Boulder Daily Camera (Colorado)
January 14, 2006


By Molly Ivins

Boy, you really can't take your eyes off this bunch for a minute, can
you? If they're not screwing up one thing, then they're screwing up
another -- busy little beavers. And then there are the administrative
nightmares they have created all by themselves: The new Medicare
prescription-drug benefit is such a disaster area, four states took it
over in less than a week just to make sure poor people received their

Some of the press are starting to get the drill. Give us something
like the West Virginia coal mine disaster, and instead of standing
around emoting like Geraldo Rivera, a few reporters have enough sense
to ask the obvious question: What is this mine's safety record? And
when it turns out to be abysmal, a few more reporters have enough
sense to ask: Who's in charge of doing something after a mine gets 205
safety violations in one year? Where's the Mine Safety and Health
Administration? Who runs it? What's their background -- are they
professionals or mining industry stooges? Who's the Michael
"Heckuvajob" Brown in this outfit? Why are so many jobs at MSHA just
left completely unfilled? How much has MSHA's budget been cut since
2001 to pay for tax cuts for the rich?

The great irony is that this was supposed to be the CEO
administration. Bush was supposed to put people in charge of
government who had track records in private industry, who did in fact
know how to run a railroad. For just sheer incompetence, this
administration sets new records daily. All those years the right wing
sat around yammering about government incompetence, and it took this
administration to make it true.

But while the press is busy sort of figuring out what government needs
to do -- homeland security, anyone? -- other agencies are slipping
quietly out of control, with almost no attention paid. In the case of
the Internal Revenue Service, the problem appears to be more malice
than incompetence.

Right-wing conspiracy theorists used to enjoy frightening themselves
with the possibility that the IRS would somehow become politicized and
be used as a tool by some nasty socialist like Jimmy Carter to go
after their ill-gotten gains stashed illegally offshore. Always seemed
like a good plan to me. Unfortunately, the only people who ever tried
to politicize the IRS were on the right -- first Richard Nixon and now
George W. Bush.

Hundreds of thousands of poor Americans have had their tax refunds
frozen and their returns labeled fraudulent, according to the IRS's
taxpayer advocate, Nina Olson. Testifying before Congress this week,
Olson said the average income of these taxpayers is $13,000. Olson and
her staff sampled the suspected returns and found that, at most, one
in five was questionable.

The poor citizens are seeking refunds under the Earned Income Tax
Credit, a Reagan program to help the working poor. The total possible
tax fraud amount involved in these returns is $9 billion -- compared
to the $100 billion problem with fraud by small businessmen who deal
in cash. That's the kind of shrewd administration we've come to expect
from the Bushies. Olson points out it is not only unfair, but also a
waste of time. Meanwhile, mind-boggling sums in taxes are being evaded
by those at the other end of the income scale.

David Cay Johnston, The New York Times' tax expert and author of
"Perfectly Legal," reports the IRS is now involved in an effort to
cover up these very kinds of incompetence that Olson demonstrated.
"Records showing how thoroughly the IRS audits big corporations and
the rich, and how much it discounts the additional taxes assessed
after audits, are being withheld from the public despite a 1976 court
order requiring their disclosure," Johnston writes. In an episode
reminiscent of the Three Stooges, the IRS simply announced there was
no court order.

This is, of course, part of a far wider and grimmer shutdown of
information about our government. Despite cheerful burbling from the
president ("The presumption ought to be that citizens ought to know as
much as possible about the government decision-making," he said last
year), this administration's love of secrecy is monumental. In fact,
the cost of keeping what our government does secret from the public
has gone up alarmingly: The classification system that cost $4.3
billion in fiscal year 2000 was up to $7.2 billion in fiscal year
2004. That's a lot of Wite-Out.

Meanwhile, the IRS has also tracked the political affiliations of
taxpayers in 20 states. Its explanation is that the information was
"routinely collected by a vendor" and, of course, it made no use of
it. And now the IRS is planning to "outsource" collecting overdue
taxes to private firms around the country. Now, let's see, do we think
any of those private firms will have Republican Party affiliations?

Molly Ivins is the former editor of the liberal monthly The Texas
Observer. She is the bestselling author of several books including Who
Let the Dogs In?

Copyright 2006, The Daily Camera and Boulder Publishing, LLC.