bibliography? Bech: A Book has one). His first book on Harry Angstrom, Rabbit, Run, is also fine, and there are good things in the Rabbit series, though it runs thin as it goes. His African fantasia, The Coup, is also definitely worth it. His short story "Pigeon Feathers" is endlessly anthologized, deservedly so; some of the stories in Too Far to Go are also good.

But even in the failures there are good things. The Centaur is an early novel, crippled by a phony mythological structure; but the evocation of small-city Pennsylvania (Reading, I believe) is wonderful.

Fashion is cruel and time sorts, but I believe he has left us valuable things. R.I.P.

And here's Thomas Mallon:
Perhaps the keenest compliment one can pay him as a man is to say that his life will make for a lousy biography: Just about no scandal; precious little feuding; almost no phony contretemps and posturing. He was deeply interested in sex and God, but more than anything he was interested in working—steadily and prodigiously. The Rabbit books, taken together, are the great American novel of the second half of the twentieth century. Even when he was through with them, he kept writing fiction as if, culturally, it still counted—as if it could still land a writer on the cover of Time. He loved his country, avoided political faddishness, was a devoted Democrat and got both of his national medals—one in the arts and another in the humanities—from Republican presidents. On a personal level, I'm forever grateful to him. Fifteen years ago he took a shine to one of my novels and wrote several pages about my work in The New Yorker; I had a different career the next day, thanks to him.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ice Storm Pictures

After I got Clara home, I had to run back out to get her 'scrips filled. Did I have my cell phone camera with me? I did! That means first-hand pictures of the ice storm.

Into our 'hood, looking through the windshield. Those blurs are water drops on the windshield:

Bleak enough for you? No? How about this? (More water drops near the bottom of the picture.)

I color-corrected through Picasa so if things look a little washed out, that's why. (Uncorrected, everything looks too blue and gray.)

Here's the house:

The last ice storm caused those trees near the house to bend all the way to the ground. So, no, things aren't as bad as then. But it's still not much fun.

(Go here to see my pictures from the 2007 ice storm and go here for a couple of shots from my office window of the same ice storm. Posting those pictures here would only confuse things, wouldn't it?)

Hospital Visit - Pt 2

Clara's follow up visit to the urologist after her kidney stone adventure yielded another hospital visit today. It turns out she had two stones, one on its way to her bladder on her right side and another still rattling around in her left kidney. No way to get 'em out other than by a little outpatient surgery. Add today's ice storm and, my friend, you have a recipe for fun.

Clara was scheduled to have her procedure done at 9:30 a.m, which meant she had to be at the hospital to check in at 7:30 a.m., which meant, because of the weather, we had to leave the house at 6:30 a.m. No real problems getting in though it was a little more thrilling than usual - we had the streets and highways to ourselves and there was a wicked peppering of sleet when we turned north just to keep things interesting. A normally 20 minute ride was only doubled, thanks to my mad driving skillz.

Surprisingly, we weren't the only ones to arrive early - the hospital and doctors seldom cancel these things due to the weather - and we got checked in and into our little cubby right on schedule. The staff kept things moving - our hopes were lifted when they revealed some patient cancellations had bumped us up in line but a slight complication with a procedure before Clara's put us back to our original time. No worries. By then, Clara had received her first ant-anxiety drug dosage:


Seriously, though, she was doing very well, considering the circumstances and the wait:


Okay, maybe it really was the drugs.

They wheeled Clara out right at 9:30 so off to the waiting room for me, where I waited for about an hour or so before the doctor came out to brief me: the dye he'd injected showed the right side to be clear but he knew that couldn't be correct. He went in with the scope and found the stone lodged in the tube wall, flapping in the stream. It was shaped like a baseball bat, about 6 mm long, but its irregular shape meant Clara would never pass it. He zapped it with the laser, then scooped up the pieces with the basket, and that side was done. On the left side, that stone was about 9mm big and he broke that into gravel with the sonic thingy. Those fragments should pass effortlessly. He had to use a stent - not like an arterial stent at all but one that threads through the entire tube from the kidney to the bladder - to keep the tube from shutting down from normal post-op swelling. The stent'll have to be removed next week in an office procedure. Other than some possible post-op pain and normal minor bleeding, Clara should be all set.

Thirty minutes of recovery later, I was let back into the cubby. Clara was awake but a little groggy, and feeling nauseated. They'd given her some meds for that before the procedure and more afterward but she was still clutching her vomit sock on the way out. The polar blast of wind helped her keep her nausea in check and she had no problems on the drive home.

The girls, meanwhile, had been busy, and had baked Clara a get-well cake for her arrival home. Clara made a nice fuss about it before finally crashing on the couch, where she rode out the rest of the afternoon.

More as things develop, if they do, but for now she should be fine.

Ice Storm

It's been a little over a year since we've had a significant ice storm. This one's much less severe than that last one but it's giving us a run for the money, nonetheless. Schools are closed and I've closed the office - Clara and I are busy today with her follow up procedure to her kidney stone incident - possibly more about that later - and good thing: it's treacherous out there. (Though not impassible.)

No pictures of my own so let's get something from The Daily Oklahoman:

Yeah, it's that bad.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Don't Panic!

The economic news makes it hard to keep a cool head but John Stossel says this is no time to panic:
Have we become so fragile that we can't handle any recession? The 11 recessions since World War II are part of the "creative destruction" that ultimately drives our economy, yet today politicians act as if they can insulate us from pain with bailouts and "stimulus packages."

Besides his get tough message, Stossel has some good stats to back up his assertion that, though things are rocky, they're not as bad as they seem and certainly they aren't as bad as they have been before.

Will things get worse? Maybe. But unlike what's happened before, we have some things going for us to lessen the pain: lower taxes, lower gas prices, a long stretch of growth prior to the bubble burst.

Hang on. Things'll get better.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Turbo Tax vs. Tax Professional - Part 2

Sitemeter tells me I'm getting visitors from Google because of this post but I suspect most people who use the search terms "Turbo Tax vs. Tax Professional" are really interested in the trouble of the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury's tax woes. (Though Google searchers should be!) Instead, I think they're interested in finding the advantages and disadvantages off using Turbo Tax or a Tax Professional. If so, they've come to the right place.

Of course, I'm a tax professional so I think you should hire me to do your taxes but you might be surprised to know that I don't believe everyone should. In fact, I think computing your tax burden should be simple enough that everyone could do it on their own. Well, taxes aren't simple, and if you foul up, you could get into serious trouble, so it's best to leave the task to a professional and have at least some peace of mind. You might be able to change a washer in your kitchen faucet but you wouldn't want to install an entire faucet on your own, unless you're extremely handy. Most people aren't. They have these things called lives.

And you might be surprised to know that I think Turbo Tax is a good program. Before I resigned from the IRS, I used an online version of Turbo Tax and I was impressed with its performance. But I had years of experience with taxes to help me make sure Turbo Tax was doing the tax return correctly and I was familiar with most of the issues on our tax return. I can't say how the average user would do without that background. Turbo Tax makes it simple, so you'd likely have little trouble learning how to use it, but, again, there's that thing called a life you have which you'd rather spend living than learning how to use tax software. And once you've learned how to use the software, you still have to input your information, submit the return for filing electronically (or not), correct for errors, re-submit, print out a paper copy for your files, maintain that file for three years, etc.

And then what happens if you get audited? Turbo Tax won't represent you before the authorities. Turbo Tax won't advise you about the chances of appealing a Revenue Agent's findings. A tax professional will.

I guess the best selling point I can make about hiring a professional is that what you're really buying is your own time back. Sure, you can handle most of this stuff on your own and go through most of your life without any problems. But your time is more valuable than that. At least as valuable as any fee you'll pay a professional. Using Turbo Tax makes doing your taxes easier but it doesn't give your time back.

Have I convinced you? I hope so. To avoid spammers, I won't give out my contact information on Blogger, but if you want to talk more about this in person, Google me and give me a shout. I'd love to talk to you more about it.

James Taylor: Another Celebrity Hero

Celebrity heroes are becoming a trend around here but since I'm a fan of James Taylor, I couldn't let this go unnoticed:
James Taylor said he will give a California woman a brand new music player loaded with his songs to replace the one she said she had to give up to a taxi driver when her credit card was declined after a trip to the airport last month.

Natalie Lenhart, 20, said officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport made her give the $140 iPod nano to the driver as payment for the $49 ride from Manhattan on Dec. 8. The driver said he'd return her iPod for the fare.

Lenhart's red iPod was loaded with oldies, including songs by the folk singer. Taylor has written classics such as "You've Got a Friend" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)." Taylor said he might upgrade Lenhart's device to an iPhone.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency responsible for police at the airport, said it is investigating.

Ebert on Fire

Once again, Roger Ebert is on fire:
If I were on Death Row, my last meal would be from Steak 'n Shake. If I were to take President Obama and his family to dinner and the choice were up to me, it would be Steak 'n Shake--and they would be delighted. If the Pope were to ask where he could get a good plate of spaghetti in America, I would reply, "Your Holiness, have you tried the Chili Mac or the Chili 3-Ways?"

A downstate Illinois boy loves the Steak 'n Shake as a Puerto Rican loves rice and beans, an Egyptian loves falafel, a Brit loves banger and mash, an Indian loves tikki ki chaat, a Swede loves herring, a Finn loves reindeer jerky, and a Canadian loves bran muffins. These matters do not involve taste. They involve a deep-seated conviction that a food is absolutely right, and always has been, and always will be. These convictions are fixed at an early age. I do not expect to convert you.

We're a family of converts, especially Emily. Some years ago, Clara discovered the wonders of Steak 'n Shake and on a road trip through Tennessee, we managed to sample this cuisine. We've been hooked ever since and every time we hit the road, the choice stop is Steak 'n Shake. Now Oklahoma City's closer to perfection with two Steak 'n Shakes in the metro area.

Now, I won't waste time trying to convert Mr. Ebert to be a true believer of Oklahoma's own Sonic but my word to him would be to give it a try and see if there isn't room for another establishments on his top eatery list. (Yes, I know Mr. Ebert's medical condition likely prevents him from enjoying solid food. Still, if it's possible, he shouldn't deny himself the treat of Sonic. Life is too short.)

Scientists Realize Three Different Fish Are One Species

Don't take my word for it that the discovery that three seemingly different fish are actually one species. Here's G. David Johnson, ichthyologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History:
"You can imagine it was a pretty exciting discovery," said G. David Johnson, an ichthyologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.


More excitement, you say? How about a picture?

Calm yourself.

Tom Hanks: Good Guy

In this age of celebrity worship, I shouldn't make too much about Tom Hanks' apology for his comments about Mormon voters. (He took the low road, as other critics of the church and its support of Proposition 8 have done, by ignoring the stark fact that the measure was overwhelmingly supported by Blacks and Hispanics.) But it's clear he thought about his comments and he's man enough to admit he was wrong. We can learn from his example:
"Last week, I labeled members of the Mormon church who supported California's Proposition 8 as 'un-American,'" the actor said in a statement through his publicist. "I believe Proposition 8 is counter to the promise of our Constitution; it is codified discrimination."

"But everyone has a right to vote their conscience; nothing could be more American," the statement continues. "To say members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who contributed to Proposition 8 are 'un-American' creates more division when the time calls for respectful disagreement. No one should use 'un- American' lightly or in haste. I did. I should not have."

You couldn't ask for more.

I'd read somewhere that Hanks was a good guy. He's proven it with his graceful apology.

Missing Posts?

Not really. I re-rigged things to show only 10 posts on the front page. It should allow for faster downloading of this blog. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you'll find a link to older posts. Then there's always the sidebar you can browse, or even click on the archives.

It's all still there. Enjoy.

One Last Inaugural Picture

Okay, I'm serious this time about not posting anything else about the inaugural. When I posted pictures from that day, I'd wanted to include the breathtaking picture below but couldn't find it.

Well, now I've found it, now I've posted it, now I'm through.

What Peggy Noonan Saw at the Inaugural

One more observation about the inaugural and then it's time to move on. Here's Peggy Noonan's take:
It was like "The Canterbury Tales."

That's what it was like last Saturday, in LaGuardia Airport, on the shuttle to Washington packed full of people going to the inauguration of President Obama. A handsome, affluent black woman in first class—fur hat, chic silver jewelry—laughed on a cell phone as a businessman—tall, black, middle aged—hurried down the aisle in black overcoat and Burberry scarf. A young man in slouchy jeans and dark watchman's cap, iPod buds in place, nodded, in coach, to the tune in his head. Two young white men in beige cowboy hats and grey fleece jackets came on board. Where you from? "Montana!" they said in unison. A boy, 10 or so, learning-impaired, sat with his grandmother. Where you from? I asked him. Shyly: "Detroit. Kentucky." Middle-aged and older black women in their proud, broad-brimmed hats sat primly, purses clutched on laps. A young black family all in jumpsuits posed for pictures. An air of great sweetness. The tender way people laugh too loud when they're a little nervous, and excited, and know they're part of something and it's big.

But here's a point she makes that I hadn't thought of:
Every time a nation does something big, the members of that nation who are 4 feet tall—the children who are 10 and 12—are looking up and absorbing. Forty years ago, in 1968, that grim and even-grimmer-in-retrospect year of war protests, race riots, taunts and assassinations, our 4-foot-tall citizens would have been justified in thinking that America is a scary place marked by considerable unhappiness and injustice. But the past week they could look up and see either harmony and happiness or peaceful acceptance and resolve. Washington was a town full of families and full of kids this week, and they must have picked up this: Anything is possible in America. We decide to go to the moon and soon it's "Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed." We decide to cure polio and soon it's a nation of Wilma Rudolphs, running. We struggle over civil rights and then the young black man raises his hand and says "I, Barack Hussein Obama . . ." We so rock. That's what 4-foot-tall Americans must have learned this week. A generation that will come to adulthood in 2020 and 2030 and has in their heads this sense of optimism and America-love will likely be stronger for it. It augurs well.

She's right of course. No matter my politics, or that of any other adults', it's our children who are watching all of this, all of us. Rachel likes Obama and staunch Republican Emily declared she's beginning to like him, too; they can't help be affected by this unfolding history.

Despite my policy disagreements, there's still much good to be had from Obama as our President.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fortune Magazine Selects Three Oklahoma City Companies to Top 100 List

The list includes Devon, Chesapeake, and American Fidelity. Outside of Oklahoma City, QuikTrip and Stanley also made the list.

Conspicuously absent: Peter Terranova CPA.


Maybe next time.

Crossroads Mall at a Crossroads

Bad news for a local mall:
Crossroads Mall is in foreclosure, and could be put up for bid as early as this spring.

The mall at Interstate 240 and Interstate 35, which lost its remaining two anchor stores this month, is being managed by Price Edwards & Co. while the bank forecloses on the property. Foreclosure will be complete in about 60 days and then the property can be put up for sale, said Jim Parrack, senior vice president for Price Edwards.

Silly for a mall to have sentimental value but it does for us, or me, rather. That's where Clara and I were working when we first met and that was the first outing we took Rachel to when she was a baby. It was a warm place to take a baby in winter and, later, when she was older, and when Emily was old enough, we'd spend hours roaming and playing in the center court.

We haven't been to Crossroads in years and it's been on the decline for quite a while. Nothing to do with the economy, just an unexplainable decline or, more likely, poor management. The last time we went was when Macy's was pulling out and selling everything on the shelves. While Clara scoured for bargains, I took a last tour of the place.

Nothing but ghosts.

Better days lie ahead, surely. But we'll remember it how it was.

A Thin Sliver of Moon

An early morning trip out to the mailbox, a crystal clear Winter's dawn, a thin sliver of moon. Add a cell phone camera and you get, well, one poor picture:


But you get an idea of just what I saw. And that's good enough.

Turbo Tax vs. Tax Professional

Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner blames Turbo Tax for his failure to pay the proper amount of tax. Jim Geraghty wonders exactly how this could have happened:
In today's confirmation hearing, Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner said he used TurboTax to prepare his returns for the years in question where he failed to pay self-employment taxes — even though he collected reimbursement from his employer, the International Monetary Fund.

Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked, "Did the software prompt you to pay those taxes?"

"Not to my recollection," Geithner answered.

Do any TurboTax users know otherwise from experience?

This professional's answer: this couldn't have happened. Tax software isn't flawless but it's surprisingly accurate and nearly 100% spot when information is entered correctly. Geithner knew what he was doing when he entered the information and if TurboTax failed, it's because Geithner purposely input the information incorrectly. He got caught and only came clean on the other years out-of-statute because of this nomination.

What surprises me is that someone in his position doesn't use a professional. Sure, he probably knows enough to prepare his tax return but clearly he needs outside assistance to keep honest. That's worth more than the money he saved by doing it himself. (Not that he actually saved anything - the interest alone on the additional assessments far exceeds any fee a professional he would have paid.)

A Heroic Turn for Top Chef's Tom Colicchio

We used to watch Top Chef a few seasons back but our interests lie elsewhere - hello, Food Network! But I've liked Tom Colicchio, one of Top Chef's judges, since those days and I'm not surprised by this act of heroism:
While most celebs were spending the days leading to the inauguration partying around Washington, D.C., Top Chef chieftain Tom Colicchio was busy saving lives.

The reality show judge and all-star restaurateur came the rescue of a fellow foodie Monday night at the Art. Food. Hope benefit. The event, which featured attendees like Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Rachel Maddow, was hosted by cookbook author Joan Nathan (The New American Cooking).

As originally reported on the Internet Food Association blog, Colicchio was cornered by Top Chef fans peeved by last week's elimination, when another famed chef, Alice Waters, frantically began calling for help. Nathan was choking on a piece of chicken.

And that's when Colicchio sprang into action.

He deftly performed the Heimlich maneuver, dispatching the chicken and saving Nathan.

"I did what anyone else would have done and was just happy to be there," Colicchio tells E! News. "I'm thrilled Joan's well."

One of the good guys.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Aboard the Bush Plane

The Daily Beast has a report of President Bush's flight home. He seems happy and I'm glad. Click through for the whole story but this picture caught my eye:

Is the President's daughter texting while she's snuggling with her Dad? Hey, that's something he and I share!

Inauguration of President Obama on Google Maps

Here's something cool: a satellite view of Obama's inauguration via Google Maps. I'll embed it here but if it doesn't work, follow the link.

View Larger Map

There's nothing Google can't do.

The National Park Service has stopped making official counts of crowds at these kinds of functions - I've heard anywhere from 800,000 to 2 million people were there. Impressive, no matter which estimate you believe. (And the largest viewing audience since Reagan's first inaugural. The Gipper still wins that one!)

Stock Market Unkind to Obama

Oddly enough, I'd sent this link to Blogger for posting later and now it links to a story about the stock market's rebound after Tuesday's plunge. Now it links to a story about yesterday's rebound. I wonder why that is. Couldn't be media bias, could it? Nah.

Oh, wait, there's this mention of Tuesday's drop:
Stocks fell sharply Tuesday on worries governments would be forced to take over wobbly banks to avoid their collapse. The Dow dropped lost 332 points, or 4 percent. It was the first time the blue chips closed below 8,000 since November.

The point I was originally going to make with this link was though the market performed poorly on Obama's inauguration, I don't think it had anything to do with Obama; the market factored in Obama long ago and has moved on to other concerns. I just wonder how the story would have been reported if a Republican had taken the oath of office and the market had behaved this way.

No matter. The market recovered yesterday. All will be fine.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A New President

I didn't watch the inauguration but from what I've read, it sound like it went well. Good for President Obama. Reading over his speech, I didn't find anything that really stood out - all inaugural speeches are judged against JFK's and they can't help but end up lacking, so that's no fault of Obama's. There were some needless shots at Bush in the speech, and I understand the crowd was classless in their booing and chanting against the departing President, but Obama has no control over that. He came across confident and his style of speaking is a welcome relief after the past eight years. Good luck to President Obama, I say.

What's left, then? Some images, in no particular order, that seem to capture a bit of history:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oil Falls Below $34 Amid Excess Supply

I'll note this here so that in a year or so $34 dollar a barrel oil will seem strange.

Or not. I still think oil will go on the rise - it will in a few months in anticipation of the increased summer demand. But while it's low, it's better for everyone than any government stimulus plan. Enjoy it while you can.

(While we in Oklahoma suffer. Well, the long-time oil and gas folks have been through this before. They'll weather what should be a short-term drop in prices.)

Tax Policy Advice for President Obama

Via TaxProf Blog tax advice for President Obama from taxs professors. Most of the advice is pretty sound. No one suggests a tax increase:

Beau Baez (Charlotte): Enact legislation recognizing the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board as a state compact, and eliminate the Quill physical presence requirement for states that are members in good standing in the new state compact.

Bryan Camp (Texas Tech):

1. Enable the IRS to administratively collect non-rebate erroneous refunds as I proposed in my article, The Mysteries of Erroneous Refunds. That article provides a specific legislative proposal to address a very real gap in tax collection policy. Aside from being an no-brainer as a matter of policy, heck, it's a revenue raiser!
2. Repeal judicial review of routine administrative collection decisions. Section 7433 already allows taxpayers to sue for IRS violations of collection statutes and should be retained. However, the judicial review allowed by section 6320 and 6330 for routine collection decisions has proven to be of no benefit to taxpayers, as my Indiana Law Review study of almost 1,000 judicial opinions between 2000 and 2006 demonstrates.

Paul Caron (Cincinnati): Remove estate planning uncertainty by freezing the estate tax exemption ($3.5 million) and rates (45%) at their 2009 levels.

Bridget Crawford (Pace):

1. Allow same-sex couples to file joint income tax returns (and to gift split, make tax-free wealth transfers, etc. ).
2. Create a free, reliable and sophisticated on-line filing system that can accept all types of tax returns (estate, gift, etc.) from taxpayers of all levels of wealth, and reduce the statute of limitations on garden-variety audits from 3 years to 2 years.
3. Change the exclusion under Section 121 to an amount equal to the median home value in the metropolitan area (or another geographically-defined region) where the the principal residence is located.

Joseph Dodge (Florida State): Do not do any more damage to the Code.

Calvin Johnson (Texas): These are the 27 best ways to find revenue, so far.

Benjamin Leff (Harvard): General suggestion: really make a break with the recent past by repealing special targeted tax breaks in favor of increasing the personal exemption (in other words, take out special privileges in favor of lower taxes for everyone). Specific proposals:

1. Repeal favorable rate for capital gains and dividends. It adds unnecessary complication and is unjustified.
2. Repeal section 102 and tax gifts as income. (or, repeal section 102 except for a small annual exemption, say $4,000 or $5,000, medical expenses and educational expenses).
3. Don't enact stupid so-called "stimulus" in the form of accelerated depreciation or other similar short-term complicated tax benefits.

Francine Lipman (Chapman): I believe President Obama should and will apply his commitments to transparency, education, public service and shared responsibility for all members of society to the federal income tax system. The 2008 election broadcast loudly and clearly that most Americans do not understand how our income tax system works and are angry/frustrated with its perceived negative impact on their lives. The federal income tax system should be less complicated, more transparent and a vibrant part of a participatory government. While the federal tax system has proven to be a relatively efficient delivery system for benefits for the working poor the system could and should be improved. Indeed the annual filing/compliance mechanisms for individual and business tax reporting and collection are dated and very costly. Technology, as well as other resources, should be better allocated to reduce compliance and collection costs and better target tax deficiences and close the tax gap. As part of my commitment to public service and tax education, I am very much looking forward to serving low income taxpayers (sadly including members of the armed forces, hence my work-in-process article "Taxing Private Ryan") in the next few months.

Jim Maule (Villanova): I'd repeal § 465 ... it was a feeble attempt to deal with the issues § 469 addresses. As I noted in my posts on Monday, and will note on Wednesday, time to ditch bonus depreciation, first-year expensing, and depreciation of real estate. I'd also combine all the zones and disaster area provisions into one coherent provision. Ditto the provisions dealing with education, and ditto the provisions dealing with the tax consequences of having, keeping, adopting, and supporting children.

The key is to simplify. When things are complicated, people are less likely to be trusting. Understandably so. Less trust, less confidence. Less confidence, less economic robustness.

Restore the economy by restoring confidence. Restore confidence by restoring trust. Restore trust by eliminating and minimizing the tools and opportunities for people to abuse trust or to have their trust broken. No more hiding by the bad guys behind smoke and mirrors. Subchapter K is in front of the line when roll call is taken for smoke and mirror provisions.

Rob Nassau (Syracuse): Eliminate the tax-rate preference for long-term capital gain. (This was good enough for Reagan.) To me, this difference in tax rates makes no economic sense (money is money, and my grocer doesn't ask whether the $2.79 I gave him for a gallon of milk comes from salary or capital gain); plus, it contributes to a lot of the complexity and uncertainty in the Code (see, e.g., the carried interest debate, which would go away), not to mention the "shenanigans" that requires enactment of provisions such as Section 1258 ("conversion transactions"). If we're concerned that eliminating the tax-rate preference will "dry up investment," then expand Section 1202, and allow a tax-rate advantage for new capital infusions only.

David Pratt (Albany):

1. Repeal the unlimited exclusion for the cost of employer-provided benefits, including health benefits. There is abundant evidence that the exclusion overwhelmingly benefits upper income taxpayers.
2. Require a review of experience under the current version of section 121 and consider changes. For example, the once-every-two-years rule is way too liberal and the dollar maximum has very different significance in different markets.
3. Repeal the like kind exchange exclusion under section 1031.
4. Repeal or cap the exclusion for life insurance proceeds and the exclusion of the inside buildup.
5. Repeal or cap the exclusion for personal physical injury damages.

Walter Schwidetzky (Baltimore): Repeal Subchapter S (see Integrating Subchapters K and S: Just Do It, 62 Tax Law. ___ (2008)), and repeal § 469.

Dan Simmons (UC-Davis):

1. Repeal the home equity interest deduction. It has never been good policy to encourage people to incur debt secured by a personal residence for consumption and it now appears that home equity loans are a contributor to the mortgage lending crisis.
2. Repeal section 1031 (as Cal Johnson advocates). There is no sound policy reason for allowing deferred recognition of realized gain on real estate transactions as compared to stock investments. Indeed, I think the economy might be better served by allowing roll-over relief for sales of publicly traded securities where the proceeds are reinvested in publicly traded securities.
3. Eliminate the AMT problem by allowing state and local taxes as a deduction against AMTI. I would also provide some adjustment for personal exemptions.
4. If the administration wants to reduce the corporate tax rates, accompany the reduction with a reduction of the subsidy to investment in equipment and machinery that is provided by accelerated capital recovery by extending useful lives and limiting the rate of recovery to straight line, or at best 125 percent declining balance.

Bill Streng (Houston): To create a culture in the U.S. that paying appropriate taxes is a responsibility of every citizen; to finally destroy the Ronald Reagan thesis that taxes constitute a form of theft by the U.S. Government.

Michael Waggoner (Colorado): If you believe in limited government, in our federal system, in economic efficiency, in doing things that work regardless of ideology, President Obama, then please take inspiration from the 1986 Tax Reform Act and help to return to a broader tax base with lower rates.

Limited government should reject a tax system full of special tax favors and tax detriments that in effect say, "Do it my way or pay up to 35% (more in some cases)."

A federal system should reject having a major federal income tax angle to such traditionally state-law areas as family law, wills and trusts, personal injury litigation, criminal law. The federal tax angle in effect partially federalizes those areas.

Although there are certainly many circumstances when government intervention in the economy is necessary (to require disclosure, to protect safety and the environment, to take into account both positive and negative externalities, to avoid creation of a caste system of prior winners and losers in the market place persisting for entire lives and multiple generations, etc.), most tax incentives can fairly be described as diverting people from the sensible and useful to the marginal and less productive. Most tax incentives are inefficient.

Programs authorized by the Congress to operate with appropriated funds get far more scrutiny than do special tax provisions. One may doubt whether the special tax provisions (because given less scrutiny) succeed in the goals espoused for them. For example, the stimulus proposals include generous depreciation provisions, because it is hoped that these provisions will stimulate the economy by causing businesses to buy new equipment. The problem is that well-advised businesses buy equipment for business reasons, not for tax reasons. Thus most of the tax benefit goes for purchases that would be made in any event, and thus produces no benefit to the economy. To the extent these depreciation provisions succeed in causing new purchases, they may be changing the mix of labor and equipment that the business would otherwise use, the increase in equipment resulting in less need for labor, thus destroying jobs. Tax provisions that do not not work should be repealed, not proliferated.

The basic problem that you must face, President Obama, is that politics tends to reward the particular and not the general. Everyone in politics wants to tell a constituent group of the particular benefit for that group that politician has obtained, thus encouraging their support, their votes, their contributions. The general benefit of low rates on a broad base has no constituency and thus is harder to achieve. That benefit, however, tends to promote efficiency, and efficiency is the basis of prosperity, and peace and prosperity is a pretty good re-election platform.

I trust that you will succeed and that a few decades in the future we will be asking, "Is there any way that we could expand Mount Rushmore to include President Obama?"

Alan Westheimer (Houston):

1. Instead of bonus depreciation and increased fixed asset expensing, revive the Investment Tax Credit under a regime the same or similar to its structure when repealed in 1986. Consider restricting to assets made in the USA.
2. Remove the luxury car limits for depreciation on business autos manufactured in the USA. Let's go back to being able to depreciate vehicles over 3 years using DDB depreciation (for new ones) so you can write off 2/3 of the cost in the year of purchase. Let's also drop discrimination against vehicles not used 50% or more for business purposes. The rules should be the same regardless of the extent of business use.
3. Let's also drop the 50% limitation on meals and entertainment and go back to 100% deductibility for these expenses.

More Poetry

Wasn't I talking about poetry just the other day? Yes, I think I was. Well, if I didn't sell you on the need to go right out and grab all the Billy Collins you can, here's another poem of his which serves as, er, an introduction to poetry.

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

You're welcome.

Inaugaration Day

Duly noted. A day for the history books, no doubt, and not just because Obama is the first black president. It's no small miracle that the transition of power in this country occurs as provided for in the Constitution. It's no coronation; we don't elect kings but executives, though the pomp and circumstance may imply otherwise. Just another day in the Republic.

Let's enjoy the day for what it is. You'll get no whining from this quarter.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Schroeder Played Real Beethoven in Charles M. Schulz’s ‘Peanuts’ Strip

I didn't know this but I suspected it was true:
When Schroeder pounded on his piano, his eyes clenched in a trance, the notes floating above his head were no random ink spots dropped into the key of G. Schulz carefully chose each snatch of music he drew and transcribed the notes from the score. More than an illustration, the music was a soundtrack to the strip, introducing the characters’ state of emotion, prompting one of them to ask a question or punctuating an interaction.

You've seen those Peanuts' strips, haven't you? Where Schroeder is playing a piece of music and the music notation appears in the air above him? Well, you can now tour the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center and view a collection of panels of those strips and listen to the music in those panels on headphones. An added dimension to Schulz's art.


Want to Save Jobs? Cut Corporate Taxes to Zero

That's what Mark Levey says and who am I to argue?
The quickest way to strengthen the credit system and begin the end of this crisis is to get money into the economy for true job creation, and not into government work programs. The way to do this is to slash taxes. The U.S. corporate tax rate, currently the highest in the world, should be cut to 0% (corporate income would still be taxed, of course, when distributed to shareholders as dividends). The capital-gains tax should be cut further.

Read the whole thing for blasphemy against FDR's New Deal. You may be surprised.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Bush Economy

Not what you think it is. Here's an analysis of the economy during the Bush years and the causes of the current downturn:
By pushing all of this excess credit into the economy, the Fed created a housing and mortgage mania that Wall Street was only too happy to be part of. Yes, many on the Street abandoned their normal risk standards. But they were goaded by an enormous subsidy for debt. Wall Street did get "drunk" but Washington had set up the open bar.

For that matter, most everyone else was also drinking the free booze: from homebuyers who put nothing down for a loan, to a White House that bragged about record home ownership, to the Democrats who promoted and protected Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Those two companies helped turbocharge the mania by using a taxpayer subsidy to attract trillions of dollars of foreign capital into U.S. housing.) No one wanted the party to end, though sooner or later it had to.

Enough words. You want a graph? I've got a graph. Try this one:

Bush inherited the dot com crash from Clinton and Bush's tax cuts got the economic engine going again after 9/11. Things are worrisome, sure, but so far they're about as bad as it was in 2000 and not nearly as bad s it was in 2001.

So, hang tight. We may not be out of the woods yet but we know what got us here and, if we have the will, we can avoid making things worse.

A Drop In The Consumer Price Index Is A Good Thing

Larry Kudlow argues that the drop in the Consumer Price Index equals any stimulus package. And it's happening without an act of Congress:
But the plunge in consumer prices is a great thought. It is a tax cut of massive proportions. The drop in retail gas prices alone has been variously estimated at $350 billion in new consumer purchasing power. In fact, real average weekly earnings have now risen four straight months on the back of the CPI drop. Over the past year, this key measure is up nearly 3 percent.

The drop in oil and gas prices does no favors for us here in Oklahoma but those prices will rebound. They won't return to the highs of this past summer - prices should never have been that high in the first place - and they won't likely return to their current lows. For now, let's enjoy the fruits of the free market, without the meddling of government.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Poe at 200 -- Eerie After All These Years

I've never been a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe but that doesn't mean his 200th birthday should go unnoticed. And John Miller makes sure it's noticed:
(T)here can be no doubt that Poe left a deep mark on literature. He invented both the detective story ("The Murders in the Rue Morgue") and the sequel to the detective story ("The Mystery of Marie Roget" and "The Purloined Letter"). An attraction to new technologies and cutting-edge ideas such as hot-air balloons, mesmerism, and cryptography made him a pioneer of science fiction. He could be a savage critic: "I intend to put up with nothing I can put down," he boasted.

Read the whole thing.

Furniture and Poetry

Clara's on the hunt for new furniture so off we went. While she prowled the furniture store, I kept amused by flipping through the books scattered around as decoration. Lots of legal reference and Reader's Digest Condensed Books - big, chunky books that look great on a table or bookcase but not really meant to be read. One of the books, though, gave me cause to find a chair and thumb through a little more closely: a collection of American Literature. I can't remember the title but I was impressed by the breadth of its selection.

The first author I always check for to determine a literary collection's worth is Hemingway; political correctness has caused him to fall from favor in some collections but no study of American Literature is complete without him. Sure enough, this collection included Soldier's Home, not his best but the protagonist comes home to Oklahoma so, well, we'll take that. A good volume, then.

Moving to the poetry section, I came across a poem by the recent U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. Among the books I'm not reading, I've managed to finish for the umpteenth time Collins' Sailing Around The Room, a collection of his greatest hits from past collections and some new poems. His poetry is clear, easily accessible, and never fail to delight. The literature collection had this poem, which serves as a fine sample of Collins' work.


Glancing over my shoulder at the past,
I realize the number of students I have taught
is enough to populate a small town.

I can see it nestled in a paper landscape,
chalk dust flurrying down in winter,
nights dark as a blackboard.

The population ages but never graduates.
On hot afternoons they sweat the final in the park
and when it's cold they shiver around stoves
reading disorganized essays out loud.
A bell rings on the hour and everybody zigzags
into the streets with their books.

I forgot all their last names first and their
first names last in alphabetical order.
But the boy who always had his hand up
is an alderman and owns the haberdashery.
The girl who signed her papers in lipstick
leans against the drugstore, smoking,
brushing her hair like a machine.

Their grades are sewn into their clothes
like references to Hawthorne.
The A's stroll along with other A's.
The D's honk whenever they pass another D.

All the creative-writing students recline
on the courthouse lawn and play the lute.
Wherever they go, they form a big circle.

Needless to say, I am the mayor.
I live in the white colonial at Maple and Main.
I rarely leave the house. The car deflates
in the driveway. Vines twirl around the porch swing.

Once in a while a student knocks on the door
with a term paper fifteen years late
or a question about Yeats or double-spacing.
And sometimes one will appear in a windowpane
to watch me lecturing the wallpaper,
quizzing the chandelier, reprimanding the air.

See what I mean?

But the point of this post is that I had just read and enjoyed this poem a few days before finding it again in a furniture store on a winter's afternoon. You just never know where, or when, you'll be delighted.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Seven Tax Moves You Need To Make For 2008

Looks like today's blogging theme is taxes! Let's finish up with these seven tax moves you need to make for 2008 before moving on to 2009. From Yahoo:

1. Don't miss the mail

If you moved in the last year or so, it's time to send out change-of-address notices. Not to the post office, but to employers, tax agencies, brokerages, and anyone else from whom you expect to get any kind of 1099, K-1, 1098, or other third-party report.

2. Get your stimulus

The stimulus rebate checks in 2008 were a real boon for many people. But not everyone got one. The good news: If you didn't get it last year, you might qualify this year.

3. Assess your paycheck withholding

It's time to review your paycheck withholding so it reflects the income and deductions you expect to have for 2009. If you need to increase or decrease your withholding, file a new Form W-4 with your payroll department. Remember to file a copy for your state, too, if that needs to be changed.

What triggers a need to make changes? Marriage, divorce, a new home, more money going into your retirement account. You can fill in the W-4 online, print it out and hand it to your payroll department. See W-4 form on IRS site (PDF).

4. Estimate how much you'll owe

Jan. 15 is the due date for the fourth installment of your 2008 estimated tax payments. Typically, if you have enough withholding from your paycheck this won't affect you. But if you have earnings from a business or investments, you may find yourself needing to make a payment.

If you expect to owe less than $1,000 on April 15, you can skip it. Otherwise, be sure you pay enough to cover 90% of your 2008 tax liability or 100% of the tax shown on your 2007 tax return. Use Form 1040-ES, voucher 4. If you use the IRS site to get your forms, be sure to select the 2008 form. See Form 1040-ES on IRS site (PDF).

If you can't pay your balance due in January, you could wait until April 15 to make the payment. This will result in an underpayment penalty, but it won't be significant on an average balance due. And, even though delaying payment is not an ideal plan, at least you'll know how much you owe by April 15 -- and that will give you time to find the funds you'll need.

There are free tools online to help you project your 2008 balance due. You also can use these calculators to generate information for your student loan applications, too.

* TurboTax's Tax Estimator: See the site.
* H&R Block's Tax Estimator: See the site.
*'s 1040 Estimator: See the site.
* Drake's Federal Tax Estimator: See the site.

5. Prepare for business-expense deduction

Are you using your car for business? If you didn't record your odometer reading on Jan. 1, then look at your reading now and estimate how many miles you've driven since the first day of the year. This is a good time to start tracking your business mileage for the current year.

It's also a good time to start trying to reconstruct last year's mileage, both personal and business, so you're ready for your appointment with your tax professional or your online service.

Remember, you'll need to split up your business mileage into two parts for last year. The mileage rate for business miles from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2008, was 50.5 cents per mile. From July 1 to Dec. 31, 2008, the rate was 58.5 cents per mile.

6. Avoid fighting over the kids

Each year, many divorced couples battle over who gets to take the dependency exemption for their children. Resolve this issue early. If you expect to get the exemption, have your ex sign a Form 8332 to release his or her claim on one or more of your children for 2008. See Form 8332 on IRS site (PDF).

Though the tax code defines who qualifies to claim the child, it's often the case that whoever files first will get the exemption plus any related benefits. The parent who is properly entitled to the exemption but who files later usually has to fight to defend his rights. Using Form 8332 will prevent this problem.

7. New homeowners

Did you buy a home last year? If you bought it after April 8, you may be entitled to the first-time homebuyer credit worth up to $7,500. In fact, if you plan to buy a home before July 1, 2009, you'd be wise to delay filing your tax return until your purchase goes through, so you can claim the credit on your 2008 tax return. To qualify, neither you nor your spouse may have owned a home in the three years before the purchase date. IRS has more details on the credit. See the IRS page.

Americans Failing Taxes 101

Via TaxProf Blog, some stats about Americans Failing Taxes 101:

* 84% do not know they can file an amended return to correct errors in a prior year's return
* 78% do not know what tax bracket they are in
* 76% do not list "knowledge of current tax laws" as important in picking a tax professional
* 70% do not know of recent tax legislative changes that may affect their returns
* 60% do not know the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction

Treasury Secretary Nominee Geithner's Tax Problems

The biggest surprise about Treasury Secretary Nominee Geithner's Tax Problem? He prepared the returns himself.

The next biggest surprise? His mistakes could have been easily avoided. These documents prove he had ample notice of the problems he ran into.

Sounds like he could've used a good professional.

A Geithner Tax Amnesty

For the most part, Opinion Journal has it right about Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner's $34,000 self-employment tax "mistake." But there's room to quibble:

He's no different from those people -- you know who you are -- who overestimated their charitable contributions or "forgot" about that $500 cash payment they received when it came time to do their taxes. Even after the IRS audited him in 2006, Mr. Geithner paid back taxes only for the two years -- 2003 and 2004 -- for which he had been audited. He did not bother to amend his 2001 and 2002 returns until late last year, when the tax issue came up during the Obama vetting process.

It's likely the two years prior to the audit were beyond the assessment statute and, thus, Geithner had no legal requirement to amend those years. Of course, once his nomination was known, he'd want to clear up those years but he shouldn't be hammered because he followed the law to his advantage.

Let's have an amnesty -- with penalties waived, as they were for Mr. Geithner -- for all those Americans who somehow "forgot" to pay their taxes but are now willing to fess up or are audited. If forgiveness is to be the order of the day for the man who may soon be responsible for the IRS, American taxpayers deserve a similar reprieve.

Great idea but there's no evidence Geithner had his penalties waived because of who he was. I don't know if he represented himself but it sounds like they were waived as part of a settlement process, a process available to all taxpayers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yet More Change You Can Believe In

No one really thought Guantanomo would be closed immediately when Obama became President, did the? Did they?

Hope not:
President-elect Barack Obama plans to issue an executive order on his first full day in office directing the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, people briefed by Obama transition officials said Monday.

But experts say it is likely to take many months, perhaps as long as a year, to empty the prison that has drawn international criticism since it received its first prisoners seven years ago this week. One transition official said the new administration expected that it would take several months to transfer some of the remaining 248 prisoners to other countries, decide how to try suspects and deal with the many other legal challenges posed by closing the camp.

(Didn't mean to start chronicling the lack of change in Obama's promise of change but it's a target-rich opportunity. I'm sure things'll slack off and the real change will soon begin.)

More Change You Can Believe In: Obama to Send More Troops to Afghanistan

Well, now, this is odd:
President-elect Barack Obama intends to sign off on Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but the incoming administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like "surge" of forces will significantly change the direction of a conflict that has steadily deteriorated over the past seven years.

If this "surge" won't significantly change things, why send them in the first place?

Change You Can Believe In

Looks like we can't expect Obama to remember his pledge about not letting earmarks into his stimulus package.

Here's Obama's pledge:
"We are going to ban all earmarks—the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review," he explained. "We will create an economic recovery oversight board made up of key administration officials and independent advisors to identify problems early and make sure we are doing all we can to solve it."

Here he is in an interview with ABC News:
In an interview taped for ABC News on Saturday, Obama said he wants targeted tax cuts and conceded it will be difficult to enforce his pledge to ban lawmakers from including unessential "earmarked" spending projects for their districts.

"In a package of this magnitude, will there end up being certain projects that potentially don't meet that criteria of helping on health care, energy or education? Certainly," he said.

But Obama said inaction carries too great a risk.

"We can't afford three, four, five, six more months where we're losing half a million jobs per month," Obama said. "And the estimates are that if we don't do anything, we could see million jobs lost this year."

The more things change. . .

The Case for Overhauling a U.S. Tax System

Yes, yes, the U.S. Tax System is hopelessly complicated and as a tax return preparer I have a certain interest in hoping it stays that way. Sam Dealey has a good enough piece piece about it and trots out these statistics:

Americans spend 7.6 billion hours annually trying to figure out their federal taxes. Working eight-hour days, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, that's the equivalent of 3.8 million full-time workers.

At the average hourly wage of $27.54, that tax-preparation time amounts to $193 billion, or 14 percent of aggregate income tax receipts.

A staggering 60 percent of individual taxpayers are so bewildered by the tax code that they hire outside preparers. An additional 22 percent buy computer software.

Hey, he makes that last point about hiring a preparer as if it's a bad thing!

Which is my point. In all of this talk about how figuring out the Tax Code burns up everyone's time, no one makes the obvious point that it keeps me a busy, productive member of society. No one complains about how complicated it is to work on cars yet no one makes the point how taking a car in for repairs to a professional mechanic and paying him to make the repairs somehow takes away economic productivity.

Actually, I'm all for simplifying the tax code. Few transactions with the government require the help of a professional - when's the last time you hired someone to assist you to buy a car tag? As a CPA, I'd keep myself busy with other accounting chores besides tax preparation, thank you very much. But we sometimes fail to realize how the Tax Code has been used as a tool of societal encouragement: we believe marriage is an institution that civilizes us and so married couples enjoy a lower tax rate. That's where the complications lie. And simplifying Code will be no easy task with unknown consequences.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Scribefire Not So Hot

By the way, I tried posting the last post using Scribefire. Nothing but errors. Of course, it could be my lack of blogging skillz - I was inserting a link, a block quote, and a picture - nothing fancy but still. . . I should have been able to do it without a hitch.

So far, I'm not impressed.

Best Job in World

Except for working for Peter Terranova CPA, this may be the best job in the world:
Unemployed, take heart — the aforementioned job ad is for real. Billing it the 'Best Job in the World,' the tourism department in Australia's Queensland state on Tuesday said it was seeking one lucky person to spend half a year relaxing on Hamilton Island, part of the country's Whitsunday Islands, while promoting the island on a blog.

Here's a picture of your new office:

Hmmm. Rachel's looking for a job.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Respect the Van

Almost four years ago, we traded in the minivan for the Sequoia. I didn't know how humiliated my children and wife were to be seen tooling around the country in all its tan minvan splendor but what it lacked in coolness it made up for in mileage and room. I miss it. Sadly, I'm the only one who does.

But Honda's tapped into the hip uncoolness of the minivan. Dig this:

You gotta respect the van, man!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Best Accounting Firms to Work For

Surprisingly, Peter Terranova CPA didn't make the list. Then again, neither did any other Oklahoma firm.

(It's a PDF document and I don't know how to embed the list in a post so you'll have to click through to see for yourself. )

I see why: they had no category for a teeny tiny firms with a big heart. If they did, we'd rock!

Fish Eyes

Wow, this is weird:
The four-eyed spookfish may have seemed strange enough. Now researchers say it doesn't really have four eyes. Instead, it is the first known vertebrate to use mirrors, rather than lenses, to focus light in its eyes.

The fish:

Just when you think God's creations can't get any stranger, it does.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hospital Visit

When I picked up Clara from work, I found her outside of her building leaning against a concrete barrier in obvious pain. It had started about an hour before - sharp, intense, in her right kidney area. No let up and no change on the drive home. I dropped her off at the Medical Access place and went on to wrangle the girls at the dentist's. Afterwards, I went back for Clara.

She'd been checked into a room but her blood pressure was sky high: 200/150 or so. Whoa! No treatment for you, my friend. A note would get us to the front of the line at the nearest ER so off we skedaddled.

The note was as good as its word. That and the high blood pressure leapfrogged us past the gun and knife victims and into a room pretty quick. Diagnosis: kidney stone. Some morphine and an IV drip should take care of matters and in about 30 minutes, that did the trick and Clara was comfortable. Still, the doctor wanted to be sure so he ordered up a cat scan and off they wheeled her. I had to park it while they were gone.

Good thing I had my cell phone camera. Clara's shoes in the corner pretty much sets the tone for the entire matter. Black and white makes it more bleak:

Good thing there was a TV in the room. And good thing the OU Sooners were playing:

They brought her back. The attending nurse was a little dodgy. The write up called it renal colic which is, well, pain caused by a kidney stone. But with the pain managed and a handful of 'scrips, Clara could go home.

But while she was waiting for me to pick her up, the nausea started. Ah, the morphine. Doesn't play well with her stomach. An evening of retching on the couch was in store. But otherwise, she was okay.

A brave soldier, that Clara. She'll sleep in a little today and see how she feels.

Sooners Bite the Dust



Looks like I'll have to pay off a bet.

The good news? At least Texas'll stop whining.

Congrats to the 'Gators. They played well and deserved to win.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Oklahoma Makes Another Lileks Appearance

Lileks continues his run of restaurant postcards and this time he's focusing on the interiors. The Glass House on the Will Rogers Turnpike gets another mention and clicking through will get you to a link to Lileks' first shout-out of the place. (It's a McDonald's now.)

Behold its former glory:

A New Hollywood Conservative Blog

In case you haven't heard about it, Big Hollywood is a new conservative blog about, well, Hollywood. It's Andrew Breitbart's attempt to get conservatives more involved in the popular culture. I've become a recent fan of the Editor-in-Chief's old blog, Dirty Harry's Place, and his movie reviews. Check it out. You may not agree with everything there but you'll find it interesting.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stanley Fish'10 Best American Movies

I can't argue with any of these:

The Best Years of Our Lives

Sunset Blvd

Double Indemnity


Red River

Raging Bull


Groundhog Day

Meet Me in St. Louis

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Click through to get Fish' comments and defense of his choices. My only quibble? Not enough John Wayne moves!

My list might differ, as would yours, on any given day. But I don't think you could go wrong with any of these.

Blogging Stats

I'm up to 792 visitors now and they're coming from all over. This map gives you a better idea of where they're coming from than if I just listed the places. (Sorry I can't embed the image. Haven't figured out how to post a screen grab just yet.) The European and Asian visitors are a puzzle but the South Florida visitors are well known. (Hi, John!) As well as the Oklahoma City visitors. (Hello to me!)

The most popular entry point? This one. I have no idea why but it seems to bring readers in so I'm glad for it. This was most popular for a while but since Winehouse has been out of the news it's been bumped down to third. Still, why are people looking for Emily Winehouse and not Amy? Beats me.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by, whoever your are and wherever your from. I'm grateful for the kindness of your visit.

What if I can’t pay my taxes?

The IRS offers some guidance for when you can't pay your taxes. But I'm not seeing anything new here:

Don’t panic. If you cannot pay the full amount of taxes you owe by the April deadline, you should still file your return by the deadline and pay as much as you can to avoid penalties and interest. You also should contact the IRS to discuss your payment options at 1-800-829-1040. The agency may be able to provide some relief such as a short-term extension to pay, an installment agreement or an offer in compromise. In some cases, the agency may be able to waive penalties. However, the agency is unable to waive interest charges which accrue on unpaid tax bills. For more information, see The Collection Process and Tax Payment Options. The Form 1040 Instructions also provide guidance on filing and paying your taxes

Same as it's always been. If you can't pay then prove it. We'll see how lenient they are and if the message gets to the front line.

Otherwise, I'm more impressed with their tips for choosing a tax professional to prepare your tax return:

Be cautious of tax preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.

Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.

Use a reputable tax professional who signs the tax return and provides a copy.

Consider whether the individual or firm will be around to answer questions about the preparation of the tax return months, or even years, after the return has been filed.

Check the person’s credentials. Only attorneys, certified public accountants (CPAs) and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters, including audits, collection and appeals. Other return preparers may only represent taxpayers for audits of returns they actually prepared.

Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and resources and holds them to a code of ethics.

Ask friends and family whether they know anyone who has used the tax professional and whether they were satisfied with the service they received.

Our firm meets those criteria, and more!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cuba allows access to Hemingway papers

Great news for rabid Hemingway fans like me:

Cuba on Monday began accepting requests for electronic access to more than 3,000 documents from Ernest Hemingway's home on the island, including the unpublished epilogue of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and coded messages the author sent when using his yacht to hunt for German submarines during World War II.

Unedited manuscripts, a screenplay for the "The Old Man and the Sea," letters to the Nobel Laureate and insurance policies are among other papers at Finca Vigia, the hillside hideaway on the eastern outskirts of Havana where Hemingway lived from 1939 until 1960.

The 3,197 documents were scanned and organized electronically as part of a 2002 agreement between Cuban national heritage authorities and the New York-based Social Science Research Council, which also provided acid-free boxes and other storage materials to better protect the originals, said Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of the museum at Finca Vigia.

A quibble: you'd think that a company like Google would step in and help make the papers accessible online.

I'm not sure there'd be anything new here - the Hemingway trove has pretty much been mined - but it's good news the papers are being made available.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Blogging With Firefox

I'm trying out the ScribFire add-on through Firefox. Let's see how it looks.

Update - Looks just fine. Let's give it a whirl.


If I'm going to post photographs, I'm going to have to post photographs of sunsets, aren't I? Yes! And blurry ones, too:

Clara and I were speeding home on the highway, which accounts for the blur. But it was beautiful and I had my phone camera and so, well, why not?

I'm going to have to start carrying around a camera like Rick Lee if I'm going to keep doing this.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sorry For The Light Posting

What with the holidays and all. Some sort of normal routine to resume shortly. I hope.