Clowns to the left of us... jokers to the right... what a hoot it is to watch them jump and howl.
Trade barriers... LGBT bathroom policies... the Dow... Elizabeth Warren... Rudolph Giuliani... unemployment... QT [quantitative tightening]... Canadians sneaking across the border to buy our shoes – there’s no shortage of louche entertainment in yesterday’s events.
But what about tomorrow? We learn from the papers that computers can beat us at chess, write better essays, and drive our cars.
So far, so good.
Alas, these same computers can also pick our face out of a crowd... cancel our credit cards... and take away our passports. Using algorithms and Big Data, they can also identify us as “undesirable”... or worse.
That’s when your editor sees the scaffold going up in front of him... and there is the hangman approaching with a noose in his hands.
Last week, a couple of reports added to his soucis.
First, the IRS announced that it would block passports for 362,000 Americans who are late on their taxes.
From where in the Constitution does the tax collector get the right to confine citizens who have never been convicted of a crime? We don’t know.
We believe our own accounts with the IRS are in good order. But the “tax code” had 74,608 pages in 2016; there is plenty of room for disagreement, ambiguity, and interpretation.
Our own tax return is more than two inches thick. It is prepared by professionals.
Could they make a mistake? Of course, they could. Could the IRS make a mistake… or worse, intentionally try to make life difficult for us?
It would never do such a thing, you say.
In 2013, the IRS apologized for targeting conservative groups for extensive auditing. It admitted that it had given especially harsh treatment to groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names and promised it wouldn’t do it again.
Of course, it won’t. And it won’t make mistakes, either.
Targeted by Spooks
Already, in addition to the IRS’s “no passport” list are the feds’ “no fly” and “hit” lists.
An interesting feature of these lists is that you never know if you are on them… or why. The feds don’t have to prove anything.
An interesting case arose recently wherein a man found out, apparently by accident, that the feds were trying to kill him.
He went to a wedding in the Middle East… and in came a missile attack. Who were they shooting at? Then, he realized it was him! He thought it was an accident; the spooks had mistaken him for someone else.
But there was nowhere to go to appeal... no court in which he could prove his innocence.
The whole matter was hidden from view, behind a sordid screen of “national...