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11 Things You Might Not Know About Income Tax

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Every American’s least favorite day of the year is just around the corner. In commiseration, here are some things you might not know about the income tax.

1. More People Think It’s Okay to Cheat

Taxes are never popular, but recently they have gotten even less so. In 2011, 16% of Americans said it was acceptable to cheat on your taxes, up from 13% in 2010. The number of people who said cheating “as much as possible” was fine doubled to 8%. Researchers blame this increase on the news coverage that rich Americans and corporations use tax loopholes to pay as low as 0% tax. As the perception that others cheat becomes more prevalent, people are more likely to see fudging their taxes as a moral grey area.

2. A Lot of Money Slips Through the Cracks

According to IRS estimates, some $250-300 billion worth of taxes goes unpaid every year by people who don’t report all their income. In 1995, Congress gave the IRS $100 million to go after this missing money. They got a return on their investment of 8 to 1, but the program was cut the next year. That might be why now…

3. You Can Get Paid to Snitch

Yes, the IRS wants you to rat out your company, co-workers, and neighbors if you think they might be hiding money from the government. And if the extra they owe in taxes is enough, you could walk away with a decent chunk of change. For your anonymous reporting, you get a 15-30% cut of (a minimum of) $2 million. So far, it’s working: in 2006 the IRS recovered more than $1.4 billion in taxes owed through this program.

Unfortunately, like everything involving bureaucracy, there is a rather long form you need to fill out when reporting someone. It’s also important to have some specific details, so calling up and reporting your ex just to make his or her life difficult probably won’t get you anywhere.

4. Typos Can Get You Audited

When people are suspected, they face an audit. So what can you do to avoid it being you? Experts say that some of the main reasons people get audited have nothing to do with what they claimed. For example, make sure you have no typos before you submit your form. Inexact spelling probably means inexact numbers and can trigger an audit. And audits aren’t proportional across all tax brackets: Half of all individual filers who get audited make under $25,000 a year.

5. It’s All Lincoln’s Fault

The IRS was created during the Civil War to manage the first income tax. The Revenue Act of 1862 was an emergency war measure that was based off of the income tax that Great Britain had recently implemented. The tax, and the number of people who had to pay it, increased every year of the war. By the time General Lee surrendered, 10% of all Union households had paid the tax, and it contributed 21% of the North’s war revenue.

6. The Income Tax Was Once Ruled Unconstitutional

In 1894 the income tax was revived for the first time since the Civil War. But just a year later, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional because it was a direct tax, and not apportioned among the states on the basis of population, which is the only tax the Constitution originally allowed for. The 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913 to allow for direct taxation.

7. Some People Claim the 16th Amendment is Not Valid

Tax protesters argue that the income tax is still unconstitutional because the amendment creating it was never properly ratified. While they cite many reasons for this, the main argument is that the language of the proposed amendment that was sent to some of the states for approval was slightly different than what was actually ratified. However, the amendment has been upheld every single time its legitimacy has been challenged in court.

8. The IRS Enforced Prohibition

When the 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act. This act gave the head of the IRS responsibility for making sure no alcoholic beverages were manufactured, sold, or transported in the United States. It wasn’t until eleven years later, when it was more than obvious that illegal alcohol was directly tied to organized crime, that enforcement duties were passed to the Department of Justice. After Prohibition ended, the IRS continued to regulate alcohol, tobacco, and firearms, until the ATF became its own bureau in 1972.

9. The IRS Put Al Capone Behind Bars

Since the IRS was watching bootleggers, they also zeroed in on their finances. Despite being tied to murders, bribery, pimping, and illegal gambling, in 1931 it was Al Capone’s failure to file tax returns that finally put the infamous gangster in jail.

10. We Are All Terrible at Doing Our Taxes

Out of 228 million American adults who pay taxes each year, 82 million choose to get theirs done by a professional. Of those 82 million, 40% would rather cut their own hair than do their own taxes.

Accountant or no, people do try to get in some crazy deductions, although according to professional accountants men are far more likely than women to claim odd things. Women also tend to be more prepared and calmer when it comes to filing.

But for those taxpayers who still haven’t filed by the time April rolls around, 68% say they waited so long because of simple procrastination or laziness, while only 26% said it was because of confusion about the process.

It’s not just the laymen who get tripped up by the complexities of the tax code. In 2005, the tax preparation company H&R Block admitted that they had overstated the company’s earnings in 2003 and 2004 by over $91 million. They blamed "insufficient resources" in their corporate tax accounting department.

11. It Could Be a Lot Worse

In 1918, Congress passed the Revenue Act which increased income tax to help pay for World War I. Those in the highest tax bracket shelled out 77%.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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