Quotulatiousness

January 5, 2018

Justin Trudeau’s PR team fumbles badly with Boyle photo-op

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Late last year, the Boyle family were “rescued” from the Taliban and the Prime Minister not only met with them, but allowed some photos to be taken that quickly made their way out onto social media. Now that Joshua Boyle has been arrested for a long list of offenses, the PM is looking very bad indeed, as Chris Selley points out:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Boyle family in Ottawa, 18 December.

The supposed geniuses surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are capable of some very strange decisions. Arranging a meeting with Joshua Boyle and his family after their release from Taliban captivity, and agreeing to the Boyles photographing the smiling encounter — Joshua later tweeted out some snaps — is certainly one of them.

Boyle was arrested Tuesday and charged with a raft of offences including sexual assault and unlawful confinement, concerning events beginning immediately after the family’s return to Canada in early October. Trudeau met the Boyles on Dec. 18. Now photos of Trudeau beaming with the accused are all over the news. If PMO procedures somehow didn’t flag the investigation, that’s a serious concern. If they did and the meeting happened anyway, it’s horrendous political risk management at the very least.

Indeed, these were hardly the first red flags. The PMO argues it would agree to such a meeting with any released hostages — a very stupid policy if it exists, because the Boyles aren’t quite any released hostages. When the Taliban nabbed Joshua and five-months-pregnant Caitlin Coleman in 2012, they were ostensibly “backpacking in Afghanistan.” The phrase dances off the tongue a bit like “scuba diving in Yemen” or “gastronomic tour of Somalia”: not inconceivable, but the Boyles will not have been surprised to learn that some in the U.S. intelligence community were suspicious. They reportedly refused an American military flight home over fears — perfectly reasonable ones, surely — that they might wind up stuck at Bagram Airfield.

But what the heck, let’s think the best of the Boyles. Sunny ways, etc. The best still involves the unpleasant matter of Joshua’s short-lived marriage to none other than Zaynab Khadr — daughter of the late Ahmed Khadr, the Egyptian-Canadian al-Qaida financier for whom Jean Chrétien famously went to bat when he was detained in Pakistan.

[…]

Unseriousness is a serious charge against Trudeau: big hat, staff photographer, few cattle. Another non-official photo released this week shows Trudeau and his Castro-worshiping brother Sacha in matching sweaters depicting the Last Supper attended by emojis, with the words Happy Birthday strung over top. In a rather over-the-top tweet, Conservative MP Candice Bergen accused the PM of “intolerance” and of “mocking Christianity” — and no question, many Canadians might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment lest it cause offence. (It was in private, of course, but it’s public now.) But many Canadians also might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment because he’s the leader of a G7 country, a serious person with a serious job that he’s taking seriously.

This touchy-feely cool-dad happy-go-lucky shtick has taken Trudeau a long, long way. I very much doubt it can take him any further. And I think the backlash, when it comes, could be legendary.

December 30, 2017

The Dark Ages of Sex – All Pleasure is Sin! l THE HISTORY OF SEX

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

IT’S HISTORY
Published on 21 Sep 2015

Sex became a sin in the Middle Ages. Following the promiscuous Ancient Rome and Greece, the Western World was indoctrinated with Medieval concepts of guilt and immorality. Adultery and sex for pleasure became unthinkable. Churches implemented strict rules, breaking them could result in public shaming. The severity of punishments would only increase after the Reformation.

December 29, 2017

Autopsy of the “Remain” campaign – but the rules only apply to the little people!

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It’ll be interesting to see if anything comes of this:

The Remain campaign flouted Electoral Commission rules so it could overspend by up to £7.5 million during the referendum, a Guido investigation can reveal. Over the next few days Guido will be looking at how the various Remain groups coordinated their messaging, campaign plans, data, materials and donations, causing them to overspend by more than double the legal limit. Sorry Electoral Commission HQ, you’re going to have to come back early from your Christmas holidays…

The Electoral Commission rules are clear: if one campaign “coordinates [its] activity with another campaigner”, then they are “highly likely to be working together”. This definition of “working together” is important, because the Electoral Commission also says: “the lead campaign group must count all of the spending of all the campaigners it works together with towards its own limit”. Guess what… they didn’t.

Two books provide detailed accounts of a number of Remain campaigns coordinating plans and working together in the weeks leading up to the referendum. Tim Shipman’s All Out War reveals “[Craig] Oliver led an early-morning conference call for the media teams at 6.15am. At 7.30am there was a second conference call, in which Stronger In would tell Labour In, Conservatives IN and the Liberal Democrats about their plans for the day”. This clearly counts as “coordinating” and “working together” under the Electoral Commission’s definition.

December 16, 2017

QotD: Ending the risk of sexual assault in the workplace

Filed under: Business, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As an economist I always try to find the simplest, cheapest, and most effective solutions to society’s problems. However, whereas mere mediocre economists talk about multi-factor productivity, education, etc., the reason I’m one of the best economists is because I do something most others don’t.

I think outside the box.

And so, just like I was (in theory) able to prevent the Dotcom Bubble, the Asian Currency Crisis, the Housing Bubble, Education Bubble, and Retirement Bubble, I have found a way to bring the epidemic of sexual harassment and sexual assault to a screeching halt, and at practically no expense to America.

Force men to work from home.

It seems to me that “boys are just going to be boys” and while I know feminists, academians, HR departments, CSR departments, and non-profits are doing their best to eliminate toxic masculinity and bring out the more feminine side of men, until that noble goal is achieved, it may be best to avail ourselves of already available technology and require that men only work from home.

This will bring about a lot of benefits to society that go well beyond ending work place sexual harassment and assault. Women won’t be bothered by men at the office or in the downtown eateries come lunch time. They will not be harassed, allowing for much safer work place environments. An all-women workplace environment will FINALLY come to fruition allowing them the chance to excel that was traditionally the preserve of men. Plus, the highways won’t be as crowded come the morning and evening commutes. One might even say this would force men to be the house husbands, forcing them to see what it was like to be oppressed as a stay at home mom.

Captain Capitalism, “End Sexual Assault by Forcing Men to Work from Home”, Captain Capitalism, 2017-11-13.

December 14, 2017

The Last Closet: the Dark Side of Avalon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Just saw this on Facebook:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel The Mists of Avalon and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

The Last Closet is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

While I was never a fan of MZB, I was still shocked to hear about her private life. I haven’t read the book, but I have no reason to believe it’s not completely true.

December 11, 2017

The FBI and the Michael Flynn case

Filed under: Government, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Reason, Sheldon Richman explains why the FBI is nobody’s friend:

One of the unfortunate ironies of the manufactured “Russiagate” controversy is the perception of the FBI as a friend of liberty and justice. But the FBI has never been a friend of liberty and justice.

Rather, as James Bovard writes, it “has a long record of both deceit and incompetence. Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that ‘the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.’ This has practically been the Bureau’s motif since its creation in 1908…. The FBI has always used its ‘good guy’ image to keep a lid on its crimes.” (Bovard has made a vocation of cataloging the FBI’s many offenses against liberty and justice, for which we are forever in his debt.)

Things are certainly not different today. Take the case of Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who spent less than a month as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with conversations he had with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, between Trump’s election and inauguration. One need not be an admirer of Flynn — and for many reasons I certainly am not — to be disturbed by how the FBI has handled this case.

One ought to be immediately suspicious whenever someone is charged with or pleads guilty to lying to the FBI without any underlying crime being charged. Former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew C. McCarthy points out:

    When a prosecutor has a cooperator who was an accomplice in a major criminal scheme, the cooperator is made to plead guilty to the scheme. This is critical because it proves the existence of the scheme. In his guilty-plea allocution (the part of a plea proceeding in which the defendant admits what he did that makes him guilty), the accomplice explains the scheme and the actions taken by himself and his co-conspirators to carry it out. This goes a long way toward proving the case against all of the subjects of the investigation.

That is not happening in Flynn’s situation. Instead, like [former Trump foreign-policy “adviser” George] Papadopoulos, he is being permitted to plead guilty to a mere process crime.

When the FBI questioned Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, it already had the transcripts of those conversations—the government eavesdrops on the representatives of foreign governments, among others, and Flynn had been identified, or “unmasked,” as the ambassador’s conversation partner. The FBI could have simply told Flynn the transcripts contained evidence of a crime (assuming for the sake of argument they did) and charged him with violating the Logan Act or whatever else the FBI had in mind.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the FBI asked Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, apparently to test him. If he lied (which would mean he’s pretty stupid since he once ran the Defense Intelligence Agency and must have known about the transcripts!) or had a bad memory, he could have been charged with lying to the FBI.

December 10, 2017

13 Non-Pedophile Reasons You Can Hate Roy Moore

Filed under: Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

ReasonTV
Published on 8 Dec 2017

Even if you disregard the nine women accusing Roy Moore of sexual assault, there are plenty of reasons to despise him.
—–
Judicial incompetence, constitutional ignorance, and industrial strength bigotry are just some of the issues with the Alabama judge. In the latest Mostly Weekly Andrew Heaton covers some of the many reasons why Roy Moore sucks:

• He taught a class discouraging women from running for office.
• He’s referred to people as “reds and yellows”.
• He thinks the accusations of pedophilia are pushed by homosexuals and socialists.
• Accepted money from a Neo-nazi group.
• Said gay marriage was worse than slavery.
• Wouldn’t rule out death penalty for gays.
• Wants to rescind free trade agreements.
• He’s anti-immigrant.
• Believes Barack Obama wasn’t born in America.
• Believes 9/11 is God’s punishment for legalizing sodomy and abortion.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton, with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.

Script by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton and Brian Sack.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

December 3, 2017

Alberta debates marijuana legalization … oddly

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh’s most recent column is a real-life illustration of the old Bastiat saying that “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended”:

I will leave better informed people to discuss Mr. Orr’s creative interpretation of the Cultural Revolution as being a proto-Reaganite anti-drug crusade. Actually, I am just informed enough to discuss it, briefly. Here’s the discussion: it’s bananas.

And yet! — the nonsense about China might not even have been the silliest part of the speech. Orr has concerns that legalized marijuana might not serve to suppress illegal production. This could, in itself, be a legitimate point. There is a genuine fear that the licensed vendors will set the price too high to compete with existing dealers. But it is not quite the point Orr chose to make. He seems to be convinced that licensed growers cannot compete with the black market at any price.

Why is it that criminals grow pot? Orr’s answer is not “because growing pot has, until now, been a crime.” That would be too easy. “Let’s look at it from a business point of view,” he suggests…

“The black market doesn’t have to pay taxes. They don’t have to pay (worker’s compensation). In most cases they don’t have to pay for any capital expenditures on land or buildings. They don’t have to buy business licences. In many cases they don’t pay for power… Anybody who tries to do this legally is going to have to pay all of these expenses, and you think you can compete financially on that level with them?”

This, of course, explains why, when we want furniture or shoes or chicken, we all invariably buy them in back alleys from underground businesses. But if Orr were to actually look around Alberta — even his own part of Alberta — he would see that lawful businesses do have some advantages.

Legal growers can raise hundreds of millions of dollars in capital markets not run by guys named Lefty or Snake. They can recruit scientists, professional marketers, and horticultural experts without having to hope Walter White shows up. They can exploit economies of scale. They can buy or rent acres of land without having to hide from helicopters. They can do business in broad daylight: they can rent billboards.

And meanwhile, it is not really as though illegal pot growers don’t have labour costs, or overhead, or capital and land requirements. Underground businesses that don’t pay “tax” still have to spend money, often more money, on the basic protective services that taxes buy the rest of us. Any economist could have told Mr. Orr as much. But I am afraid he got his economics out of the same Cracker Jack box his Chinese history came from.

November 24, 2017

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute makes Title IX applicable to non-students

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I only know about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute due to the model railway club on campus, but the school should be more widely known now, if only as an object of derision:

Today, we’re writing about RPI’s attempt to subject a student from a different school to its disciplinary process — an attempt we’re only learning about because a court had to order RPI to stop violating the rights of John Doe (who used a pseudonym in his lawsuit). In a Nov. 6 ruling in Doe’s favor, a New York state court judge deemed RPI’s conduct “arbitrary” and “capricious,” and annulled RPI’s finding that Doe had sexually assaulted an RPI student.

This story begins in 2015 when Doe, a graduate student at a school that is not RPI, was in a relationship with an RPI student. Doe had never been a student at RPI. His only connection to RPI was his relationship with an RPI student. In the summer of 2016, after the relationship ended, the RPI student filed a Title IX complaint with RPI against Doe. As the court would later observe, the alleged conduct at issue in this case “took place off campus and was not in anyway (sic) related to an educational program or activity of RPI,” and that RPI “would have learned this from the complaint itself and statements made by the complainant.” Despite this, RPI launched an of Doe and interviewed him. Per the court, the interview constituted “a clear violation of [Doe’s] constitutional rights.”

It is not difficult to see why the interview raised concerns with the court. First, RPI conveniently failed to tell Doe why it needed to interview him in advance. Doe didn’t find out about the purpose of the meeting until just before it started, when RPI’s interviewers gave him some documents and told him he was the subject of misconduct investigation. If that weren’t enough to raise due process concerns, it was also “obvious” to Judge Raymond J. Elliott that there was “a language and a possible cultural barrier” between Doe and RPI’s interviewers. So RPI hauled Doe in for questioning without telling him why, sprung a serious charge on him, and failed to ensure that he understood what was going on.

[…]

But to say the court generally sided with Doe would be an understatement.

Most importantly, the court ruled that RPI went too far in asserting jurisdiction over Doe and subjecting him to its disciplinary process. The court held that RPI should not have interviewed him or included his statement in its report. The remedy in this case was voiding Doe’s statement, and because RPI relied on Doe’s statement, the court annulled the report. The court also found that RPI had “no legal authority or obligation … to report, inform, publish or share any information or documentation with [Doe’s] academic institution regarding this alleged incident, and that [RPI’s] determination that they have the authority to do so is arbitrary and capricious.”

November 15, 2017

Ignorance of the law … is inevitable, because there are so many laws

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

We’ve all heard the old saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, but there has been such massive growth in the number and scope of laws in the last couple of generations that even the people who work in the legal field can’t possibly keep up. What chance do average citizens have to ensure they aren’t accidentally falling afoul of unknown (and for all practical purposes, unknowable) legal traps?

“Because I said so.” “Life isn’t fair.” “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” These are some of the great cop-outs of all time, and the last one is particularly troubling in a country with so many laws that it is impossible to count — let alone read — them all. When was the last time you sat down with a complete set of the federal, state, and local codes setting forth the tens of thousands of criminal violations for which you could be sent to jail? If you answered “never,” you’re in good company. Nevertheless, America’s judges still cling to the proposition that it’s perfectly fine to lock people up for doing something they had no idea was illegal. But it’s not fine, and the justifications for that palpably unfair rule have only grown more threadbare with time.

Laws Are Not Even Countable, Much Less Knowable

Things have gotten so bad that even an act as innocent as sharing a Netflix password or a bank website password with a family member could potentially carry criminal penalties if the website disallows password sharing. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 bans intentionally accessing a computer “without authorization,” and the Supreme Court has recently declined to hear a case from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Nosal, that held that password sharing could be prohibited by the Act. Although the majority opinion did not explicitly mention innocent password sharing, the dissent noted that the lack of any limiting principle meant that the majority’s reasoning could easily be used to criminalize a host of innocent conduct.

One rationale for the maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse was to give people an incentive to educate themselves about legal requirements. But as any law student will attest, one can study those requirements for years and barely scratch the surface. Another rationale was to prevent people from escaping criminal penalties by claiming ignorance, even when they actually knew they were breaking the law. That might have made sense in ancient times when there were only a few dozen crimes on the books and all of them involved morally blameworthy conduct like murder, arson, or rape.

But today the law has grown so complicated, and the relationship between law and morality so attenuated, that these supporting rationales no longer make sense. There have been multiple attempts to count the number of federal crimes, including by the Department of Justice, and no one has yet succeeded. Title 18 of the United States Code, which governs crimes and criminal procedure, has over 6,000 sections, and it is estimated that there are more than 4,500 federal crimes and over 300,000 agency regulations containing criminal penalties. And of course, this does not include the dizzying array of state and local criminal codes, ignorance of which is practically assured but still not excused.

In 2009, Harvey Silverglate wrote Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. That was long enough ago that three is almost certainly an under-estimate by now … there are so many more laws and regulations that have been added (or “enhanced”) since then.

QotD: Some positive effects of a cashless society

Filed under: Economics, Law, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There’s a lot to like about the idea of a cashless society, starting with its effect on crime. The payoff to mugging people or snatching their bags has already declined dramatically, simply because fewer and fewer people are carrying cash around. I myself almost never have any of the stuff on hand. If it weren’t for the rising value of mobile phones, street crime would have largely lost its profit motive … and if better phone security makes it impossible to repurpose a stolen phone, that motive will approach zero.

A cashless society would also see a decline in the next level of robberies: stickups of retail outlets. There’s obviously no point in sticking a gun in the face of some liquor store clerk when all he can give you is the day’s credit card receipts. Even if these sorts of crimes are replaced by electronic thefts of equivalent value, this would still be a major improvement for society, simply because the threat of violent crime is uniquely terrifying and corrosive to community.

One step beyond that, there’s the effect on criminal enterprises, for whom cash is key. Making it impossible to transact business while keeping large amounts of money away from the watchful eye of the government will make it much harder to run an illegal operation. And while I love the tales of quirky bootleggers and tramp peddlers as much as the next fellow, the truth is that large criminal organizations are full of not very nice people, doing not very nice things, and it would be better for society if they stopped.

Megan McArdle, “After Cash: All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses a Bank Account”, Bloomberg View, 2016-03-15.

October 26, 2017

So what was the point in the Sudbury byelection trial?

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I admit I didn’t follow this case in any detail, but what little I did read left me scratching my head over what the actual crime was supposed to have been. I certainly don’t have any partiality for the defendants, but there really didn’t seem to be any “there” there in any “breaking the law” way. Chris Selley (who actually did have to pay attention to the trial) seems to have felt much the same way:

Justice Howard Borenstein kicked the living daylights out of the Crown’s case in the Sudbury byelection trial on Tuesday, acquitting Liberal operatives Gerry Lougheed and Pat Sorbara of bribery without the defence calling evidence. The “directed verdict” means he didn’t think any Crown evidence would result in a conviction even if a jury believed it entirely — not a great look for the prosecution. Defence lawyers Brian Greenspan (for Sorbara) and Michael Lacy (for Lougheed) didn’t say whether their clients would pursue the Crown for costs, but they were otherwise inclined to orate. Both called it a “vindication.”

“This is as close in law as you can have to saying, ‘she’s innocent,’ ” said Greenspan.

“Nothing changed during this case. The evidence that was presented was the evidence that was available from the very beginning,” said Lacy. “And yet here we are, however many days later, with no case to answer for. (It) raises questions about why they prosecuted this matter to begin with.”

No kidding. I wouldn’t trust the lawyers the Crown came up with to wash my car, but they can’t have come cheap.

Under the circumstances, it’d be quite reasonable for them to attempt to recoup their legal costs.

So that was that. Two Liberals, three charges, three acquittals — and rightly so, says I. As I’ve said before, the Crown’s desultory shambles of a case managed to shift me from thinking Lougheed and Sorbara behaved greasily, if not illegally, to thinking they had barely done anything noteworthy. Both claimed to have no regrets on Tuesday; moments after the acquittal, the Liberals welcomed Sorbara back into the fold on Twitter. The opposition’s rote angry press releases ring rather hollow — especially in the Tories’ case, considering all the recent allegations of riding-level skullduggery.

On the bright side, we have some precedent at least. This is the first time anyone has ever been charged under the bribery provision of the Ontario Election Act, which dates from 1998. Seven other provinces have similar bribery provisions in their election acts; so far as I can tell no one has ever been charged under them either. The only mentions made of the new provision in debates at the Ontario legislature were about how everyone would surely agree it was a great idea. The next time politicians decide to tinker with the Election Act, they should get their intentions on the record. Had Borenstein sided with the Crown, he would nearly have outlawed politics altogether.

October 25, 2017

The new “movie plot threat” – The Revenge of the Return of the Bride of the Sex Trafficking Mafia

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The rising moral panic over sex traffic gets a well-deserved takedown by Lenore Skenazy:

We are in the midst of a massive mommy moral panic. Across the country, mothers are writing breathless accounts on Facebook of how sex traffickers nearly snatched their children at Target/Ikea/the grocery store.

While at Sam’s Club, one such post explains, “a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours.…He was an African American with a shaved head.…It seemed like an innocent encounter.” Innocent, that is, until the mom and kids headed to Walmart and there was the guy again, “feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter.”

It could only mean one thing, she wrote: “I have absolutely NO doubt that that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell.”

And I have absolutely no doubt that she’s wrong. This is what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed a “movie plot threat” — a narrative that looks suspiciously like what you’d see at the Cineplex. The more “movie plot” a situation seems, the less likely it is to be real.

But it sells. A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. “I had a bad feeling,” she wrote. Fortunately, she “managed to lose them.”

Which, frankly, is what one does at Ikea, even with people one is trying not to lose. Nonetheless, the post ricocheted through the media. CBS told viewers that while experts found the scenario unlikely, “that doesn’t mean Toyos didn’t have reason to be concerned.”

Actually, it does.

October 24, 2017

QotD: Tax complexity

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What’s interesting about this [IRS] scam is that it’s a departure from classic confidence schemes. Think about something like the Nigerian e-mail scams, and how they draw their victims in: greed for a lucrative finder’s fee in exchange for doing something that sounds maybe a little bit shady, but maybe sort of noble too. The victim is then strung along by playing to the greed, and kept from talking to others who might point out the scam by because they think they are complicit in something legally questionable.

The IRS scam, on the other hand, works entirely by fear. It takes people who haven’t done anything wrong, and makes them afraid that they have. That’s a pretty hefty achievement. Imagine trying to extort money from someone by, say, claiming that they had murdered someone. You might elicit laughter, or bewilderment, but you’d rarely elicit much cash.

Which raises the obvious question: How did we get into a situation where it’s so easy for people to believe that the IRS is about to arrest them for a crime they weren’t even aware of having committed?

You guessed it: The IRS is incredibly powerful, and the tax code is incredibly opaque.

Like many journalists, my husband and I pay someone to do our taxes. We have to. The year we married, I realized that with two journalists who both had salary and non-salary income, home offices, various business expenses, and a new home purchase, our taxes had finally passed the point at which I was even marginally competent to do them. Before then, I had always done my taxes myself, and filed them with a sort of wistful hope that I had done them correctly. At this point it seems worth pausing to note that:

  1. I have an MBA.
  2. I write about tax policy for a living.

These things are surprisingly little help. Filling out your taxes is not a matter of being good at math, or accounting, or even knowing how various provisions of the tax code interact in revenue projections. It is entirely a matter of knowing what can be deducted, and how. And because our tax code is so complex, that doesn’t mean “read the statute”; it means “read the statute, and the case law, and develop a sense over long experience of how agents are likely to interpret this or that during an audit.” The only people who can do that are tax professionals; the rest of us are too busy earning a living in our own professions.

There’s no perfect measure of tax complexity, but consider one quick-and-dirty metric: the number of lines on a typical tax form, and the length of the accompanying tax booklet. Quartz did just that a while back, and found that the complexity had been steadily increasing.

Legal complexity does not accumulate linearly; it accumulates exponentially. When you have one law on the books, and you add a second, the new law may (or may not) have some unexpected interaction with the old law. This would be one complexity point for regulators to manage. But with each new law, the number of potential interactions grows quickly, until it passes the ability of any layman to grasp it (and eventually, surpasses the professionals as well, which is why they’re increasingly specialized in narrow areas). We are long past that point with the tax code.

Megan McArdle, “Why We Fear the IRS”, Bloomberg View, 2016-01-04.

October 17, 2017

This is how conspiracy theories begin and persist

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith handily illustrates how conspiracy theories get started and why they can last for so long (the use of the term “false flag” is a definite tell):

This is where I came in (does that even mean anything anymore?). Something terrible happens at the hands of a “lone gunman” (in this case, five dozen innocent individuals are randomly and cold-bloodedly murdered, and several hundred are hurt, inexplicably by a rogue multi-millionaire). The usual politicians respond by threatening to punish everyone who didn’t do it, by ripping away great chunks of their human, natural. civil, and Constitutional rights. The event is quickly veiled in an impenetrable cloud of contradictory lies which will not be parted, not for decades, and probably never. We have seen this all before, over and over again.

Look: I have no idea what happened in Las Vegas, neither do you, nor does anybody else I know, but based on what we’ve seen since 1963 in Dallas (or 1865 at Ford’s Theater), what I’ve read, and what I’ve heard, and everything like it that’s happened since, I would bet good money that the person or persons actually responsible collect a government paycheck. I keep hearing talk about Manchurian candidates and MK-Ultra, and each time, I’m closer to believing it. I try to keep in mind that, the more the truth is concealed, the more people will tend to make up their own truths. I only know that future historians are going to have a field day with the 20th and 21st centuries.

I’d like very much to know the truth. I’d like to know what invisible forces and events are shaping the world my grandchildren will live (and possibly die) in, but I have given up any expectation I ever had of such a thing happening. The “real facts” about the John F. Kennedy assassination are supposed to come out soon, but again, I’m willing to bet they will only confuse and obscure things. Those future historians I mentioned will probably be swimming in their own sea of bovine excrement.

I do know one perfect, gigantic fact, and it is nothing that anybody ever told me. It is something I figured out for myself. It is this: these things happen because some people have the power to make them happen and to cover them up, afterward. (I never believed the official story about 9/11, not from the first thirty seconds it was launched.) They happen because those with power want more power, and we let them take it — from us. The craving for power and unearned wealth is a deep sickness, a severe form of mental illness, and you can see the effect it has on people. In the end, I’ll bet that Luke Skywalker would have ended up shrunken and shriveled, first like the Emperor, and finally like Yoda. Possibly green, as well. The Force does that to people, apparently.

Now, take a look at George Soros.

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