August 22, 2014

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Connections: GE and the royal wedding

April 21, 2011

By Steve Mount

As I was recently pondering two seemingly disparate and unrelated topics the other day, the television series “Connections,” and its sequels and imitators, came to mind.

In “Connections,” historian James Burke started with an historical event and connected that event to something new and current. One made-up example might explain how the threads of history weave and intersect so that without the development of the cotton gin, we would not today have Velcro.

My connection has to do with two items in the national (and even international) news the past few weeks: the tiresome wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton and the irksome news that General Electric paid no corporate income tax in 2010.

First, to the wedding, my weekday morning schedule is such that just as I’m getting ready for work, the CBS morning news is starting its royal wedding coverage. I was tired of hearing about William and Kate after the very first report of their impending nuptials; I got more so when CBS began weekly reports; now I’m positively driven insane by the daily reports from London.

The reports are all about what dress the M.O.B. (mother of the bride) is wearing, how much the Middletons are contributing to the billionaire royal family for the ceremonies, the route the royal wedding carriage will take, the bloody nose the queen developed, and how the wedding will compare to that of Charles and Diana.

Frankly, I don’t understand why any American wants to give the wedding any more than an iota of his or her brain power. We, my fellow Americans, fought several wars, on our own soil, to throw off the reins of royalty. And not any royalty — the English royalty.

And, yet, when I want to find out about tornadoes in North Carolina, I instead am subjected to the latest from Buckingham Palace. Instead of learning about the latest movie Gwyneth Paltrow is making, I have to hear about how long Kate’s bridal train will be.

If I were king for a day (irony noted), I would ban all present and future coverage of any royal goings-on.

The other topic concerns a New York Times report that GE paid no corporate income tax in 2010. Worldwide, GE made $14.2 billion, $5.1 billion of that from U.S. operations, and $0 in taxes paid to the United States Treasury. In fact, the Times article reported that GE took a $3.2 billion tax benefit.

Since I work for GE, it might seem odd that I call such news “irksome.” But I do — in fact, I’m a bit ashamed of the tax news. I do, however, have to defend GE.

The fact that GE paid no income tax to the U.S. is not GE’s fault. In fact, if there were loopholes and exceptions in the tax code that GE knew about and did not take advantage of, its shareholders would be right to raise red flags.

As I drove by the small cadre of protesters standing on the corner of Shelburne Road and IDX Drive in South Burlington on Monday, I felt like stopping to tell them that where they should be camped out is not at my office, but at the offices of our members of Congress.

The tax code is a mess. It is incomprehensible, and it is that way virtually on purpose. The influence of lobbyists on the tax code is despicable. It should be scrapped and we should start over. Simpler is better, and our tax code is not simple.

My connection is this: we threw off the yoke of the monarchy over 200 years ago (even though a sizable portion of our population is still inexplicably fascinated by it); it is now time for us to throw off the yoke of our tax code. I’m not a proponent of a flat tax (there is such a thing as “too simple”), but we should be able to explain our tax structure in 20 pages or less, rather than the almost 15,000 pages that it currently has.

Maybe if all these people paying so much attention to the future king of England paid half as much attention to Congress and the tax code, more people might actually make this same connection, and we would have the critical mass needed to do something about it.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at [email protected] or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.

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