Category Archives: Public Policy and Politics

One of tens of thousands

Life achievement unlocked: today for the first time I marched in a major political protest on the streets of Washington, D.C. As a member of the March for Science, I walked from the Washington Monument grounds, within sight of the White House, down Constitution Avenue to 3rd Street, on the fringe of the Capitol grounds. Weather conditions at the rally were less than ideal (drizzle and showers), but I stuck to the principle that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.

getting ready to marchI walked with a group well-organized by Audubon Naturalist Society (that’s us mustering on the steps of the National Museum of Natural History). ANS’s march leaders had the brain wave of bringing decorative bird spinners as a rallying point. The spinners (and the stylin’ t-shirts) brought us lots of attention, especially from journalists major and minor.

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Not looking good for the Arcade

Ted Rall offers one explanation for what happened (is happening) to Dayton, Ohio.

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My year in contributions, 2016

It’s too late for tax season, but I still encourage you to support the good work that these organizations are doing.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2016.

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Time heals

A message of hope from Vi Hart.

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The view from Maine

Richard Russo (Empire Falls), in conversation with Renée Montagne, offers an interesting take on recent political developments:

… we’ve been hearing a lot of talk about jobs. But I would draw a distinction between jobs and work. I don’t have a job, but I have tons and tons of work. That work sustains me. I’m doing something that gives my life meaning, it connects me to other people.

I think when you lose a job, you have less money and you get scared. But when you lose work, which has happened to many of Donald Trump’s supporters – or they fear is going to happen to them – you lose your dignity. Maybe you’re nobody. Maybe you don’t matter.

I think that Trump supporters have really been worried about their sense of not belonging anymore. If I blame Trump supporters for anything, it’s that if they’ve been feeling undervalued, denigrated, ignored, that’s not a new feeling. It’s just new to them, you know? Black people in America have felt that way for a long time. So have Latinos.

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ADHD

“Why Some Wars Get More Attention Than Others,” by Amanda Taub.

Conflicts gain sustained American attention only when they provide a compelling story line that appeals to both the public and political actors, and for reasons beyond the human toll. That often requires some combination of immediate relevance to American interests, resonance with American political debates or cultural issues, and, perhaps most of all, an emotionally engaging frame of clearly identifiable good guys and bad guys.

Most wars — including those in South Sudan, Sri Lanka and, yes, Yemen — do not, and so go ignored.

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Lessons

… there’s a second way to look at this. The violent opposition to the Vietnam War and the particular violence of May 4 [, 1970] also played a major role in ending the draft and thus insulated students and young people generally from many of the issues that had spurred such activism in the 1960s. Waging war today is a matter of finding the right price point at which sufficient numbers of young men and women will be tempted to risk their lives in service to their country. Arguably, too, it’s a matter of fostering economic conditions—underpaid and underemployed youth, hyper-expensive higher education—that make military service an attractive choice. What’s apparent, though, is that American troops have been in combat somewhere in the world almost continually since November 2001 with barely a whimper from the campuses that led the opposition to the Vietnam War.

—Howard Means, 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence (2016), p. 220
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Modern agriculture

Emily Helliwell explains her approach to talking with creationists. In short, focus on the concepts that are important to the here and now:

If we want to get back to the dinosaurs, we can say the cumulative effect of billions of years of changing environments have allowed for some pretty amazing creatures to come and go. But, let’s resist the urge to talk about that, and stay focused on the small-scale stuff. Because if there is any concept necessary for our modern, developed society to believe in and understand, it’s microevolution.

Through microevolutionary principles, we would not have developed two of the most important contributions to society, antibiotics and pesticides. Without antibiotics, we would be subject to horrible infections, and without pesticides, we would be subject to devastating crop failures. Many of us would be dead or suffering.

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Charities and the IRS: an update

The ill-advised proposal by the Internal Revenue Service to define a mechanism for charities to collect donor tax identification numbers in order to report donations on a standardized form has been withdrawn. North of 38,000 public comments were posted, apparently most of them negative.

American Association of Community Theatre

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Letting go

In the first half of last year, The Guardian produced a very effective closed-end podcast about its reporting and advocacy concerning climate change. With no exaggeration, it can be called The Biggest Story in the World.

For me, the most important episodes consisted largely of interviews with Marc Morano, climate change heckler, and with Ben Van Beurden, CEO of Shell.

HowSound

The focus of the newspaper’s campaign was to persuade two large charitable foundations to divest from companies dependent on carbon-based fuel extraction—the big oil companies, in short.

Meanwhile, Joel Rose recently reported on stepped-up efforts by gun safety activists, asking pension funds and personal investors to drop gun-related stocks from their portfolios. Does divestment have an impact?

“Well, unfortunately, it does not have an effect,” says Paul Wazzan, an economist at the Berkeley Research Group in California. He has studied the divestment campaigns against companies that did business in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Wazzan says there was no measurable effect on their stock prices.

“But it does generate a lot of press and interest,” Wazzan says. “And the political pressure starts to build and that did ultimately have an effect. It’s not what our paper was about, but I think the political pressure ultimately did have an effect on these companies.”

That kind of pressure is harder to measure than a stock price. But divestment supporters say it’s still worth a try.

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We paid for it

Peter Cashwell responds to the selfish occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

This is the purpose of a national wildlife refuge: to use our collective wealth and will to protect something important to all of us.

48,000 acres of the refuge (26% of the total) were purchased with Migratory Bird Conservation Fund dollars.

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My year in contributions, 2015

The last-minute begging e-mails for the end of the year are still streaming in. Yet: please consider giving to one of the organizations below.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2015.

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And you are asking me this why?

AACT alerted me to a proposed IRS regulation that appears to have little justification. It proposes to provide an optional reporting mechanism for charitable contributions. The current system is simple: you get a letter with your name and how much you gave. The proposal on the table is for the charity to report your information on the Form 990 that it submits to the IRS. What’s the catch? To do that, the charity would have to collect and store your social security number.

The opportunities for identity theft and fraud are too scary to me.

Tim Delaney of the National Council of Nonprofits has the talking points.

The proposed regulation, Substantiation Requirement for Certain Contributions, is part of the Federal Register. Public comments are being solicited, but take note that the deadline for comments is next Wednesday, 16 December.

The Council of Nonprofits has guidelines for making effective public comments, as does regulations.gov.

Here is the comment that I posted:

I am writing as a small-dollar donor to many charitable organizations. On average, I give $50-100/year to each of about 50 organizations, with one larger donation each year in the $250-1000 range. I perform volunteer service for several nonprofit organizations. I am also a board member for a nonprofit; however, I am not writing today as a representative of that nonprofit.

The proposed regulation strikes me as unjustified; indeed, “The present CWA system works effectively, with minimal burden on donors and donees, and the Treasury Department and the IRS have received few requests since the issuance of TD 8690 to implement a donee reporting system.” The present system works for me, and I receive letters of acknowledgement from almost all the organizations to which I donate. I question the motivations and reasoning of the taxpayers referred to as “under examination for their claimed charitable contribution deductions” who argue in favor of the proposed amended Form 990. Surely someone with the financial wherewithal to make regular $250+ contributions can be expected to show due diligence and follow up with a donee organization to get timely CWA documentation.

I am troubled by the opportunities for identity theft and fraud that the proposed regulation would introduce. In my judgment, the requirement to securely transmit and store taxpayer identification numbers would be a burden on most smaller nonprofits. And to the extent that fears of identity theft would have a small, but real, chilling effect on the size and frequency of donations to nonprofits, I am deeply concerned.

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I’d go with Freedman’s Village Hwy

Eric Green wonders why major thoroughfares in the Commonwealth are named for traitors to their country:

It’s been suggested that Jefferson Davis Highway should be called the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Highway (for obvious reasons) or Freedman’s Village Highway, to honor a camp, established in South Arlington during the Civil War, where African Americans fled to escape slavery in the South.

I’ll sweeten the deal: find new names for Jeff Davis Highway and Lee Highway and I’ll stop referring to DCA (officially Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) as Strikebreaker Airport.

Greater Greater Washington

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Quality, not quantity

The Economist’s Free Exchange blog interprets recent research which suggests that the economic effects of environmental regulation are not nearly as severe as those on the pro-business right would have it.

There are several possible explanations for the finding. One is that damage from environmental regulation is not great enough to change the overall productivity figures. A rule of thumb says a 10% change in the oil price is associated with a 0.2% change in GDP, so if green taxes push up energy prices by only a few cents, their macroeconomic impact might be modest. The effect on jobs, investment or trade, though, might be greater.

Another explanation may be that stricter environmental regulations do as much good as harm.

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