A wall of suffocating heat nearly vaporized me as I walked into Marshbaum's house. In the kitchen was a portable kiln spewing fiery venom that was curling the linoleum. In the den, wildly pumping a potter's wheel flinging clay all over the room, was Marshbaum.
“Got a new hobby?” I asked from a puddle of water that I assumed was what was left of my body.
“Hobby, nothing!” shouted Marshbaum over the noise. “This is my path to fame and fortune.”
“Every one of your fame-and-fortune paths has ended in a cul-de-sac,” I reminded him. “You scamming the public into believing that slops of glazed clay dipped into leftover house paint are the last sculpture of a dying genius?”
“They're cookie jars,” said Marshbaum, wounded.
“Still looks like schlock to me,” I suggested.
“Work with me on this,” Marshbaum commanded. “It could result in a column for you.”
So I played straightman while Marshbaum threw pots together. “Who,” I asked skeptically, “is going to buy ersatz cookie jars?”
“Corporations,” he replied smugly.
“For receipts. Taxpayers keep their receipts in cookie jars,” Marshbaum explained, “so why not corporations? It’ll help them avoid paying any taxes. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s—”
“It’s in the Tax Code,” said Marshbaum. “Individuals pay; corporations don’t.”
“I doubt the IRS Code says anything like that.”
“There are four million words in the IRS Tax Code,” said Marshbaum. “Lower-class and middle-class Americans get a few thousand of those words. The rest of the Code is a roadmap to help the wealthy and their corporations avoid paying taxes.”
“The IRS encourages corporations to cheat?”
“No, Congress does that. It writes the code to give rebates, tax deferments, subsidies, and all kinds of tax shelters that only the wealthy and their corporations can take advantage of. It’s just a way to reward their friends.”
“But, it’s the people who vote for their representatives,” I said naively.
“You think some homeless vet can afford to donate to Sen. Sludgepump’s campaign? You think Rep. Bilgewater even listens to the opinions of the impoverished and disenfranchised? Why do you think the Republicans want to cut into Medicare and Medicaid?”
“To balance the budget?”
“Because, Ink Breath, the rich don’t need those programs. That’s also why they want to cut funding for public education. The rich can afford private schools. The poor can’t. Besides, you can’t have an educated population of middle-class citizens. They might do something un-American, like actually learn something about the issues.”
The issue, said Marshbaum, slinging clay and getting high on pot fumes, is that Congress allows the rich to realize their dreams--greed is not only good, it’s encouraged.
Marshbaum explained that a Government Accountability Office analysis showed that almost three-fifths of all American-based corporations pay no federal taxes. The GAO study didn’t identify individual companies. Marshbaum, with the help of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did.
Pretending that the international crisis-of-the-week has led to the highest gas prices in years, the oil companies—smirks of greed tucked neatly into their wallets—made record profits, paid no taxes, and even received rebates and refunds from the IRS. Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009, paid no taxes, but received a $156 million rebate. Chevron made $10 billion, paid no taxes, and received a $19 million refund. ConocoPhillips during a three-year period, had a $16 billion profit, paid no taxes, and received a $451 million tax break. Valero Energy had $68 billion in sales, and a $157 million tax refund.
General Electric had a $26 billion profit in five years, and a $4.1 billion refund. Boeing, tucked into bed with a $30 billion Defense Department contract, got a $124 million refund to sleep better.
Even those that received taxpayer-supported bailouts, after being a major cause of the sub-prime housing debacle, made profits, paid seven-figure executive bonuses, and received refunds. Bank of America scammed the people for a $1 trillion bailout, made a $4.4 billion profit, and received a $1.9 billion tax refund.
CitiGroup, with a $2.5 trillion bailout, paid no taxes on a $4 billion profit. Goldman Sachs and Carnival Cruises were model corporate citizens by paying all of 1.1 percent taxes. Goldman Sachs had a $2.3 billion profit on an $800 billion bailout; Carnival, which took passengers and the taxpayers on a cruise, made $11 billion in profit over five years.
“Assuming everything you say is true, how does your overpriced crock pot cookie jar allow the rich to cook the books to avoid paying taxes?”
“Because it comes with extras,” said an enthusiastic Marshbaum. “With every 25 jars, you get a scanner and software that I created. All you have to do is scan the receipts, and my patent-pending pot-ware zooms through the receipts to match the tax code and declare that the rich guy and his even richer corporation are tax-exempt.” The best part, said Marshbaum, is that corporations will be able to lay off thousands of six-figure income CPAs in order to maximize their profits.
“But wouldn’t that just increase the problem we already have with unemployment?” I asked.
“Not when the accountants and auditors—the ones who know all the corporate secrets—realize that the government pays 15 to 30 percent of all money it collects from whistleblower tips. They may never have to work again.”
“You’re brilliant,” I said, commending my pot-throwing friend. “Just brilliant.”
For decades, Walter Brasch has used cookie jars to collect his tax receipts, much to his wife’s and accountant’s annoyance. His next book is Before the First Snow, a work of journalistic fiction that explores war in the Gulf, the peace movements, and the effects of “clean” nuclear energy. The book is available from Amazon.com for pre-orders.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on April 14, 2011.