Income Tax Background
Upon a return from Europe, my secretary called me at home to advise that
the IRS wanted money, and that they were threatening to attach my house
and cars. I obtained the data and, working backward, found that the IRS
had not noticed a minus sign on one entry (I learned from this to put
such in parentheses, as the IRS does not seem to accept standard
Then I fired off a letter to Datamation re this foulup. I asked who
would be responsible if I died of a heart attack due to this mistake.
The letter was published.
Very soon after I received a call from the IRS saying that I was to be
subjected to a home audit. When the auditor arrived, I asked him how I
had happened to be selected for such an audit (I suspected they might
have been ticked off by my letter in a national magazine). But no, the
man said I had been selected at random by a computer program. I then
asked the purpose, to which he answered "as basis for a computer
I then asked "Do you mean to tell me that I, a computer programmer, have
been selected by a computer program, to provide analysis for a computer
program to detect fraud/errors?" That seemed like a lot of coincidence.
The auditor failed, though. I had claimed 1/6 of the house area for my
office, as requested by GE and Honeywell. After an hour with a tape measure,
he gave up.
I remembered that well, and eventually it played its part in the impeachment
of President Nixon.
In 1969 I was appointed Program Chairman for the 1970 ACM National
Computer Conference. Feeling that the time was ripe to take a sweeping
overall look at the effect of computers upon our lives, I proposed a
National Computer Year for 1970, along the pattern of the International
Geophysical Year (and a half).
To me it was quite obvious that the world was rushing into computer
subservience without knowing what they were doing, why they were doing
it, or what the likely impacts would be if they didn't stop, look, and
Recent problems with the Year 2000 make a concise example of the dangers,
and indeed one of my cherished goals for the NCY was to get the 1970 ISO
standard for writing of dates into general usage.
I enumerated the goals in  as:
- To consciously put computers in service to international goals,
to increase public understanding of the role and potential of
computer usage, and to accent the role of the computer as servant
by more humanization of applications and usage.
- To develop strategies for the best future use of computer systems
(technological, social, educational, political, and legislative).
- To conserve, and maximize utility of, those existing and future
intellectual resources known as data and programs, by finding how
to utilize them on multiple equipment and in multiple applications.
- To aid government, business, and private decisionmaking by opening
up new and more complete data for those decisions, and to facilitate
the making of those decisions by reducing the information volume
(as opposed to data volume).
- To plan a closed cycle for redistributing work assignments between
people and computers, for re-education prior to change of assignment
so that people can best fulfill their potential.
- To ensure that public safety and welfare are considered adequately
when computers are integrated directly into human activity.
- To set up new and broad interdisciplinary paths for exchange of
information among hitherto segregated organizations, and to foster
their maximum involvement on an international scale.
- To plan the most economical and effective interaction between
computing systems and other systems such as communications.
ACM President Walter Carlson supported me. We held a meeting in New
York with representatives of many national technical societies, and
eventually some 86 societies pledged support. There were two stumbling
blocks. Jean Sammet, of the ACM Council, insisted that it was not
possible to mount such an effort in such a short time, and her feelings
swayed other computer groups. The second obstruction was President
Nixon's refusal of endorsement (or maybe it just never got to his
consciousness in those peculiar days).
(From here on the headings are by time line.)
I completed building of my 2 Moon Mountain Trail house in Phoenix, with 25
twisted pairs of phone lines coming up because Dr. Ed David, in charge of
the PicturePhone project at Bell Labs, said he would get me the first
PicturePhone in Arizona as a test .
My first attempts to get a Presidential Proclamation for a National
Computer Year were via President Nixon's current Science Advisor, Dr.
Lee DuBridge, former President of Cal Tech. I was very interested when
he told me that my father was his high school math teacher (as he was
mine, too, even though he was the superintendent). He wrote me that he
liked the idea, but was unsure of applying Presidential mass to it.
Then, partway through the effort, DuBridge was succeeded by Dr. David. A
compatriot of David at Bell labs told me that he (David) was the 143rd
person asked if they wanted to be Nixon's Science Advisor. At least
142 scientists had decided previously against this honor. The story
goes further that when Ed went to meet Nixon at the White House, the
President asked if he could fix a problem with his television set. I
never got the PicturePhone.
My organization for ACM 70 was in sectors. Chairman for the
Communications Sector had been Ed David, but the demands of his new
office made him bow out, replaced by John Auwaerter, V.P. of Engineering
at the Teletype Corporation. One of our meetings was held at my Phoenix
home, remembered best for my falling in my own pool completely dressed,
1970 Aug 31
ACM 70 was held, in New York City. It was very different from all previous
ACM conferences. No technical papers, just discussions about the use of the
computer in various disciplines. Thus no typical proceedings. But I spent
the next year and more making, from transcriptions that I edited tightly, a
book of sorts. The peculiar title "Computers and Crisis" came from F. Gordon
Smith, then Executive Director of the ACM, and his sidekick George Capsis,
both former IBM employees. The New York Times Sunday Book Review of 1971
September 05 gave the book a pretty glowing 14 column-inches of review.
Other rave reviews came from the Journal of the British Computer Society,
and from the magazine Nature.
The White House had sponsored, perhaps as a cheap Computer Year, COSATI,
the Council on Scientific and Technical Information, as a project of the
White House Office of Science and Technology. My Honeywell boss, Dr.
John Weil, was a member. He who had assigned me to revitalize and
publish the Honeywell Computer Journal.
COSATI was to issue a report, but they were poorly funded for it. I
made a proposal to Dr. John Farmakides of the National Science
Foundation that the Honeywell Computer Journal would photocompose the
COSATI Report, publish it in hard copy in the Journal itself, and supply
our fiche to NSF for them to publish and distribute in that form. (We
always published the Journal in fiche form as well, tucked in a pocket
on the inside back cover).
We did our part, and awaited approval from Farmakides to publish in our
own Journal. There ensued months of stalling by Farmakides. We would
call in desperation, but somehow he always escaped from his office before
the secretary could ring through!
The U.S. Government had a very bad effect upon our publishing schedule!
Monday 1973 Mar 19
I had flown to Washington on Sunday, staying at the Georgetown Inn.
Monday I was at the Library of Congress for a meeting of ISO TC46/4/1
(Working Group on Character Sets for Automated Documentation). During a
break I went to the National Science Foundation offices to see Eugene
Pronko re the COSATI Report. The President's Science Advisor had been
transferred (?). Pronko, as NSF Secretary, was holding down the fort.
Pronko admitted to me that one John Dean III had been holding up the
report, because of its Chapter 6 - "Protection of Proprietary Rights",
but he thought he could get it for me. He said the copy was in Austin
with Dr. Mike Duggan.
Mike, a longtime friend of mine via the ACM, was also a member of the
COSATI committee. I called Duggan from Pronko's office to arrange for
me to fly home to Phoenix via Austin and pick up the report next night.
All seemed OK, so back to the meeting at the Library of Congress.
That night I stayed with Ernest C. Baynard, Chief of Staff for the U.
S. Congress Government Activities Committee (chaired by Jack Brooks, TX,
who also served as second in command to Peter Rodino on the House
Judiciary Committee impeachment hearings for President Nixon).
Tuesday 1973 Mar 20
To the Library of Congress again, where I received a call from Duggan to
say that he had a business meeting that night, and couldn't meet me.
Very strange. Today when I see movies of criminal activities in the
White House I am always reminded of that underhanded power demonstrated
to me then. I said "To hell with it", went to Dulles and back to
Wednesday 1973 Mar 21
Nixon: "Your cover is broken?"
John Dean III: "That's right". Ref  p. 153
Friday 1973 Mar 23
Reporters converge on John Dean III. Ref 
Monday 1973 Mar 26
I receive a phone call from Dr. John Farmakides -- "Come and get it!"
A. R. Shriver flies to Washington, picks up the copy from Farmakides
without a hitch, and returns the next day.
Reporting These Events
The next day, Mar 27, I wrote a summary report  about this to my
superior Dr. John Weil:
"We have been negotiating with John Farmakides for the release of this
(COSATI) report even prior to my letter to him of 1972 Oct 19.
1973 Dec 08
I have never been treated to such a contradictory melange of 'yes,
we'd be glad to, but my partner won't let me'. Often, 'just one more
phone call and it's set' would work for two weeks. I tried desperately
in Washington last week, seeing Gene Pronko of NSF; I even offered to
fly back to Phoenix by way of Austin and pick up everything from Mike
Duggan. But even then, Duggan suddenly discovered he had a business
meeting that night (after confirming on the phone he would meet me).
And then there were the numerous times that Dick (Shriver) or I would
call, assuming he (Farmakides) was in (as the secretary asked for our
name), to suddenly discover he was in a meeting and would call back,
which never happened.
Yesterday morning I received a miraculous phone call from John
Farmakides. He had the last versions, and we should pick them up to
set, while awaiting the final clearances through the COSATI staff. We
In a way it was an odd day all around. Just that very morning one John
Dean III appeared, from newspaper reports, to have his cover in the
Watergate Case blown by James McCord, Jr., who supplied information to
both Judge Sirica and Senator Ervin's committee. One does recall the
coincidence that last August John Dean III personally held up the
release of at least one of the seven sections in the COSATI Report."
News Report: Nixon releases Federal Tax returns for 1969-1972.
Will agree to a ruling by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
, p. 869. Remember this committee, I'll be mentioning it
A Certain Vengeance
Up to this point an Ernest C. Baynard had been Staff Director for
Congressman Jack Brooks's Government Activities Committee. Via the
business I transacted with him in pleasure, we became very close
friends. I have more to say about him elsewhere on this site.
During this flap Baynard retired. Dick Jones (formerly assistant) became
the Staff Director. It was pretty critical. You will remember Brooks'
position on the House Judiciary Committee which was preparing for the
possible impeachment of President Nixon.
I had read with interest the articles about the IRS employee who blew
the whistle in the Fall of 1973 about Nixon's tax returns. So one
morning I called Dick Jones to ask if they were checking anything except
real estate in Florida. He laughed, for a lot of attention was paid to
Nixon's relations with "Bebe" Rebozo of that state.
I told Dick about that computerized audit program, saying that it was
identical at all IRS sites. I suggested taking the figures on Nixon's
two returns, as reported in Time Magazine, and asking the IRS to run a
dummy return through that audit program, with real estate deductions
identical to those of Nixon. And when the report came out, to ask "Now,
gentlemen, when this message came from the computer about Mr. Nixon's
return, what did you do?"
Jones said "My God!" He thought it a great idea, but later he informed
me that when they took it to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which then
made that request of the IRS -- Guess what? -- the IRS turned them down!
Snubbed both houses of the Congress!
So we find in , page 338, that "Two additional articles" (of
impeachment), accusing Nixon of illegally bombing Cambodia and of
committing tax fraud, were rejected by votes of 26 to 12".
1974 Apr 03
White House says Nixon will pay $432,787.13 in back taxes to the IRS.
, p. 876
1974 Apr 15
Time Magazine has a cover story  called "Nixon's Tax Scandal". The
inside story is called "Many Unhappy Returns"! It has a large box on
page 14 about the neglect of IRS employees when that same computer
program kicked out President Nixon's return for 1971. I have often
wondered how the investigative reporters for Time Magazine found their
The committee knew that the IRS was an Executive Branch body that Nixon
could control in many aspects. but I'd bet it all that the tax fraud
the IRS declined to corroborate was on the minds of many members of the
Judiciary Committee, as well as the refusal itself.
With that, I felt I had some satisfaction from Nixon for refusing to
sign a proclamation for the National Computer Year I had set my heart
on, and believed was so crucial to the country. Now that we have passed
through the Y2K crisis, I feel more justified than ever. But the question
will always be on my mind -- would the Y2K crisis have been avoidable if
National Computer Year had been a reality?
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- R.W.Bemer, "Computers and our society", NordData, Copenhagen,
1973 Aug, Honeywell Computer J. 8, No. 1, 49-54, 1974
-- Reprinted in Jurimetric J., 1974 Fall, 43-55
-- Reprinted (translated to German by Prof. Heinz Zemanek) as
"über den computer in unserer Gesellschaft",
Elektronische Rechenanlagen 19, 167-172, 1977 Aug
-- Republished as "The frictional interface between computers and
Computers and People, 14-19, 1975 Jan
-- Computing Reviews 29244
-- Computer Abstracts 77-2514
- R.W.Bemer, "Working on Moon Mountain",
Reader's Forum, Datamation, 1984 Sep 16, 173-176
- "The White House Transcripts", Bantam Books, 1974 May
- Bemer's trip report to Dr. John Weil (COSATI member), 1973 March 27:
(Council On Scientific And Technical Information)
- TIME magazine, 1974 Apr 15, Cover story & pp. 10-17
- "The Final Days", Woodward & Bernstein, Avon Books, 1976
- Honeywell expense account of R. W. Bemer, 1973 Mar 18-20