Happiness & sadness!

When you’re reading this post my son Aaron is on his way traveling to the USA. He started his journey last night (Wednesday). He left Davao at 10:15 pm, and arrived in Manila at a little after midnight. He will be in Manila for a few hours, then he will be starting his journey to the USA today Thursday (today) here in the Philippines. He will be arriving in Portland, Oregon (Thursday there in that part of the world) almost 24 hours after he left Manila .

This trip, it all started almost 2 years ago. My mother-in-law got seriously ill. Aaron at that time was just a few months shy of his high school graduation. Part of his high school graduation gift, Bob and I decided on sending him to the USA to see his grandma and bond with her. When we talked to Aaron about our plan, we got a big “NO” from him. So Bob and I didn’t push him, we just dropped the subject, sort of mentioning once in awile. 6 months after, Aaron decided that he was ready. He told us that he wanted to visit his granny by June. He was just few months shy of his 17th birthday. So we gathered lots of his papers for the travel plan. We found out that there was so much stuff to do for him since he will be traveling alone and underage. When we went to some Philippine government agency for some paper work, Aaron got frustrated. As usual everything was so slow. Just to get something you will be standing in line for literary hours at a time.

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The many faces of Aaron Martin
The many faces of Aaron Martin

He told us then that he wants to wait to travel after his 18th birthday. Less hassles. So after his 18th birthday, we then started gathering his papers. We went to Manila for his passport renewal from the US embassy. Apply some local paper work. Finally it was finished a few weeks ago. So we started looking for cheap tickets. We also thought that he will be traveling around the month of April or May. The tickets for April and May were much more expensive. When we tried to get good tickets, this week is really the best price ticket to travel already. Bob saw a cheap ticket a week or so ago. We thought that it will still be okay to wait. When we tried to book, it’s already full. Luckily we got another cheaper ticket. We got him a round trip ticket. He will be there for a little over 7 months. If he wants to extend he will try to re-book the ticket again for later return, which will incur a fee of course. I’m sure we will pay some for that. :-)

He is really excited to go and see his Granny. It’s been a few years since he last saw her. They already made plans on what to do there. They will be seeing Bob’s extended family there from different States. This will be a good memory maker for both of them to last Aaron a lifetime. We know he will be okay there. This is Aaron’s first time ever being away from us for a long time. It will be hard for all of us here at the house and him too. But it will be good for him to experience and start a new life away from us. I’m not worried about it because he is in good hands with his Granny being there for him. Thank you Mother for taking Aaron and loving him. Bob and I really appreciate that very much.

To you my dear Aaron: Enjoy your stay with your Granny. Have fun exploring the land that you were born and grow up with until the time we left. Enjoy bonding with your cousins and family there. Don’t forget to see the people that we used to hangout with there before. We love you so much son. It’s going to be hard on all of us but we are so happy for you at the same time. Tears are flowing already from me hon while writing this post. I love you forever and beyond.

Message from Dad: Aaron, have a wonderful trip!  This will be a big learning experience for you.  The learning will start right away as you embark on your first time traveling alone, and it will continue as you get reintroduced to the land of your birth.  I am sad to see you leaving, but I am also happy that you will go back to the USA and experience life there.  I am happy that you can have some time to re-connect with my culture and with my side of the family.  You are a good kid, and I love you dearly, son!  Bon voyage!

Heard ‘Round the Block

I’ll have to start with admitting out loud:  The Title Is Misleading.  Well, just a little bit. Here I am in my corner of paradise – a bucolic agricultural area, and I casually throw out the word “Block” for your eyes to catch.

mapOur house is right on the National Highway – a trail of many names:  “Maharlika Highway” (my all-time favorite), “Pan-Philippine Highway,” “Manila North Highway” (don’t know how that one got onto the road map – we’re closer to Taiwan than we are Manila), and the latest and greatest in road identification, “Highway A26.”

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The point here is a “two-fer” –

  1. the closest “Block” is about 2 blocks north of the house in the paratong (the built-up residential area of the barangay which also has many names); and
  2. all of these different names for the same location or road are quite commonplace here.

So, those are but some examples of what one hears “’round the block.” It’s interesting to not only blockshear such distant references to the same, extremely immediate place, but to also observe their use in action.  One rather “different” aspect is that all who live here know all of these names and, depending upon whom they are engaged with in a conversation, they exercise great care in using their “chat-mate’s” preferred name for whatever they’re discussing.

This may seem a little whimsical, but to the “Kano” trying to learn to “speak like the locals,” it is pure confusion, to say the least.

MORE THAN JUST NAMES 

Situations and daily occurrences also bring out the best of the conglomeration of confusing communications.  These little vignettes bring back memories of the comics of old who took pleasure in turning near-tragedy into instant comedy.

Somehow, I think that I am sometimes treated to these little sideshows of semantics by caring folks who, deep down inside, have a streak of humor a mile 1.667 kilometers wide, and perhaps are frustrated comedians in search of an audience.  Upon seeing me, they break into Sunday English and turn up the volume.

What say we sit back and enjoy some actual banter (these are real episodes – you can’t make this stuff up):

th (8)The scene: a very small construction site.  The players: a carpenter (C) wielding a hammer and a young school girl (G) watching the activity instead of attending class. The setup: a wayward blow of a distracted and pestered carpenter’s hammer finds flesh and bone at the end of the hand being used to steady a nail.

C: Waahhh!  %&@#=~*+!

G: Oooooo.  Sir, does your finger really hurt real bad?

C: No. Only when I nail it with the hammer instead of hammering the nail’s head.

I think this is where the stage drummer inserts the rimshot – baddabing!  Well, I saw some humor in the carpenter’s way of controlling his anger and controlling that wayward hammer and keeping it from nailing another “little head.”

Like I said, I’m sure that the play was for the benefit of the poor puraw onlooker.

“BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE” 

th (7)Ah, the eternally memorable catch phrase of one of late night television’s best pitchmen, the late Billy Mays.

I’ve been trying to work that pitch line into one of my articles for a long, long time.  What better place for this minor tribute to the king of 3:00 A.M. Salesmanship than a piece on things heard?  And being able to headline it as a section header?

The “More” involves your humble scribe, trying to climb and surpass the mountain of obstacles he faces when trying to make himself understood. I must be truthful – it’s me, and not any others, who gallantly but foolishly plays the clown.

clownUsing what probably appears to my neighbors and new acquaintances as a circus full of failed clown routines, I often find myself with a small audience as I pantomime and pidgin talk my way into being the last comic standing.  

Then, there’s Baket ko (Asawa ko) [my Wife], who’s been known to chime in every now and then with the four words that have become the bane of my vocabulary, “Honey, where are you?”  At first glance (or when first heard, if you’re in the neighborhood), one could get the impression that I’m lost or hiding.  While that second option would come in handy to fend off those four words, it’s unnecessary.  Baket ko knows exactly where I am.  Yet, that quad of words makes me queasy.

It seems that being “direct” in communications – especially when posing a question or requesting a favor – is a faux pas here in the Philippines.  You can’t come in the front door, but you have to circle the bahay before entering by the side.  Barging in, or sneaking in through the front is, at the very least, impolite.  (Front doors are for visitors.)

ASIDE:  Even a simple question (I love simple questions – they’re the easiest to answer, or so I thought).  Specifically, a simple Yes/No question.  While it’s almost impossible to ynhear the word “No” as a response to any request, the Yes/No question is even more complex than trying to extract a “No.”  Ask a simple Yes/No question, any you receive an unabridged story from lifetime experiences that are in some jaded way connected to the question.  Usually, a few minutes of jabber must be confronted with “So what is it?  Yes or No?” What follows is usually a second rendition of the first, complete with the “Didn’t you hear me say …” line tossed in for good measure.  Sometimes, you scribe takes a long time to learn a lesson.

Here’s where the fearsome foursome come into play.  “Honey, where are you?” is the introductory line to a job, an errand, a task, a question, or some other instance of breaking your daydream of life in paradise.  It’s usually followed by, “Can you, ah, ah, …, (fill in the blank) for me?” And even if it’s honeynot, the “high is buzzed.” Only when you’ve completed whatever was asked of you do you receive the “Oh, Thaaannnk  Yooou, Honey.”

I’ve learned what those sweet code words mean:  “But wait, there’s more.”

Getting There (Part 2)

By J. Peter Fitzgerald —

In an earlier episode we introduced potential tourists or émigrés to the Philippine tricycle, that inexpensive vehicle that bustles about on the streets of every barrio, town and city, a must-try experience for any visitor to these islands. In this essay we will describe the ubiquitous Philippine jeepney, the Painted Lady of the Streets. Note: There are other Painted Ladies of the Street, but most of them are not really ladies at all. Some are not even women.

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No visit to the Philippines would be complete without experiencing a ride on a jeepney. Perhaps if you are lucky, you might be a witness to, or even a victim of, a jeepney robbery. If you are a first time visitor staying in a hotel and are awakened at 2:00 a.m. by the sound of the elevator plummeting to the basement, be not concerned, that is only a jeepney passing by on the street outside, just part of the background rhythm of this tropical Paradise.

The jeepney is an extended version of a Word War Two Jeep, but without the comfort. The vehicle measures about twenty feet long with two passenger benches designed to accommodate approximately three hundred passengers and several tons of cargo. Ask a jeepney driver how many passengers he can carry and he will tell you, “One more.” When I first arrived in this country, I thought that was a joke, but I have since learned that it is rule number one in the Jeepney Driver’s Code.

Jeepney
Jeepney

Every Philippine jeepney is a “Gift From God,” a message that is boldly painted on the rear mud flap as a matter of custom (and perhaps regulation), along with various religious themes airbrushed throughout the body. Philippine artists are often employed to create impressive murals on the sides of the jeepney, using every conceivable color, competing with each other for gaudiness. Jeepney bodies portray elaborately decorated themes, such as undersea coral formations, tropical jungles, space walks and, as a sad reflection of an uncertain national self-identity, Captain America.

Layers of multi-colored stickers are built up over the years to hold the decaying coach together. Shiny objects, mirrors, prismatic appliqués and fluorescent-colored doo-dads are glued on randomly. “After market” Mercedes hood ornaments are common, as are chromium herds of horses galloping across the hood. The windscreen of the jeepney is a rolling museum of found objects, family photos, fiesta souvenirs, tassels, fringes and suction cup plastic flowers. The dashboard of the typical jeepney supports a series of plastic statuary representing the entire pantheon of Catholic saints. The corresponding medals hang from the rearview mirror with the rosary beads and the children’s school ribbons. To the uninitiated, the dashboard closely resembles a poorly managed landfill, but it’s really a home away from home for the driver.

The conscientious driver, however, maintains safety as his number one priority, so he is very careful not to let the clutter obscure the usable portion of the windshield. I believe Philippine law requires a minimum of ten square centimeters of clear space on which he can mount his commercial documents and the mirror and still leave a generous section through which he can navigate – a space about the size of a business card.

Sometimes a holster is mounted on the dashboard. This holster holds, not a weapon, but the screwdriver with which the broken passenger door can be opened, though to forego the expense of a used screwdriver, a frugal operator will hold the door shut with a bicycle inner tube.

The interior of the jeepney resembles a subway car, with cracked plastic bench seats along the outside walls and a “grab bar” running along the center of the roof, precisely situated so as to inflict maximum damage to a tall man’s forehead. If you are a visiting foreigner, you will experience the charm for which the Philippines is famous when a fellow passenger offers you a used Kleenex to apply pressure to your head wound. In most jeepneys the operators have thoughtfully hung hundreds of air fresheners from the overhead, resembling a colony of bats, but which, in my opinion, don’t really smell any better.

Many jeepneys, especially in suburban and rural areas, also provide free entertainment blasted at very high decibel level from ten or fifteen speakers strategically placed for maximum enjoyment. And who ever gets tired of non-stop disco music? Even if you’re not a music lover, you can appreciate that the throbbing beat covers the disturbing grinding noise coming from the transmission.

The rear entrance of the jeepney is fitted with a very high step. To enter the vehicle, you will have to twist your body into an unaccustomed knot, simultaneously stepping up and crouching down to fit through the small door, so you will have a choice of a thump on the head or a chest cramp. But the real fun is in the ride, which starts with a jolt the moment your foot touches the step. But a word of caution: Filipinos are sensitive about a foreigner grabbing their legs, even in an effort to maintain his balance in a lurching jeepney. If you are not naturally coordinated, you might practice before your first jeepney ride by doubling over at the waist, hugging your knees and walking across a room full of golf balls.

Once you stuff yourself through the door and have regained your balance in the swaying vehicle, you will find that there are no empty seats, but the ceiling is too low to stand up and there’s no way you can remain bowed at the waist for more than a few minutes before the chest cramps become permanent. You will be tempted to jump out, but this is not advised. The vehicle is already moving too fast and following vehicles are not likely to stop. Remember, in the Philippines, drivers always assume they have the right of way, even on the sidewalks.

Jeepneys travel regular routes through and between cities, though not on any particular time schedule that can be determined. If you wait long enough, a jeepney going toward your destination will eventually come along, unless they decided to change the route.

Eventually, if you ride enough jeepneys, you will find an empty seat next to the giant woofer, behind the chain-smoking driver. Second-hand smoke, by the way, is the least dangerous of the other airborne pollutants, some of which actually have texture. If you are fortunate, in addition to an actual seat, you may even have room for your feet between a crate of chickens and a giant Styrofoam cooler full of fish that will randomly splash onto your pant leg, which will encourage stray cats to follow you all day.

If you are a foreigner, each of your fellow passengers will stare unblinkingly at you. You might smile and wave your hand in a friendly greeting and someone will reach through the jeepney window and steal your watch. The other passengers will pretend to be shocked and may even offer sympathy, but the driver will be lighting another cigarette from the butt of the last one and will not stop. Someone may jokingly suggest you call the police and the other passengers will laugh.

The man next to you will ask you how much money you have and offer you a bargain price on a genuine Rolex. For an extra five hundred pesos he will include a pair of genuine Oakley sunglasses. In my experience, this is probably not a good deal. My Rolex stopped working right after I bought it. If you decide to ride another jeepney, the odds are it will be someone else who is robbed, so you can enjoy the fun with the rest of the passengers.

During your stay in the Philippines, you may decide to get out and see the beautiful countryside. Next time we will talk about taking the bus.

-Peter

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Observations From Up North

I’ve always prided myself in being as observant as one could be. I’m sure it’s a throwback to some 60+ years ago, when connections were first being made with objects seen through newly opened eyes.

12INCONELPBack then, it was the color orange that held my attention and kept me in awe.

Unlike the statistical outcomes of pediatric color tests (and their absurd conclusions pointing to the color red as being the color that most infants preferred, with the color yellow coming in second), my affinity for the color orange was looked upon as nearly being a statistical “outlier” – not your run of the mill selection. Apparently, I was different.

Dr.-Spock-BookHearing all about this pediatric nonsense while my age was still mid-single digit, I pondered it. Remember, this was the heyday of noted luminaries such as Doctor Spock and others bent on invading a child’s psyche and thought processes. Yet, somehow, I was cognizant of some anomaly at work and my child-mind began wondering.

So it was that my first observation in life truly occurred. I loved orange. Red and yellow were okay for others, but ORANGE! There was a color that this very young mind could wrap itself around. It wasn’t one of the “primary” colors. No, primary colors were too simple for mentally dissecting. White was far too complex to enjoy, not to mention its being so common as to be everywhere.  Black? The absence of color – nothing to it outside of being on the spooky side.

th (2)Through further observations and childlike experimentation, I discovered that my favorite ORANGE was the mixture of red and yellow. That proved its superiority among the hues of the rainbow. It was better than red and yellow combined. Childish statistical reasoning concluded it to be at least twice better than what pediatricians of the day had rationalized. Through a little personal projection, I theorized right then and there that, somehow in some respects, I was “twice as good” as these white-coated and “well-studied” professionals.

AND SO IT BEGAN 

Life since those days has been chock full of observations, wonderment, and awe. Not a step have my weary feet taken without something catching my eye and mental notes being taken. Everything was, and still is, an adventure – calling out for my personal interaction with it, mentally dissecting it, and forming conclusions about it.

OrangeSunsetThere have been (and still are) a multitude of things or activities that I cannot do or, at best, do exceptionally poorly. But where I have the upper hand, where I excel while others run a second place race, is that I know why I cannot or I struggle to produce less-than-mediocre results. I’ve observed myself, mentally dissected everything connected with my feeble abilities, and concluded valid theories as to the whys and the whatnot. Unlike many others who come within my scope of observation, I know my limitations. I know me.

And even with all of the imperfections mixed with better attributes, one thing remains certain: I still love orange.  At dawn and dusk, I’m treated to nature’s display of that more-than-vibrant color. So are others, but I very rarely observe their pausing to enjoy the show.

AND SO IT CONTINUES 

By now, you’ll be far from amazed if I mentioned that I truly enjoy observing the world about me and all of its inhabitants. More passion than decades-old habit, hardly a thing misses my notice.  Yes, some things attract more attention than others, but almost all attract some level of notice. And the passion has expanded beyond just the product of sight. The other four physical senses have joined right in the merriment.

Over the quickly passing days of 2015, I’ve taken notice of many things – some that have been observed in the past, and some that are magical new adventures to ponder. Here are just a few:

  • Out in the countryside of the province, shouting to another appears to be the most desired and practical method for communication. It may be a throwback to days when one’s fellow correspondent was on the next hill over, or possibly to youthful days in large families and extended families where it was just about the only way to be heard. But even in these days of “high technology,” a person shouting into a cellphone is commonplace.  My observation: “It’s just called a ‘long distance’ phone call – the actual distance one’s voice needs to cover is a few inches/centimeters.”
  • mota_ru_1060636-previewRoadway + straightaway = raceway. It seems not to matter whether there’s on-coming traffic, an upcoming sharp curve, or a double yellow line painted down the middle of the road; a straight, level section of road – regardless of length – brings out the need for speed in most drivers here. Passing other inhabitants of the roadway is both art and passion, with the latter being displayed more than the former. My observation: “This behavior is displayed less frequently when that painted double line is ORANGE.”
  • Given the roadway practices cited above, and statistically fewer major traffic accidents here than in many other countries where similar practices are ritually observed, one could easily give in to ponder the situation.  My observation: “Maybe drivers here are on to something that needs further observation and possible presentation to the rest of the driving world.”
  • Most everyone takes time to look at the splendor of a waterfall, regardless of its size. Few wonder where all of that water is coming from, and even fewer wonder where it’s going to.  All are enraptured with the free-falling liquid before them. My observation:  “On the very, very rare occasion, an observer will see a source for generating power, irrigating fields, or a platform for testing ideas of flood control.  Sadly, a very, very rare occasion.”

th (3)I’m sure to have more observations for you, dear readers, in future articles. Until then, try a little of your own. Step outside of your “comfort zone” (gee, I dislike that phrase) and really see what there is to see. An adventure awaits your simple attention.

DELINQUENT? NOPE!

“Streamlined.”  Sounds fast.  Something that is streamlined even looks fast. Gotta love that streamlining thingy, regardless of the who, what, where, how, and why.  Yes sir – in this day and age of motion and speed, one can’t go wrong with anything that is streamlined.

“Foreign” and “Domestic.”  Exact opposites. Yet the two most often appear together, like salt and pepper. Especially in government – “… against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” appears in most official oaths of office or positions of government service. Together, they’re all-encompassing; separately, they are most discreet, even in governmental issues.

easy way“Offshore.” Somewhere, out there. Not being here, onshore, it’s a way of locating people, places, and things that are not contained by the natural boundaries formed by the shorelines of seas and oceans. In practical terms, it refers to objects on the “other side” of those shorelines.

“Procedures.” Methods; ways and means. If there’s a task to be accomplished, these are followed in order to successfully arrive at the desired conclusion in an efficient and timely manner.  “Proper” procedures almost always guarantee success, if followed.

Put these four selections together (we’ll let the selection of “domestic” rest peacefully in this article), and you have today’s topic:

STREAMLINED FOREIGN OFFSHORE PROCEDURES 

In continuing last week’s article, you dear readers who live outside of the U.S. are going to find that there is an easy way to  “become current” with U.S. Income Tax and financial reporting responsibilities.  You’ll also find that I won’t throw a lot of tax theory or tax law precedent or other fluff into the article.

The way a taxpayer with delinquent returns become “current” is to turn himself or herself in to the IRS, throwing him/herself on the mercy of the government for their past misdeeds.  Period.  I know, that sounds pretty drastic and cruel, but it’s really not as bad as it seems.

streamlinedOf course, the more delinquent returns and reports you have, or the more you not filing them tends away from forgetfulness and closes in on malice and intent, the more difficult will be the process for you to become current.  No one said it was easy, but then no one said it was impossible, either.

For those of you who may be thinking, “Well, since there are so many delinquent tax returns in my stack and no one has bothered me about them yet, maybe I can squeeze on by until the statute of limitations runs out,” here’s a surprise:  the clock that counts off the time stipulated by the statute of limitations regarding the filing of income tax returns doesn’t start ticking until the tax return is filed.  So that stack you have is one that will always be a problem, regardless of any incantations of “statute of limitations” pleas.

For those taxpayers who are not criminally bent when it comes to income taxes – those who didn’t file out of pure intent or malice – there is this easier way to get current.  And it goes by the title of this section.

THE NUTS & BOLTS OF IT ALL

I said I wasn’t going to load you down with a lot of legalese and tax mumbo-jumbo, so here’s the deal – plain and simple:  the nitty-gritty.

Lets use, for an example, a taxpayer (T) (a taxpayer in name only, not in activity) who lives overseas and hasn’t filed a tax return or required report in, say, 10 years time.  (That’s a long time to go without filing tax returns and not being caught.)  For some reason unnecessary to the example, T wants to change his errant ways, become current with his tax return and reporting responsibilities, and continue to file his required returns and reports from that day forward.

nutsbolts2T has the following delinquent returns:  10 years-worth of income tax returns and 9 years-worth of foreign financial account reports (FBARs).  While penalties for missing income tax deadlines can be stiff, they are nowhere near as draconian as those for not filing FBARs if required to do so.  So, it’s in T’s best interest to get current and stay current.

T goes to a tax professional for help (a licensed CPA, Enrolled Agent with the IRS, a tax lawyer, etc.).  He explains that he has those delinquent returns and want to become current.  He tells the professional that he didn’t intend to skip filing his reports and returns.  In fact, he really wanted to but was fearful of what would happen if he did.  As often happens, things get put off, and then put off further, then become routine.  There’s no hint of negligence nor is there any hint of intent to evade or defraud the tax system.

The tax professional informs him that he is eligible to become current by employing the streamlined foreign offshore procedures – a modified program for “turning oneself in.”  By employing these procedures, T will become current upon the acceptance of his application.  That application is a simple form, with which T certified that he has:

  1. Filed the delinquent or amended tax returns, including all required informational returns, for each of the most recent 3 years for which the U.S. tax return due date (as extended) has passed;
  2. Pay all income taxes plus all interest accrued that are due for each of those three years, computed in those tax returns;
  3. State that he failed to report income from one or more foreign financial assets during those three years;
  4. Certify that he meets the non-residency requirements for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures;
  5. Further certify that he meets all other eligibility requirements for these procedures;
  6. Filed the delinquent FBARs for any of the last 6 calendar years that are delinquent;
  7. Agree to retain all records related to income and assets during the period covered by the delinquent income tax returns until after 3 years from the date of his certification;
  8. Additionally agree to retain all records related to his foreign financial accounts until 6 years from the date of this certification;
  9. Certify that his failure to report income, pay tax. and submit returns and reports (including FBARs) was due to non-willful conduct (i.e., conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of law;
  10. State that he understands that the IRS could open investigations into fraud or more severe charges that could result in civil and criminal penalties if the IRS receives or discovers evidence of wilfulness, fraud, or criminal conduct; and
  11. Provide specific reasons for his failure to report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns (including FBARs).

That’s it.  All contained on one two-sided form (Form 14653).  All T needs to do is everything he is certifying that he has done (filing this form being one of the final steps to be taken), complete the certification form, sign and date it, and file it.

jailUpon receiving word of its acceptance, T is considered to be “current.”  He filed 3 out of 10 delinquent income tax returns – 7 were completely forgiven without question.  He only paid tax and interest on the tax – no penalties, no interest on penalties, nothing else – for those three years.  Anything he may have otherwise owed is forgiven.

He filed 6 out of 9 FBARs – 3 were completely forgiven.  What a deal!  It sure beats the other way – going back to the last tax returns and reports you have filed that are in the IRS’ records, and reconstructing every year, computing taxes, interest, penalties, etc.

If you know someone who might benefit from this program, let him or her know and have them get in touch with a tax professional.  It’s great not being delinquent.  I’m current!