Romney Tax Return Provides a Window to His Soul

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

When a craven of buffoons and bigots disguised in the bodies of Birthers figured that anyone with dark skin and a foreign name had to be born outside the U.S., Barack Obama provided a birth certificate. Not just the usual “short form,” but a state-certified copy of the “long form” that detailed he was born in Hawaii, which some birthers apparently think is a foreign territory, to a mother who was a natural-born U.S. citizen.  

That, of course, was not enough for the whackadoodles who claimed, among other things, that the President’s birth certificate was altered or forged. All of their claims have been debunked by scientific evidence. Of course, they produced their own poorly-forged birth certificate that they said “proved” President Obama was born in Kenya.

In February, billionaire Donald (Look-at-How-Wonderful I-Am) Trump, an unabashed Birther, stood next to multi-millionaire Mitt Romney in a Las Vegas casino and endorsed him for the Republican nomination. A few months earlier, Trump had gotten significant face-time in the media while flirting with the idea of running for the presidency while whining about Romney. “He’d buy companies. He’d close companies. He’d get rid of jobs,” Trump crowed. But now, with Romney running well ahead in the primary contests, Trump was trying to be relevant and stay in the political spotlight. Romney, for his part, smiled and said nothing to suggest that Trump could be wrong about pursuing the birther argument. Trying to have everyone like him, one of the most unlikable presidential candidates refused to repudiate Trump’s birther views.

Unlike Barack Obama, Mitt Romney does have a secret. This one is buried within what he either did or did not report to the IRS.

It’s traditional, but not required, that presidential nominees release copies of their tax returns. Most people have no idea how to read a tax return, especially one with dozens of amendments, filings, and schedules. But, the posting of the returns is a form of trust.

Barack Obama has released his returns. Romney’s father, George, former governor of Michigan and presidential candidate in 1968, released 12 years, thus setting a standard for future presidential candidates.

At first the flip-flopping Romney said he didn’t plan to release the returns. Then he said, “Maybe.” Then he declared he’d release only the previous two years’ returns. Then he said that because of the complexity of the return, he filed for an extension from the IRS so he could file after the April 15 deadline for the 2011 return. Then this past week before a fundraiser he said he “never paid less than 13 percent. . . . So I paid taxes every single year.” He expected us just to believe him. He never defined whether that was just income taxes, or included all taxes paid, including social security, local, and state taxes, thus making the federal income tax even lower.

Let’s pretend he meant income taxes. Even at 13 percent, it’s one of the lowest tax rates. In 2011, Romney had a gross income of about $21 million, according to a partial return Romney finally allowed to be posted. The effective tax rate for persons with incomes over $1 million, according to the Tax Foundation, averages about 25 percent.

But, most of Ann and Mitt Romney’s reported income in 2011 was based on capital gains. In 2003, the Bush–Cheney administration had lowered capital gains taxes to only 15 percent, primarily benefitting the wealthy. If the Romneys did not take most of their money from investment capital, their tax bracket would be 35 percent.
There are a number of questions that need to be answered.

The first questions are about that extension for the 2011 taxes. With a fleet of lawyers and accountants, why did the Romneys need at least a five month extension to file a return? Was it to massage the data for public consumption? Equally important, if he needed this extension to file a personal income tax return, what does that say about his ability to govern a nation with a $2.3 trillion budget?

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints tithe to the church. The Romneys acknowledge donating $2.5 million in cash to the church in 2011. Were they overly generous? Or, does that contribution reflect that the Romneys’ income may have been about $25 million. If that is the case, where did the rest go? Ann Romney told NBC News, “We also give 10% of our income to charity.” According to a partial return in 2011, the Romneys claim they donated about $4 million to charity. If Ann Romney is a accurate, that would be a $40 million income, twice what is claimed.

Why Romney won’t release tax returns prior to 2010 may be because secrets are buried in 2009. According to BuzzFlash’s Mark Karlin, citing Lawrence O’Donnell’s pointed queries, “Romney may have taken advantage of a 2009 IRS amnesty period to disclose hidden income in offshore accounts but subject to US taxation. The amnesty offer allowed such persons to escape potential criminal prosecution for tax evasion.” It would be nice to know how much income was diverted to off-shore accounts in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Switzerland, and into various tax-shelters the average American has no idea even exist.
That leads to an obvious question. How much of the Romneys’ income over the past decade, not just the two years when he was planning to run for president, had deductions that might be questionable to the average person who doesn’t have lawyers and accountants on retainer? Certainly, taking a $77,000 write-off in 2010 for a show horse isn’t something the average American can do. Working with an onerous tax code, loaded with myriad special interest loopholes, the Romneys know how to take everything wealthy Americans are entitled to receive. It may be legal, but is it ethical?

Frankly, it doesn’t make much difference how much Romney earned, how he earned it, what he did with it, or how he and some extremely bright tax advisors took advantage of the system created by lobbyists and Congress. What does matter is that by stonewalling, obfuscating, and refusing to give full disclosure, he appears to have something to hide. And upon that—and that alone—the people and the media need to pursue why Romney is reluctant to release financial data. It’s a matter not of how rich he is, but a matter of trust and a window into his soul.

[Walter Brasch has been covering local, state, and presidential political races for almost four decades. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the American counter-culture and media of the ’60s as a base to understand today’s social issues.]

 

 

 

Spearing a Tax Deduction

 

 

                                         by WALTER BRASCH 

 

On a bright Monday morning, a day before tax returns were due, I bumped into my ersatz friend Marshbaum who was placing a change container at the Gas-High Mini-mart on Low Octane and Greed avenues.

“March of Dimes?” I asked.

“Dimes. Quarters. Ten-dollar bills. Whatever.”

Since he misunderstood my question, I tried it another way.

“What charity? Humane Society? MS? Veterans Relief?”

“Even better. A museum.”

“Science museum for kids? Art museum?”

“Not even close.”

“I’m not playing 20 Questions. Put the danged label on your change can.” From a tattered vinyl briefcase, Marshbaum took out a peelable label proclaiming donations for the “Marshbaum Museum of American Culture.”

“You can drop your spare change into it now.”

“What’s the scam?” I asked suspiciously.

“No scam. Legitimate museum. Just like the Historic Voodoo Museum, the International Toaster Museum, and Britney Spears’ one.”

“Britney Spears has a museum?”

“Not really a museum, but four rooms in a museum in her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana. Been there more than a decade. Even has a scale model replica of the stage of her HBO concert and a full-scale replica of her pre-teen bedroom.”

“Just because she can dance, flash skin, and lip sync at the same time doesn’t warrant a museum. And in your case, even if you do build a monument, it will remain as empty as your own life.”

“I shall build it, and they will come.”

“They will come and be taken.”

“I got credibility,” Marshbaum said, wounded by my skepticism. “I took first place in Air Guitar at the county fair. If I had a gaggle of marketing geniuses and choreographers, I’d be bumping and grinding before every teen, making millions, and creating designer labels.”

“I doubt you’d have even enough to fill a small case.”

“I think I’ll have three sections. Just like the Queen of Bubblegum Pop. Teething years. Mouseketeer years. Pop star--”

“Marshbaum! You weren’t ever a Mouseketeer.”

“I watched them. I’m donating my TV set. It’s the same age as Britney.”

“And how do you justify your pop star section?” I asked sarcastically.

“I eat Pop Tarts all the time. I should have a used box somewhere.”

“Mold has no value outside a lab.”

“IRS doesn’t think so.”

“The IRS may be moldy, but I doubt--” I didn’t even have to finish the sentence. Revelation and french horns played all at once. “It is a scam, isn’t it! Most people have yard sales. You’re donating junk to a bogus museum and taking tax deductions.”

“And you think Miss Oops-I-Did-It-Again isn’t? She’s a one percenter who have found loopholes in loopholes to tax cheat the people. Probably pays less tax than the person who stuffs her into her costumes. Their whole philosophy is Gimme More. And why should we hold it against her till the end of time? She’s probably getting tax deductions for her traffic tickets and marriage certificates. Probably a half-fortune for her clothes. She has more costumes than an elementary school at Halloween. I mean where else would she put all that drek and get paid for it?”

“Are you really serious about this scam?”

“From the bottom of my broken heart.”

 [Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed social issues comedy, Before the First Snow, available in hardcover or as an ebook through http://www.greeleyandstone.com or amazon.]

 

 

 

 

A Crock Pot Tax-Exempt Idea

 

 

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            A wall of suffocating heat nearly vaporized me as I walked into Marshbaum's house. In the kitchen was a portable kiln spewing fiery venom that was curling the linoleum. In the den, wildly pumping a potter's wheel flinging clay all over the room, was Marshbaum.

            “Got a new hobby?” I asked from a puddle of water that I assumed was what was left of my body.

            “Hobby, nothing!” shouted Marshbaum over the noise. “This is my path to fame and fortune.”

            “Every one of your fame-and-fortune paths have ended in a cul-de-sac,” I reminded him. “You scamming the public into believing that slops of glazed clay dipped into leftover house paint are the last sculpture of a dying genius?”

            “They're cookie jars,” said Marshbaum wounded.

            “Still looks like schlock to me,” I suggested.

            “Work with me on this,” Marshbaum commanded, “it could result in a column for you.”

            So I played straightman while Marshbaum threw pots together. “Who,” I asked skeptically, “is going to buy ersatz cookie jars?”

            “Corporations,” he replied smugly.

            “For gifts?”

            “For receipts. Taxpayers keep their receipts in cookie jars,” Marshbaum explained, “so why not corporations? It’ll help them avoid paying any taxes. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s—”

            “Probably illegal.”

            “It’s in the Tax Code,” said Marshbaum. “Individuals pay; corporations don’t.”

            “I doubt the IRS Code says anything like that.”

            “There are four million words in the IRS Code,” said Marshbaum. “Lower-class and middle-class Americans get a few thousand of those words. The rest of the code is a roadmap to help the wealthy and their corporations avoid paying taxes.”

            “The IRS encourages corporations to cheat?”

            “No, Congress does that. It writes the code to give rebates, tax deferments, subsidies, and all kinds of tax shelters that only the wealthy and their corporations can take advantage of. It’s just a way to reward their friends.”

            “But, it’s the people who vote for their representatives,” I said naively.

            “You think some homeless vet can afford to donate to Sen. Sludgepump’s campaign? You think Rep. Bilgewater even listens to the opinions of the impoverished and disenfranchised? Why do you think the Republicans want to cut into Medicare and Medicaid?”

            “To balance the budget?”

            “Because, Ink Breath, the rich don’t need those programs. That’s also why they want to cut funding for public education. The rich can afford private schools. The poor can’t. Besides, you can’t have an educated population of middle-class citizens. They might do something un-American, like actually learn something about the issues.” The issue, said Marshbaum, slinging clay and getting high on pot fumes, is that Congress allows the rich to realize their dreams that greed is not only good, it’s encouraged.

            Marshbaum explained that a Government Accountability Office analysis showed that almost three-fifths of all American-based corporations pay no federal taxes. The GAO study didn’t identify individual companies. Marshbaum, with the help of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did.

            Pretending that the international crisis-of-the-week has led to the highest gas prices in years, the oil companies—smirks of greed tucked neatly into their wallets—made record profits, paid no taxes, and even received rebates and refunds from the IRS. Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009, paid no taxes, but received a $156 million rebate. Chevron made $10 billion, paid no taxes, and received a $19 million refund. ConocoPhillips during a three year period had a $16 billion profit, paid no taxes, and received a $451 million tax break. Valero Energy had $68 billion in sales, and a $157 million tax refund.

            General Electric had a $26 billion profit in five years, and a $4.1 billion refund. Boeing, tucked into bed with a $30 billion Defense Department contract, got a $124 million refund to sleep better

            Even those that received taxpayer-supported bailouts, after being a major cause of the sub-prime housing debacle, made profits, paid seven-figure executive bonuses, and received refunds. Bank of America scammed the people for a $1 trillion bailout, made a $4.4 billion profit, and received a $1.9 billion refund. CitiGroup, with a $2.5 trillion bailout, paid no taxes on a $4 billion profit. Goldman Sachs and Carnival Cruises were model corporate citizens by paying all of 1.1 percent taxes. Goldman Sachs had a $2.3 billion profit on an $800 billion bailout; Carnival, which took passengers and the taxpayers on a cruise, made $11 billion in profit over five years.

            “Assuming everything you say is true, how does your overpriced crock pot cookie jar allow the rich to cook the books to avoid paying taxes?”

            “Because it comes with extras,” said an enthusiastic Marshbaum. “With every 25 jars, you get a scanner and software that I created. All you have to do is scan the receipts, and my patent-pending pot ware zooms through the receipts to match the tax code and declare that the rich guy and his even richer corporation are tax-exempt.” The best part, said Marshbaum, is that corporations will be able to lay off thousands of six-figure income CPAs in order to maximize their profits.

            “But wouldn’t that just increase the problem we already have with unemployment?” I asked.

            “Not when the accountants and auditors—the ones who know all the corporate secrets—realize that the government pays 15 to 30 percent of all money it collects from whistleblower tips.  They may never have to work again.”

            “You’re brilliant,” I said commending my pot throwing friend. “Just brilliant.”

 

            [For decades, Walter Brasch has used cookie jars to collect his tax receipts, much to his wife’s and accountant’s annoyance. His next book is Before the First Snow, a work of journalistic fiction that explores war in the Gulf, the peace movements, and the effects of “clean” nuclear energy. The book is available from Amazon.com for pre-orders.]

 

 

 

 

Tax-Deductible Invasions

by Walter Brasch

 

          Millions of Americans gave George W. Bush unquestioned support when he diverted personnel and resources from the war against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to invade Iraq.

           Several million fewer opposed the invasion, stating that the primary mission was to destroy the enemy hiding in Afghanistan that destroyed a part of America and not to expand the war. At first, President Bush claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, capable of destroying Israel and, if placed aboard cargo vessels, could be launched at the east coast of the U.S. When that explanation fizzled, Bush said the invasion was to remove a dictator. Soon, “Regime Change” was the buzz phrase of the month.

           Flash forward eight years. Different president. Different country. Same kind of dictatorship. This time, the conservatives have loudly cried that Barack Obama should not have launched missiles at Libya. And many liberals, while protesting expansion of war, were now facing other liberals who supported President Obama’s mini-war of helping oppressed people. The Iraq war has now cost American taxpayers more than $ 780 billion. The two-week (so far) war against Libya has now cost almost $750 million, most of it for Tomahawk missiles.

           What’s a president to do? The president’s party spends millions of dollars on polls, none of which are reliable. The president is then forced to put his finger into the wind to see what the voters want—and then does what he wants to do anyway.

          Whatever he does will be met by hostility on one side and near-blind support on the other. However, there is a solution. Tax checkoff.

          No, that’s not like a distant cousin of the Russian short story writer. It’s a way for the President and the taxpayers to get the biggest bang for their buck.

           Let’s say that a president decides he wants to invade some hostile foreign country—Canada, for example. Instead of going into the War Room with his military leadership and plotting how best to meet the strategic, tactical, and political goals of an invasion, he stops for two weeks.

           During the first week, all Americans would be sent an email, asking them if they support the invasion of the country that sends Arctic Clippers to the U.S. during Spring. At the end of that week, voting stops. Now, let’s say that 40 percent of Americans think invading Canada is important and the prudent thing to do, but 43 percent oppose it. (The other 17 percent would still be trying to find out why their computers crashed.)

           Normally, the president would say that most Americans don’t want to invade Canada and might listen to them. But, the 40 percent are vigorous in their beliefs. No problem.

           On the next paycheck will be a question. “Do you support committing American troops to invade Canada, and stopping Arctic Clippers?” Those who answer “yes” will then be assessed a proportion for the costs of that invasion, putting their wallets and purses where their mouths are. If 60 million Americans want war, and the cost is a mere $300 million a week, then each supporter would have about $5 per week deducted from his or her paycheck. It’d hardly be noticeable. Of course, there might be a $5 surcharge for the cost of burying the dead, treating the wounded, and long-term physical and mental rehabilitation. But, hey, even at $10 a week, war is rather cheap. And, most important, all of it is tax-deductible.

           Those who don’t support the war wouldn’t have the money deducted. They could decide to support another war later, or pay a “fair share” for more vigorous environmental regulation and enforcement, or even a few dollars a month to allow members of Congress to have junkets. Whatever is raised for junkets would be the total pool available, and would have to be split equally among the 535 members and several thousand critical staffers who, we all know, are the ones who do the work anyhow.

           The Tax Checkoff System has one final advantage. With Americans deciding what to support and committing their personal fortunes or anemic savings accounts to the cause, we could wipe out the national debt and war at the same time.

  

          [Walter Brasch probably won’t be deciding to have deductions for war taken from his pay check. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a journalistic novel that looks at the integration of war, peace, oil, and nuclear energy, all within the context of social justice. The book is available, on pre-order, from amazon.com.]

 

         

 

 

The One Agency We Trust More Today than in the 90s

A lot of interesting and ominous data from the latest Pew poll worth sorting through tonight. But one point that stood out to me as particularly surprising is the comparison of sentiments towards various government agencies today versus in 1997.

Over the past decade, Americans views towards a majority of the federal government agencies polled by Pew have declined significantly. Only a small handful of agencies, like the FBI and the Veterans Administration, have seen their favorability ratings hold firm.

The one agency to see its numbers increase significantly in the past 13 years? You wouldn't guess it, but the Internal Revenue Service. That's right, us Americans like the IRS more than we did in the 1990s -- a lot more. While just three-in-eight Americans viewed the IRS favorably a dozen years ago, that number has grown to nearly half (47 percent) at last tally. While this still makes the IRS one of the lesser liked federal agencies, it does suggest that anti-tax sentiments might not be quite as virulent as some might have us believe.

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