Monday, April 18, 2011

Tax Day and Other Bits

Though April 15 is the official Tax Filing Day in the United States of America, for some reason it's been pushed back to April 18 for 2011.  So if you were procrastinating, your time's up.  Sharpen your pencils and warm up the car, 'cause at midnight tonight, the clock runs out.

Don't like it?  Tough cookies.  Move somewhere where there's no taxes.  Go on, pack up, get going.  And when you're done with your search, I'll still be here when you get back.

Taxes are a fact of life.  As the saying goes, "death and taxes."  Medical technology is pushing death further and further off, but taxes just get bigger and bigger.  Maybe there's some kind of mathematical constant between the two that must be maintained.  You can have lower taxes, but you have to die young as a result.

What do your taxes pay for?  Well, for starters the United States government is the single largest employer in the country, by a long way.  More Americans work for the government than work for any production industry.  There are more people collecting paychecks for shuffling mail, running the Patent Office and Lord knows what else (don't forget the several branches of the armed services) than are making cars, operating mines, printing books.  America has gone from a nation of makers to a nation of takers.  And the money that pays all those government employees comes from your taxes.

I'm not in a production industry either.  I've spent the majority of my working life in the services sector.

What else?  Roads.  The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (big name, you betcha - is it any wonder nobody calls them that?) is federally funded and operated.  That's an awful lot of mileage, and you'd miss them if they were gone.  The Interstate system supplanted rivers as hubs of commercial development to about as great a degree as the railroad; cheap and fast transportation can now get right into the center of a city, moving goods with no stoplights for hundreds and hundreds of miles at a stretch.

How about the United States Postal Service?  Now we all know the USPS has taken a big hit in recent years. Email has dealt a nasty knock to the Eagle, which remains committed to its mission to serve every address six days a week.  Do you think maybe you could get by with one day less?  That would cut the postage rates a bit.  Those little postal trucks are relatively thrifty, but there's a lot of them.  And as much as people complain about how expensive it is to send an old-fashioned letter, it's still cheaper to send anything anywhere by American post, the USPS still handles a gigantic volume of post faster than any other country, and you can be certain your mail hasn't been opened while in transit.

Hmm.  I mentioned the Eagle speaking about the USPS, but there's another Eagle, one I especially adore: the USCGC Eagle, a steel-hulled tall ship in current service with the Coast Guard.  Is there much need for sailing vessels in modern navies, not really.  But if we get hit by some nutjob's EMP attack, isn't it nice to know we have some tonnage available that doesn't need an engine or electronics to function?

We spend our nation's money on other things than ships.  There's our armed forces in harm's way, and armed forces on friendly soil.  Government-funded health research, to push death back further yet.  Space exploration, energy exploration, all of it costs money.  You have your opinion about what matters and what doesn't, but how do you determine whether your opinion is the right one?  It might be right but is it right enough?

Should we explore space?  You bet.  There's lots of land out there - the moon is closer than the number of miles my car has traveled, and a freakishly large natural satellite it is, too.  Some astronomers call the Earth-Moon system a double planet.  But do we have any permanent residents on such a conveniently close neighbor, no.  Why not?  It'd be a perfect place from which to launch deeper space exploration - low gravity, lots of minerals for building, close to the sun for plenty of power.  And if an asteroid creamed the earth and killed off all the humans, there'd be still humans left, living on other planets.  We should get some of our eggs into other baskets, quickly.

Energy exploration.  We're hooked on oil, but do we need it?  Solar energy is free for the taking.  It's been raining soup for the last four billion years, and only just recently have we realized we even have bowls to hold over our heads.  Let's lift up some bowls!

Nothing is free.  Social Security, Medicare, the breakdown lane on I-75 - it all cost money.  Money for materials, money for labor, money for upkeep.  You live in the country where these things are and make use of them.  So pony up.  I did.

Don't forget: TurboTax works great!

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