Look at the picture to the left. This image appears at the top of the Internal Revenue Service’s page for individual taxpayers, and I find it completely baffling. It’s apparently some kind of fiendishly happy interracial picnic, but what’s especially creepy is that these people appear to have been ripped from reality and forced to hover over fake grass and a fake sky that look like they were designed to be Windows 98 backgrounds.
What this has to do with individual tax-paying is unclear, except perhaps to imply that all happiness is, in the eyes of the IRS, artificial, inscrutable and untrustworthy.
I bring this up because it looks like I’m about to have a much more intimate relationship with the IRS — as if I were their token black friend, feeling uncomfortable at the creepy space picnic.
It turns out that a lot of citizens and green-card holders who work for foreign governments in the US haven’t been filing their taxes, or have been filing them incorrectly, and suddenly the IRS has decided to fuck with all of us. For some of my colleagues who have simply never filed, this will be a major financial disaster; for those who filed but did it incorrectly, it will merely hurt a lot. (I will not go into detail about myself; I am seeing a lawyer this afternoon.)
What really pisses me off about all of this is that the IRS clearly has the ability to communicate with all the foreign missions in the US — everyone seems to have gotten the news about this extension of the settlement initiative deadline — but chose to wait until this point to bother. They could’ve made some effort to inform mission staff, as we were hired and registered with the State Department, of what our rather unusual tax obligations are (according to these materials, we’re supposed to list our pay as wages but also pay the self-employment tax). They could’ve made some effort to publicize the settlement initiative when they came up with it. They could’ve designed the settlement initiative such that it would only impose the change moving forward. But no, the IRS stalks like a mugger, and I feel like I’ve been mugged by my own government.
I’m conflicted about that. I believe in taxes for services, and I think Jenny and I make enough that we should be taxed pretty substantially. On the other hand, I loathe the complexity of our tax system and the arbitrary neglect and nastiness with which it’s enforced, I hate the big tax cuts for the wealthy in recent years, and I don’t at all like what the government is spending the money on these days. (When our guys kidnap Iranian diplomats in Erbil and hold them hostage without any legal process, it’s my taxes that help pay the salaries of the kidnappers. Does that make me guilty of financing terrorism? I wonder if there’s any criminal liability there.) Still, this is helping me to understand how terrifying, financially damaging run-ins with regulatory agencies managed to turn many Americans against liberal big-government programs.
Once this is all settled, I will almost certainly have less money. Will the Korean government help us out? I sincerely doubt it, given their own budget troubles. Do I make a lot less money than I thought I did? Yeah, pretty much. Does it suck? Some, but we’ll get by. (To put it in perspective, a friend of ours recently got walloped by a $140,000 medical bill, with no one but himself to pay it. Which leads me to our desperate need for health care reform, but that’s another rant.)
There’s also a certain martyr’s masochistic pleasure in knowing that I too have been personally screwed by the Bush adminitration — not just obliquely, by having my nation’s reputation destroyed, its treasure wasted, its morals compromised, its infrastructure neglected, and so forth, but directly, like Katrina victims and National Guardsmen (only less so). It’s like Bush wants to make sure he’s crapped on absolutely everybody’s lawn before he leaves office. Lucky for him, he can check mine off the list.
And I don’t even have a lawn. Thanks to Team Dubya, it’ll be a few more years until I can afford one.