The Category Is Tax Trivia

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Mike Kovis, author of American Tax Trivia: The Ultimate Quiz on US Taxation, challenges tax notes talk Tax discusses the team and his new book for a game of trivia.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

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David D. Stewart:Welcome to the podcast. I’m David Stewart, Editor in Chief Tax Notes Today International, This week: trivial tasks. As we head into a long weekend here in America, we thought it was a great time to have a little fun. Some of our regular podcasts joined me as we recently invited Mike Kovis, author of a book of tax trivia, to test his knowledge. Stay tuned after the quiz to learn more about Mike and how this book came to be. To enjoy

With me now is Mike Kovis, Senior Tax Advisor at Entergy Services. He is the author of the book, American Tax Trivia: The Ultimate Quiz on US Taxation,

And to join in the fun and help me answer Mike’s questions, I’ve joined tax notes Contributing Editor Robert Golder and Chief Correspondent Stephanie Soong Johnson. Mike, why don’t you start us?

mike covis: Well, I’m glad to be here today. We’re going to talk about American tax trivia. I’ve got four different chapters out of the book that I want to quiz you guys and girls on and see how much you know about American taxation.

Let’s start with the fun stuff. Let’s do some famous quotes. I’ve always loved quotes. I tried to pick some good people from the book. I think we will start with what is easy.

Which US federal judge made the following statements as part of his court’s decision? “Anyone may arrange his affairs that his taxes be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose the pattern that will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to raise one’s taxes.” ” Is it a) Antonin Scalia, b) Richard Posner, c) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, d) Thurgood Marshall, or e) Learned Hand?

David D. Stewart: Ok. Now, that’s something I learned in law school. And that was, whenever you get a misquote from Learned Hand. That said, anyone else have any ideas?

robert golder: May I write in the vote for Oliver Wendell Holmes. No? Ok. Then I will go for Learned Hand also.

Stephanie Soong Johnson: I’m going to say that the answer is always C, so.

robert golder: This is an old quote.

Stephanie Soong Johnson: Is this an old quote? Ok. Then I’m leaving with you guys.

robert golder: I think it goes back decades and I think it’s like a 100 year old quote. You have to choose a judge who is a hundred years old.

David D. Stewart:Yeah, honestly, it was just my rule of thumb in law school. A great quote, it’s a learned hand. It’s learned hand. So let’s go with the learned hand. How’s that?

mike covis: The final answer is Learned Hand. Very good.

I thought it would be easy because it’s been a long time, like Bob said, and I actually quoted it in my application when I applied for the LLM program in Georgetown. I guess it worked because they took to me, or they were desperate in some way.

David D. Stewart: I mean it sounded familiar.

mike covis: Let’s go with another one here. Which rap artist was quoted with the following line: “The only two things that scare me are God and the IRS.” Is it A) Dr. Dre, B) Snoop Dogg, C) Ice Cube, D) 50 Cent, or E) Grandmaster B?

Stephanie Soong Johnson: Oh friend. I should know this. I’m going to say 50 cents.

David D. Stewart: Yes, I’m lost here. Because I had heard of a rap artist and tax issues, I was thinking of DMX, but that’s not it.

Stephanie Soong Johnson: To be fair, there are a lot of rap stars with tax problems.

David D. Stewart: OK, Bob, do you have any ideas?

robert golder: I want to vote for my Detroit homie, Eminem. No, I have no idea.

Stephanie Soong Johnson: Either 50 Cent or Snoop Dogg.

robert golder: It doesn’t look like Snoop Dogg would say anything out loud. He may think this, but would he say so? I do not know. If I had to choose, I’d say 50 cents.

David D. Stewart: Okay, let’s do that.

mike covis: This is wrong. It’s actually a) Dr. Dre.

How about an international tax quote? You all should know this quote. This should be a no brainer.

The host of the Kiss TV talk show from the 2000s said the following: “Tax Day is the day ordinary Americans send their money to Washington, DC and rich Americans send their money to the Cayman Islands.” Is it a) Jimmy Kimmel, b) James Corden, c) Jimmy Fallon, d) Bill Maher, or e) Conan O’Brien?

Stephanie Soong Johnson: I’m going to say Bill Maher.

David D. Stewart: Look, I’m thinking of Jimmy Kimmel just because of the joke structure.

Stephanie Soong Johnson: Wow, you’re really thinking about it.

robert golder: No, Syntax of Phrases, Verbs and Nouns, Use of Gerunds. all that. Yep, that sounds like Jimmy Kimmel’s statement.

Stephanie Soong Johnson: I’m going with Bill Maher, just to be contradictory.

David D. Stewart: Two of us have Jimmy Kimmel and one has Bill Maher. What have we got here?

mike covis: The final answer is A) Jimmy Kimmel.

If you want, we can go to history. Which US President created the IRS? Was it a) Theodore Roosevelt, b) George Washington, c) Ulysses S. Grant, d) Herbert Hoover, or e) Abraham Lincoln?

robert golderWhen was the first income tax? If we can figure out when the first income tax is due, you can probably find out when the IRS, or the precursor to its interest, was created. Because you’ll probably need some sort of executive branch administrative agency to enforce the tax.

If I listened enough to Joe Thorndike, who knows all about history, he would say that we had a sort of income tax during the Civil War. I’m not sure it was ever collected. I don’t think it raised a lot of money. I’m not sure if they actually called it the IRS, but there was a type of income tax during the Civil War.

But if you’re looking for an agency that’s actually called the IRS, it will be much later. Maybe something like the Hoover era.

mike covisTo clarify, it doesn’t need to be called the IRS. It is just the agency that acts as the IRS, whatever the name.

robert golder: Ok. Well, I’ve given my pitch for Abraham Lincoln.

David D. Stewart: I think Lincoln is a good bet here.

Stephanie Soong Johnson: Ok. I’ll go with you guys.

mike covis: You’re all right, it’s Abraham Lincoln. Good job on that.

He has such a great reputation though. With all the amazing things he did for the country, you wouldn’t think that he would become a monstrosity and suck all the tax dollars from all Americans. Everyone loves to hate the IRS, even though they clearly play an important role in government. You don’t equate the two. Abe Lincoln, IRS, it pisses people off. Or at least I would think so.

Okay, the next one, and it’s related to the topic we just discussed, actually. Is this true or false? The IRS was originally named the Board of Stamps and Taxes. right or wrong?

robert golder: You know, there’s the word “board” in it, and a long time ago whatever the federal government did they called the board of fill spaces. I think I’m going with true, just because it has the word “board”. Can I convince you guys?

Stephanie Soong Johnson: truth.

David D. Stewart: Okay, I’ll come with you.

robert golder: Ok. The panel tells the truth.

mike covis: It’s really false. It was actually called the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Here is the next question. Which was invented by an IRS service center employee in 1961 and is still used today to sort out millions of paper tax return forms? Is it a) Spaghetti Sorter, b) Octopus Organizer, c) Freeman Filer, d) Tingle Table, or e) Arthur Anderson Shredder?

robert golderOctopus One, because we all know that octopuses are really smart.

Stephanie Soong Johnson: I love octopuses, so I’m going with octopus.

David D. Stewart: Yes. If I don’t have anything better to hang my hat on, that’s a cool name.

mike covis: Answer is d) Tingle Table. It was actually created by a gentleman named James Tingle. He invented the sorter while working at an IRS service center in Georgia.

He built a prototype in his backyard. It was first tested at a service center in Georgia. The invention greatly reduces the time it takes for the mail opener to remove the contents and file the envelope for affixing and processing the contents here and there.

So, if you ever google “tingle table,” you’ll see what looks like a semicircle sitting on a desk. It’s like an inbox and outbox, where you put mail. They are stacked one on top of the other….

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