Friday, October 14, 2011

The Oracle Hypocrite of Omaha
(With Poll Question!)

by Libby Sternberg

Poor Warren Buffett. He's become a victim of Roving Bands of Tax-Loophole-Enforcing Accountants (they wear gigantic green eyeshades instead of ski masks when overtaking their victims, I'm told, and their weapon of choice is the electronic calculator, which packs a mean jolt).

Due to these nefarious bean counters, he pays taxes at a lower percentage than his secretary, even though he is a Gajillionaire, and she is is a working girl. No, not a working girl. A woman who works.

Unable to defeat these evil tax-dodging accountants on his own, he's let out a heartrending cry to the government, asking it to please, oh, please, oh, please, raise taxes on just him, as well as lots of people who make less than him but not as much as his secretary.

His story gets even sadder. Berkshire Hathaway, the company of which he is chairman and CEO, appears to have been victimized by these Roving Bands of Accountants, as well. It has a few back taxes on the books (nothing consequential, mind you, just a mere billion) that it disputes. Don't take my word for it. You can look at the Berkshire Hathaway annual report and find this gem around page 56:

At December 31, 2010 and 2009, net unrecognized tax benefits were $1,005 million and $926 million, respectively. Included in the balance at December 31, 2010, are $774 million of tax positions that, if recognized, would impact the effective tax rate. The remaining balance in net unrecognized tax benefits principally relates to tax positions for which the ultimate deductibility is highly certain but for which there is uncertainty about the timing of such deductibility. Because of the impact ofdeferred tax accounting, other than interest and penalties, the disallowance of the shorter deductibility period would not affectthe annual effective tax rate but would accelerate the payment of cash to the taxing authority to an earlier period. As of December 31, 2010, we do not expect any material changes to the estimated amount of unrecognized tax benefits in the next twelve months.

Translation: As of Dec. 31, 2010, Berkshire Hathaway was carrying just over $1 billion in "unrecognized tax benefits." That means they believe the money is a tax benefit they should receive, but the IRS has not yet agreed with them and has not determined a schedule for when payments would be due, so the amount must be carried on their books as a liability. Berkshire Hathaway appears to be pressing hard to avoid having the corporation pay $1 billion in taxes (surely as the result of those wicked bands of accountants holding their calculators to the heads of the executives).

Yes, I know that the corporation is looking out for shareholders--little people, perhaps akin to Mr. Buffett's secretary, who have money invested with Berkshire Hathaway through mutual funds and pensions, etc. But Mr. Buffett's patriotic passion for paying taxes surely would seep into the corporate ethos of his company, Berkshire Hathaway, if it, too, had not been infiltrated by those Roving Bands of Accountants that attacked his own personal wealth, forcing him to pay lower taxes.

Oh, the humanity!

But wait, Warren--help is on the way!

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) has introduced "The Buffett Rule Act of 2011" (S.1676) that would force the IRS to include on tax forms a line asking folks if they'd like to donate to the federal government. Read more about Sen. Thune's nifty plan here.

More good news--poor little rich guy Mr. Buffett need not wait for this legislation to be passed. He can pay more right now if he'd like. We've provided a handy how-to on this blog here. (It has shocked us to learn that he might not read our blog.)

Now that so many efforts have been made on Mr. Buffett's behalf to free him from those tax-hostage-taking accountants, we're sure that he will no longer plea for others to pay more taxes until he's set his own house to rights, so to speak, by paying the amounts he wants to pay (if not for those malevolent accountants) and maybe even paying his secretary's taxes, too, since he's so concerned about her. He wouldn't want to look like a hypocrite, now, would he?

Tell us what you think by answering our poll question in the upper right corner of this blog!

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