Follow by Email

Friday, January 29, 2010

TAX TALK: WHY IS THE ALTERNATIVE MINIMUM TAX LIKE MAD COW DISEASE?

By JC Leahy
Maximum Legal Refund (TM)
Income Tax Preparation and Consulting
Silver Spring, Maryland

For help  preparing your income tax returns, email: maxlegalrefund@yahoo.com

The Alternative Minimum Tax is like Mad Cow Disease because you can't tell for sure if you're affected without performing an autopsy. The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is a completely different income tax system created by Congress to quietly take back tax benefits to which people think they are entitled under the regular income tax system. This is like sneaking back at night to quietly steal the gift you gave earlier in the daytime.  In recent years, millions of mostly middle class taxpayers have been affected. The problem is so severe that the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 included a provision to allow millions of middle-class taxpayers to escape from the Alternative Minimum Tax - for one year only.

Like Mad Cow Disease, there is no conclusive screening test to determine whether you are affected. You literally have to figure your income tax liability under BOTH income tax systems. Then, whichever comes out higher is what you get to pay. It's the patriotic thing to do, as Vice President Joe Biden would say.   The complexity introduced by the Alternative Minimum Tax goes a long way towards ensuring that the average American is unable to fill out his own tax return without resorting to a computer program and/or a tax consultant.

The list of tax write-offs disallowed under the Alternative Minimum Tax is really quite long. It includes even basic things like all of the personal exemptions for you and your entire family, the standard deductions of the taxpayers who don't itemize, the deduction for medical expenses of sick Americans, some charitable contributions, some home mortgage interest, the deduction for taxes paid to your State, and just about all of your miscellaneous itemized deductions such as investment expenses, tax preparation fees, and un-reimbursed employee expenses. The list of disallowed items really goes on and on.

If you don't like the sound of this, Email your congressman (addresses at https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtmlhttps://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml) and assert that you want to repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.  You can also telephone them with area code 202 and the number listed at http://www.mass.gov/legis/memmenuh.htmhttp://www.mass.gov/legis/memmenuh.htm. And  for goodness sake, VOTE!

Meanwhile if you need professional assistance with your own income taxes, contact Maximum Legal Refund (TM), Silver Spring, Maryland, at maxlegalrefund@aol.com  .

Sunday, January 24, 2010

CULLINARY NOTES: PIE CRUST

By JC Leahy

Here's my never-fail pic crust recipe.  It's outstanding, believe me!!!
Mix
1 1/4 cups shortening
3 cups flour

Mix the shortening and flour together and then add

1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of vinegar
1 teaspoon of salt
5 tablespoons of water

Mix well, will make 5 pie crusts.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

TRAVEL DESTINATION QUIZ

by JC Leahy

Okay, here's the qualifying question: Who played Princess Leia in the 1983 movie Star Wars? Carrie Fisher, yes, you're right! Ohh you are so good!! Now: to double your winnings, here's the next question!! Who were Carrie Fisher's parents? Oh, YES!!!! That's right!!! Famous actress Debbie Reynolds and famous (at the time) singer Eddie Fisher!! You GOT it!!!! You ARE good!! But now for the Triple Bonus Question: When Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds to marry Elizabeth Taylor, where did the couple go for their honeymoon? [music plays....clock ticks] Was it a sensuous cruise on a luxury liner? A grand tour of Europe? A steamy fling in Acapulco? Noooo!! Liz had already honeymooned on the Queen Mary with Nick Hilton. She had honeymooned in Europe with actor Michael Wilding. She had honeymooned in Acapulco with producer Mike Todd. With Eddie Fisher, the honeymoon was at Lookout Mountain!


Lookout Mountain?!

Where the heck is Lookout Mountain and why would Liz and Eddie go there?  The Lookout Mountain we're talking about is in Tennessee at the Georgia border. Liz and Eddie stayed at the super-luxury Lookout Mountain Hotel. That hotel is still there today, but it's a dormitory at Covenant College. Liz and Eddie's honeymoon suite is now a student common area, and yeah, you can go see it. The amazing scenery that attracted Liz and Eddie is still there. Modern-day attractions at or near Lookout Mountain include hang gliding schools, mountain views, breathtaking rock formations, unusual train rides, the world class Hunter Museum of American Art, the historic Incline Railway (the steepest railway in the world), the 5-star Tennessee Aquarium, riverboat cruises on the Tennessee River, camping, nature walks, the University of Tennessee Chattanooga Fine Arts Center, the worlds largest concentration of underground caves, overnight caving guided tours, Civil War history, American Indian history, eco-tourism, the Chattanooga City Zoo, and for a certain person I know who revels in admiring other people's things, there are gorgeous mountain top houses set in awesome scenery.

Geologically speaking, Lookout Mountain is not a mountain at all. It is part of a high, wide plateau called the Cumberland Plateau, which stretches 84 miles from downtown Gadsden, Alabama to the St. Elmo neighborhood of Chattanooga. In Chattanooga, the Cumberland Plateau comes to a narrow point that rises about 1,500 fee over the city. This is Lookout Mountain, formerly called Lookout Point. (There is a similar point nearby called Sand Mountain) The word "chattanooga" is actually a Muskegon/Creek Indian word meaning "rock coming to and end." The Creek Indians called Lookout Mountain Chattanooga Mountain There are only 3 miles of the Cumberland plateau in Tennessee. That's the intensely scenic area, where Liz and Eddie went for their honeymoon. It was from this point that Confederate troops shelled Chattanooga when Union troops were trapped there in 1863. Nowadays, the view is as spectacular as ever.

Historically speaking, it was Cherokees who ruled the Lookout Mountain area when settlers established Ross's Landing -- the original name of Chattanooga. Near Lookout Mountain, Cherokee Chief Dragging Canoe established the Chickamauga Confederacy to wage a bloody but futile war against the newcomers. European settlers were, you might say, the Cherokee Nation's version of illegal immigrants. A subsequent Cherokee chief named John Ross, grew up in his father's store at the foot of Lookout Mountain. Like Dragging Canoe, John Ross led the Cherokees in bloody resistance. Ultimately Chief Ross presided over the infamous Trail of Tears, a 1,000 mile forced march of the entire Cherokee Nation to "reservations" west of the Mississippi. John Ross lost his wife Quatie to the brutal conditions of this Trail of Tears. With the Cherokees gone, the State of Tennessee owned the 3-mile Tennessee portion of Lookout Mountain.. In 1840, Tennessee sold it to Colonel John Whiteside. Colonel Whiteside developed Lookout Mountain as a tourist attraction.


THE INCLINE

The Incline Railway is the steepest passenger railway in the world. It was build to allow tourists and patrons to get to facilities on top of Lookout Mountain, including Whiteside Park (now Point Park), and the scenic attractions such as the Natural Bridge and Lake Lula. The transportation network leading up Lookout Mountain began with the Whiteside Pike (1852), then a second road, then Incline #1 (3/1886), then a broad gauge railway, and finally Incline #2 on November 16, 1895. Incline #2 is the only Lookout Mountain railway remaining today.  Originally, Incline #2 had cars made of wood and coal-burning steam engines. Electric power replaced coal in 1911. Today, it uses 2 100 horsepower electric motors.


When I rode the Incline Railway I spoke with a woman who commutes daily up the mountain to work at one of the grand residences at the top. She said that others commute on the Incline, too. That being said, it appeared to me that ridership was almost entirely tourists. The ride was spectacular up a 72.7% steep incline to a 100-mile panoramic view from the top.


POINT PARK

After he acquired Lookout Mountain from the State of Tennessee in 1840, Col. Whiteside's concept was to build the lavish Point Hotel (built 1857, destroyed during the Civil War), and a park in a remote scenic location, and then build a road to transport customers. He named the road, completed in 1852, Whiteside Pike, and the park was named Whiteside Park. (It's a wonder that the hotel wasn't named Whiteside Hotel!) The four-hour buggy ride along Whiteside Pike and the $2 toll (which was a LOT of money in those days) must have been effective barriers to all but the wealthy. During the Civil War, the Point Hotel was destroyed. Confederate troops occupied Whiteside Park and used the panoramic view to shell Union troops bottled up in the city of Chattanooga, below.  Since the Civil War, Whitside Park has been known as Point Park. The theme is civil-war memorial. The scenic view is just as enchanting as ever. It's located not far from the upper end of the Incline Railway. There is not admission fee.  (Above photo: Adali Leahy looks out at the panoramic scenery from the site in Point Park from which Garritt's Alabama Battery shelled Chattanooga.)



ROCK CITY

Depending on your personal "style" you may choose the undeveloped boulder sites at Rocktown and the Zahnd Tract, or the commercial site at Rock City.The top layer of the Cumberland Plateau is sandstone. Over time, sandstone tends to fracture into huge blocks. With the passage of millions of years, and fracturing, and weathering and the wear of wind and water -- the result has been some very impressive natural boulder formations. Rocktown, the Zahnd Tract are two. The 150-acre Rocktown is located on Pigeon Mountain, which is a "peninsula" attached to Lookout Mountain. The Zahnd Tract, 163 acres, is just across the border in Georgia - which is still in the immediate vicinity. Both Rocktown and the Zahnd Tract are on State-owned land. The commercial version, Rock City, is where most tourists go -- because it has developed parking, bathrooms, water, food, a shop, developed pathways and foot bridges, an occasional craftsperson who might, for example, cut your silhouette in paper for framing. In short, Rock City has the creature comforts and diversions that many people appreciate, and it also has spectacular boulder formations and a panoramic view.



RUBY FALLS

Cavers take note: Tennessee has more caves than any other state. There are more than 5,500 of them in Tennessee. Ellison's Cave, which is just over the Georgia border near Lookout Mountain, is the deepest cave east of the Mississippi.

For tourists, the most visited cave in the entire southeastern United States is Ruby Falls, at Lookout Mountain. It has 350,000 visitors per year. Visitors travel 260 feet underground by elevator. There is then a .4 mile walk underground past various rock formations. There is also a 145-foot underground waterfall. Facilities include a gift shop and a topside platform with a good view of Chattanooga. Here's the address and phone number:
Ruby Falls, Scenic Highway
Chattanooga, TN 37409
Tel. 423-821-2544

Driving directions to Ruby Falls"  From I-24 take Exit 178. Follow the signs. The main entrance is on TN 148.



COVENANT COLLEGE

There may be some irony in the conversion of a luxury hotel and gambling casino to a Christian college. One thing for certain is that the 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding countryside which motivated construction of the Lookout Mountain Hotel, is still as breathtaking as ever from Covenant College.

Covenant College is on the Lookout Mountain Parkway just south of the TN/GA border. From I-24, take exit 178 and follow the Ruby Falls signs. When you see a Lookout Mountain Parkway sign, follow it, and then look for the Covenant College sign.


HANG GLIDING

Feeling adventurous? Try the Lookout Mountain Flight Park Training Center and learn to hang glide. The thermal currents in this area make it prime territory for hang gliders. They say you can glide for hours. The local flight-distance record is 154 miles!

Here's the contact data:
Lookout Mountain Flight Park Training Center, phone 706-398-3541. Located 7 miles south of Chattanooga on GA Route 136.