URLs du Jour

2019-02-23

[Amazon Link]

  • Nick Gillespie writes at Reason: America Is Not as Racist as Jussie Smollet's Defenders Fear or White Supremacists Hope.

    Over the past few weeks, at least two major news stories have vied for our attention because they seemingly revealed the deep truth that not only has America always been a racist nation but that things are getting objectively worse because of Donald Trump.

    The hate-crime attack on Jussie Smollet, we're told, somehow reveals a cancer on the American soul even if the actor engineered it as a bizarre contract-negotiation ploy. So too does the arrest of the Coast Guard's Lt. Christopher P. Hasson, who according to court documents called himself "a long time White Nationalist" and had drawn up a kill list of "traitors" that included CNN and MSNBC personalities along with politicians ranging from Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Hasson has amassed many weapons and had, prosecutors say, planned on committing "focused violence" that would help to "establish a white homeland."

    I would (slightly) demur: the alacrity with which some jump on ludicrous tales of violent hateful oppression shows they really want to believe in Fundamentally Racist America. That's not a healthy attitude for anyone, and it's not good for the country either.


  • Jonah Goldberg's sujet de la semaine is related: Jussie Smollett and the Hate Hoaxes to Come. Skip down to his bold prediction:

    Obviously more Smollett-style hoaxes are coming. If the negative attention heaped on mass shooters is enough to inspire other losers to commit that kind of evil, it’s easy to imagine that the attention Smollett has gotten will inspire losers to do likewise. But that’s not my prediction. There will be a hoax involving MAGA hats, but the fake victims will be those wearing them. We already saw the hunger for this kind of thing in the Covington case — but those kids were in fact victims. President Trump invited that kid named Trump to the State of the Union precisely because he wanted to exploit this great reservoir of pity. And the coverage of this legitimate outrage will no doubt encourage others to get a piece of that on the cheap.

    So mark my words, some loser, desperate to be lionized by Candace Owens or applauded at CPAC, will manufacture some story of victimhood that will ignite a bonfire of outrage on the right and a riot of sympathy about MAGA persecution. The mainstream media will suddenly remember the professional integrity it forgot in the Smollett case and debunk it. But before then, the pitiables of the right will claim victimhood by proxy and denounce the insensitivity of an uncaring media that hates them. The roles will be reversed, but the script will be the same, and the actors will all yell just a little bit louder, as the snake ups the tempo of its own repast.

    Could be. We'll see, and remember to credit Jonah if it happens.


  • Reader, if you've been doing your taxes, you probably are not feeling a lot of love for the Internal Revenue Service. But believe me, you do not despise it anywhere near as much as does Daniel J. Mitchell, who was recently on CNBC Debating the IRS Budget. From his collection of factoids (original from the NYT):

    Private debt collectors cost the Internal Revenue Service $20 million in the last fiscal year, but brought in only $6.7 million in back taxes, the agency’s taxpayer advocate reported Wednesday.

    That was less than 1 percent of the amount assigned for collection. What’s more, private contractors in some cases were paid 25 percent commissions on collections that the I.R.S. made without their help…the report stated, “the I.R.S. has implemented the program in a manner that causes excessive financial harm to taxpayers and constitutes an end run around taxpayer rights protections.”

    A rich litany of malfeasance, misfeasance, scandal, blunders, arrogance,… You would expect some of this from an agency devoted to parasitic bloodsucking from the productive. But they're really going above and beyond those expectations.


  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham wonders: Amazon Paid Zero Corporate Taxes Last Year. Why Aren't 2020 Democrats Talking About It?.

    The current crop of Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination have made it clear who they’ll be coming after once they’re in the White House: Big corporations and the wealthy 1 percent. Candidates like Sen. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris echo the sentiments of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has all but declared war on “these rich guys who have been waging class warfare on the middle class for decades” through a “rigged system that props up the rich and powerful, but kicks dirt on everyone else.”

    So when news broke that Amazon–the world’s third-most valuable company, run by the world’s richest man—paid zero federal corporate income taxes on their $11.3 billion in US profits in 2018, what did these candidates have to say about it?

    Surprisingly, nothing.

    Interesting. Of course, Bernie's an exception. Is everyone else afraid of the Bezos? Or do they realize that there's not a lot of resentment available for a well-run company that gives people what they want quickly, for a decent price?


  • Michael Graham seems outraged by Amazon's successful tax strategy. Maybe he shouldn't be. At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen offers Amazon and taxes: a simple primer.

    The main reason Amazon as a corporate entity does not pay much in taxes is because the company so vigorously reinvests its profit.  The resulting expensing provisions lower their tax liabilities, in some cases down to zero or near-zero.  That is in fact the kind of incentive our tax system is supposed to create, and does so only imperfectly, noting that many economists have suggested moving to full expensing.

    And, of course, the obvious: corporations don't really pay tax themselves, even though they write the check. Who pays, in varying proportions: (1) their customers; (2) their shareholders.

The Green Hills of Earth

[Amazon Link]

Another book down on the rereading-Heinlein project, this one a collection of ten short stories in his "Future History" timeline. Only a couple were originally published in science fiction magazines; the remainder were published in mainstream mags like the Saturday Evening Post.

Edition trivia: I reread the paperback I picked up a long time ago. How long ago? Well, the cover price is a cool 35¢. A used copy of this edition at Amazon will set you back at least $6.49 with shipping. (It seems the current in-print version lists for $7.99, but it's combined with The Menace from Earth.)

I can't recommend it, unless (like me) you're a slightly obsessive Heinlein completist. The stories:

"Delilah and the Space Rigger"
Workers on a space station under construction are flummoxed when an incoming worker turns out to be a dame! After much sexist snarling, it's realized that productivity has actually improved after her arrival. Get more dames up here! Also, a padre!
"Space Jockey"
A rocket pilot squabbles with the Mrs. about his demanding job, but (also) saves the day after an obstreperous brat in his ship's control room sends them wildly off course.
"The Long Watch"
There are nuclear weapons on the Moon, ostensibly for peacekeeping purposes. Unfortunately, a madman (think: Jack D. Ripper) takes over and proposes to nuke a few cities and establish a Terran military dictatorship. Fortunately, our self-sacrificing hero saves the day. (This is actually a pretty good yarn.)
"Gentlemen, Be Seated!"
Three guys in a damaged lunar tunnel which is slowly losing pressure. What to do? You assiduously (heh) use whatever patching material comes to hand.
"The Black Pits of Luna"
A family on a lunar tour with two young boys. Fine, but… oh oh, the younger, more impetuous one goes wandering off and nobody can find him! Except his older brother, who uses his knowledge of what the kid likes to do.
"It's Great to Be Back!"
A married couple is unhappy with their life on the Moon, and return to good old Earth. Then they realize that Earth is no great shakes either, and return to the Moon. (Sorry, I guess that was a spoiler. But that's really all that happens.)
"—We Also Walk Dogs"
A lucrative "solve every problem" company is confronted with a toughie, which merely involves the invention of a gravity-controlling device. Only problem: the guy who can do it is kind of a reclusive nut. (Just like all physicists, except more so.) How to persuade him? It turns out he has a weakness for…
"Ordeal in Space"
A former spaceman severely traumatized by a near-fatal spacewalk returns to earth. He is cured by rescuing a kitten. No, I am not making this up.
"The Green Hills of Earth"
The book's title track is the story of Rhysling, "blind singer of the spaceways". A warts-and-all mini-bio of the man. (I recommend the Wikipedia page that goes into detail on the story's origin and impact. Did you know that the Apollo 15 astronauts named a lunar crater "Rhysling"?)
"Logic of Empire"
Two friends argue about the labor system on Venus: is it slavery? After considerable amounts of drinking, one of the participants finds himself shanghaied … to Venus! And yep, if it's not slavery, it's a remarkable facsimile.

Mainly notable for a long paragraph near the end, which appears to be pseudo-Marxian claptrap about the inevitable appearance of slave labor in a colonial setting where the monetary system designed to mumble mumble mumble… Seems to be a leftover from his flirtation with Upton Sinclair-style "wage slavery" leftism.

All stories are notable for their detailed descriptions of imaginary technology. Heinlein was very much a show-the-rivets writer.