Saturday, April 29, 2006

Some Trivia About Nell

Contrary to popular belief, the bottoms of Nell's feet are not ivory-white and flawless. In fact, the ball of her left foot has a freckle (or as Nell would say, "birthmark") on it. Observe.

Legend has it that frequent blog commenter Xeno used to press the freckle for the purpose of tickling and irritating Nell.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Done Studying

I think I'm done studying Family Law. All the information is packed in my head in a very unstable way, and I don't think it's a good idea to mess with it. So tomorrow at 9:30am, I will take the final. And then, no more Family Law. I'm not saying I will never again look into the area. Parts of it are very interesting. Marriage and divorce can be interesting and even involve some complex problems. Not too shabby overall. But after tomorrow, it's on to corporations.

On a side note, Nell has been fairly tolerant on the time demands on my studying and has been carrying more than her load of the household work since last friday. So tonight I did the dishes. And while I was doing the dishes, I listened to The Wrens, which I have listened to in a few months. They're pretty good. The album is The Meadowlands. Check it out if you're looking for some semi-emo-indi-thoughtful-selfreflective-rock. Good album.

No New Posts

It's finals. Studying, studying, studying. Stress. Hard, wooden chairs. No time to post. Here is a bunny.

And another.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Protest Songs

Like many young people, I used to be really in to the folk music of the mid 60's and early 70's. Particularly the stuff centered around the Vietnam war. It just sounded so vital and empassioned. The sound of the singer's voice over the guitar was filled with urgency and emotion. It's something that you don't really hear from other time periods. And the small amount of protest music that has arisen from the war on terror just doesn't move me.

Now maybe that's because I'm actually alive for the war in Iraq. I am also old enough to see that there aren't bright lines or right and wrong. Everything seems grey, and sort of complicated, and that's not really something that translate into song. When people try, it comes off as pandering or intellectually dishonest.

But I just saw this. It's a music video by a guy named Robert Cray. The video itself is "lo-fi." Definitely not MTV studio work. Now, it may just be that it's kind of late and I'm tired from studying all day, or maybe the burbon, but I actually felt a little moved by it. That's not something that happens to me very often, so I thought I'd share. Anyway, like I said, it's not the most professionally done, and the lyrics at times are not as subtle as maybe they could be, but I really felt something when I heard (and saw) it. Maybe you will too. Maybe not. Aesthetics are inexplicable.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Studying Partnership Taxation

Today is the last day prior to the start of the finals period that I will be studying partnership tax. And so here is some wisdom from the Treasury Department:

A partner's share of any decrease in partnership minimum gain resulting from a revaluation of partnership property equals the increase in the partner's capital account attributable to the revaluation to the extent the reduction in minimum gain is caused by the revaluation.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

I <3 Ted Kennedy

But he's got some wierd (or weird) earlobes. I'm not going to track down a picture, but if you saw tonight's Daily Show, you'd agree. But again, he is one awesome sumbitch.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fungible, Fungible, Fungible

Good word. No, great word.

Note: This is my 256th post on this blog.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dick Cheney's Tax Refund

Guess how much Cheney is getting back from the federal government. Give up? $1,938,930. Wow.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

I'm Irritable

I just got out of tax, and I'm in a bad mood. This has never happened before. I'm always floating on a cloud after tax, but not today. Fortunately, it had nothing to do with the material or the excellent professor. No, it was the asshole next to me who spent the entire class chewing on ice from a cup.

I mean, come on! I love to chew ice too. Everyone does. But in class???? Give me a goddamn break! I wanted to pay attention and follow along with the very difficult questions on sales of partnership interests, but all I could hear was "crunch, crunch, crunch" followed by the sound of him pouring more ice into his mouth. I wanted to punch him in the face; break out those ice-crunching teeth.

So that's why I'm irritable.

Tax Quiz

Nell and I live in an apartment owned (basically) by my university. The university rents the apartments they own to students, faculty, and staff at a rate below fair market value. In other words, we pay $100-200 less per month than our next door neighbors. So the question is this: are we taxable under the IRC for the difference between what we pay in rent and what the fair market rental rate would be if the university did not provide us a discount?

If the question were should we be taxed on that amount, the answer is simple: of course we should. We experience an increase in wealth by virtue of having more resources available for non-rent purposes. Stated that way, the question seems to be one of imputed income, which is not taxed under the IRC. I think I've discussed imputed income before in a Tax Tuesday post, so I'm not going to rehash it here.

But our rental discount also sounds a lot like employer-provided housing, which can be taxable if it doesn't meet the "convenience of the employer" test outlined in Benglia v. CIR and later codified by Congress. If I were a faculty or staff member, it seems like I would be taxable on the difference. But there is no employer-employee relationship between myself and the school. So what is the result?

First person to correctly answer the question gets a prize (probably a bag of M&Ms), but the winning entry must provide authority for the answer.

But I want more ponies...

In my reading for Family Law today, I ran across a very entertaining tidbit. In fashioning child support awards in marriage dissolutions, courts are guided by the "Three Ponies Rule." The rule states that no child needs more than three ponies. If the award for child support would allow purchasing four ponies fo the child, then the trial court has abused its discretion.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Penn and Teller on the Bible

PZ Myers linked to this post by the Atheist Jew which has an episode of Penn and Teller's Showtime show "Bullshit!" This episode is on the bible. While they don't provide anything new to the discussion, it is Penn and Teller and they are amusing. The main point is fairly worn, but obviously it bears repeating as a suprising number of Americans believe in a literal reading of the bible, or at the very least believe that the bible is a good moral code. It's pretty clear that the bible is neither of those things, but the majority of Americans believe it is. And so if you want a reiteration of why it is not, this is a fairly entertaining clip. And Penn and Teller rule.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's Like I'm A Celebrity

Tonight on the Daily Show there was a segment with the "Resident Expert" which was absolutely hilarious. But more relevant, it involved the use of Benjamin Moore (tm) paint chips. I was on cloud nine. As some of my very close friends know, from 1997 until 2003 (the exact dates have been forgotten), I worked for two Benjamin Moore dealers. Not only that, but I've mixed "Pale Straw" in AquaVelvet (Benjamin Moore's premium interior eggshell paint)!!!! In a day or so the clip should be available on Comedy Central's website, and I encourage you al to watch it. It is a little piece of my life.

Furthermore, on the Colbert Report, Stephen used the idiom "BFF." I have used that phrase on a few occasions in the past few weeks. It's like I am Comedy Central's 10-11 slot!

Cool Tax Protester Argument

Check out this argument from case decided by the Tax Court yesterday:

Petitioner contends that the section 6651 and 6654 additions to tax are not applicable because her parents raised her to believe that the Internal Revenue Service was an illegal organization and taught her not to file tax returns or pay taxes. As a result, petitioner believes that if she ever filed a return or paid taxes she would be "disowned" by her parents.

The case is Gillings v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2006-65.

Tax Policy Seminar

Just wanted everyone to know that I got into the Tax Policy Seminar for Spring semester 2007. Very exciting. That is all.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Update About Audit Rate

A week or two ago, the IRS released the stats on the number of audits they carried out last year per income group. The commissioner stated that audits of high income taxpayer had increased significantly in the last ten years. (Note: I just went to the IRS website but was unable to find the press release I read last month with detailed this clearly, but here is a link to the commish mentioning audit rates in brief). CNN reported on the audit rates, and the numbers they put up showed an equal percentage of audits between the highest income group of taxpayers and the lowest income group of taxpayers. The number was something like 1.5% of each group was audited.

When I saw those numbers I was a little shocked. No one likes the IRS as much as me, but I was a little angry that the IRS was spending it's resources auditing the little guys. I admit that poorer taxpayer are probably more likely to make mistakes on their tax returns, mainly, it seems to me, because they have to file their own taxes and don't have the money to pay a professional tax-preparer. So I can see that there may be more honest mistakes per capita among lower income taxpayers.

But people pulling in $20-25k per year have not traditionally been the people trying to defraud the IRS through complex fraud schemes. And the payoff for the IRS in auditing low income taxpayers can't be that high. So based on the original report, I was angry.

But look at this report from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). 184,054 taxpayers reported income of more than $1,000,000. Of these, 30 were audited. Wow.

On first blush, this is very disturbing. But a thought occurred to me: I wonder how many of the low income group audits were of individuals who were in the lowest group only because of a massive attempt to hide or recharacterize income. In other words, how many people who reported $25k of income actually bring in a hundred thousand or two and intentionally misreport it?

I don't know the answer to this. But I will assume (because of my affection for the IRS) that this accounts for the high number of audits of "low" income taxpayers.

Second Person Perspective

When one writes in the second person, it transforms the reader, brings the reader into the story and makes them experience it as if they themselves are the main character. But it can be a little wierd in an IRS Private Letter Ruling*:

You purchased Residence... and immediately used it as your principal residence. You occupied one of the bedrooms and your three sons occupied the remaining two bedrooms.

After moving into Residence, you decided that you wanted to adopt an orphan girl from a foreign country. You contacted various agencies about adopting a foreign child. You learned that under State law you could not adopt a girl unless she had a separate sizable bedroom. Thus, you could not pass the home study, which is the first step toward adoption, at Residence because you could not provide a girl with a separate bedroom. (PLR 200613009 - IRC Section 121 - Exclusion of Gain From Sale of Principal Residence)

Oh the humanity. Can you feel the pain as your own? All you wanted was to adopt "an orphan girl from a foreign country," but you were thwarted by red tape.

I found this entertaining and thought I'd share. I didn't provide a link because I get all my tax information off of private research databases that require subscriptions, but these things are also published somewhere on the IRS's website (I assume).

*I don't know a whole lot about tax procedure, but my understanding is that anyone can write a letter to the IRS asking for advice on the proper tax treatment of a confusing transaction. If the IRS wants to, I guess, it can respond in the form of a private letter ruling in which they restate the taxpayer's question, names and amounts removed, and publish their response for the edification of all. Theses rulings are not precedential.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Teach a Man to Fish

There are a lot of sayings that have been handed down through the years that, when spoken, seem to embody a certain truth. Short and sweet and true. They seem to contain a pure sort of truth that is hard to find anywhere else, maybe because other sources tend to be long-winded with qualifications and exceptions. The proverb (or bon mot or whatever) is not weighed down by excessive verbiage. As such, it is easy to take in, to reflect on, to reflect in its simple truth. And here's one that popped into my head as I was sitting, watching tv, wallowing in self pity:

Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for the rest of his life.

If you give a homeless man a dollar, he will most likely drink for the rest of the day. But what if you help him in a more substantial way; what if you teach him how to work and be self sufficient?

I think, from my limited experience, that most public service ventures seek to teach, to really change lives. But I think that experience has shown me that again, when you boil truth down to a sentence, when you distill out the "except fors" and the "but not ifs," when you simplify in order to bypass reason and appeal to emotions, what you are left with is incoherent nonsense.

The thing is, a man has to eat every day. A man's body burns calories, it takes in nutrients and expels waste. Every step a man takes requires the contraction of muscles and the expenditure of ATPs or some such nonthing. A man without a daily supply of fish can walk only so many steps before his belly distends and he falls to the ground.

The other thing is, teaching takes time. It takes time to learn the multiplication tables. It takes time to understand that a wood conditioner with stearates will reject a polyurethane. It take time to teach and learn. But if a man cannot go long without fish, how can he stay standing long enough to learn?

So you give a man a fish, and you teach him how to fish. Simple solution. But the whole point of the original proverb is that if you give a man a fish, he won't learn to fish because he doesn't have to. So if the teacher gives fish to the student while the student learns to fish, will the student ever even learn to fish? There is no necessity to learn. As long as I stay in school, the loans stay in their deferment phase. Why graduate?

And what if the lesson to be learned takes a generation? Or two? We can't stand by and let a man die because he doesn't have any fish. We know how to fish after all, and we have so many goddamned fish we're feeding some of our fish to other fish to get better tasting fish! But if we give a man a fish, he'll never be able to get his own fish. And now we've got so many damn fish we can start feeding fish raised on fish to other fish! We've got fish all over the goddamned floor and in the rafters and we're almost drowning in fish! But this sonofabitch can't even catch one! we start to wonder. If it's so easy for me to catch these fish, these fish that are jumping into my boat, I'm not even going to waste my time trying to teach some homeless guy how to catch one. If he can't do it himself, I sure as shit can't teach him!

But we're all human beings. And if we're not human beings, at least we're mammals. And if not that, then vertebrates. And if not that, we all come from the same protein, which, against significant odds, came to be and began to reproduce and pass on genetic instructions which gradually mutated and were passed on and on. And here we are, humans and otherwise. Our being here is so improbable that just looking at each other we should smile and think, "You have got to be kidding me."

But we let people who can't fish starve. We let them wallow in their crapulence, thinking either, "Poor bastard," or "lazy piece of shit." Sometimes, in the past mostly, we have prevented people who know how to fish from teaching other to fish, from passing on their knowledge. And sometimes people know how to fish but can't get to water, or maybe we stopped them from getting to water. And sometimes they have all the fish they need, but I just can't live eating fish every day of the week. And so people don't get any fish and they die. Or they get fish and they still die.

So a lot of people wonder, Is it even worth it to try to teach people to fish? Or, Is it worth it to give them fish? Or, If I give them fish, aren't I really just hurting them in the long run, taking fish away from their children and grandchildren? We can't be giving people fish for the rest of eternity, can we?

Who knows? I don't. In fact, I don't really know much of anything else. But sometimes, almost always at night, I wonder about it. And I have never come up with an answer. And I never will. But I'd rather give a man a fish than watch him die.

So I've rambled, as I do, and I guess the point is that if a succinct statement seems to really strike at the heart of the matter, to sum up in one bite-sized piece what intellectuals spend our tax dollars debating and arguing about, it's probably more complicated. In fact, it's probably so complicated that it can't be answered.

Notes to readers:
1) The above passage contains some curse words.
2) It's late at night and I tend to exercise less judgment at night.
3) Even if this post sounds stupid to me tomorrow, I won't remove it. The fact is that I never read anything that I've written for fear of discovering how stupid I sound, so it probably won't sound like anything to me tomorrow.

Tax Protesters and the Thirteenth Amendment

There are many, many strange and tenuous arguments that some tax protesters advance to justify not paying their taxes. One of my favorite is the "Phantom 13th Amendment" argument.

There was proposed, in the 11th Congress (1809-11), a constitution to the amendment called the Titles of Nobility amendment. The text read as follows:

If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain, any title of nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them.

The amendment passed the house and senate and has been ratified by 12 states. Technically, it is still pending.

In 1861, the legislature in Colorado printed a copy of this Amendment an entitled it the 13th amendment. Tax protesters take this to somehow mean that the Titles of Nobility amendment is a valid and functioning amendment to the constitution. As such, the argument goes, attorneys employed by the IRS and politicians admitted to the bar are not citizens of the United States because they stick the title "Esquire" at the end of their names. This is a title of nobility.

This argument was summarily dismissed by the judiciary. If you try to raise it in court, it will be considered a frivolous argument and you will be fined.

The argument did pique my curiosity however, and I searched for the history of the Phantom Amendment. What I found had nothing to do with titles of nobilities. Instead, I found that the phrase "Phantom Amendment" applies to a proposed amendment passed by the 36th Congress in 1861, the last year of Buchanan's presidency and the year before Lincoln was elected.

The amendment was proposed by Rep. Corwin following the secession of four (or seven, I don't know) southern states. The text was as follows:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.
12 Stat. 251

Not a pleasant constitutional amendment, but it passed the House and Senate by the slimmest margins. It was then signed by Buchanan, even though the Constitution does not provide that a President can sign (or veto for that matter) a proposed amendment. Thus his signature was meaningless. The amendment was then sent to the states for ratification. Technically, like the Titles of Nobility amendment, Corwin's amendment is still pending. So far, two states have ratified it.

An interesting side note, and another reason to dislike Honest Abe (aside from his suspension of habeas corpus during the civil war) is that during the amendment's consideration in the house and senate, Abe actively lobbied for it's passage. Great emancipator my ass.

Anyway, that's what I did this morning, and I was actually able to get a PDF of the Corwin amendment on LexisNexis.

An Interesting Number

Apparently, it costs the IRS, on average, about $6900 to defend against a frivolous tax protester law suit. Here's a blip from the recently decided US v. Edwards*:

In support of its motion, the government has presented evidence that, "[a]ccording to the records of the Tax Division of the Department of Justice, the average expense in attorney salaries and other costs incurred by [the government] in the defense of frivolous appeals in which sanctions were ordered during 2001 and 2002 (the latest period for which figures are available) was approximately $6,900."

In response, the taxpayer said that it's not his fault they put so much manpower into the case, referencing the fact that the IRS had at least three attorneys working on the case who produced a twenty-six page brief. Interestingly, the IRS only asked for, and the court ordered, $6000 in penalties.

*Decided in the 10th Cicuit Court of Appeals, District of Wyoming. No citation available yet.

Oh the Wind!

Holy crap was it ever windy here last night. It's been a long time since I remember hearing wind howl like that.

I heard somewhere, some time ago, that during a tornado you should keep a window or two open in order to equalize the pressure and prevent the windows from breaking. I don't know if this is true, but for most of last night, I had a window open about six inches. No windows broke, but I had to listen to the wind tearing through the city. This noise kept me up for much of last night. At 4:45am or so, Nell got up and closed the window, caring nothing for the fate of the windows, I guess. The windows didn't break and it was much quieter.

The lesson to be learned is this: If there's a chance of tornados, keep your window open about six inches, but after a few hours, you can close the window. Remember everyone, think and be safe.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

I'm bored

I'm bored... so I'm blogging. I've been getting a lot of flak from fishfrog for my neglect of the bloggosphere, so I've finally given into the pressure. The problem is computers. I look at them all day at work. I don't want to do it at home too, its just too much. And I know what you're thinking...why not check out the blogs at work. Well, I can't, I would get into trouble and besides I have a lot of work to do. Technically I'm not even aloud to listen to my ipod at work, but I think its stupid so I listen to it anyway. Its the pet-peeve of my boss's boss. She lives alone and has 15-30 cats. Need I say more.

Anyway, I'm bored. I have to do the dishes but there's just too many. Weekends always end up this way. There are things I have to do but nothing I want to do. And fishfrog is studying so I can't complain about it... well except to you anyway. So I ask you, I have two hours to myself, what should I do?