“Hey, Sucker! Thanks for Still Paying Taxes!” That’s probably not a campaign slogan our friends on the right want to see on bumper stickers any time soon. Still, it does kind of reflect their policy positions.
You’d think a blue collar guy like Joe the Plumber would get this. You’d think Sarah Palin might be saying, “I can see Mitt Romney’s tax returns from here.” But when one person cheats on his or her taxes, then the rest of us poor schmucks have to pay to make up the difference. Or run a deficit. Whatever.
The Tea Party certainly hates deficits; but they’re blind, deaf and dumb when it comes to this issue.
A story today in the New York Times tells us that Bradley C. Birkenfeld, a former employee of UBS bank, is a very lucky man. Oh, sure, if you want to quibble, Birkenfeld had to do two years in the federal can as a result of his involvement in an elaborate tax-evading scheme. Now he’s a free man, though, and his co-operation with the Internal Revenue Service has netted him a reward of $104 million as a whistleblower.
The case against Birkenfeld, and more importantly against UBS, a Swiss banking giant known for unbreechable secrecy, has important implications on several levels. First, we know cheating was organized and rampant. Birkenfeld’s insider understanding of how the scheme worked led to a settlement between the federal government and his former employee. And, presto, just like that, UBS agreed to pay a fine of $780 million and release the records of 4,500 American clients.
Call these bankers and clients, and the lawyers and accountants who aided, them what you want. We, of the liberal persuasion, might call them “crooks.”
Secondly, this isn’t about liberals vs. Tea Party types. It’s not a left-wing plot to destroy capitalism, root and branch. This is about the Big Guy using his power, both legal and financial, to avoid paying as much as the Little Guy every April 15th. It’s not Joe the Plumber who sets up a secret Swiss bank account. Joe may be a dolt; but he doesn’t have the resources to pull this off; and maybe he’s patriotic enough at his core not to want to do it, even if he could. It’s not your kindergarten teacher, either. She’s footing her tax bill fairly every year (even though the folks at Fox News want to howl and befuddle the masses and warn ominously about her “extravagant” pay). Ask your barber, next time you go for a trim, if he has a secret stash in a bank in Zurich. He’s more likely to gape and ask where Zurich is than answer in the affirmative. Take the guy who owns the local bar, the guy who doesn’t like President Obama, the guy who wears a t-shirt that reads: “You didn’t build that!” followed by the words, “You can kiss my ass” and a picture of the Democratic donkey.
Ask him if he’d be mad if he knew he was paying taxes on his income from the sale of beer and pretzels while a bunch of fat cats who work on Wall Street evade taxes entirely and then jimmy their books to manipulate home mortgage and car loan interest rates. Oh, and remind him about the federal bailout that proved necessary after the Big Guys crashed the economy in 2008. Maybe, offer to buy him a liberal, “Hey Sucker!” t-shirt, instead.
You know, think about expanding his wardrobe a little.
Well, how did this case play out in the end? UBS paid the whopping fine. The IRS audited the 4,500 cheaters. News of these audits spread and 14,000 other cheaters got nervous and applied to a tax amnesty program. And in the end, the cheaters, the Big Guys who could hire cheating accountants and lawyers, had to cough up a total of $5,000,000,000. Ouch, scumbags! That’s some serious money, Tea Party folks. You can plug a couple of holes in the federal budget (sounds of right-wing angels singing). Or you can do what Mitt Romney thinks we should do. Spend a little of that cash to send a few American troops to Syria, which both he and his Neocon advisors want to do.
In the final analysis, this isn’t a matter of right vs. left. At a time when poor and middle class young men and women are increasingly joining the military because they need jobs or want to qualify for G. I. Bill benefits and go to college later, this is a story about fairness. If we’re asking one American to go off and get shot at in Afghanistan then surely we can ask the other American to stop hiding his wealth in a secret bank account in Switzerland. It’s not exactly the classic definition of patriotism to say, “Yes, I’m hiding my money in the Cayman Islands.”
If Mitt and his boys have forgotten the last line in the Declaration of Independence, they might want to check it out. It reads: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”