George Sarant

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Archive for May 2013

CAN THE IRS SURVIVE?

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Many people may be angry about scandals that have emerged with regard to the Benghazi attacks, IRS political shenanigans, and government actions against the press, but more are oblivious to it all. It requires a modicum of civic knowledge to understand the nature of these offenses, a characteristic that is sorely missing among a substantial part of the population, who are more aware of celebrities and television shows, having never learned any of the basic principles of government while attending failing schools. Thus, without relentless media attention, they will likely blow over. That is why the actions against certain media figures are  unbelievably stupid. Why James Rosen? He is not even a partisan. Why CBS and the Associated Press? Whether that is enough for the press to do a turnabout from their uncritical coverage and stay with these stories remains to be seen. 

 But what is likely to be more lasting is the scandal of the IRS targeting conservative groups for political reasons. A lesser known corollary to this is the vast network of left-wing “nonprofit” groups engaged in political activity who not only are given a pass but are even funded by the government. People tolerate the IRS because the assumption is that everyone gets treated the same. Once it becomes clear this is not true, the basic foundations of the revenue system are undermined. 

While this partisan activity  is an ominous abuse of government power, the damage may run deeper. The IRS has the authority to gather a considerable amount of personal information about citizens; in fact, it is sanctioned to compel disclosure from recalcitrants. With that there is a basic trust that this information will be handled discreetly and objectively by an impersonal bureaucracy. This trust has now been shattered, and with it there has been a loss of legitimacy, for it is no longer a disinterested public institution. Now it is nothing more than another part of the cluster of institutions aligned with the left, which is unsurprisingly providing cheering section condoning and applauding these abuses, and revealing a troubling totalitarian mindset.

It was natural all along for the IRS and its personnel to be aligned with the party of government, both having an interest in ever increasing revenue. But it is more than revenue. In the process they get to peruse and evaluated your life, assuming you’re part of that half of the population that files and pays taxes. Think about it. When you file your taxes the government is basically compelling you to account for yourself over the past year, and if you don’t meet the deadline you’re in trouble. You must report to the government every year. If you get audited, you’re guilty until proven innocent, and the IRS holds most of the cards. As the agency has expanded the powers and activities it has been allowed to pursue since its inception,  it has been able to infringe on basic freedoms, reducing your privacy and ability to be left alone. 

Can its legitimacy ever be restored? Should it be restored? There are many alternative revenue schemes that could be adopted that are far less intrusive. I’m not advocating any particular solution here, so much as the idea that we ought to be looking at alternatives that are far less intrusive on private life. This would restore some basic liberties while reducing the power of government, and hence the potential for that power to be abused. It would allow for a single standard applicable to everyone. Whether politicians will actually adapt such a system is another question, for they love tinkering with the tax code to appease various interests, or provide “incentives” and exemptions for what they want done. This results in a system that is not only unfair, but now clearly is illegitimate. The IRS is beyond salvation.  It’s tainted. We should just get rid of it. 

 

 

 

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Written by georgesarant

May 24, 2013 at 6:28 PM

EUROPEAN TRAVEL NOTES & RANDOM REFLECTIONS

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Returning home to New York’s JFK airport from abroad continues to be a major embarrassment, after leaving a shiny modern airport in Europe. You exit through a dingy corridor to customs, immigration, and baggage retrieval, to find transportation. You have to haul your baggage across a busy thoroughfare to reach the cabstand. Then you’re treated to a bumpy ride into the city over bad roads through dismal surroundings. Welcome to America 2013. There is no possible excuse for the way our infrastructure has deteriorated. It is nice to hear the administration talk about improving this but you have to wonder where all those billions of stimulus funds went, when there’s not a single project of any note being undertaken anywhere. 

Another embarrassment is Times Square, especially insofar as it is largely populated by tourists, wandering about what is a joke of a pedestrian mall. Having just left countries with beautiful piazzas with fountains, etc. the plaza created on Broadway is laughably bad in comparison, consisting of junk outdoor patio furniture and baffled visitors milling around. It desperately needs some creative architecture. Perhaps Bloomberg will donate a fountain, but then again he would probably want to plaster his name all over it.

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Everywhere you go in Europe now there are huge crowds of tourists at the most visited sites. If you want to see anything important you really have to arrange it in advance these days by booking a time slot via the Internet, as far ahead as possible. That’s the only way to avoid long lines when you get there. Much of the continent has become a museum. What is really striking is how anywhere you go there is a church or cathedral that is the major feature of the city or town. But almost all the visitors are tourists in the overwhelmingly secular Europe of today and few of the locals go to church. 

This loss of faith has profound consequences, and I say this as an agnostic, but one who is sympathetic to religion. First there is nothing to replace it, resulting in a kind of nihilistic fatalism. Second, there is no faith in the future, only living in the present, and as a result the population is not growing and there are not enough people to pay for all the benefits they have promised themselves. Third, without Christianity, which is a crucial part of their cultural DNA, they are disconnected from a rich heritage. This is symptomatic of a long decline that began with the monstrous disaster of World War I, which I believe to be the seminal event of modern history, considering the impact and all the consequences that flowed from it. 

A century ago, just prior to the war, Europe was on top of the world and the epicenter of western world. The war destroyed too much of that civilization, and this was compounded by the second world war, which was a direct consequence of the first. The continent has yet to recover its cultural vibrancy, if it ever will, as it is now under American influence more than ever. 

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Two decades ago in any European city you could pick out the American tourists due to their casual, if not sloppy dress. Nowadays that is impossible as everyone looks the same, no matter what their origin. I’ve written on this in more detail here.  We are more alike than ever, especially the young, who everywhere use the same Iphones and Ipads, due to the now ubiquitous Internet. But some things are not the same. Today the single greatest difference between Europeans and Americans is space. In America we have a lot of it, even in less affluent homes. In Europe space is at a premium and private spaces tend to be much smaller. Anything from a hotel room to a car is smaller, due having a larger population in a smaller territory.

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Much of the traveling on this trip was done on a cruise ship. Apart from people from all over the U.S., there were many others on the ship, notably Australians, French Canadians, and people from the Netherlands, where the ship is registered. It is a hell of a trip from Australia to Europe, but a lot of them do it. The French Canadians are a lot more jolly than the people in France, and actually speak better French. 

 

That was a fairly diverse population, but it wouldn’t be for a left-winger. I picture one defining this as a boatload of predominantly older white people served by a third world population, (never mind that they are genuinely happy in their work). Since the left sees any grouping that happens to be overwhelmingly white as illegitimate, I get the impression they don’t cruise much, otherwise they would have shitted it up the way they have ruined everything else by politicizing anything they come into contact with.

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As I prepared for this trip it occurred to me how much we depend on things going right in our lives every day,  i.e.  that the plane will land safely, on time, and that we will get our luggage,  that no one will break into our homes while we are away, etc. (Although they could have been enticed, thanks to the Post Office, which again bungled a hold-mail request while we were away and allowed it to pile up). Fortunately most of the time, we go through life expecting that other people will do the right thing, and get angry when they don’t, i.e. in traffic. Whatever problems there are here, there is still a high level of interpersonal trust, which is one of the best features of this society. Nevertheless, things do happen, and it is wise to always expect the unexpected in life. 

 

Written by georgesarant

May 22, 2013 at 4:41 PM