Funding the IRS

It was only a matter of time before the more extreme elements of the GOP tried to undermine the bipartisan infrastructure.  And right on cue as the bipartisan working group is attempting to finalize the bill’s details, some conservative groups are now demanding that the deal not include increased funding for IRS enforcement. This demand is absolutely ridiculous – here’s why………..

Taken at face value, their claims that spending more money on IRS funding is not fiscally responsible are plainly absurd. Spending money on IRS enforcement brings in significantly more money – it’s a net positive investment. That’s why it’s being used as a pay-for, not as something that has to be paid for.

On a deeper level, being opposed to giving the IRS more money for enforcement is essentially an open endorsement of allowing millionaires and billionaires to commit tax fraud without any consequences. As a recent report from the Treasury Department revealed, wealthy Americans currently get away with an incredible amount of tax evasion every single year in the United States. In 2019 alone, $580 billion that was owed to the IRS was not paid. Over the next ten years, experts predict that this “tax gap,” or the gap between what taxes are owed and what taxes are paid, will reach over $7 trillion, or 15% of all taxes owed. That is a lot of money. And most of it is being kept by rich people.

Just the top 10% of earners account for over 61% of the total tax gap. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because the richer you are, the more complicated your finances become, and the more difficult it is for the IRS to tell if you’re skipping out on paying your fair share. While average people are required to have money withheld from every paycheck, rich investors are supposed to decide for themselves how much to send in and send a check to the IRS every year. Not surprisingly, this leads to a huge amount of abuse.

And because the IRS doesn’t have enough investigators with the necessary expertise to go after rich people with complicated finances, they audit poor people at a higher rate – not because it’s more important to go after them, but because it’s easier.

So how did this happen? We got to this point because conservatives in Congress have systemically and deliberately underfunded the IRS to the point where between 2010 and 2017, it lost 43% of its tax technicians and 44% of its revenue officers. This notion left the IRS with the same amount of enforcement officers as it had in the 1950s when our economy was one-seventh the size it is now. That is unacceptable.

The increased IRS funding is really the only piece of the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s funding package that is worthwhile, so it’s no wonder conservative groups are attacking it. But in the face of their attacks, Congress needs to stand strong on this issue. The U.S. government’s inability to stop tax evasion has been a growing problem for decades, but in its current state, the IRS is almost fully incapable of properly identifying and punishing criminal tax evaders. The system we have very clearly isn’t working – it’s beyond time to fix this problem and put a stop to criminal tax evasion by properly funding the IRS.  (The Patriotic Millionaires)

My comment:  Amen to that!

Joke

“We’re looking for a Treasurer for the Christmas fund”, said Paddy
“Didn’t you take on a new one last month ?” said Murphy.

“That’s the one we’re looking for”, Paddy replied.

(Relevance to Epicureanism? A sole diet of actual news is so depressing that ataraxia seems a thing of the distant past. We need a smile, at least)

Epicurean belief simply put

Epicureanism was never meant to be a dry academic philosophy. In fact, it is best kept away from academia, where, as usual with philosophy, long words render it dull, if not incomprehensible. Rather, it is a vital way of living which seeks to free men and women from a life of unhappiness, fear and anxiety. It is a missionary philosophy for the practical-minded with common sense. Let others complicate it if they wish, but I prefer it simple.

The following eight counsels are a basic guide to Epicurean living.
1) Don’t fear God.
2) Don’t worry about death.
3) Don’t fear pain.
4) Live simply.
5) Pursue pleasure wisely.
6) Make friends and be a good friend.
7) Be honest in your business and private life.
8) Avoid fame and political ambition.

I would add:

– Think of others;
– Be polite and considerate to everyone, regardless of race, age, class or gender;
– Try to see the other point of view;
– Meet others half way, if possible.
– Take the smooth and pleasant road, as free from stress and conflict as possible.
– Aim to be moderate in all things.
– Try to laugh and make others laugh. We don’t do it enough
– But don’t be put upon!

Housing in Britain

To The Times
The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s modest housing measures deserve modest support, but most of this discussion misses the point. Of course supply must be increased, not least to deal with the backlog. The underlying problem, though, is uncontrolled demand. Most household growth comes from immigration, not from the domestic population: in recent years, more than four-fifths of additional households in the UK have been headed by a person born overseas.

Forget the absurdly defective household projections by the Department for Communities and Local Government. For as long as net migration continues at about a quarter of a million per year, Britain will be trapped in a treadmill of housebuilding without limit. (David Coleman, emeritus professor of demography, University of Oxford)

My comment: Britain is a small island and it has beautiful countryside that we all want preserved. At the same time the native population is barely increasing. As it heads off over the 60 million figure the extra people are mostly immigrants. We need them (provided we can integrate them) because they work hard and offer skills we are no longer prepared for now that technical education is so poor and apprenticeships few in number.

But the housing issue is a big problem, and it is right to bring it up. It seems unfair to ask the taxpayer to pay for more expensive housing, but where else will the money come from? I think Epicurus, given similar circumstances, would have advocating cutting military expenditure and putting resources into housing, rather than increase taxes. But then, like now, nobody ever asked him.

The tyranny of the cellphone

If it were not for my wife’s comfort with her cellphone I might as well be isolated on a tropical island.

Everyone in the UK expects you to have a cellphone – the whole health system. the police, the local Council, the Post Office, the Bank, the government, the emergency services. Just everyone. I am possibly the last person on the planet who possesses no cellphone and cannot send text messages, not because I am cheap but because I am old and my cognition is not what it was when, in the army, I planned an imagined invasion of Crete by allied armies (truly! I was told at the end I had been captured by German paratroopers!).
Anyway, I wander from the point.

The point is that to me I prefer (1) a telephone call or (2) an old fashioned email. What I find irritating is the assumption that you have a cellphone and can text. When you think how many people can barely pay their electricity bills and earn peanuts this assumption is, shall we say politely “out of touch”.

Now…….which uninhabited, peaceful Pacific island would suit best….?

A surge of Ivermectin overdose calls

Health experts and medical groups are pushing to stamp out the growing use of ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug, to treat COVID-19, amid warnings that it can cause harmful side effects and that there’s little evidence it helps.

Poison control centers are seeing a dramatic surge in calls from people who are self-medicating with ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug for animals that some falsely claim treats COVID-19.

According to the National Poison Data System (NPDS), which collects information from the nation’s 55 poison control centers, there was a 245% jump in reported exposure cases from July to August — from 133 to 459.

Meanwhile, emergency rooms across the country are treating more patients who have taken the drug, after being persuaded by false and misleading information spread on the internet by talk show hosts and political leaders. Most patients are overdosing on a version of the drug that is formulated to treat parasites in cows and horses.

The troubling trend has been on the rise since the start of 2021 — despite warnings from state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against taking ivermectin. The NPDS says 1,143 ivermectin exposure cases were reported between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31. That marks an increase of 163% over the same period last year.

Ivermectin treats infections caused by some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions such as rosacea. When taken in appropriate, prescribed doses, it can be highly effective and is included in the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.

But after some clinical trials at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration says the “currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19.”

In Kansas, the Department of Health and Environment is urging residents to disregard false information about ivermectin’s effectiveness against Covid.
“Kansans should avoid taking medications that are intended for animals and should only take ivermectin as prescribed by their physician,” Lee Norman, secretary of the department, said earlier this week.

In Mississippi, which has one of the lowest rates of vaccination against the coronavirus, at least 70% of recent calls to the state poison control center were related to people who ingested ivermectin, which meant for cattle and horses.

Minnesota’s Poison Control System is dealing with the same problem. According to the department, only one ivermectin exposure case was reported in July, but in August, the figure jumped to nine. Kentucky has seen similar increases. Thirteen misuse calls have been reported this year, Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Poison Control Center, told the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“Of the calls, 75% were from people who bought ivermectin from a feed store or farm supply store and treated themselves with the animal product,” Webb said. The other 25% were people who had a prescription, she added.”You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” the FDA said in a renewed warning late last month.

Those people in Mississippi with a prescription from a health care provider should only fill it “through a legitimate source such as a pharmacy, and take it exactly as prescribed,” the agency instructs. It also cautioned that large doses of the drug are “dangerous and can cause serious harm” and said that doses of ivermectin produced for animals could contain ingredients harmful to humans. (Denis Farrell/AP)

My comment. Actually, is there any need for comment? This tells the world all it needs to know about the backwoods of America. Fortunately, there are still plenty of intelligent and educated people elsewhere.

Smile!

A new Priest at his first mass was so nervous he could hardly speak. After mass he asked the Monsignor how he had done.
The Monsignor replied, “When I am worried about getting nervous on the pulpit, I put a glass of vodka next to the water glass. If I start to get nervous, I take a sip.”
So next Sunday he took the Monsignor’s advice. At the beginning of the sermon, he got nervous and took a drink. He proceeded to talk up a storm.
Upon his return to his office after the mass, he found the following note on the door:
1) Sip the vodka, don’t gulp.
2) There are 10 commandments, not 12.
3) There are 12 disciples, not 10.
4) Jesus was consecrated, not constipated.
5) Jacob wagered his donkey, he did not bet his ass.
6) We do not refer to Jesus Christ as the late J.C…
7) The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not referred to as Daddy, Junior and the Spook.
8) David slew Goliath; he did not kick the shit out of him…
9) When David was hit by a rock and was knocked off his donkey, don’t say he was stoned off his ass.
10) We do not refer to the cross as the ‘Big T.’
11) When Jesus broke the bread at the last supper he said, “Take this and eat it for this is my body.” He did not say, “Eat me.”
12) The Virgin Mary is not called ‘Mary with the Cherry’.
13) The recommended grace before a meal is not: Rub-A-Dub-Dub thanks for the grub, Yeah God.
14) Next Sunday there will be a taffy pulling contest at St. Peter’s not a peter pulling contest at St. Taffy’s. (Sent by Beth Barnes)

This generational conflict is bogus

A fake generational war over the climate crisis has distorted public thinking and political strategy, when in fact older generations are just as worried about the issue as younger people, according to research.

In fact, the study found older people were actually more likely than the young to feel that acting in environmentally conscious ways would make a difference, with twice as many baby boomers as members of generation Z having boycotted a company in the last 12 months for environmental reasons. The fake conflict between generations over the climate crisis is “dangerous and destructive”, the lead researcher, Prof Bobby Duffy, said.

My commment: Amen to that! As an older person I am quite as concerned as anyone else. The weather news, especially from the US, is really scary. You have to be deaf and blind not to be aware of the rising temperatures, the forest fires, the hurricanes, and the melting ice at the poles. If you are British maybe one of the greatest threat is disruption of the Gulf Stream, which could make the British Isles a very cold place to live in, as I understand it. The irony is that many Brits worry about foreign migrants, but it is quite possible the they will join the migrations as well.(Am I being alarmist?).

Afghanistan

Afghanistan is hit by brain drain as the ‘best and brightest’flee Taliban rule. (Los Angeles Times)

The re-emergence of Taliban rule has triggered the departure of thousands of highly skilled Afghans from what is already one of the world’s most under-developed nations.

As the insurgents continue to tighten their grip, people with “a wealth of skills and experience” are “joining a brain drain of such grave proportions that even the Taliban, faced with running one of the world’s poorest countries, has taken notice with dismay”, the Los Angeles Times commented.

My comment: The Taliban is an illustration of the downside of using a religion as a blueprint for modern governance. If you choose to employ medieval religious ideology as a framework for “modern” government, what do you expect? Now were they introducing the precepts of Epicureanism they might be surprised at the positive reaction of the people. Religion should be a personal matter.

Religion and little people from strange planets

The number of confirmed exoplanets stands at 3,500, of which, scientists believe, at least some are potential Earths, with very similar characteristics. This poses a theological and philosophical conundrum for many religions, especially Christianity, which focuses on mankind and teaches that God created man in his own image, exclusively on our one small planet.

So does God’s creation extend beyond a single planet? If so do the inhabitants of those planets believe in the same God (gods?) as humans do? Does God, as creator of the universe, deny the inhabitants of those distant planets a chance to redeem their sins, and where does it leave people who believe they are chosen of God? Where,too, does it leave Jesus, and are there other versions of Jesus on other planets who died to redeem the sins of the world?

No doubt the leaders of the various Christian sects will come up with interpretations of the scripture that can include the inhabitants of exoplanets, without accepting apostate teachings from barbarian planets.
The priority of most religions has been to expand their wealth and power, and this has, over the span of history, taken precedence over care for others less fortunate than them. The justification for this has been that the situation was the will of God that had to be accpted. The chances are that the religious elders will shrug and go on as usual, not accepting the beliefs of the new-found inhabitants of space – the ability to adapt and survive is enormous. What other non-religious organisations have so ably survived the centuries?

As Carl Sagan commented, “Men may not be the dreams of the gods, but gods are the dreams of men”.

Government aid to fossil fuel projects

Governments gave 20% more in overseas aid funding to fossil fuel projects over the last two years than to programmes to cut the air pollution they cause, according to an analysis from the Clean Air Fund.

Air pollution kills more people than HIV/Aids, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, but just 1% of global development aid is used to tackle this crisis, the researchers found. (Clean Air Fund)

Mycomment: Maybe the only thing that will correct this situation is if politicians refuse election donations from large polluters. Politicians (some of them anyway) talk a good game about pollution and global warning, but members of both major parties still court oil companies for money. Apparently this counts as “democracy”. Epicurus, if alive, would disagree. Mayb we can only save the planet if politicians were offered a sum of money from federal coffers and told that if they accepted a further cent from corporations they would be barred from all elections going forward. No, it’s not going to happen! But doomsday will happen and it won’t be pretty. We are collectively stupid creatures.

Drug over-doses during covid

The United States in 2020 saw the highest number of drug overdose deaths on record, “staggering” data from the National Center for Health Statistics showed. 

There were an estimated 93,331 deaths from overdoses last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, about a 30 percent increase from 2019. This was the biggest jump from year to year since 2016, when the number of drug overdose deaths rose by 11,000, and it surpassed the record of 72,000 in 2019, The Associated Press reports. 

“This is a staggering loss of human life,”Brown University public health researcher Brandon Marshall said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously reported an “acceleration” of overdose deaths during the pandemic, with then-CDC Director Robert Redfield saying, “The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard.”  69,710 of the overdose deaths in 2020 involved opioids. 

“Every one of those people, somebody loved them,” Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys told the Post. “It’s terrifying. It’s the biggest increase in overdose deaths in the history of the United States, and we’re not making progress. It’s really overwhelming.” (Associated Press, The Week 15 Jul 2021)

My comment: I wonder how many of these poor people were vaccinated? Is it fair to assume the answer to be ‘very few’? To be vaccinated, it seems to me, is to implicitly declare ‘I want to live’. To refuse vaccination and overdose indicates indifference to life – other people’s lives as well. (Associated Press and Washington Post)

Extinction of the Komodo dragon?

Climate change is threatening Komodo Dragons, the Earth’s largest living lizards to still walk the Earth.

A new report from an international biodiversity conservation organization says the fearsome reptiles are edging closer to global extinction.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, an assessment of the health of tens of thousands of species across the globe, Komodo dragons have gone from “vulnerable” to “endangered.”. Meanwhile, global temperatures and higher sea levels, IUCN says, will reduce the Komodo dragon’s habitat by at least 30% over the next 45 years.

“The idea that these prehistoric animals have moved one step closer to extinction, due in part to climate change is terrifying,” said Dr. Andrew Terry, conservation director of the Zoological Society of London.

Komodo dragons are native to Indonesia and only live in Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the nearby island of Flores.

“While the subpopulation in Komodo National Park is currently stable and well protected, Komodo dragons outside protected areas in Flores are also threatened by significant habitat loss due to ongoing human activities,” the report says. (September 4, Jod Hernandez, Twitter)

My comment: the Komodo dragon is one of hundreds of wildlife species being decimated (or made extinct) by the actions of human beings, with all their
selfishness and focus on money. But at least the more enlightened and caring of them realize what is happening to the climate and support measures to avoid catastrophe. Will they be successful? I, for one, will not be here to see, but haven’t a responsibility to future generations to support climate activism. Am I – are you – doing enough? Almost certainly no.

Afghanistan withdrawal not a failure?

A former U.S. official doesn’t view the Afghanistan withdrawal as an ‘intelligence failure’!

Sue Gordon, who served as a top U.S. intelligence official under both the Trump and Obama administrations, said Sunday that she would not characterize the American withdrawal from Afghanistan “as an intelligence failure”, despite widespread criticism about how the Trump and Biden administrations, the U.S. military, and the intelligence community failed to anticipate how swiftly the Taliban would overrun the Afghan government and security forces and take control of Kabul.

During a TV appearance on Sunday Gordon said she thinks throughout the U.S.’s 20-year involvement in Afghanistan, the intelligence community remained “pretty clear-eyed” about what was happening on the ground. And she believes that didn’t really change last month, arguing that a leaked transcript of President Biden’s last conversation with former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani makes it seem clear the former knew the situation was “fraught.” She did, however, acknowledge that “they apparently didn’t have precision in their estimate on the speed of the loss.”. (The Week, 7 Sept 2021)

My comment: I have been asked several times “what use is the study of history?” Had American politicians known any history they would never have committed so many men and so much taxpayer money to Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires”. Twice the British were thrown out. The second time a lone, exhausted British officer on a near-dead horse was the sole survivor of an Afghan war! Then there were the Russians. Is Ms. Gordon saying the US intelligence thought the anti-Taliban “fighters” were committed and competent? Then she and her colleagues were kidding themselves and the US Government. Obvious nonsense. It was their job to measure the resilience and commitment of the Afghan government forces. Can we ever trust them again?

Epicurus might have advised the President to let the medieval Afghans severely alone. Let them find their own ataraxia amid the incomprehensible readings and interpretations of a religion that treats women as slaves.