May 27, 2013

The NYT Worships State Power, Part 3,294,183

It's funny that I discussed The New York Times as the perfect embodiment of the ruling class, and its attitudes and behavior, just a few days ago. This morning, I glanced at the Times and came across this article: "Groups Targeted by I.R.S. Tested Rules on Politics." The title conveys with full accuracy the theme of the story (which is presented as a "straight" news story): "You know all those conservative groups that were targeted by the I.R.S.? They were actually doing bad stuff!"

Subtlety is not the Times' strong suit. It is similarly not a notable strength with regard to most of those who champion the current administration, to whatever degree. I strongly suspect this will be the primary defense and explanation for the I.R.S. story. But I do wish that the Times and other administration defenders were a bit more creative in their approach:
Representatives of [certain complaining] organizations have cried foul in recent weeks about their treatment by the I.R.S., saying they were among dozens of conservative groups unfairly targeted by the agency, harassed with inappropriate questionnaires and put off for months or years as the agency delayed decisions on their applications

But a close examination of these groups and others reveals an array of election activities that tax experts and former I.R.S. officials said would provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review.
Former I.R.S. officials defending I.R.S. behavior? I am overcome with shock and amazement. And "tax experts!" To hell with such "experts." As I wrote in 2008:
Those people who have followed the foreign policy catastrophes of recent years are repeatedly struck by this phenomenon: all the "experts" who are supposedly so knowledgeable in this area -- that is, all the "experts" who led us into the catastrophes and who were grievously, bloodily, murderously wrong about every significant matter -- remain entrenched in the foreign policy establishment. Moreover, they are precisely the people to whom everyone turns for the "solution" to the disasters that engulf us, both now and the disasters likely to come. This is what it means to have a ruling class. As I have said, the ruling class rules. The ruling class exercises a lethal monopoly on the terms of public debate, just as it exercises a lethal monopoly on the uses of state power.

What you have seen over the last six months and more, and what you will see in the coming months and years, is the same phenomenon in the realm of economic policy.
No area of public policy is immune to the operation of this principle.

Some cognitively-challenged doubters of Times wisdom may point out that the Treasury Department's inspector general, J. Russell George, himself criticized certain I.R.S. actions. Not so fast! The Times is on the case:
But some former I.R.S. officials disputed several of Mr. George’s conclusions, including his assertion that it was inappropriate to ask groups about their donors, or whether their leaders had plans to run for public office. While unusual, the former officials said, such questions are not prohibited if relevant to an application under consideration.
They were doing bad stuff! (The argument is wonderfully easy to remember. Credit where due.)

Later in the story (where few will bother to go), the Times helpfully provides evidence of the actual, and very terrible, problem, but of course the Times carefully omits any comment on the significance of what it says:
I.R.S. agents are obligated to determine whether a 501(c)(4) group is primarily promoting “social welfare.” While such groups are permitted some election involvement, it cannot be an organization’s primary activity. That judgment does not hinge strictly on the proportion of funds a group spends on campaign ads, but on an amorphous mix of facts and circumstances.
What is "social welfare"? Who knows, but whatever it is, it apparently doesn't involve politics, at least not as a "primary activity." What makes an activity "primary"? "An amorphous mix of facts and circumstances."

"An amorphous mix." To me -- but I recognize this is just cuz I'm dumb and not smart like the Times -- this sounds like the perfect recipe for arbitrary and selective enforcement. The Times doesn't discuss any of that. But the remainder of the story makes it painfully obvious that "political activity" is whatever the I.R.S. says it is. If the I.R.S. wants to find it, it will. If it doesn't, it won't. (The Times carefully includes one example of a group that lost its 501(c)(4) status because it worked to benefit only the Democratic party. See? Once in a while, Democrats do bad stuff, too! So the I.R.S. is fair. Yes, the Times is that smart.)

The simple, overwhelmingly significant fact is that the I.R.S., with its bewildering, endless array of regulations and requirements, many of which are as ambiguous and "amorphous" as this example, is tailormade for the exercise of political power against any administration's perceived enemies, whether the administration is Democratic or Republican. See Jim Bovard's valuable survey of I.R.S. abuse, from FDR, through JFK, Nixon and Clinton. Bovard also writes:
The IRS has usually done an excellent job of stifling investigations of its practices. A 1991 survey of 800 IRS executives and managers by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics revealed that three out of four respondents felt entitled to deceive or lie when testifying before a congressional committee.

The agency also has a long history of seeking to intimidate congressional critics ...
About the investigations into the current "scandal," Bovard says: "Regardless of what these inquiries uncover, though, we can be almost certain that IRS audits will remain irresistible political weapons."

I think we can delete the "almost" from that sentence.

The NYT might want to rethink the "but they did bad stuff!" argument. It's very unpleasantly similar to the argument deployed in contexts where I doubt the Times would feel altogether comfortable about its use. Many people, both conservatives and liberals, defend the Drug War by contending that those who are imprisoned actually did bad stuff! They used and/or sold drugs, doncha know. Never mind the horrifically arbitrary and selective enforcement of drug laws, or that the War on Drugs was initiated and is continued to establish The New Jim Crow, as Michelle Alexander has explained in enormous detail (see the concluding section of that article).

And what about "illegal" immigrants? They're illegal. They did bad stuff! Except that our immigration laws are yet another exercise in arbitrary State power and systematic abuse directed at the powerless and supposedly "undesirable." And they are racist to the core, and very viciously so.

It seems to me that the Times becomes cruder and more obvious with regard to this kind of thing by the day. And its worship of the State and its massive powers continues unabated.

If the Times went out of business tomorrow, I would shed not a single tear. Of course, it wouldn't make any difference. There are many others eager to fill any resulting void, and who enthusiastically lick the blood-encrusted boots of the State even now. It's a sickening spectacle.