“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” … “The question is,” Alice replied, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” … “The question is,” Humpty Dumpty responded, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
I dislike long-winded writers. I prefer writing to be economical and to use the simplest words possible to convey meaning. Modifiers should be used sparingly. Complex verbiage indicates a writer more interested in his or her own ego than in communication, or one who does not want to be understood for some reason … usually because they want to be “master.”
Writers of tax-related documents tend to fall into the latter category. For example, the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, the annotated form of the U.S. tax code used by lawyers, is over 75,000 pages long. It grows by more than 10,000 pages a decade.
After all, as Leona Helmsley, a hotel chain executive who was convicted of federal tax evasion in 1989, notoriously said: “Only the little people pay taxes.” Indeed, Leona! One function of the hopelessly complex U.S. tax code is to ensure that we “little people” remain unaware of the fundamental unfairness of the system … and to ensure that we are not the master.
Not to mention keeping us ignorant of what our taxes actually pay for…
And You Thought Your Taxes Were Paying for “Freedom”
The government is wasting your money, and you need to do something about it.
According to a study by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) spent nearly $43 million to construct a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile-filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. (No relation to Sheboygan, Wisconsin.)
The professed purpose was to demonstrate the commercial viability of CNG taking advantage of Afghanistan’s domestic natural gas reserves and reducing its reliance on imported energy.
How that relates to the reasons our armed forces are still in Afghanistan 14 years after 9/11, I can’t tell you.
Nevertheless, to put this little taxpayer-funded caper into perspective, an identical CNG station in Pakistan cost $300,000. That’s bad. But to add insult to injury, Sopko found that the DoD didn’t even consider the feasibility of the CNG project’s broader objectives before building the station. After all, CNG-powered vehicles cost more than the average annual income of 98% of Afghans, so it’s not likely that anyone is going to be filling up anytime soon.
If ever there was a wasteful boondoggle, this was it. But when Special Inspector Sopko asked the DoD to explain itself, it replied that the program under which the station had been built had closed and all its employees had left — so it couldn’t.
Can You Say Impunity?
Back when comedians were funny, Steve Martin had a great routine where he explained how to be a millionaire and not pay any taxes. “First, get a million dollars. Then, don’t pay any taxes. Now you say, ‘Steve, what do I say to the taxman when he comes to my door and says, You’ve never paid taxes?’ Two simple words: I forgot!”
Essentially, that’s what the Department of Defense said to the person assigned by law to oversee its use of our tax dollars in Afghanistan: We forgot.
Naturally, Sopko was shocked — shocked! — at the DoD’s response. Don’t hold your breath, though, in anticipation of any action by Congress. And of course, we taxpayers, who paid $43 million for the place, lack the “standing” to challenge our own government on these matters.
Steve Martin’s strategy will probably work just fine for the DoD.
Sheberghan, Sheboygan, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
When I hear of things like the DoD’s CNG station, it reinforces my belief that our government is out of control.
I want to believe that paying my fair share of taxes is the right thing to do, not only under law, but as a requirement of membership in a civilized society. But my taxes are supposed to pay for infrastructure and compensate for market failures — not scattered to the winds in far-off countries for no reason.
That’s why I practice the things I preach in Sovereign Confidential. I have investments in non-financial assets outside the U.S. I have a secure storage facility in which I keep carefully chosen forms of non-reportable wealth. I have a second passport. I have a Plan B.
Because when the time comes, I want to be “master” … not the unaccountable Mad Hatters calling themselves our government.
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor