20 May 2013 Leave a Comment
The IRS Exempt Organizations division, the watchdog for about 1.5 million nonprofits, has always had to deal with controversial groups. For decades, the division periodically listed red flags that would merit an application being sent to the IRS’s Washington, D.C., headquarters for review, said Owens, the former division head.
Because this list was public, lawyers and nonprofits knew which cases would automatically be reviewed.
“We had a core of experts in tax law,” recalled Milton Cerny, who worked for the IRS, mainly in Exempt Organizations, from 1960 to 1987. “We had developed a broad group of tax experts to deal with these issues.”
In the 1980s, the division issued many more “revenue rulings” than issued in recent years, said Cerny, then head of the rulings process. These revenue rulings set precedents for the division. Revenue rulings along with regulations are basically the binding IRS rules for nonprofits.
Other checks and balances had existed too. Not only were certain kinds of applications publicly flagged, there was another mechanism called “post-review,” Owens said. Headquarters in Washington would pull a random sample every month from the different field offices, to see how applications were being reviewed. There was also a surprise “saturation review,” once a year, for each of the offices, where everything from a certain time period needed to be sent to Washington for another look.
The system began to change in the mid-1990s. The IRS was having trouble hiring people for low-level positions in field offices like New York or Atlanta — the kinds of workers that typically reviewed applications by nonprofits, Owens said.
The answer to this was simple: Cincinnati.
The city had a history of being able to hire people at low federal grades, which in 1995 paid between $19,704 and $38,814 a year — almost the same as those federal grades paid in New York City or Chicago. (Adjusted for inflation, that’s between $30,064 and $59,222 now.)
But by 1998, after hearings in which Republican Senator Trent Lott accused the IRS of “Gestapo-like” tactics, a new law mandated the agency’s restructuring. In the years that followed, the agency aimed to streamline. For most of the ‘90s, the IRS had more than 100,000 employees. That number would drop every year, to slightly less than 90,000 by 2012.
In 2003, the saturation reviews and post reviews ended, and the public list of criteria that would get an application referred to headquarters disappeared, Owens said. Instead, agents in Cincinnati could ask to have cases reviewed, if they wanted. But they didn’t very often.
“No one really knows what kinds of cases are being sent to Washington, if any,” Owens said. “It’s all opaque now. It’s gone dark.”
By the end of 2004, the Continuing Professional Education articles stopped.
So the problems came about because the number of workers at the IRS were cut (which meant both that the workers had to do more and there was less oversight) and they didn’t pay well enough to get good workers. Also, note that the changes were pushed by Republicans and signed off by the Clinton administration and were mostly done in the Bush II administration. Thanks guys. Also also, notice that this meant that the IRS was tougher on the small money groups than the big ones:
Over the last two years, government watchdog groups filed more than a dozen complaints with the Internal Revenue Service seeking inquiries into whether large nonprofit organizations like those founded by the Republican political operative Karl Rove and former Obama administration aides had violated their tax-exempt status by spending tens of millions of dollars on political advertising.
The I.R.S. never responded.
During the same period, the agency singled out dozens of Tea Party-inspired groups that had applied for I.R.S. recognition, officials acknowledged on Friday, subjecting them to rounds of detailed questioning about their political activities. None of those groups were big spenders on political advertising; most were local Tea Party organizations with shoestring budgets.
They also didn’t go after groups that were very likely breaking the spirit of the law:
A dark money nonprofit group that has run more than $1 million in ads in the Ohio race for U.S. Senate told the IRS last year it did not plan to spend any money to influence elections when it applied for recognition of its tax-exempt status.
David Dayen puts it together here:
According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, IRS audits of the largest and richest corporations have steadily declined since 2005, down 22 percent in the ensuing four years and even more from 2011-2013. In the same period, the agency accelerated its scrutiny of small and midsize corporations. Since 2000, the IRS has been more likely to audit the working poor, individuals and families making under $25,000 a year, than those making over $100,000 annually. The middle class received disproportionately more audits throughout the past decade as well. An IRS unit formed in 2009 called the Global High Wealth Industry Group, designed to give special attention to tax compliance of high-wealth individuals, performed exactly two audits in 2010 and 11 in 2011.
Congress knows full well that defunding the IRS will lead to these outcomes, and that gives a definable benefit to the rich and powerful, who know how to slip through the cracks of the tax code. “For a big corporation wanting to play fast and loose, this is manna from heaven,” David Cay Johnston said. “They’re the ones this is helping: the political donor class. It’s a subtle way of taking care of your friends.”
The problem is that neither of these explanations helps the Republican party, so you’re not going to hear this at the Republican investigation.
19 May 2013 Leave a Comment
This is what corporate America is all about:
Western & Southern executives, whose headquarters sit across a park from the Anna Louise, offered to buy the Anna Louise for $1.8 million several years ago, less than half its value. The Anna Louise declined and won $12.6 million in federal and state tax credits to renovate the home, where some rooms are smaller than 100 square feet and all the women have to share bathrooms and one kitchen.
Days before the renovation was to begin, Western & Southern sued over a zoning issue and a judge ordered an immediate construction halt until the legal fight was resolved. The Anna Louise and its supporters didn’t back down, vowing to fight Western & Southern with everything they had — until last week when they inked a deal with the company to sell the home for $4 million.
This sounds bad, but it’s even worse:
Letters acquired by CityBeat show Western & Southern playing hardball with Cincinnati Union Bethel from 2005-09 when CUB was considering selling the building because it needed expensive renovations. The final Western & Southern offer was made in 2009 for $1.8 million, just $50,000 more than its first offer back in 2007. The property in 2011 was valued at $4 million by the Hamilton County auditor.
In a letter dated Dec. 1, 2008, Eagle Realty President Mario San Marco offered $1.8 million for the Anna Louise Inn. Eagle Realty is the real estate arm of Western & Southern. Cincinnati Union Bethel President & CEO Stephen MacConnell responded two months later with a counter offer involving the $1.8 million plus a combination of other contributions that would total $3 million in value. MacConnell suggested Western & Southern include things like endowment contributions, office space and moving expenses.
But Western & Southern didn’t take the offer. Six months later, San Marco wrote MacConnell a letter saying Eagle Realty couldn’t raise its offer higher than $1.8 million because of “challenges and complexities of development in our (Central Business District).”
It was about one year later, July of 2010, when Cincinnati Union Bethel won state-distributed federal funding to renovate the building. And it was around this time that Western & Southern realized it had blown its chance to acquire a property it wanted much more than San Marco let on.
The property was clearly worth the $3 million MacConnell was trying to get, because Western & Southern soon offered that much or the higher of two independent appraisals for it.
But the Anna Louise Inn was no longer on the market thanks to $10 million in tax-credit financing from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. It later secured a $2.6 million loan funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that was awarded by the city. These pieces of federal funding are set aside for historical renovations and affordable housing.
According to Cincinnati Union Bethel’s records, Western & Southern from 2007-09 donated $1,000 four different times to the Anna Louise Inn’s Off the Streets program, which helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around. Back in 2005 Western & Southern donated $5,000 to Cincinnati Union Bethel to celebrate the organization’s 175th anniversary. By 2010 Western & Southern had apparently run out of giant checks to pose with.
But that’s not to say the corporation was without interest in the Anna Louise Inn’s programs — it just thought they were really bad now. One month after CUB got the $10 million loan, Anita Collins Purnell, Eagle Realty assistant vice president and director of multi-family management, wrote a letter to neighbors in the Lytle Park district on Eagle Realty letterhead describing Cincinnati Union Bethel’s renovation plan.
City Council approved Cincinnati Union Bethel’s development agreement, but that didn’t mean the Anna Louise Inn was home free. Western & Southern filed a lawsuit on May 27, 2011, five days before the Inn’s scheduled renovation, claiming the building was improperly zoned. The lawsuit, against the Anna Louise Inn and city of Cincinnati, froze both the state- and city-distributed federal loans and put the renovation on hold indefinitely.
So Western and Southern made a lowball offer because they thought the charity had no other option (making a profit of desperate people is the American way). When the charity suddenly had another option, Western and Southern went into overdrive: using their influence to change things, filing a series of lawsuits to delay the project knowing that the charity wouldn’t be able to afford long delays, and maligning the women who stayed at the Inn. And they won, as big money usually does. John Barrett doesn’t think anyone cares:
W&S is now dusting off plans to transform southeast Downtown after riding out what it knew would be a PR challenge. The Anna Louise Inn currently offers living space for about 75 low-income women; W&S earned $280.6 million in 2011 on $2.9 billion of revenue and was viewed by critics as something of a bully.
“This will all work out,” Barrett said in an exclusive Enquirer interview. “Nobody will remember the consternation, and they’ll all say, ‘Wow.’ ”
17 May 2013 Leave a Comment
At some point someone will invent space surfing. Imagine riding a wave of particles going a million mph (hmm, I wonder how well you can judge your speed in space?).
16 May 2013 Leave a Comment
The US budget deficit is falling at the fastest rate since the end of WWII:
If the current laws that govern federal taxes and spending do not change, the budget deficit will shrink this year to $642 billion, CBO estimates, the smallest shortfall since 2008. Relative to the size of the economy, the deficit this year—at 4.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—will be less than half as large as the shortfall in 2009, which was 10.1 percent of GDP.
Because revenues, under current law, are projected to rise more rapidly than spending in the next two years, deficits in CBO’s baseline projections continue to shrink, falling to 2.1 percent of GDP by 2015. However, budget shortfalls are projected to increase later in the coming decade, reaching 3.5 percent of GDP in 2023, because of the pressures of an aging population, rising health care costs, an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, and growing interest payments on federal debt. By comparison, the deficit averaged 3.1 percent of GDP over the past 40 years and 2.4 percent in the 40 years before fiscal year 2008, when the most recent recession began. During the next 10 years, both revenues and outlays are projected to be above their 40-year averages as a percentage of GDP (see figure below).
The Republican response? We need to cut more:
The lawmakers said the gap between revenue and spending is closing, but not by nearly enough, so they are sticking to their goal of balancing the federal budget within a decade.
On Tuesday the Congressional Budget Office said strong tax and other revenues caused it to slash its fiscal 2013 deficit forecast by more than $200 billion – to $642 billion, the smallest gap since 2008.
CBO said the brighter picture could push a deadline for raising the debt limit – necessary to avoid default on U.S. debt or a partial government shutdown – into November, from previous estimates of late July or early August.
When Republicans agreed to extend U.S. borrowing capacity in February, they had anticipated a summer deadline for raising the limit – over which they would demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
“It may change the amount and the size of the debt ceiling but it doesn’t change the reality of the debt ceiling,” said Representative James Lankford, a member of the House Republican leadership and the Budget Committee.
Gee, it’s almost as if they want to cut social spending and are using the deficit as an excuse –now that the deficit is falling, they’ll find another reason to cut (kind of how George W Bush argued for a tax cut because there was a surplus and then when the surplus went away argued for it because there was a recession).
15 May 2013 Leave a Comment
The Boston Globe details the three BIG scandals affecting President Obama. The three are:
Benghazi: this is a completely Republican generated scandal. Something bad happened and they used that to imply things (there have been so many different implications, it’s near impossible to list them all). Kevin Drum has a nice roundup here.
IRS investigation of Tea Party groups: the IRS should not be political, so this is bad. On the other hand, I really want the IRS to strongly investigate all these new (and existing) 501 (c) organizations that are abusing the system to put unlimited anonymous donations into the political system. All of them should be investigated.
Gathering of AP phone calls by the Justice Department: welcome to the club guys. Many of us liberals, and a few libertarian Republicans, have been complaining about this type of thing since the PATRIOT act was passed. We were in favor of a press shield law. How about Republicans:
The legislation has broad support from journalism organizations and is a compromise worked out by senators, the intelligence community and the Obama administration.
“After years of debate and countless cases of reporters being held in contempt, fined and even jailed for honoring their professional commitment not to publicly reveal their sources, the time has come to enact a balanced federal shield law,” said the committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Conservative Republicans and some in the intelligence community believe it can harm attempts to track down leakers of classified national security information.
The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said the bill “goes beyond protection for journalists. It’s granting journalists a power that is not provided to other people” who possess important information.
It’s good to see that Republicans have come around, it certainly couldn’t be that they’re just trying to hurt Obama.
Update: For example, how many investigations of this were there?
14 May 2013 1 Comment
5/17/2004: gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts
11/12/2008: legal in Connecticut
4/27/2009: legal in Iowa
9/1/2009: legal in Vermont
12/18/2009: legal in District of Columbia
1/1/2010: legal in New Hampshire
7/24/2011: legal in New York
12/6/2012: legal in Washington
12/29/2012 legal in Maine
1/1/2013: legal in Maryland
7/1/2013: will become legal in Delaware
8/1/2013: will become legal in Rhode Island
8/1/2013: will become legal in Minnesota (officially this hasn’t passed, but the governor is supposed to sign it today at 5pm)
There are 56 jurisdictions in the US (the states, DC, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Northern Marianas, and Guam. According to Wikipedia, 30 have constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage and 9 have statutes outlawing it, so that limits future progress (although Minnesota was one of the 9 that had a statute and California is likely to have gay marriage soon even though they have a constitutional amendment outlawing it). Still there are only 23 states where polls show less than 50% support for gay marriage, only 11 have less than 40% support, and support is rising very quickly (only 33% supported it in 2006).
13 May 2013 Leave a Comment
Kevin Drum has a piece about the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution when computers become smarter than people and he believes it will happen relatively soon–perhaps by 2040. In the long run this should lead to a kind of paradise, but getting there could be trouble as more and more jobs get taken by robots (if a robot can think as well as a person, then they will eventually be able to do any job a person can). This means we get to play the guessing game about the future. Here are some of mine:
- Some things will be easier for robots to do than others so this will lead to a makers vs. takers argument magnified.
- For some jobs, parts of it will be easier for robots than others so there will be increasing pressure to combine robots and people. We will start to seem some form of augmentation to humans to combine the two.
- A more organized form of parallel computing by humans will start to evolve–both for enjoyment and for employment.
Hmm, as I continue to think about it, it seems my prediction is for some form of Borg collective to arise. I don’t actually foresee one collective, but I do think there will start to be some.
What are your guesses?
12 May 2013 Leave a Comment
Here are some pictures I’ve taken of Boston over the years
From Malden, taken today:
this past February:
and some fall:
from the Harbor Islands from a beach:
and from a hill:
from Boston itself:
and from Waltham in the summer:
and the fall:
11 May 2013 Leave a Comment
So let’s see what the Catholics are protesting now:
The controversy over Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland, who supports narrow abortion rights legislation in his country, speaking at Boston College’s commencement took a dramatic turn Friday when the head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston declared that he will not attend the ceremony.
The announcement from Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley upped the ante in a debate that earlier in the week had pitted BC against the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, a group that opposes abortion rights and had strongly criticized the university for inviting Kenny.
And they’re really upset about this law:
The Catholic Church has pointedly left the threat of excommunication hanging over Irish lawmakers who vote against the church’s teachings on abortion in an upcoming parliamentary vote in the country.
The new law is a reaction to this case:
“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.
“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.
“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.
“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.
“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”
She died. The new bill allows for abortion if the woman’s life is in danger, including from suicide:
Under the draft legislation, when the threat is not from suicide, two doctors must jointly certify that there is a “real and substantial risk” of the loss of the pregnant woman’s life, and that they believe abortion is the only way to avert that risk.
One of the doctors must be an obstetrician or gynecologist, and at least one of the two should consult with the woman’s own doctor where possible.
When the risk to the pregnant woman’s life is from suicide, the assessment must be made by an obstetrician or gynecologist, along with two psychiatrists.
A doctor is also allowed to terminate a pregnancy in the case of a medical emergency if there is an immediate threat to the pregnant woman’s life, the draft states.
The procedure must be carried out by a registered medical practitioner at an appropriate location. The final decision on whether to carry out the abortion will always be made by the pregnant woman, it adds.
This article doesn’t explicitly state it, but it is a very strict bill:
The new bill, which will have to be passed in both houses of the Irish parliament, will not include cases concerning rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities.
Notice that last one–abortions are not allowed if the fetus will not survive. This is the law that the Catholic Church thinks is so terrible that people who support it should be excommunicated. It really is difficult to not conclude that the Catholic Church doesn’t care about women. After all, how many times have you heard of these types of protests because of other issues, the death penalty or lack of compassion for the poor for example?
10 May 2013 Leave a Comment
Ok this is really an excuse to put Isaac Newton in a post, but still this is kind of fun:
Newton did something unusual, and even, as Alan Shapiro notes, “almost [we would say entirely] unprecedented in the 17th century”: he averaged all of the differences….None of this reached print….Newton certainly avoided hinting in print that his law of arithmetical progression was adduced by anything other than the most skillful and precise of measurements.
….Newton’s “mean”—the average—was the weapon with which he slew the invevitable dragons of sensual errors. It was a most paradoxical weapon for the times, because it amounted to a method by which error seems to be reduced by committing it repeatedly. No such method appears elsewhere at the time, and it would certainly have seemed odd, to say the least, to most practitioners of the period.
….We have no contemporary record of the reasoning by which he justified this unusual method….Yet Newton used averages early on; he used them frequently and, it seems, consistently….Why did Molyneux and Flamsteed, a decade or two later, do so as well?….Is there some evidence as to what underpinned the average, decades before statistical notions became widespread?
Apparently the answer to that last question is no. The authors produce a bit of evidence that Newton thought of the average as akin to measuring a center of gravity, but that’s about it. It appears that Newton never explained himself, but just quietly went ahead with his use of averages several decades before anyone else. It was the secret behind his famously accurate observations.
I’m not sure this is true, as Wikipedia says that Tycho Brahe did the same thing. I can’t find any primary source that says that Brahe did (in a Google search), so I don’t know if he did. Anyway …. Isaac Newton.
08 May 2013 Leave a Comment
A report on gun violence came out yesterday. It shows that gun violence is way down, but that’s part of the general picture where violence and crime have dropped considerably since 1993 (violent crime is down about 71% and serious violent crime is down about 75%–from here):
That’s pretty stunning. Homicides have also dropped but not as dramatically (the number is down about 38% but that underestimates the decrease because it isn’t adjusted for population; from here–I found the numbers for total homicides by dividing the number of gun homicides by the percent given in the file, thus the number could be off a bit; note the blip in 2001 is from 9/11):
The numbers aren’t dropping as quickly now as they did from 1993 to 2000, but it’s still dropping–it’s always niceto see some good news.
07 May 2013 Leave a Comment
It seems that Republicans want to put Obamacare front and center in the election of 2014. Republicans will try to make this work in two ways: cut money for implementation and play up any problems that come up (and there will be problems). As Greg Sargent notes, articles like this are basically saying what Republicans want to be said–when problems arise Democrats (well, anybody) should talk about them to make the law better, but if newspapers interpret this as saying the Democrats are against Obamacare then the cause is lost. As Kevin Drum notes, the way to get around this is to start playing up the benefits of Obamacare as much and as soon as possible. If they do, then it will be Republicans that will have to answer difficult questions such as: what will you do to control medical spending?; what will you do so everyone has access to healthcare? Democrats and supporters need to play up all the problems with the current system. Played right, this is a big win for Democrats.
04 May 2013 Leave a Comment
Talking about the collapse of a building in Bangladesh that killed more than 5oo garment workers, we get this:
Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith …
During a visit to New Delhi, Muhith said the disaster would not harm Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is India’s biggest source of export income.
‘‘The present difficulties . . . well, I don’t think it is really serious — it’s an accident,’’ he said. ‘‘And the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all.’’
The government made similar promises after a garment factory fire five months ago that killed 112, saying it would inspect factories for safety and pull the licenses of those that failed. That plan has yet to be implemented.
Asked if he was worried that foreign retailers might pull orders from his country, Muhith said he wasn’t: ‘‘These are individual cases of . . . accidents. It happens everywhere.’’
To put this in perspective:
Wages aside, working conditions in Bangladesh’s rag trade are notoriously brutal and unsafe. The country is now the world’s second-largest apparel supplier, behind only China. Yet many garment factories fall short of Bangladesh’s own building codes. Two years ago, 29 people were killed and 100 injured in a fire at a factory manufacturing clothes for Gap Inc. A fire in November in a textile factory producing goods for Walmart and Sears Holdings Corp. killed 112 people. Managers in that blaze told workers to stay put when fire alarms went off.
In one sense I think Muhith is right, as long as Bangladesh is cheap garment factories will flock there unless something fundamental changes.
As an aside, it seems that Muhith is a soul-mate of Rand Paul. Here he is talking about the West Virginia mining accident:
We had a mining accident that was very tragic,” he said. “Then we come in, and it’s always someone’s fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen.”
and here he is talking about the oil spill in the Gulf:
“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’ ” Mr. Paul said, echoing a remark made by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar early on. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.”
Really, why does everyone blame the company when these types of things happen?
03 May 2013 Leave a Comment
I’m being lazy today, so I’m just going to put up a couple of pictures related to Saturn. The first is of a polar storm (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI):
The second is a picture of one of its moons, Enceladus, showing its plume spraying into space (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute):
02 May 2013 2 Comments
Same-sex marriage was signed into law today in Rhode Island, so there are now 10 states and DC where it is legal–that includes all of New England. Add in New York, Maryland, and DC and you might notice that most of the northeast allows it and it’s allowed almost nowhere else (just Iowa and Washington). Internationally, there are now 12 countries that allow same-sex marriage or have voted it in (Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden) and it is pending in other countries. It’s all pretty remarkable how fast this is moving considering that it was only in 2001 that the Netherlands became the first country to allow them and only in 2004 that Massachusetts became the first state.
02 May 2013 Leave a Comment
Here are two worrisome bits of information I found today:
via here, the C)2 level at Mauna Loa is poised to break 400 ppm for the first time in modern history. Here’s a chart for the levels since 1958 (from here, Credit: Dr. Pieter Tans, NOAA/ESRL (www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/) and Dr. Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (scrippsco2.ucsd.edu/).):
or, if you want a longer time frame (you might notice that sharp uptick at the end there):
And then there’s this:
When asked to agree or disagree with the following statement: In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.
In total, 29% agree, 47% disagree, 18% neither agree or disagree, 5% are unsure, 1% refused to answer. For Republicans, the percents are: 44% agree, 31% disagree, 20% neither agree or disagree, 4% are unsure, 1% refused to answer.
That’s … interesting. And unfortunately it seems we may be living in interesting times.
01 May 2013 Leave a Comment
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Carlo Pier Padoan said euro-zone governments are close to stabilizing and even cutting their debts relative to economic output.
But he warned that governments facing resistance from voters as unemployment rates rise may halt their fiscal consolidations before they achieve that “remarkable result.”
“There is a risk that reform fatigue increases significantly, with governments facing very strong social resistance, and that happens at the wrong moment, because we are almost there,” Mr. Padoan said. “Our message is, we have done a lot in Europe, let’s not waste it.”
“Fiscal consolidation is producing results, the pain is producing results,” he said.
He added that euro-zone policy makers need to do a better job of communicating their successes to a weary population.
“There is an issue of communication,” he said. “It’s as if we will do more of the same and never stop. But we are achieving results, and we will see those results sooner than expected.”
Like other international financial institutions, Mr. Padoan said the OECD is set to cut its growth forecasts for the euro zone, and now fears that the currency area may face a long period of stagnation.
So, unemployment in the EU has gone up to 12.1%, including 27% in Spain and Greece, youth unemployment (under 25) is at 23.5%, 59.1% in Greece, and GDP is expected to decrease again this year, but austerity is working. Wow, imagine what things would be like if it wasn’t working. Also, note that last bit–a long period of stagnation obviously doesn’t mean austerity isn’t working. This is a perverted way of looking at the world.
29 Apr 2013 Leave a Comment
This week, the U.S. House voted 232-190, mostly along party lines, to prohibit the Census Bureau from using federal funds to conduct the survey. All four of the House members from East Tennessee voted in favor of the legislation.
The Census Bureau introduced the survey in 2005 to replace the “long form” questionnaire that had been used in the census count taken every 10 years. The idea was that the ongoing survey would provide statistical data on a regular basis, instead of the once-a-decade figures generated under the previous questionnaire.
But Duncan and others argue the survey is so detailed that it amounts to an invasion of privacy.
Duncan said he can’t think of any reason why the government needs to know how Americans get to work, how many bedrooms are in their homes or whether or not they have hot and cold running water — all questions that are posed on the survey.
“It’s just ridiculous how detailed these questions get,” Duncan said. “It seems to me there’s just almost no privacy anymore, and it just keeps getting worse and worse.”
Yes, it’s a mystery why they ask these questions. It’s not like the Census Bureau has a site explaining why questions are included … oh wait they do. Yeah, but is there really a reason to ask how Americans get to work?
Meeting Federal Needs
Basic knowledge about commuting patterns and the characteristics of commuter travel come from responses to these questions. The commuting data are essential for planning highway improvements and developing public transportation services, as well as for designing programs to ease traffic problems during peak periods, conserve energy, reduce pollution, and estimate and project the demand for alternative-fueled vehicles. These data are required to develop standards for reducing work-related vehicle trips and increasing passenger occupancy during peak periods of travel.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) plans to use county-level data in computing gross commuting flows to develop place-of-residence earnings estimates from place of work estimates by industry. In addition, BEA also plans to use these data for state personal income estimates for determining federal fund allocations.
These data form the database used by state departments of transportation and the more than 350 metropolitan planning organizations responsible for comprehensive transportation planning activities.
Metropolitan planning organizations use these data to manage traffic congestion and develop strategies to mitigate congestion, such as carpooling programs and flexible work schedules.
Public transit agencies use these data to plan for transit investments, identify areas needing better transit service, determine the most efficient routes, and plan for services for disabled persons.
Police and fire departments use data about where people work to plan emergency services in areas of high concentrations of employment.
Data are used to identify patterns of discrimination in hiring among minorities and other population groups within labor markets.
Financial institutions use data about commuting patterns and occupation to define market areas for describing lending practices and the effects of bank mergers.
Well, perhaps but there couldn’t possibly be a reason to know whether we have hot and cold running water.
Complete plumbing facilities are defined as hot and cold running water, a flush toilet, and a bathtub or shower. These data are essential components used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the development of Fair Market Rents for all areas of the country. Federal agencies use this item to identify areas eligible for public assistance programs and rehabilitation loans. Public health officials use this item to locate areas in danger of ground water contamination and waterborne diseases.
Ok, but to be fair to Representative Duncan, I actually had to go to the Census Bureau’s web site to find this out. And that sounds like work. I should also note that Duncan didn’t say something as stupid as Rep. Webster:
“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation.
“We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”
Really, he seems to think that making a survey random means it’s not scientific. He also stated the ACS is unconstitutional, here’s the Census Bureaus’s response to an earlier such question.
Not to be outdone, the Senate has introduced a bill to make filling out the ACS voluntary.
24 Apr 2013 Leave a Comment
NASA has great videos of the Sun that show how it changes over a period of three years. The main one is here. To give you an idea of what it looks like, here’s a time-lapse picture (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/S. Wiessinger):
and here’s the actual video (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center):
You can find a bunch of variations of the video here and you find these interesting bits in the video:
00:30;24 Partial eclipse by the moon
00:31;16 Roll maneuver
01:11;02 August 9, 2011 X6.9 Flare, currently the largest of this solar cycle
01:28;07 Comet Lovejoy, December 15, 2011
01:42;29 Roll Maneuver
01:51;07 Transit of Venus, June 5, 2012
02:28;13 Partial eclipse by the moon