A Look at Corporate Tax Dodges

I just finished watching Frontline’s recent exposé on corporate tax shelters — “Tax Me If You Can.”

Pretty good, over all, although I think they could have spent a little more time discussing the actual mechanics of the Lease-In/Lease-Out transactions — which are complicated, but not so complicated that they wouldn’t yield to a good minute of the show and some clever computer graphics.

These LILO schemes are the ones I’ve mentioned on past Picket Line entries ( and ), in which a profitable company leases something owned by a government (like a bunch of rail cars, or a set of sewage tunnels) and then leases it back to the government — effectively buying a paper financial loss for tax reasons.

I worked another VITA shift. The hours flew by as I helped people get their tax money back from the IRS (and practice my español a bit at the same time — my volunteer site is in The Mission district of San Francisco, home to many Latin American immigrants).

The harder I work the more the Sheriff of Nottingham has to keep his hands in the air as I pull coins from his purse.

After that I headed down to a newish lefty bookstore in the shitty district for a talk on “writing dissent.” The speaker was a journalism professor who’d written a book on the topic, and his focus was on how to turn radical ideas into good, well-crafted, persuasive arguments for a variety of audiences. He had some good, sensible advice on this.

I was more interested in getting some advice on crafting motivating as opposed to persuasive arguments — ones directed toward people who already are sympathetic to the opinions of we malcontents who believe that things are seriously off-kilter.

On this, his advice was less specific and less helpful, but I think this may be a harder nut to crack.

At a meeting of activists recently the question came up of whom we should be targeting with our protest. Some people said we should target government buildings and defense contractors and put ourselves in solid opposition. Other people said we should try instead to reach people who are on-the-fence and try to persuade them of our views.

I said that often I felt tempted to march upstream at the peace protests, carrying a sign that says “when you’re serious, get back to me.”

It’s not so much that we need more people on our side as that we need the people on our side to act like they mean it.