Thursday, April 17, 2014

IRS seizes tax refunds of children to pay dead parents debt.

This latest example of government overreach is just crazy.  According to Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers have had their tax refunds withheld to satisfy a debt owed to the government resulting from Social Security overpayments. The debts in question are more than 10 years old and are the result of mistakes made by the Social Security Administration. As if this isn't bad enough, often the tax refunds were confiscated from the children of the individuals who actually received the overpayments but have since died. As far fetched as it sounds, the Social Security Administration has somehow come to the conclusion that it is perfectly fine to go through old records, dig up ambiguous debts and hold lineal descendants responsible for them.

It seems these aggressive debt collection efforts started three years ago though according to Fisher, no one wants to take responsibility for it. What is known is that a single sentence included in the 2008 Farm Bill removed the 10-year statute of limitations on the collection of government debt. What this has to do with farming I have no idea but here is the offending section: SEC. 14219. ELIMINATION OF STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS APPLICABLE TO COLLECTION OF DEBT BY ADMINISTRATIVE OFFSET. (a) Elimination.--Section 3716(e) of title 31, United States Code, is amended to read as follows: ``(e)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, regulation, or administrative limitation, no limitation on the period within which an offset may be initiated or taken pursuant to this section shall be effective As a side note, this section is a total of 63 words. The farm bill itself is 276,602 words long. This alone speaks volumes about how confusingly dysfunctional government has become.

The removal of the 10 year statue of limitation explains how Social Security is now able to try and collect on old overpayments but how do they justify holding the children of the recipients responsible? According to the article, Social Security officials say that if children indirectly received assistance from public dollars paid to the parent, the children's money can be taken no matter how long ago the overpayment occurred. This seems pretty flimsy to me. For one, how would they know if the children received any benefit from the overpayments. Maybe they had lousy parents that went to the casinos every weekend or blew it at the local bar. There is no way to know. Also, there is a reason why contracts with minors are unenforceable. It's because as a society we believe they lack the capacity to fully understand what they would be agreeing to due to their age. It seems to me the same principle would apply here. 

Fisher reported that over the past 3 years the Treasury Department has collected $424 million in debts that were more than 10 years old. He points out that most people who have tried to appeal the confiscation were either denied or gave up after enduring long hours on hold. Still, it is amazing to me that it took this long for someone from the media to discover and report about this. Since Fisher's article was published last week, there has been a huge backlash which has prompted members of congress to address the issue. As a result, the Social Security Administration is currently suspending the program. But there are still unanswered questions and I'm sure there will be some fallout. 

Social Security, Treasury target taxpayers for their parents’ decades-old debts

Friday, April 4, 2014

No good deed goes unpunished

Last month, Virginia Beach middle-schooler Adrionna Harris saw a boy at school cutting his arm with a razor blade. She convinced him that he shouldn't be doing it, took the razor away and threw it in the trash can. The next day she told a teacher what had happened. But instead of applauding her efforts, school administrators at the Bayside Middle School decided to give her a 10 day suspension with a recommendation of expulsion.

It seems the decision was the result of the school's zero tolerance policy which states that a student in possession of "any weapon...shall automatically be recommended for long-term suspension or expulsion." Never mind that she only had possession of the small razor blade for the brief moment it took her to throw it in the trash. Never mind that she was trying to stop a friend from harming himself. What's important, at least from the school systems point of view, is that they follow their ridiculous zero tolerance policy in the most draconian way without any thought given to the context of the situation.

Frustratingly, Adrionna's mother stated that she wasn't getting any sort of response from the school to her calls until she got the press involved. "It is amazing. They are listening to us now … she should be back in school tomorrow and that would be fair,” said Rachael Harris." Thanks to pressure from the press and social media, Adrionna's suspension hearing was held the next day and ultimately her suspension was dropped and the incident cleared from her record.


http://wavy.com/2014/03/19/student-suspended-for-taking-razor-from-self-harming-classmate/


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Johannes Stoetter: Parrot


Look closer: This parrot is, in fact, a woman whose body has been cleverly painted to resemble the tropical bird

It would be easy to look at the photo above and think, 'that's a nice picture of a parrot, but it's not really all that interesting.' But if prompted to look again you might find upon a more scrutinizing investigation that it is actually a woman positioned and painted in such a way as to look like a parrot.

This amazing illusion is the latest work of artist Johannes Stoetter. The Italian artist is a former body-painting world champion (didn't know there was such a thing) and has amassed a great number of images including one that was trending last year of five women painted to look like a frog.

Amazing: The spectacular work of art was created by 35-year-old Johannes Stoetter, a former world champion body painter. He spent weeks painstakingly planning how he could transform the female model into a parrot

Incredible: The finished creation sees the model's outstretched left leg become the parrot's tail feathers, while her right leg and arm become its wings. Her left arm - wrapped around her head - forms the tropical bird's head

SONY DSC




Thursday, March 13, 2014

Anti-Gun Hysteria in Schools

Last year I sarcastically blogged about a boy being suspended from elementary school after fashioning his hand into a gun during a game of cops and robbers. Of course, this wasn't the first nor the last incident of school officials making irrational decisions regarding even the most benign references to guns:
  • Pop Tart Pistol - Last year in Maryland, seven year old Joshua was suspended from Park Elementary School for two days for allegedly chewing a pop tart into the shape of a pistol and dangerously waiving it around. The school later sent the students home with a letter informing parents of the incident and citing the violated code of conduct. The letter also told parents that they should talk with their kids and help them express their feelings if they were troubled by the incident. It also said that the school counselor would be available if needed.
  • Pencil Pistol - In Virginia, two second graders were suspended from a Suffolk elementary school for pointing pencils at each other and making shooting noises. A school spokesperson said "A pencil is a weapon when it is pointed at someone in a threatening way and gun noises are made." No really, she actually said that.
  • Talking About Nerf Gun - In Washington, six year old Noah Aguirre was suspended for talking about guns. According to his father, the guns his son was talking about were Nerf guns they had recently purchases. The suspension was later overturned and cleared from his record.
  • Cowboy Cap Gun - A kindergartner wet his pants after a two hour interrogation by school officials at Dowell Elementary School for showing another student on the bus his cowboy-style cap gun. Along with the interrogation, the five year old was given a ten day suspension. The mother said the principal told her that if the cap gun had been loaded with caps, it would have been considered an explosive and the police would have been involved.
  • Quarter Size Lego Gun - A Massachusetts kindergartner was forced to apologize to the bus driver, serve detention and threatened with suspension after he was found with a Lego toy gun the about the size of a quarter.
  • Another Hand Gun  - School officials at a North Carolina school levied a one day suspension on a five year old boy after he made a gun gesture with his hand on the playground.
  • Airsoft Outside of School - Three seventh graders were given long-term suspensions from a Virginia Beach elementary school after shooting airsoft guns near a bus stop. School officials state that there was a student hit by a pellet only 10 feet from the bus stop which implies that this was enough to give them jurisdiction on the matter. The thing is, Aiden, one of the boys involved, lives only 70 yards from the bus stop. According to the boys, they never left his yard.
  • Clear Plastic Toy Gun - Six year old Naomi McKinney was expelled from a South Carolina elementary school for bringing her brother's clear plastic toy gun to school. School officials considered her such a threat that they even sent a letter to her parents that if she’s caught on school grounds she’ll be “subject to the criminal charge of trespassing.”
  • Hello Kitty Bubble Gun - In Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, a five year old girl was suspended for two days after making what the school called a "terrorist threat." Allegedly she told another little girl that they would shoot each other with her pink "Hello Kitty" bubble gun (which she didn't have with her at the time).
  • And Another Hand Gun - The latest incident happened a couple of weeks ago in Columbus, Ohio. Ten year old Nathan Entingh was suspended for three days from Denvonishe Alternative Elementary School after making his hand into the shape of a gun, pointing it at another student and saying "bang."
These are just a sampling of the numerous stories involving innocent children being punished for acting like children. Throughout the nation schools have implemented zero tolerance policies which have become ever more draconian in both the way they are written and carried out. I find it difficult to understand how school officials can be so disconnected from the rest of the country when it comes to these sort of things. Just read the comments section below the articles and you'll find they are overwhelmingly condemned.

Administrators respond to reporters as if they are reading from a common playbook. It goes something like "due to confidentiality issues, we cannot comment on the specifics of the matter but we want to emphasize that student safety and security is of the utmost importance to us." I would love for someone to explain to me how this is a matter of safety. What line of thinking concludes that children playing cops and robbers could somehow put students in harms way? As far as I know, no child has ever been injured by hands, paper or pop tarts that have been shaped into guns.

The use of common sense tells us that there must be something more happening here than a desire to keep kids safe. In actuality, this seems to be an effort by some schools to indoctrinate children at a young age to view anything that even remotely relates to a gun as being evil. It is an ideology that some on the far left hold that any sort of reference to firearms is somehow directly connected to the atrocities of Columbine or Sandy Hook.

No one would disagree with the desire to keeps children safe in school. What people are angry about is the attempt by some schools to force their views onto their students even when it leaves rational decision making behind. Parents do not send their kids to school so that they can be indoctrinated with the teacher's or administrator's ideology. They send their kids to school to learn about reading, writing and arithmetic. I think it's well past time they get back to that.


Monday, February 24, 2014

3D GIFs

A cool trick GIF creators have recently started using. The added white lines clearly establish the foreground. When the action or focus of the video breaks these lines our brains sees it as a three dimensional scene. Here are some of my favorites.

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Consumer Product Safety Commission Demon Regulatory Overlords vs Craig Zucker

I just finished reading an interesting article in Reason magazine chronicling the demise of Buckyballs at the hands of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the followup lawsuit against the products creator Craig Zucker. For those who aren't familiar with the story, here is a quick rundown. Buckyballs were a popular desk toy comprised of a number of small, powerful magnets about the size of the pellets used in bb guns. The product was a big hit with sales reaching $10 million in 2009.

In July of 2012, Maxfield & Oberton, the company which produced Buckyballs, received notice of an administrative complaint filed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to stop the production and sale of Buckyball magnets due to several incidents of injury to children that had swallowed them. The complaint states that the magenetic forces could pinch or trap the intestinal walls causing long-term health consequences, including the potential for inflammation, ulceration or perforation of the intestines. At the time of the complaint, CSPC indicated that approximately 22 children had been injured by the product but no fatalities were reported. It is important to understand that the product isn't marketed toward children. This was overtly expressed through the five prominent warning labels which came with each little package of the product. Also, as pointed out by Eli Federman of the Huffinton Post, banning the product was statiscally ridiculous. If there was 1 incident of Buckeyballs out of 100,000 sets sold requiring emergency medical treatment then that would mean dogs, tennis, & skateboarding were 129 times, 1228 times and 890 times respectively more risky.

Due to the ability of government regulators to make life difficult for business people, it isn't often that they openly resist such demands but that is exactly what Zucker did. He went to the public with the snarky "Save Our Balls" campaign in an attempt to win over support to stop the CPSC from shutting down his business. Some of those ads included cartoonish pictures of members of the CPSC as telephone psychics.

 

These ads were a response to the CPSC's predetermined decision to shut down buckyballs even though they were supposed to be given time to propose a corrective action plan first. On their Buckyballs webpage, they provide the following timeline of events:
  • July 10th: We were requested by the Commission to propose a Corrective Action Plan to make our products safer, with a deadline of July 24th.
  • July 24th, 4pm: We submitted a comprehensive Corrective Action Plan with numerous suggestions concerning the safety of our products and further educating consumers and retailers. Then we waited for feedback…
  • July 25th, 11am: CPSC filed an Administrative Complaint and ran to the media. In the hours between 4pm and 11am, the staff allegedly “fully” reviewed and rejected our CAP, the Commissioners voted, their lawyers drafted and then filed a lawsuit.
  • Here’s where it gets just plain spooky…Through a Freedom of Information request, we’ve discovered this document showing that the vote to sue our company was presented to the Commissioners on July 23rd, a day before our Corrective Action Plan was to be submitted. The vote to put us out of business was due before July 25th, giving the Commissioners or staff little or no time to actually consider our Corrective Action Plan submitted at 4 p.m. on the 24th. The vote was requested before they even received our plan. 
  • So, how to explain this overlap of such a crucial timeline? How could the CPSC say they considered our Corrective Action Plan when they may never have actually read it? We can only conclude one thing: Miss Inez & the Consumer Product Psychic Safety Commission can see into the future!
Unfortunately, with lost sales due to the CPSC shutting down their retail chain and mounting legal expenses, Zucker decided to close the company in December of 2012.

Now here is where it gets really outrageous. A few months after the company was dissolved, the CPSC decided to make the unprecedented move to include Zucker and his business partner as parties to the complaint thus making them personally liable for the cost of the recall. The agency initially estimated the cost at around $57 million though a spokesperson later said it would probably be less. 

According to Reason, "The case has drawn widespread attention in legal circles because it's the first time the Commission has attempted to hold a former officer personally responsible for the actions of a defunct corporation." Could you imagine what effect this would have on business and entrepreneurship if this became the norm? No one would ever want to develop new products out of fear that they would be held personally liable for a unpredictable future complaint by the CPSC.

So is this the start of the CPSC's new method of regulating producers or is there another explanation. Zucker thinks there is. He believes that the CPSC is using its power to carry out a personal vendetta against him by being the first company in 11 years to defy their orders. I'm guessing those funny ads they put out really pissed them off too.


Reason. The Feds vs. Craig Zucker: Are Regulators Carrying Out a Personal Vendetta Against the Creator of Buckyballs?

Huff Post: Banning Buckyball Magnets Is Statistically Ridiculous
Buckyballs

Wall Street Journal: Irrational War on Buckyballs

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Prank Ad Campaigns

Over the past year or so I've noticed there has been huge wave of prank ad campaigns which typically capture peoples reactions to strange and/or shocking situations. Some of these pranks I've found to be well constructed and fun; others are in bad taste and offensive.

So what do you think? Entertaining and funny or crude and improper?


Ad for the remake movie Carrie


Ad for the movie Dead Man Down


Ad for Carlsberg beer


Ad for movie Devil's Due


Ad for movie Curse of Chucky


Ad for Pepsi


Ad for NIVEA deodorant


Ad for LG TV


Ad for Febelfin Belgium financial federation


Ad for TV show Walking Dead


Ad for LG TV

Friday, January 31, 2014

David Eckert Story: War on Drugs vs Civil Rights - Part 1

David Eckert Story: Part I

For those of you who have not heard of David Eckert's encounter with the police, here is the short of the long story: Last year Mr. Eckert was pulled over by police for failing to yield at a stop sign. Law enforcement thought that because he was acting nervously and stood strangely that he might be hiding drugs up his anal cavity, so they acquired a warrant and had doctors: check his anal cavity multiple times with their finger, give him multiple enemas causing him to defecate in front of them, gave him multiple x-rays and finally, performed a colonoscopy on him. All of this was done without his consent. No drugs were ever found. The hospital later billed him $6000 for their "services".

I was shocked by the story when I first read about it but didn't want to get too worked up until I looked into it further. Often times there is more to a story than what the initial headlines tell us so I decided to put a little effort into investigating this one. I have read a great many accounts of what happened that day and have acquired numerous sources of information. The following is my attempt to convey the story in a complete and accurate way.

Detailed Account
On January 2, 2012 around 1:00 P.M. officer Robert Chavez of the city of Deming police department pulled over David Eckert in the parking lot of a local Walmart for allegedly failing to yield at a stop sign.  It should be noted that Officer Chavez did not witness the alleged traffic violation but was acting under the direction of Sgt. Detective Bobby Orosco.

During the stop, Officer Chavez noticed that Eckert did not make eye contact and that his hand shook when he gave the officer his license, registration and proof of insurance. Finding his behavior suspicious, he asked Eckert to step out of the vehicle and conducted a Terry pat down for any weapons. None were found. While Eckert stood next to his car, Officer Chavez noted that his posture was erect and that he kept his legs together. Officer Chavez informed Eckert that a uniformed officer would soon arrive to issue him a citation for the traffic violation (which leaves the impression that Chavez was in plain clothes). A short time later Officer Villegas arrived and issued the citation.1

At this point Officer Chavez tells Mr. Eckert he is free to go. As he turns to return to his vehicle, Officer Chavez asked if he could search his vehicle. According to Chavez 1, Eckert agrees but in the federal lawsuit 2, Eckert adamantly denies this. Officer Chavez reports that he then asked to search his person for narcotics or weapons which Eckert refuses.

Officer Chavez then calls in a canine unit from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department. Officer's Green and Arredondo respond with their canine named LEO.  According to Officer Green's report, LEO "indicated and alerted to the presence of an unknown narcotic odor on the driver's seat of the vehicle."3 According to Chavez's report a Hildalgo county officer informed him that he had dealt with Eckert before and that he was known for inserting drugs into his anal cavity and had been caught in Hildalgo county with drugs in his anal cavity.1 The federal lawsuit states that it was Officer's Orosco and Arredondo that informed Chavez that Eckert was known for inserting drugs into his anal cavity. The lawsuit also states that this information was false.2

Eckert was then placed in "investigative detention" and transported to the Deming Police Department while Chavez filed the affidavit to obtain a search warrant. Eckert's vehicle was searched but no contraband was found.4

According to the lawsuit, Eckert requested the right to make a telephone call but Officer's Chavez and 
Hernandez informed him that he was not under arrest and therefore did not have a reason to call anyone.2

Officer Chavez completed the Affidavit for Search Warrant, had it approved by the Deputy District Attorney Daniel Dougherty and signed by Judge Daniel Viramontes.1

Once the warrant was obtained, Officer Chavez transported Eckert to Deming Emergency Room to have medical staff conduct a search of his anal cavity. Dr. Ash, the attending physician, refused to carryout the search expressing that he believed it was unethical.

Officer Chavez contacted Deputy District Attorney Dougherty who advised that he could take him to a different ER facility. Officer's Chavez contacts the Gila Regional Medical Center located in neighboring Grant County. They agree to carryout the warrant. Officer's Chavez and Hernandez transport Eckert to the facility.4

Eckert was admitted to Gila Regional Medical Center around 9:04 P.M. While there, Eckert, who never gave consent and protested the entire time, was given the following procedures:

1. Eckert's abdominal area was x-rayed; no foreign objects were found.2, 5

2. Doctor Wilcox then performed an exam of Eckert's anus with his fingers; he reported that he felt something soft which could have been stool.2, 5

3. Doctor Odocha performed a second rectal exam of Eckert with his fingers which concluded around 10:30 P.M.. Doctor Odocha reported that there were no masses found apart from the soft stool.2, 5

4. Doctor Odocha ordered that Eckert be given enemas until all results were clear. Hospital staff gave Eckert a total of three enemas. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of a nurse and Officer Chavez three times. Each time Officer Chavez inspected the stool. No narcotics were found.2, 5

5. A second x-ray was taken; no narcotics were found.2, 5

6. On or around 1:00 A.M. Eckert was prepped for surgery. Doctor Odocha then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert's anus and his large intestines were inspected.. The procedure was completed on or about 2:15 A.M; no narcotics were found.2, 5

According to David Eckert, Officer's Chavez and Hernandez harassed, mocked and berated him by making derogatory remarks about his compromised position.2

Eckert was released from the hospital about 20 minutes after the completion of the colonoscopy.
He was driven back to the Deming Police Department by Officer's Eckert and Hernandez and then to his home by Sergeant Lovelace. He arrived at his home around 5:00 A.M.5