Tag Archives: Internal Revenue Service

SYNDICATED COLUMN: If You Don’t Hate the Government You’re Not Paying Attention

Massachusetts — Boston City Hall

Boston City Hall is considered by architecture experts to be one of the ugliest buildings in the United States.

Imagine a store that makes its customers miserable. This interior is ugly and uncomfortable. At best the staff is indifferent and slow; at worst rude and incompetent. You pay sky-high prices for inferior goods. Often you pay full price yet leave the place empty-handed.

You don’t have to be a marketing expert to guess what would happen to such an establishment. It would go out of business. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if a mob of ripped-off consumers burned the place down.

I’ve just described the U.S. government.

You interact with government many times each day. How many of those encounters are positive?

Close to zero.

Let’s look at the single-most common connection between governments and citizens: the payment of taxes. Sales taxes on goods and services — painful and annoying. Income taxes — the same. What do you get back for paying for your taxes? Nothing specially for you. Sure you benefit from public schools, roads and so on. But those bennies are shared. And you might not even use those. What if you don’t have kids, or send your kids to private school because the public school isn’t good enough? Aside from the occasional unemployment check, most people never receive direct help from “their” government.

When we interact with agents of the state — the employees of the metaphorical store I described up top — it’s a miserable experience. OK, you’re thrilled when the firefighters show up. But you’ll probably never have to call them more than once in your life. The vast majority of the government workers you meet aren’t there to help you. They’re out to lower your quality of life.

Here, in rough order of frequency, are the government workers you are most likely to come into contact with:

Cops: they exist to give you tickets. Fines for minor offenses are exorbitant: $150 on average, up to $2400 in some states. Points raise your insurance rates. You might even lose your license. If you’re black they harass you; they might kill you. Once in a blue moon, they might save you from danger. Mostly it’s about the tickets.

TSA: the Blue Derps of the airport world delay your trip, mess up your neatly packed luggage and steal your precious fluids and sharp objects. There’s no evidence they’ve ever foiled a terrorist.

Clerks at government offices like courthouses, the DMV or Social Security: unlike the aforementioned they probably won’t take your money or possessions. Instead they waste your time. Sluggish, cynical and uncaring, the typical civil servant drags their feet with no apparent sense of urgency. Many are surly and rude.

Jury duty: in a perfect world, could be interesting. Most municipalities make jury duty as inconvenient as possible, particularly for the self-employed and parents and other caregivers. Why can’t you write a letter to ask to be excused?

IRS: if you hear from an agent, you’re being audited. Be prepared to cough up thousands. If you’re lucky.

Government facilities are as awful as the people who work there.

Government buildings and offices tend to be old and rundown. Given that wait times drag on interminably you’d think they might provide such basics as comfortable chairs with charging stations and work booths for your laptop and wifi, but no. They could pick up a cue from restaurants that give you a buzzer or text you to let you know when your table is ready so you could get a coffee or whatever while you’re waiting — right. Like they give a damn.

God help you if try to call a government office. Crazy voicemail phone trees, brief office hours (they’re open while you’re working), long hold times, arbitrary disconnections and, if you ever get through, probably no help in the end.

Obviously there are dedicated public servants who view taxpayers as valuable customers and work hard to help them. But these saints are exceptional. Here we’re discussing your typical interaction with government and government workers. Those interactions suck.

By global standards of injustice and inconvenience these problems pale next to getting blown up by a Hellfire missile or being raped or succumbing to cancer. Nevertheless they have serious repercussions.

Lousy customer service by government inexorably creates and grows contempt not merely for specific government agencies like the police but for government in general. Particularly on the right opportunistic politicians exploit the resentments of people who feel mistreated and neglected by a government that supposedly serves them. I get nothing from the government and I work hard, get rid of welfare for lazy slobs! Hell, as Ronald Reagan said, government is the problem, not the solution — get rid of it entirely!

Anti-government sentiment is a major motivation for Donald Trump’s Tea Party base. Liberal entreaties that we ought to appreciate such important “socialist” government services as a military that protects our borders and public universities that educate our children fall on deaf ears (and not just among conservatives) because those positives are psychological abstractions.

Our material day-to-day interfacing with government is as I describe it above: relentlessly negative. They suck away our cash, slow us down and disrespect us.

Crappy government is more of a feature than a bug. Offices are poorly maintained and uncomfortably furnished for a reason: budget planners don’t prioritize renovations. Financial cutbacks in the public sector mean below-market salaries and dead-end jobs without opportunity to advance so it’s hard to attract the best and smartest workers. You can’t blame those who get stuck there — even the good ones — for turning surly.

Bureaucratic dysfunction is so entrenched it’s hard to imagine an improvement. But the blowback will come.

Look at images of revolutionary uprisings throughout history. Crowds of people consumed with rage roam the streets destroying everything in sight.

Look at images of collapse. Hollow expressions from years of being beaten down.

Whether by revolution or implosion, a system that ladles out as many industrial-sized buckets of contempt-provoking annoyance and oppression as the United States government must inevitably go the way of that suicidal, idiotic store.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Real Reason to Impeach Obama

Why Is the FBI Helping a Monstrous Dictator?

Forget the IRS, AP and Benghazi. The real scandal this week — the corrupt politicization of the nation’s top law enforcement agency — is President Obama’s decision to carry water for one of the world’s most evil dictators.

In a little-noticed move, Obama’s FBI has arrested Fazliddin Kurbanov, a 30-year-old Uzbekistani political dissident who, were this 1983, would be dubbed a “freedom fighter.”

Kurbanov faces the generic catchall charges used since 9/11 by the feds against low-level Islamists: conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization — in this case, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — and conspiracy to provide material support to (individual) terrorists. As usual, the “material support” charge doesn’t amount to much: the indictment alleges that he researched and made videos about how to make IEDs to use in Uzbekistan.

Major plot point: Kurbanov’s “terror plot” did not target the United States.

Nearly as important: the IMU is not at war with the U.S.

Originally based in rural Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan, the IMU’s goal is to overthrow Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov, the most brutal of the dictators that have run the Central Asian republics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Karimov’s regime brooks no dissent: torture and murder of political opponents (and of businesspeople who refuse to pay bribes) is widespread. Officialdom is breathtakingly corrupt, sucking the oil- and gas-rich republic dry. Universally feared and reviled, Karimov is best known for boiling dissidents such as Mazafar Avazov and Khuzniddin Alimov to death (details and a gruesome photo of the 2002 boilings can be found in my book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?“), and for personally orchestrating the 2005 Andijon Massacre, in which at least 400 civilians were slaughtered by Uzbek security forces.

After Andijon, even the ethics-deficient Bush Administration decided that enough was enough, pulling U.S. forces out of Kashi-Khanabad airbase, which it had leased since 2001, and slashing military aid.

Which did nothing to rein in the tyrant. “The Uzbek constitution imposes a two-term limit, but Karimov was elected to a third term…His government engages in routine torture of citizens and has subjected dissenters to forced psychiatric treatment,” reports Parade magazine. All three of Karimov’s “opponents” in the 2007 election campaigned on his behalf.

Even by the cynical standards of international realpolitik, Karimov is radioactive — the kind of over-the-top despot Americans normally consider targets of “regime change” or at least trade sanctions. No civilized country should maintain diplomatic relations with Karimov, a tyrant whose abuses equal or exceed those of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi.

“Radioactive” is an unfortunate choice of words, since Uzbekistan’s uranium mines (along with vast reserves of Caspian Sea natural gas, oil, and a pipeline and refinery network strategically linked to its petroleum-rich neighbors Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) is part of the reason the United States is sucking up to him.

Rather than targeting Karimov with drones or cruise missiles, Obama has the butcher of Andijon on speed dial, reaching out in 2011 to ask the Uzbek leader for permission to ship war materiel through his benighted country into U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. In 2012, despite a Human Rights Watch report that found that life under Karimov had gotten worse since Andijon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama agreed to restore Karimov’s billion-dollar aid package.

Even in this economy, it seems, a billion bucks only goes so far. To further ingratiate the U.S. to Karimov, the White House has targeted the IMU. Bear in mind, the IMU has never attacked the U.S. Even though a U.S. airstrike killed an IMU founders in 2001, the group has never declared its intent to attack the U.S. Its beef is with Islam Karimov; its goal is to establish an Islamist state in Uzbekistan.

The IMU’s misfortune has been to fall on the wrong side of the “enemy of our friend is our enemy” equation. We’re in bed with Karimov and his fellow Central Asian dictators. Our icky prisoner-boiling pals hate the IMU.

No doubt, the IMU is a violent insurgent group. During one of its periodic summer offenses, the IMU kidnapped four American mountain climbers in early 2000 — an offense that prompted Bush to declare the group a State Department-designated terrorist organization. But the fact that the climbers were American appears to have been unrelated to their capture. IMU offensives also swept up Tajik and Kyrgyz civilians and soldiers, and four Japanese geologists. (Kyrgyz security forces claim to have disrupted a 2003 IMU plot to blow up the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, but such claims, often ploys to attract U.S. foreign aid, should be met with skepticism.)

Like many radical Muslim groups in Asia, some members of the IMU — a small cadre of fighters estimated to number between 300 and 500 men — trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. After the 2001 U.S. invasion they fled across the border into Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, where they established alliances with and fought alongside various Pashtun Islamist groups. IMU fighters have clashed with U.S. occupation forces in Waziristan and Afghanistan. But the IMU has shown no sign of bringing the fight to the U.S. IMU ideology is local and regional, limited to spreading Sharia-based governments first and foremost in Uzbekistan, and in countries like Pakistan if possible. No one — not even the FBI — alleges that the IMU plans to attack the U.S.

The U.S. government is at war with radical Islam. The question for Americans is: In a conflict between a monstrous dictator and a small group of would-be revolutionaries trying to overthrow him, should we take sides — especially the side of the dictator?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Investigating the Investigators

IRS Targeting is a Scandal, CIA Targeting is Business as Usual

“We’re fighting for you!” That’s what the Democratic Party tells Democratic voters and what the Republican Party tells Republicans. But even their “battles” reveal how similar the two parties really are.

Case study: what gets investigated.

Less than a week after the news broke that the IRS engaged in ideological profiling in 2011 and 2012 — targeting Tea Party-related non-profits for checks into whether they were violating the terms of their tax-exempt status by spending donor money on political ads — top Democrats joined their GOP counterparts to demand a Congressional investigation. That’s lightening quick for government work — and yet not fast for some. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida, ’16 prez prospect) called for Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to resign immediately. President Obama called the IRS’ actions “outrageous” and “contrary to our traditions.” The IRS has already apologized.

This all goes to show that the federal government can turn on a dime when it wants to do something. It’s a matter of priorities. Millions of Americans whose homes were stolen by banks in illegal foreclosures waited five years for $600 settlement checks that bounced; the Fed gave the executives of those banks $7.77 trillion in a matter of days, no questions asked.

So it goes with what gets investigated.

Thrown under the bus in a matter of days, the IRS is already getting ground to mincemeat. Meanwhile, a spectacular panorama of Bush-era abuses have yet to draw the attention of a single Congressional subcommittee.

The 2000 stolen presidential election fiasco? Still no investigation — even though retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote in the 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore, now agrees with constitutional lawyers who say the high court had no jurisdiction in the case and thus shouldn’t have heard it.

There still hasn’t been an independent investigation of 9/11.

No one has ever been questioned, much less held accountable, for the invasion of Afghanistan (ostensibly to catch Osama bin Laden, though he was already in Pakistan), the installation by the U.S. of the unpopular Hamid Karzai as a U.S. puppet, huge cash bribes paid to Karzai by Bush and now Obama,  or the lies — an impeachable offense — about Saddam’s WMDs used to con the public into war against Iraq.

People outraged by Bush’s torture program, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention of innocent people, including children, at post-9/11 gulags at places like Guantánamo, the “salt pit” at Bagram and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia — even on prison ships on the high seas — hoped that President Obama would make good on his campaign promises to investigate these horrific crimes against international law, U.S. law and common decency. Instead, he obstructed justice — another impeachable offense — issuing a directive to his Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies to ignore them. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he told a TV interviewer on January 12, 2009, eight days before taking office.

“At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe,” he said. “I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”

Yes. God forbid our heroic torturers should face any questions about jamming forced enemas up prisoners’ butts. Sorry: I meant our extraordinarily talented torturers.

And, now a flashback to April 14, 2008 — a mere nine months earlier. Candidate Obama told The Philadelphia Inquirer: “If I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law.”

Except the CIA. And the military. And Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice and Dick Cheney and John Yoo and, of course, George W. Bush, who explicitly authorized the torture and other high crimes, and is now an elder statesman with his own library and everything.

To recap:

Both parties think it’s bad bad bad for the IRS to target right-wing pseudo-nonprofits for audits.

Both parties think it’s perfectly fine A-OK doubleplusgood to target the buttholes of random Muslims you kidnapped from Afghanistan or Yemen or wherever.

What the IRS did was, of course, wrong. But I’d rather be audited than butt-raped. Butt-raping, especially butt-raping that occurs before illegal auditing, should be investigating before illegal auditing.

Both parties also agree that if there’s ever been something that doesn’t need investigating by anyone, ever, it’s drones. Yes, a whopping 1.8% of Congress recently held an “unofficial hearing” (toothless PR stunt) and politely requested that Obama provide “further clarification of the legal justifications behind drone strikes.”

But no one —not even Vermont’s token “socialist” Bernie Sanders — has called for an investigation into a drone war that ridiculously remains “classified,” a secret to everyone but the dead, the maimed and their survivors. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky, ’16 prez prospect)’s filibuster merely demanded whether Obama planned to drone any U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. (Since he has already droned U.S. citizens on foreign soil, we know the answer to that.)

I’m not Suze Orman, but please let me help you save a few bucks. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, the next time you get a campaign mailer asking you to support them because they’re “fighting hard for you,” chuck that sucker into the recycler. The truth is, the two major parties are on the same page on just about everything.

They’re not fighting for you.

They’re fighting for themselves.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: You Want a Job, Right?

Herman Cain and the Criminalization of Poverty

Pizza baron Herman Cain leads in the polls. Yet nobody believes he can win the Republican nomination. The fact that the #1 candidate doesn’t stand a chance is an improbable truism emblematic of our broken-down political system.

Partly it’s that he’s black. Republicans are racists.

Partly it’s that the nomination was promised to Mitt Romney. He’s been waiting. It’s Willard’s turn.

It’s not the accusations of sexual harassment. Republicans are sexists. For the GOP touching the hired help (or wannabe hired help) is the droit du CEO.

The reason Cain isn’t allowed to be president is money. Romney is spectacularly wealthy. Cain is merely rich. As of October Romney had used his white-male Wall Street connections to raise $14 million. Cain had a paltry $700,000.

After reports surfaced that Cain had groped Susan Bialek, a woman who asked him for help landing a job, Cain received $250,000 in contributions in a single day. Attempted rape—she says he tried to force her head into his special place—pays.

Unsurprisingly, the Cain campaign went to work smearing the credibility of his accusers. One of his proxies, right-wing radio talker Rush Limbaugh, took to pronouncing Bialek’s surname “buy-a-lick.”

Cain’s main attack, however, is focusing on the women’s finances. “Who Is Sharon Bialek?” asked a Cain campaign email to reporters.

It was a perfect illustration of what’s wrong with the media.

“The fact is that Ms. Bialek has had a long and troubled history, from the courts to personal finances—which may help explain why she has come forward 14 years after an alleged incident with Mr. Cain, powered by celebrity attorney and long term Democrat donor Gloria Allred,” said the Cain camp.

Well, sure, Bialek’s past-due bills “might” explain why Cain waited so long to speak out. For that matter, she “might” be a delusional space alien who prefers Domino’s. Heck, she “might” even have vomited at the thought of her groper becoming president.

Who knows anything, really?

Not Cain—he’s never heard of neoconservatism. But I digress.

Back to Cain’s smear campaign. The narrative is simple: this bitch is poor. I’m rich. She’s lying about me to pay her bills.

The fact that the media plays along with such reasoning shows how elites wage class war against the 99 percent of us who work for a living.

“Ms. Bialek was also sued in 1999 over a paternity matter,” spat the Cain campaign. “In personal finances, PACER (Federal Court) records show that Ms. Bialek has filed for bankruptcy in the Northern District of Illinois bankruptcy court in 1991 and 2001…Ms. Bialek has worked for nine employers over the past 17 years.”

The New York Times added some context.

“Saddled with $17,200 in legal fees related to a paternity fight with the father of her infant son, Ms. Bialek filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. Her income had dropped to $19,000 in 2000 from $38,000 the year before, court records show, and she had only a few thousand dollars in assets. Court records show that Ms. Bialek has continued to experience money troubles in recent years. The Internal Revenue Service in 2009 filed a lien against her for $5,176 in unpaid taxes, and an Illinois lending company won a judgment last year for $3,539.”

Bialek and her attorney anticipated attacks that she was planning to profit from her account, announcing that she would not sell her story. That should have done the trick, but no. Cain’s smear tactics appear to be working so far.

No one but Bialek and Cain know what happened that night back in 1997. Regardless of the truth, the implications of Cain’s approach should be troubling. To follow Cain’s argument to its logical conclusion, anyone who has ever had money problems can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

Poor people are liars.

Rich people are not.

Which no doubt comes as news to former clients of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

Bear in mind, there is no evidence that Bialek or the other women committed perjury, or fraud, or embezzlement. Their characters are not at issue. Bialek’s sin, if you agree with Cain, is that she’s broke.

These days, who isn’t?

Over a million Americans a year file bankruptcy. One in nine Americans have seriously considered it since the economy died in 2008. According to Cain, they are all—to a man, or is it just women?—lying sacks.

The I.R.S. filed liens against over a million Americans in 2010, a 60 percent increase from the year before. Are they inherently untrustworthy?

I’ve gone to court. I’ve had judgments against me. I don’t think I was more honest before those things happened.

The Tories of Great Britain widened the gap between rich and poor, then cast the poor into debtors’ prisons. Like their ideological forebears, Cain and his fellow Republicans want to criminalize poverty. Thanks to their pro-corporate policies, which have dominated the U.S. for 40 years, the economy is dead. The ranks of the poor, the dispossessed, the bankrupt and the tax non-payers like Susan Bialek have grown and continue to expand.

To be poor, Cain and the GOP argue, is for your word to be worthless.

Bialek may or may not be lying. Either way, her veracity has nothing to do with her income. “It’s not about me,” she told an interviewer. “I’m not the one running for president.”

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL