My troubles with the IRS

IRS-telephone-scamWell, it’s finally happened.  I have run afoul of the IRS!

After decades of diligently paying taxes and filing returns so simple I choose to do them myself, I must have done something very, very, very wrong!  ‘Cause now I have The Man pounding on my door (phone) demanding that I respond to their verbal warnings and threats of imminent “legal proceedings”.  Yet I don’t recall getting any official notices and threatening letters from the Internal Revenue Service, filled with mind-numbing bureaucratese, enumerating my heartless transgressions against the People of America that surely should have proceeded my run-in with the IRS’s latest crop of bird-dogging bounty hunters!

It’s a bit of a puzzle.

Most confusing is the IRS’s reliance on a bunch of poorly spoken “English majors” apparently based in either West Africa or the Indian sub-continent.  It’s kinda hard to decipher their dialects.  The first call was from the latter, the latest from the former.  Don’t these hunter-killer IRS units speak to each other?!?

The second Special Agent, who called himself “Don” with an Anglo-Saxon last name spoke in a heavy Punjabi or Urdu accent (I can never tell the two apart.), was much more pleasant than the previous Special Agent, who sounded much more African (if I can be so bold as to characterize his geographical-cultural orientation).

phone-scam“West Africa” didn’t leave a name, but he was very forceful and full of implied threats.  He made sure – in no uncertain terms – that we knew the serious of our crimes against America, Apple Pie, and Motherhood.  He demanded immediate redress from our answering machine!  (The greatest invention since the brewery!) Aggressive legal action was dangling by a single hair – like the Sword of Damocles – above our heads.  I was almost convinced a S.W.A.T. team was sitting out on our back deck awaiting the word to breach the doors and drag us all off to Debtor’s Prison.

OK … So it’s a scam.  A scam of the worst kind, intended to prey on the elderly, the disconnected, the easily spooked in nothing more than any of the other usual methods of stealing from the weak.

A coworker, who also received the dreaded Tax Man Cometh scam, had the opportunity to answer the phone before he realized the call was a baited fish-hook.  Once the gig was up, he simply asked the “agent” his name, identification code, and location so he could call back after reviewing his tax return.  He heard a rustling of paper in the background, undoubtedly as the “agent” checked for this unexpected turn in the prepared script.  Then the line went dead …

But you really do have to laugh at the desperation, the obvious inattention to detail, the amateurish attempts to portray Big Bad government agent, and the huge clues they drop that are almost as good as being caught with an exploding dye pack in the getaway car while still sitting in the bank parking lot!

For me, I had to laugh at Don of The Sub-Continent when he ended his call of dire warning and imminent legal and financial ruin with the following salutation:

“Good night and God bless”

Imagine that … An IRS attack dog that signs off saying, “God bless”!?!

Game, set, match …

About these ads

Our Post-Election Quandary

election2014

Another Election Day is in the books.  We can stare at the carnage, the breakthroughs, the piles of cash thrown into the winds of political expediency … or we can look ahead to the challenges that will determine the political future.

I choose to look forward in this post, although those piles of cash … estimated at $4 billion for the 2014 general election … is a disturbing image in my rearview mirror.

Nationally, it was a bad day for the Democrats.  Losing control of the U.S. Senate (52-45 Republicans, 2 Independents, Louisiana’s race into a runoff) and now facing a 65-seat Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

No doubt this was a referendum on President Obama and his administration, most particularly his Leadership or more appropriately the lack thereof.  In some parts of the world, such polling would result in a coalition-busting dissolution of Government and the forming of new coalitions.

OK … So maybe I am glancing back at Tuesday’s carnage.  Maybe in a bit of satisfaction … but you have to know where you are to get where you want to go.

My post-election quandary can be stated quite succinctly:

My kingdom for a Leader!

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the same storyline – described above – played out in the Governor’s race, only this time in favor of the Democrats.  No confidence in Governor Tom Corbett led to a loss of support across all demographic groups except those over the age of 65.

PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf

PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf

Now that he’s been elected, the real problem for Tom Wolf is he is faced with the same Republican-dominated legislature that denied Corbett some of his most cherished legislative initiatives, like liquor privatization and taking action on the State’s unsustainable public pension problem.

How will Mr. Wolf provide Leadership for a legislature completely controlled by the opposition party?  (Hint: Don’t look to The White House for an example!)

Leadership … a quality many believe our President fails to possess in any way, shape, or form.  From his refusal to get acquainted even with the Democrats in Congress, his hands-off management style, an administration fumbling the basic functions of government, and his failure to take quick, decisive action in times of international crisis, President Obama set out the finest silverware when inviting the poll whooping Democrats received last Tuesday.

Leadership … the one trait you want any Chief Executive to demonstrate regardless of whether you voted for them or against.

Tom Wolf will have his opportunity to show what kind of Leader he can be.  Can he work with those across the aisle, as he must to be successful?  Will he be able to build relationships with his powerful political opposition?  Can Wolf set a tone of Leadership that will allow him to cultivate alliances with a Republican Legislature and get things done?

Wolf’s off to a rocky start, choosing divisive Katie McGinty, Pennsylvania’s former Environmental Protection Secretary, as his Chief-of Staff and throwing down the gauntlet on Medicaid expansion, which the PA Legislature is all too aware will only be partially funded by Washington after the first years.

Not exactly your political olive branches …

Cats are plain creepy!

Creepier only on the face of a politician …

The President, given what we have seen over the past six years, most likely will not even try leading with the fully Republican-controlled Congress.  He will give lip service to working together and the fine Art of Compromise.  But in the wake of an election where most Congressional Democrats treated Obama like he himself was Ebola-infested, it’s doubtful the message from Tuesday’s shellacking will resonate with the country’s Chief Executive.

No, it’s far more likely he will give Congressional Republicans his best Cheshire cat smile while all along fingering the nuclear option … government-by-executive-fiat.

Now despite my proclivity to criticize Democrats, nothing here absolves our esteemed Republican representatives in Harrisburg or in Washington, D.C. from showing a bit of Leadership themselves.  In fact, it would be a breath of fresh air if perhaps we can expect the same kind of across-the-great-divide behavior from our legislative majorities!

As a close admirer (?) of mine recently cautioned, taking those first steps should never require that one abandon core principles.  And I agree.  But core principles rarely get anything accomplished on their own.  They are anchors that should define one’s approach to policy.  It’s the recognition of those principles as a foundation for making sound decisions and – when appropriate – suitable compromise that result in getting The People’s work done.

And somewhere in between perhaps the twain shall meet!

As I searched for a pithy way to wrap this up, I wanted something that would best characterize the implications of what occurred in voting booths this week and how it defines our political near-future, particularly for Mr. Wolf and our Pennsylvania State Legislator.  (Unfortunately, I have given up on the D.C. crowd.)

Instead of referring to the wisdom of Aristotle, Benjamin Disraeli, or Napoleon Bonaparte, I stumbled on this little gem written just weeks ago by a Lt.Col. Stacy Clements, Deputy Commander, 821st Air Base Group in a commentary on Leadership from the cozy confines of Thule Air Base, Greenland.

To me, it says it all …

Leadership: It’s not about you, it’s up to you!

Some relevant excerpts:

As a leader, you need to take the initiative to solve problems, take action to get results, and take ownership of the responsibility for getting things done.

As a leader, your actions can inspire and influence others – or can create a toxic environment where work may get done, but not as effectively as it could be. To help and influence others, you need to be trustworthy and approachable; try to understand those you lead, what motivates them, and be open to helping them achieve their goals.

Don’t focus all your attention on the image in the mirror – focus your efforts on making things better and helping people become better. Remember, it’s not about you, but it is up to you.

Hopefully, someone will take the advice!

Honoring but a few for Veterans Day 2014

Normally I spend much of my time in these posts lauding the experiences and sacrifice of citizen soldiers and sailors during long ago conflicts … The Civil War, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Mostly – I think – because these conflicts held a historical significance, events that could be studied and analyzed through the lens of history.

Our more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, though important within the context of more recent events, do not as yet seem to carry the weight of History in the classical sense.  But certainly that will change with Time, especially as the history of a new Iraq and a new Afghanistan plays out.

So for this Veterans Day, I present some stories from our most recent conflicts overseas. Please remember these Americans and all who served on Tuesday, November 11.

Corporal Jason L. Dunham (Hometown: Scio, NY)

Corporal Jason L. Dunham

Corporal Jason L. Dunham

14 April 2004 – Corporal Dunham’s squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander’s convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah.

As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat.

Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Corporal Jason L. Dunham was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on 11 January 2007.

Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith (Hometown: El Paso, Texas)

Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith

Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith

On 4 April 2003, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers.

As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier.

In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army.

Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on 05 April 2005.  He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Specialist Ty M. Carter  (Hometown: Spokane, Washington)                                  On October 3, 2009, Specialist Carter and his comrades awakened to an attack of an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of Combat Outpost Keating, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire. Specialist Carter reinforced a forward battle position, ran twice through a 100 meter gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply ammunition and voluntarily remained there to defend the isolated position.

Armed with only an M4 carbine rifle, Specialist Carter placed accurate, deadly fire on the enemy, beating back the assault force and preventing the position from being overrun, over the course of several hours. With complete disregard for his own safety and in spite of his own wounds, he ran through a hail of enemy rocket-propelled grenade and machine gun fire to rescue a critically wounded comrade who had been pinned down in an exposed position. Specialist Carter rendered life extending first aid and carried the Soldier to cover.

On his own initiative, Specialist Carter again maneuvered through enemy fire to check on a fallen Soldier and recovered the squad’s radio, which allowed them to coordinate their evacuation with fellow Soldiers. With teammates providing covering fire, Specialist Carter assisted in moving the wounded Soldier 100 meters through withering enemy fire to the aid station and before returning to the fight. Specialist Carter’s heroic actions and tactical skill were critical to the defense of Combat Outpost Keating, preventing the enemy from capturing the position and saving the lives of his fellow Soldiers. Specialist Ty M. Carter’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army.

Specialist Ty M. Carter was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on August 26, 2013. 

Outpost Keating, where Specialist Carter fought, was featured in the book “The Outpost” by Jake Tapper.  Recommended reading for gaining some insight into how difficult the war in Afghanistan was for all the shortcomings in political and military leadership, and for how it affected those put on the ground to fight it.

*

When I write these posts for Veterans Day or Memorial Day, I feel a bit guilty, especially when I fall back on the lazy act of simply cutting and pasting a few incredible stories about everyday men and women reacting to extremely dangerous situations in extraordinary ways.

It is in a cheap way to suggest a sort of familiarity, when in fact I have no way – like many of us sitting at home – of appreciating the real sacrifices or of comprehending the gravity of decisions made under enemy fire in places far, far from home.

For those veterans who stumble upon this post, my only objective here is to say thanks for all you gave up, did without, put up with, and lost.  But most importantly, it’s in recognition for all you accomplished in taking on the most difficult of challenges in the collective interests of all Americans!

The Eagles and their “quarterback problem”

Mark-Sanchez-Eagles.trade.final

Mark Sanchez

During last Sunday’s game, Philadelphia Eagles fans took a collective gasp when Nick Foles went down heavily under the weight of Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus.  But in this case the gasp was hardly accompanied by dread for a season lost to an irreplaceable cog in the football team’s fast break offense.  Truth be told, a lot of Eagles fans were becoming a bit jaded with Foles’ performance over the first half of the season.

Personally, I do not understand that sense of dissatisfaction with a quarterback who has been central to the growing success of Chip Kelly‘s high octane offensive scheme.  In this Nick Foles seems to be the victim of his own success.

So too are those cynical fans …

But of course the local sports media immediately turned Mark Sanchez‘s re-appearance into a quarterback controversy!  And they do so for a team that stands 7-2 and atop the NFC East!

Foles enjoyed an almost flawless season in 2013, throwing for 2900 yards, 27 TDs, and just 2 Interceptions.  Those are not superhuman numbers; but it was that last data point … just 2 INTs (317 pass attempts) that really paved the way for this season’s excessively high expectations for Foles 2nd season.

And yet, even I have to admit, Mark Sanchez piqued my interest in the pre-season. He was acquired as a free agent after being dumped by the Superbowl-bound New York Jets

(Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention!)

You had to like what you saw of Sanchez in those pre-season games, if you bothered to watch.  Quick reads, sound decisions, strong and accurate arm … He seemed extremely comfortable in Kelly’s fast paced offensive system.  The first question that came to mind then was, “Just how bad are the New York Jets?”

Questioned answered …

Sanchez for his own part stepped in last Sunday against the Texans and performed admirably.  But face it, Sanchez stepped into a good situation with an offensive line finally stabilized for better protection and an improved running game to boot.

Nick Foles

Nick Foles

Foles spent the first half of the season playing behind a patched-up offensive line, beset by an early season injuries.  If you pay attention to offensive line play, you could see how the O-line struggled against the pass rush; could not provide a suitable pocket for Foles to step into and throw; and how often Foles was forced to throw passes off his back foot.

The poor throwing posture and mechanics caused many of Foles’ problems.  And of course, Foles threw some passes a bit early due to the constant pressure and resulting hits.

In one of Foles’ better games against those New York Football Giants (also not Superbowl-bound), he enjoyed the benefits of an improved O-line, with the return of Lane Johnson; was able to step into many of his throws; and played much better as a result.

No mystery there …

Regardless, any team that relies so heavily on QB performance (and what team does not?) is in a much stronger position having two players who can be plug-and-play ready.

The one factoid to keep in mind is that for all our Monday morning quarterbacking and opining about who should be playing QB for the Birds, Sanchez signed a one-year deal … the product of his miserable Jets exit and Sanchez’s desire to get a second chance at being The Top Guy.  Regardless of what happens this season, Sanchez could very well take whatever success he may have and move on to a QB-desperate team next season!

Or maybe Sanchez will not be as successful over the long term as he has looked so far.

The good news is that the Eagles seem to have found a great second option at QB in Sanchez.  It’s a “problem” of the best kind for the Philadelphia Eagles!

UPDATEVery interesting article in The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning about how Chip Kelly and Mark Sanchez crossed paths very early in Sanchez’s football career.  Coincidences like this are often hard to shake off.  Will Fate play a role in how this plays out?

Sights of the WW1 battlefields

Mike Shortall:

Interesting look at World War I memorials in France and Belgium.

Originally posted on Stephen Liddell:

This my penultimate post for now on WW1 and my recent tour to the battlefields of France and Belgium.  There are simply so many places to see and despite being out all day, every day for a week, we only scratched the surface.

One of the first places that we visited was Vimy Ridge.  This is the location of a beautiful Canadian memorial and which lies surrounded by forests, parklands and crater hole after crater hole.    You can see the Vimy memorial from miles around as the ridge itself is comparatively very high over the surrounding countryside and at night-time it is well-lit up.

Vimy Ridge Memorial

A grieving figure grieves for the loss of Canadian blood. Just the smallest section of this mammoth memorial.

Vimy Ridge is a large area of high ground the dominates the region and it was first the subject of French, then British and finally Canadian attention…

View original 980 more words