Saturday, April 27, 2013

Congress Shall Pass No Tax Law...

Now that tax season is over and the dust is settling, I have to say something - POLITICIANS MAKE ME NUTS! Please forgive me for shouting. Congress did something that ought to be forbidden. Yes, I know it's a long list but I refer specifically to the tax law changes passed in January 2013 that affected 2012. 

By mid-December, all the computer software and forms are locked in, ready to go. Any changes after December 1 cause havoc. Consequently, we had plenty of that as IRS, fifty states, plus H&R Block, TurboTax, and all the other tax software companies scrambled to rewrite their programs and get updates out to the users.

You may recall the media reported that IRS was not able to accept 2012 tax return filings until January 31 and if the return included the form claiming education credits the filing acceptance date was delayed to February 14.  However, the problems resulting from Congress members' inability to communicate with each other affected more than the IRS. Each change to federal tax law had to be reviewed and approved at the state level. States had to determine if they were going to honor those changes. Some did; some did not.  Either way, software companies couldn't update their state programs until the states decided what to do.

Consequently, while federal tax forms eventually processed, things bogged down at the state level. In my office, there were stacks of returns ready to go except that Illinois didn't decide on a certain business-related form until nearly the end of February.  Corporation returns are due March 15. Let's just say Illinois was cutting it pretty close. Glitches hit Minnesota individual filers and some Wisconsinites are still experiencing problems. I'm sure there were many other state issues.

In light of all this, I strongly recommend that Congress pass a new law - one that controls its own behavior. The law should prohibit any change to tax statute that will affect prior years.  In addition, any changes that would impact current year should not be allowed if the implementation date is after November 30.  

Either changes that need to be made are important or they are not.  If they are critical, then the politicians should get the job done well before December.  After all, none of this is a surprise to them and they would have about 300 days to talk it over and get it done before the November 30 deadline I would implement.   

Make sense?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gibbs and the IRS

Everything on the Net is for public consumption. This should be one of Gibbs' rules. You NCIS watchers know what I mean.

This is something I've been told since I first got access to email back in the technological dark ages. The company's IT folk constantly reminded us not to put something into an email that we didn't want the entire world to read. They told us there are no secrets in the electronic world.  Digital communication is truly for the masses. I heard this warning long before lawyers began subpoenaing email records or human resource departments started scanning Facebook posts.  

Email doesn't go directly from my computer to yours. It passes through several other computers along the way. At each stop, it can be (and is) read by technicians, programmers, and others who are bored or troubleshooting. I heard many stories from night operators who said they read emails during their breaks.

The IRS was in the news on April 10th but it wasn't due to the approach of tax day. The ACLU obtained documents indicating that the IRS doesn't think email is private.  (Read about it here.)  For that matter, Facebook chats and other forms of digital communication aren't either.  My reaction is "yeah, so?"

Where has the ACLU been?  If they wanted to argue this, they should have started about thirty years ago. Fortunately for them, they have powerful allies who will fight the fight for them.  The companies behind digital communication (Amazon, Microsoft, and Google to name just a few) want prying eyes wandering through their emails less than we do.  So changes to the law have been presented in both the House and Senate.  Warrants will be required before the IRS or any other agency can obtain certain digital material.

Regardless of the legislative outcome, I'll stick with my own version of a Gibbs' rule.  If it can be read by a computer, it can be read by anyone at any time.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Amy screwed up. She unintentionally offended a client and still feels terrible about it. Yes, she's human and that day, definitely not up to par. The client complained to the boss and the boss corrected her.  If Amy could have dug a hole and crawled in, she would have. She did her best to apologize and wishes there was more she could do to set things right. 

I sympathized. This has happened to everyone at some point in their lives, me included. I told her that but I'm not sure it helped.

So what happened?  Amy doesn't know.  There must have been some kind of short circuit between her brain and her mouth.

Since it is not in Amy's nature to be short or sharp with anyone, something must have interfered with her edit switch. Together we dissected the event and discovered that she answered the client's question, fully expecting a joking rejoinder. Somehow her attempt at humor didn't come across.  It is impossible to know now if her tone or her expression belied her words.  Her boss let it pass.  Amy isn't sure the customer has or ever will.  She will carry this with her for a long time, mentally flogging herself every time that customer name appears in front of her.

Some days we are masters of our words; on others, we can barely put a noun and verb together.  We see it in social media all the time. Tweets are either 140 characters of genius or the tweeter is back-pedaling because what she wrote made no sense.

Communication is an exchange. It is spoken, written, performed, or displayed. No matter how earnestly we try, sometimes we will not be successful in conveying our thoughts or intentions. At that point, we have to be willing to apologize and try again. A great deal may ride on our ability to have others understand us.  Everything from world peace to inner peace.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Anger Mangement and Abe Lincoln

A friend recently attended a workshop in which the topic was managing emotion in the workplace. The biggest issue for everyone was dealing with anger.

Anger invades much of our lives today. We feast on it like vampires feed on blood.  The more anger in our lives, the more we seek out. We are addicted to it. It is so pervasive in our society that courses are taught in managing it.

Think about it. Ratings on most reality shows are driven by the "villain." That contestant gets angry, throws a temper tantrum, and the ratings go up. It doesn't matter whether the show is about people in the jungle or women in New York. The formula is the same. Get angry - get ratings.

Unfortunately, that carries over into everything we do. To get what we want and force things to go our way, we pitch a fit. We lay on our horns when we are driving, we yell into our cell phones at restaurants, and we don't tolerate differing opinions.

Abe Lincoln is popular right now.  Perhaps we should respond to him, not as a movie star, but as a man who was surrounded by angry people. The country, literally torn in two by anger, was the worst of it but close to him, the men within his cabinet were angry with themselves, their personal lot, the endless war they thought would be over in months. His wife was despondent over the loss of another child and his eldest son was a stranger.

Lincoln said,"Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be."  In other words, sustained anger is a choice. We decide to be angry all the time.  

Strong emotion interferes with our ability to reason and obstructs our logic. When we argue with friends or family true communication is non-existent. We don't say what we mean and we shut out what others try to express. 

If we follow Lincoln's advice and elect to be happier, what might we accomplish?  Perhaps we won't be able to do things as astounding as pushing the 13th Amendment through, but who knows? If we decide to be happier, what might we hear or do that could change our lives?