Request for Technical Opinions

Readers of Notes On Liberty must include a fair number of information technology-savvy people. I am not one. I wish to gather opinions on the following question:

Is it possible, over a period of two years, to lose completely two years worth of email emanating from a high-ranking government bureaucrat as well as the emails of six other people?

I ask because I was under impression that you have to try hard to lose any computer information for good. I am also under under the impression that what emails are physically on my computer is irrelevant in the middle-run because everything is stored on a server even if it’s not deliberately backed up. (I back up everything although I am not obligated to do it by law, the way federal agencies are obligated.)

Thank you in advance.

Internal Revenue Service Even Handed After All

Liberal commentators in all media and even on this blog have been eager to announce that the IRS was an equal opportunity offender between Left and Conservative groups and that, therefore, there is not much of a (new) scandal attached to the IRS.

Peggy Noonan resets the clock in her column of Wall Street Journal of 6/29/13. (All boldings below come from me.)

According to a House Ways and Means Committee source , only seven (7) cases of the 298 cases flagged by the IRS for extra scrutiny appear to represent progressive causes. Not one of the seven was subjected to harassment and abuse. Of the seven, only two were sent follow-up questionnaires after their application for tax-exempt status was received […] And all seven saw their applications approved […]

The “source” was not identified by name. Want to bet it does not exist?

[…] Russel George, the Treasury Inspector General whose audit broke open the scandal answered Rep. Sander Levin’s charge that the audit had ignored the targeting of progressives (by the IRS, bolding and comment mine) […]

The evidence showed conservative groups were singled out by the IRS, not liberal groups. While some progressive groups may have ended up on a BOLO list, the IRS did not target them. We did not find evidence that the criteria you (Rep. Levin), labeled “Progressive” were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2013 time frame we audited. One hundred per cent of the groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” or “9/12″ in their names were given extra scrutiny.

Soon, very soon, the Internal Revenue Service will withdraw its apology for misdeeds it gave about two weeks ago precisely for persecuting, treating unfairly conservative-sounding groups. Right?

I wish the liberal deniers on this matter were cunning and twisted rather than something else. It’s easier to deal with conscious dishonesty than with the alternative. Many 1932 Germans were also not twisted, not consciously dishonest; they just would not see the evidence of their eyes.

The Real IRS Problem

It’s heartening to see distrust and resentment of the IRS building up in the wake of the targeting of tea party groups and such. But let’s not overlook the daily predations of the IRS, small and large, which add up to a mountain of costs borne by citizens – not just monetary costs but also mental anguish and occasionally violent confrontations.

Case in point: your humble servant. This morning I received a notice demanding $8,900 in back taxes. Needless to say that ruined my day even though it took me only five minutes to realize that they made a mistake and I owe them nothing. I have high hopes that this will be resolved quickly but you never know. I mentioned my plight to a friend this morning and he chuckled. He once had a $1,400 claim which he fought for ten years until finally he got to the right person at the IRS who found their mistake in five minutes. Did he get an apology? Restitution or compensation of any kind? Of course not.

The complexity of the tax code is often cited as a significant drag on the economy, in terms of time spent gathering information and preparing returns, money paid to tax preparers and tax attorneys, etc.  But there are lots of other bad effects.  No one understands the tax code in its entirety and most IRS agents understand little of it — or worse, what they often think they understand is wrong.  Nor do taxpayers understand it.  This opens the door for errors, misunderstanding, cheating and consequent confrontations, anguish, time and money wasted, and sometimes violence.

If we have to have an income tax (which I’m unwilling to concede), let’s have a simple flat tax and do away with, if not the inherent coercion of any tax, at least the enormous expense and anguish that are part and parcel of the current insane system.

The IRS Crimes: a Gift from Providence to Libertarians

Anyone who has libertarian sentiments, in the Libertarian Party or outside of it, in the Republican Party, or elsewhere; anyone who sees himself as supporting the non-existent, imaginary “Tea Party,” is familiar with the difficulty of explaining even basic libertarian principles. There are three problems:

First, most people are lazy, especially when it comes to re-examining the creeds they absorbed in childhood or youth.

Second, libertarianism is paradoxically too familiar to draw interest. It’s more or less what you learned in high school about the work of the Founding Fathers. (Digression: It’s more interesting for immigrants like me than for the US-born precisely, because we had no superficial exposure to it at the time we had acute testosterone poisoning.)

Third, libertarianism is not sexy. It does not enjoy the emotional ease of access that big words procure: “Revolution,” “Justice,” “Fairness,” “the Future.” In other words, it’s not a cartoon; it ‘s not a reality show; it’s not a vampire movie. It’s an intellectual stance for adults only. Tough call!

Sometimes, though Providence throws us a lifeline. Now is such a time. A libertarian Hollywood scriptwriter, if there were one, could hardly come up with a better script than the current controversy regarding the IRS role in singling out conservative organizations, in persecuting them, in forcing them illegally and immorally to disgorge private information about opponents to the Obama administration. Or about imagined opponents.

The IRS storm happens at the same time as other Obama administration discrediting events:

It is trying to convince America that it did not deny protection to the assassinated Americans in Benghazi, Libya, and that it did not subsequently lie about what happened;

It is imposing on all American universities restrictions on free speech unheard for centuries in the Anglo-American legal tradition. (See Greg Lukianoff in the Wall Street Journal of 5/17/13);

It is attempting to justify spying on journalists on the basis of an unknown national security risk. (It might be justified. There are tried ways to convince the nation that the spying was justified. President Obama shows no intention of using them as I write.)

As far as the IRS persecution of Obama opponents, in my mind, it’s not a question of who is getting fired or of “who is going to jail.” Punishment of the more or less guilty would be low on my agenda. There is a more fundamental problem that is being pushed aside in televised congressional testimonies and in most of the printed press (I think. I welcome corrections.)

Given that the IRS exists as a very powerful, autonomous, large government organization of ordinary but overpaid people, with a proven capacity to hurt large numbers of citizens, it was bound to happen.

That the IRS is a government organization matters a great deal because , in practice, such organizations enjoy immunity from lawsuits. They exist beyond the reach of the arm of the law. But the rule of law is what largely defines civilized societies, of course. Such organizations as the IRS thus tend to pull us back toward a lesser state of civilization. That’s true irrespective of who is president and, to an extent, independent of which party is in power. If you have a famished and crazy dog chained in the backyard, you should not reassure yourself that everything is under control because it’s your house, not that irresponsible, other guy’s house.

It’s true that the IRS crimes now being discussed were somewhat more likely to take place under a Democrat administration. First, the Fascist current runs deep in the middle of the Democratic Party river. It’s the party of Roosevelt, who classically, used war to place as much of the American production apparatus under federal government control as he could reach (even artists). Second, the Democratic Party was the Party of Birmingham’s Bull Connor, of his attack dogs and of his water hoses aimed at peaceful black demonstrators. The Democratic Party is also most closely associated with labor unions, some of which (not all) have a history of thuggery extending a century or more.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, is not sinless but it carries in its veins an instinctive mistrust of government power which serves as some protection though as minimal protection. The rank-and-file Republican is much less likely than his Democrat counterpart to assume that anything is correct just because the government is doing it. Nevertheless, frankly, is there anyone who would assert with a straight face that the currently revealed IRS misdeeds would never happen under a Republican administration?

The truth now staring us in the face is that a free society simply cannot have in its midst a monster such as the IRS (described above). It should not be allowed to arise. If its exists, it should not be allowed to grow (as with the Obama administration giving it big additional responsibilities within Obamacare). Such a government bureaucracy should be given practically no discretion, no power to pass judgment without at least close judiciary monitoring.

How about collecting taxes for freeways, some will say? Supposing it has to be the federal government’s task to build freeways (just supposing) and to perform other necessary functions, it should be done with a simple flat tax allowing no deductions. It should be a low tax of 15% of gross income or less. (I live within my means; so can the government learn to do.) Federal tax collection would look like this.

You would receive a short postcard saying:

“1. Your income last year was___.

2. Send 15% (or less ) of that amount.

Thank you.”

Tax cheaters would have to deal with the local sheriff who would be paid a flat fee for each recovery.

Unrealistic? How about our existing system, is it realistic?

Prêtez attention aux scandales (pluriel) de l’administration Obama

Richard Nixon était parti en disgrâce pour bien moins que l’utilisation de la puissante administration fédérale des impôts (“IRS”) à des fins politiques. Je veux dire l’IRS d’Obama qui a délibérement persécuté ses adversaires politiques à grandeéchelle.

Ce que personne (sauf moi) n’a encore dit à haute voix: La noirceur de peau du président le protège actuellement des conséquences légales et politiques de la noirceur de ses actions autant que de ses omissions.

L’emprise du politiquement correct est tellement grande aux EU qu’on n’y considère même pas (encore) la possibilité de jeter le premier président noir pour les grotesques abus de pouvoir de son administration.

Suivez mon analyse en Anglais sur le meme blog.

Around the Web

  1. A Brief History of IRS Political Targeting.
  2. Listen to the fascists sing.
  3. Philosopher Kevin Vallier’s response to a hatchet job on FA Hayek in a stale (and apparently desperate) Left-wing publishing outlet.
  4. Political scientist Samuel Goldman’s response to the same hatchet job.
  5. The aforementioned hatchet job (in The Nation).
  6. Monkey Gone to Heaven.

The IRS and Fascism

If I wanted to set up a secret police in the US, would I try to create a Gestapo from scratch? Would I call it “Gestapo,” or “NKVD,” or “KGB”?

Or would I rather take an existing, comparatively efficient agency, familiar though unloved by the mass of the people, and simply extend the reach of such an agency? I mean the Internal Revenue Service, of course.

Do I believe that President Obama  ordered the IRS to discriminate against Tea Party-sounding groups and others identified as conservatives? No, I do not.

I think he is responsible for the actions of low-level underlings because he created a statist, totalitarian atmosphere. He did this a lot through his non-actions regarding his old friends, in particular, including the bomber- terrorist Bill Ayres. He is responsible for allying himself with out-and-out extremist groups in his first election. The mainstream press is light-heartedly helping him erode democracy in this country.

None of these important actors is fundamentally evil (not even Ayres today). The president is a man who looks so good in a suit that he is the suit itself in the end, an empty suit. The liberal press is silly in the manner intelligent people who are seldom contradicted become silly. Many of the ordinary Americans who voted for Mr Obama are keeping their eyes and ears tightly shut in an effort to keep believing that everything is alright because they elected a man of color. I mean even college professors, aside from journalists. Black voters have been trained to have low expectations. They tell themselves it’s good enough that the president is (more or less) African-American.  Another kind of supporters, unions, is as corrupt as ever. Take all the teachers’ unions, for example….or, rather, don’t!

I think Mr Obama is the non-Fascist leader of a genuine, grass-root American Fascist movement. The recent discoveries at the IRS are just one manifestation of creeping fascism.

The Second Amendment has rarely been more relevant.

Around the Web

Hope y’all like the new layout of the blog. Take a few minutes to get comfortable. Take off your coat, your shoes and your troubles. Now have a glass of red wine and a look around.

  1. IRS specifically targets conservative Tea Party groups; So the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein naturally defends the IRS for not doing more: Listen to the fascists sing
  2. Ken White has an update on the man who made the anti-Islamic film “The Innocence of Muslims”
  3. Dear life (gun control and gun violence). Again and again: gun violence has been declining for about two decades now.
  4. The Crushing of Middle Eastern Christianity
  5. A Brutal Peace: the Postwar Expulsion of the Germans
  6. Barack the buck-passer. A laudatory account of Obama’s foreign policy that I largely agree with.

Let’s Celebrate Loopholes

I’ve just finished my income tax return. (Have you finished yours?) Silly me, I do it myself using TurboTax – all 59 pages of my federal return plus 80 for California. I’ve got investment income, including partnerships and foreign stock dividends, two small businesses, social security and a pittance of wage income from San Jose State University. And a bunch of deductions and credits.

The whole process puts me in a foul mood, and my wife and even the cats know to steer clear till it’s done. One reason is obvious: the mind-numbing complexity, even with TurboTax. Even more galling is the humiliation and gross indecency of dropping my pants financially. This is the land of the free?

The New York Times had an interesting article in last Sunday’s Magazine, “What’s the Easiest Way to Cheat on Your Taxes?.” The article led off with the assertion: “If economists ran the tax system, there would be virtually no exemptions or loopholes.” To which I say, just a cotton-pickin’ minute! If I ran the tax system, and assuming I couldn’t set the rate at zero, exemptions and loopholes would stay and maybe even multiply.

How can I say this after belly-aching about the complexity of my return? Simple – the complexities provide me enough tax-cutting opportunities to outweigh the damage to myself, my wife and the cats. I’ll leave the details out just in case the gentle folk at the IRS read this humble blog.

Why do I do it myself? Partly because I don’t want to spend hundreds or maybe thousands on a professional preparer, but also because his interests would not align exactly with mine. His primary goal would be to cover his rear, especially with the IRS cracking down on professional preparers. My goal is to achieve the right mix of boldness and caution in claiming deductions and credits.

A good bit of ink has been spilled (and electrons) about “fair taxes” lately. It’s unfair, says the Community Organizer in the White House, that Warren Buffett’s average tax rate (or was it his marginal rate?) is lower than his secretary’s. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that his dividend income has already been taxed at the corporate level. As Gene Epstein showed recently in Barron’s, when you add in that corporate tax you get a much different story. The rich pay a substantially higher percentage of their income than most of us on this basis.

So what is a fair tax anyway? The same percentage for everyone? No exemptions, no deductions? Why is that any fairer than a head tax – a levy of so much per person? How about a regressive head tax, since poor people tend to use more government services than rich people?

What of two people earning the exact same income? Surely fairness demands that they pay the same tax – equality before the law and all that. But suppose Mr. A is a struggling young man with lots of debt, trying to start a family while Mr. B has inherited millions. Both earn the same income but is it fair that they pay the same tax? I leave it to you.

When you get right down to it, there just isn’t any such thing as a fair tax, simply because taxes are coercive exactions – theft, if you will.

Still why wouldn’t a flat tax with no deductions be at least a small improvement, as Steve Forbes and other conservatives advocate? The late Murray Rothbard demolished that idea in The Case Against the Flat Tax. Here’s his comment:

“The closing of ‘loopholes’ under a flat tax will mean a merciless and continuing search-and-destroy mission by which the government will root out and obliterate every little hideyhole in which many of us have been able to squirrel away a bit of our own earnings and are own property, and keep them safe from the ever-expanding maw of the federal government.”

I concur. Let’s celebrate all the loopholes, not just those that protect some of our own income, but any break for anybody at all.