Archive for October, 2010

You know you are in America when: you have a trash chute

I never saw a real live trash chute before coming to America. I’d seen them on TV – particularly on episodes of Friends. I am sure the Friends chute starred in at least one programme thanks to an incident with a pizza box getting stuck.

Maybe it is just because it is un-American to actually walk any further than strictly necessary that they have chutes. I understand that they are useful but I can’t help but find them slightly sinister.

There’s a chute in my weekday apartment in DC. It’s mouth is fairly innocuous – in a small room next to the lift.  I mostly try to avoid it because of what might lurk at the other end. I could be imagining it but I think I can hear a distant rumbling when I feed something to the mouth of the chute  – possibly some strange and scary mechanical beast that wakes when you bring it offerings. Or it could be the rubbish falling on other rubbish …but I’m not sure.

No Comments

Tax return season finally over

Phew. It’s gone 15th October and my tax returns are finally submitted right on the extended deadline. US tax returns are a COMPLETE mystery to me. In my time in the UK I always paid tax via PAYE – very occasionally I even got the odd small refund. There isn’t a PAYE system here (at least I don’t think so) – you have to file your own. But you don’t file just ONE return – that would be way too easy. There are multiple different ones – a Federal one, a state one and a local one. Confusing or what?

I was lucky enough to have had my former employer pay for my tax returns to be done for 2008. This year  (2009 return) I was pretty much on my own. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. For a start I ignored the letters from the local tax collection group – I assumed that any dodgy looking organisation asking for 1-2% of my hard earned cash had to be a scam. It turns out it wasn’t a scam… Then there’s the state tax, which varies from state to state (eg 0% in Nevada, about 6% in Pennsylvania and a whopping 10% of global income in near bunkrupt California).

I know what you are thinking – how hard can it be to calculate a percentage of whatever you earn? Not hard. The challenge is that this whole system is designed for you to be able to submit deductions for various obscure things. Which is why people employ highly creative accountants to ensure that they pay the least possible amount of tax. And the forms are so complicated that it is nearly impossible to work out where the numbers go. Nightmare.

Anyway after a healthy amount of procrastination, I extended the April deadline (the very simple online form to do this makes me think this is rather common) and got some help from accountants. My aim for this year is to start collecting a whole pile of things to deduct for next year’s forms. Thank goodness I finally managed to convince the UK tax folk that I didn’t need to do one of of their returns too.

No Comments

Negative electioneering – US style

It’s election season here again and don’t we know it – every front garden seems to be infested with red or blue flags promoting a selection of sinisterly smiling heads. The TV and radio also have a surprisingly enormous number of ads. That’s not unusual – bu what is particularly notable about this election is the sheer number of negative ads, that really attack candidates in a highly persona way.

This is to a large extent because of a remarkable law change. The bottom line is that there is no longer a ban on corporations spending unlimited amounts of money on broadcast political ads in the run up to elections. That’s limitless money to spend on ads supporting or opposing candidates. Bizarrely individual contributors continue to have limits on their donations direct to candidates or parties.

According to The New York Times: For the first time, though, as a result of the [Citizens United] ruling, corporations will be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on “electioneering communications” (i.e., broadcast advertisements) expressly advocating for a candidate’s election or defeat. While the court upheld the ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidates, it also clears the way, for the first time, for corporations to donate money to nonprofit groups that place advocacy advertisements.

Nothing is sacred – military history, personal finances, voting history, family life. I’ve always believed that when you are promoting your product or service it is far more dignified and professional to focus on its benefits rather than the shortcomings of competitors’ products. Clearly this is not a belief shared by many of the groups sponsoring ads. Bring on the elections is all I can say so this nonsense can finally end. Until next time.

No Comments