George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘congress


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The failure of the FBI to file any criminal charges in the blatant targeting of the administration’s political opponents by the IRS is deeply troubling. The investigation is a sham, given that many of the targets themselves were never interviewed. As the Wall Street Journal noted “That’s like investigating a burglary without interviewing the burgled.” The Justice department is also stonewalling the congress, refusing to provide any witnesses involved in conducting the investigation. 

None of this is surprising. Apart from counter-terrorism activity in recent years, anyone who has ever had any dealings with them knows that, contrary to their TV image, the FBI essentially consists of messenger boys for the US Attorneys. It is not all that different than the relationship between the local police and district attorneys. 

 The US Attorneys are in turn political appointees, and decisions as to whom and whom not to prosecute are very often political. The notion that there is impartial justice at this level is laughable, at least when it comes to government or political activities. There is a frivolous argument floating around that other administrations have behaved politically as well. True enough, but none have been anywhere near as extensive as this one, which has clearly crossed the line in terms of blatant political calculation. Under Eric Holder the Justice department is driven by ideology more than the law. 

 Consider the ramifications here, whatever your political viewpoint. Sooner or later the other party will return to power. What if they behave the same way? If justice becomes a political process, based upon friends and enemies, then the legitimacy of the entire legal system is undermined. If politicians and bureaucrats can act arbitrarily according to what they want, believe in, or oppose rather than what is legally mandated, then the law becomes something of an afterthought, to be applied when convenient, and ignored when it is not. This is the kind of behavior used by authoritarian regimes. It only becomes a difference of degree between what is left of the constitution and a banana republic. These factors, along with extraconstitutional actions that are actually being applauded by radicals puts over two hundred years of law and precedent in jeopardy. 

Furthermore a serious abuse of power, by any measure, has been grossly underreported, with very little follow up and even less explanation provided about  this scandal. What happened here was harassment of political opponents, leaking of their confidential taxpayer data to political allies, lying to congress by senior officials claiming there was no targeting, then claiming it was only the work of low-level employees, and otherwise deliberately obfuscating what transpired. We are talking about the IRS dealing with taxpayers based upon political considerations rather than objective facts, thus undermining the legitimacy of that institution, perhaps irreparably. The seriousness of these infractions cannot be overstated, for if they were to become commonplace the constitutional system would be fatally undermined.

 This all stems from an administration that seems to be permanently in campaign mode, where it is quite effective, but disastrously inept when it comes to actually governing. International affairs are rudderless, and domestic policy is in complete disarray, in large measure because everything is perceived through an ideological framework. When the justice system is run this way it is simply no longer just. If the rules are ignored by those in charge there is every incentive for everyone else to do the same. Thus, political justice ultimately means no justice for anyone. 



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It is time to end the federal government impasse. One of the cardinal rules of strategy is to avoid getting involved in a war you can’t win. That is where the Republicans find themselves now. There are principled people who insist that they hold the line, but they are missing a far brighter, bigger picture. I am not suggesting that Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats, as well as the administration are not more at fault, but rather that occasionally a tactical retreat in battle leads to victory in the greater war. Since the Republicans currently do not have the votes to carry the Senate, their focus should be on winning the necessary votes in 2014. Given that the prevailing narrative is stacked against them, contributing to public disapproval, there is no dishonor in a temporary retreat, when a larger gift is waiting in the wings. 

That gift is Obamacare. The rollout has been disastrous, the Affordable Care Act is more unpopular than ever, and public ire is still growing. If it were not for the partial “government shutdown” and threatened default, the leading story in the news would now be the colossal ineptitude of the Obamacare administration. A ridiculously expensive website that doesn’t work, unexpected rising health care costs for individuals, enrollment failure, administrative incompetence, etc. would be dominating the headlines. The only thing preventing that from happening is the continuing drama of the failure of the congress and administration to reach an agreement. Yes the President himself is culpable for refusing to negotiate or discuss anything, where a more skilled politician might at least pretend to consider compromise. Yes the Senate Democrats have moved the goal posts by throwing the sequester into the mix. But being in the right means nothing if the perception of it is not there. Life isn’t fair.

Unfortunately some people are too stupid to recognize when they have a winning hand. The implementation of Obamacare is the gift that will keep on giving through 2014, and perhaps beyond. As one problem after another manifests itself, it may collapse to the point where most people realize it is unworkable. The blame for this will rest squarely on the Democrats, since they forced it through when they had a majority in both houses without any input or a single vote from the other side. That would portend huge losses in the elections next year, because they effectively own Obamacare. Consequently it makes no sense to maintain a scenario where public anger is directed towards congress and the Republicans as long as this stalemate lasts. It is time to put an end to this and get out of the line of fire, and thereby reap the rewards. 

More serious is the prospect of default, which is undermining the dollar and causing deep anxiety in the rest of the world. If the US cannot maintain full faith and credit, if it is no longer perceived as being a rock solid oasis of stability, the damage will be immense, and the international reserve currency role of the dollar will be diminished. Serious damage has already occurred, and it will take some effort to repair and re-establish confidence. On this question the President has to give something, if only to avoid going down in history as the official who presided over a disastrous default that could have been avoided. Any reasonable person can see that averting this ought to have top priority over any other considerations. 

Those trying to make the government more accountable are completely right, but brinksmanship tactics are wrong and will only backfire. Far better to let the administration sink under the weight of its own pretensions and take a sober, longer-term view that is far more likely to produce the desired objectives. 

Written by georgesarant

October 16, 2013 at 11:35 AM


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There is an excellent chance that the 2014 elections could result in a Republican landslide, given the present unpopularity of the administration and programs like Obamacare in particular, as its phase-in disrupts the entire health care system and the coverage of millions. This is a classic case of unintended consequences, as businesses reduce full-time jobs and replace them with part-time work to avoid various mandates, along with many other negative effects. The question is what is to be done about this? 

There are many who think it is time to defund Obamacare. While this may pass the House, it is dead in the Senate, as well as in the White House, given the presidential veto. Thus there is no possibility that such legislation can succeed, at least in the present congress. The focus should instead be on winning the upcoming elections. The problem is that this action could backfire and and seize defeat from the jaws of victory. First, as stated, it is a waste of time and energy given the current political configuration, second, if there is a government shutdown resulting from an impasse it is congressional Republicans who will be blamed, not the administration. The media has already seen to this by framing the story in terms of a “threatened shutdown” of the government. Third, as more of this health plan goes into effect, more and more people are being alienated, and left to itself, an increasingly angry public will justifiably blame the administration and vote accordingly. 

It is unsurprising that that the “Affordable Care Act” is a disaster for the existing health care of millions as well as for the economy. It is a result of the typical liberal impulse to upend and entire system because a minority is not being accommodated. Over 80% of the population were satisfied with their existing health care, but because a minority was uncovered for various reasons, rather than address that question directly, they decided to redesign the entire system, to benefit this minority. In addition there is no way around the fact that the cost of care for the minority is going to be born by the 80% in higher fees, taxes, benefits, etc. 

The media are laying all of this on Republicans, and it makes no sense to fulfill their narrative. The line is that the Republicans are “divided” between “moderates” and “conservatives” on whether or not to defund the government. This is a losing proposition, even though it is a lie. Both those labeled as “moderate” in this instance as well as “conservative” oppose Obamacare. The differences are purely tactical. Is this really the right time and the right legislative process to deal with this issue?  I think not, for the reasons I cited above.  There is simply no way that the realities of the current congress can be changed, and therefore the focus should be on winning the next congress. The best strategy is to sit on the status quo for the next year, and then reap the windfall when an alienated public takes it out on the governing party. 


Written by georgesarant

September 20, 2013 at 4:01 PM


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It’s a crazy world we live in when one has to decide whether John Kerry or Vladimir Putin is lying about who is using chemical weapons in Syria.  Kerry testified there is ample evidence it was initiated by the Assad regime, while Putin says he has a detailed 100 page report indicating that the rebels did it. Given the murkiness of this situation congress ought to think twice before rushing into another Middle East conflict, the consequences of which cannot be known. There has been no indication of any contingencies which might result from such action. Are we really prepared for this? 

The President’s credibility is on the line, or what’s left of it, but contrary to prevailing assumptions that does not mean America’s credibility is also hanging by a thread. For what we have here is a regime of the Left such as we have never seen before, mismanaging just about every aspect of government. The administration only now has had to reach out to Republicans to get something done, who would be ill-advised to be suckered in, despite some naturally hawkish tendencies.  Do they really have confidence in the leadership of this administration at this point? Then there is John Kerry, the point man on this mission, who once falsely testified before congress that American forces were regularly committing atrocities in Viet Nam and who met with Assad several times, praising him, against the wishes of the Bush administration.  Can we trust this man now? Republicans are out of their minds if they fall in line for what is likely to be a fiasco, given this kind of leadership. Can they really still have any confidence in them at this point? 

The only sensible thing to do is to either vote against this action, and/or get out of the way and let the administration take the fall for botching this entire situation. Given its tenuous credibility, drawing red lines and then saying they didn’t, and then stating that  “the world” did; never mind that virtually no one else in the world wants any part of this mission. Action was not taken two years ago when it would have mattered. It is too little too late, and yes, action at this point would be worse than doing nothing. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to lose by doing it now. If there were another chemical attack and it was clear who did it, then action might be justified. But the UN has yet to issue a report either way, which at least give some substantive support to whoever is right. 

A wise government would be looking to get us out of the line of fire, but they instead want to jump into it. Both Secretary Kerry and President Obama strongly opposed the Iraq war, but now are pursuing a comparable policy on far more tenuous grounds. There is no coalition, no congressional support as yet, and no conclusive proof. To claim that Syria is a threat to our national security is preposterous. Just what national security do we gain when this administration has leaked like a sieve and a good portion of our national secrets have been spilled all over, and governments the world over are alienated and angry. Due to their breathtaking ineptitude they have managed to make Russia a major player again, and make Putin look like a statesman. What we really need is a congressional no confidence vote, so at least the rest of the world know it is not us taking action but an administration acting against the wishes of the people, and then somehow muddle through three more years of this lame duck presidency. 



Written by georgesarant

September 6, 2013 at 5:11 PM


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Privacy is a relatively new concept in human affairs. For most of our existence there was no such thing. Cave people huddled together, and up through the 19th century, with typically large families, space was shared. Everyone pretty much knew what everyone else was doing. The constitution makes no direct mention of privacy, and in fact it is a “right” invented by the Supreme Court by inference only a few decades ago. This is in keeping with sweeping increase in the rights of individuals across the board in modern times. Most people instinctively feel that privacy is a good thing, and something that ought to be protected, and recent federal incursions are indeed troubling. 

If the security agencies of the government are keeping track of phone calls, in terms of their connections, (not their content, which still requires the approval of a federal judge) in order to snag terrorists, the question arises whether it is or is not a bad thing. People will generally allow the government wide latitude when it comes to safety and security, as long as the actions it takes are reasonable, and in keeping with a particular purpose. But then there is the RICO problem. RICO is a statute that was originally designed to target racketeering by gangsters, by catching them in a criminal conspiracy, which became a crime in and of itself. However, it has been used more broadly to attack other things. Congress frequently passes laws that are designed for one thing, that in the hands of the bureaucracy charged with carrying them out becomes something else. Thus, the question arises whether actions authorized to snare terrorists, can then be used to pursue something else, totally unrelated. For once the power is granted it can easily be abused. 

We are seeing an extraordinary abuse of power by this administration, in one scandal after another, including attacks on the press and individuals and groups they disagree with. This did not have to happen, but since the administration chose to place left-wing ideologues in sensitive positions, it is unsurprising that these zealots would use all the tools at their disposal to get the “enemy.” These are people who see big government as good, and a powerful state as a force to achieve their objectives. But what we are learning is that if people can overreach, they will overreach. So the question arises whether the authority we have given the government to pursue terrorists, a perceived good, is offset by its potential or real application towards something totally unrelated, an evil. Thus, the authority to sift telephone information for terrorist activity could easily be applied to your political or financial activity. 

It gets worse, because private institutions are also in on the game. The executives of Google and Yahoo, for example, are strong supporters of the administration, which indicates there is a seamless continuum of power, here involving the collection of information on anything you do online. Given all of this, at the present time privacy may be something of an illusion. But people have brought this on themselves by posting all sorts of personal information online, or talking (annoyingly) on a cell phone and spilling out more about their personal lives than anyone wants to know. Under the present circumstances the wise thing to do is assume that someone somewhere is watching what you do, or is able to track and retrieve that information if they want to. 

But there is also the argument that in effect says “so what.” If you have nothing to hide, and are not up to no good, why should you care? This is one way to keep everyone honest. But this is predicated on the assumption that the government itself cannot do wrong. That is a dubious proposition in light of current events. Our Founders understood that human beings are fallible, and provided us with a constitution that limited the power of government, but over time this has gradually been eroded either by unconstrained bureaucrats, an unelected judiciary, a power hungry administration, or an inept congress that passes laws that are so broadly worded that bureaucrats or judges interpret them any way they want to. 

What is to be done? Clearly congress has to be far more explicit in legislation so unaccountable individuals don’t get blanket authority to do what fancies them. It may not be possible to anticipate every instance of abuse, but recognizing its potential likelihood would help, as would assuming people may do bad as well as good. We must remain steadfast in our opposition to terrorism, but any extraordinary powers granted to government must be very narrowly focused, and explicitly restricted to the intended purpose. Otherwise we should seek to devolve power from the federal government, and limit what it can and cannot do, in keeping with our founding philosophy.  For the only way to avoid the abuse of power is to limit the power of government. 



Written by georgesarant

June 11, 2013 at 5:21 PM


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The congress and the President are now at an impass over just how to get more taxes out of the “rich.” The President thinks this consists of anyone making over $250,000 a year, but even some in his own party find this hard to swallow. Senator Schumer thinks it should apply only to those making over a million, apparently thinking of his high-income, hypocritical liberal constituents, given what the cost of living is here in New York. The Republicans, on the other hand, are willing to raise revenue by changing the tax code to eliminate or limit various deductions for the wealthy, while lowering rates across the board. 

 This may seem like a trivial difference to some people, especially in the affluent media, given that either way the government is going to get more tax revenue from those who are relatively well off, the Republicans having conceded as much already. But the underlying philosophies of each position stand in clear opposition. It essentially boils down to who should control other people’s money. The President’s position is that the rich should pay “more” on the basis of “fairness” and equality. Given that this kind of logic seems to appeal to a current majority of the public, he seems prepared to demagogue this issue over the “fiscal cliff,” even if alternative policies might actually raise more revenue with lower rates, calculating that with media support, he can successfully blame the consequences on the Republicans. They, in turn, argue, rather cogently I think, that this will only reduce investment and economic growth, particularly by burdening small business owners and confiscating capital from more productive uses. 

 It then ultimately becomes a question of who should spend the money- the people it belongs to or the government. It is as much about power and the direction of things as it is about revenue. The Democrats want it for social purposes, while the Republicans reject that for economic reasons, as well as based upon opposition to expanded government programs and power. The President essentially wants to maintain the current tax code and  simply raise income tax rates, while the Republicans want to maintain or reduce current rates and change the tax code. In this they have a strong argument; unfortunately they are not very good at articulating it. 

 The current tax code is full of deductions, exemptions, and benefits skewed towards particular interests (talk about fairness), that reduce the taxes they pay and raise everyone else’s. This results in crony capitalism, rewarding those favored by the government at the expense of others. The advocates of such policies mean well, to the extent that these favors are designed to get people to do things they otherwise would not do, or that make no economic sense on their own. This favorable treatment is designed to provide “incentives” to achieve various political goals, such as green energy through Solyndra-type outfits. Thus, the government then effectively controls how money is spend both indirectly, as well as directly, by taxing all those who are not favored more. It means more power over decision-making, based upon the assumption that somehow politicians and government bureaucrats know better how a business should invest, than its owners. 

 I’m not going to get into all the reasons these schemes frequently fail, or the distortion of investment decisions, but will address them on the liberals’ own terms: it’s just not fair. What would be fair is a system where the same rates apply to everyone without exception, even if they are progressive, and where no one could curry favors from the state. If all these exemptions and favors were eliminated, not only would there be less economic distortion, but then the rates for everyone could be lowered across the board. The Republicans have a strong argument here, provided they stick to it and don’t dole out favors themselves. Under the present system, to paraphrase Pericles, you may not be interested in government but government is interested in you. As long as exceptions and favors are done by the state, supposedly in the public interest, it forces organizations to be involved politically. This inevitably invites corruption.

 As bad as all this is on individual taxes, it is even worse when it comes to corporate taxes. Today the US has the highest corporate income taxes in the world, nominally, but exclusion and deductions effectively lower them for some who are favored. Eliminating the goodies for crony capitalists would allow rates to be significantly lowered across the board, thus encouraging more investment in this country. Again, by simply being fair, everyone would benefit. 

 But there are other interests at play besides the private sector, such as state and local government, and nonprofit organizations. Reducing, or eliminating deductions for state and local taxes usually leads to howls of protest from representatives of high tax states like New York. These concerns are, however, misplaced. New York sends far more taxes to Washington than it gets back. Thus logically every time a representative from here votes for more federal programs and taxes they are effectively voting against the interests of New York taxpayers. That is a strong argument that the Republicans in this state are unfortunately too inept to make, and thus keep losing elections. Reducing deductions for “charitable” contributions also results in protests from nonprofit organizations, who fear they might lose revenue. Never mind that wealthy donors often “contribute” via dinners and social events, they also get “naming” rights. In my view when a billionaire gets to plaster his name all over the place on something, usually in proportion to his ego, he should not get a tax benefit for it as well. Real charity is giving without expecting anything in return. People would still be charitable, it would just be on less of an industrial scale. 

 I’m not advocating eliminating any of these deductions or particular policies, but would insist than any increase in revenue be exclusively devoted to debt reduction. Beyond that, I would point out that any real reform also has to include state and local taxes, given how onerous, i.e. property taxes are for many people. I would suggest that we eliminate or drastically reduce taxes on all the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. There could be limitations and caps to avoid rewarding ostentatiousness. Instead let everything beyond these elements be taxed, most of which is elective and not essential to life. Thus, for example, we ought to instead have an entertainment tax, (take that Hollywood) which would be relatively painless, given that it would be based upon optional expenditures. No one can seriously argue that entertainment is an essential expense at present.  Furthermore, if society continued to prosper (and this should delight liberals) the list of nontaxables might even eventually be expanded to include some “social” goods, at least as long as it does not increase debt or raise taxes. It is far preferable that these things be provided and decided by individuals themselves rather than the government. That means individual choice instead of state direction. This is only a preliminary proposal, but accompanied by a rational tax system that treats everyone equally, we could reduce overall taxation, increase growth, and pay down the debt. After all, its only fair. 



Written by georgesarant

December 6, 2012 at 4:46 PM