Politicians and bureaucrats are notorious for manufacturing euphemisms -- clever but deceptive substitutes for what they really mean but don’t want to admit. That’s how the phrase “revenue enhancement” entered the vocabulary. Some of our courageous friends in government couldn’t bring themselves to say “tax hike.”
“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
National Treasury Union President Colleen M. Kelly recently described the 2014 IRS budget allocation as “woefully inadequate.” But the agency has not proven itself to be an efficient steward of taxpayer dollars. Here are ten ways the IRS lost the trust of the American people.
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
“When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” is a common refrain I often hear from the Neo-Cons when there is a threat, credible or otherwise, that the U.S. government is going to take their firearms.And, when I hear this crazy talk, I agree with […]
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
Do you trust your doctor? Most patients assume their doctor is working in their best medical interests whenever he or she orders a diagnostic test or recommends a particular treatment. Customers might wonder whether an unscrupulous auto mechanic is being truthful when he recommends a brake job or a new transmission. But most patients trust […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
On Feb. 7 the United States will once again reach its statutory debt limit, meaning it cannot legally borrow any more money. Since the obvious option of cutting spending to match the amount of revenue that the government collects is off the table for some inexplicable reason, Congress will have to pass a new, higher […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
For critics of the surveillance state, it is tempting to see President Obama’s speech a few weeks ago as a partial victory: Prompted by Edward Snowden’s leaks and the public pressure for National Security Agency reforms, he announced significant changes to the program that collects and stores information about all telephone calls. And he promised […]
We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
“I have not done anything wrong,” Lois Lerner, head of the IRS’ nonprofit division, told a congressional hearing. “I have not broken any laws.” Then she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to be second-guessed by the Congress that is supposed to be watching over all agencies of government.
Seeing the IRS grilled like this is something many people have waited for their entire lives. It’s lovely and a sign of the times (government has never been this unpopular). But contrary to Ms. Lerner, it is possible to not break laws but still do wrong things.
The truth is that there is nothing right about an agency that routinely and legally loots the public of a third of private income and presumes the right to take what is left if we, as citizens, fail to comply with every jot and tittle of the regulations.
Sadly, that is not the scandal Congress is interested in. The scandal is that the IRS seems to be discriminating against groups based on their political outlook. And truly, it is alarming to see it all so clearly and to know that the practice was so widespread. Let’s hope these hearings on Capitol Hill are part of a larger project in which Congress takes on the role of actually looking into what the government is doing to the people.
Let’s consider the larger context. In most any authoritarian regime in history, most people felt free, and they enjoyed that freedom as long as they never crossed a (sometimes invisible) line.
Talk to anyone, for example, who lived in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Everyone knew the rules. For the most part, the regime would leave you alone. You could go about your life raising a family, working and enjoying various luxuries. If you minded your own business, it didn’t feel anything like tyranny.
But if you became interested in politics and actually sought some kind of change in society, matters would be very different. At that point, you became a threat. You could be woken any night by a knock on the door and dragged off, never to be heard from again.
In other words, in any authoritarian regime, the main goal of the government is to protect itself from outside threats and maintain its monopoly on power. So long as you didn’t disturb that monopoly, all was well. (For more on how this works, see Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s The Great Fiction.)
The idea of America is that we don’t have such issues here. Think back to Norman Rockwell’s democratic iconography. The farmer stands up in the town hall meeting to voice his opinion. He is unafraid. Everyone listens. We all have a voice.
The idea of democracy is that there is no such thing as a regime, as traditionally understood. Instead, we govern ourselves. We do not fear mixing in politics. There is no one to come get us if we hold to one perspective over another. There is no such thing as getting on the wrong side of the governing elite, because everyone is a member of the governing elite.
That’s the legend, in any case. It has nothing to do with reality. Starting a little more than 100 years ago, a permanent class of rulers came into being. They are not voted out or voted in. They answer to no one. The laws they enforce can be new or old. You can’t dislodge these people. Their tenure extends beyond any administration.
This is the real structure of government in this country, all Norman Rockwell paintings aside. They have a class interest in protecting themselves against reform, to say nothing of the wrath of the people. This necessarily means that they have an enemies list. If you are collecting taxes, groups that file for approval calling themselves “Citizens Against Taxes” are certainly on the list.
What this incident shows is that there really is such a thing as a ruling class, and that there are people who are regarded as enemies of the state. We aren’t quite to the point at which your political opinions can elicit a knock on the door at night, followed by a sudden disappearance. No, the discrimination is usually, but not always, more subtle than that. In the “free” USA, it might only mean delays and audits.
Still, it offends our sense of justice.
Just as these hearings are taking place, I’ve found myself deeply troubled by the arrest of libertarian activist Adam Kokesh. Last weekend, he was speaking at a pot legalization rally. The police gathered around him. Then, out of nowhere, they arrested him and took him away. They turned him over to the feds, who shut him in a cell without bail.
Judging from the videos posted online, he hadn’t done anything wrong. He was only speaking. He wasn’t even smoking pot. When the charges came down, he was accused of resisting arrest, though no resistance is evident in the videos. And so there he sits.
Many people are more than slightly suspicious that his arrest had nothing to do with the pot rally. He was actually targeted for planning an edgy little gathering on July 4 in Washington, D.C. He had urged people to join him in exercising their Second Amendment rights with an armed march on Washington. Imprudent? Probably. Illegal? Probably. But the point is that this might have led to a certain alarm and targeting, in the same way that the groups applying for nonprofit status were targeted.
But there are no congressional hearings over this. In fact, there isn’t much sympathy, either. The conservative forums I’ve seen have cheered on the police. A white nationalist website even went further to say that his arrest is a good thing because Adam (an Iraq war veteran) is Jewish.
Thus, we can see how the Bill of Rights is so selectively enforced and applied. Adam has no First Amendment rights. And his Second Amendment rights don’t exist in D.C., even if they do exist in a neighboring state. But the IRS official can invoke her Fifth Amendment rights and not even be compelled to answer questions put to her by Congress.
Authoritarian? It’s looking more that way every day.