STUMP » Articles » Meep's Leftovers: Intellectual Humility, Government Accounting, Pleading Poverty, and More » 18 January 2021, 12:44

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Meep's Leftovers: Intellectual Humility, Government Accounting, Pleading Poverty, and More  


18 January 2021, 12:44

This is a grab-bag of things that didn’t really fit elsewhere.

On lack of intellectual humility

I’ve written about this at my livejournal:

[We’ve] often heard that the U.S. is anti-intellectual. What it definitely is is anti-ignorant-people-posing-as-experts. You know, “intellectuals”. It’s a pose. I’m not saying these people are stupid…., just that these people don’t know much of anything to depth and/or breadth. Or, if they do know such things, they are expounding on areas outside of that expertise.
But in many cases, I see some intellectual lazybones pretending they’re super-smart because they went to the right schools, have the right opinions, tweet the right things, block the right people, etc. I mean, if you’re going to act superior, you need to actually have something behind it
#6: Being smart isn’t the same as knowing anything useful or correct.

I’ve met so many highly-educated idiots, I really have to wonder.
Anyway, I get a bit tired hearing about “anti-intellectualism” when the sorts of intellectuals being served up are the likes of Vox-splainers. Even not-so-smart people can recognize bullshitters.

That was from September 2016, by the way.

Now Allison Schrager writes in her most recent Known Unknowns newsletter:

Now, I can forgive making incorrect predictions about the course of the virus. Absolutely everyone has been wrong about something during all of this. But I’m less forgiving of not gaining much humility during the past year. [Scott] Galloway is doubling down on his view that big tech is destroying America and our society at large. There’s no discussion that while the scale of Amazon is worrisome, the scope of its distribution network also made quarantine possible. It may have even saved lives. And if competition is such a big problem, how did the break-out stars like Zoom and Peloton manage to thrive?

One of the things that has angered me the most is a complete intellectual collapse among scores of people who have the ability, if not the will, to do better.

This is not just a matter of COVID results or even politics, but that very few people bothered to consider that their assumptions about anything were completely wrong when reality went against them. I know most people do not enjoy uncertainty, especially when it’s uncertainty about bad things, but false certainty is far worse than just admitting you don’t know.

You don’t have to take my word re: deaths. I link to my sources, I explain my methods, and share my spreadsheets. If you really want to, you can dig into that. If you don’t want to do that work, fine, but don’t pretend to have expertise you don’t actually have.

Government accounting standards

Samantha Fillmore at American Thinker: The Governmental Accounting Standards Board: Fraud Hidden in Plain Sight

All 50 states are experiencing revenue shortfalls due to declines in sales taxes, gas taxes, and licensing fees, not to mention the myriad other ways the government gleans revenue on a daily basis.

For many states, actual revenue will fall short of revenue projections, which were made before the pandemic. In fact, 22 states will end the current year with deficits exceeding 10 percent of total revenue. However, despite these alarming figures, many states are claiming they will end the year with a budget surplus.

A budget surplus in a year when almost every American not named Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk has had to tighten their belts more than a starving artist. How is this possible?

The answer is in plain sight but clouded by a dense fog of fuzzy math. It is called the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) and is the single worst display of accounting practices since the Enron debacle.

GASB legally permits state and local governments to conduct their accounting using “modified accrual accounting,” which is simply “cash basis accounting” under another name. This means that governments can hide substantial portions of their debt while claiming loans and other sources as assets, allowing all levels of government to paint a false narrative of their financial condition.

You can read more there.

The “fraud” terminology is a bit overblown. This is similar to behavior in the FASB space (which deals with accounting for publicly-traded companies in the U.S.) – equity analysts have always had techniques to back out certain questionable balance sheet/income statement items that may be hiding weaknesses, but FASB does attempt to improve reporting and disclosures, because their primary goal is to provide good information to shareholders.

Providing good information to muni bondholders or to taxpayers does not seem to be a primary goal for GASB.

Truth in Accounting has a campaign to comment on the proposed change in standards. The officially proposed change wouldn’t really make things worse than they are now, but it certainly won’t make things better.

Reform Government Accounting Standards:

The vast majority of state and local governments follow accounting standards set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). But GASB is trying to keep this faulty accounting. They want to continue cash-basis-like financial reporting for governmental funds statements. This reporting supports bad government budgeting practices like counting borrowing proceeds as revenue, and underfunding pension funding requirements, in order to “balance budgets.”

We don’t view GASB’s proposals as “improvements.”

Now is the time to advocate for common-sense reforms to government accounting and financial reporting requirements. Truth in Accounting is mobilizing experts, advocacy organizations, watchdog groups, journalists and everyday citizens to let GASB know that we’re watching and demanding that they institute FACT-based accounting standards.

I sent my own comment letter, which you can read here among others.

Here is an excerpt:

The current proposals do nothing to disincentivize governments from the same fiscal misbehavior that have caused so many governments to fall into a hole of leveraged fiscal failure. There is no merit in change for the sake of change, and the exposure drafts do not appropriately align the timing of promises with cash flows in terms of recognition, whether credit or debit. One may as well scrap the proposals if one is not going to appropriately match up promises and cash flows.

I sent in a comment letter on a prior draft as well, to the same effect.

Pleading poverty to property crimes

Here’s the news item from December: Seattle City Council’s poverty defense idea stirs strong response

Burglars taped the back-door window of the Matthew Steele barber shop in Ballard before they shattered the glass with a slingshot. In the six minutes the thieves were inside, they stole $4,000 worth of goods, owner Matthew Humphrey said.

He figured they would sell the stolen high-end jackets and hair products online to make some money.

But when he heard that Seattle lawmakers were considering a proposal that would allow people to steal and then re-sell the items in order to generate money to meet a basic need, like food or rent, he couldn’t believe it.

“I think it’s absolutely insane,” Humphrey said.

The Seattle City Council is discussing adding a poverty defense to the city code that municipal court judges must consider when a case comes before them. The council is expected to continue its deliberation of the proposal in January.

In the version currently introduced and advanced by City Council member Lisa Herbold, a suspect facing charges on up to 100 different misdemeanor offense could use the poverty defense in court.

Supporters of the plan say the goal is to find a different outcome than jail for the person because they are impoverished and had to resort to stealing or pitching a tent on private property to obtain adequate shelter, which could lead to trespassing charges.

“It’s one of these well-intended concepts (of) we want to take care of people that can’t take care of themselves,” Humphrey said. “But what you are really doing is hurting other people.”

Critics of the proposal say it would open the door to non-stop shoplifting even though supporters say it’s about having compassion for people who don’t have anything.

And no compassion for the people whose stuff it is.

By the way, this is not very compassionate for the thieves, either. Because shopowners will put up defenses, and some of those thieves will get hurt/dead as a result.

And it will all be “unanticipated” by the idiots who also did not anticipate reactions to soda taxes and Amazon taxes.


The last item, from over a year ago, notes the following:

Is shoplifting still a crime in Seattle?

Exaggeration often tips its hat during conversations about crime, but the question isn’t rhetorical, it’s literal.

Laws against shoplifting are still on the books, but do words on legal parchment matter if the crime isn’t prosecuted and the law not enforced? What happens when the word gets around? Well, we’re finding out.

I mean, if they already weren’t enforcing shoplifting laws a year ago, why the need to change the law now?

Keep this in mind the next time you hear the Mayor’s Office reporting a reduction in crime downtown. What’s decreasing, I suspect, is the number of crimes being reported.
Uwajimaya is hardly an outlier. Last month, Bartell Drugs, a 129-year-old, Seattle- based chain with 68 stores, announced it was closing its Third Avenue and Union Street location in downtown Seattle. Rampant theft was a key reason. How bad is it? According to The Seattle Times, Bartell will leave the building before its lease expires.

Reminder: this is from 2019. Not 2020.

So they were already not prosecuting shoplifting, that is, the City Attorney wasn’t prosecuting, on purpose. I guess they wanted it codified.

Between COVID-19 forcing companies to work-from-home regimes and dumbass politicians bent on making sure their cities are shitholes, I am really looking forward to the emptying out of cities. An opportunity for real estate developers, who can snatch up properties cheap before they demand competent political leadership.

Anyway, maybe I can beat up on Seattle for a while, and leave Chicago alone.

Ha ha, no. I’m gonna keep beating up on Chicago. Just not in today’s posts.

Other stories of interest

I’ve started looking at 2020 census data, and one thing I’m really looking forward to this year is the reapportionment of House seats.

If the Dems really want to add Puerto Rico, DC, and Guam (or wherever) as states, they need to remember that reps will likely be taken away from other places (unless the House is expanded, which would require a law be passed, which may be a very good idea.)

Here is a preliminary look at the winners and losers:

New York stands to lose two congressional seats, according to population estimates released Tuesday by the Census Bureau, making the state the biggest loser in the next apportionment if the official count comes out the same.

The Census Bureau constructed the estimate separate from the decennial count currently underway at the agency, and it is based on 2010 census results, along with birth, death and internal migration records. Using the estimate to apportion the 435 seats in the House, seven states would gain congressional seats while nine states would lose them.

California would lose a congressional seat for the first time in its history, according to the estimate. Most of the other states losing seats are concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest: Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota.

Those seats would filter south and west. Texas would gain three seats and Florida two under the estimates released Tuesday. North Carolina, Colorado, Montana, Arizona and Oregon would also gain seats.

I look forward to digging into the population numbers again and seeing how the power shakes out… and it will be very amusing to see how New York state absorbs the loss of a couple seats in the House of Reps.