Saddled up and ready to tilt at windmills

June 11, 2013

Sometimes I feel out of step. (My wife might say I’m always out of step.) But I don’t get the big reaction to the NSA looking into phone records.

Is it a concern? Yes. Should we have a discussion about limits to the government’s powers of surveillance? Yes, that would be a good idea.

But I don’t understand the surprise.

We’ve known that we’ve assassinated foreigners with drone strikes. We’ve known that we’ve assassinated Americans with drone strikes. And we’ve known that innocent people - we call these victims “collateral damage” - have been killed with drone strikes.

This knowledge hasn’t seemed to trouble people. In fact, despite President Obama’s readiness to rain death from the skies, Republicans have struggled to paint him as soft on terrorism.

But keeping track of phone calls is a step too far? Where do Americans think we get the intelligence that forms the basis for our decisions to kill people? I say “we” and “our” because ultimately Obama is taking these actions on our behalf.

As for my phone calls, government officials can listen in, if they dare. If they die of boredom, it’s their own fault.

Typical phone call:

ME: I’m at Wawa getting gas. Do we need anything?

WIFE: Yeah, could you get some eggs?

ME: OK, see you soon.

That’s about as exciting as it gets.

I’d be willing to make a deal with the government. You can keep track of who I call as long as I don’t have to take my belt and shoes off at the airport. Removing articles of clothing in public strikes me as more personally invasive. Out of the billions of phone calls, I doubt mine are attracting much attention.

I don’t understand Americans’ bipolar obsession with privacy. They rarely include cause of death in a loved one’s obituary, out of a misplaced concern for “privacy,” and yet are willing to share the most intimate details of their lives on Facebook. It’s mind-boggling.

Almost every purchase you make is recorded, if not on credit cards, then on those ubiquitous “value cards” so many stores use.

I hate carrying those stupid cards - they make a bigger bulge in my wallet than money - but recently a cashier told me I could save $14.75 on that day’s grocery bill if I signed up. It was hard to turn down free money, so yeah, I signed up for another one. At some point, I’ll have to carry a man purse. (No, I’m not going to do that.)

And while I’m all saddled up ready to tilt at windmills, let’s have a big round of applause for the IRS.

(Sound of one hand, clapping politely.)

Admittedly, I have not been the subject of an audit, but I wouldn’t be that worried. I haven’t lied about anything. I have no doubt they’d find something wrong. That’s their job.

But basically I feel the IRS is working on my behalf. (I told you I was out of step.) Remember Leona Helmsely, the infamous Queen of Mean? She was once quoted saying, “Only little people pay taxes.”

The rich can afford high-priced accountants and tax lawyers to shelter their earnings. Some companies, such as General Electric, have better tax experts than the IRS. When the IRS goes up against a corporation like GE, they’re generally outgunned. Only a strong, effective IRS can help level the playing field, to help make sure multinational corporations and the ultra-wealthy pay the taxes they owe.

The IRS is not at fault for our cumbersome tax system. Congress is. And why has Congress added all those special deductions and loopholes? Because people like us want them.

Not you? Maybe. But if Congress were to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction, local developers, real estate agents, and yes, average homeowners, would be howling to the heavens.

That doesn’t mean the IRS should have targeted conservative groups. If the IRS was used to punish political enemies, heads should roll and those responsible should be prosecuted.

But let’s be honest. All those so-called “social welfare” groups, whether liberal, middle of the road or conservative, are lying. Their primary purpose isn’t social welfare, it’s politics. And more specifically, it’s about allowing people to make unlimited donations anonymously.

Again, this isn’t the fault of the IRS. Congress has passed ridiculous laws - on our behalf - and the IRS is stuck with having to interpret them.

Update on elections group

Last week I neglected to mention the formal name of the group that will be keeping an eye on next year’s elections.

It’s called Sussex Countians for Fair Elections. For more information or to volunteer, contact It sounds like a good way to get involved in politics.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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