Afghan Agreement

I saw REASON for the first time on New York newsstands in September. I am an Afghanistan national, and the cover of the September issue was enough to make me buy it.

I have lived for the past four years in the United States, and I have been involved in the issue of US media coverage of the Afghan struggle. I have never read a more informative and to-the-point article about my country than Jack Wheeler's "Up Against the Red Army."

I thank you and Mr. Wheeler for remembering my country and the Afghans' cause. I hope to see more articles like this one and more REASONs on the newsstands.

Amin H. Tarzi
Flushing, NY

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

One of the Brickbats items in your September issue, concerning the fines that overzealous Internal Revenue Service agents have been meting out to taxpayers, was right on the mark.

Recently I discovered that an Idaho woman had been fined $500 for crossing out four words on her 1982 income tax return. She paid her taxes in full and, on request, sent in a new, unaltered return. Moreover, the IRS later discovered that she had made a $200 error in the government's favor. But instead of refunding the money, the IRS told her it would be applied to the fine, and that she could not appeal until she had paid the remaining $300, which she did. But her appeal was summarily rejected without explanation. When I heard about the case, I demanded to see the records and immediately telephoned IRS Commissioner Roscoe Egger for an explanation.

The good news is that, within a week, Egger rescinded the fine, returned the woman's money with interest—and an apology. The bad news is that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds or even thousands, of similar cases where justice will never be done because the IRS seems to operate on the assumption that honest, law-abiding taxpayers are guilty until they can prove that they are innocent.

Steve Symms
United States Senator
Washington, DC

The Facade of Britain's Housing Sale

I hope REASON readers will not be impressed by Stuart Butler's support for the British government's peculiar approach to selling off public housing (Trends, Oct., p. 19). This was as shabby a boondoggle as any that Britain or America has seen, and one which can only rub in the lesson that government favor, not individual effort, is the way to a better living standard.

The privilege of buying public housing at far below market value has been reserved for the very people who have already received most from the system: the tenants who have enjoyed subsidized public housing for the longest time. Nothing whatever has been done to bring justice for the outcasts of the system, those who have been excluded from any hope of renting a home by government policies of fixing rents for both public and private housing at far below market-clearing rates and of giving existing tenants virtually absolute security of tenure.

Restoring freedom and justice to the housing market would require displacement of existing tenants on a massive scale, something that Margaret Thatcher's government has not dared even to say. So five years after she came to power it is still taken for granted in Britain that for anyone unable to get a mortgage, the only hope of getting a home is to go as a supplicant to your local government office and hope to be put on a waiting list. And if, often years later, you are allotted an apartment, you hang on to it till the day you die. There's a job going in another part of the country? Forget it—you'd never get another apartment in a different local authority area.

For me, who—thanks to a US immigrant visa—was able to escape from what had become a hopeless situation, the most wonderful sight in America is still those "Apartment to Rent" signs, a sight unimaginable to a couple of generations of Britons.

Victor Robertson
Indianapolis, IN

Taxing Matters

I believe Mark Skousen's advice (Investments, Sept.), under the subhead "$5,000 foreign bank account," may be misleading. Mr. Skousen says: "The IRS instructions state that you can actually [indicate on your federal tax form that] you don't have a foreign bank account, when in fact you do—as long as it doesn't exceed $5,000 in value. The exemption applies to each individual, so if you have five members in your family, you could put up to $25,000 abroad without having to report it to the government."

Page 22 of the 1983 "1040 Federal Income Tax Forms and Instructions" for Schedule B, Part III ("Foreign Accounts and Foreign Trusts") states: "Check No if…the combined value of the accounts was $5,000 or less during the whole year." This refers to all accounts of all persons reported on a Form 1040.

Under this provision, in order for each of five family members to have accounts of $5,000, totaling $25,000 for the family, as suggested by Mr. Skousen, it appears each would have to file a separate income tax return—which would probably cost more in income tax payments than if all five family members were reported on a single Form 1040.

John F. Barnard
Washington, DC

The editors reply: According to the authoritative Commerce Clearing House Federal Tax Guide, an individual is subjected to the reporting requirement only for "title ownership of any foreign account, held individually or jointly with one or more persons, or the holding of a foreign account as representative of some other person." So if each member of a five-person family that is submitting a single tax return had, in his or her own name, up to $5,000 in a foreign account, there would be no reporting requirement. (A complication could arise if a married couple each had foreign accounts that together totaled more than $5,000; in that instance, an argument could be made that these funds must be reported, though not all tax specialists would agree with that argument.)