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February 2005   Alan Stang
The Action Is In The Definition by Alan Stang


By: Alan Stang

Let’s look at some random examples of what we have been talking about. On January 4th, 2005, Congressman Hayworth introduced HR 17 in the House of Representatives, a bill to "amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a credit for residential solar energy property."

The bill is known as the "Residential Solar Energy Tax Credit Act" and was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. Section 25C of the bill says this:

(c) Definitions- For purposes of this section--

(1) QUALIFIED SOLAR WATER HEATING PROPERTY EXPENDITURE- The term `qualified solar water heating property expenditure' means an expenditure for property that uses solar energy to heat water for use in a dwelling unit with respect to which a majority of the energy is derived from the sun.

(2) QUALIFIED PHOTOVOLTAIC PROPERTY EXPENDITURE- The term `qualified photovoltaic property expenditure' means an expenditure for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in a dwelling unit.

(3) SOLAR PANELS- No expenditure relating to a solar panel or other property installed as a roof (or portion thereof) shall fail to be treated as property described in paragraph (1) or (2) solely because it constitutes a structural component of the structure on which it is installed.

(4) LABOR COSTS- Expenditures for labor costs properly allocable to the onsite preparation, assembly, or original installation of the property described in paragraph (1) or (2) and for piping or wiring to interconnect such property to the dwelling unit shall be taken into account for purposes of this section.

(5) SWIMMING POOLS, ETC., USED AS STORAGE MEDIUM- Expenditures which are properly allocable to a swimming pool, hot tub, or any other energy storage medium which has a function other than the function of such storage shall not be taken into account for purposes of this section.

Remember, we chose the example at random. Notice that, sure enough, the bill proposes a list of definitions. After all, if you heard about something called a "qualified solar water heating property expenditure," wouldn’t the first thing you ask be, "What does that mean?" Notice that those definitions would be valid only for "purposes of this section." If the terms they define appear in other sections, even in the same law, they would not necessarily mean the same things.

If a definition in a law says an apple is an orange, that is what it means in that law and you must act accordingly. If you insist nevertheless on believing an apple is an apple, you will run into trouble because you will be talking about one thing while the government will be talking about another. Notice that the law defines only the most substantive terms, the ones there could be questions about.

Words that mean the same thing in the law that they mean in common speech are not defined. For instance, the word "is" is not. In general, only an utterly degenerate dirt bag, full of leaking, slimy, revoltingly putrid scum, a man who would make a woman on the make get on her knees to make it, would raise questions about the meaning of "is."

Now let’s look at the proposed Worker Reemployment Accounts Act of 2005, H.R. 26, introduced by Congressmen Porter, Boehner, McKeon and Tiahrt on January 4th, 2005, and referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. The proposal would amend the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to establish a Personal Reemployment Accounts grant program to assist Americans in returning to work. Again, I found this one at random. It includes:


Section 171 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 is amended by adding at the end the following:

(e) Personal Reemployment Accounts-

(1) DEFINITION- In this subsection, the term "State" means each of the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.

You probably figured you knew the meaning of the word "State." You do, but by now you know that under Rule One it means something different here. First, in common speech, the word "State" does not include the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands. The first of these is of course the autonomous area that is home to the nation’s capital. It is not part of any state. The last two are U.S. territories.

But the authors of this piece of legislation want to treat them as if they were states, for the purpose of this law. So, they need to warn you of that fact by defining it. If the word "State" meant in this law what it means in common speech, they would not need to warn you with a definition.

Notice something even more interesting: "In this subsection, the term ‘State’ means each of the several States of the United States . . . ." Isn’t that what the word always means in common speech? Why bother defining it here, as if it were something you did not already know?

The answer is obviously that elsewhere in the law the word does not mean "each of the several States of the United States," so the authors of the law must establish the difference here. Elsewhere in the law it means something else.

Here is a final example. Also on January 4th, 2005, Congressman Bartlett, of Maryland, introduced the proposed Citizens’ Self-Defense Act of 2005, H.R. 47, which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. The Act is meant to "protect the right to obtain firearms for security, and to use firearms in defense of self, family, or home, and to provide for the enforcement of such right." Section 3 of the proposed Act says this:

(b) Firearm Defined- As used in subsection (a), the term `firearm' means--

(1) a shotgun (as defined in section 921(a)(5) of title 18, United States Code);

(2) a rifle (as defined in section 921(a)(7) of title 18, United States Code); or

(3) a handgun (as defined in section 10 of Public Law 99-408).

Yes, you already know what the term "firearm" means. But here in this law it means what the definitions in the law say. To learn what that is, you must go to the U.S. Code sections the paragraph cites. By the way, section 921 (a)(2) of that title says this:

". . . The term ‘State’ includes the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the possessions of the United States (not including the Canal Zone)."

Compare this definition to the one we looked at above: "In this subsection, the term ‘State’ means each of the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands."

Notice that in this latter definition the word "State" includes "each of the several States," in other words Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, etc., all the way down the list to Wyoming. The definition in Title 18, Section 921 (a)(2) does not, which means that particular Code section does not apply to you if you live in Elephant Breath, Iowa.

This also proves that the anonymous authors of the language in our laws know perfectly well how to include the states in a piece of legislation. If they write that the states are included, then they are. If they do not write that the states are included, then they are not. They cannot be included by inference, by implication, by preference or connotation.

Along these lines, go to my book, TaxScam, p. 122, and look at the ruling in Montello Salt Company v. Utah, 221 U.S. 452; 31 S.Ct. 706. It was handed down in 1911, by basically the same Supreme Court that ruled the income tax constitutional just a few years later. The case revolved around the meaning of just one word and its forms: "include," "includes" and "including."

Utah said it means whatever it could grab. The Supreme Court, then composed of Americans—how novel!—said it means "to confine within." So, the word "include" and its forms mean only the things specified and nothing else. The things specified are not just examples of what is included; they are the only things included. If you want to include something else, you can, simply by mentioning them in the law. Remember this comes from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now let’s look at Title 26, Section 1, the Internal Revenue Code, which says, "There is hereby imposed on the taxable income . . . ." What is taxed? The tax is imposed on the "taxable income." I can’t say it any clearer myself. It is not imposed on individuals (or on married couples or "heads of households," etc.). Rather it is imposed on their "taxable income."

So, what do we need to know next? Correct, we need to know the meaning of the term "taxable income," because that is the thing taxed. Simple, let’s just look for the definition in that same Code section. Be with me next time.

Alan Stang has been a network radio talk show host and was one of Mike Wallace's first writers. He was a senior writer for American Opinion magazine and has lectured around the world for more than 30 years. He is also the author of ten books. Go to to read about Alan Stang's blockbuster new novel, He, about the greatest hero of all time, Jesus Christ.

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