|From: TimF||8/19/2010 8:29:10 PM|
|I Hand The Cashier A Ten Dollar Bill For A Five Dollar Purchase. She Gives Me Fifteen Dollars In Change.|
What should I do? Should I call attention to her error and hand back ten dollars, or should I pocket the money and get out of the store?
I’ll be honest, at various times in my life, I’ve done both. On the one hand, we have the thrill of getting ten dollars! Beating the man! And perhaps a gnawing guilt…
On the other, if we give the money back, we have the feeling, “I’ve been a sucker.” And the pain of losing ten dollars. But no guilt – we did the right thing. Perhaps even a small satisfaction for having done so. I know which of these two courses I’d rather follow the next time someone gives me too much change.
Fortunately the government hasn’t the slightest bit of conscience. It keeps the money. As soon as it leaves the store, it laughs at the cashier:
The N.C. Department of Revenue is sifting through a backlog of 230,000 unresolved tax returns from as far back as 1994 that include cases in which taxpayers are owed money – but are now unlikely to get it.
E-mail correspondence obtained by The News & Observer outlined the problem, and it revealed a debate within the department over how to deal with longstanding cases where its computer system flagged returns to indicate taxpayers who mistakenly overpaid their taxes.
The e-mail messages also show that the department knew about overpayments but did not refund them.
Although some of the overpaid returns are old, most are brand new. Before 2009, policy at the North Carolina Department of Revenue was, whenever a taxpayer was marked by a computer as having overpaid his taxes, the money was returned.
Since 2009, the taxman has a more realistic policy: When a taxpayer overpays, the Department will stay silent, saying nothing. If the taxpayer realizes his error within three years (as required by statute), the Department will, maybe, grudgingly refund the money. Otherwise, the Department will spend the money on no-bid construction contracts, and laugh at how it put one over on the citizen.
Of course this only works in one direction: A citizen who inadvertently stiffs the North Carolina Department of Revenue will be forced to pay a penalty, may have his name tarnished as a tax cheat, and could get to enjoy an audit or worse. If not paid back immediately, the Revenue Department will react with the fury of the wounded innocent at being cheated of its rightful gains.
All of which may be perfectly legal, but is it right? That’s the question I’m here to pose: We teach our children to obey the government because, by and large, its laws are just. Because the government is disinterested in commerce, and has no profit motive, we teach our children that the government is more likely to be honest than some shopkeeper.
But if the government is just another shark in the marketplace, if the government just follows the law of the jungle, shouldn’t we teach children to obey the government out of fear, and for no other reason? Unless of course, they can get away with it? That doing the right thing is for suckers and sheep, if you’re smart enough?
That’s certainly the lesson that the North Carolina Department of Revenue is teaching their parents.
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|From: TimF||8/20/2010 5:09:46 PM|
|The Limits of Enforcement|
Jul 27 2010, 10:19 AM ET | Comment
Most people I've talked to both on and offline are in agreement that requiring 1099s for equipment purchases is a pretty egregious waste of enforcement energy. But there are a few who argue that it's really, really important to crack down on tax evasion.
I will not defend tax evasion. But it's not true that we should, always and everywhere, crack down on this sort of thing.
Every time there's a policy debate, Waste, Fraud, and Abuse once again rears its ugly head, and we hear that we could save vast sums by eliminating them. Leave aside the fact that these estimates are, necessarily, very approximate; if we could count all the waste, fraud and abuse, we wouldn't have much of it. Even if the numbers are correct, they're only useful in some frictionless universe where we can easily eliminate 100% of the dreaded WFA.
Unfortunately, in our non-frictionless universe, eliminating these things is often very costly--and the smaller the transactions, the more costly it is. My favorite example of this is an office I once temped for--for one long, long week. Some office manager had decided that to cut down on the expense of supplies, each person would only get one of key things, like pens. In order to get a new one, you had to turn in your old pen.
Needless to say, this did cut down somewhat on the pen outlay. However, it diverted considerable employee energy into pen-loss mitigation strategies. As soon as one person misplaced their pen, pen theft blossomed. As did the gray market in pen security equipment. By the time I arrived, employees were spending a considerable portion of their day looking for ways to indelibly mark their pens as their own, and the rest of the time trying to steal someone else's poorly marked pen.
I don't know what they were spending on pens, of course, but I don't see how this could have been a cost-effective outcome. I assume that the practice was eventually ended, but their receptionist eventually came back from vacation (to a penless desk, of course) and I never learned the end of this sad story.
That's why drugstores budget for shrinkage rather than locking everything away, putting it behind the counter, or searching the patrons as they leave. It's why businesses do not actually attempt to make sure that every expense is 100% justified.
In fact, systems often need this kind of loss to reduce friction in the system; I've heard a plausible case made, for example, that without Medicaid fraud, virtually no one on Medicaid would be able to secure primary care outside of a hospital clinic. The reimbursement rates are simply too low.
In the case of the 1099s, at $1.7 billion a year I don't see how the increased taxes can possibly justify the enormous new compliance burden, especially when you consider that some of that burden will be a direct cost to the government in the form of IRS agents dispatched to untangle the inevitable false flags in the audit system. There are some bits of tax revenue it just isn't worth going after--even though, yes, it means that some small business owner, somewhere, is probably getting away with something.
williambswift in reply to willallen2
Actually, the $600 exclusion does not help - since it is $600 over a year, you need to keep a running total of what you spend in smaller increments to even know if you have gone over the $600 in many cases. Remember, only $12 per week will add up to $600 over 50 weeks.
huadpe in reply to James Hare
The $600 rule is rather trivial actually. I need to collect the necessary information from all my suppliers, in case later in the year I go back and get something from them later. I need to update my database to accept all this new information, which will cost thousands of dollars in man-hours. I need to get a TIN, since I don't want to have to give my social security number out to all my clients. I need to make sure the IRS keeps track of my TIN and association with SSN. I need to train my 2 employees to get this information from all vendors (some of whom may not be equipped/willing to provide it, e.g. buying a computer system off ebay). I need to figure out whether this applies to the broker or the salesperson (e.g. amazon marketplace or the vendor I find through it). All in all, I expect this to reduce my profits by something like 5 to 10%.
The 5-10% estimate is first year, mostly for the database update, after that maybe 2-4%. Also, how the hell do I 1099 my property taxes? As far as I know the city doesn't have a TIN I can use to 1099 them, and they don't like credit cards.
SgtFraggleRock in reply to Alan
But remember, this isn't a tax increase on those making under $250,000.
This? This is the "waste and fraud" that I'm told is the difference between surplus and deficit - if only I hand over my life to central control. This?
What's next? Are we going to track down babysitters? Maybe shadow married couples who go to movies or dinner and arrest them and the babysitter for tax evasion.
Yard sales? Are we going to send un-marked cars to yard sales and crush people for not paying their sales tax?
And don't forget kids selling lemonade.
It is infuriating to see this kind of noise dressed up by the fools we call "Congress and the President" to appear to be actually significant and relevant. These are red herrings, intentionally meant to divert us from the incompetence behind them.
Hey, this weekend I got a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts. My dogs were in the back seat, and the woman at the drive through asked if they could each have a Munchkin. I said "sure."
I feel so dirty now. No taxes were paid on that transaction...
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|From: Brumar89||8/28/2010 7:22:46 PM|
|Interesting - 20 things someone learned from traveling the world:|
2 The media lies - you can really figure that out from here.
4 Americans not hated
5 Americans not as ignorant as you think or other folks are just as ignorant.
16 In developing countries, government is usually the problem.
NOT JUST THERE!!!
17 English becoming the world language.
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|To: TimF who wrote (3785)||8/29/2010 12:36:25 AM|
|Bean-Counters and Baloney|
The bean-counters have struck again-- this time in the sports pages. Two New York Times sport writers have discovered that baseball coaches from minority groups are found more often coaching at first base than at third base. Moreover, third-base coaches become managers more often than first-base coaches.
This may seem to be just another passing piece of silliness. But it is part of a more general bean-counting mentality that turns statistical differences into grievances. The time is long overdue to throw this race card out of the deck and start seeing it for the gross fallacy that it is.
At the heart of such statistics is the implicit assumption that different races, sexes and other subdivisions of the human species would be proportionately represented in institutions, occupations and income brackets if there was not something strange or sinister going on.
Although this notion has been repeated by all sorts of people, from local loudmouths on the street to the august chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States, there is not one speck of evidence behind it and a mountain of evidence against it.
Ask the bean-counters where in this wide world have different groups been proportionally represented. They can't tell you. In other words, something that nobody can demonstrate is taken as a norm, and any deviation from that norm is somebody's fault!
Anyone who has watched football over the years has probably seen at least a hundred black players score touchdowns-- and not one black player kick the extra point. Is this because of some twisted racist who doesn't mind black players scoring touchdowns but hates to see them kicking the extra points?
At our leading engineering schools-- M.I.T., CalTech, etc.-- whites are under-represented and Asians over-represented. Is this anti-white racism or pro-Asian racism? Or are different groups just different?
As for baseball, I have long noticed that there are more blacks playing centerfield than third-base. Since the same people hire centerfielders and third-basemen, it is hard to argue that racism explains the difference.
No one says it is racism that explains why blacks are over-represented and whites under-represented in basketball. Bean-counters only make a fuss when there is a disparity that fits their vision or their agenda.
Years ago, a study was made of the ethnic make-up of military forces in countries around the world. Nowhere was the ethnic make-up of the military the same as the ethnic make-up of the population, or even close to the same.
Nearly half the pilots in the Malaysia's air force were from the Chinese minority, rather than the Malay majority. In Nigeria, most of the officers were from the southern tribes and most of the enlisted men were from the northern tribes. Similar disparities have been common among various groups in many places.
In countries around the world, all sorts of groups differ from each other in all sorts of ways, from rates of alcoholism to infant mortality, education and virtually everything that can be measured, as well as in some things that cannot be quantified. If black and white Americans were the same, they would be the only two groups on this planet who are the same.
One of the things that got us started on heavy-handed government regulation of the housing market were statistics showing that blacks were turned down for mortgage loans more often than whites. The bean-counters in the media went ballistic. It had to be racism, to hear them tell it.
What they didn't tell you was that whites were turned down more often than Asians. What they also didn't tell you was that black-owned banks also turned down blacks more often than whites. Nor did they tell you that credit scores differed from group to group. Instead, the media, the politicians and the regulators grabbed some statistics and ran with them.
The bean-counters are everywhere, pushing the idea that differences show injustices committed by society. As long as we keep buying it, they will keep selling it-- and the polarization they create will sell this country down the river.
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|From: Brumar89||9/2/2010 7:02:19 PM|
|He's Mine! No, He's Mine! |
You could be mine
How'd you like to be this Chilean miner? You're hoping and praying you're rescued from deep under ground, yet at the same time likely dreading the moment you see daylight since a couple of ladies are eagerly awaiting your arrival.
Hey guys, take your time.
One of the trapped Chilean miners is in no rush to be rescued -- because both his wife and his longtime mistress will be waiting for him when he finally sees the light of day.
Neither woman was aware of the other's existence until they met at a candlelight vigil for the miners, The Sun newspaper of Britain reported.
Yonni Barrios' wife, Marta Salinas, was shocked to hear another woman shouting her husband's name at the gathering held to support the 33 men who are trapped 2,300 feet underground, the paper said.
They compared notes and figured out that they both had been shafted. Officials said the miners aren't likely to be rescued before Christmas.
Despite feeling "horrified" about her husband's cheating ways, Salinas, 56, has told friends she still plans to welcome Barrios, 50, back with open arms once he's freed, the paper said.
"Barrios is my husband. He loves me and I am his devoted wife," she said.
But she's not the only one who feels that way.
Susana Valenzuela, who's been his mistress for five years, insists she'll always be his soul mate.
"We are in love. I'll wait for him," she told The Sun.
Salinas clawed back at her rival, refusing to address Valenzuela by name.
"This woman has no legitimacy," she hissed.
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|From: Brumar89||9/13/2010 7:09:21 PM|
|Funny - French lover myth debunked - but wait, this is a BBC story so we probably can't believe it|
French survey reports sex misery for most couples
A survey by one of France's oldest and most reputable polling and market research organisations has challenged the myth of the French lover.
More than three-quarters of Gallic couples have bad sex lives, the Institute for Public Opinion found.
More than one in three women said they had used excuses such as headaches, tiredness or children being nearby to get out of having sex.
Nearly one in six men said they had also made similar excuses.
France has long enjoyed a reputation for romance and the French have traditionally thought of themselves as great lovers, more amorous and flirtatious than most other Europeans, especially the British, the BBC's David Chazan reports from Paris.
But the survey of more than 1,000 French adults, who answered revealing questions about their sex lives, suggests the nation that gave its name to the French kiss could be suffering a loss of libido, he says.
However, help may be at hand, our correspondent adds. The pharmaceutical corporation which commissioned the survey says it is going to launch an information campaign this month for French couples who want to improve their sex lives.
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|From: TimF||9/28/2010 10:47:46 PM|
|Cuba and the Death of Communism|
Fidel Castro finally admits the obvious.
Steve Chapman | September 20, 2010
Communism has been proclaimed dead more than once in the past couple of decades. But today, it's safe to say, it is really dead. Irreversibly dead. Cemetery dead.
Consider this comment from a knowledgeable Cuban critic who was asked if the country's brand of socialism, created by Fidel Castro after his 1959 revolution, could be of use in other countries: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." That remark would have gotten him in trouble with authorities, if his name were not Fidel Castro.
There may yet be admirers of Cuban communism in certain precincts of Berkeley or Cambridge, but it's hard to find them in Havana. The 84-year-old Fidel (who later said he didn't mean to say that) has turned control over to brother Raul, whose faith in the shining power of Marxism-Leninism has also dried up.
This week, the regime said it will dismiss 500,000 people from government jobs, which account for 84 percent of the work force. Reflecting ruefully on the perils of sheltered bureaucracy, Raul Castro declared recently, "We have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live without working."
As a blanket indictment, that statement is grossly unfair. Many Cuban government employees put in long hours—working in the black market.
That option is not necessarily optional, since the average Cuban makes only about $20 a month—which is a bit spartan even if you add in free housing, food, and medical care. For that matter, the free stuff is not so easy to come by: Food shortages are frequent, the stock of adequate housing has shrunk, and hospital patients often have to bring their own sheets, food, and even medical supplies.
For a long time, Cuba enjoyed the generous support of the Soviet Union. But when communism collapsed in Moscow, Cubans had to confront the deficiencies of their system.
Admirers of Castro point to his alleged success in eradicating illiteracy and improving health care. But even these fall short of impressive progress.
Roger Noriega, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, notes that before communism arrived, Cuba "was one of the most prosperous and egalitarian societies of the Americas." His colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has documented that pre-Castro Cuba had a high rate of literacy and a life expectancy surpassing that in Spain, Greece, and Portugal.
Instead of accelerating development, Castro has hindered it. In 1980, living standards in Chile were double those in Cuba. Thanks to bold free-market reforms implemented in Chile but not Cuba, the average Chilean's income now appears to be four times higher than the average Cuban's.
The regime prefers to blame any problems on the Yankee imperialists, who have enforced an economic embargo for decades. In fact, its effect on the Cuban economy is modest, since Cuba trades freely with the rest of the world. How potent can the boycott be when we're the only participant?
Cubans have had to pay for their meager economic gains by surrendering their political liberties. In its latest annual report, Human Rights Watch says, "Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent."
The latest instrument for strangling dissent is a law allowing the arrest of people exhibiting "dangerous" un-socialist tendencies even before they commit crimes. "The most Orwellian of Cuba's laws, it captures the essence of the Cuban government's repressive mindset, which views anyone who acts out of step with the government as a potential threat and thus worthy of punishment," says Human Rights Watch.
But even economic failures and political tyranny have been not enough to deprive Castro of Western admirers. On a 2000 visit to Havana, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asserted, "Castro's regime has set an example we can all learn from." His lieutenant Che Guevara has been endlessly romanticized. Movie director Oliver Stone once marveled of Fidel, "I'm totally awed by his ability to survive and maintain a strong moral presence."
Cubans may differ. About 1.5 million of them have fled since Castro arrived, many in rickety boats that put their lives in peril. And the government, for some reason, doesn't let ordinary citizens decide if it remains in power.
That's the grisly fate of modern Cubans. Communism is dead, and they're shackled to the corpse.
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|From: TimF||10/4/2010 3:34:22 PM|
|Would you eat genetically-engineered salmon?|
The Food and Drug Administration’s public meetings last week on what may be the first genetically-engineered (GE) animal marketed for human consumption have stimulated a lot of discussion. People differ on whether the sale of AquAdvantage Salmon — which, due to the addition of a gene from the Chinook salmon, grows to full-size in less than half the time of its non-engineered Atlantic salmon cousins — will be a boon or a bane.
Would you eat this GE salmon? I would. There need not be any conflict here, though, as grocery stores are filled with foods that some people like and others shun. Why not allow people the freedom to make the decision for themselves? To answer this question, it’s important to understand how the FDA regulates products of biotechnology.
The majority of our food supply (the exception being food harvested in the wild) has been genetically modified over the years through selective breeding and other traditional methods. Recent concerns over “genetic engineering” relate to the newer techniques using recombinant DNA (rDNA). Many scientists find these concerns unfounded, because the new biotechnology techniques are more precise and reliable than traditional, trial-and-error techniques. For years the stated US policy has been to focus regulation on the characteristics of the product of genetic engineering, rather than the particular method used to achieve it. Following this philosophy, rDNA techniques have been applied successfully to key food crops, so that today over 70 percent of the corn and 90 percent of the soybeans grown in America are genetically engineered. To date, however, the U.S. government has never approved a GE animal for human consumption.
In January 2009, in a move that many saw as contrary to the long-standing policy of regulating based on the risks of the product, rather than the method, the FDA announced that it would regulate GE animals as if they were new animal drugs, requiring pre-marketing approval from FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). The new animal drug approval process requires the manufacturer to provide the FDA with extensive data demonstrating both the “safety” and the “efficacy” of the product. In the case of the salmon, which AquaBounty has been developing for about 15 years, CVM’s preliminary determination is that it is “safe” for human consumption (because the salmon is indistinguishable from other Atlantic salmon) and the environment (the AquAdvantage salmon do not risk interbreeding with wild salmon because they are all sterile females and will be raised in land-based tanks). Indeed, it appears that the GE salmon will be better for the environment than either wild-caught salmon (which suffer from overfishing) or traditionally-farmed salmon (which may pose environmental risks). CVM has also determined the salmon is “effective” in that they really do grow faster.
If, as expected, FDA’s CVM does approve the GE salmon, a separate arm of FDA — its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) — will make a decision as to whether and how it should be labeled. Under FDA’s food labeling rules, the agency cannot require the salmon to carry a separate label unless it is materially different from non-engineered salmon (which it appears not to be). That makes sense to me, but here’s the rub: FDA rules may also not allow producers to inform consumers about whether the Atlantic salmon they’re purchasing involved the spliced Chinook gene. This is because FDA is not only concerned that labels be truthful, but that they not mislead consumers. In deciding whether firms selling conventional Atlantic salmon can label their products as not genetically engineered, the FDA will not only consider whether such claims can be supported (e.g., through tracing or testing) but also whether such a claim might falsely imply that the non-GE salmon is safer.
Prohibiting truthful voluntary labeling would be an unfortunate abridgement of commercial speech. While I will enthusiastically purchase and eat the new GE salmon (once FDA approves it), I respect the preferences of those who would rather not and of producers of non-GE salmon who would like to advertise the fact that their salmon is not genetically engineered. To meet the diversity in preferences, FDA should avoid a one-size-fits-all labeling prescription. At a minimum, it should do what it did in an analogous situation in 1994, when it allowed cows to be treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production. Then, it issued guidance detailing when and how labels could indicate that milk was produced from cows not treated with rBGH. (My all-natural Greek yogurt carries a label that says: “We oppose the use of rBGH. The farmers who supply our milk and cream pledge not to treat their cows with rBGH. The FDA has said no significant difference has been shown, and no test can now distinguish, between milk derived from rBGH-treated and untreated cows.”)
I hope FDA approves the GE salmon soon and then gets to work approving the enviro-pig (engineered to produce less pollution), the tuna-pig (high in omega-3 fatty acids) and cows resistant to mad cow disease.
Susan E. Dudley is Director of the GW Regulatory Studies Center and Research Professor in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration of the George Washington University
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|From: TimF||10/20/2010 12:23:39 AM|
|Straining The Social Fabric|
by Bevan Sabo
The widespread use of the market reduces the strain on the social fabric by rendering conformity unnecessary with respect to any activities it encompasses.
- Milton Friedman
Government demands conformity, and because individuals often have conflicting interests, conformity will always breed some level of discontent. Market transactions, on the other hand, are entered into willingly by each party to mutual advantage – so you have astronomically less discontent when market forces are allowed to mediate man’s affairs, rather than the violent hand of government.
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