Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

Excerpt from 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Simon Jacobson.

This first week of Elul is the fourth week in the Seven Weeks of Consolation, which began immediately following the destruction of Tisha B’Av. God comforts
and consoles us while we work on rebuilding our relationship with Him during Elul (as Moses did on Mt. Sinai), thereby showing us that a relationship with
Him is a two-way street.
The Midrash explains the progression of these seven weeks as a dialogue between us and God (which reflects our introspection in the month of Elul):
· Week One: God sends His messengers, the prophets, to console the people after the destruction of the Temple.
· Week Two: The Jewish people ask the messengers, “Why are you coming here? We want God to come.”
· Week Three: The messengers go back to go and tell God: “The nation is not consoled.”
· Week Four (the first week of Elul): God agrees to come and console the people Himself, and begins consoling them.
· Week Five: God’s consolation intensifies.
· Week Six: The consolation reaches a more profound and powerful level.
· Week Seven (the week before Rosh Hashana): The Jewish people tell God, “We rejoice in Your consolation.”
Why doesn’t God Himself console the people at the very beginning? Why does He send messengers and allow three whole weeks to pass by before He acts?
God teaches us here, first of all, to bond with each other and to console each other. One could argue that we’re all mortals in the same situation, and
that we need someone above and beyond us to console us.
But God says, no, one mortal can console another mortal. One weak person can console another. One vulnerable person can console another. It’s a great gift
that one person can give to another.
Ask yourself: Have you developed the sensitivity to console others in time of sorrow in their lives? Do you seek out opportunities to offer consolation
or do you shirk away from such occasions? What has been your experience in being consoled by others?
– Console someone—visit a sick person in a hospital, or call a friend who is feeling down, or send a greeting to a person you know is lonely.
– Resolve to make consolation a regular practice throughout the month of Elul.

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This seems to be the most sensible thing I’ve read in a long time, and I think people would do well to at least think on it for a minute or two.

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS
Sunday Morning Commentary, Sunday, 12/18/05 ..

Herewith at this happy time of year, a few confessions from my
beating heart: I have no clue who Nick and Jessica are. I see them on the
cover of People and Us constantly when I am buying my dog biscuits and kitty
litter. I often ask the checkers at the grocery stores. They never know who
Nick and Jessica are either. Who are they? Will it change my life if I know
who they are and why they have broken up? Why are they
so important?

I don’t know who Lindsay Lohan is either, and I do not care at all
about Tom Cruise ‘s wife. Am I going to be called before a Senate committee
and asked if I am a subversive? Maybe, but I just have no clue who Nick and
Jessica are.

If this is what it means to be no longer young , it’s not so bad.

Next confession:
I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And
it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit
up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel
discriminated against. That’s what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, “Merry Christmas” to
me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a
ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and
sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all
that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach
house in Malibu .. If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is
the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t
think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think
people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around,
period. I
have no idea where the concept came from that America is an
explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution, and I don’t
like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from
that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren’t allowed to worship God
as we understand Him?

I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a
lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the
America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh,
this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not
funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham ‘s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and
Jane Clayson asked her “How could God let something like this Happen?”
(regarding Katrina)

Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.
She said, “I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for
years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our
government and to get out of our lives.

And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.
How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we
demand He leave us alone?”

In light of recent events…terrorists attack, school shootings,
etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her
body found recently) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and
we said OK.

Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school…..the
Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor
as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when
they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we
might damage their self-esteem ( Dr. Spock ‘s son committed suicide). We
said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said OK.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience,
why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill
strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure
it out. I think it has a great deal to do with “WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.”

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why
the world’s going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but
question what the Bible says.

Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like
wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people
think twice about sharing.

Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely
through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school
and workplace.

Are you laughing?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to
many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what
they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of
us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard
it… no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process,
don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

I’m seriously debating whether or not to go into work today.
I’ve been seriously congested for the past two days, and so far, it’s not letting up.
I slept OK last night, but I have a raging headache right now, and just feel generally cruddy.
The problem is I’m working on this center-wide newsletter, (which, BTW, got a huge boost thanks to Angel’s “Mr. Frodo’s Hobbit-hole” column, and no, it’s not really called that, I’m just obscuring the names), and the files I need are on the work box’s harddrive.
I wonder if I could get someone to send them to me here?
I’m definitely not in the mood to deal with stupid people, especially on the phone.
This newsletter’s supposed to be out tomorrow in final draft, but I just don’t see it happening.
Not if they expect good quality work, and if Angel and I have to hijack the entire project to ensure that it is quality so that neither of our names get attached to trash, then so be it … I think.
God, my head hurts, and so far the Excedron’s not helped.
I checked the weather, and it looks like we’ve got some major changes coming our way, which probably explains this crud.
We’re supposed to have rain all this week and into next, with the rain increasing as the week progresses.
So I wonder if I’m going to be stuck with this for all that time.
I really hope not.
I just don’t know.

Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

By Heidi at Euphoric Reality

Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.
-Arnold Toynbee

Wide open and unguarded stand our gates, and through them passes a wild motley throng.
-Thomas Bailey Aldrich, “Unguarded Gates,” 1895

You cannot become thorough Americans if you think of yourselves in groups. America does not consist of groups. A man who thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group in America has not yet become an American.
-Woodrow Wilson, Address to New Citizens, 1915

Those who favor unrestricted immigration care nothing for the people.
-Sam Gompers, founding president, AFL, 1921

Why was the border guard so thin? Did the Romans not notice…that their way of life was changing forever?
-Thomas Cahill, 1995

No society has a boundless capacity to accept newcomers, especially when many are poor and unskilled.
-Robert Samuelson, economist and Newsweek columnist, 2005

We can’t protect our own borders.
-Donald Rumsfeld, November 29, 2005

*******

The following excerpts are all from a new book, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. Many people may not read it because of the political baggage of the author, but I’ve read the book, despite my disagreement with the author on other issues, and it is entirely right on the money when it comes to the invasion of our country by foreigners. It occurred to me that many people may miss out on the common sense found within its pages so I’m excerpting a little bit of it here for those who may never read the words otherwise.

On November 28, 2005, President Bush, speaking in Tucson, conceded that in five years 4.5 million aliens had been caught attempting to break into the United States. Among that 4.5 million, Bush admitted, were “more than 350,000 with criminal records.” One in every twelve illegal aliens the U.S. Border Patrol had apprehended was a criminal.

That is 70,000 felons apprehended each year, 200 felons every single day for five years, trying to break into our country to rob, rape, and murder Americans. Of the millions who succeeded on Bush’s watch, how many came for just such purposes? How many Americans have been robbed, assaulted, or murdered because the President failed in his duty to defend the borders of the United States?

Nearly 8 million foreigners did enter during those five years, 3.7 million of them illegally. If one in twelve was a criminal, 300,000 felons slipped in during Bush’s tenure. This is an historic dereliction of presidential duty.

There are today 36 million foreign-born in the United States, almost three times as many people as the 13.5 million hear at the peak of the Great Wave in 1910. And it is among these tens of millions of foreign-born that illegal aliens find sanctuary. As James Edwards of the Hudson Institute writes, legal and illegal immigration are two sides of the same coin. If we fail to control the one, we cannot control the other. As a rule, he notes, when legal immigration rises, illegal immigration soars.
[…]
Our foreign-born population today is almost equal to the 42 million who came over three and a half centuries from 1607 to 19965. The Border Patrol catches as many illegal immigrants every month as all the legal immigrants who came to America in the 1820s. Today’s numbers are of a different order of magnitude.

No nation has ever attempted to assimilate 36 million foreigners in a generation. Yet, each year, 1.5 million more are added to the number, half of the illegals, 90 percent of them from Third World countries whose people have never before been assimilated into our population.
[…]
“The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities,” said Theodore Roosevelt. We are becoming was T.R. warned against: a multi-lingual, multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural Tower of Babel. To the delight of anti-Americans everywhere and the indifference of our elites, we are risking the Balkanization and breakup of the nation.
[…]
How many spies and saboteurs have been sent into our country as sleeper agents? How many Al Qaeda are here awaiting orders to bomb subways and malls or assassinate our leaders? We have no idea. Neither does the Department of Homeland Security. Border security is homeland security. But America has lost control of her borders and, as Ronald Reagan said, a country that can’t control its borders isn’t really a country anymore.

In his address in Tucson, President Bush made a startling admission. For decades, he said, the United States has had a separate policy in dealing with non-Mexicans breaking in through the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, a policy of “catch-and-release”: “about four of every five non-Mexican illegal immigrants we catch are released in society and asked to return for a court date. When the date arrives, about 75% of those released don’t show up at court.* As a result, last year [2004], only 30,000 of the 160,000 non-Mexicans caught coming across our southwest border were sent home.”

“This practice of catch and release has been the government’s policy for decades,” said Bush. “It is an unwise policy and we’re going to end it.”

Is this not an astonishing admission? …How can the president say our homeland is secure?

Further on in his Tucson speech, Bush conceded that our government and laws have been frozen in a pre-9/11 world:

Under current law, the federal government is required to release people caught crossing our border illegally if their home countries do not take them back in a set period of times…Those we were forced to release have included murderess, rapists, child molesters, and other violent criminals.

“This undermines our border security” and the work “these good folks” of the Borders are doing, added the president.

Again, is this not astounding? President Bush was talking about releasing “murders, rapists, child molesters, and other violent criminals” into our society, because “current law” commands it and the nations whence the criminals come refuse to take them back.

The question begs itself: With Bush and his party in power, why had they not changed “current law”? Why had President Bush not picked up a phone and told the leaders of these “home countries” that there will not be another visa issued to their country until they take back every one of their criminal felons who has broken into ours?

What is the matter with President Bush? What is the matter with us?

What explains the paralysis of the present White House?

George Bush has taken an oath to see to it that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed. The immigration laws are clear. Businesses that hire illegal aliens break U.S. law and are subject to sanctions. Yet, as the columnist John O’Sullivan writes, “in the Clinton years 1995, 1996, and 1997 there were between 10,000 and 18,000 work-site arrests of illegals annually. In the same years about 1,000 employers were served notices of fines for employing them. Under the Bush administration, work-site arrests fell to 159 in 2004 where there was also the princely total of three notices of intent to fine served on employers.”

“In this dramatic relaxation of internal enforcement” under George W. Bush, O’Sullivan concludes, “is the explanation of the rapidly rising estimate of immigrants living and working illegally in this country.”

Can anyone say that, with this record, President Bush has faithfully executed the immigration laws of the United States?

Twice, President Bush took an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Article IV, Section 4, reads: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union, a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion.”

Yet, with perhaps 4 million illegal aliens having broken in during Bush’s five and a half years in office, and our border states daily breached by thousands more, can anyone say President Bush has protected the states of this Union against that invasion? In an earlier America, this dereliction of constitutional duty would have called forth articles of impeachment.
[…]
America’s leaders claim she is the most powerful country on earth. But American has a government too morally flabby to act as decisively as Ike did** to remove from our national home those who have broken in and had no right to be here. How many America women must be assaulted, how many children molested, how many citizens must die at the hands of criminal aliens and foreign terrorists before our government does its duty?
[…]
If present projections of the U.S. Census Bureau prove accurate, the American our grandchildren will live in will be another country, a nation unrecognizable to our parents.

By 2050, it is now estimated that there will be almost 2.5 times as many people here as in 1960: 420 million. The share of the population of European descent will be a minority, as it is today in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. And that minority will be aging, shrinking, and dying. There will be as many Hispanics here – 102 million – as there are Mexicans today in Mexico. …By 2050, they will be 24 percent of a nation of 420 million. By nation of origin of our people, America will be a Third World Country.

Our great cities will all look like Los Angeles today. Los Angeles and the cities of the Southwest will look like Juarez and Tijuana. Though we were never consulted about this transformation, never voted for it, and have protested against it in every poll and referendum, this is the future the elites have prepared for our children.

I’ll close the excerpt with this warning:

This is not immigration as America knew it, when men and women made a conscious choice to turn their backs on their native lands and cross the ocean to become Americans. This is an invasion, the greatest invasion in history. Nothing of this magnitude has ever happened in so short a time.

Against the will of a vast majority of Americans, America is becoming transformed. As our elites nervously avert their gaze or welcome the invasion, we are witness to one of the great tragedies in human history. From Gibbon to Spengler to Toynbee and the Durants, the symptoms of a dying civilization are well known: the death of faith, the degeneration of morals, contempt for the old values, collapse of the culture, paralysis of the will. But the two certain signs that a civilization has begun to die are a declining population and foreign invasions no longer resisted.

Here in America, the self-delusion about what is happening and the paralysis in the face of the crises have no precedent. What can be said for a man who would allow his home to be invaded by strangers who demanded they be fed, clothed, housed, and granted the rights of the firstborn? What can be said for a ruling elite that permits this to be done to the nation, and that celebrates it as a milestone of moral progress?

We are witnessing how nations perish. We are entered upon the final act of our civilization. The last scene is the destruction of the nations. The penultimate scene, now well underway, is the invasion unresisted.

_____________________________

*According to Congressional testimony on August 16th, the Border Patrol reported that actually only 90% of released illegals report back for their court date.

**In 1954, when Eisenhower discovered a million Mexicans here who did not belong, without apology he ordered them sent home in “Operation Wetback.” They went.

__________________________________________

This has been a production of the Guard the Borders Blogburst. It is syndicated by Euphoric Reality, and serves to keep immigration issues in the forefront of our minds as we’re going about our daily lives and continuing to fight the war on terror. If you are concerned with the trend of illegal immigration in our country, join the Blogburst! Send an email with your blog name and url to euphoricrealitynet at gmail dot com.

Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

by louise fiszer

Late summer brings an abundance of good things to feast upon and wonderful opportunities to feed my vegetarian and/or kosher guests. Beautiful vegetables,
fresh herbs from the garden — these are summer’s best.

What better way to showcase these gifts of the season than to combine them with different shapes of pasta for light, colorful and tasty warm-weather fare.
Effortless, elegant and easy dishes can be created in a flash, allowing the cook to serve leisurely without spending a lot of time in a hot kitchen. The
key is simple preparations that rely on the natural goodness of the ingredients.

A fresh tomato basil sauce that requires no cooking, tossed with freshly cooked linguini makes a lovely starter for a casual dinner. (I sometimes add slivers
of leftover salmon or halibut for a heartier main dish). Ripe, garden fresh tomatoes are key to its success.

The scent of fresh basil resonates heartily in a Ligurian pasta, green bean and potato dish that is almost a summer vegetable garden in a bowl.

These sauces can be made ahead to reheat just before serving. Try using a variety of pasta shapes as interesting partners for these savory summertime sauces.

Uncooked Tomato Sauce | Serves 8 as an appetizer or 4 as a main course

4 lbs. ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
2 Tbs. minced shallots
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 Tbs. minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup imported black olives, pitted
4 Tbs. olive oil
6 anchovy fillets
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound freshly cooked pasta
basil leaves for garnish

Coarsely chop all ingredients except pasta and basil leaves in food processor. Add salt and pepper for taste and toss with hot, freshly cooked pasta. Garnish
with basil leaves.

Pasta with Pesto, Green Beans and Potatoes |
Serves 4

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves (about 2 bunches)
1/2 cup olive oil (preferably extra virgin)
6 Tbs. freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1 ounce)
6 Tbs. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
2 medium russet potatoes (about 3?4 pound), peeled, cut into 1?2-inch cubes and cooked
6 oz. green beans, trimmed, cut into 3-inch lengths and cooked
1 lb. trenette pasta or linguine, freshly cooked

Combine basil, oil, Romano and Parmesan cheeses, toasted pine nuts and minced garlic in processor. Season pesto to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to large bowl. Add green beans
to same pot and cook until crisp and tender, about 3 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl with potatoes. Cook pasta in same pot until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.
Transfer pasta to bowl with potatoes and green beans.

Whisk reserved 1/2 cup cooking liquid into pesto. Add pesto to pasta mixture and toss thoroughly to coat. Transfer pasta to large platter. Serve, passing
additional Pecorino Romano separately.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin.
Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to

Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

By Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman

The Month

Ellul is a unique month—the final month of the year, “the month of mercy and forgiveness,” a month of expectancy and preparation for Rosh Hashanah and the
Days of Awe; a month during which, as several Hasidic darshanim put it, “the King is right here, in the field.” Among Ashkenazim, it is marked by blowing
the shofar every morning, and by reciting each morning and evening Psalm 27, a special psalm expressing the longing “to dwell in the house of the Lord.”
Sephardim begin reciting Selihot before dawn every morning from Rosh Hodesh on, while Ashkenazim do so only from the last week or so before Rosh Hashanah.

The month’s astrological symbol is Virgo (Hebrew: Betulah), the virgin. In Western culture, much influenced by Christian myth, the immediate association
of virginity is as the highest form of purity (even in this age of sexual latitude), but in Judaism there is no celebration of virginity as a value in
itself. She is a tabula rasa, an unwritten slate: one who symbolizes anticipation, readiness, “not yet…,” a certain guarding and holding of herself for
the future. As such, a virgin also signifies receptivity, a certain openness (to both the good and the bad), of potential for moving onto a new stage.

This concept of pristine, almost naïve purity, seems to me to dovetail with the theme of teshuvah. Teshuvah is about new beginnings, of the individual
remaking him- or herself. Unlike the month of Sivan, whose symbol of Gemini, the twins, suggests relationship, even intimate encounter, the “I-Thou” (as
between God and man at Sinai), here we focus upon a single individual—a single, lone human being encountering life, first of all, within his/her own inner
self, and attempting to return to a certain primal simplicity, freshness, purity: to remove the stain, the dross, the burden of various kinds of negativity
that have accumulated over a year, or over a lifetime—and to begin anew.

In this sense, the virgin is perhaps more suggestive of what some thinkers (Paul Ricouer seems to have originated the term) have referred to as “second
naïvete” or “second innocence.” A person who, having gone through many life experiences, and having experienced disillusionment, a sense of moral contamination
and corruption, perhaps a certain jadedness and cynicism, suddenly somehow comes full circle to seeking a kind of purity, innocence, freshness in life—albeit
on a different level than the innocence of a child, youth or maiden.

This loss and recapturing of innocence may be felt on at least two senses:

First, a loss of innocence about ourselves. Sin reveals to us the negative, selfish, thoughtless things of which we are capable. Every one is born with
certain illusions about himself, everyone likes to sees him/herself as good. Often we go through life with an enormous amount of self-justification, even
for the most heinous sins and crimes. Thus, authentic teshuvah requires, first of all, honesty with our selves, recognizing and acknowledging our sin;
being able to say: I did such-and-such a thing, this act belongs to me. (Imagine, for example, the image of Eleazar ben Durdai placing his head between
his knees, weeping for the years of debauchery and of life wasted in the pursuit of no more than coarse carnal pleasure.)

True, on another level teshuvah also means transcending the evil acts one has done, ”moving on,” changing the self, reaching the point of feeling that “I
am a different person; I am not the same person who did these acts” (Hilkhot Teshuvah 2.4; cf. the lyrical description of the transformation possible
through teshuvah in Chap. 7, which I will post on the blog presently). But before reaching that state, one must first acknowledge one’s sin, and one’s
perennial capacity for wrongdoing. The “second innocence” of such a person is thus of one who has undergone the full life trajectory: from initial innocence,
to performing cruel, immoral, or lustful acts—or simply acting and living without mature cognizance of what one is doing; to a kind of inner revulsion
at one’s self, and seeking with all one’s being to recreate him/herself in the image of a better, purer, higher self. This is perhaps the insight expressed
by Hazal in their saying, “One who does teshuvah out of love, willful transgressions are transformed into mitzvot.” That is, there is a certain finer
self that is somehow revealed specifically through the process of sin and the “recovery” therefrom.

Second: there may have been a loss of innocence in one’s very faith. One “raised in the faith” may start out with a simple, even naïve acceptance of basic
Torah dicta, and even one who has embraced Judaism at a later point in life may start by accepting “whole-hog” the doctrines taught by one’s teachers.
But the modern world presents many alternative approaches or “explanations” of the Torah, which sooner or later will cause the intelligent person to
begin thinking and questioning—whether these are in the realm of psychology (sublimation of parental figures); history and textual analysis (questioning
the Divine authorship of the Bible; historicistic explanations of the development of halakhah), economic theory (religion as an instrument of social control,
the “opiate of the masses); evolutionary biology or neurophysics (mechanistic interpretations of the human brain itself, with its thoughts, emotions,
and spiritual experiences), etc., etc. Or one may question a naïve belief in sekhar va-onesh, in Divine retribution, once one begins to see “bad thing
happen to good people.” Be it through personal encounters with suffering, tragedy, or premature death of dear ones, or through learning about catastrophic
events such as Auschwitz, one begins to doubt Gods goodness.

Second naïvete (Ernst Simon talks about this somewhat) means moving past these questions to a more subtle, mature, kind of faith. Such a “second faith”
does not deny the difficulties posed by modern thought or try to sop them off by facile, slick apologetics, but somehow moves to a place where it hears
Torah addressing an utterly different dimension of truth.

The Tur (Orah Hayyim §581) begins its presentation of the laws of Elul (and of Rosh Hashanah) by quoting the midrash in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, describing
how, when Moses ascended the mountain a second time to receive the second set of tablets, a shofar was sounded in the camp as a sign that Moses had in
fact ascended, and to instill the people with a sense of awe and teshuvah.

This association of Elul with the second tablets, again, coincides with the theme of teshuvah and “second innocence.” The relationship of the people with
God, and with the Torah, was different after the incident of the Golden Calf. It was no longer one of simple, innocent faith—but neither was it one of
rebelliousness and protest. The people longed for things to be as they had been, but knew that they were different. Henceforth the relationship would
be more troubled, complex; however intense the renewed love, passion, faith and trust, beneath the surface there would be always be the seeds of faithlessness,
of the potential to realize the betrayal (much like a married couple trying to rebuild their marriage after betrayals on one or both sides, with the knowledge
of what happened suppressed, unmentioned, but somehow present just below the surface).

God’s relation to this, too, was different. He understood the people’s weakness, that they could not be counted on to stand unwavering in their loyalty
to Him—and He realized that He would have to exercise a greater measure of compassion, of forgiveness, of turning a blind eye to their shortcomings. This
was the secret of the Thirteen qualities of mercy, revealed to Moses in the crevice of the rock on that first Yom Kippur—and which have served since time
immemorial as the leitmotif of the Selihot, from Elul on through the Holy Day. (See my detailed discussion of this in HY I: Ki Tisa and on the blog at
Ki Tisa (Torah))

In Hasidism, the second tablets also symbolize the Oral Torah: somehow, in wake of the rift caused by the Golden Calf, and the painful reparation of the
breech, man began to take a more active role in shaping, transmitting, and interpreting the Torah. Elul thus symbolizes two kinds of creativity: the
creativity entailed in Oral Torah, and the re-creation of self involved in the act of teshuvah.

A brief word about the Torah readings for Elul. These consist basically of the latter half of Devarim: the recapitulation and summary of the law, with
certain new laws pertaining particularly to the news type of life to be lived in the Land; and admonitions, ceremonies of ratifying the covenant, and
Moses’ Song of Warning. All these clearly relate to the theme of renewal, of rebirth, of preparation, of return. And just as obviously, counterpointing
these to the stories of Adam and Eve at the beginning of Genesis, we find ourselves in a far more complex, mature, and ambivalent moral world—again, suitable
to “second naivete.”

Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

Iran leadership poses threat
David Horovitz, THE JERUSALEM POST
Aug. 24, 2006

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, if he ever became the supreme decision maker in his country, would “sacrifice half of Iran for the sake of eliminating
Israel,” Giora Eiland, Israel’s former national security adviser, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

At present, Eiland stressed, the ultimate decision maker in Iran was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 67, whom he said was “more reasonable.” But,
Eiland went on, “if Ahmadinejad were to succeed him
– and he has a reasonable chance of doing so – then we’d be in a highly dangerous situation.”

The 49-year-old Iranian president, he said, “has a religious conviction that Israel’s demise is essential to the restoration of Muslim glory, that the Zionist
thorn in the heart of the Islamic nations must be removed. And he will pay almost any price to right the perceived historic wrong. If he becomes the supreme
leader and has a nuclear capability, that’s a real threat.”

In facing up to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Eiland said the United States had three possible courses of action, “all of them bad,” and that a decision could
not be postponed for too long, “since delay, too, is a decision of sorts.”

The first option was “to give up” – to accept that Iran was going nuclear and try to make the best of it. By “making the best of it,”
Eiland said, he meant “isolating Iran economically, politically and internationally in the hope that this will eventually prompt an internal push for regime
change.”

This might also give other nations the sense that the political price of going nuclear was too high for them to contemplate, and might thus deter nations
such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria and others from seeking to emulate Iran and spelling the full collapse of the nuclear nonproliferation era.

Washington’s second option was to launch a last-ditch effort at diplomatic action, he said. At this stage, a mixture of sanctions and bonuses would not
be sufficient to deter Iran altogether, but it might seek to persuade Teheran to suspend progress for two or three years.

“In return, the US would have to open direct engagement with Teheran, with full recognition of the regime. This would boost the regime’s credibility and
standing at home and allow it to say it was voluntarily suspending the program for a while,” he said.The advantage for the Bush administration was that
“Bush could then say, ‘They didn’t go nuclear on my watch, and it’s up to my successors to keep things that way.'”

The third option, said Eiland, was a military operation – born of the sense that the diplomatic process would not work and that there could be no compromise
with an axis-of-evil power. However, internal political realities and public opinion in the US were not conducive to this, he said, nor was international
support readily available.
Furthermore, said Eiland, “this would be action that would have to be taken within months.

If not, and if Iran continues enrichment, it will complete the research and development stage and have a proven ability which it can then duplicate at numerous
sites. And at that point it could not be stopped by military action. Six months or 12 months from now would be too late, he said.

Tellingly, Eiland noted, it seemed to him that the difficulties facing the administration over that third course were growing.

As the crisis with Iran deepens, meanwhile, some Israeli sources believe the US has acted foolishly in spurning opportunities for international diplomatic
cooperation against Iran in recent years, and that Israel mistakenly encouraged this course of action.

The US might have had more success isolating Iran two years ago, when Bush and French President Jacques Chirac were stronger, Iran was weaker and the situation
in Iraq looked better, said the sources.

As recently as a few months ago, on a trip to Ukraine, which is a vital Russian sphere of influence, US Vice President Richard Cheney criticized the Putin
regime’s record on democracy, the sources pointed out. Against that kind of background, the US should not be surprised now, therefore, to find Russia less
than willing to fully cooperate on its Iran strategy.

Israel, these sources went on, realized early the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear drive but erred in supporting the US in hanging tough rather than pushing
it toward cooperation.

As for Israel’s military options, these sources spoke of an immense dilemma for the government. Declining to go into detail, they noted only that Israel
was not as potent militarily as the US and mused about what might happen if a military action proved unsuccessful in thwarting the nuclear program. Iran
might then complete its nuclear drive and, branding Israel a preemptive aggressor, claim legitimacy for a strike of its own at Israel.

Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

By Mazal Mualem Haaretz 24 August 2006
www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/754136.html

A day before the current government was sworn in, on April 17, former
Knesset member Uzi Landau found out he has prostate cancer. This grave news
came on top of the Likud defeat in the elections, his personal failure to
obtain a realistic place in the party’s Knesset list and the failure of the
rebellion he had led in the Likud to stop the disengagement.

At age 63, after 22 years in politics as a Knesset member and a minister,
and after two turbulent years as head of the rebel group, Landau suddenly
found himself outside the political game, with a cancerous tumor to fight.
He is an organized man, stubborn and rational; predictably he saw no
symbolism between the newly found tumor and the blow to his political
career.

After consulting several doctors, Landau decided on a treatment strategy,
and he had a successful operation a month ago in Paris. Fortunately the
tumor was discovered at an early stage and had not spread.

Granting a first interview since his illness became public, Landau adamantly
blocks discussing it or how he has coped. He sums up the ordeal with typical
briefness and distance. “Prostate cancer is very common among men”, he says.
“I had to treat it. I consulted experts. I treated it. That’s it. Now I’m in
after-care.”

“Now” is the middle of August 2006. Precisely a year to the Gaza
disengagement, a week from the end of the second Lebanon war, which of
course Landau links to the Gaza withdrawal, eight months from Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon’s exit from the political arena. A different era.

He arrives for the interview in sandals, far from the buttoned-up image of
Landau the politician. These days he is looking into a few job offers in the
private sector and academia; he has a doctorate in civil engineering.

He does not miss politics nor most of the politicians. He stays in touch
with Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, and Knesset members Natan Sharansky
and Moshe Kahlon, but says he has no intention of returning to political
life. A man who was one of the media’s most celebrated politicians in the
two years prior to the disengagement has not been seen on televisions
screens for several months. He is forgotten, along with all of his fellow
rebels, who held center stage in the public discourse for a long while.

You probably want to shout out that you were right? Qassams, Katyushas.

Landau: “I have nothing new to say. It doesn’t interest me to say I was
right. Nothing came as a surprise. The disengagement caused a terrible split
in the nation, has promoted the radicals and made Hezbollah understand that
the Jews understand only force. We are now in a much worse situation than we
were a month ago. But I was made to look delusional, because part and parcel
of the campaign against the disengagement opposition was a nonsensical
discourse. They said I was a war monger.”

Surely you assess the next war to be approaching?

“The odds are much greater today of a war with Syria. The only possibility
to prevent a war is to make clear to everyone that you are ready for it.
Because when you face a terror organization that sees you as cobweb, there
is no way to avoid confrontation. We found ourselves in the current conflict
in Lebanon because we were not ready to take chances, so we paid a heavier
price. If a Palestinian terrorist is released now from prison, we are laying
the foundations for the next kidnapping.”

Do you sympathize with those calling for Olmert, Peretz and Halutz to
resign?

“Yes. In any normal country the trio would not be allowed to go on
functioning. You don’t have to wait for outsiders to tell you so. This is
our tragedy. I was disappointed. I thought Olmert would behave differently.
I expected him to be firm. I thought we would end this war on a different
note. This is a trio of unworthy people. Olmert is very clever. He knows how
to make decisions, but not regarding policy and war. Peretz has no
understanding whatsoever. He speaks of negotiations with Syria, so the
Syrians are confident that we lost, since they understand only force. And we
have a foreign minister who is doing her internship in foreign policy. All
of this at Israel’s most difficult period, with the public paying the
price.”

The question of whether a state commission of inquiry should be established
brings him back to the days of Sharon and releases pent-up anger against the
mediad:

“I’m not a lover of inquiry commissions”, he says, “but I wish a committee
would be set up to examine the media, which has to ask itself how it was
used as a mouthpiece for the government during the last five years,
particularly during the disengagement. It was one of Israel’s greatest
tragedies. The country was run by a gang of media spinners, Sharon’s media
consultants were only concerned with Sharon’s interest, and not with the
country’s interest.

“Journalism in Israel is a cartel. You cannot express yourself, and you
cannot conduct a debate. This journalism has deluded the public and
prevented a serious discussion. For a long time there was a desire to keep
the facade. Even now the same interviewers are inviting the same
commentators and the same consultants and all those who drove us into the
mud. For 13 years the elite has been explaining to us that we are the
occupation and justice is with the Palestinians. We were brainwashed that
the Israel Defense Forces cannot win, that it is all about the occupation.
No real debate took place.

“Oslo does not represent only a physical withdrawal. It was a mental
withdrawal. The entire country was reprogrammed. We escaped from Lebanon.
The Four Mothers model also hurt us. All the rhetoric since has rendered
Israel’s rational capacity impotent.”

But the public did not go for your proposal. The disengagement happened and
the great revolution failed.

“I don’t think that the rebels failed. That period was the height of my
political activity in my 22 years of Knesset membership. We proved that not
everyone in the Likud is for sale.”

The disengagement took place, you brought about the splitting of the Likud,
and most of you stayed outside the Knesset. That’s a failure.

“The Likud would have split in any case. Maybe we shouldn’t have voted
against the appointments of Ministers Ze’ev Boim and Ronnie Bar-On in the
second round. We gave Arik an easy way out. Ruby Rivlin told me, ‘Arik is
looking for an excuse to leave the Likud, so even if he intends to appoint a
horse, I am going to vote for it. I will not give him an excuse.’ In
retrospect, Ruby was right.”

Landau, the leader who contended for the party leadership, was left without
a relevant central message. Without a real opponent. At the end of the day
he also forfeited the dream, withdrew his candidacy and teamed up with
Netanyahu. These were already the days of his political decline. In the
Likud’s elections for the Knesset list, he found himself 14th, an
unrealistic place.

Landau believes that the combination of his inexperience at wheeling and
dealing and punishment for spliting the Likud kept him out of the Knesset.
He says he had lost the joy of politics and hoped not to be elected: “On my
way to the trade fairs, while I was listening to the polls on the radio, I
said to myself, ‘I wish the Likud would not reach 14 mandates.’ I didn’t
want to be in this Knesset.”

Do you think of Sharon sometimes?

“Of course. I also have had several conversations with Omri. On a personal
level, I am grieving. All the ganging up on Sharon was a very difficult
thing for me. I appreciated him. In 1973 I was part of his force that
crossed the [Suez] canal, and it was a sweet song. All the glory was his.
Sharon’s honor is dear to me, but the honor of the country is even dearer.

“To this day it is unclear what he was thinking of with the disengagement.
In 1995 Sharon was asked, ‘How did Rabin go to Oslo?’ Sharon replied, ‘Rabin
is a different man’. I can say the same of Sharon. He was a different man
when he commanded the disengagement. I have no other way to explain it. That
is not the Sharon I knew. To this moment I cannot grasp the disengagement
issue. As far as I am concerned, it’s the handiwork of media spin.”

Is it like they claim, that Sharon is one of the responsible for the Lebanon
failure?

“When I was the minister in charge of secret services overview, we had a
cabinet meeting on an occasion when Hezbollah attacked our soldiers. 2001 if
I recall correctly. Arik ordered for the first time to respond with an
attack on a Syrian target. We took down a Syrian radar station. For me that
was like breathing clear mountain air. A government that understands that
the real enemy is Syria, and not anyone else. It was one specific operation,
but we held to that guideline. In effect, Arik did not deal with Lebanon. We
did not deal with the Lebanese issue properly. Naturally all the attention
was on the terror.”

Landau sees all the processes that Israel has undergone since Oslo as a
consistent weakening, “A slippery slope.”

“I look at the Arabs. When they wage their war against us, they are certain
they are right. The Arabs fight for justice, we fight for peace and
security. It has a devastating effect”.

According to Landau, the social and leadership conduct since Oslo projects
weakness. He finds another expression to this “in the behavior of the Arab
Knesset members”, whom he calls a fifth column. “This is our stupidity”, he
says. “We are the only country in the world which allows use of the
democratic instrument to undermine its Jewish democratic nature. It’s
another expression of our inner weakness. Ahmad Tibi cannot be a member of
the Israeli Knesset.”

Any thoughts of returning to politics?

“I cannot find a reason to come back to politics today, unless it is to a
position from which I have crucial influence. I was already a Knesset member
and a minister. On the personal level I have achieved everything a
politician could aim for.”

Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

Hezbollah Didn’t Win
Arab writers are beginning to lift the veil on what really happened in Lebanon.

BY AMIR TAHERI
Friday, August 25, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

The way much of the Western media tells the story, Hezbollah won a great victory against Israel and the U.S., healed the Sunni-Shiite rift, and boosted
the Iranian mullahs’ claim to leadership of the Muslim world. Portraits of Hassan Nasrallah, the junior mullah who leads the Lebanese branch of this pan-Shiite
movement, have adorned magazine covers in the West, hammering in the message that this child of the Khomeinist revolution is the new hero of the mythical
“Arab Street.”

Probably because he watches a lot of CNN, Iran’s “Supreme Guide,” Ali Khamenei, also believes in “a divine victory.” Last week he asked 205 members of his
Islamic Majlis to send Mr. Nasrallah a message, congratulating him for his “wise and far-sighted leadership of the Ummah that produced the great victory
in Lebanon.”

By controlling the flow of information from Lebanon throughout the conflict, and help from all those who disagree with U.S. policies for different reasons,
Hezbollah may have won the information war in the West. In Lebanon, the Middle East and the broader Muslim space, however, the picture is rather different.

Let us start with Lebanon.

Immediately after the U.N.-ordained ceasefire started, Hezbollah organized a series of firework shows, accompanied by the distribution of fruits and sweets,
to celebrate its victory. Most Lebanese, however, finding the exercise indecent, stayed away. The largest “victory march” in south Beirut, Hezbollah’s
stronghold, attracted just a few hundred people.

Initially Hezbollah had hesitated between declaring victory and going into mourning for its “martyrs.” The latter course would have been more in harmony
with Shiite traditions centered on the cult of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom in 680 A.D. Some members of Hezbollah wished to play the martyrdom card so that
they could accuse Israel, and through it the U.S., of war crimes. They knew that it was easier for Shiites, brought up in a culture of eternal victimhood,
to cry over an imagined calamity than laugh in the joy of a claimed victory.

Politically, however, Hezbollah had to declare victory for a simple reason: It had to pretend that the death and desolation it had provoked had been worth
it. A claim of victory was Hezbollah’s shield against criticism of a strategy that had led Lebanon into war without the knowledge of its government and
people. Mr. Nasrallah alluded to this in television appearances, calling on those who criticized him for having triggered the war to shut up because “a
great strategic victory” had been won.

The tactic worked for a day or two. However, it did not silence the critics, who have become louder in recent days. The leaders of the March 14 movement,
which has a majority in the Lebanese Parliament and government, have demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to the war, a roundabout
way of accusing Hezbollah of having provoked the tragedy. Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has made it clear that he would not allow Hezbollah to continue as
a state within the state. Even Michel Aoun, a maverick Christian leader and tactical ally of Hezbollah, has called for the Shiite militia to disband.

Mr. Nasrallah followed his claim of victory with what is known as the “Green Flood”(Al-sayl al-akhdhar). This refers to the massive amounts of crisp U.S.
dollar notes that Hezbollah is distributing among Shiites in Beirut and the south. The dollars from Iran are ferried to Beirut via Syria and distributed
through networks of militants. Anyone who can prove that his home was damaged in the war receives $12,000, a tidy sum in wartorn Lebanon.

The Green Flood has been unleashed to silence criticism of Mr. Nasrallah and his masters in Tehran. But the trick does not seem to be working. “If Hezbollah
won a victory, it was a Pyrrhic one,” says Walid Abi-Mershed, a leading Lebanese columnist. “They made Lebanon pay too high a price–for which they must
be held accountable.”

Hezbollah is also criticized from within the Lebanese Shiite community, which accounts for some 40% of the population. Sayyed Ali al-Amin, the grand old
man of Lebanese Shiism, has broken years of silence to criticize Hezbollah for provoking the war, and called for its disarmament. In an interview granted
to the Beirut An-Nahar, he rejected the claim that Hezbollah represented the whole of the Shiite community. “I don’t believe Hezbollah asked the Shiite
community what they thought about [starting the] war,” Mr. al-Amin said. “The fact that the masses [of Shiites] fled from the south is proof that they
rejected the war. The Shiite community never gave anyone the right to wage war in its name.”

There were even sharper attacks. Mona Fayed, a prominent Shiite academic in Beirut, wrote an article also published by An-Nahar last week. She asks: Who
is a Shiite in Lebanon today? She provides a sarcastic answer: A Shiite is he who takes his instructions from Iran, terrorizes fellow believers into silence,
and leads the nation into catastrophe without consulting anyone. Another academic, Zubair Abboud, writing in Elaph, a popular Arabic-language online newspaper,
attacks Hezbollah as “one of the worst things to happen to Arabs in a long time.” He accuses Mr. Nasrallah of risking Lebanon’s existence in the service
of Iran’s regional ambitions.

Before he provoked the war, Mr. Nasrallah faced growing criticism not only from the Shiite community, but also from within Hezbollah. Some in the political
wing expressed dissatisfaction with his overreliance on the movement’s military and security apparatus. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they described
Mr. Nasrallah’s style as “Stalinist” and pointed to the fact that the party’s leadership council (shura) has not held a full session in five years. Mr.
Nasrallah took all the major decisions after clearing them with his Iranian and Syrian contacts, and made sure that, on official visits to Tehran, he alone
would meet Iran’s “Supreme Guide,” Ali Khamenei.

Mr. Nasrallah justified his style by claiming that involving too many people in decision-making could allow “the Zionist enemy” to infiltrate the movement.
Once he had received the Iranian green light to provoke the war, Mr. Nasrallah acted without informing even the two Hezbollah ministers in the Siniora
cabinet or the 12 Hezbollah members of the Lebanese Parliament.

Mr. Nasrallah was also criticized for his acknowledgement of Ali Khamenei as Marjaa al-Taqlid (Source of Emulation), the highest theological authority in
Shiism. Highlighting his bay’aah (allegiance), Mr. Nasrallah kisses the man’s hand each time they meet. Many Lebanese Shiites resent this because Mr. Khamenei,
a powerful politician but a lightweight in theological terms, is not recognized as Marjaa al-Taqlid in Iran itself. The overwhelming majority of Lebanese
Shiites regard Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in Iraq, or Ayatollah Muhammad-Hussein Fadhlallah, in Beirut, as their “Source of Emulation.”

Some Lebanese Shiites also question Mr. Nasrallah’s strategy of opposing Prime Minister Siniora’s “Project for Peace,” and instead advancing an Iranian-backed
“Project of Defiance.” The coalition led by Mr. Siniora wants to build Lebanon into a haven of peace in the heart of a turbulent region. His critics dismiss
this as a plan “to create a larger Monaco.” Mr. Nasrallah’s “Project of Defiance,” however, is aimed at turning Lebanon into the frontline of Iranian defenses
in a war of civilizations between Islam (led by Tehran) and the “infidel,” under American leadership. “The choice is between the beach and the bunker,”
says Lebanese scholar Nadim Shehadeh. There is evidence that a majority of Lebanese Shiites would prefer the beach.

There was a time when Shiites represented an underclass of dirt-poor peasants in the south and lumpen elements in Beirut. Over the past 30 years, however,
that picture has changed. Money sent from Shiite immigrants in West Africa (where they dominate the diamond trade), and in the U.S. (especially Michigan),
has helped create a prosperous middle class of Shiites more interested in the good life than martyrdom à la Imam Hussain. This new Shiite bourgeoisie dreams
of a place in the mainstream of Lebanese politics and hopes to use the community’s demographic advantage as a springboard for national leadership. Hezbollah,
unless it ceases to be an instrument of Iranian policies, cannot realize that dream.

The list of names of those who never endorsed Hezbollah, or who broke with it after its Iranian connections became too apparent, reads like a Who’s Who
of Lebanese Shiism. It includes, apart from the al-Amins, families such as the al-As’ad, the Osseiran, the al-Khalil, the Hamadah, the Murtadha, the Sharafeddin,
the Fadhlallah, the Mussawis, the Hussainis, the Shamsuddin and the Ata’allahs.

Far from representing the Lebanese national consensus, Hezbollah is a sectarian group backed by a militia that is trained, armed and controlled by Iran.
In the words of Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan, “Hezbollah is ‘Iran in Lebanon.’ ” In the 2004 municipal elections, Hezbollah
won some 40% of the votes in the Shiite areas, the rest going to its rival Amal (Hope) movement and independent candidates. In last year’s general election,
Hezbollah won only 12 of the 27 seats allocated to Shiites in the 128-seat National Assembly–despite making alliances with Christian and Druze parties
and spending vast sums of Iranian money to buy votes.

Hezbollah’s position is no more secure in the broader Arab world, where it is seen as an Iranian tool rather than as the vanguard of a new Nahdha (Awakening),
as the Western media claim. To be sure, it is still powerful because it has guns, money and support from Iran, Syria and Hate America International Inc.
But the list of prominent Arab writers, both Shiite and Sunni, who have exposed Hezbollah for what it is–a Khomeinist Trojan horse–would be too long
for a single article. They are beginning to lift the veil and reveal what really happened in Lebanon.

Having lost more than 500 of its fighters, and with almost all of its medium-range missiles destroyed, Hezbollah may find it hard to sustain its claim of
victory. “Hezbollah won the propaganda war because many in the West wanted it to win as a means of settling score with the United States,” says Egyptian
columnist Ali al-Ibrahim. “But the Arabs have become wise enough to know TV victory from real victory.”

Originally published at customerservant.com. Please leave any comments there.

by Julie of Degree of Madness

If you owe back taxes to the federal government, the next call asking you
to pay may come not from an Internal Revenue Service officer, but
from a private debt collector.

Within two weeks, the I.R.S. will turn over data on 12,500 taxpayers
each of whom owes $25,000 or less in back taxes ? to three collection agencies.
Larger debtors will continue to be pursued by I.R.S. officers. (link)

So now, private firms will have access to our tax information, or at minimum
how much you (may or may not) owe to Uncle Sam. Our tax information is private.
Or it was up until now.

Within two weeks, the I.R.S. will turn over data on 12,500
taxpayers
each of whom owes $25,000 or less in back taxes to
three collection agencies. Larger debtors will continue to be pursued by I.R.S.
officers. (my emphasis).

And the IRS isn’t too particular about the business ethics of the firms
they select to receive our tax data:

One of the three companies selected by the I.R.S. is a law firm in Austin,
Tex., where a former partner, Juan Pena, admitted in 2002 that he paid bribes to
win a collection contract from the city of San Antonio. He went to jail for the
crime.

Last month the same law firm, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson,
was again in the news. One of its competitors, Municipal Services Bureau, also of
Austin, sued Brownsville, Tex., charging that the city improperly gave the Linebarger
firm a collections contract that it suggested was influenced by campaign contributions
to two city commissioners.

And how will these debt collectors be paid? They will receive 25% of what they collect. Whether or
not the tax bill is accurate or actually owed at all (the IRS is in a league of
its own when it comes to mistakes, errors and general incompetence), will not be
the concern of these collectors.

And the privacy issue is not insignificant. It’s not clear whether
these firms will be given the taxpayer social security number, but:

Private collectors will have authority to set up installment
payment agreements, and gather financial information about those targeted, presumably
to assess their ability to pay or to locate assets that might be attached.

Private collectors will have the authority to gather our personal financial
information. Authority handed over to them by the federal government. Most everyone
is aware of the aggressive, heavy-handed methods of collections agencies. I guess
a partnership with the IRS just makes sense. A marriage made in heaven, so to speak.

The federal government already has too much access to our private financial
information. And the ability of the IRS to audit at will, with no constraints or
accountability is something we should not tolerate. And should not be forced to
tolerate. And now private firms can get in on the action. And profit from it. At
our expense.

There are so many good reasons to support the Fair Tax. Preventing the
IRS from giving our private financial information to outside firms is just one more.

With the Fair Tax, the IRS will be abolished. No other tax plan under consideration
abolishes the IRS. This is important. The IRS operates under the “guilty until
proven innocent” theory. And however unjust that may be, that’s the way
it is. It will never change. The IRS has power that most politicians only dream
about. And IRS abuses
are legend. And most of the abuses never make the headlines. They are relatively
small in nature but very significant to those involved.

The convoluted tax code is an outrage. The enforcer is an even greater
outrage. Leave your Constitutional rights at the door when the IRS shows up, ’cause
you no longer have any. The IRS has virtually free will to demand access to every
single detail of your financial life. With no probable cause.

Some things just can’t be reformed. Our tax code is one of them. The
IRS is another. With the Fair Tax, we will all pay our fair share, but we won’t
have to give up our privacy, or our sanity, to do it.

The FairTax Blogburst is jointly produced by Terry of The
Right Track Blog
and Jonathan of Publius
Rendezvous
. If you would like to host the
weekly postings on your blog, please e-mail
Terry.
You will be added to our mailing list and blogroll.