Retirement Savings Tax Credit Put on Stronger Footing

, Congress approved some pension legislation that will indefinitely extend the Retirement Savings Tax Credit (which, as originally enacted, was scheduled to expire this year). This is great news for folks trying to stay under-the-line — I rely on this credit to keep my income tax at zero while still bringing home a comfortable paycheck.

This bill, which Dubya is expected to sign soon, also indexes for inflation (starting in ) the amounts of adjusted gross income at which the credit is reduced or eliminated — more good news, as otherwise inflation would erode the value of the credit over time.

This week is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan. Groups across the country are stepping up their anti-war and anti-militarist actions as part of a campaign that includes another of Cindy Sheehan’s “Camp Casey” encampments in Crawford, which will then follow Dubya back to Washington to become “Camp Democracy”, and which will then culminate in the Declaration of Peace campaign and civil disobedience actions toward .

I went to a “spokescouncil” where representatives of San Francisco groups were planning an action focused on the war contractor Bechtel, which is headquartered in the city.

The meeting, of about 25 people from about as many local activist groups, was uncharacteristically efficient and on-topic. There was an agenda, which was followed, and the meeting finished early, with everyone knowing what the next step was and who would be responsible. Nobody sabotaged things by rambling about the imminent arrival of the benevolent Andromedians, or by complaining about their favorite minority being underrepresented and demanding mea culpas all around.

Keiji Tsuchiya spoke for several minutes, through an interpreter. Mr. Tsuchiya was a 17-year-old draftee training at a base across the bay from Hiroshima . He saw the “boiling cloud” rise from the city and was among the first responders who went over to try to help.

As he spoke, he held up child-like drawings that he had made a few years ago from his memories of the aftermath of the bombing. Here are people with skin hanging from them like sheets walking like ghosts through the city as we clear paths through the debris. Here is the corpse of a horse that smelled so bad we stopped everything else to dig a hole and bury it, towels around our mouths to block the stench. Here is a woman, so badly burned we did not know how she could scream, trapped under the wreckage of a house.

Everywhere people yelling, “Soldier, give me water!” Two charred corpses along the road, probably elementary school students from what was left of their clothes. Everywhere, messages written on stones and walls and fragments of buildings from people who were trying to find their loved ones. The soldiers, who had been given horse meat earlier in the day to supplement their usual rice and soybean meals, pulling corpses from the river (men floating face-down, women face-up) and cremating them on makeshift pyres on-shore. Here’s the river, and those are the corpses, and here are our fires. “One, two, lift!” we would dump the body from a stretcher onto the fire.

On the last day before returning to base, Tsuchiya found a completely-charred body but with a relatively-untouched lunchbox at its feet full of the same food the soldiers usually ate — soybeans and rice (though lately it had been hard tack and water). He cried out in anguish, desperation and anger at a God that would allow such cruelty. Later he learned more about the horrible injuries people had suffered and about the after-effects of the radiation. He himself has had many health problems connected with the radioactive black rain that fell on the city while he worked there.

Now Keiji Tsuchiya is the Vice-President of a chapter of Hidankyo, an organization of atomic bombing survivors that works for global nuclear disarmament. He will be speaking at the Bechtel action as well.

After he spoke, the group began to discuss the possibility of a civil disobedience action at the Bechtel protest. Questions like “do we want to do an action where people risk arrest?” and “who here is planning to risk arrest?” The discussion went on in this vein for a while, with getting arrested seeming to be an end in itself, with no discussion at all of what specific action would be leading to the arrest or what noble goal the people being arrested were going to be thereby thwarted from accomplishing.

I’ve seen this before, this weird reverence for getting arrested doing civil disobedience as if it were itself a magically powerful thing. I’m not sure I fully understand the psychology behind it. I asked the group at that point — the only occasion on which I spoke up, actually — “what is the goal of the civil disobedience action — to get arrested, or to inconvenience Bechtel, or to get press coverage, or what?” The consensus seemed to be that inconveniencing Bechtel — or “shutting down” Bechtel if you allow for hyperbole — was the goal.

And then it got interesting. Two women at the meeting spoke up, saying that they had tried, on their own, to deliver a message to Bechtel’s C.E.O. one day. Bechtel’s security, realizing that some sort of protest action was in the offing, started their standard procedure for such things — which was to shut down the building and let nobody in or out (even employees).

Two people, not intending to be arrested, managed to shut down the Bechtel home office for 45 minutes one day just by showing up and asking to speak with the boss. A civil disobedience action, with a dozen protesters sitting down and locking arms at a police cordon around Bechtel until they are arrested and hauled away, might be just as effective at meeting the same goal.

Nonetheless, people remained enthused about doing the standard civil disobedience action (about two-thirds of those in attendance planned to participate), and the rest of the meeting was spent seeking volunteers for various roles that are useful in such an action — police liaison, convener, communicator, legal/jail monitor, follow-up coordinator.

In general, a very encouraging meeting. People got down to business with appropriate seriousness and efficiency, and what needed to get done got done. My usual complaint about “cargo cult” civil disobedience applies, but perhaps I’m missing something.

Another month, another notice from the IRS. Nothing new, really; just a few more dollars in interest & penalties and a little more bold-face type in the preamble:

Original notice, :

According to our records, you have an amount due on your income tax. Please compare your tax return against the figures below. If you’ve already paid your tax in full or arranged for an installment agreement, please disregard this notice.

Second notice, :

According to our records, you haven’t paid all you owe for tax period . To avoid additional penalty and interest, please pay the full amount you owe . We can file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien if your balance owed is not paid . If you already paid your balance in full or arranged for an installment agreement, please disregard this notice.

Latest notice, :

We previously wrote to you about your unpaid account, but you haven’t contacted us about it. Penalties and interest on the unpaid balance are continuing to increase. Please pay the amount you owe . If you can’t pay now, call us at the number shown below. You may be qualified for an installment agreement or payroll deduction agreement. We want to help you resolve this bill. However, if we don’t hear from you, we will have no choice but to proceed with steps required to collect the amount you owe. If you already paid your balance in full or arranged for an installment agreement, please disregard this notice.

An odd choice of sentences to emphasize, methinks, but I don’t run that asylum. I wonder how many increasingly-wordy and threatening messages some IRS author has composed and whether I can collect the whole set.