Ex-nun Karen Armstrong writes in her iconoclastic book “A History of God” that the rationale behind sacrifice of the first-born child in the ancient pagan world was the replenishment of the strength of the god believed to have begat it (begetting is what gods and men did in those days). In the intervening years mankind has made strides with the invention of the wheel, the plough and the iPhone but, as has been shown for the umpteenth time over the last fortnight, human sacrifice is still alive and well and living in Washington DC. I refer to the sacrificial dismissal (euphemistically called a “resignation”) of the Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven Miller, over bias against Republican organizations in the period prior to his appointment when the Service was under the command of a Bush Administration appointee.
The story so far.
Back in 2010, when Barack Obama was a lame-duck president looking at his prospects for a second term (as opposed to today, when he is a lame-duck president not looking at his prospects for a second term), the Cincinnati Ohio lair of the Internal Revenue Service was busy checking applications for 501(c)(4) status. 501(c)(4) is one of those rare teaspoonfuls of the milk of human kindness hidden in the Internal Revenue Code that grants tax-free status to organizations established for “social welfare” purposes. This is not quite the same as Apple which spends lots of money on tax attorneys and accountants to achieve a similar result. In examining applications, the junior level IRS team charged with rooting out dodgy applications made the unfortunate mistake of scanning the list of 2400-odd requests for potential abusers rather than putting on a blindfold and stabbing a pin in the sheet. Snuck amid the Aid the Aged, Help Our Heroes and Welfare for Warfare Widows organizations were Superpacs and suchlike aiming for the social welfare of Tea Party Members and other such weirdos standing for election to Congress. They rather naively used “Tea Party” or “Patriots” in their names – in their reactionary zeal they would have done well to take a leaf out of Mr Waverley’s book in the sixties’ series “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” – he ran his operation from behind a Chinese Laundry.
Anyone who has ever departed an American airport knows that “profiling” is not in Homeland Security’s oxymoronic lexicon. I, an overweight Jewish Accountant with a British passport, have on more than one occasion been subjected to a rigorous search while jealously observing prima facie candidates for Guantanamo Bay breezing past on the way to an early rendezvous with the Duty Free shop and its tempting illicit alcohol.
Jumping over the murky bits, two weeks ago at a meeting of the American Bar Association Steven Miller, the Acting Tax Commissioner,”planted” a question to Lois Lerner, the now suspended head of the Tax Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, that solicited a pre-planned apology for procedures that had singled out organizations that were trying to deprive the nation of its rightful taxes. Second mistake: if you work for the IRS don’t try to be too clever – it later transpired that, in making the apology, the IRS were trying to dampen down the effect of a Treasury audit that was about to be made public.
The time was now ripe for the Republican gum shoes on Capitol Hill to put the boot in. Who gave the orders? Who knew what? When did they know it? Why did they shut up? Did the White House know? Did someone tell President Satan-Incarnate?
Dragged before a Congressional Committee, the Acting Commissioner. who had not even been in office at the time, was forced to resign. His predecessor, Douglas Shulman would have been made to resign but he couldn’t because he had already gone, so he just got dragged before the Congressional Committee. Joseph H Grant, the IRS tax exempt organization supremo, suddenly remembering that he had always wanted to take up fishing, took early retirement . Lois Lerner – she of the apology to the Bar Association (how anyone could choose to apologise for anything to a forum of lawyers, I will never understand) – took the 5th Amendment and was promptly sent on a paid vacation in the hope that she would regain her power of speech.Meanwhile, Attorney-General Eric Holder did what Attorney-Generals were appointed to do – look serious and announce a criminal investigation.
This seems something of a storm in a teacup. I can understand the Republicans’ indignation at being caught with their hands in the till while freeloaders with names like “Hospices for the Terminally Ill” and “GLBTs for Congress” got away with it, but the wholesale sacrifice of senior competent personnel who had personally done little or nothing wrong in order to assuage the fury of the gods is primitive. It is also counterproductive – giving a boost to the careers of those it was designed to destroy.
No longer do we slaughter and burn our sacrifices. As recently as 1759 Voltaire wrote of the execution of Admiral John Byng for not managing to do more in battle with the inadequate resources placed at his disposal by the British Government. Nowadays, we send them out through the revolving door. I had previously never heard of Steven Miller or Lois Lerner (when her name came up, my first thought was of a lovesick Superman). When, in six months time, they almost certainly appear as senior partners in major Washington Law or Accounting firms, their 15 minutes of celebrity will have provided them with years of client-pulling power (only time will tell if Joseph H Grant can be tempted away from fishing and playing golf).
Although I am no fan of Barack Obama (despite still believing he was the better of the two candidates in the 2012 election), I sincerely hope this issue does not escalate into a high level scandal. The Watergate misdemeanour 40 years ago led to spin-offs such as Irangate, Monicagate and at least a hundred others. I don’t think I could cope with scandals with names like Amazonfiveohoneceefour and Applefiveohoneceefour.
In the meantime please join me in saying one hundred times: “Daniel I Werfel”. The new Acting IRS Commissioner may never hit the headlines, but he is surely entitled to as much fame as Douglas Shulman, Steven Miller and Lois Lerner.