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Abolish the IRS — and the Income Tax with It
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Economics and Financial Services
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Monday, 20 May 2013
Abolish the IRS — and the Income Tax with It
by Sheldon Richman
 
The Internal Revenue Service has been caught engaging in political profiling while processing applications for tax-exempt status. In this case it was against organizations with “tea-party” or “patriot ” in their names and other right-wing groups. Next time it could be libertarian or left-wing antiwar and pro-civil-liberties groups. No dissenter can ever rest assured he is safe from the arbitrary power of the IRS.
 
Nothing will have been learned from this scandal if all that happens is the firing of some IRS administrators and the issuance of new guidelines on 501(c)(4) applications. That is not nearly enough.
 
Obviously, tax exemptions exist only because individuals and some organizations are subject to income and other forms of taxation. Congress levies a tax on incomes, then in its “wisdom” chooses to exempt certain activities but not others. This is social engineering, with Congress seeking to encourage some kinds of organizations — while not forgoing more revenue than necessary. The IRS then writes rules to carry out the directions of Congress.
 
Where possible, people will naturally strive to qualify for exemption by pushing the boundaries of the regulations. That incentive will always be strong because a nonprofit organization that is exempt from taxation will have more resources with which to pursue its mission. Since the language of statutes and regulations is inevitably vague, the IRS will have room to interpret when ruling on who qualifies and who doesn’t qualify for exemption. The line between vigilance and harassment is not bright, and the potential for abuse is great.
 
It should be apparent that this power, which is inherently arbitrary, ill suits a society that sees itself as free.
 
Take the current controversy. The IRS says that to qualify for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, a nonprofit organization must “be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.” To do that the “organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).”
 
What exactly constitutes the common good and general welfare of the people of the community, or civic betterment and social improvements? The IRS will let you know. What does “primarily” mean and how does it relate to the seemingly contradictory exclusivity requirement? This is subject to a “facts and circumstances” test — that is, the IRS will decide. Approved activities are generally regarded as educational, but how broadly or narrowly that term is interpreted is left to the IRS and, if challenged, to the courts. Lobbying for “legislation germane to the organization’s programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes.” However, direct or indirect participation in political campaigns is not regarded as promotion of social welfare — although an organization “may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. However, any expenditure it makes for political activities may be subject to tax.”
 
As this demonstrates, once government undertakes to tax income, it acquires even more power through its authority to define “income,” “taxable income,” subsidiary terms, and the rules of exemption. There is no escape from arbitrariness and caprice.
One might propose to remove the government’s arbitrary power by ending tax exemption. But that would make the tax burden worse. And besides, politicians aren’t likely to agree, because they would be giving up the power to dispense favors that manipulation of today’s tax code affords.
 
There’s a better way to go that’s demanded by liberty and justice. Since taxation is nothing less than the confiscation, under threat of force, of what belongs to productive individuals, it has no place in a free society. In other words, everyone should be exempt from income and other taxation. (Americans lived without income taxation for more than 125 years.) If something can’t be accomplished through consent, contract, and cooperation -- without aggressive force -- we should ask whether it is worth doing.
 
When the income tax was first proposed in America years ago, opponents always had the same word of warning: inquisitorial. How right they were.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
Christians Rebuke God
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Religion and Spirituality
Written by Jacob G. Hornberger   
Thursday, 09 May 2013
Christians Rebuke God
by Jacob G. Hornberger
 
One of the primary justifications for the welfare state comes from Christians. They say that the welfare state demonstrates the willingness of the American people to fulfill God’s commandments with respect to human relationships.
 
The Ten Commandments include “Thou shalt honor thy mother and father.” In the New Testament, Christ tells us that the second-greatest commandment is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” God exhorts people to show compassion and care toward their fellow man, especially those in need.
 
Social Security and Medicare, it is said, demonstrate the willingness of Americans to honor their parents and other elderly people with retirement pay and free health care. Medicaid, public housing, food stamps, and education grants show the care and compassion that Americans have toward the poor. The welfare state in general, many Christians hold, shows that Americans are a good, caring, compassionate people, people who are fulfilling God’s will.
 
Actually, however, it’s the exact opposite. In actuality, the welfare state constitutes a rebuke of God. Here, in a nutshell, is the message that Christian statists give to God with their embrace of the welfare state:
 
Lord, we understand how You want us to behave toward our fellow man, including our parents, the poor, and others in need. You want us to show compassion and care toward such people. You want us to lend a helpful hand to them.
 
But the problem, Lord, is that You made a big mistake when You vested mankind with free will. Don’t feel bad about that, Lord. Everybody makes mistakes.
 
When You gave people the great gift of free will, You obviously believed that people would use their freedom to choose rightly and correctly. Such has not turned out to be the case, however. If people were free to decide for themselves whether to honor their mother and father — to care for them in sickness or old age — the discomforting truth is that most of them would say no. The same goes for helping the poor and others in need. People are just too selfish, Lord. You should never have trusted them with so much freedom.
 
But don’t worry, Lord, because we have corrected Your mistake. We have constructed a system in which everyone is forced to participate, a system in which people are mandated to help the elderly, the poor, and others in need. It’s called the welfare state.
 
The beauty of our system, Lord, is that, unlike your way, individual choice is removed from the equation. If someone refuses to pay his income taxes or Social Security taxes, both of which fund the welfare state, he goes to jail.
 
In that way everyone is forced to participate. Under the welfare state, everyone has been made good, caring, and compassionate. We are pleased to tell You that we figured out a way to avoid the horrible consequences of Your gift of free will. God bless America!
 
But God’s way isn’t founded on force or compulsion but instead on freedom of choice and exercise of conscience. By vesting man with free will, God wanted people to have the right to reject their neighbor and even Him. He understands that the essence of free will entails, by necessity, the right to say no.
 
Thus, while God tells us what He expects of us with respect to compassion, care, and charity, He does not force us to obey. He leaves the choice up to us. His process is a natural one, one based on freedom of choice and voluntary action.
 
Do some people choose the wrong way under God’s system? Of course. But that’s what freedom of choice is all about. Interesting enough, however, it is through that process — making the wrong choice and then grappling with one’s conscience — that people are often led in the correct direction, but without the application of any force.
 
Thus, the welfare state, with its system of coercion and compulsion, constitutes a denigration of God’s way. By denying people freedom of choice with respect to care, compassion, and charity toward others, the welfare state actually serves to mock God and His natural system of free will, voluntary choice, and exercise of conscience.
 
Jacob Hornberger is president of the Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia (www.fff.org).
 
Coalition Letter to Congress Regarding E-Verify Reforms
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Advocacy and Letters - Advocacy and Comment Letters
Written by Coalition   
Friday, 03 May 2013
May 3, 2013

Dear Member of Congress:

We, the undersigned organizations, representing thousands of businesses and millions of Americans from all sides of the political spectrum, write to express our desire for greater accountability in the electronic employment verification (E-Verify) provisions of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (Title III of S. 744). We believe that a simple reform is needed to protect small businesses and their legal employees.

Our concern is that the system could create unnecessary burdens on Americans by initially failing to confirm hundreds of thousands of authorized workers. If the present E-Verify error rate (0.26%) was applied nationally, it would fail to approve 156,000 authorized employees every year.

As E-Verify’s rollout expands from just 7.5 percent of employers to 100 percent, it is vital to us that the error rate remains at least this low. Errors thrust employers into a state of regulatory uncertainty as to whether their new hire will be able to work or not. Many small employers lack the full time human resource staffs necessary to help workers correct these problems, and they will often incur significant costs attempting to do so.

Errors also burden legal workers, forcing them to spend time and money sorting out the errors at federal offices. These errors will disproportionately impact authorized foreign-born workers and naturalized citizens, who are at least 20 times as likely to receive an error as a native born American, according to E-Verify’s most recent independent audit. Based on this number, one recent study found that foreign-born workers would receive 82 percent of all errors. This could create an incentive for discrimination against foreign-born workers. It also places an undue burden on the Social Security Administration, impacting seniors and those with disabilities who rely on a timely response from SSA.

Basic accountability can protect both workers and employers. We propose that Congress require that E-Verify’s error rate remain at or below its current level before small businesses are forced to comply with the mandate. This gives the government over four years to work out any issues with the system, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano has already testified that she believes that the current rate can be maintained.

Requiring the government to consider the impact on small businesses and foreign-born workers before E-Verify implementation is just simple accountability. It will protect businesses from the bureaucratic limbo that comes from not knowing if a new hire will be able to work, and it will give authorized employees the confidence that their transition to a new job will not be subject to costly and unnecessary delays.

For these reasons, we urge you to support this commonsense reform.

Sincerely,

Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Lawyers Association
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American Policy Center
Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform (AZEIR)
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Last Updated ( Monday, 06 May 2013 )
 
Did President Obama “Radicalize” the Tsarnaevs?
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Did President Obama “Radicalize” the Tsarnaevs?
by Sheldon Richman
 
If the Brothers Tsarnaev’s bombing at the Boston Marathon is an argument against immigration, then Tim McVeigh’s bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is an argument against reproductive freedom.
 
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came to the United States from the Caucasus as youngsters. On what grounds should they have been barred from the country? That their family was Muslim? Does that mean all Muslims should be forbidden from immigrating? And if so, wouldn’t that mean no Muslim should be allowed to visit the United States either?
 
That’s where this silly line of thinking leads: the exclusion of an entire group of people because of their families’ religious affiliation. Yet this is a position embraced by many conservatives, such asLaura Ingraham, a radio talk-show host, author Ann Coulter, and Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity. After the bombings, Hannity said, “If people are coming from countries where perhaps they grew up under Sharia law, I think we can make a safe assumption that they have been radicalized. I think allowing foreign students into the country without investigative background checks that are exhaustive is a mistake and it’s putting Americans at risk.”
 
What would an exhaustive investigative background check on 16-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and 9-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have revealed? Not much, I imagine. About as much as would have been revealed by a background check on 16-year-old Tim McVeigh. Perhaps Hannity and his ilk would find it simpler just to exclude anyone coming from a Muslim country. But then they would have a problem with the prospect that an immigrant might convert to Islam once he or she is in the United States. Would they prohibit that? Or perhaps they would deport anyone converting to Islam. They might have a constitutional problem expelling an American citizen who became a Muslim, but their stated devotion to limited government has not deterred them in the past.
 
Authentic advocates of freedom — who understand that the freedom to cross arbitrary national boundaries without first securing government permission is a natural right — are appalled by the fear mongers’ attempt to seize on the Boston Marathon bombing to score points for the anti-immigrant cause. The fear mongers are trying their hardest to break the momentum of even the bogus immigration “reform” moving through Congress. Bogus “reform”? Yes, indeed. The consensus that has emerged, and which the xenophobic right can’t abide, holds that those human beings who have come here without government permission ought to have a pathway to legal status — but only if they pay fines and taxes and learn English. This act of alleged humanitarianism would be combined with a reinforced border and revised rules to make sure that only immigrants of a quality “we” can use are allowed into the country.
 
Hannity & Co. call this amnesty, while fearing that the border won’t be secure enough.
 
Like these conservatives, I believe amnesty is inappropriate — but for a very different reason: The people who crossed the border without permission did nothing wrong, so there’s no offense to forgive. But didn’t they break the law? To be sure, they violated a statute, but as natural-law advocates have long taught, a statute that conflicts with natural law and natural rights is no law at all. Thus, so-called illegal immigrants, who are merely people without government papers — big deal! — should just be left alone: no penalty, no fees, no back taxes, and no hounding them to learn English. And the welcome mat should be put out for those who wish to come here. We’d all benefit.
 
The government should no more engineer the immigrant population than it should engineer the native population. Freedom really should count for something. (Note that conservatives don’t think free enterprise includes the freedom to hire whoever is willing to work.)
 
But let’s not deny the potential danger that someone who comes to this country might want revenge against Americans for a perceived injustice. There’s actually a good way for the government to reduce the chances of this happening: it can stop invading, occupying, bombing, droning, embargoing, and torturing people in foreign countries.
 
Who “radicalized” the Brothers Tsarnaev? My candidate is President Obama.
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) in Fairfax, Va.
 
What If the Tsarnaevs’ Motive Was Revenge for U.S. Foreign Policy?
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Terrorism
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
What If the Tsarnaevs’ Motive Was Revenge for U.S. Foreign Policy?
by Sheldon Richman
 
On the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, President Obama stood in the White House briefing room and said, “We will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this.”
 
What motivated the murderous acts allegedly committed by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarvaev is the question on everyone’s mind. We would be surprised if it were not.
 
But will people remain interested in the motive if they don’t like what they hear?
 
Judging by the recent past, the answer might well be no. After 9/11, people wondered why anyone would kill indiscriminately by flying airplanes into buildings. The Bush administration and others leapt to an unlikely conclusion: the hijackers “hated our freedom.” That seemed to satisfy most people. But it made little sense, and based on previous incidents, we already had ample reason to believe the answer lay elsewhere. Earlier perpetrators of violence from the Middle East had made clear that what fueled their hatred of America was U.S. foreign policy in the region and the larger Muslim world. Osama bin Laden’s own fatwa against the United States named three offenses: support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the presence of American military forces near Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia, and the devastation of Iraq through 10 years of bombing and economic sanctions.
 
But most American officials did not want to hear — and did not want the American people to hear — that Muslim violence was in retaliation for U.S. foreign policy. When Ron Paul, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, criticized U.S. interventionist foreign policy during a primary debate, he was admonished by another candidate, Rudy Giuliani, among others, who claimed he had never heard such an outrageous thing. Giuliani was either lying or unaware that the official 9/11 commission and the Pentagon had previously acknowledged that U.S. foreign policy creates resentment among Muslims.
 
What about the Tsarnaevs? We await the facts, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reportedly told authorities his acts were motivated by "religious fervor." But it’s a good bet this resentment was part of their motivation. The Tsarnaev family is Chechen, but Chechnya’s beef is with Russia, not the United States, so that seems an unlikely source of a desire to kill and injure runners and spectators in Boston.
 
It is more likely the young men were angered by U.S. drone warfare that has killed thousands of Muslims in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia; brutal occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan; backing for dictators and corrupt monarchs throughout the Muslim world; and unwavering material and moral support for Israel’s oppression and humiliation of the Palestinians, with no end in sight. TheWashington Post reports that a neighbor of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older, deceased brother, told him, “In Afghanistan, most casualties are innocent bystanders killed by American soldiers.”
 
If revenge for U.S. foreign policy was the motive, what will happen next? Will such evidence prompt a national reconsideration of America’s decades-old imperial foreign policy? Or will it be quickly dismissed, while the bombings are exploited in an effort to double down on that foreign policy. U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Republican, has already begun that effort. (Interestingly, Alberto Gonzalez, who was attorney general under President George W. Bush, acknowledged on CNN over the weekend that U.S. foreign policy is indeed resented by Muslims abroad and prompts a desire for revenge.)
 
There is much we still don’t know about the Tsarnaev brothers and why they chose their deadly path. (What, if anything, did it have to do with Chechen organized crime?) Maybe it will turn out that they simply developed a hatred for what they saw as American licentiousness and felt they needed to strike out at it. (That Dzhokhar Tsarnaev partied at his college after the bombings, casts doubt on that prospect.)
 
It seems far more likely that the murder-by-drone of Muslim children, the no-knock night raids of Afghan homes, the daily humiliation of and violence against Palestinians, and the support for violent and corrupt rulers are what made these men want to exact vengeance against Americans.
 
Of course, none of this would justify killing innocents. But if we wish to prevent such wanton crimes in the future, we’d better understand what motivates the criminals who commit them.
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) in Fairfax, Va.
 
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