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Believe me, you'll pay for this

Published Oct. 16, 2005

Income tax time is here again, and I'm sure that the No. 1 question on the minds of millions of anxious taxpayers is: Do we have a new Internal Revenue Service commissioner named "Fred"? I am pleased to report that yes, we do. In fact, if you look on Page 2 of your IRS Form 1040 Instruction Booklet Written By Nuclear Physicists For Nuclear Physicists, you'll find a nice letter from Commissioner Fred, in which he states, on behalf of all the fine men and women and attack dogs down at the IRS: "Let us know if we can do more."

I know I speak for taxpayers everywhere when I say: "NO! Really, Fred! You've done enough!" I am thinking of such helpful IRS innovations as the Wrong Answer Hotline, wherein, if you're having trouble understanding a section of the IRS Secret Tax Code, all you have to do is call the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Program, and in a matter of seconds, thanks to computerized electronics, you are placed on hold for several hours before finally being connected to trained IRS personnel dispensing tax advice that is statistically no more likely to be correct than if you asked Buster the Wonder Horse to indicate the answer by stomping the dirt.

Ha ha! Speaking as a married person filing jointly, let me stress that I am just kidding here, because I know the folks at IRS have a terrific sense of humor. Down at headquarters they often pass the time while waiting for their cattle prods to recharge by sending hilarious tax-related jokes to each other in triplicate on IRS Humorous Anecdote Form 1092-376-SNORT.

IRS Humor Example A: "A lawyer, a doctor and a priest were marooned on a desert island. So we confiscated their homes."

IRS Humor Example B: "What do you get when you cross Zsa Zsa Gabor with a kangaroo?" "I don't know, but let's confiscate its home."

What a wacky bunch of personnel! But all kidding aside, it's very important that taxpayers be aware of recent mutations in the tax law.

For example, this year everybody connected with the savings and loan industry gets a free boat.

When preparing your return, you should be sure to avoid common mistakes. The two most common mistakes, states the booklet, are (1) "failure to include a current address," and (2) "failure to be a large industry that gives humongous contributions to key tax-law-writing congresspersons."

All of us, at one time or another, have been guilty of these mistakes, but I'm sure that this year we'll try to cooperate fully with the IRS, because, as citizens, we feel a strong patriotic duty not to go to jail. Also we know that our government cannot serve us unless it gets hold of our money, which it needs for popular federal programs such as the $421,000 fax machine. I am not making this program up. I found out about it from alert readers Trish Baez and Rick Haan, who faxed me an article by Mark Thompson of Knight-Ridder newspapers concerning a U.S. Air Force contract to buy 173 fax machines from Litton Industries for $73-million, or about $421,000 per machine. Just the paper for it costs $100 a roll.

If you're wondering how come, when ordinary civilian fax machines can be bought for a few hundred dollars, the Air Force needs one that costs as much as four suburban homes, then you are a bonehead. Clearly, as any taxpayer can tell you, the Air Force needs a special kind of fax machine, a combat fax machine. The article quotes an Air Force spokesperson as making the following statement about it: "You can drag this through the mud, drop it off the end of a pickup truck, run it in a rainstorm and operate it at 30 below zero."

The spokesperson also said (I am still not making this up): "I was looking at a picture of a squirrel it produced this morning, and if you wanted to sit there long enough you could count the hairs on the squirrel."

The questions that probably come to your mind are: 1. The Air Force is using a $421,000 fax machine to send pictures of squirrels?

2. Are these enemy squirrels?

3. Or does the combat fax just start spontaneously generating animal pictures after you drop it off the end of a pickup?

The answers are: None of your business. You're a taxpayer, and your business is to send in money, and if the Air Force wants a special combat fax machine, or a whole combat office with combat staplers and combat potted plants and combat Muzak systems capable of playing Barry Manilow at 45 degrees below zero, then it will be your pleasure to pay for them. Because this is America, and we are Americans, and - call me sentimental, but this is how I feel - there is something extremely appealing about the concept of Barry Manilow at 45 degrees below zero.

Tribune Media Services

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