Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 30th, 2020

Has the IRS Hit Bottom?

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Paul Kiel reports in ProPublica:

It’s been almost 10 years since Republicans, riding the Tea Party wave, took control of the House of Representatives and started hacking at the IRS’ enforcement budget. Down it went, some years the cuts were steep, some not, as Republican lawmakers laughed off dire warnings about the consequences of letting tax cheats run free.

For the past couple years, ProPublica has been cataloging the descent of the IRS. We’ve watched as audits of the rich and the largest corporations have plummeted and become less aggressive, while audits of poor taxpayers have remained comparatively high.

This week, the IRS released its annual disclosure of enforcement statistics. Every year, it’s an opportunity to measure how effectively the U.S. government has sabotaged its own ability to enforce its tax laws. This year’s report, along with other data ProPublica has collected on the state of the IRS, is full of evidence that the IRS has hit a passel of historic lows.

Overall, 2019 brought the lowest audit rate in generations. ProPublica searched back to the 1950s and could not find a lower audit rate of individual returns. The story is similar for corporate audits. The largest corporations, those with assets over $20 billion, used to be audited every year. Last year, only about half were audited.

Fewer audits has meant less revenue, particularly from big businesses that pay the biggest tax bills. In 2010, the IRS collected around $28 billion from audits (adjusting for inflation). In 2019, it collected $11 billion. That’s a drop of 61%.

And then there are collections — in which the issue isn’t auditing taxpayers, but collecting what they’ve agreed to pay. One clear measure is how often the IRS simply lets tax debts evaporate because it doesn’t have the personnel to pursue them before the 10-year statute of limitations runs out. This used to happen only rarely, according to internal agency reports. But in 2019, the IRS let $6.7 billion in tax debt expire, an increase of over 1,000% from 2010. (This was actually an improvement from the peak of 2017.)

In this year’s release, the IRS has decided to muck up one measure of its performance that has drawn the most heat from lawmakers. In past years, members of Congress have pointed to our coverage and pressured IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to increase audits of the rich. One of Rettig’s responses (other than that auditing the poor was simply much easier) has been to argue that the traditional way of measuring audit rates didn’t adequately capture all the IRS’ activities.

This week, the IRS announced that it had reformed the way it reports audit rates. The reason, it explained in a note online, is that the metrics the IRS traditionally used don’t apply anymore. In the past, the IRS was able to audit tax returns the year after they’re filed. But now, with an enforcement staff that has been slashed by 36% since 2010, it’s no longer able to do so. Things have, to say the least, slowed down.

So, while last year we were able to tell you just how far the audit rate for taxpayers with incomes above $10 million had fallen, this year, we can’t. The IRS no longer reports how many audits closed each year for that income bracket and several others. The IRS now says it takes at least three years to render any sort of verdict on just how few among the ultrarich were audited. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some clear charts that show how the US is failing.

Obviously, if the government is inadequately funded, it will do an inadequate job, and that’s the GOP goal: poor government, which results in more power to corporations and the wealthy.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2020 at 3:59 pm

The US and its new “Can’t Do” spirit, expressed in a graph

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From this article:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2020 at 12:53 pm

Esperanto expectations

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I plunged into studying Esperanto a little more than two months ago with a specific goal: I wanted to have the experience of being bilingual, something not all that unusual. Some grow up bilingual — in the southern part of the US West, for example, being bilingual in Spanish and English is common, and in New Mexico being trilingual is not all that uncommon (Spanish, English, and a Native American language such as Navaho).

But I personally have not had the experience of being bilingual, and I want to see what it’s like. Esperanto is an obvious choice for that goal: if I must learn another language to the point of fluency, it makes sense to pick an easy language — and Esperanto, as an international language, was designed to be easy.

In addition to ease of learning, Esperanto is for me a fascinating language. I’ve been exposed to several languages: two years of Spanish in high school and another years as an adult, two years of Classical Green, a year of German, a year of French. Esperanto interests me more — as a language — than any of those. Partly that is because it is a constructed language, and that means it is the result of deliberate choices and conscious design.

The list of constructed languages is lengthy. The reasons I picked Esperanto, in addition to easy of learning, include:

a. Esperanto has a fairly large number of speakers and a fairly extensive body of (original) literature — which means that, once I learn the language, I can use it (vs., say, the language Ithkuil, which is also interesting though far from being easy to learn).

b. Esperanto is an expressive language. Its structure and methods are fascinating to me because it allows Lego-like combinations of roots and affixes to express clearly in a word or phrase shades of meaning with a conciseness English cannot manage — at least not without a certain amount of set-up, as in a poem or short story that builds a context in which a word or phrase can resonate. This aspect of Esperanto reminds me of Forth, my favorite programming language (though I can see that some might go for APL — but I actually did a fair amount of programming in Forth, and I find all the APL special characters distracting.

So I chose Esperanto for three reasons:

  1. Ease of learning
  2. Volume of activity (number of speakers and literary works)
  3. Intrinsic interest

And I might even add a fourth: the spirit of the language (“la interna ideo”) as expressed in its goals (to enable people of all languages to communicate with one another through learning one easy language).

When I started this most recent foray into Esperanto I had some unrealistic expectations, for although Esperanto is an easy language, it still is a language, which means not only must one acquire a large enough vocabulary for fluency, one must also develop new habits of thought, since you cannot simply translate one language, word by word, into another. Different languages approach things differently: their maps from raw experience into language differ. New patterns of speech (and thought) must be learned to the point that they are automatic, new common expressions must come readily to the tongue (without requiring conscious thought).

For example, as I type this, I am not thinking of the individual letters or keystrokes. I have a train of thought and my fingers automatically find the right keys to express the thought with no conscious effort on my part: I have learned to type. Musicians who can improvise are not thinking about the fingering of their instrument, they are thinking about the flow of music and their hands do the work to voice the music of their thoughts. And when you learn a language, you just speak (or write) it to express your thoughts, and what you hear (or read) goes directly to the thought, not parsing the thought word by word.

To develop such patterns of recognition is a slow process that requires time, patience, and repetition. We — or at least I — tend to become accustomed to the speed of insight (or even the speed of two-day delivery) and (unless we are, say, gardeners or have bonsai as a hobby) forget the speed of growth. Growth is slower: it takes time and maintaining the proper conditions. In the case of learning a language, the proper conditions include daily exercise in each of the four skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The skills are to a great degree independent, though they all require learning well a vocabulary of sufficient depth.

So now my day includes:

  1. Going through the various Anki flashcard decks I have active. Some decks are now review-only: no new words left in the deck. However, I have one deck, Daily Words, to which I add new words that I have encountered or have looked up because I needed the word. This develops vocabulary, which is needed for the four skills.
  2. Doing a Duolingo level and repairing any “broken” skills. I was doing 3 or 4 levels a day — when I thought I could rush the project — but now I do one level (6-7 lessons) or two at the most. “Broken skills” are those that have been completed long enough ago that Duolingo thinks a practice session is in order (spaced repetition is an important part of learning new things). I average around 100XP per day now, down from 300XP in the past but well above the 50XP that Duolingo offers as the highest goal (“Intense”). Duolingo helps with listening skills, reading skills, and to a degree with writing skills.
  3. Free-writing a page in Esperanto in my journal. This is still quite difficult (and a good source of new words for Daily Words. Obviously this helps develop my writing skill, but in figuring out how to say things and establishing patterns of expression, I believe it will also help with my speaking skills: in both cases (free-writing and speaking in conversation), I am not trying to translate a specific English passage but rather trying to express a thought in Esperanto.
  4. Listen to an Esperanto podcast and/or watch an Esperanto video on YouTube to (a) train my ear and mind to easily understand spoken Esperanto, and (b) to check my progress.
  5. Read at least one lesson in Ivy Kellerman’s book A Complete Grammar of Esperanto, doing all the exercises orally. The book comprises 60 lessons, so that will keep me busy a while.  By doing the exercises aloud, I practice speaking skills (pronunciation, common word groupings, etc.).
  6. I have done a Zoom session 1-1 with an Esperantist, and I want to continue that at least once a week. Right now it is exhausting: 30 minutes and I’m wrung out. This directly exercises speaking and listening skills.

When I finish Duolingo, then I’ll finish the Lernu.net course (I still have 14 lessons left in the Lernu course), and I will expand my reading, listening, and viewing. There’s a Saturday Zoom-based local Esperanto club meeting, and I attend that, though comprehension is still iffy. My thought is to continue an intense effort for one year and see where that takes me. It should take me quite a ways: see this article.

When I started, I intended to work quite solidly for two months and then take stock. Having done that, I am now going to continue to work solidly for one year, and then again take stock. I believe that a solid year will produce some fluency, though the progress from one day to the next or even from one week to the next may not be perceptible.

Still, I do see signs that my skills ar improving. For example, now I can quite often transcribe spoken Esperanto in Duolingo exercises — certainly not always, but now often (whereas before I had to listen over and over and often still could not get it). And about a week ago I completed a Duolingo lesson without make an error and was surprised by a little “Perfect!” display at the end. I had not seen that in the first 60 days, but now it’s happened several times. Those are objective indications of progress.

Scott Chacon suggests in Medium article gives encouragement to adult learners of a foreign language. He writes:

Many late learners become native-like

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some interesting charts and graphs.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2020 at 11:14 am

Posted in Education, Esperanto

Coarse-brush week, and today is Leviathan and the Baili 171

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Yesterday I used my Omega 20102 and today you see the Omega Mighty Midget, a mix of boar and badger. I do wet the knot and let the brush sit while I shower to soften the boar bristles. A reader commented on his fondness for horsehair, and those brushes too have a pleasantly coarse feel on the face — not rough, but with a perceptible grain. So I thought II’d go through some of the coarser brushes in my collection for a pleasant change of pace.

The Mighty Midget, though, really doesn’t feel all that coarse. The badger smooths it out quite a bit. It did make a mighty fine lather from one of my favorite soaps, this one from Barrister & Mann.

The Baili 171 is a remarkable razor: $6 at the link (and I have no affiliation with the company — I’m just a customer), and it shaves like a dream. It’s so comfortable it doesn’t feel as though it’s doing much, but the result today is as smooth as one could want. I also like the looks and feel in the hand. It’s somewhat unusual in that it secures blade alignment through corner brackets instead of the usual studs from the cap (or baseplate). Works like a charm.

A good splash of Leviathan aftershave — I love the fragrance — and I’m set for the day, which will include some afternoon chess. I downloaded a free (and quite nice) chess-clock app for my iPhone, one provided by Chess.com. I recommend it if you play any two-person strategy games (chess, Go, checkers, or the like) since it ensures that the games move along, plus it’s easy to give (or receive) a time handicap — e.g., the stronger player gets 10 minutes and the weaker player gets 20. It’s not so cut and dried as that seems, since obviously the strong player will be thinking while the weaker player’s clock runs, but it can help — particularly if the division is 5 minutes vs. 25 minutes.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2020 at 10:33 am

Posted in Chess, Games, Shaving, Software

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