George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘partisanship

CAN THE IRS SURVIVE?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Written by georgesarant

May 24, 2013 at 6:28 PM

PARTISANSHIP, IDEOLOGY AND TRUTH

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It is troubling how partisans of each side predict a win in tomorrow’s election for their candidate based upon differing favorable polls. This is at best wishful thinking because no one really know what is going to happen. There are simply too many variables, in terms of who turns out, in what numbers, etc. Predictions of decisive victory are mostly based upon a best case scenario for their candidate, which seldom ever happens any more than the worst case does. What is disturbing is that while people are entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts, as Senator Moynihan once said- or are they? 

Increasingly we find people in many fields seeking out facts to support their preconceived notions or preferences. These things may in and of themselves often be factual, but taken out of context, or ignoring contradictory evidence makes their veracity highly questionable. This happens even in scientific pursuits, and is one of the main reasons why so much innovation is brought about by individuals who are not bound by the conventional wisdom. This sort of fact mining is especially bad in social sciences, where studies are concocted to prove that other people, (especially conservatives) are crazy. But when I hear a social psychology professor has conducted a study to prove great similarities between conservatives and Nazis, it makes me wonder about the value of “social psychology,” to the extent that it can seriously entertain such ideologically biased nonsense. This does not mean that truth is just relative, or that there is no  objective truth, but rather that you can only begin to perceive it when you dispense with all blinders. 

Fact-mining  is at its worst and most obvious in political campaigns. Even where there are “fact checkers” they may also bring their own biases into the process. The reality is that people are predisposed to believe the “facts” conjured up by someone they agree with, less due to the facts than due to their own preferences. The root of all of this is more emotional than rational. People’s sense of right and wrong is based less upon information than feelings, and that sense is at the root of political ideology, for those who are driven by it. Most people are not that political, otherwise we would all be at each others’ throats all the time. Many people do have crypto-ideological predispositions they may not be aware of, so the goal of political campaigns is to try and bring them to a conscious level, or at least to the point where individuals intuit that someone is saying the right things. Others simply are unaffected, if not uninterested, and these are the ones who make up the bulk of the “undecideds,” who ironically often decide the election outcome. 

It disturbing how much of this election is predicated on one side getting out “their” people to vote as opposed to the “other,”  often motivated by a fear of what the other might do if they get power. This has lead many observers to bemoan the extent of “hyper-partisanship,” although to me it does not appear to be especially different from the past. Obviously things would be more congenial if there were a broader appeal, but we don’t get there by laying all or most of the blame on one side, as does a coterie of intellectuals formerly associated with the right, much to the glee of liberal media. They have spun a new myth, that it is all the fault of congressional Republicans, largely because they don’t like some of the things many of them, or more particularly their supporters, believe in. In this category are people like Norman Ornstein of the supposedly conservative American Enterprise institute, David Frum, and the editors of the British magazine The Economist, who get off on pompously lecturing us on what we ought to be doing. I personally do not agree with some of the social positions now attributed to the party, but I find the notion that one side is mostly to blame for this preposterous. All these observers are doing is expressing their own biases. 

Underlying this sort of thinking is the notion that things would be fine if those other people would just disappear. But life is never that simple, and that sort of thinking was the foundation of the murderous totalitarian excesses of the last century, where regimes actually did “disappear” perceived enemies. In a democracy what you have to do is try and reach some kind of consensus, starting with the things you may agree upon. For in reality many of the most daunting problems we face don’t have that many options and whoever is in power can only act within certain parameters. Other things are totally unexpected or beyond our control so that anyone in office is inevitably constricted by the circumstances they find themselves in. Approaching these things through the prism of ideology just leads to more problems, as we have seen over the past several years. 

Given that we are handing over power to someone else to see to things that may affect us, the real choice we have should depend on character and judgement, since no one knows what particular events are likely to occur in the future. My own view is the less they stir the pot the better, because every action has unanticipated consequences, and when it comes to government they are usually not good. That said, there are important  differences and I am supporting the candidate of my choice, but I don’t begrudge anyone else who thinks differently. 

 

Written by georgesarant

November 5, 2012 at 10:05 PM