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How Earnest Is The IRS?

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Sometimes those who wield power over us seem less than honest about whether they’re following their own professed rules, including rules mandated by law.

The latest example comes to us courtesy of the watchdog group Cause of Action, which filed a Freedom of Information request for correspondence between the IRS and the White House about tax returns. The correspondence may reveal something about, say, political targeting of  taxpayers by IRS and/or Obama administration officials and/or others.

The IRS admits that it has more than 2,000 documents related to the request. It has been ordered by a court to release them. But the agency refuses to do so, citing confidentiality requirements. Yes, Gentle Reader. Because taxpayer information must be kept confidential, no information relevant to whether confidentiality requirements have been violated may be divulged.

How about releasing the communiqués after scrubbing any taxpayer addresses or Social Security Numbers? I mean, if taxpayer confidentiality is a genuine concern.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest either joshingly or earnestly assures The Hill that the Obama administration has been “very rigorous” in enforcing proper communication between the IRS and the White House. I fear that his knowledge of the 2,000 documents — and of the Obama administration’s record of truth-telling — is not exhaustive. . . .

How likely is this obstructionism motivated by concern for taxpayers?

I bet it’s motivated by concern to protect the posteriors of bureaucrats and politicians.

I salute all those refusing to let the stonewallers get away with it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Dark Guardian of Opacity

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Sen. Harry Reid has his reasons that reason does not know.

Well, Nick Gillespie of ReasonTV (and .com) doesn’t know them. But he has his suspicions.

While the House has passed the Federal Reserve Financial Transparency Act, aiming to audit the Fed, Senate Majority Leader Reid balks at bringing the proposal up to a vote in Congress’s upper chamber. (Gillespie says it won’t happen, not while Reid has his say.)

In the House, both parties supported the audit — a majority of Democrats, and all Republicans save one lone holdout giving a Nay vote. But Reid, whose commitment to corporatism and opacity is well known, presumably fears the upwelling of good old republican values in the Old Man’s Club that is the U.S. Senate — Reid’s romper room for so many decades.

Egads, he must be thinking, even Senators Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul agree on the need for some sunlight into the dark corridors of America’s bank cartel.

And they don’t agree about much of anything!

Gillespie spells out the whys of transparency. He also explains the basic context: “The central bank is explicitly tasked with the fundamentally incompatible duties of conducting stable monetary policy, promoting full employment, acting as a lender of last resort, and regulating the banks it works with. Good luck with all that.”

Who needs luck when you have power? Some do benefit from the current Old Boys’ system. They’re just not the general citizenry. Or republican governance.

A free society would have a very different banking and monetary system. Adding transparency might begin the process toward such a system.

Next step? Boot Harry Reid out of his cushy position of power.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Candid Cameras for Cops

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Should policemen be required to wear cameras?

Some already do. The rationale for the proposal is this: when police wear cameras that — with a few carefully defined exceptions — must be on whenever officers are on the job, they do their jobs better.

With respect to the furor in Ferguson, Missouri, a big question is what exactly happened there the day a cop shot and killed Michael Brown.

Officer Darren Wilson claims self-defense; he and eyewitnesses disagree about details.

It would have been helpful to have video of what happened. (We do have video of an immediately preceding incident: of Brown, a large man, robbing cigars from a local store and shoving the protesting store owner, a much smaller man.)

Or consider another case I’ve discussed, that of Eric Garner, the New York City cigarette seller killed by an officer’s chokehold despite Garner’s repeated insistence that he couldn’t breathe. That death was recorded on a bystander’s cell phone. What if it hadn’t been? The shock has spurred renewed calls to begin outfitting NYPD with cameras.

But there’s no reason to limit pilot programs to the Big Apple.

Some police work, like meetings with confidential informants, cannot be recorded without making the work impossible. But cops who are on the beat, entering a home, stopping motorists and the like should be recorded while doing these things. With appropriate safeguards against “malfunction,” the cameras could both prevent unnecessary violence and support officers who are in fact justified in using deadly force.

Until the advent of universal peace and harmony, let’s give the cameras a try.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Dog-Ate List

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

It’s hard to keep track of things. It helps to make a list.

I’m trying to follow all the IRS-scandal stonewalling, the latest example of which is how emails inculpating Lois Lerner and others have mysteriously disappeared; with, allegedly, no server backups (see my latest Townhall column, “The Dog Ate My Country”).

How many ways have fedgov officials fudged, fabricated, prevaricated, and otherwise non-cooperated with investigators after news broke that IRS had targeted for special harassment sundry conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status?

  • When the head of IRS’s department overseeing nonprofit applications, Lois Lerner, felt compelled to admit that IRS had specially targeted right-leaning organizations applying for nonprofit status, she and others put the main blame on a few low-level clerks.
  • Lerner twice formally refused to testify to Congress about the doings of her own department. Yet she also asserted, formally, that “I have not done anything wrong.”
  • IRS says it’ll take many years to comply with congressional requests for relevant documents. IRS was prompter when it handed abundant confidential information on conservative nonprofits to the Justice Department so that they could be selectively prosecuted.
  • DOJ selected an “avowed political supporter”  of President Obama to lead a meaningless “investigation” of the targeting of Obama’s critics. No prosecutions of wrongdoers are in the works.
  • Initially professing outrage at the IRS’s “inexcusable” targeting, Obama later airily dismissed the affair as a “phony scandal.” On which occasion was he lying? (Hint: both.)
  • Major media outlets do all they can to abet the stonewalling.

What did I miss?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

One Cheer for an IRS Man?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

I’m hesitating. But given the way many IRS honchos have too often behaved throughout the agency’s history, including today — yes, I’ll applaud Randolph Thrower for saying no to a President.

Thrower died in March at the age of 100 as the “IRS Chief Who Resisted Nixon.” He had headed the agency from 1969 to 1971, before getting fired for challenging the administration’s political hardball. Nixon henchman John Ehrlichman delivered the pink slip.

White House staffers were pressuring the IRS to audit various activists, journalists and congressmen. These were persons that Nixon felt deserved government harassment.

Too often, IRS officers have been all too eager to politicize tax procedures at the behest of those in power. Not Thrower. He may have been guilty of naïveté. When asking to meet with the President, he said he felt sure that Nixon knew nothing of the pressure coming from underlings and would repudiate “any suggestion of the introduction of political influence into the IRS.”

Thrower’s request for a meeting was denied. The record shows that Nixon soon demanded his removal and also that the next IRS commissioner be a “ruthless [s.o.b.].”

My problem with Randolph Thrower is his failure to say anything publicly about why he was fired. By speaking out, he might have prevented some of the evildoing the White House would perpetrate over the next several years.

He owed that much to his employer: us.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Tax Agency and the Tortoise

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

We are indebted to a publisher of tax information called Tax Analysts for its efforts to make the Internal Revenue Service slightly more accountable.

The IRS finds itself beleaguered, sort of, by scandal — the fallout from their practice of impeding applications for tax-exempt status of Tea Party and other “patriot” and “constitutionalist” groups. But the agency doesn’t always cooperate with investigations of its conduct.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Tax Analysts has sued the IRS to obtain all materials used since 2009 to train Cincinnati personnel in the art of handling applications for tax-exempt status.

Folks at the IRS had at first “agreed” to comply with the FOIA request for these instructions ─ which will shed light on what, exactly, employees have been told at various times about how to deal with applicants of various ideological hue. But the agency kept dithering, first telling Tax Analysts that it would supply the stuff pronto, then saying it needed more time; then saying the same when the next-named comply-by date arrived; etc., ad infinitum.

Like the ever-slowing competitor to Zeno’s tortoise, the IRS found it impossible to ever cross the finish line or actually supply any documents.

Yet these guys slap us with penalties if we’re late with the taxes. . . .

Well, Tax Analysts has seen the IRS’s delaying tactics before. So now the matter is in court. Sooner or later we shall learn whether the agency’s own written instructions counsel ideological discrimination, or these instructions are untainted by such but have been flouted by IRS officers.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The National Confessional

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Secrecy in diplomacy and intelligence-gathering is supposed to protect the nation. But secrecy also protects bad policy . . . including great crimes that undermine our security.

This week, the National Security Archive released onto the Web the first official admission that agents of the United States government brought down — by assassination and violent coup — Iran’s democratically elected president, Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, 60 years ago:

The explicit reference to the CIA’s role appears in a copy of an internal history, The Battle for Iran, dating from the mid-1970s. The agency released a heavily excised version of the account in 1981 . . . but it blacked out all references to TPAJAX, the code name for the U.S.-led operation. Those references appear in the latest release.

The sunsetting of the secrecy provisions on the information finally provides sunlight, transparency, to this crucial moment in history.

Crucial, because it involved public American support for Masaddeq’s successor, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, “the Shah of Iran.” The Shah became quite brutal in his embrace of “modernism” and (this is hard to write with a straight face) “Western values,” including the suppression of religious dissidents. This led to the fundamentalist Muslim backlash, with Mid-East Muslims widely interpreting American intervention and support for the Shah as both imperialistic and anti-Islamic, setting up the current “clash of civilizations” . . . in which neither side ends up looking good.

It’s interesting to note that much of the secrecy about the event not only covered up American crimes, but British ones.

America’s foreign policy seems so un-American. In so many ways.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.