Saturday, January 10, 2004

My dad asks: Isn't it amazing how snotty a reporter can get without knowing anything about the law?

This article is sufficiently noteworthy that I made some notes. It's not particularly unusual qualitatively, but that's what makes it noteworthy: it's got a lot of good examples of how media twists things to try to create the impression that you are being well and truly informed, all the while creating false impressions -- in addition to that one, I mean -- about the situation being reported.

My comments in [square brackets]. (The reporter's email address is too but it was like that when I got it.)


Posted on Fri, Jan. 09, 2004

Bedford anti-tax advocate is movement's new hero
Dave Lieber - In My Opinion

Star-Telegram -- Dave Lieber [dlieber(at)]

I spent part of this week in a bizarre world. [at least he actually came] U.S. District Judge John McBryde, the no-nonsense judge once accused by a fellow federal judge of "bizarre and bullying conduct," [he was convicted, too, if memory serves] locked me along with dozens of other spectators in his courtroom. McBryde really did order his bailiffs to lock the door.

And who was I locked in there with? An all-star team of federal income-tax haters, some of whom don't recognize the authority of the United States government, and showed this by refusing to stand whenever the judge and jury entered the courtroom. [was that really their reason?]

It was the trial of Bedford businessman Richard Simkanin, who was convicted Wednesday of 29 counts of violating U.S. tax laws. McBryde locked the door because he said he didn't want people running in and out. But courthouse security was tight and protesters outside held signs demanding McBryde's impeachment. [all true]

I would bet you money, tax-free of course, that hardly anybody in that courtroom pays federal income taxes. Most were proud of it, and who wouldn't be if they could get away with something like that? [like what? obeying the law? oooo, those crazy rebels!] Even a reporter for a "patriotic" Web site sitting next to me said she didn't pay federal income taxes. "But don't put my name in the paper," she said. [hearsay]

Simkanin has been locked in a federal cell for months after he supposedly had a meeting at his Bedford office and, an informant alleged, said that killing a few judges might attract attention to the cause. His supporters, including a Round Rock talk radio host who told me that he attended the meeting in question, said Simkanin never said any such thing. But McBryde wasn't taking chances. [a dubious, but defensible, action]

The tax haters in the courtroom hated McBryde as much as they hate income taxes. They acted surprised when he didn't let the trial become a circus testing the validity of federal income tax laws. [bulls***; they weren't surprised, but it sure makes them sound naive to say they were, doesn't it?] No, McBryde figured his job was to help a jury determine whether Simkanin broke laws when he stopped filing personal tax returns and ceased withholdingfederal taxes from his Bedford employees' paychecks. [replace "whether" with "that" and you've got the trial in a nutshell]

Simkanin may be the ultimate Bedford character in a city of great characters. After research in his library, which he called "one of the largest tax-book private libraries in Texas," he testified that he concluded taxes [which taxes?] were, in his words, "alleged taxes."

At one point, he became so angry about the federal tax system that he announced on his Web site that he was expatriating himself from the United States, which he said was a government "in rebellion against the Republic of Texas." [understandable, but probably not a wise move]

He began telling his employees that those who pay federal taxes "become tax slaves." And although we all know that's true, he took it much further. [only "know" the truth; never act on it]

Once he received a letter from the Department of the Treasury, but he challenged it, testifying that for all he knew, it could have been from the Department of the Treasury of Puerto Rico. [maybe it was]

He surrendered his Texas driver's license and replaced it with his own ID cards, including one from the "International Governmental Affairs Agency." He admitted he made that up because, he testified, "it just sounded good." [now that was unwise; points to the prosecution for using this, since it makes him look dishonest, when I suspect the truth is that he was simply desperate]

He named his sister-in-law, who joined the company as a file clerk, his replacement as president. He asked her to pay him in cash and take his name off official papers so he could drop off the government's radar. His accountants told him he was making huge mistakes, and when he wouldn't listen, they resigned. [all true AFAIK]

But for someone who wanted off the radar, he sure flew back on. With others, he took out a full-page ad in USA Today explaining why he had serious reservations about the federal income tax system. [true, but not really the same "radar" exactly] And he surrounded himself with that all-star team of anti-taxpayers who are household names in households that don't pay taxes. [again, which taxes?] These buddies served as a crazy cast of character witnesses at his trial. [not all of them are crazy, but this is a collective impression and an idiom so okay]

There was Joseph Banister, a former IRS special agent who was recently hauled into a San Francisco federal court by prosecutors [true] who demanded that he stop telling people income taxes were illegal [possibly false; if true, the action was superfluous, as Banister has never said that]. At first, the feds considered having eBanister's hearing last month on an isolated federal island [true] to keep out the kind of crowd with whom I shared the locked courtroom [how has this motive been determined?]. But later they relented and yanked him into a regular courtroom. [true - thanks to our outrage]

There was Eduardo Rivera, a pony-tailed lawyer from California who took the stand to say that he didn't believe that everyone had to pay income taxes. But under cross-examination by federal prosecutors, he acknowledged that a permanent injunction had been placed against him in a California federal court that prevented him from saying just those things. [Rivera wasn't a witness I probably would have invoked, but this is all true AFAIK]

There was Bob Shulz, the founder of We the People for Constitutional Education [true], who complained on the witness stand that this whole anti-tax argument stems from the fact that the 16th Amendment enacting a federal income tax was improperly ratified in 1913 [doubtful]. Somebody should get on that. [hey, we're trying... feel like helping, Mr. Smartypants??]

And there was Larken Rose, an Internet anti-tax rebel who called income tax a "fraud without rival in history" and said the IRS was an "extortion racket." On a Web site, I found a letter by him titled "Please Prosecute Me" that begins, "I, Larken Rose, have not filed a federal income tax return for 1997 or any subsequent year." [true]

But Rose has not been prosecuted [true], probably because he doesn't make enough money selling videotapes off his Web site for the government to spend money chasing him. [okay that's just plain stupid; if he isn't worth bothering with, why did they send a team of armed men to his home and steal a bunch of his videos? damn, boy, have you ever even heard of "logic"? or do you just stop researching when you get tired of thinking?] It is Simkanin, now Bedford's own convicted tax martyr, who is the newest hero of the movement. [true]

In closing arguments, his lawyer asked the jury, "Does he look like a criminal to you?" [out of context]

These jury members, who see an April 15 tax deadline coming their way, are no suckers. Hey, if they pay, why shouldn't the guy with the funny driver's license pay, too? [non sequitur: if they acquitted him, maybe they would be free of their sense of obligation soon as well, so this is evidence that they were -- or at least may have been -- suckers, not that they weren't] So in answer to the question about whether he looked like a criminal, they unanimously answered that he did. [I suppose they did at that -- with a little "help" from the judge]

Dave Lieber's Column Appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. [judging by this example, that's 3 days more than it's worth]

And now, I have some additional comments to make.

Notice that there isn't even one complete sentence from Dick Simkanin in the above. He's quoted 5 times (6 if you include the name of the made-up governmental agency) without ever being allowed to finish a sentence. Go look! Check it for yourself. Now, why the slice and dice? Simkanin is plenty literate; why not let him talk? Why does Dave feel like he has to paraphrase everything for us except these micro-peeks at Dick's actual words? Just curious. He gave the same short shrift to others as well; this piece is almost totally devoid of substantive quotes. It's all snippets glued together by his comments. It's almost basically an opinion piece, more than a reporter-style "report".

I'm curious, too, about what Lieber would have said about the jury if they had acquitted. By the accounts I've heard, they deliberated quite a bit and asked some challenging and pertinent questions of the judge, including one about finding liability in the law for withholding, which he answered by steering them away from the law and simply declaring that he had already determined the law required Simkanin to withhold. By the sound of that, it wasn't a slam dunk the way you'd think from Dave's account of it here. They reached no verdict at all on the first 2 counts, BTW, so at least some of the accusations didn't fully impress them.

Oh well. Newspapers are a dying breed as we learn to bypass them. Now that we can report things to one another directly, why bother with these silly people? Let them adapt or vanish. The future is ours.


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