Monday, April 29, 2013

Should Any Organization Be Tax Exempt?

Recently, one of our local weekly papers published a Letter to the Editor from a gentleman who indicated he was upset that the Boy Scouts of America were tax-exempt. He felt that as they "discriminate" against gays that they should not be eligible to receive a tax-exemption. The writer made a point in his letter that he is on on the board of directors of one of our local Lutheran churches.  I responded to his letter with my own. The editor modified my letter slightly, which I repeat below, but did not change the general nature or intent of my original.
Regarding the recent letter writer who suggested the Boy Scouts of America should lose their tax-exempt status because he doesn't like their policies: perhaps he should consider how many other tax-exempt entities discriminate. 
The Girl Scouts: they are guilty of gender discrimination. They won't accept my son as a member. Like the BSA, their oath requires the members serve God and their faith. Surely that's a problem for girls whose families are agnostic or atheist. Cut them off. No exemption for them. Don't let them use the church facilities. Or how about the Black Chamber of Commerce, La Raza or Asian-American anything? Surely their names tell it all. They discriminate on the basis of race. No tax exemption for them. 
Or how about those Muslims, Catholics and Jews? You have to learn their Koran, Bible or Torah, and possibly (if male) get circumcised before you join those guys. You can't be an atheist and join those groups. Religious discrimination. 
Come to think of it, why are any of these groups tax-exempt? Why should I be forced to pay to make up for the lost revenue from any of the above sources? While I agree with the purposes of the BSA and the GSA, I'm against the ethnic this or that of anything, and just about every organized religion, including the letter writer's Lutheran religion. "He among you who is without sin, let him first cast a stone ... "

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gun Control: Good Politics, But Bad Policy?

According to the Brookings Institute, Mr. Obama has a plan to increase the implementation of "evidence-based" policy (See here...). Oh really?

Let's look at some gun control evidence. I went to the FBI site and downloaded one of their many tables of statistics (See here ...). The table I downloaded was table 20 (homicides by state/weapon). I then added some columns of my own to perform some simple calculations (See my download link at the end of this post).

The results are pretty simple. Of the 12,000+ homicides in 2011, 8,000+ were by firearm, or about 68% - slightly more than 2/3. Of the 8,000+ homicides by firearms, 72% were by handgun, and only 8% were by a combination of rifle or shotgun. The other 20% by firearm, the FBI couldn't tell if it was by handgun or not. Let's asssume, for the sake of argument that the percentage of the "unknown type" reflects the same percentage as the known, and we get approximately: 90% by handgun, 10% by rifle or shotgun.

So the first elephant in the room here is that people are making noise about creating policy that addresses less than 10% of the "problem". I say less than 10%, because that 10% covers both rifles and shotguns, and so far as I know, no one is talking about controls for shotguns. After all, shotguns are something that Mr. Obama and friends supposedly shoot quite often ...

So what type of "evidence-based" policy ignores 90% of the "problem" but is still considered good policy?

Now let's look at some Center For Disease Control (CDC) statistics. These are 2010 data - the best I could  find on their web-site. This comes from Table 10 (deaths from 113 different causes)(See here...). They have death by homicide with a firearm at 11,078. About 3,000 more than the 2011 FBI numbers, but within the same ball-park. Notably, 2010 was a worse year than 2011. Another elephant in the room: if the death by firearm numbers are falling (which they are), why are we trying to make policy about 10% of a declining problem? Is it wise to spend our money on problems that are declining on their own?

Finally, from the same CDC table, death by suicide for the year was 38,364 of which 19,392 was by firearm, or roughly half. Now, suicide with a long gun, is possible, but more difficult. If you have short arms, you either need assistance (which makes it not suicide?), or you use your toes to push the trigger - or maybe some weird Rube Goldberg mechanism.

The third elephant in the room is that the suicide rate by firearm is 175% of the homicide rate by firearm. In fact, the total suicide rate is almost exactly twice the total homicide rate. Maybe "evidence-based" policy would indicate we should first spend some of our money on reducing the overall suicide rate. Wouldn't it make more sense to solve the bigger problems before the smaller problems?

It seems the room is getting pretty crowded. And elephant s**t isn't all that different from bull s**t.

So far, it looks to me that "talking" about good, "evidence-based" policy is a lot better politics than it is good policy ...

My version of the FBI table mentioned above can be found here ...