Actually, it already has been destroyed. Despite declaring $18 billion in profits in 2010, Apple paid just 17 percent in federal taxes. It socked away another $74 billion offshore and tax-free.

Who covers the difference when Apple pretends to be Irish? That would be you.

9. How to lower your taxes by sitting on your ass.

Sheryl Crow benefited to the tune of $2 million on a loophole put in place by Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas lawmakers.
Kevin W. Burkett/Creative Commons
Sheryl Crow benefited to the tune of $2 million on a loophole put in place by Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas lawmakers.
Thanks to the luxury sailing industry, taxpayers helped subsidize Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's $200 million yacht, Octopus.
Wikimedia Commons
Thanks to the luxury sailing industry, taxpayers helped subsidize Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's $200 million yacht, Octopus.

Back in the 1970s, "hard work" wasn't just something candidates yammered about during campaigns. It was actually imbedded in the tax code. Capital gains — investment income created by things like stock dividends — were taxed at a higher rate than wage income for a very simple reason.

"The theory was that it was tougher to dig a ditch than to watch somebody do it," says Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice.

Even Ronald Reagan knew that someone shouldn't pay less for sitting on his ass. He made the capital gains tax the same as the highest personal rate.

But heavy protection payments have since whittled that notion of "hard work" down to a toothpick. George W. Bush finally hacked it to its current low of just 15 percent.

Officially, the theory is that lowering capital gains will spur investment, creating new companies, new jobs, and prosperity for all. But most economists have found it does little to spur savings and investment. What it does is deliver a fortune to investment bankers and financiers like Romney and Warren Buffett, both of whom pay lower rates than their secretaries.

More than 70 percent of the $100 billion that capital gains tax breaks cost the government each year goes to those with incomes in excess of $1 million, according the Joint Committee on Taxation. Even more shocking, the 400 highest-income Americans received 16 percent of all net capital gains in 2009, a total of $37 billion.

Congressman Sander Levin (D-Michigan) has tried to shear this golden lamb by requiring those taking capital gains breaks to prove they actually invested. A particularly galling part of this tax break is the carried interest exemption. It allows hedge-fund managers who are frequently paid in stock (just so they can run this scam) to treat that income as capital gains. This despite the fact that they never put any capital at risk. Yet Congressman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, has blocked the bill from ever coming up for a vote.

It's probably just coincidence that since Camp entered Congress in 1998, he's taken a whopping $631,916 from the financial industry. Camp did not respond to repeated interview requests.

8. The Sheryl Crow loophole.

It pays to have low friends in high places. Six years ago, legislators from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas wanted to reward those who provide the star power to their fundraisers: country musicians. So they passed a law allowing songwriters to avoid income taxes and sell their publishing catalogs at capital gains rates.

Suddenly, Nashville's elite could not only avoid the taxes everyone else must pay; they could also skirt their social security and Medicare bills.

Three years later, Sheryl Crow sold her publishing rights to one of Australia's largest banks for nearly $10 million. Her estimated savings courtesy of this congressional giveaway: $2 million.

The law, however, curiously omitted other creative types who weren't hosting congressmen's rallies. Authors, for example, still must pay standard income taxes for selling the copyrights to their books. The same goes for painters, photographers, screenwriters, and sculptors.

7. Getting rich, Facebook style.

Before Facebook offered its first publicly sold stock in May, CEO Mark Zuckerberg grabbed 120 million shares for himself, then threw another 67 million shares to his employees.

It may have seemed an unusual act of generosity for a man not known for his grace. That's because it was also a multibillion-dollar tax scam.

The public paid $38 a share for Facebook stock in initial trading. Yet via a sweet little loophole created by Congress, Zuckerberg claimed that the shares he gave employees were worth just 6 cents apiece. By law, Facebook was allowed to deduct the difference — more than $7 billion — as a business expense.

In reality, the employee giveaway cost Facebook nothing. It neither expanded the company's expenses nor increased its liabilities. McIntyre compares it to an airline letting workers fly free in seats that would otherwise have been empty. The airlines don't receive a break because it doesn't cost them anything.

But thanks to some inventive paper shuffling, Facebook will receive a $500 million tax refund next year.

A similar loophole encourages companies to offer executives those bloated compensation packages. When CEO wages began to spur outrage in the early Clinton years, Congress decided that companies could no longer deduct executive salaries over $1 million as business expenses. But it also created a loophole that rendered its crackdown meaningless. Exempted were "performance based" bonuses that surpass that $1 million threshold. A grand new corporate giveaway was born.

Suddenly, CEOs were being slathered with stock options. Companies expensed the giveaways without ever opening their wallets, leaving taxpayers to subsidize caviar compensation plans.

Last year, the five highest-paid CEOs collectively took home $232 million — while their companies received a tidy $81 million in tax breaks.

6. My other home's a yacht.

Established in 1913, the mortgage interest deduction is one of the oldest and most sacred breaks in the code. It's meant to encourage homeownership and stabilize communities.

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Umm, Octopus is owned by Paul Allen, not Steve Ballmer


"Loophole" is a misnomer, and should not be used, as it creates the impression that the resultant deduction was not intended.  So the press does the public a disservice when it uses a word that allows people to infer that some tax advisers have arcane, specialized esoteric knowledge, that allows their ultra rich client to get around the substance and intent of the IRS Tax Code definition of income.


Socially engineered tax deductions (social engineering) are deductions to elicit certain types of behavior - to encourage investment in specific areas like multifamily housing in the 80s which caused havoc to real estate; and other tax incentives for former colleagues and friends who give to political campaigns, have riddled our tax laws with a maze of favoritism at the expense of tax fairness and revenue for government that has led to our current depression and vast chasm of income inequality. 


Only a few decades ago the substance and intent of the code controlled, and form versus substance was pierced by the IRS in going against the most abusive forms contrives to get around substance.

The "step transactions" described herein should be easy for the IRS to attack and prevail, however, today there is no resolve on the part of the IRS to seriously go after some members of the ultra rich who have overly aggressive tax "experts" designing forms to avoid which in fact are - evasion.  And evasion is a felony.


Of course people like Romney, and his tax preparers at Price Water House...confidently affirm there is nothing illegal.  What else would you expect when the substance is contrived form to avoid/evade the intent and substance of the code.  These people who claim "nothing is illegal" base their claim on the fact that their avoidance/evasion has not be overturned by the IRS and then by US Tax Court.  But the controlling issue has not been addressed or how could so many blatant step transactions remain in existence when the existence has been revealed on 1040s, including Romney's 1040s that have been released? 


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frankd4 topcommenter

this is why it's silly to talk tax rates as if corporations were paying their fair share anyhow - maurice greenberg of starr insurance (he previously ran A I G) estimates $2,5oo,ooo,ooo,ooo in off-shore profits yet to be repatriated and taxes paid on that amount - so even a small change in the current rate say 10% would automatically yield a $25,ooo,ooo,ooo SAVINGS - no wonder lobbyists seem over-compensated when compared to current issues - the big picture is profits previously earned YET TO BE taxed