Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A taxing thought to entertain

One of the big news stories this week has been the IRS's alleged profiling of Tea Party and other self-styled "patriot" groups. 

The outrage over this reminds me of what arose in 2009 when a report warned of increased chances of violence by right-wing militia groups. In that case, the Department of Homeland Security warned that right-wing militia groups might exploit economic and political fears to recruit for their cause. It stated also that some of these groups might potentially turn violent, citing specific possible scenarios.

It was a hypothetical report by an agency tasked with addressing potential threats to the U.S. — one that isolated groups of angry, threat-issuing Americans with guns as being people who might hurt other people. So naturally, many saw the report as a witch hunt against conservatives for their political beliefs. The DHS quickly backpedaled on the report, apologizing for the imaginary bias and assuring the public that some threats should be off-limits to scrutiny.

After reading several reports about the IRS scandal, I feel the same thing is recurring. An agency tasked with ensuring proper taxation practices singled out several nonprofit groups — a fraction of whom were tea party-affiliated — to make sure that they conformed to nonprofit regulations. In particular, the IRS chose to ask more proof of certain organizations affiliated with an anti-tax movement to prove that they aren't illegally politicking; if they were being political, then they lose (or don't receive) nonprofit status. So naturally, many people see this this as a witch hunt against conservatives for their political beliefs. The IRS is backpedaling, apologizing for the imaginary bias and assuring the public that it won't be vigilant in its financial scrutiny.

Government agencies should never be politicized. But neither should cries of politicization be allowed to thwart legitimate investigations. If a domestic group is hoarding guns, making explicit threats and looking to expand, we deserve to know about it. If a nonprofit group is trying to dance around federal tax laws to cheat the system, all the while bleating about being Taxed Enough Already, we should all want that probed. This is true regardless of what (if any) politics are involved — it just so happens today's most egregious examples come from the right. Failure to so much as look into it gives these groups exactly what they want — the ability to operate unimpeded toward their twisted ends.

I've often said that a failing of today's press is its obsession with balance over truth — in other words, trying to appease all sides even if one side is completely wrong. I hate to see the IRS fall into this same trap, especially over such transparent phoniness. 

What did they used to say about having nothing to hide?

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