Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

Since America began, Americans have been dying to keep us free.

In the Civil War

In the Indian Wars

The Spanish-American War

In World War I

 In World War II

In Korea

In Vietnam

In Iraq

In Afghanistan

Please... Remember and Honor Them Today

Thank you

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"All we have of freedom, all we use or know
This our fathers bought for us long and long ago."
-- Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Corruption and Careerism at the IRS

Images from theweek, unitedliberty, and tpnn

[Full disclosure:  I had a 27-1/2 year career in the Collection Division of IRS, doing and supervising enforced tax collection.  I was honored with the highest awards in both the IRS and the Treasury Department.  I had a 4-year post-career as an international consultant in the field of tax collection reform, during which I was honored with the highest civilian award in the Republic of Georgia.  I earned an MS-Tax from Golden Gate University.]

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The Internal Revenue Service (and it's predecessor, the Bureau of Internal Revenue) has a long history of corruption, mismanagement and careerism.  The IRS was established in 1953 when the BIR was found to be corrupt beyond redemption. The IRS website refers to that change merely as a replacement for "a patronage system".  That's like referring to the Titanic as "a shipping incident".  They describe it like this:

1952 - President Truman proposed his Reorganization Plan No. 1, which replaced the patronage system at the IRS with a career civil service system. It also decentralized service to taxpayers and sought to restore public confidence in the agency.  (My emphasis.)
1953 - President Eisenhower endorsed Truman's reorganization plan and changed the name of the agency from the Bureau of Internal Revenue to the Internal Revenue Service.

Corruption and failure dog the agency to this day.  Presidents used the IRS to their political advantage from the jump.  Now the IRS Commissioner has admitted corrupt interference with conservative, religious, pro-life and public education groups.  Corrupt interference.  Again.

Once there was a guy who broke that mold.  In 1997 Bill Clinton appointed Charles Rossotti as IRS commissioner.  The news was full of stories of ugly IRS Collection Division abuses.  One of CharlieR's jobs was "fix it".  Did a good job, too, eliminating collection quotas, expanding taxpayer rights and creating a culture of customer service.  (No, really.) 

Another systemic taxpayer abuse that Rossotti faced was the illegal manipulation of IRS-approved installment payment agreements.  Senior IRS collection officials hid the facts until they were threatened with Congressional testimony by employees.  They finally fessed up once IRS General Counsel was brought in.  The illegal program was terminated and more than $20Mil in illegally collected taxes was returned to taxpayers.

That's it.  Just one real reformer in all these years.  The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 is his legacy.  Look it up.  Let me know if you can find anyone else in his league.  You won't.  Not one other stand-out reformer before or since.

NB:  I always worked in the IRS Collection Division.  My comments regard things I witnessed, not second-hand stories or tales from other sources.

Most of the employees at IRS provide internal services or are technocrats who deal with technical tax matters.  I was one of the latter.

Technocrat:  a technical expert, especially: one exercising managerial authority.  (Thank you, Merriam-Webster.) 

The public is well served by most of them.  But far too many, especially managers, are simply careerists.  They sniff the wind and go in any direction they think may further their careers.  

Careerist: a professional who is intent on furthering his or her career by any possible means and often at the expense of their own integrity.  (Thank you, The Free Dictionary.)

Careerists think in terms of gaming the system to make themselves look good.  The ethics of the game seldom matter, only the result.  That kind of thinking gave rise to things like collection quotas, seizure (of taxpayer property) goals and promotions based on dollars collected.  Get the picture?

When accused, careerists lie if lies will further their careers or obfuscate inconvenient facts.  Rossotti knew that.  One of his Day 1 acts as Commish was an email to all employees telling us that quotas would not be tolerated and that he demanded high standards.  He told all employees to contact him directly by email if they knew of the existence of quotas as a measuring tool or goal in the IRS.  As expected, the careerists said "Quotas?  We ain't got no stinkin' quotas."  

They lied.  Many were later outed and reprimanded.  Sadly, most stayed with IRS.  But quotas and dollars as management tools at IRS disappeared.  Rossotti was as good as his word.  If you told him about illegal activities he looked into it.  Really.  That sort of involvement was unheard of in the IRS.  He told us how it was going to be and he made it happen.

Today's refrain is "the IRS/government/whatever is too big to oversee."  No, it's not.  It can be done.  If Ike could run D-Day without computers, is it so impossible to imagine that someone can run the IRS with the extraordinary technology they've got?  If Rossotti could do it then, why can't someone do it now?  It does require excellent public servants working very hard in order to run it properly and make course corrections when needed.  People like that exist.

Here's my recommendation:  Mr. Prez, give Charles Rossotti a call.  Ask him to return and fix this mess.  Beg, if you have to.  Play some golf with him, have a beer summit, invite him to meet Jay-Z and Beyonce at the White House, go over to his house and have breakfast.  Do something.  When he gets things going the right way at IRS you can let him turn the reins over to someone you both trust
, but give him passes to all White House performances and State of the Union Addresses in perpetuity.  He will have earned it.  And he's a Democrat.  Take a chance.

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"From my point of view any kind of mistreatment of one taxpayer or one employee is one too many."
-- Charles Rossotti

Thursday, May 2, 2013

25 Years of Continuous Sobriety

This is another of those days that I couldn't believe would ever come.  25 years ago today - May 2, 1988 - I had my first day of a sobriety that has lasted ever since.  I may drink tomorrow, who knows, but I have every confidence that I'll stay sober today.  One day at a time.  25 years ago yesterday I was near death from uncontrollable alcoholism.  Today I planted berries in my garden and haven't drank all day.  See the difference?

I owe the sober life I have to a lot of people.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob were AA's founders.  I still can't believe how perfectly they understood me and my alcoholism 78 years ago.  AA has no gospel, but Bill's book Alcoholics Anonymous comes awfully close for me.  Thanks, guys.

Clair H. took me to my first two AA meetings in Modesto, CA, and has remained my trusted friend.  Thank you, Clair.

My sponsor, Jack B. from Davis, CA, took me under his wing and showed me how to live a sober life and apply the principles of AA, suggestions if you will, to my life.  He guided me through AA's 12 Steps.  He was always there for me until I left California in 1990 for a 5-1/2 year adventure in Alaska.  Thank you, Jack.

My darlin' wife had the great good sense to have nothing to do with me for the first few years but married me in 1993.  I think she was tired of my begging.  Thank you, Edythe.  I owe you more than I can ever repay.

I used to blame everyone and everything for my drinking.  "If you had my life, problems, experiences yada yada, you'd drink, too."  Well, no.  I drank the way I did because I am an alcoholic.  Am, not was.  Simple, right?  Sure, unless you are in the kind of insane denial that I was in.  In that case, it's a deadly delusion.

All of the 12 Steps are crucial to the maturing sobriety of anyone trying for a different life through AA.  However, Step 1 still has the most compelling message for me:
"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable"
Powerless?  Me?  Yep.  Didn't think that was possible.  It's just alcohol, right?  I wasn't that bad, was I?  Everybody drinks, right? Most of us do, true enough, and are able to take alcohol or leave it.  10% of us or so, not so much.  We're alcoholics.  Once we take a drink we lose the ability to stop.  It's not how much we drink, it's what happens when we drink.

Unmanageable?  Me?  How could that be?  Didn't I have a job?  Didn't I have stuff?  Didn't I have achievements?  Turns out, none of that matters.  It's what happens when you drink, and what happened for me was bad.  Very bad.  That's what unmanageable means for me.

I currently have five AA sponsees.  That means five men who want what they think I have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it.  I think highly of each of them and I pray they will get the AA program and let it change their lives.  If I could give them sobriety, I would.  Can't, though.  They have to work their own AA programs to the best of their abilities - I'm honored to be a part of those programs - and rely on their higher power, just as I did with Jack.  Helping them has helped me stay sober, though.  That's the way it's supposed to work.  Bill W. told me so.

My AA home group has two meetings a week.  That's uncommon but I like it that way.  I attend them, hang out with sober friends enjoying the fellowship that AA promises and I work with others.  I'll be at one of those AA meetings in 90 minutes.  Mediocre coffee but terrific people who really care about me and my sobriety, just as I care about them.

Thank you, God.

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God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference

AA's  Serenity Prayer