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Friday-- February 15, 2002
Ground Zero Plus 157

America's Silently Insidious Terrorist
by
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
 

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, Feb 15-- It lurks around the corner--this ultimate Terrorism of American life.   Fear, Intimidation and Complacency sink their teeth deep into the veins of nearly 300 million Americans when its Terror Day comes.   You can hear its footsteps stalking now, crunching in the background of life, nearing, its deadly scythe cutting through the dark of night, bearing down.
         For those who haven't guessed, it's the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.).  The date of attack is April 15.   It's the day the government reaches into everyone's wallet or purse, digging as deep and frantically as possible.  Especially this year, with a war raging--one that seems to have no endpoint.
         It's not too early to be Vigilant for that Day of Atonement.   It's only sixty (60) days away, eight weekends from now, 86,400 minutes from this minute.  (Don't forget, there's over a half-million minutes per year.)
         I used to have to go the psychologist to do my taxes.  I would get violently ill physically just thinking about having to report my financial affairs to the government.    I was like a child fearful of riding a roller coaster, and his parents took him to therapy just so he could "do it."
        Over the years, accountant friends of mine have told me about clients puking in their offices, they got so upset.   Others have had them swig out of bottles to muster the courage to dump a shopping bag full of receipts and say: "Here you are!"
         I propose Terrorism takes many forms, far broader than the Osama bin Laden's of the world, and far deeper than the destruction of the World Trade Center or Pentagon.   Economic Terrorism is one of the worst of all.   It's the family who walks on the razor's edge, trying to juggle the bills and paying the MasterCard with the Visa, or feeling ashamed their kids don't have the "good clothes" others do, or turning down a request for money from a child because the cookie jar is empty.
        When I was a kid, you just didn't ask your parents for money.  One, they didn't have any.  Two, you were expected to earn your money as I did mowing lawns, sacking groceries, shining shoes, washing windows--the kinds of things kids do to put the extra buck or two in his or her pocket.
        I wasn't ashamed of my parents because everyone seemed in the same boat--there were the "rich" and the "poor."   The "haves" and the "have-nots."   The modern gradations of wealth didn't exist, where there is step structure to the "middle class"--lower middle, middle middle, upper middle--etc.   We were all black or white--poor average parents versus rich wonderful parents.
       My group didn't ask:  "Where are you going to college after high-school?"   Instead, they asked, "What kind of work are you going to do when you graduate?"  It was assumed we weren't smart enough or rich enough to even consider college.   The vast majority of our parents had no formal education either.   We were the legacy of complacency--inheriting the status quo.
      In those days the IRS was nothing because there was nothing.   You took all your deductions according to the law, and monthly never saw a penny of the your "tax money."  
      Perhaps that is the root of my revulsion to tax time, my sense of being stalked by some creature with long gnarly fingers groping for my pockets to "steal" my hard-earned money they didn't earn.
      As I revolted against my upbringing and sought the highest planes of business, money, fame and fortune, I grew to hate the IRS even more.   The more I made, the more the "bracket creep" got me.  Sometimes a raise created a deficit in net cash, making the idea of advancing a chilling prospect if you carried home less, not more loot.  Taxes are front-end loaded.  Terrorism is too.
      Terrorism is fear--usually of the unknown.   It is as simple as the child's fear of the dark, to the parents' cringing as April 15 approaches and their coffers are empty, or near empty.
      Besides the daily fear of paying the bills each month, and having something left over to enjoy the hard work and effort put forth to keep heads above water, there comes the axe on IRS Day.   It cleaves from those who are thinly stretched the few shekels they may have accumulated.  Or, from another perspective, they have to face-to-face with how many taxes they paid to support their local, city, state and federal government.  Sometimes just being aware of that amount of money gone, vanished, subtracted--shatters one's confidence in any hope to ever have enough to pay for college, or to enjoy retirement, or to escape the dread of monthly bills which arrive in the mailbox like anthrax each month.
       Politicians know the Terror of Taxes.  George Bush vowed not to raise them.  The mayor of New York City is slashing budgets right and left in his vainglorious attempt not to raise them as he promised he wouldn't to get elected (plus, he spent $65 million on his campaign).
      Then there are families of Nine Eleven.   They are being terrorized daily by mountains of paper work from state, local and federal agencies.   A close friend of mine, Emily, lost her brother, Bill Biggert, in the horror of September 11.  She's been trying to run interference for her sister-in-law to get death certificates and other necessary affidavits to prove her brother's demise.    Each time she relates another horror story about someone wanting this or that in addition, or refusing to give this or that document without social security numbers, or other evidence--when all these documents are public records.   Plus, there is a cost for everything.
      Fear is on the rise in America.   It grows more intense as April 15 approaches, especially for me and countless millions who don't study the tax law changes, who don't keep perfect records, who don't know how to pay "Zero Taxes" like the guy across the street who hawks every possible deduction until his wealth for the year is net, not gross.
     I wouldn't mind paying so many taxes as I have if I felt the power of my money returning an investment to me.  I see the police, fire, emergency services, roads--but beyond that, I draw a blank. 
      My guts twist when I hear the President of the United States waiving billions of dollars from Pakistan's debt to us because they are helping find a Wall Street Journal journalist.   It seems an arbitrary payoff that I wouldn't vote on were I to have a Voice in how my money, my children's money, was being spent.
Ironically, I used to manage millions of dollars for the companies I worked for, judiciously spending every penny--arguing, fighting for each nickel to become a quarter, each dollar expended to grow pregnant and return ten-fold whatever it was used for.  I was a pit bull manager.  I used "trust money" and felt the fiduciary between those who sent money and how it was spent.  I woke in the night in sweats sometimes, and battled against any waste or threat to hands reaching into the pot.   I knew it wasn't my money.  I have never felt the government thinks that way.  They think, I think, like Enron.  That's what terrorizes me most.
     I am not against money spent for defense or the repair of our infrastructure, but when I see thousands of new laws being passed annually, and the cost of administrating those laws, and the lack of repeal of old laws which continue on the books, I see a dung heap of waste rising higher than any World Trade Center.
     And the war?   I don't even know one is going on.  Nobody is getting killed.  Not our people or theirs.   Where is the body count?
     Economically,  divide the money spent in a war into the number of enemy killed, and you come up with a cost per death--dollars necessary to win.    I don't see  any numbers  It's as though we were spending billions and getting nothing back.   I know there is a long-range value hidden somewhere in the expenses, but where?  For what?  Oil?  Gas lines?  Tell me so I can feel justified in paying taxes.
     Taxes!
     They always force me to question the value of government's value beyond what I can see--police, fire, roads, defense.  Taxes shove the flags of patriotism aside and crassly drive me to count the money they take, to stare at the gap of wealth created by how much "they" are taking from me, my children, my grandchildren except for my buddies and pals,  the police, the fireman, the emergency services, the builders of roads, the repairer of the infrastructure.   

       I feel nauseous thinking about the black hole of tax expense as April 15 creeps closer.   I hide Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" in which he talks about the earth opening and into the chasm, government being swallowed.   I don't want to be a revolutionary, or an anarchist.  But I fear the unknown--and Taxes are all about the unknown.   They send shudders through me.  They make my stomach roil, my breath quicken.   I fear them more than Osama bin Laden--for they haunt me every year.  I feel robbed, disenfranchised by the cost of Liberty.
    Terrorism.   It works in insidious ways.   Maybe one day, in another life, I'll have the courage to face to my fear, the conviction to not be intimidated by them, and the ability to take action to change them instead of sitting here complacent, waiting for Samuel Beckett's Godot to do it.
     Semper Vigilantes? 
      I think I am Semper Complacent about Taxes.  
      I think I am not alone.
     .


     Go To Feb. 14--No Terrorism On Love Day    

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