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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ᔥ Greater Greater Washington
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.
Here’s the first of my year-end roundup posts.
The spirit of Giving Tuesday doesn’t have to die at the end of November. These are the organizations and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2014. Please join me in supporting their work.
Happy 50th anniversary to the Urban Mass Transportation Act, in short, the legislation that made Metro (and transit projects across the country) happen. Martin Di Caro interviews Therese McMillan of the Federal Transit Administration.
An editorial from Scientific American points out that executions by lethal injection are putting innocent patients at risk. The supply of tranquillizers like propofol (used in routine procedures like colonoscopies), all or in part, comes from Europe, and the E.U. prohibits export of drugs that are to be used to kill people.
Perhaps the root problem is here:
…executions are not medical procedures. Indeed, the idea of testing how to most effectively kill a healthy person runs contrary to the spirit and practice of medicine. Doctors and nurses are taught to first “do no harm”; physicians are banned by professional ethics codes from participating in executions. Scientific protocols for executions cannot be established, because killing animal subjects for no reason other than to see what kills them best would clearly be unethical. Although lethal injections appear to be medical procedures, the similarities are just so much theater.
A leader from The Economist, noting the close vote in New Hampshire on renouncing capital punishment, and some surprisingly stern words arguing for its hasty demise.
…in a secular democracy a law of such gravity must have some compelling rational justification, which the death penalty does not.
* * *
…New Mexico, Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado and Washington stopped or suspended it. New Hampshire will try again. State by state, abolitionists will prevail. America is a nation founded on the principle that governments should not be trusted with too much power; that should include the power to strap people to a gurney and poison them.