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Taxes and Fees… or: Fees Instead of Taxes

January 27, 2015

Work with me here…

I started with this article on 529 plans.  Essentially the White House decided to back off taxing 529 plans because, well, because it was a dumb idea.  For all the claims that they want to enable kids to go to school, the idea of hitting people who were smart enough to save for a kid to go to school was probably the easiest way to deter kids going to school.  And I get that not everyone can supposedly save.  I also get that punishing people who can is the worst way to increase any savings rate.

But this comes back to something I’ve thought of on occasion.  Here’s an example. According to this document, the total National Parks budget is $3.6B (give or take).  That says that every person in the us pays about $10 a year to run the parks.  How do we remove the burden for the parks service from the normal tax burden on the average citizen and put it more on the backs of the people who actually use the park?  First, you’d have to actually make the parks run like a business… you can’t dump all the central federal funding, but about $2.6B of that total is discretionary, so that’s a start for the target.  Then you drive the fees up to go into the parks drastically, and run a funding campaign on everyone donating $10 a year to support the parks.  Say you get an average of $10 a family, (who pays this tax-free), which still leaves you severely underfunded… so fees to actually get in likely go to $200 a day or so for actual visitors.  Or for $1000 you get free access annually.  That’s still a lot of people that need to move through the system, but it starts to drive a streamlining of the system.

It’s not workable, and I’d have to spend more than five minutes looking through the report.  But my point is… what if we gave people a ton of their money back and actually let them pay to use formerly taxpayer-funded resources as a super-tax?

I suppose the biggest losers in this would be social work programs, but then again, a lot of people think that social work programs are the worst part of government spending anyway.

Hmm, I have to think about this more…

Who Tracks, and Who Cares?

January 27, 2015

Hey, is anyone concerned that there are people out there who track your every move?  I mean, everyone is worried that there are cameras everywhere, and that the government can actually look at them… right?

According to the Journal, the DEA program uses high-tech cameras placed on major highways to collect information on vehicle movements, including location and direction. Many of the devices are able to record images of drivers and passengers, some of which are clear enough identify individuals. Documents seen by the Journal also show that the DEA uses information from federal, state, and local license plate readers to burnish their own program.

Jazz Shaw at Hot Air isn’t all that impressed, mostly because he thinks it gives us the ability to do better law enforcement.  At some level, our tax dollars are going into the government paying for those traffic cameras.  We should use them for something other than posting the occasional car crash warning.

But really, how many of you out there are using Google Maps?  You happily clicked yes on those terms of service the first time you used it, right?  You had to, otherwise it would exit.  There are three or four links in there to other terms of service that you also agreed to in the process… so you can’t even find everything on one page.

Google collects location data from every device that has Maps loaded and uses it to determine traffic patters, make decisions on route planning, and the like.  While all the data is anonymous in the system, it’s data that Google collects and uses.  How hard would it be for Google to ID and track an individual user in the system?  Not hard at all.

The fact that Google can track more personal information than the government can is something that most people just take for reality.  And I don’t think that Google is going to use that to do the equivalent of a Hollywood movie on any person.  Despite anything that Hollywood tells you, a company that kills or maims either its employees or customers won’t stay in business for very long.  But with that said, we all seem to look at the, “Don’t be evil,” corporate mission and assume that all is right in the world.  In the meanwhile, our government is actually trying to prevent evil (while occasionally creating it by accident, hey, it’s the the government…), and we assume all evil intent.

So am I upset that some camera base has my license plate info?  The government could be paying someone to sit on the corner and track that.  Meanwhile, I give Google (and others) all the info they want and more by using their free service.

So what’s the greater concern?


January 12, 2015

So, to be clear, I’m not Charlie Hebdo.  I think that deliberately pissing off people to sell subscriptions is a fine strategy, I’m just not up for playing it.  I definitely defend the right of the people to do stuff like that — it’s just not my gig — and I’m infuriated that there’s a whole culture of people who don’t have a sense of humor.

But that wasn’t why I felt like posting.  I’m more posting on the fact that so many people are shocked, SHOCKED! that nobody important in the US government showed up to the march in France yesterday.  I get that people are unhappy that we couldn’t stand with the world in a too-late display of solidarity against said people with no sense of humor.  But I’m not.

Mostly I’m not because, if there was anything to show yesterday, it was that no nation or people is above any other when it comes to certain issues.  Well, America should be above.  We should be the benchmark against which all nations hold freedoms of speech, assembly, and the like.  And I don’t necessarily think that showing sorrow at an after-the-fact demonstration of people who risk severe consequences over free speech makes a ton of sense.

But more to the point, if anyone in the administration had decided to show, it would have been about the administration, not about the US being represented.  That would have been even more infuriating to me.

I know I’m not being entirely cogent about things, but I just wanted to make the point that we can’t be better than everyone else if we’re either just like everyone else, or worse, if we’re just being about ourselves.

While We Fiddle

December 30, 2014

Remember Ebola?  Yea, that dread disease that was coming over from Africa that was going to spread across the US?  Anyone remember that there was a lung disease that actually killed more people at the same time?  Anyone want to remember that we annually get a pretty bad disease that sweeps through the nation and kills our weakest members?

The CDC has today declared a national flu epidemic as virulent mutated versions of this years H3N2 virus sweep the country.

Twenty-two states have reported a high number of flu cases, centered mainly around the Midwest and southeast of the country.

Since the start of the flu season on October 1 and December 20, CDC figures show that 15 children have died from the virus and four in the week before Christmas.

Adults over 65 are also particularly vulnerable, though news agencies prefer to prop up children as victims before the elderly.  Either way, this is a real disease that is easily communicable.  In a good year, the vaccine for it is about 50% effective (and this is not a good year, admits the CDC).  And it claims about 24 thousand people a year.

Now, I generally don’t believe people who say, “I have the flu,” when they have a cold.  You know when you have the flu, trust me.  But I’m also usually the one who will mention that if you have the flu, you should contact a doctor.  This might be a tough year, and those of us who travel extensively have to take precautions and still be prepared to react before things get too bad.

Be careful out there, folks.  Don’t let it change your life, but do take precautions.  You’ll be better off than all those times you scream, “EBOLA!”

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2014

It’s been a rough year for our little blog, and both Lynn and I have been swamped at work.  Thanks for reading, and we’d like to wish all of you the best of the holiday season.  Both of us are strong Christmas fanatics, so Merry Christmas.  if you’re celebrating something else, that’s cool, and enjoy it.

Christmas is my second-favorite day of the year (Good Friday is #1, and I’ve posted on that).  Our Lord came to earth to save us, and gave up everything that made Him God in the process.  I’m humbled, and I’m unworthy.  It’s not my choice.  You have a choice, so check into the story of Christ to see it.

Jim and Lynn

Politics, Not Ethics

December 10, 2014

I’ve generally stayed away from the whole debate around our government using coercive methods to get information from terrorist detainees.  However, Andy McCarthy makes a valid point in this post that is similar to some of the thoughts I’ve had in the past… of course, he articulates them much better.  That’s why he’s a great writer, and I blog for six people.

If you were to take everyone in America who is serving a minor jail sentence of say, 6 to 18 months, and you were to ask them whether they’d rather serve the rest of their time or be waterboarded in the manner practiced by the CIA post 9/11 (i.e., not in the manner practiced by the Japanese in World War II), how many would choose waterboarding? I am guessing, conservatively, that over 95 percent would choose waterboarding.

Now, if you take the same group of inmates and ask them whether they’d prefer to serve the remainder of their time or be subjected to Obama’s drone program (where we kill rather than capture terrorists, therefore get no intelligence from the people in the best position to provide actionable intelligence, and kill bystanders – including some children – in addition to the target), how many would choose the drone program? I am guessing that it would be … zero.

Long before any details of the OBL raid came out, I commented that there was never any intent to bring him back alive.  Alive he’d be too much of a political football for the current administration to stomach, and it was a lot easier to knock him off, claim a great victory, and then remind people about it for years.  Let me see, what was one of the 2012 campaign slogans again…?

What I think most people forget is that we’re at war with a shadow entity that is not a nation, plays by no standard rules, and is uninterested in traditional victory.  I can’t tell you how to fight back, but it’s not through random strikes that leave us further in the dark.

I’m Insulted, You’re Hacked

December 10, 2014

You want to know how easy hacking is these days?  All you have to do is be mad enough, and have money, and you’re in.  Want to get mad, have someone make a movie about assassinating your boss.  He’ll get mad enough to have you hack the offender.

Federal officials ‘warned’ Sony that their planned film about an assassination attempt on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un could provoke retaliation from the hermit state.

It is claimed that officials in the Department of Homeland Security held a secret off-the-record briefing with senior executives from the film company about the comedy ‘The Interview’.

Sony has been the victim of a number of high profile cyber attacks in recent weeks with some of their movies leaked online, while confidential information on employees and stars has also been placed on the internet.

At this point, I think it’s best to just hack the Tea Party.  They’ll get dismissed by the press as dangerous, and they’re mostly too civil to go destroy you.  Despotic communist regimes?  Not so much.  My general take is that it’s a bad idea to mess with any form of government, because it can redirect your own funds — and those of all your neighbors — to make your life suck.

And really, who takes North Korea seriously?  Well, anyone who makes a couple awful movies about taking them down.  And with the sophistication of hacking tools that I’ve talked about in various posts… well, Sony didn’t have a chance.  While the revelations coming out aren’t on the Snowden level of embarrassing and infuriating, I’d bet they’re going to get quite a bit of egg on the face over some of the things that come out.

Oh, and the DHS, “briefing?”  Wanna’ bet that someone in the US Government was watching the chatter, or maybe even the start of the probes, to see what was about to happen?

So North Korea is one thing.  I wonder what happens when ISIS decides to stop knocking off everyone who might be innovative and decides instead to pay them to wage a real cyber-jihad?  The world might not be a very safe place.  We’re only lucky that those guys are this generations Khmer Rouge so far.  Let’s be optimistic and assume they just knock themselves back to the stone age.


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