GAO on IRS Targeting

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Just days after I got a fat, unexpected check from the IRS (along with an explanation that beggars belief), I happened to run into a news story about the possibility of the IRS harassing people for their beliefs:

"Unfortunately, the IRS has not taken sufficient steps to prevent targeting Americans based on their personal beliefs," the GAO [Government Accountability Office] says.

Specifically, The GAO found that "control deficiencies" do "increase the risk" that the IRS nonprofit unit "could select organizations for examinations in an unfair manner -- for example, based on an organization's religious, educational, political or other views."
No, I'm not being harassed any more than anyone else with income, but my time is being wasted on top of the fact that I am now pretty sure they're coming to loot my bank account a bit more. I was tempted to call this story, "yet another reason this organization should be abolished". Perhaps that's the case, but it really only aggravates the fundamental reason: The whole function of the IRS, legalized theft carried out by the government, is an abuse of government power.

-- CAV

Dodd-Frank: Five Years of Servitude

Monday, July 27, 2015

Five years on, former senator Phil Gramm provides a needed retrospective on Dodd-Frank. His assessment deserves to be read in full, but here is the worst part:

... Dodd-Frank has empowered regulators to set rules on their own, rather than implement requirements set by Congress. This has undermined a vital condition necessary to put money and America back to work -- legal and regulatory certainty.
Gramm elaborates that this new power isn't even constrained by past legal precedent:
Over the years the Federal Trade Commission and the courts defined what constituted "unfair and deceptive" financial practices. Dodd-Frank added the word "abusive" without defining it. The result: The CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] can now ban services and products offered by financial institutions even though they are not unfair or deceptive by long-standing precedent.

Regulators in the Dodd-Frank era impose restrictions on financial institutions never contemplated by Congress, and they push international regulations on insurance companies and money-market funds that Congress never authorized. The law's Financial Stability Oversight Council meets in private and is made up exclusively of the sitting president's appointed allies. Dodd-Frank does not say what makes a financial institution systemically important and thus subject to stringent regulation. The council does. Banks so designated have regulators embedded in their executive offices to monitor and advise, eerily reminiscent of the old political officers who were placed in every Soviet factory and military unit. [bold added]
It is bad enough that the economic recovery has been hampered by this law, but the specter of non-objective law is much worse -- so much so that Ayn Rand once called it, "the most effective weapon of human enslavement," since "its victims become its enforcers and enslave themselves."

-- CAV

7-25-15 Hodgepodge

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Another Perot, the Other Clinton?

Scott Holleran notes a serious lack of substance in the Trump candidacy:

... Trump has no serious, tenable positions on the most critical issues of this dark moment in history. To the extent his positions, sense of purpose and reliability are known, he is mixed, anti-capitalist, unserious and unsteady or shaky, the opposite qualities needed for a good or even decent president at this pivotal point...
To this unseriousness, add either a sense of entitlement or malice aforethought. Trump has threatened a third-party run should the Republican establishment not treat him "fairly".

"... I know Hillary very well...," he says in another part of the article. Great.

Weekend Reading

"Rather than relying on objective, rational facts, [people pleasers] place themselves totally at the mercy of others' judgments." -- Michael Hurd, in "'People Pleasing' Backfires On Its Own Terms" at The Delaware Wave

"[Y]ou're entirely right to take offense at ... unsolicited advice, no matter the source." -- Michael Hurd, in "How to Give GOOD Advice" at The Delaware Coast Press

Thallium in Greens?

I have often heard extolled the virtues of leafy, green vegetables, but caution may be warranted, if the work of California scientist Ernie Hubbard is to be believed:
As the tests progressed, the detoxification regimens seemed to prove effective (and with no side-effects), but thallium kept showing up. Then, in July of 2014, he stumbled on a 2006 study out of the Czech Republic showing how the "cruciferous" family of vegetables behave as "hyperaccumulators" of thallium. Crucifers include many of our more intense green vegetables such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard and collard greens. These are also the vegetables often touted -- and consumed -- most heavily these days, supposedly for their outsized health benefits.
Kale, which I fortunately dislike, seems to be a top suspect.

-- CAV

Friday Four

Friday, July 24, 2015

1. In lieu of one of my occasional beer recommendations, here is a bit about one I definitely intend to try, the soon-to-be-renamed "Submission Ale" by St. Louis's own Alpha Brewery:
The Riverfront Times reported Wednesday that head brewer Derrick Langeneckert confirmed [the name] "Submission" is already being used by another local brewery, a realization that prompted the ad hoc rechristening. As for the hijab-wearing swine, however, that part of the design is still set to adorn future bottles.

Other references -- some subtler than others -- on the label have been linked to Islam.

One passage, for example, begins, "Alpha Akbar!"

A description of the ale includes phrases including "blow your mind," "explode" and "shove this down your throat." [minor edits]
Yes! It's a beer that pokes fun at Islam (as the brewery has other religions), and no, the name change has nothing to do with cowardice or the social media vitriol directed at the label pictured above.

2. And speaking of Islam, I hear that a comic book artist has discovered a new technique for rendering Mohammed (pun intended).

Decorum forbids speculation about the medium.

3. John Stossel, commenting on the anti-science left:
Leftists often claim to be defenders of progress, but they sound more like religious conservatives when they oppose "tampering with nature."
Had the Alpha Brewery not offended so many leftists, they would have had to add, say, a "Silent Spring Bock" to their line.

4. Two quotes, one by a seven-year-old boy on ethics, and another by Ayn Rand on humor, seem apropos at this juncture. First, the boy, commenting on ethicists:
My son Davy, then seven years old, was in his booster seat in the back of my car. "What do you think, Davy?" I asked. "People who think a lot about what's fair and about being nice -- do they behave any better than other people? Are they more likely to be fair? Are they more likely to be nice?"

Davy didn't respond right away. I caught his eye in the rearview mirror.

"The kids who always talk about being fair and sharing," I recall him saying, "mostly just want you to be fair to them and share with them."
And now, the second:
Humor is not an unconditional virtue; its moral character depends on its object. To laugh at the contemptible, is a virtue; to laugh at the good, is a hideous vice. Too often, humor is used as the camouflage of moral cowardice.
To see the connection, observe the tweets in the very first link.

-- CAV

Beware the Cherry-Pickers!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thomas Sowell considering the methodology of the advocates of such left-wing causes as gun control, summarizes it quite well and asks a devastating question:

Most gun control zealots show not the slightest interest in testing empirically their beliefs or assumptions. There have been careful factual studies by various scholars of what happens after gun control laws have been instituted, strengthened or reduced.

But those studies are seldom even mentioned by gun control activists. Somehow they just know that gun restrictions reduce gun crime, no matter how many studies show the opposite. How do they know? Because other like-minded people say so -- and say so repeatedly and loudly.

A few gun control advocates may cherry-pick examples of countries with stronger gun control laws than ours that have lower murder rates (such as England) -- and omit other countries with stronger gun control laws than ours that have far higher murder rates (such as Mexico, Russia and Brazil).

You don't test an assumption or belief by cherry-picking examples. Not if you are serious. And if you are not going to be serious about life and death, when are you going to be serious? [bold added]
In the process of asking this question, Sowell comes very close to showing what is wrong with how most people think about political questions. There is plainly an admixture of seeking what one thinks of as good, ignorance, and wishful thinking. Were our culture not so rife with the problem of the moral-practical dichotomy (caused by altruism), people would more often approach political questions with the same ruthless logic they approach the other (often smaller) questions that they do understand and realize affect them personally.

-- CAV

When Simplification Obscures

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

John Cook makes an interesting point regarding a rule you may have had drummed into your head when you first learned fractions:

[It] serves some purpose in the early years, but somewhere along the way students need to learn reducing fractions is not only unnecessary, but can be bad for communication. For example, if the fraction 45/365 comes up in the discussion of something that happened 45 days in a year, the fraction 45/365 is clearer than 9/73. The fraction 45/365 is not simpler in a number theoretic sense, but it is psychologically simpler since it's obvious where the denominator came from. In this context, writing 9/73 is not a simplification but an obfuscation.

Simplifying fractions sometimes makes things clearer, but not always. It depends on context, and context is something students don't understand at first. So it makes sense to be pedantic at some stage, but then students need to learn that clear communication trumps pedantic conventions. [emphasis in original]
This touches on something I have noticed as a parent of an increasingly inquisitive toddler: The need to focus on one lesson frequently requires setting aside a wider context so the matter at hand can be held in mind. It is perhaps harsh to call reducing fractions pedantic, but there is a serious issue here. Teaching such rules as if they must always be followed or come from a vacuum discourages subsequent questioning and integration with other knowledge. A full explanation is likely impractical at the time, but perhaps teachers should more often say something like, "We will be doing things this way because it makes these lessons easier to learn."

-- CAV


Today: Changed "of the time" to "at the time" in last sentence. 

A Tool, Used Nefariously

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blogger Jacques Mattheij considers the historical parallels between two government databases of personal information whose security was compromised. Each database was compiled for innocent-enough reasons, but the compromises exposed the individuals to great harm. This was despite the individuals having "nothing to hide". In the one case, a Dutch database containing information on religious affiliation fell into Nazi hands during their occupation of the Netherlands. The other database is that of the the recently-breached U. S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Mattheij concludes:

[I]f you're not content with living in a world where all of that data is public then you'd better stop repeating that silly mantra "if you've got nothing to hide then you've got nothing to fear," even if instead of death or identity theft your problems might merely be those of inconvenience or embarrassment when your data gets re-purposed in ways that you could not imagine when you sent it out in the world in a careless manner, and when you helped erode the concept of privacy as a great good that needs to be protected rather than sacrificed on the altar of commerce or of national security (especially from some ill defined bogey man, such as the terrorists). [minor edits]
Mattheij's warning is well-taken, but there's an even greater danger than carelessness with personal information. Consider a recent news story, on a race database the Obama Administration plans on using to attack property rights (among others: read the whole thing) under the guise of racial equality. The story focuses too much on the existence of government databases, and ignores a greater threat that makes all of this possible:
Federally funded cities deemed overly segregated will be pressured to change their zoning laws to allow construction of more subsidized housing in affluent areas in the suburbs, and relocate inner-city minorities to those predominantly white areas. HUD's maps, which use dots to show the racial distribution or density in residential areas, will be used to select affordable-housing sites.
As I have noted before (in the above link on property rights), it is our blind trust in the government, both a frequent source of the "nothing to hide" argument and the cause of so much acceptance of and reliance on such rights violations as zoning. Were we not already so ready to let the government run everything else, we wouldn't need to be worried about losing our last shreds of privacy now. A government with enough power to take enough loot to give us everything is indeed big enough to take it all away. And, to an improper government, everything -- including your privacy -- is loot.

-- CAV