"Anyone in a free society where the laws are unjust has an obligation to break the law."
~ Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau, of course, lived in a kinder, gentler time, when people still recognized the true source of human rights and freedoms, and were diligent in keeping them. Mr. Thoreau was a strong believer in civil disobedience as a means of changing unjust law; Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. could certainly attest to their own success using non-violent civil disobedience as a tool of political reform but none of these gentlemen were trying to reform the tax laws. The State can tolerate, in relative degrees, large and well organized public protests, so long as said protests do not extend to the root means of the State’s livelihood. That way lies revolution, of which there have been few that were successful.
Until a couple of days ago, most of you reading this had probably never heard of Walt Anderson. Preferring to keep a low public profile, he made himself very wealthy in the telecommunications industry in the 1990’s, both in the "Baby Bells" and in the European telecom industry. His work in telecom satellites offered people in developing nations, starved of needed land line infrastructure, an open door to the 21st century. When he cashed out (or in one case, was forced out), his net worth topped the billion-dollar mark, at least by some estimates.
As a huge supporter of privatized efforts for space transportation and development, he helped bankroll such organizations as FINDS, the Space Frontier Foundation, the Mars Society, and the International Space University. He’s been an investor in Rotary Rocket and spent $31 million of his own money in an attempt to rescue the Russian Mir space station. His current venture, Orbital Recovery, will build small robot probes that, when launched, attach themselves to satellites in decaying orbits, then fire a small rocket to boost the comsats back where they used to be, thus saving those satellite’s owners tens of millions in replacement costs.
Those who have worked with him attest that, despite his sometimes mercurial moods and intense desire for privacy, Anderson was also a man of unimpeachable integrity, both in his personal and business dealings.
But now, apparently, the amassed government kleptocracies have taken umbrage that Mr. Anderson might want to actually keep the profits he worked so hard to earn. He was arrested Saturday, February 26th, as he disembarked a plane from London at Dulles airport, and charged with a dozen counts of tax evasion on nearly $500 million in allegedly unreported income to the US and the District of Columbia. He continues to be held pending a bail hearing Thursday, March 3rd.
Three things strike me immediately from all this: (1) the incredibly savage hatchet job being done to Anderson by the media, trying and convicting the man well in advance of any trial, (2) the gross hypocrisy of the government’s action, given that better politically "connected" miscreants, such as Marc Rich or Halliburton, get a free pass, and (3) the absolutely hideous nature of what our system has morphed into, whereby a successful man like Anderson is compelled to go to such great lengths to keep the wealth he peacefully and honestly earned.
The press have painted a damning picture of Walt Anderson as a quixotic and aberrant individual obsessed with phony identities, "underground books" about "disappearing," and of course all those questionable offshore business dealings allegedly designed solely to hide income. I mean, my God, he reads unusual books and he wears black clothes. He must, therefore, be a deviant, malcontent tax evader! (Never mind that my teenage daughter also dresses in all-black "goth" fashion, black clothing has always fashionable in the "hip" circles from the East Village to L.A., the "underground books" they mentioned are openly available for sale on the Internet, and while performing certain activities under an assumed name may be considered illegal, having a second passport under your own name definitely is not.)
While the $210 million in taxes the government claims is "owed" by Anderson is touted as the biggest "tax evasion scam in history," keep in mind that even if they succeed in collection, that money will only enable the federal government to function for about 44 minutes. The US this year will spend more money in 10 minutes than Joseph Strauss spent building the entire Golden Gate Bridge, even adjusted for inflation.
An associate spoke directly with Anderson today, and he claimed to be extremely puzzled about the government’s motives, in that he had offered to come in whenever they asked and thus was completely surprised at being arrested at the end of a long flight. It seems to me from that, that Anderson genuinely believes he did nothing illegal to protect his assets, actions which are virtually identical to what thousands of other wealthy citizens do to protect theirs.
But at the end of the day, it’s really not about the money. It’s about IRS bureaucrats getting a "trophy" arrest in time for tax season.
In case you hadn’t noticed, about this same time every single year, the media are rife with reports of IRS harassment, arrests, and confiscation of property, from people usually demonized as "tax protestors," with the sole purpose of intimidating the masses into complying with the "tax laws," laws which IRS agents themselves can’t figure out. The Anderson case will give these people massive propaganda opportunities for years to come. Also, the US and other big-tax governments over the last five years or so have been giving extra scrutiny to offshore tax havens, and putting political pressure on the nations offering them. So with Anderson, Uncle Sam gets a double play a way to scare the "sheeple" and send warning signals to the more fiscally sophisticated to give up on those offshore shelters and simply pony up.
It will be interesting to see how the actual legal wrangling plays out, once the media frenzy subsides. From the tone of the articles, some of Anderson’s machinations might appear fishy but I just can’t conceive of someone at his level deliberately doing something blatantly illegal. People at that level surround themselves with lawyers and accountants I can’t fathom how all that advice, would collectively be that bad. As I suggested earlier, Mr. Anderson’s problem isn’t so much that he avoided paying taxes on lots of income legally earned the real issue is that he is an open opponent of Big Government Statism, and thus isn’t sufficiently politically connected to save himself all this grief.
Halliburton has been caught gauging Big Uncle in numerous ways since the whole Iraq War got going, in amounts that would make Walt blush, but I don’t see any of their execs doing any perp walks for the cameras that’s because they have friends in Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Marc Rich blatantly sold arms to every side carrying cash in the Middle East but his pal Bill Clinton pardoned him.
The final issue becomes one of Anderson just being another of a long string of victims of the "Age of Envy" in which we find ourselves. Everybody hates taxes, but figure they’re "stuck" paying them so it’s easy for the media to sow the seeds of resentment (and sell papers) by painting Anderson as an evil capitalist exploiter who won’t pay his "fair share" as though there is this general belief that if you have superior business acumen, and create jobs and wealth, you also still "owe" fifty percent or more of what you worked so hard to earn to "benefit" those less capable than yourself. And if you refuse to pony up, you are therefore evil and should have everything stripped from you in the name of "justice." That, apparently, is the philosophy of the majority of columnists writing about Anderson.
In the world of the wealth redistributionists, the Unwritten Rule is: "Thou shall not make too much money too quickly, unless you play ball with the Big Boys first." Events would appear to teach us that that particular number is about $500 million. In the 80’s, former US Attorney Rudy Giuliani went after Michael Milken after the "junk bond king" earned that much in a single year a "trophy case" that led Giuliani to the New York Mayor’s office. Today, they’re going after Walt Anderson for taxes on a similar earnings windfall from the late 90’s. And today the details of Howard Stern’s $500 million deal with Sirius are being investigated by the SEC for possible insider trading violations by members of his staff and outside columnists close to him. In all these cases, none of these individuals were/are well-connected in the "right" circles, and, in the case of Stern and Anderson, are openly against government intrusions into our lives. In the eyes of Big Brother, these people can be sacrificed as a lesson to the rest in the real exercise of government power.
I’ve heard all the arguments about how we are a "nation of laws," and we must either obey them or work to change the System, for if we do not we end up in Anderson’s position but I no longer buy those arguments. The original purpose of "the law" was to establish justice but the tax laws today have nothing to do with justice or fairness, but merely to enhance the power position of the State. Take a look at the tax code. Virtually every line in it is the result of a successful lobbyist representing a particular special interest group. "Fair shares" don’t enter into it.
The government and their media sycophants are working overtime to ensure that, in the minds of the public, Anderson is a totally unredeemable, indefensible character, which will make it next to impossible for him to get a fair trial. They have piled on charges in the hopes of getting one or two to stick. They will look for some sort of plea bargain, where Anderson gives up most of what he’s earned, and possibly does some jail time full acquittal is extremely doubtful, given how the deck is being stacked, but given his resources, there is always hope.
We all need to speak up for and stand with the Walt Anderson’s of the world, as their persecution is a symbol of what has become so tragically wrong and perverted with the American system. He is a unique individual who simply wanted to keep the money that he worked so hard to make, despite the government wanting to redistribute that hard-earned income into their wasteful abyss of war, social engineering, and dependency creation. What happened to Anderson is happening to thousands of Americans at a far lower level, every year, but they are generally powerless to mount a proper defense.
"Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I’m one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the ‘guilty,’ but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself. And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then. Now it’s too late."
~ Ray Bradbury, from his classic novel, Fahrenheit 451
Free Walt Anderson.
March 4, 2005