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.

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.

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

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.

My year in contributions: 2014

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.

Sham

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.

Towards an end to the killing

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.

Still time to contribute

I tried to add a couple of causes to the list this year, especially locals like Casey Trees and Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, while maintaining my support levels for everyone else.

These are the organizations and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2013. Please join me in supporting their work.

Every $15 counts

One of my writing projects for Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp has been to assemble profiles of National Wildlife Refuges across the country that owe their existence to the Duck Stamp. For many of our NWRs, virtually all of the property was both or leased with money from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, and the money that hunters pay for Stamps goes into the MBCF.

To date, I have written up Camas NWR in Idaho, Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico, and Tamarac NWR in Minnesota.

Our target audience is mainly the birding community and bird-inflected readers, but I do slip a little natural history from other realms into my descriptions.

Stories I missed: 3

Just when I think that I have run out of indignant, that I am fresh out of appalled, I come across a story like this: In an effort to determine the precise whereabouts of Osama bin Laden (preparatory to the extrajudicial killing, assassination, whatever you want to call it, of this monstrous person), the Central Intelligence Agency put together a fake hepatitis B vaccination clinic and went about collecting DNA in the Abbottabad, Pakistan neighborhood where bin Laden was suspected to be holed up. As the editors of Scientific American put it,

It is hard enough to distribute, for example, polio vaccines to children in desperately poor, politically unstable regions that are rife with 10-year-old rumors that the medicine is a Western plot to sterilize girls—false assertions that have long since been repudiated by the Nigerian religious leaders who first promoted them. Now along come numerous credible reports of a vaccination campaign that is part of a CIA plot—one the U.S. has not denied.

The likely wages of this shameful sin is the stalling of global efforts to eradicate polio, as Donald G. McNeil, Jr.’s reporting for the New York Times suggests. A certain Dr. Shakil Afridi is identified as being in charge of the fake medical exercise. Instead of administering the full three doses of vaccine that are called for in the protocol, the ersatz humanitarians abandoned the setup after giving one dose to everyone in an entire neighborhood, without permission. Bad medicine, reprehensible spycraft, irresponsible policy.

One step at a time

State by state, a struggle is going on, one with a lower profile than the cause of marriage equality, but one that reflects more brightly our compassion as a people. Ever so gradually, capital punishment is being phased out, by legislative and judicial means.

If [death penalty abolitionists] can win in enough states, they’ll ultimately try to convince the Supreme Court that “evolving standards of decency” demand the death penalty be struck down as cruel and unusual punishment, [Robert] Blecker says.

That may not happen anytime soon.

But progress comes in increments. Colorado editorialists’ reluctance to seek blood revenge on accused Aurora shooter James Holmes is a favorable sign.

Public groping

Nathaniel Rich shares my mistrust of airport body scanners. Like him, I consider the scanners personally intrusive and carrying unknown health risks.

…an investigative report in 2011 by ProPublica and PBS NewsHour concluded that the X-ray scanners, then still in use, could cause cancer in 6 to 100 United States airline passengers every year, and that the European Union banned those machines because of health concerns.

(I was unaware of the “cancer cluster” associated with Logan Airport that he mentions, but I’m not surprised.) More to the point, I think they are an egregious misplacement of resources. Like the security bollards that sprang up around federal buildings in the 1990s, body scanners a splendid example of “fighting the last war” thinking.

The way I look at it, if the TSA is going to waste time and money to invade my space, let’s make it personal. Someone has to lay hands on me. Bring on the patdown. Rich’s gambit of trying to pick the line with the metal detector doesn’t work for me.

Contrary to his experience, in the few times that I have “opted out,” as they say, my inspector has always been respectful and prompt. No one has tried to argue me out of my decision. It remains my quiet protest against the forces that would slide us into a state of constant fear.

Good causes, one and all

These are the organizations and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2012. Please join me in supporting their work.