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Probable Cause



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Jillian’s terrific piece on the homepage is a riveting glimpse into the resources the Government of the United States can deploy when an ordinary citizen makes the mistake of catching its eye.

Catherine Engelbrecht is a small businesswoman who three years ago, for the first time in her life, got politically active. In short order, she attracted an IRS audit of her personal taxes, and of her business, and the full proctological monty of her non-profit — plus visits from the FBI, OSHA, and the ATF. The most powerful government on the planet decided, for no valid reason, to go fishing in the Engelbrechts’ lives in a sustained effort to turn a law-abiding couple into criminals, and determined not to rest until they’d got the goods on them. There are no goods to be got, but to America’s shame this is now a land in which there are laws against everything — or, at any rate, regulations (we’re way beyond laws at this stage) — and any one of us is in non-compliance with something or other any hour of the day. So, if they’re serious about getting you on something, anything, eventually they will. And they’ll take as much time as they want: The process is the punishment.

Meanwhile, who regulates the regulators? The president’s senior communications adviser dismisses media queries as “offensive“; the attorney general sneers at attempted congressional oversight as “unacceptable“; and the IRS commissioner insists that to target individual citizens for bureaucratic harassment on the basis of their political beliefs is “absolutely not illegal.”

That last one reminds me of the great George Jonas’s observation three decades ago when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were discovered to be burning down the barns of Québec separatists. With his customary glibness, the prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, blithely responded that if people were that upset by the Mounties’ illegal barn-burning maybe he’d make it legal for them to burn barns. As Jonas remarked, M. Trudeau had missed the point: Barn-burning wasn’t wrong because it was illegal; it was illegal because it was wrong.

That’s the distinction that wretched boob of an IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, and too many of his federal colleagues no longer grasp, if ever they did. Consider this tease (top left-hand corner) on the home page of Government Executive, the magazine for senior federal bureaucrats:

The Vast Majority of IRS Employees Aren’t Corrupt

Great. So, if the vast majority aren’t, what proportion is corrupt? Thirty-eight per cent? Thirty-three? Twenty-seven? And that’s the good news?



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