12 thoughts on “Hey! Check This Out–Politics and Current Events Edition (2021)

  1. How Biden Funds His Next Bill: Shrink the $7.5 Trillion Tax Gap NYT op-ed by Chye-Ching Huang, executive director of the Tax Law Center at the New York University School of Law.

    Huang’s main idea: Restore proper funding to the IRS, overturning a decade of cuts to the agency. According to Huang, from “2010 to 2019, lawmakers cut the I.R.S. enforcement budget by more than 20 percent.” What would this do?

    Fully funding the agency would defeat tax cheats while raising revenue for critical investments. It would help the overwhelming majority of Americans who want to pay whatever they owe. It would help honest businesses better thrive and compete. And restaffing the I.R.S. through restored funding would help fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the wealthiest are the prime beneficiaries of the status quo. Estimates suggest that the top 1 percent of filers account for at least 28 percent and as much as 70 percent of the tax gap.

    Also, check out this article:

    Make Tax System Fairer, Easier for Taxpayers While Collecting $1.4 Trillion Owed But Not Paid Bloomberg News op-ed by Charles O. Rossotti and Fred T. Goldberg Jr., two former IRS commissioners, one appointed by a Democrat, the other a Republican.

    In 2019 the tax gap—taxes owed but not paid—was $574 billion. That’s more than all the taxes paid by the lowest 90% of individual taxpayers. If we simply raise taxes without also fixing the system only taxpayers who are already compliant with bear the increase.

    By “building on third-party information reporting to the IRS in ways that do not burden taxpayers and make compliance easer; investing in technology that enables better use of this information; and scaling up but transforming auditing to be far more efficient for the IRS and less intrusive for taxpayers” they believe the IRS will be able to collect “an additional $1.4 trillion over 10 years—mostly from people in the upper brackets who don’t pay all the taxes they owe.” According to the authors, this would be more than Biden’s plan to increase individual income taxes and would increase revenue at the state and local level.

    WaPo columnist, Greg Sargent, makes the great point that when Republican inevitably raise concerns about the budget, Biden and the Democrats should urge them to increase funding to the IRS. Not only will this address the deficit, but according to Huang, “The Treasury Department, for instance, estimated that each additional dollar dedicated to I.R.S. enforcement results in directly recouping about $6 in taxes owed.”

    1. This op-ed from Catherine Rampell of WaPo lambasts the GOP for not supporting ways to generate more government revenue without raising taxes.

      Here are a few points that that might have been mentioned in the previous articles, but stood out for me:

      • The approximately $600 billion in unpaid taxes, annually, is not taxes that have been legally avoided due to existing loopholes. This is what citizens owe but don’t pay because they have lied or misreported their actual income.
      • These individuals get away with this because of a lack of reporting mechanisms for certain types of income (e.g., partnership, proprietorship and rental)–income that wealthy individuals have.
      • Democrats propose that banks “would — once a year — also report the sums of all deposits and withdrawals for certain accounts. Not every transaction; just the year-end totals. Only accounts with flows of more than $10,000 not tied to wage income or exempted benefits would be affected — the idea being that the IRS already knows about the wage income anyway.”

      The Democrats would bring in an estimated $200-250 billion over ten years–much smaller than the $1.4 trillion over ten years–but why oppose this?

      Rampell mentions that the GOP has opposed this proposal vigorously, making the argument that Democrats want to infringe on the privacy of citizens by installing a “Marxist surveillance” system. If the proposal would put an undue burden on banks or if there is strong evidence this would adversely affect economy or lower or middle class citizens, the GOP should present that. If not, their argument will just seem like scaremongering.

  2. Stimulus Solves Most — But Not All — State and Local Budget Problems from Governing magazine

    Almost overnight, budget shortfalls accumulated over the past year are being eliminated, thanks to the federal largesse. The stimulus includes $350 billion in direct aid to states and localities — $195 billion for states and $130 billion for local governments, with the rest going to territories and tribal governments.

    According to the article, the shorfall for states and local governments is about $56 billion, so federal dollars will cover the shortfall and then some. However,

    State and local officials still have to be careful about how they spend the money. It’s more than enough to fill general fund budget holes in most cases, but lawmakers can’t get giddy and take on ongoing expenses they won’t be able to afford once the federal dollars run out. Few people would bet on another round of relief of this magnitude.

    “This is not by any means a silver bullet to solve our budgetary problems long-term,” says Chris Cate, who chairs the San Diego city council’s budget committee. “The fear that I have is that if we use this money now, without addressing any structural issues that we have, next year we won’t be in the same financial position in terms of federal help, so we’re still facing deficits.”

    I’m thinking: Use the money to address structural issues or invest in one-shot projects (e.g., capital improvement projects).

    The article also features quotes from the Hawai’i House majority leader, Della Au Belatti.

  3. Report confirms treasonous behavior by Republicans

    The details in this should have generated tremendous outrage in our country–on both sides of the aisle, in Washington and throughout the country. The way Republicans used Russian disinformation and the way Trump encouraged Russian help and never said a bad word about them was treasonous. And if that’s too dramatic, I’d like to know a better word. The fact that this happened last year doesn’t mean this isn’t a big deal. It is.

  4. It is an ominous time. So much so, in the weeks following 1/6, and with the attacks on Asians, though not prevalent in my neck of the woods, which is kind of surprising, I seriously considered exercising my 2nd amendment rights, and get a gun. I even went so far as to look up gun sights to find something that meets my needs. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, a lot of these places were out of stock, though if I wanted something pink, I could probably get it. It’s unfortunate, not because I couldn’t get a fire arm, but they are out of stock because others are getting guns.

    It was a scary time, and I think I’m over it now, but for a moment, I felt the need to defend myself and my family, and possibly getting a gun, and if necessary, killing another human being. I don’t know how you come back from that.

    1. I agree we’re living in an ominous time. I understand your reaction, but I’m sad to hear that we got to this point.

  5. 100% this: Criticism of Democrats’ negotiations misses a bigger issue: Republicans’ absence from governing from Eugene Robinson

    Robinson expresses something that has been on my mind. Where are the GOP in terms of solving some of the major challenges we face as a country? To be more specific, what are their solutions or preferences to things like infrastructure, foreign policy, immigration, health care, climate change, etc.? And I would exclude taxes–because I know they just don’t want any tax increases. But how does that make solve our country’s problems?

    I also know that they either don’t like Democrat’s proposals or they’re simply obstructing them in hopes that will hurt the Democrats politically. If they were a responsible party interested in governing and solving problems, they would be negotiating with the Democrats.

    And here’s the thing: If the Democrats were unreasonable or totally operating in bad faith, if the GOP offered reasonable proposals and concessions, this would expose the Democrats. But they’re not doing that. If anything the Democrats have done this, since Obama’s presidency.

    The most recent example is the voting rights bill, which has been pared down to satisfy Joe Manchin, who believed this would be a way to get Republicans to get on board. But not only have none jumped on board, but none have really offered a counter-proposal. They don’t even seem to be negotiating at all.

    Right now, my sense is that there are two responsible, liberal democratic American political parties–moderate Democrats and progressive Democrats.

  6. I recommend reading this Atlantic article

    The article goes into the research behind the efficacy of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19 patients. His results suggest it’s not effective–at least based on the what we know now.

    But the author analyzes the research, but he makes a larger important point–namely, that there are actually a lot of bad published research. But if that’s true, wouldn’t we have seen more bad decisions and practices, causing significant harm? Here’s the author’s answer to that:

    The secret, again, is simple: Much research is simply ignored by other scientists because it either looks “off” or is published in the wrong place. A huge grey literature exists in parallel to reliable clinical research, including work published in low-quality or outright predatory journals that will publish almost anything for money. Likewise, the authors of fabricated or heavily distorted papers tend to have modest ambitions: The point is to get their work in print and added to their CV, not to make waves. We often say these studies are designed to be “written but not read.”

    I don’t know if this is true, but this is pretty interesting, and maybe a little scary. Essentially, scientist and medical professionals use different clues or heuristics to know which research is credible. This seems very similar to what people do with regard to deciding what to believe with regard to news items. Basically, we’re trusting that the consensus of the medical and scientific communities have made sound judgments with regard to knowing which research to ignore.

    Here’s something else I found interesting–namely, the pandemic’s impact on grey literature:

    In a pandemic, when the stakes are highest, the somewhat porous boundary between these publication worlds has all but disappeared. There is no gray literature now: Everything is a magnet for immediate attention and misunderstanding. An unbelievable, inaccurate study no longer has to linger in obscurity; it may bubble over into the public consciousness as soon as it appears online, and get passed around the internet like a lost kitten in a preschool. An instantly forgettable preprint, which would once have been read by only a few pedantic experts, can now be widely shared among hundreds of thousands on social media.

    Actually, even without the pandemic, I would the problem described above would still exist. Think of people who do their own online medical “research.” To me, if the article is accurate, you can see how problematic and even dangerous that could be.

  7. Is Fox News (and other Murdoch publications) and Facebook profiting off of making one group of Americans fearful and angry at other groups of people? That’s what came to mind when I watched the clip below, as well as perused the recent headlines about Facebook.

    I’m not sure about the details with Facebook, but with Murdoch’s outlets, I don’t understand how he can get away with what he does. At the very least, I don’t understand the lack of action by professional journalists. For one thing, they could collectively denounce Murdoch and his outlets, and treat the Murdoch and the people that work there as pariahs. It seems warranted to me, but maybe I’m missing something.

  8. I think viewers will get a lot of bang for their buck on short and long-term problems with regard to energy, and potential solutions for them, in this 6 minute clip from Fareed Zakaria:

    The takeaway: To meet short-term energy demands, while also reducing greenhouse gases, the U.S. should expand the use of natural gas, at least temporarily. The reason is that natural gas produces far less greenhouse gases as coal or oil.

    So why isn’t the U.S. doing this now? Why are they asking OPEC to increase oil production, as a way to meet energy demands? Cost would be an obvious reason. Maybe transitioning would take too long? Maybe energy producers don’t want to do this for other reasons, and that makes it politically difficult, if not impossible? Unfortunately, Zakaria doesn’t provide the answer.

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