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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Apple, Privacy & Fools

I've written a lot of blog posts, and believe me, not all of them were tremendously popular.  As soon as I've expressed my usual, iconoclastic views, those whose tolerance runs at lower levels either unsubscribe or write hate letters.  I'm okay with both.  It's the ones who have no opinion I lament the most.

This is one of those posts. I'll probably tick some people off, but if you can stand the rationality, I'd advise your sticking with it, at least to the end of this piece. Then, if you really think I'm out of line, well, I'll see you around.

In the meantime, what I have to tell you may come as a shock, especially if you're the type who gets his news and information from social media like Faceboook and Twitter.  It only gets worse if you only watch lopsided "news" shows on FOX or MSNBC without balancing them off each other.  If you're an American, this may bother you; if you're a young American, this will blow your mind.

As you probably know by now, in 2015, a couple of radical muslim terrorists decided to kill off 14 or 15 of their co-workers in the offices they shared together for five years in San Bernardino, California.  There's no question that the married couple were guilty.  Plenty of eyewitnesses and victims can attest to that.  The couple can't weigh in, because they were killed by a volley of police bullets when they refused to be taken peaceably. 

Along with an infant child, the couple left all kinds of compelling evidence, including their now famous iPhone, whose contents at the time of this writing remain encrypted by Apple's wundertechnology.  The FBI wants Apple's help in decrypting the contents of the phone.  Apple is steadfastly refusing, citing the dangerous precedent of "unlocking one person's phone means unlocking everyone's phone."   Within moments of Tim Cook's announcements, thousands of Apple fanboys rallied to Apple's defense, citing their own right to privacy.  For a minute, that seemed to make a lot of sense, until one realizes a very compelling, sobering fact:

In America, there is no such thing as a right to privacy.

Forget about whether you think Apple is aiding and abetting known terrorists.  Put aside the fact that an iPhone is no different than a file cabinet or a safe deposit box.  For the moment, think about the Constitution of the United States and how nowhere in that document is there anything even remotely close to a citizen's right to privacy.  Nothing. 

What you will find in the Constitution is the prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure.  But if you read that carefully, that doesn't mean the government can't search you or seize your possessions.  It means that it can't be unreasonable about the searches and the seizures.  That's it.  So you have to ask yourself this question:  How unreasonable is it to search the contents of a proven, guilty, dead terrorist/criminal? 

There's a reason the Founding Fathers wrote it the way they did:  The Constitution was adopted when the nation was still young and very vulnerable.  The government needed a balance between personal liberty and attacks on those liberties from within -- very much the same situation we now face with "moles" planted by radical muslim terorists.  However, even the pursuit of those terrorists is accorded the concept of reasonableness.  That's why prior to the cops raiding your residence, they have to find a judge who will sign a search warrant.  The Feds and police can't just barge in and take what they please.  The judge has to sign a warrant attesting to the fact that the search is reasonable and not arbitrary or illegal.

There's nothing in that warrant, by the way, that mentions anything about privacy, because privacy is not a right.

There's a lot of editorial out there bemoaning the entitlement of the younger generation.  One needs only acknowledge the candidacy of Bernie Sanders to see proof of that.  Another aspect of the Sanders campaign is its reliance on a lack of education, especially the way it fuses its advocates' wants and needs into a standard of rights.  But they're not rights.  They're wishes of people who have no education or knowledge about the Constitution. 

And while they may wish privacy were a right, it isn't.  It never has been.

I'm sadly bemused by the temerity of an armchair billionaire like Tim Cook, who prances about, merrily posing as the protector of free speech and privacy, when in fact he's doing nothing more than spinning a danger to the Republic for his own marketing purposes.  There was a time when this country valued its collective responsibility to safeguard its citizens.  We looked after each other because we wanted to, not because we were told to.  Those days, apparently, are over.

Today, it seems perfectly fine to send a soldier to his death to protect your freedom.  What you can't do is crack open a terrorist's iPhone, because, you know, that would infringe on a right that nobody in America ever had to begin with.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Why the IRS Will Never Die

Every four years, we here in America are treated to a national edition of American Idol, in which politicians of all stripes vie for the top spot in the American government. We call it "the national presidential election," but in so many ways, it more accurately resembles a talent show.  Like the television show, it even has a national vote to help decided who the winner should be.

Just as predictable as the show, the national election dredges up the same acts and performances we've come to expect:  Instead of the country music singer, we get the religious zealot.  Instead of the opera soprano, we listen to the noble idealist.  You can see where this is going.  Every four years, it's a reprise of last season's show, with a few new twists.

One aspect that never changes, however, are the candidates' pie in the sky promises, the loudest of which is usually the pledge to "eliminate waste in government."  Of those, the charge generating the loudest applause is in response to the politicians' mighty oaths to slay the dragon that is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

For those of you not in America, the IRS is the Federal government's organization responsible for monitoring taxation, collecting taxes and enforcing tax rules.  It is not, to put it lightly, the favorite institution of American citizens, who view the department as the largest, laziest bunch of clock-punchers whose only mission is to make life as miserable. as possible for their fellow Americans  IRS regulations are not only often inconsistent, they're so complicated that even its own experts can't figure out how to consistently apply the same regulations in identical circumstances.  This makes compliance with IRS rules difficult at best and burdensome at most, costing American citizens and businesses a lot of time and money -- and that's not including the time lost when the IRS decides to audit them.

So it's no wonder that Americans love to hear politicians demonize the IRS and threaten its existence. More than one candidate has sworn to simplify the tax code, reducing a hundreds-page long tax form to a simple post card. Others have gone even further, vowing to wipe the department from the face of the earth.

Newsflash: It's never going to happen.

While promising and never delivering is nothing new in politics, there are simple reasons why nobody in power would ever want to abolish the IRS.  In the first place, the IRS has employed, on average, roughly 110,000 people, all of whom are civil servants.   That's a lot of jobs that can seriously increase the unemployment rate, especially when you figure that without an IRS, there aren't many places for those people to go.

But that's just a drop in the bucket:

The truth is that all that tax code confusion employs even more people in private industry.  In fact, according to franchisehelp.com, "Tax preparation is BIG business – there were 300k people employed at 109k firms in 2012 - generating $9 billion in revenue in 2012. The industry grew over 2% from 2010-2015, and is expected to speed up the pace of growth. Revenues of $11 billion are forecast for 2018. "   You show me one candidate that would boot another 300,000 people out of their jobs -- for a total of over 500,000 unemployed -- and I'll show you a loser.

Yet one more reason why nobody would shut down the IRS is that those 500,000 employees and the 109,000 tax preparation firms generate billions in tax revenue for the Federal government.  How quickly do you suppose any of them would propose losing that income?

Yes, it sounds really nice to live in a world without the Internal Revenue Service.  And yes, we really do have software that could probably handle the workload more efficiently than the hundreds of thousands of people currently sitting in cubicles.  But don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.


Remember, it's a national election. Politics. Nothing is going to happen unless Simon Cowell decides to run for President.