With all the partisan bickering in Washington and the vitriolic anti-government rhetoric filling the airwaves across America, it can be hard to tell where made-up BS ends and reality begins. Before cutting programs like Medicare, shutting down the entire US government (sending every government employee home without a paycheck) or defaulting on our debt (say goodbye to the dollar), let’s all take a deep breath, step away from the TV and the radio, and replace opinions with facts, rhetoric with knowledge, and political religion with practical analysis.

Yes, something needs to be done about both the national dept and the federal budget deficit. That goes without saying. But shutting down the US government and asking the US to essentially… file for bankruptcy overnight isn’t just an overreaction, it is also counterproductive. The US won’t be better without the EPA, the FDA, the IRS, OSHA and the Department of Education. Americans won’t be better off without Social Security and Medicare. Trust me. Those programs exist for a reason. No matter how much some people want to go back to “the good old days” of 1792, we’re in the 21st century now, and the expectation of what it means to be a country, a nation, a society have evolved. High standards of living and food safety, a world class infrastructure, competitive public schools and access to affordable medical care have replaced the reality of high infant mortality rates, witch trials, fortified hamlets, slavery, and rampant illiteracy. Throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater is not the answer, no mater how angry some people are with government waste, corruption and abuse of power.

So again, let’s everyone take a deep breath, give the anger and rhetoric a rest, and begin the process of understanding exactly what is working, what isn’t working, and where we can begin to make the kinds of course adjustments that will yield real results. We will all be better off if we take the time to solve these problems calmly and carefully instead of just taking a chainsaw to everything the US has struggled to build for the last two hundred years, just because some jackass on TV or the radio tells us it’s the right thing to do.

First things first: Understanding where your tax dollars actually go. Forget the dept for a minute. Unless you have a PhD in macroeconomics, you might as well be arguing with each other about superstring theory. Once you grasp the basics, then you can get back to dept, trade deficits and surpluses, monetary policy, and the interconnectivity of global currency markets. For now though, start at the beginning. Start with the basics: Understanding why taxes exist, what your federal tax dollars pay for, and how everything gets parsed out.

Because this sort of information shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone, the White House created a handy interactive digital worksheet to help us see for ourselves exactly how our own tax dollars are put to work. Just go to whitehouse.gov/taxreceipt to check it out. Regardless of your political views, it’s a handy tool that will help you better understand how your taxes are actually spent. (Opinions are nice, but they’re a lot more useful when backed up by facts, aren’t they?) If you are still angry at the world and President Obama and imaginary socialist one-worlders after playing with the worksheet, that’s up to you, but at least you will know how your hard earned tax dollars are spent (and not spent). It’ll be a good start.

Kudos to the folks at whitehouse.gov for creating the worksheet, and a big thumbs up for both clarity and transparency. (Especially the transparency.)

Happy tax returns, everyone.