Jackass Abiding

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Column by Paul Hein.

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If you were to ask people on the street, “Are you law-abiding?” the vast majority would say, some with evident pride and self-righteousness, “You bet I am!” A smaller percentage would say, after some hesitation, “Sure, I guess I am,” and a very few might grimace and say, “Only when I have to be!” Thank God for this last group!

Since childhood, we have been indoctrinated with the virtual sanctity of the law. “You mustn’t take the law into your own hands,” is a shibboleth we’ve all heard countless times, with never an explanation of why we shouldn’t. The few who’ve given the law any thought might conclude that the law is precious because it is the means by which our rights are preserved, the authorization for our representatives to punish the wicked, and bring order to society. Only if you have actual experience of “the law” in action might you come to question these truisms.

I came to this conclusion after talking with a friend about problems he is having with the local tax authorities, who claim he has a substantial tax liability based upon information they’ve received from the Internal Revenue Service. My friend has an inquisitive mind, and decided to search the Internet for any rules governing the transfer of presumably private and personal data from one government agency to another. He discovered Sec. 6103(d) of the Internal Revenue Code, title 26 of the United States Code. That section states, quite plainly and clearly, that the exchange of information from the IRS to a state agency can only be done upon the written request of the head of that agency. Moreover, the request must indicate the individuals at the state agency authorized to receive such information. My friend wrote to the local tax-demanders, and requested to see a copy of the letter from the head of that agency--call him Mr. X--to the IRS, seeking his personal tax information, and disclosing the persons at the state agency authorized to receive it. His letter was ignored.

When a hearing was scheduled, my friend filed with the hearing commissioner (a sort of quasi-judge, employed by the state--never mind the gross and obvious conflict of interest) a Request for Admissions, asking the state to admit or deny that Sec. 6103(d) required the head of the state agency to ask, in writing, for the information which it claimed to have received. The state’s answer: admit. (Of course, it could hardly deny what anyone could read in the statute.) The next RFA asked: admit that there was no such letter written by Mr. X to the IRS. The state’s reply? “This request for admissions is denied.” Of course!! After admitting that it must request, in writing, the information which it claimed to have from the federal authorities, the state refused to admit it had not written such a letter pursuant to the very law which they had acknowledged as relevant. Why would it deny such an innocuous request if it had followed the law?

On the chance that the letter had been written, but would not be disclosed, my friend then filed a motion for discovery, asking to see a copy of the letter from Mr. X to the IRS that requested his personal tax information. That request was denied. There are only two possibilities: either the state followed the law, and wrote the request letter, or it didn’t. If the former, providing a copy of the letter would prove the legitimacy of its actions. If the latter, it would be acting in violation of its own statute, while simultaneously demanding obedience to a host of other statutes imposing obligations from my friend. In that case, its position would be based upon what lawyers call “fruit of a forbidden tree.” Hmmm.

I mentioned this curious state of affairs to a couple of lawyers. One laughed. “They do that all the time,” he said. “Does that mean that a violation of the law that’s habitual ceases to become a violation?” He laughed again. “They always do that,” he repeated.

The second lawyer didn’t laugh, but he smiled. “That would be a case of ‘harmless error,’ or ‘technical error’” he said. That meant, he explained, that the “error” on the part of the taxing agency wouldn’t make any difference in the outcome of the hearing. It was, I gathered, similar to a typographical error, or an accidental mis-statement. No big deal at all! (When push comes to shove, statutes that hamper the collection of taxes can be ignored.)

Except that it WAS a big deal, meaning the difference of thousands of dollars to my hapless friend. So to call it “harmless” means that, one way or another, the tax thieves would get the money, law or no law. THEY would not be harmed! It was, no doubt, agents of the state that gave birth to the doctrine of “harmless error” to explain their lawlessness.

Law-abiding? Mr. Bumble summed it up: The law is an ass! How much respect do you tender an ass? More, perhaps, than you should tender some asinine “public servants.”

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Paul Hein's picture
Columns on STR: 128

Comments

Paul's picture

My own ruminations on the law: http://strike-the-root.com/law

These days I look at the law as two things 1) a jobs program for a lot of government functionaries, and 2) a form of propaganda to keep the peons quiet and submissive. The former is self-explanatory; by the latter I mean that is creates a fantasy world in which justice is dispensed equally to all, but the reality of course is that the law applies only to the peons. The main distinguishing characteristic of the ruling class and its minions is that the law in reality does not apply to them (although now and then a minion might be thrown under the bus if he has not adequately done his job for the rulers).

It's true that despite the above, which is lately becoming more and more visible, there are still a lot of peons who make a fetish of obeying the law (particularly the conservatives - or that recent term for them, the "cuckservatives"). All I can figure out about them is that they have a dearth of self respect.

Higgs Boson's picture

You are one of my favorite writers. Have followed you for many years. I registered on Strike-The-Root just so I could tell you that.

emartin's picture

If someone was a coward and wanted to hide it. Wouldn't they pretend that being law-abiding was of the utmost importance?