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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

How Do You Worsen Government, Inequality, Privacy, Security? Keep Gutting the IRS

The scandal over an IRS security breach, however troubling, is just a hint of the problems facing the IRS after 17 years of budget cuts (in real terms, 2015 funding of the agency is at its lowest since 1998).  During that period, the number of returns filed annually has increased by 30 million, now reviewed by fewer, more overwhelmed staff.

As a New York Times editorial noted a year ago, lagging funding, technology, and staff capacity don’t just threaten the responsiveness of IRS to taxpayer inquiries, or jeopardize its management of private information.  The systematic, intentional weakening of the IRS by Congress costs us money and rewards tax cheats, who see minimal risk given the rarity of an audit.  Tax evasion is in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

Enforcing our tax laws should not be a partisan or controversial issue, as taxpayer advocate Nina Olson symbolizes.  Rather, it should be a matter of fairness and good government.  According to the Treasury, every dollar invested in IRS enforcement yields some six dollars in revenue. 

The IRS is not our enemy; it is a legitimate instrument of our government.  Let’s fund it adequately – on the order of $12-$13 billion annually (versus less than $11 billion currently), if not more – and help this agency do its job on behalf of all Americans.

12:00 pm edt 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Supporting the JCPA/Iran Deal

Appreciating U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy’s nuanced statement on behalf of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) with Iran, as a Connecticut constituent I wrote Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro separately August 17 to urge them in this direction, as well.  My words follow:

“Despite its limitations, I support the Iran deal and hope that you will, too.  Its endorsement by many accomplished former U.S. diplomats and other public servants (e.g., former Defense Secretary Harold Brown in a Washington Post piece reprinted by the New Haven Register) persuade me that the dangers of rejecting the deal exceed the risk of giving it a chance.” 

While Senator Blumenthal has not yet reached a decision, Representative DeLauro has now announced her support for the Iran deal.

8:33 am edt 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Donating Blood, Every Eight Weeks

Today I plan to give blood, which one can do every eight weeks.

An April 2015 post, among others, discussed blood donors and donations.

8:47 am edt 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Hindu Nationalism in India

My mother-in-law recently sent me an informative “situation report” about the threat of Hindu nationalism in India, by Zoya Hasan, a National Fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research.

After the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu extremist, Hasan writes, “The post-independence concept of India as a nation was originally based on civic rather than ethnic identity. Independent India's founders resolved to build a democracy that would not be engulfed by competing identities – religious, ethnic, caste or linguistic–and indeed much of its progress in its first 50 years was closely tied to its preservation of pluralism and cultural breadth.”

According to Zoya Hasan, “Despite the fact that Muslims face discrimination and almost all indicators of social development place Muslims below the national average, India has so far been fortunate in avoiding Muslim estrangement from the polity…. Yet, moderation today is not a guarantee that extremism will not arise tomorrow in India. The rise of Hindu nationalism and the overall marginalisation of Muslims could provide opportunities for radical groups within the Muslim community to mobilise.”

She continues, “While analysts consider whether the Modi government can deliver on its progressive promises of development, governance, and, above all, job creation, many fear that the energies of the new government are being diverted in old, divisive issues. There have been a number of alarming developments under the Modi government –reconversions campaigns, denunciation of interreligious marriages as 'love jihad,' and church attacks. The basic issue underlying these controversies is the concerted campaign by groups close to the governing party to redefine the state as Hindu, and Indian citizenship as based on religion and culture, not civic equality that respects diversity and pluralism. Strongly aligned to Hindu sensibilities, there has been a concerted effort by certain groups to create a predominantly Hindutva public sphere that marginalises others.”

Still, she concludes, “Growing opposition to the Hindutva social agenda from civil society organisations, NGOs, and the general public indicates the resilience of pluralism in India's democracy. Despite the shift to the right, the centrist tendency remains ... [and] a strong opposition will be important in challenging a political culture that emboldens Hindu nationalism.”

12:57 pm edt 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

“India's Daughter” and Women's Rights around the World

My parents-in-law, visiting from New Delhi, recently joined me in attending a public library screening of the sobering documentary “India's Daughter.”  The movie is banned there because of its controversial depiction of the brutal rape and killing of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012 – an event that led to mass protests and some reforms.

In many countries beyond India, the film can be viewed online.  It depicts several Indian perspectives on what are, alas, global problems of gender and socioeconomic inequality and violence.

Tanvi Misra reflected on the film earlier this year in the Atlantic.

Like her, my wife is from New Delhi, to which we last traveled together in 2014.
7:54 am edt 

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