Yes, Wilderness IS Special

And we don’t need your signs ruining it.

Wilderness is Special?I took a short hike yesterday in the Secret Mountain Wilderness area of Sedona. Wilderness areas are “protected” by the government, open only to foot traffic. Hell, they even suggest air traffic minimum altitudes.

Yet apparently the government has no problem erecting ugly signs like this one and the equally unattractive one just down the trail from it just to remind us how special this area is.

Apparently, it’s not special enough to remain sign-free.

How the U.S. Can Balance the Budget and Reduce Unemployment

The answer is simple.

In their never-ending search for ways to cut costs, U.S. businesses have turned to outsourcing to offshore companies to reduce labor costs. As a result, more and more jobs are being shipped overseas and more and more customer/technical service phones are being answered in by comparatively low-paid labor forces in India and other Asian countries. The U.S. workers who had these jobs are given pink slips and sent on their way. Jobless, they can no longer afford anything beyond the essentials, thus reducing the demand for products and services their former employers offered.

This, I believe, is the irony of outsourcing.

The U.S. government can help balance the budget and create new jobs easily. Just levy a tax on every job sent overseas. Fire 10 people in New York and replace them with 15 people in India? Well, that’ll cost you $5,000 per person or $50,000 a year. Or maybe it should work based on a hefty percentage of the salary no longer paid. 25%? Replace a $50K employee with an Indian? That’ll cost you $12,500. Do that with 100 employees? Write that check for $1,250,000. So not only will you alienate your customers by supporting them with foreigners reading off scripts, but you won’t save all that much money in the process.

After all, extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, and other benefits for unemployed people should be paid by the people who caused the unemployment, no?

Think of all the tax money the country is losing by not having these U.S. employees. Think of all the Social Security tax money not being paid — that alone is 15% of a person’s income (up to certain limits, of course). By greedy companies sending jobs overseas, they’re screwing our country out of important tax revenues we’ll need to maintain our standard of living — and get retirement benefits under Social Security and Medicare. Why are companies being allowed to do this?

And while they’re at it, why not levy higher tariffs on imports? The other day, I bought a perfectly good, 100% cotton polo shirt at a Walmart for $8. The only reason it was so cheap is because it was made in Pakistan. Meanwhile, towns across the United States are slipping into local depressions because fabric mills and clothing factories are closing down. People are losing jobs they’ve held for their entire adult lives. Why? Because companies can have these things made cheaper in China or Taiwan or Pakistan. Do they do.

Don’t you see it? Our drive to buy the cheapest of everything is causing people to lose jobs, This, in turn, is fueling this recession and requiring more and more of our tax dollars to help support the people who can’t get work.

Our greed and cheapness is screwing up our economy.

Why not make these companies pay for it? Yes, it’ll trickle down to us, but in the long term, wouldn’t you rather have a strong economy than a cheap polo shirt?

Tax Time = Torture Time

How did we let it get like this?

Yesterday, I did my own taxes for the first time in four years.

Understand this: I have a BBA degree in accounting. Having that degree always convinced me that I should do my own taxes. After all, if an accountant can’t do her own taxes, who can?

But back in 2005, my taxes were extremely complex. I sold a rental property and bought a helicopter. There were capital gains and losses and all kinds of weird things. Even though I’d been using TurboTax (and MacInTax) to do my taxes for the previous eight or so years — and doing it manually before that — I didn’t feel up to the task. So I handed it off to my husband’s tax preparer and let him deal with it. I’ve been doing that ever since.

TurboTaxBut after last year’s debacle with a new tax preparer who charged me more than $500, I decided to take matters into my own hands again. I bought TurboTax Home & Business. Yesterday, I sat down in front of my computer to do my taxes and my husband’s.

My husband’s taxes were the warm-up exercise. His taxes should be relatively simple, right? After all, he has an employer and gets a W-2 form. He didn’t buy or sell stocks, he doesn’t operate a business. He didn’t purchase or sell any property during the year. Yet even with the software, it took me two hours to prepare his Federal and State return. And when it was done, he didn’t like the answer and said he’d probably take it to a tax preparer anyway.

As we muddled through the process, however, I realized that my husband knows nothing about tax preparation. He didn’t know what any of the forms were and whether he’d filed them in the past. I’m not talking about those weird forms that only tax geeks know about. I’m talking about common schedules like A and C. He was clueless. For his whole life — and he’s in his 50s now, folks — he’d put his trust in a tax preparer, from his dad to local accountants to Hewett-Jackson. Whatever they told him was golden. He write a check or get a refund and be satisfied. After all, he didn’t have to deal with the bullshit of putting together a tax return.

After “completing” Mike’s return, I sat down to do mine. It took 4-1/2 hours. With a computer and software. And it isn’t as if I had to wade through a pile of papers to get the numbers to input. I use Quicken for my personal and business accounting. It does all the math for me. (It can also export to TurboTax, but I admit that I don’t trust them together for that.)

When I was finished, I saw the final numbers. I have to pay — I nearly always do because I’m too stupid to pay estimated taxes like I should — but the numbers weren’t quite as bad as I expected. (Of course, I had no clue what I’d made last year until I actually sat down to do my tax return.) But what’s mind-boggling to me is the forms TurboTax spit out. Here’s this year’s list:

  • Form 1040-ES Payment Voucher. There are four of these for my estimated payments, which I’m really going to try to send in this year.
  • Form 1040-V Payment Voucher. That’s the one I’m supposed to send in with my big check.
  • Form 1040Form 1040 US Individual Income Tax Return. Yes, it’s the long form. I can’t remember the last time I filed a short form. I may have been a teenager.
  • Schedule A Itemized Deductions. I’ve also been filing this one for years, although I’ve never been able to deduct medical expenses. I suppose I should be glad.
  • Schedule B Interest and Ordinary Dividends. I have a variety of investments that are not tax deferred.
  • Schedule C Profit or Loss from Business. I file two of these: one for my writing and publishing business and one for my helicopter charter business.
  • Schedule D Capital Gains and Losses. I sold some stock at a loss.
  • Schedule E Supplemental Income and Loss. This is for a rental property I own and my royalties on copyrights.
  • Form 8889 Health Savings Accounts. This is one way to deduct medical expenses. Save for them in a special kind of account and deduct your savings, then pay your medical bills with that account.
  • Form 8829 Expenses for Business Use of Your Home. I have an entire room in my home that’s dedicated to the mess I call my office.
  • Form 4562 Depreciation and Amortization. This is for my helicopter and other assets used by Flying M Air.
  • Form 8582 Passive Activity Loss Limitations. Apparently, I can’t deduct the tiny loss on my rental property because I don’t dedicate my life to keeping it occupied. Whatever.
  • Arizona Form 140 Resident Personal Income Tax Return. Arizona needs a piece of my pie, too.
  • Arizona Schedule A Itemized Deduction Adjustments. At least I can deduct my medical expenses in Arizona.

I should be clear here: it didn’t take me 4-1/2 hours to fill in these forms. It took me 4-1/2 hours to enter the raw data that TurboTax needed to fill in the forms. TurboTax did the job in seconds, completing just the forms it thinks I need and spitting them out of my printer as if they’d been typed by hand.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s humanly possible to prepare a tax return like mine by hand anymore.

And that’s my point. There are rules upon rules upon rules to the U.S. tax law. I remember studying taxes back in the early 1980s — it was a nightmare then. It’s even worse now. How frustrating is it to enter line after line of financial details on a worksheet or form just to discover that it won’t impact your taxes because it didn’t total more than 2% of line 38? Or perform a convoluted calculation just to see what percentage is taxable or deductible? Or answer questions regarding child care, home expenses, foreign transactions — the list goes on and on. Four and a half hours worth of questions and answers.

In this stack of paper I’m sending the IRS this week, there must be over 500 different numbers. What do they all mean? Do they really matter?

There’s an entire industry built on the annual torture of U.S. Citizens required to complete tax returns. I bought tax software to make filing my own return possible. It cost me $80 (discounted). Other people pay $50 or more to tax preparers to do the job for them. Hell, I paid $550 to get my taxes prepared last year! (That’s more than some people pay in taxes!)

And why? Because the tax laws are so complex and confusing that people with basic math skills simply can’t do it on their own.

Hello? IRS? Are you listening? Whatever happened to the Paperwork Reduction Act?