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The IRS, its glory days and its checkered past

June 1, 2013 • Business


FILE – In this April 15, 2008 file photo, a woman drops her federal tax return in the mail slot at a post office in Palo Alto, Calif. For a time, the Internal Revenue Service inspired awe and admiration in Americans, not just trepidation and lame jokes about death and taxes. But that sentiment is of ages past. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)

WASHINGTON (AP) — For a time, the Internal Revenue Service inspired awe and admiration in Americans, not just trepidation and lame jokes about death and taxes.

Everyone loved the revenue agents when they put away Al Capone, the Chicago underworld’s master of brutality and bribes, in a coup so spectacular it scared other gangsters straight.

In the year after, federal coffers swelled as delinquent taxpayers stepped forward to make good on their debts. Criminals came out of the woodwork to pay taxes on their ill-gotten gains. Authorities in what was then the Intelligence Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue nailed the slippery Public Enemy No. 1 when no one else could, scooped up New York City racketeers by the dozen and stood tall in the popular imagination as incorruptible, fearless stewards of the treasury and the law.

Fine, but that was the 1930s. What have they done for us lately?

Or to us?

The essential mission hasn’t changed. The IRS still collects the money that goes back out to build roads, help look after people in their old age, fight menaces from Nazism to terrorism, and operate the vast levers of government. It still locks up a few thousand delinquents a year, among them drug kingpins who wouldn’t be caught any other way.

But no one loves the IRS anymore, not for ages. It’s our culture’s king-sized pain that makes you do hard math, issues nonsensical directions, takes your money and gives it to politicians to waste even as they borrow unspeakable sums from China to waste even more.

On top of that overdrawn caricature, the agency now is saddled with its episode of tea party Login to read more

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