Taxes and Bureaucratic Rules

Working at a tax agency at times makes me feel like I am “K” in Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle.

Most of my confusion and frustration in dealing with taxes stems from my obviously naïve assumption that the government is trying to help those who need and deserve help. Of course as an INTP I keep trying to find some logical structure behind the tax system. The only logical explanation is that two parties who had very different goals wrote the code.

For every person I find who seems to be helped by the system, I find another two who get little or no help because they don’t “fit the rules.” For instance, there was a young man who was raising his son alone while working a job and going to school who got a nice return that would help him continue schooling. The EIC helped him raise his child, the Education credit gave him a chance to improve his life, and the childcare helped him provide a good place for his child while he was working and going to school.

However, a young woman I was helping turned out not to be eligible for the child care she needed in order to work because she lived with her sister who paid most of the bills for the house they lived in. Because she wasn’t considered “head of household” she could not claim the childcare credit. Why should you have to live by yourself in order to claim childcare? Because her sister allowed her to share a house, was the sister also expected to take care of the client’s daughter for free, even though she had to work herself to pay for the house?

Another young woman who had been separated from her husband for three years but did not have a formal divorce was living with her mother. Because the mother was considered the “head of household” the daughter could not claim childcare or even the EIC because if you’re not head of household, you must file as Married Filing Separate, and cannot claim the EIC even though you could claim if you were single. Now this rule does makes sense because it prevents some married couples from filing as Married, Filing Separate in order to qualify for the EIC. But that didn’t make me feel any better when I told the woman that she wouldn’t be eligible for these programs.

I have to force myself to remember that I took this job to make money, not to help people. Still, it’s hard to break old habits. After all, I spent thirty years as teacher trying to help students make a better life for themselves.

Taking the Offensive in Europe

Apparently not satisfied with merely causing a split between long-time allies American and South Korea, Bush administration officials seem to be going out of their way to alienate our allies in Europe.

As reported in this Christian Science Monitor article, that master of the obvious lie, Secretary of Defense Rumsfield seemed to go out of his way to offend Germany and France:

Echoing Mr. Bush’s irritation with Germany and France in particular, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday denounced their opposition to war as "old Europe." He said the two countries didn’t represent all of Europe: "Now you’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe," he said. "If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the East," the CBC quoted Rumsfeld as saying.

I must admit that I find it difficult to understand what administration officials hope to accomplish by labeling Germany and France as “old Europe.” These are, after all, important trade partners, if nothing else. Do they really believe that countries like Hungary and Yugoslavia are going to replace Germany and France as customers and trade partners?

Does the Bush administration feel its attempts to cut dividend and inheritance taxes will build such a strong American economy that we will no longer need to trade with anyone other than England and Australia?

With few signs that the economy is going to rebound in the near future, it increasingly looks like the Bush administration is gambling that a victory in Iraq will lead to their re-election. They appear desperate to start our war with Iraq as soon as possible, whether or not UN inspectors can find evidence to support our claims that Iraq is readying weapons of mass destruction.

The real question is how long it will take the next administration to undo the damage this administration has done to our foreign relations. This adminstration seems as intent on squandering any good will the Clinton administration gained in the world by using our powers to gain peace as they have been to spend budget surplus that Clinton’s policies accumulated.

Bruce Weigl’s Later Poems

I don’t know if I’ve ever bought a book of poetry because of poems I’ve read in an anthology and had those poems turn out to be my favorite poems in the book. But the Weigl poems I first discussed are still my favorite poems, but I like them even better now because I understand them in the context of Weigl’s life.

As a whole, I do prefer Weigl’s later poems to his earlier war poems, and it seems to me that his best poems can be found in the section entitled “What Saves Us.” In this section, Weigl returns to Viet Nam to meet those he fought in the war. He also visits South America and relates what he discovered from the war in Vietnam to the struggles there.

Most of all, though, his later poems seem to relate what he learned in Vietnam to life in general. Perhaps what he has learned is best represented by the closing lines of “The Confusion of Planes We Must Wander in Sleep: “… we have no choice but to live/ as hard as we can inside the storm of our years/ because even the weaknesses are a kind of beauty/ for the way they bind us into what love, finally, must be.” That is the kind of truth that makes it possible for those who have suffered in life to carry on and, perhaps, even transcend the tragedies of their lives.

Another poem in this section that I liked a lot and seems representative of the kind of sorrow that permeates many of these poems is “May:”


I wanted to stay with my dog
when they did her in
I told the young veterinarian
who wasn’t surprised.
Shivering on the chrome table,
she did not raise her eyes to me when I came in.
Something was resolved in her.
Some darkness exchanged for the pain.
There were a few more words
about the size of her tumor and her age,
and how we wanted to stop her suffering,
or our own, or stop all suffering
from happening before us
and then the nurse shaved May’s skinny leg
with those black clippers;
she passed the needle to the doctor
and for once I knew what to do
and held her head against mine.
I cleaved to that smell
and lied into her ear
that it would be all right.
The veterinarian, whom I’d fought
about when to do this thing
said through tears
that it would take only a few minutes
as if that were not a long time
but there was no cry or growl,
only the weight of her in my arms,
and then on the world.

Perhaps I like this poem merely because it reminds me of feelings I’ve had for my own dogs, and the sorrow I’ve felt when I’ve lost them. In fact, every time I’ve lost a dog I vow I’ll never have another because it is so heart-wrenching, but amazingly enough I always seem to lose my heart to the next one that shows up.

Metaphorically, of course, the poem isn’t about a dog at all but about our attempts to “stop her suffering,/ or our own, or stop all suffering/ from happening before us.” Ironically, of course, this attempt to prevent suffering causes the most profound suffering for those trying to prevent it.

Still, for once the narrator “knew what to do/ and held her head against mine.” And perhaps that is all we can do to counter the suffering of the world, hold each other in the moments of our greatest pain. In the end, though, those left behind, those left to face life are left to feel “the weight of her in my arms/ and then on the world.”