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Thursday, August 28, 2014
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No, government isn’t perfect

Last Modified: Thursday, February 20, 2014 10:19 AM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Government has a role to play in our lives, but critics can justifiably complain that it often overreaches and under-performs. Questionable actions of the IRS are perfect examples of overreaching, and the failure of government to properly monitor its programs says a lot about under-performing.

The Chicago Tribune in a Monday editorial accused the IRS of “targeting political speech again” and “discouraging debate and curbing information.” The agency last year was caught targeting political groups that were applying for tax-exempt status. A new IRS rule that would monitor political activities by social welfare groups is next on the agency’s agenda, and critics see it as discouraging free speech.

Surprisingly, those who condemn this overreaching by the IRS come from both the political right and left. The Tribune said they include conservative Republicans and liberal groups like the Sierra Club and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The simplest way for nonprofits to stay out of trouble, of course, would be to simply shut up,” the newspaper said. “So the likely — and unhealthy — consequence will be to reduce the amount of advocacy and educational information available to the public, not only about elections but about all sorts of policy issues.

“That’s reason enough for the IRS to scrap the proposal and start over. In guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the First Amendment was meant to promote an informed, aware and engaged citizenry. This rule would do just the opposite.”

Those who were around in 1971 will remember one of the most flagrant abuses by the federal government. President Richard Nixon kept an enemies list of those who criticized him and had them targeted for tax audits or trailed by private detectives. One source said the purpose of the list was to “screw our political enemies.” Reporters, politicians, educators and entertainers were barred from the White House.

Then, there is government that under-performs.

Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy wrote this week about the state Department of Children and Family Services failing to tackle food stamp fraud. He said the legislative auditor found in 2012 that 322 people who made more than $50,000 a year got $750,000 in food stamps. Another $1.1 million went to 1,761 people in 2011 and 2012 who were in jail. Other food stamps were given to people from other states, to convicted and ineligible drug felons and to 1,573 people who were receiving the same benefits in other states.

Kennedy said Americans are compassionate and generous people, but “anyone who willfully lies, cheats or steals to get benefits from a social program for which he does not qualify should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. No exceptions...”

“What happened to these food stamp violators?” Kennedy asked. “Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

“This is inexcusable. It is yet one more reason why middle class taxpayers — the people who pull the wagon — are so frustrated. They see people at the top getting undeserved bailouts, people at the bottom getting unearned handouts and themselves getting the bill.”

You can be sure the abuses Kennedy talks about are occurring in many of the other 49 states. The responsibility for correcting the problem rests with both federal and state governments that administer the food stamp program.

One of our readers said founding father Thomas Jefferson didn’t envision the federal government we have today. The man said the central government that he fully supports as necessary and “defined beautifully by our forefathers” should have strict limits, but the people have lost their power to control its performance.

“... We now have rampant government that is completely destroying his principles of individual liberties, burdensome taxation for redistribution purposes, no states’ rights, and on and on,” he said.

The reader said ultra-conservatives and ultra-liberals are responsible for the deadlock in Washington, D.C. I agreed that U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Charles “Chuck” Schumer, who represent polar opposites, both do great harm to our government because of their unbending political views.

Another reader said James Madison, the father of the Constitution, emphasized the necessity to reserve all possible authority in the states and the people. Those who take a more liberal view would disagree, of course, and they defend an ever-expanding role for the federal government.

Ask any citizen what he thinks about his government, and you will get a wide variety of responses. However, abuses by the IRS and the failure of governments at every level to audit social programs help explain how government often overreaches and under-performs. There are many other examples that have occurred during this country’s history.

The solution is always the same. A vigilant voting public has to demand accountability, and nothing will change until it does. As I told one of those readers, like it or not, the voters of this country gave us the government we have today.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com.

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