Taxes, broken promises and more

How complex is the tax code? The Tax Foundation estimates that
Americans spent $265 billion last year trying to comply with the rules
and regulations, and filling out various forms. That translates into
about 22 cents in compliance costs for every $1 collected by the IRS.

It’s going to get worse, and GOP plans for sweeping tax reform have
disappeared from Washington’s agenda. Tax Foundation President Scott
Hodges predicts that compliance costs will escalate to almost $483
billion by 2015 thanks to changes in tax laws already in the works. The
Foundation says its estimates are conservative, and don’t include the
cost of appeals or Tax Court proceedings.

What about those Republican promises of running a leaner, more
efficient government? Last year, the federal government issued 77,752
pages of regulations; only slightly down from the 78,564 pages of red
tape in 2004, and slightly more than the 75,6012 pages in 2003.

It’s got to be the dullest election around, but expect the rank and
file to fall in line behind Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri in his bid to
become the next House Republican leader, succeeding the scandal-plagued
Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas.

There’s no great enthusiasm for the
bland former history and government teacher. But there’s even less for
the main challenger for the job, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, whose
partying at Republican conventions shot his reputation as one of the
party’s upcoming smart conservatives.

P.S. Mavericks like Rep.
Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., say that neither Blunt nor Boehner is likely to
lead any crusade against cozy relations between Congress and lobbyists.
Blunt is married to the lobbyist for tobacco giant Philip Morris (now
rebranded as Altria), and in 1995 Boehner handed out tobacco-lobby
checks on the House floor.

Force brass thought they had a winner in launching a campaign in
September to curb alcohol abuse on the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa
with the mantra “ZZ13.” It stands for: zero underaged drinking; zero
alcohol-related incidents; one drink per hour; and three drinks per

But the Stars and Stripes military newspaper reports that
“ZZ13” has become a favorite expression at the base’s Airman’s Club,
where flyboys replaced traditional drinking salutations with cries of
“ZZ13.” The base had 95 DUI arrests in 2005, three more such arrests
than in 2004.

Those expensive
sensors planted on the border with Mexico to sound alarms when illegal
aliens cross are maybe a little too sensitive.

The Border Patrol
says the sensors have a false-alarm rate of about 92 percent, and are
set off when shaken by nearby highway traffic, wild animals and even
passing trains. Every time they are set off, officers are sent to find
out why, and agency figures report that only a handful of illegal
aliens have been nabbed.

Sensors installed along the border with Canada had similar problems, the agency said.

What with Louisiana’s jambalaya-rich history of fraud and government
corruption, there’s little surprise that allegations of fraud in
hurricane-relief programs are surfacing.

Expect many more. The
Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general recently shifted
more than 400 investigators to ferret out what happened to the $62
billion spent so far on Gulf Coast relief. The agency already has
opened 230 cases of suspected fraud and misappropriation, and is
combing through more than 8,000 tips pointing to improper or illegal

Although most arrests so far have involved individuals
filing false claims, lawmakers monitoring the probes expect that much
bigger fish are about to be reeled in.

Consumer groups are rallying behind Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell.
The Democrat wants strong new laws to curb predatory lending practices
by Internet businesses that give quickie advance loans against

The Consumer Federation of America says many
cash-strapped families are trapped into paying back loans that have
annual rates of more than 400 percent for the payday loans. Storefront
businesses are getting around strong consumer-protection regulations in
states by operating Internet terminals linked to a Delaware call
center, where usury laws are not so stringent.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)