Wednesday, July 31, 2013


1. This is only the first degree-stonewall.

Are you really surprised that the IRS doesn't want to come clean to Congress?

The House’s chief investigative committee on Tuesday accused the IRS of stonewalling its probe into the agency's unfair targeting of Tea Party groups and other politically-affiliated organizations, saying Congress has received only a fraction of the documents it requested and many of those are useless.

The House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee letter directly blames acting Commissioner Danny Werfel for the “systematic manner” in which his agency has “attempted to delay, frustrate, impede and obstruct” the committee’s investigation, despite his promising just weeks earlier to fully cooperate.

“The actions of the IRS under your leadership have made clear to the committee that the agency has no intention of complying completely or promptly with the committee’s oversight efforts,” wrote committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The letter also states that obstructing a congressional investigation “is a crime” and that the committee will be forced to use a “compulsory process” should the IRS continue to use its tactics.

A high-ranking committee staffer told that process could include subpoenas.

This shouldn't surprise anyone. The IRS's power within the federal government arises entirely from its ability to conceal its operations. Were it a transparent and evenhanded enforcer of the tax laws, it wouldn't be nearly so greatly feared. That, to be gentle about it, is not the case.

But Representative Issa might not get the results he wants out of Congressional subpoenas. The IRS's second-degree stonewall involves threats to audit whistleblowers within its ranks and investigators outside them. Such audit threats have proved extremely effective in the past, as virtually everyone with something to protect will chisel around the edges of the tax laws. Even Senators and Congressmen have been cowed by such threats in the recent past.

I applaud Congressman Issa's tenacity, but he'll have to display a grip well beyond that of his predecessors to get the results he seeks. We shall see.

2. What? No scandal?

Incredible, but true:

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves wants to make one thing clear: The network didn't let "NCIS" star Cote de Pablo leave the show without putting up a fight. "We offered Cote de Pablo a lot of money, and then we offered her even more money," Moonves told reporters at the Television Critics Association fall TV previews Monday. "We really didn't want to lose her. We love her; we think she was terrific. ... Ultimately she decided she didn't want to do the show."

De Pablo announced her exit earlier this month, one week before the show was scheduled to begin production on its upcoming 11th season. She expressed her gratitude to the show and its cast and crew and said she would return for a few episodes to end her character's story. But how could CBS lose the leading lady of the No. 1 show on television?

"It was purely her decision," Moonves continued. "'NCIS' was the highest-rated show on television last year. We don't like losing anybody, but we did everything humanly possible. We feel like we exhausted every opportunity, and she just decided she didn't want to do the show."

This seems to be the whole story. A highly-compensated TV star has opted out of the gig that brought her fame and fortune, for no reason other than lack of interest. Unbelievable!

I kinda like it. Usually when you read something like that, it's laced with seedy details of some sort, or the star is really being "encouraged" out the door for pecuniary reasons. It would be interesting to know why de Pablo lost interest in her role as Israeli expatriate / NCIS agent Ziva David, but at this point that's entirely between her ears.

3. Fighting uphill.

My favorite Graybeard brings us a clever but misguided scheme for "fixing" Social Security:

The problem with SS in a nutshell is congress. They have made it like welfare and have changed the rules over time to give away more then ever comes in. The fix is really rather simple. First understand that in the early years going back to at least the 50’s the federal government took money from the SS trust fund and today that amount including compounded interest exceeds $4 trillion.

So the fix: First remove anyone from collecting SS who didn’t pay into the system. Sure there are old folks and kids and disabled who really need the money but cut them off if they were not the actual people who paid into SS. Second set the individual monthly payout to be proportional to what the retiree paid in over their lifetime. That is someone who paid $100,000 into SS will get half as much a month as someone who paid in $200,000. Third make the actual payout consistent with general accounting procedures for a annuity. That may mean a particular retiree only gets $100 a month ( or $500 or $750, etc) and not the more generous $1500 or so that SS now pays on average. And the last step is the most important and that is to adjust the total payout each year so that it does not exceed the total paid into the SS system. That means this year you might get $900 a month but next year it drops to $850 (or could go up too) and every retirees SS benefit adjusts accordingly. This way it is impossible for the SS system to go broke. It only pays out to those who paid in and met all requirements and it always pays out no more then it takes in.

The bottom line is a contract was made and the retirees fulfilled their part of the contract. While we may believe it would be easy enough to simply pass laws and end SS the courts will bat last and there is plenty of precedent for deciding that the federal government would have to use it’s power of taxation to meet this contract. So we either fix the system or we face endless litigation and risk an even greater liability in the future.

This sort of mathematical approach would be pure hemlock to any legislator who might endorse it. He and his allies would be:

  • Telling seniors currently receiving benefits that they'd be getting less;
  • Telling Americans within a few years of retirement that they'd be getting less yet;
  • Telling all working Americans that they'll have to keep paying into the system at current rates even as benefits are declining;
  • Saying all this out in front of God and everybody while younger Americans would have to face increasing financial responsibility for their aged, retired parents.

Ain't gonna happen.

The only way Social Security can be "fixed" is by its abolition. There's only one politically navigable path toward that end:

  • Mandatory first step: Abolish the Social Security payroll tax, both on employee and employer. This "ends the contract" that makes Americans believe they have a stake in perpetuating the system.
  • Statutorily recompense anyone who has paid the payroll tax but has not yet collected benefits, on a constant-dollar calculation, over a period not to exceed five years. That compensation would free the federal government from any as-yet-uninvoked claims for Social Security benefits.
  • Now offer cash buyouts to current recipients of Social Security payments, based on actuarial figures and "present-value" calculations. Many will accept, believing they can do better with cash-in-hand than with time payments whose amount and regularity cannot be guaranteed.

At the end of this process, there would still be some seniors collecting regular payments. But at some point, they would all be -- drum roll, please -- dead. No one who had not yet begun receiving payments would be entitled to them. And the Social Security Ponzi scheme would be equally dead, hopefully never to rise again.


Those of you who, after reading this piece and / or this one, have decided that you'd like to help with the WIFWA mission should email me at either:

- at -
- dot -


- dot -
- at -
- dot -

...with contact information, including what genres you like to read and what genres you write in. I'll keep you posted as the thing matures. And by the way, do not email me merely to say "gee, it sounds like a good idea, and I'd love to help out, but I have to perform open-heart surgery every day for the next fifty years," or whatever BS excuse you intend to offer. That's worse than insulting, as it wastes my time into the bargain.


Weetabix said...

I'm on board with your SS fix. Trying to fix it begs the question of whether the government should be doing it in the first place. It never helps to answer the wrong question.

pdxr13 said...

Weetabix: read to the end.

This is very nearly a proposal I first read on Ann Barnhardt's site.

End it. Don't starve current dependents. End new SS retirees/dependents immediately while the payout schedule is made for people who have been forced to pay in.

Ms. B. suggested that younger Americans (under 50) sacrifice all notion of their payments being an "investment" leading to an obligation. It is a tax, and the money is spent. There is no "account" or "lockbox" with real value in it. If you were born after 1960, you get nada. Current benefits (such as they could be) should be reduced to current revenue (floating) with taxes being reduced as the dependent population is reduced through attrition.

Any serious discussion of this helps to save the nation.

Weetabix said...

pdxr13: I'm not sure what your point to me is.

I basically want it ended in some politically achievable way before it collapses. If it's Fran's way, that's fine. If it's Ms. B's way, that's fine.

But I don't like the idea of "fixing" it with the intent to keep it running. It's not government's business to provide retirement.