Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tax refund holding to be expected

I'll be honest. Sometimes I kind of snap to judgment.

After having a while to think about things, though, sometimes that snap judgment turns out to have been wrong.

Last week, I ran across a story about New York State not sending out refund checks until June in order to temporarily fill a budget gap. Governor Paterson had made the decree and State Senator Bill Stachowski (is he really still a state senator) announced his disapproval of keeping the people's money from them.

I agreed with Stachowski.

Then it occurred to me: If I'm agreeing with THAT guy, something must be wrong. Let me rethink this.

Well, as it turns out, I changed my mind. I'm actually totally okay with the state keeping our income tax returns until June. Or October for all I care, actually.

Now, first things first. Either the original story failed to mention – or I failed to hear – that this would only be for people filing their tax returns after March 1. So anyone who has already filed a return should still get your refund back in a timely manner. And anyone who files by the end of the week will also get your refund back in a timely manner.

In other words, if you haven't procrastinated, neither will the state. And on top of that, if you get off your dupa and file your return by Sunday, you will get your money back in a few weeks. Just like normal. And if you procrastinated and can't get off your dupa … well, who am I to feel bad for you.

But wait, that's not all. There's a far greater and more compelling reason for me to actually like the idea of the state keeping our tax returns.

Yes, as Senator Stachowski states, it's your money and the state is keeping it as though it were an interest-free loan. But … you asked them to borrow it.

Yes. You did.

Okay, maybe this isn't specifically true of you, but a lot of people did. I'd hazard to bet that most people did, actually.

You see, at the beginning of each year … or any time you change jobs, you can ask your employer to change the amount of money that's withheld from your paycheck in state and federal taxes. Personally, I tend to ask my employers to withhold as little as possible so I get to keep more of my money on a weekly basis, therefore getting less (or no) refund the following spring. In other words, I don't want to give the government an interest free loan. I feel I can better manage my own money, thank you.

Some people, though, ask their employers to take out extra money to send to the state and the feds so they get a bigger refund. They could take $20 a week (or whatever) and set it aside in an interest bearing account at a local bank or credit union. But they're too lazy to do that. They'd rather have the government keep it – interest free – cause its easier to let the government take care of them than for them to take care of themselves.

Folks, if you're going to let the nanny state take care of you, you better be willing to deal with the side effects and repercussions that come from it. Sometimes you won't like the way they decide to take care of you. But if you've allowed yourself to become a pet, you better get used to the leash.

And in this case, the side effects – or leash as the analogy goes – is that the government has decided it needs this money a little longer more than you need it back. After all, it's already been allowed to keep your money interest free for 14 months. What's a few more?

Now some of you will think this column to be facetious, but I assure you, this is my true and honest, well thought out opinion. And if you think about it, maybe it'll become yours, too.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Manhattan Rocks!

So far I've seen the Top of the Rock (thanks to Chris for the suggestion) and did an NBC Studio Tour - including NBC Nightly News and MSNBC studios, Jimmy Fallon's studio, the SNL studios and NBC's makeup department. How very.

Next up is Phantom and then the Knicks game later. After that there was rumors of a party. If not, I may need to find a drinking partner. If I can't find one I know on Facebook, I'm thinking of using TypeHi.com, a cool little site I found that let's you chat with the closest person to you (geographically speaking).

Right now I'm blogging from a McDonald's on 46th street. A little bit of down time before the hustle bustle begins again.

I'll probably have my phone off for large portions of the remainder of the day, so if you're trying to get a hold of me, don't let the delay worry you.

Pix to come!

Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More on Gillibrand ...

A funny thing happens when you publicly criticize a sitting member of Congress. They notice.

Last week I told you I had all but forgotten New York's junior senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Since that column ran, her press office has determined that I will never forget the senator again. Three times last Tuesday, I got press releases from her office, followed by two on Thursday and another four on Friday.

Of course, the entire lot of press releases amounted to very little, in my opinion. And frankly, if they were trying to tell me she was worthwhile, a carefully crafted email saying, “Hey, Scott, Senator Gillibrand has done all sorts of good stuff. Here's some examples,” would have gone a lot further.

A quick review of those press releases shows that one is a feel-good measure about tax credits. Two were feel-good puff pieces about the first lady's campaign to fight childhood obesity. One was about her military academy nominations. Three were about the anniversary of flight 3407. One applauded the potential end of “dont ask, don't
tell.” And the last was her public schedule.

I have good working relationships with people in the offices of many members of the local congressional delegation; Congressman Lee, Congresswoman Slaughter, Congressman Higgins and Senator Schumer. And as a journalist, I'd like to have a good working relationship with Senator Gillibrand's office. That probably would have been easier were it not for my shot across their bow last week.

But, hey. I call 'em like I see 'em. And I don't think the junior senator has what it takes to hold the high-profile job in the US Senate.

Last Thursday, my friend Alan Bedenko, who writes under the moniker of Buffalo Pundit for WNYMedia.net asked, “Can any Democrat around here name for me something – anything – that would render Kirsten Gillibrand unworthy of re-election?” He went on to question the campaign of Harold Ford, who is considering a primary against Gillibrand. While I don't disagree with Alan's questioning of Ford, I do feel the need to turn the original question around on him. “Can you name me something – anything – that would render Kirsten Gillibrand worthy of re-election?”

Alan goes on to say that Gillibrand “comes from an upstate background and arguably has a better understanding of – and experience with – upstate issues.”

That was enough for me when she was first appointed. I keenly recall thinking that she and I shared several ideals. But that only makes her equally qualified as I am to hold her job. I may have an ego, but I'm not so full of myself as to think I'd make a good US Senator.

My big flaw with Alan's thought process is that we should keep her cause she hasn't done anything wrong. The absense of wrong does not make something right. We should strive for something more – something better – than “well, they didn't screw up too bad.”

A certain Buffalo radio station used to have a liner that went like this: “Let's face it. Buffalo radio sucks. But we suck less.” Is that what we're going for?

If you're content with mediocrity, then, by all means, keep Gillibrand in office and don't consider anyone who might run against her. Better yet, if you're content with mediocrity, get out of New York State so that those of us who aren't can do something to fix it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Spitzer: What we need

You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might just find you get what you need.

Meanwhile, here in New York, we often get what we want. Only to find out what we wanted was not what we needed.

I read recently that former state attorney general and disgraced governor Eliot Spitzer was considering a run for the US Senate. While I'm not particularly keen on the idea of our junior senator being the guy lovingly referred to as “Client number nine,” after looking over the other possible contenders, I'm thinking he might be what we need.

Before reading that Spitzer was considering running against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for the senate seat she was appointed to, I kind of forgot that Kirsten Gillibrand even existed. That's a bad sign for a US Senator. I mean, considering I can probably name most of the 98 senators who represent the other states, having to think about one of our own is a sign that she's not really a voice to be reckoned with, ya know?

I hate to admit it, but I kind of miss the one-two punch of Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. Sure, she was a carpetbagger who only wanted to use her senate seat as a step in her quest for the presidency, but her profile and demeanor meant more attention for New York.

Think of United States senators in the way they were envisioned prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment. They were all appointed to act as ambassadors for the state, working on behalf of the state government to express the state's view in Washington. They needed to be strong, charismatic representatives to get their states what they needed.

With the passing of the 17th, the senate is now elected by the people and their role has changed. But most good senators are still the strong charismatic ones, acting as ambassadors rather than the proxies that one of my least favorite amendments has made them into.

Gillibrand may make a good proxy. But she does not make for a good ambassador. Spitzer would.

Some might say that his prostitution scandal would render him impotent when it comes to being able to get things done in the senate. I disagree. Yeah, his image is tainted. Sure he has an uphill battle to regain the respect of the world. But no matter what tawdry details of his sex life you may know, he's still Eliot friggin' Spitzer, a force to be reckoned with. And the school-yard style teasing in the senate would die down quickly as the steamroller reminded his colleagues why he gets things done.

It can probably be said that a senators effectiveness is directly proportional to how well his or her name resonates in the state's he or she doesn't represent. If I can't remember Gillibrand, what are the odds that anyone from Kansas can?

Yes, electing Spitzer would officially make us the laughingstock of the country temporarily. It's not something we want. But when the laughing dies down and Spitzer gets to work, the new one-two punch of Spitzer and Schumer would be exactly what we need.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Take the kooks, please

Just over a year ago, I had the privilege of attending a ceremony celebrating the peaceful transfer of power of the executive office of the United States.

My oldest daughter and I trekked down to the nation's capitol and watched the inauguration of the 44th president, Barack Obama. You could feel something in the air. The change the country had voted for was about to be unleashed.

Fast forward to this morning. Groundhog Day. And that's exactly what it feels like. Same old. Same old. Or SSDD as some might say.

One year later and we're still at war with the world. No end in sight. The economy is still in the tank. No end in sight. We still have children dying every day due to an in adequate health care system. No end in sight. And we still have bickering from simpletons who make school kids look like adults by comparison.

Now I'll be honest, I didn't really expect the world to change in a year. And I kind of felt bad for those that did. For the most part, I think they were political newcomers, unfamiliar with the way government works … or in most cases, doesn't. But it's disheartening nonetheless.

More disheartening to me, though, than the failure of our new president to fix everything including the kitchen sink over the course of the last 12 months, is the return of the vitriol from the radical right wing of this country. For eight years I listened to these kooks blame President Bill Clinton for everything from Waco to the potholes on their suburban streets. The man could do no right.

And the (s)election of George W. Bush in 2000 brought out the kooks on the other side. The crazy left didn't cut our 43rd president any breaks either. Continuing with my honesty, I was among them at first. I felt the fiasco in Florida had tainted the presidency and his actions in office didn't match his rhetoric on the campaign trail. But I mellowed over time and grew to appreciate some things about our last president.

But in those days when I was overwhelmingly outspoken against George W. Bush, I got letters and emails and regular phone calls from the right-wingers telling me I had to respect the presidency. I had to shut up and play along, they said, cause no matter whether I liked the man or not, he was president and deserved my respect.

Once we went to war, their rhetoric changed. I had to respect him because we were at war. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase, “You can't criticize the president in a time of war,” I could retire comfortably. It was a new rule to me. I'm pretty familiar with the Constitution. I don't recall that addendum to the First Amendment.

Apparently, cause there's an addendum to the addendum. You can't criticize their guy in a time of war. And you have to respect their president. But if someone they don't like should happen to take office, all bets are off.

Now I've said repeatedly, I'm underwhelmed by President Obama. But that doesn't make the hateful rhetoric of the radical right okay. Honestly, they should be ashamed of themselves. They're not patriots. They're zealots. And they're giving the rest of us a bad name.

Last week I made fun of “the tea-baggers of the world.” What started out as a group to protest high taxes and non-partisan government apathy has turned into a right-wing riot waiting to happen. These are the zealots of which I speak. For most of them Republicans can do no wrong and Democrats can do no right.

I'm all for throwing the Democrats out of Congress. But take the Republicans with them. And while we're doing some house cleaning, take the kooks I keep having to watch, listen to and read. I don't know where to put them, but take them somewhere. Please.

In November, we get a chance to start over. Let's only have Groundhog Day once this year.