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When times are taxing

Published February 08. 2013 05:03PM

Life is supposed to be simple.

We're supposed to live by two pages of rules. And there really aren't too many words on those pages.

The two pages were actually stone tablets. Each tablet contained five Commandments. They advise us about ethics, with instructions to worship only God and to keep the sabbath. They also warn against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, and adultery. That's not too bad, really. All of it makes sense, and so it should be a piece of cake.

Then we have the Bible, which makes things more complicated.

The Old Testament had 993 pages. That's a far cry from just two tablets. Fortunately, people who lived before our time saw fit to cut down the Bible to manageable portions. Sounds like a good idea. We always appreciate when things are bite-size. Therefore, an abbreviated New Testament might have 288 pages.

It's still a lot more than those two stone tablets.

Of course, to exist in this world, we also need to make a living. We need to have a job. We need to produce.

And so we become workers. In this country, virtually all jobs - even those in the private sector, are somewhat regulated, monitored or controlled by the government. The government is a separate entity from the Ten Commandments.

Some might say the government is the opposite of the Ten Commandments. Government also is unaffiliated with the Bible.

And so the government steps in and tells us to adhere to something called the IRS Tax Code.

Now this is where life becomes complicated. The IRS Tax Code doesn't consist of two tablets. Nor does it consist of 288 pages. Instead, it throws at us an amazing 73,608 sheets. Those sheets tell us how to live the financial portion of our lives.

We all agree that there is beauty in simplicity. The IRS Tax Code is the opposite of simplicity.

It has confusing cross-references, convoluted explanations, and enough loopholes to crochet 50,000 afghans.

What makes the tax code impossible is its bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, too difficult to decipher.

In fact, it wasn't long ago - 2001 and 2002 - when U. S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was unable to correctly fill out his own taxes. He was accused of not reporting income. He told a Senate Finance Committee panel that he used TurboTax software, although he admitted that mistakes made were his own.

If the Secretary of the Treasury can't fill out the forms correctly, how can anyone else possibly do it?

Here is a sample of the IRS Tax Code, taken from Section 509(a):

"For purposes of paragraph (3), an organization described in paragraph (2) shall be deemed to include an organization described in section 501(c)(4), (5), or (6) which would be described in paragraph (2) if it were an organization described in Section 501(c)(3)."

Are you serious?

Several years ago, I was asked by late Pittsburgh publisher Edith Hughes to give a talk to 80 weekly newspaper editors and writers at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. She asked me to offer tips for good writing. I hesitated to do it because I don't presume to know better than anyone else. But Edith never took no for an answer. Never.

Anyway, during my presentation, one attendee raised his hand and asked: "How do I recognize a sample of writing that is really bad?"

"That's easy," I responded. "Take a look at the IRS Tax Code." The tax code is the poster child for incoherent writing.

Don't write that way, I told the group. Don't use the government's sentence constructions or techniques. Instead, keep it simple and direct. Do the exact opposite of legalese, I said. Try to create word combinations short enough to be placed on a stone tablet.

Thou shalt never commit run-on sentences.

And thou shalt pay thy taxes ... but subject to 30 percent of the gross amount minus net losses which may not exceed 10 percent of the adjusted gross income when using income averaging as applied during a three-year period prior to earnings. Yeah, right.

The IRS needs a visit from Moses.

Say good night, Gracie.

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