Sell it to Trump followers, they don't understand "science".
I want Patton as my neighbor. I heart him.
Here's how you'd do your taxes this year if you lived in Sweden. By now, the Swedish Tax Agency has likely mailed you a return preprinted with all the information that employers, banks, and public agencies have sent to it—salary, pension, interest income, and the like. The return also shows what you owe, because the government has done the math for you. You check the return for accuracy, then can use the tax agency's app on your phone to approve it.
All of that takes 53-year-old Stockholm resident Magnus Alvesson perhaps two hours. He's got a more complicated financial situation than most, involving interest deductions and stock transactions. He also spends time looking for errors. "I usually try to find mistakes that work in my favor but so far to no success," he told me by email. His daughter filed for the first time this year. It took her half an hour, but 20 minutes of that was her father explaining how taxes work.
You, however, are in America. That means you have to enter all of your financial information—likely distributed over several documents from every job you had in 2016, your student loan company, and probably a few other places. You then enter those numbers into confusing forms or pony up for software or a tax preparer to make it easier. On average, taxpayers spend 13 hours and more than $210 to tell the government what they owe, the IRS says. Even those with the simplest returns— those who filled out the 1040EZ—spend five hours and $40.
For many critics of this system, it's not just the time and money involved that maddens—it's the illogic. The US government, like Sweden's, already has statements from employers and banks. Yet we have to pull together our copies of those same statements, transfer the data to the tax forms, and send it all back to the IRS, which then compares what we've sent against what it already knows.
A 1998 reform was supposed to change all that. The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act, passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton, included a section requiring the IRS by 2007 to institute a "return-free" system under which some or all taxpayers would get pre-filled returns that they could simply approve. The law didn't specify how many people this streamlined process would apply to, but the agency was to report to Congress every year on its progress toward the new system and the additional money it would need to implement it. The idea had bipartisan support—Ronald Reagan had touted it as part of his tax overhaul plan in a 1985 radio address.
But the companies that make tax software—H&R Block, Intuit, and others—would have none of it. Return-free filing threatened to shrink their customer base. So starting in 1998, they began making campaign donations and lobbying Congress in earnest to block return-free filing. By 2013, Intuit had spent more than $15 million on lobbying; H&R Block had spent $9 million. Dozens of their disclosure forms list the purpose of their spending as "oppose IRS government tax preparation," according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Those efforts bore fruit. In 2002, under the second Bush administration, the IRS signed an agreement with a consortium of tax software companies that included both Intuit and H&R Block. The group agreed to create an online "free file" system that would give lower income taxpayers access to some of their software at no cost. But there was an important catch: In return, the IRS promised not to "compete with the Consortium in providing free, online tax return preparation and filing services to taxpayers" by creating a return-free system.
That's the last we've seen of pre-completed tax forms that taxpayers can simply check and approve, which 36 other countries, like Sweden, already have.
The IRS's sleight-of-hand—substituting "free filing" for "return-free filing" as required by the law—hasn't gone unnoticed. In 2012, the National Taxpayer Advocate, an independent office inside the IRS, criticized the agency for being five years overdue in implementing the system. Now it's ten years late.
No one has challenged the IRS over the issue in court. That's likely because the language of the 1998 law may be "precatory," says Joseph Bankman, a leading scholar on tax law at Stanford—it expresses a wish or advice, not a demand. Still, "I don't think [the free file system] is compliant with the spirit of the law," he told me.
Taxpayers aren't exactly going wild for the free-file option. Fewer than 3 percent of eligible taxpayers used the IRS's Free File Program in 2014. The 12 software packages available on the program website have a maze of eligibility requirements. As Forbes noted last year, only people in 18 states can use ezTaxReturn.com's free product. H&R Block lets you use its free software only if you're younger than 50. TurboTax requires an adjusted gross under $31,000 unless you're active-duty military. And so forth. The IRS has to provide an online navigator just to help people sort it all out.
The program is purposely complex, Bankman told me. If your situation changes year to year, you might have to buy the same software you used for free the previous April. The year you turn 51, H&R Block may send you an email pointing out that your information is loaded into their software, but to use it this time you have to pay, Bankman said.
Beyond blocking the IRS from developing return-free filing, critics charge that Free File's secondary purpose is to upsell customers into fee-based products. "It is a free-to-fee-based model," Dennis Ventry, a member of the IRS Advisory Council and tax policy expert at UC-Davis, told me. "It's really a bundled marketing package."
That's not a new charge. At a 2006 hearing, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said that "the industry appears to be using the Free File program as an opportunity to bolster its revenue through the sale of ancillary products at taxpayer expense."
But Free File continues to block the possibility of return-free filing. Tax software companies argue that the government's conflict of interest—serving as tax preparer and tax enforcer—is reason enough to oppose allowing the IRS to send out pre-completed forms. "The IRS's inherent interest is to get as much tax possible. Are they going to find every deduction?" Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File Alliance, said in March.
"Total baloney," replies Ventry. Under return-free filing, the government "is just giving you all the tax information they have about you based on information you provided last year, that employers and others provided, and plugging it into your tax form. It's transparency of the best kind." Plus taxpayers can check the numbers just as they'd do if they paid a preparer, he adds.
Hugo's hypothesis hasn't worked out back in Sweden. There's as yet no evidence that return-free filing has made Swedes question their government's motives: A 2015 survey found that the Swedish Tax Agency is the country's third-most-popular department.
Steven Yoder writes about criminal justice and domestic policy issues. His work has appeared in Salon, Al Jazeera America, the American Prospect, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter.
The images, the videos and the screenshots, are everywhere now. You've seen them: the man's belly, black shirt lifted up, arms extended in a vaguely Christlike pose as he's being hauled through a narrow airplane aisle. His bloodied mouth, bent glasses, shut eyes. A later video, maybe even worse, of him upright and back on the plane, clearly in shock as he breathlessly intones, "They'll kill me" and "just kill me." And then we are shown him jogging up the aisle, footsteps audible on the carpeted floor as he repeats, "I have to go home. I have to go home."
Did I mention his screams, that haunting and ragged sound followed by abrupt silence, because the screamer has been knocked unconscious?
What to do with so much indignity and awfulness?
I didn't immediately watch the videos of 69-year-old Kentucky doctor David Dao's violent removal from United Flight 3411. I didn't want to. When I finally did it was out of a sense of duty to confront the nastiness everyone was talking about. What stayed with me were his exposed belly and the tight, claustrophobic shot by the other passengers as he was slammed headfirst into the armrest, as he fell limp and was pulled by his arms through the aisle. I wanted his humiliation to end, for it to all work out somehow. I thought to myself, Please let his pants stay on… I also thought of my father, who is roughly the same age and build as Dao, who also wears glasses, speaks with an accent and—like Dao and unlike me—often refuses to comply with authority figures.
In the aftermath of the incident, most of the outrage focused on the idea that someone could be so mistreated for just wanting to keep the airplane seat he paid for. In the blink-and-you'll-miss-it pace of a modern scandal, videos of Dao's injuries went viral, an old criminal conviction surfaced, people denounced the media for attacking a victim, and the CEO of United eventually apologized, all while Dao remained in the hospital.
But Asian Americans saw all of this differently. For many of us—including, reportedly, Dao himself—his race played a role in his abuse.
"It's really striking that we have in this moment the refugee ban, the wall, all these efforts to constrain the movement of certain bodies that are seen as foreign or alien, and this seems a piece of that," said Mimi Thi Nguyen, an associate professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "It was definitely happening before this administration, but it's definitely also stepped up after it."
The Asian American community's response on social media has been vocal and varied—outrage combined with reminders for solidarity with other victimized minorities. There was also a kind of seen-this-before attitude: Our stories rarely get told and when they do, it's usually out of our control and somehow almost always demeaning. Think of caricatures and stereotypes in Hollywood, whitewashing in films like Ghost in the Shell and The Great Wall, erasure, othering, mocking, exoticizing, fetishizing—the list goes on. Even Bruce Lee, perhaps the coolest and ass-kickingest action movie star of all time, became weaponized against Asians, his stance and fighting squawks used to ridicule Taiwanese American kids on playgrounds in ipstate South Carolina in the 90s and, I'm sure, many other places too.
"Excited about the zero thinkpieces and zero collective outrage over an elderly Asian being assaulted on a plane and dragged like cattle," tweeted my VICE News colleague Jay Caspian Kang shortly after the story broke. CNN's Jeff Yang also noted this absence of Asian American voices, though not the presence of Asian voices in Foreign Policy's piece on the video's unexpected virality in China.
A few pieces on the subject eventually trickled out. The most effective has been Clio Chang's "Why it Matters That the United Dragging Victim Is Asian" in the New Republic. "The victim's race is an important part of this story," she writes. "To treat it as an inconsequential factor seems, at best, an oversight—at worst, it's an erasure." It's an uncomfortable thing to say but it's nearly impossible to imagine a white doctor receiving such treatment or, really, a white anybody—recall the famously noncompliant videos of the "I don't answer questions" guy Kenny Suitter. Instead of being brutalized for his lack of cooperation, Suitter is time and again met with either bemusement or toothless exasperation from the cops.
Our stories rarely get told and when they do, it's usually out of our control and somehow almost always demeaning.
"I'll tell you one thing: If the 'randomly selected' passenger had been a blonde white lady, and she refused to give her seat, there's no way in seven hells that these cops would have dragged her ass out kicking, screaming and bloody," wrote blogger Phil Yu on his website Angry Asian Man, where he deals with issues of race and discrimination in culture. The sentiment was echoed by the Guardian's Steven Thrasher: "She'd have threatened to sue, other passengers would have come to her aid, and the whole flight would have been deplaned before she'd been assaulted like that."
Let's not forget that Dao's mistreatment was at the hands of Chicago aviation security—this was state violence, in other words. It unavoidably recalled a history of constraint and removal of Asian bodies by agents of the government, including the Japanese internment camps during World War II and Congress' 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which turned poorly paid Chinese laborers into "the first illegal immigrants," according to historian Erika Lee's The Making of an Asian America.
"Gatekeeping immigrant policies began with Asian migration to the US," said Eric Tang, author of Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto. "The notion of who you could admit and deport and remove was really premised on our government's desire to police the rate and the number of Asians who would become American citizens. Asians have historically been the subject of discriminatory legislation on who can enter the country and who can be removed."
Other minorities have suffered just as badly or worse at the hands of authorities; as many have noted, Asian Americans should be vocal in protesting the mistreatment of African Americans and Latinos at the hands of police. But it is impossible (for me, and for many) to watch the video and not think of race.
"There's this element of [Asians as] the quiescent, appeasing racial minority," said Tang. "Deferential. Clearly Dr. Dao was not in this instance. The consequence of not playing that expected role was rather severe. The question that many might be critical of him should ask themselves is: Would they not do the same thing? And would they not expect that reaction from anybody who had paid for a seat and boarded the flight? Their questioning of Dr. Dao is based on the assumption that Asians should be quiescent and accommodating and ultimately grateful."
As reports poured in, there was even some confusion over whether journalists had fingered the wrong Dr. David Dao, another instance of the annoyingly inexorable "all look same" phenomenon. Ah ha! these conspiracy theorists seemed to say, he was an angel after all. I've been mistaken for everyone from Hiro Nakamura to roughly half of the Asian men in New York publishing; a part of me, too, hoped this might be true. (It wasn't.) Really, though, it shouldn't matter: Dao's past has no bearing on the violence done to him.
While the notion of "flying while Asian" is (thankfully) not a thing—as opposed to driving while black, which very much is—incidents such as Dao's reveal an underlying truth that Asians—and all minorities and all marginalized people—are acutely aware of: Your ticket can be literally revoked at any time, "model minority" or not, and the way you deal with it can have serious, occasionally violent repercussions. It also shows that not everyone sees the same thing in a viral video of brutality, which is why we have to show them.
Follow James Yeh on Twitter.
Police department! Ha!
Dennis Coon was unable to stop two roosters kicking off in the yard, but Officer Gobbles was having none of it.
THIS MAKES NO SENSE. Well, other than to shame brown people. Muslim ban by a thousand cuts indeed.
The DHS has advised some airlines that flights originating from some overseas airports will only be allowed to land in the USA if passengers are required to check any electronic device bigger than a phone (excepting medical devices) in the hold. (more…)
“The President ordered a well-done steak. An aged New York strip. He ate it with catsup as he always does.” So he is a white trash devil. Okay.
POTUS kicks back with family, friends and foreign dignitaries
President Donald Trump has been in office for over a month now, yet he’s hardly been seen around town.
POTUS remedied that lack of visibility February 25 by making a very public appearance at BLT Prime, the posh steakhouse embedded within his eponymous hotel.
Unlike the pool reporter Trump left stranded in a waiting van, intrepid reporter Benny Johnson of Independent Journal Review provided a first-hand account of Trump’s big night out — having learned of the anticipated trek down Pennsylvania Avenue NW from a tipster (yet another leak to plug, Mr. Spicer).
According to Johnson, Trump initially broke bread with British politician Nigel Farage, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, First Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his wife, Renda, who were also dining at the restaurant, albeit at a separate table, later joined Trump and his other guests.
Here are five takeaways from the presidential party:
- Someone at the table is a fan of crustaceans. “Three jumbo shrimp cocktails were delivered before the meal.”
- He may toss supporters red meat, but Trump only ingests fully fired proteins. “The President ordered a well-done steak. An aged New York strip. He ate it with catsup as he always does.”
- Although he’s hosted the show (twice) and tweets about it obsessively, Trump evidently has no idea how “Saturday Night Live” actually works. “At one point, the President looked at his watch and remarked, ‘They are filming 'Saturday Night Live' right now. Can't wait to see what they are gonna do to me this week.’”
- Stand down, ethics watchdogs: Trump paid for everything. “I am told by restaurant staff that Trump picked up their tab for dinner.”
- Trump tips bigly. “Discretely, Trump can be seen handing cash to one of the latino busboys for his table. The president handed the young man a $100 bill.”
I did teach a 7yr old this weekend that smelling books is a glorious activity. True story.
This is the book Snow. It is my favorite. It might just be ruined now.
Woooooooah. This is cool.
"Julia" is a 16-year-old Canadian high school student who "leans right" on economics and foreign policy, and is generally disgusted with the conservative movement's pivot to reactionaries like Milo Yiannopoulos who trade in "anti-Muslim, anti-feminism, and general bigotry." (more…)
The Internet Imagines Barack Obama and Joe Biden as Best Buds and Their "Conversations" Are Hilarious
God I miss them so much. I like breaking up with a first love. Hurts so bad.
Anyone who's seen their friendship bracelets knows that Barack Obama and Joe Biden are best friends. The internet took that a step further with imagined conversations that are at times adorable and always hilarious.
I should write a children's book about his adventure.
(Updated at 1:36 p.m.) A raccoon apparently took a wild ride through Arlington today.
Politico reporter Helena B. Evich first spotted an adventurous animal hitching a ride on the back of an American Disposal Services trash truck in Rosslyn a little after 11 a.m. this morning.
Naturally, she tweeted about it:
This raccoon is having a rough morning-just wanted some trash & ended up in Rosslyn!
>And yes I alerted the driver pic.twitter.com/L3y3JFBpFx
— Helena B. Evich (@hbottemiller) February 17, 2017
Evich also called American Disposal Services to report the creature she dubbed the “trash raccoon.” Eventually, that report made its way to Anna Wilkinson, the company’s communications director.
“As soon as we found out that the raccoon was on the truck, the driver pulled over because we didn’t want the raccoon to get injured,” Wilkinson said.
By the time the driver pulled over, the truck had traveled all the way from Rosslyn to Falls Church. Wilkinson said she then called the Falls Church Police Department’s animal control team, who came to retrieve the skittish stowaway and make sure it was out of harm’s way.
“He looked like he was hanging on pretty tightly,” Wilkinson said. “The picture is adorable.”
Wilkinson later confirmed the raccoon was removed safely and without harm.
This isn’t the first time a local raccoon has gotten into a strange situation. In fact, one found itself stuck in a drain at Wakefield High School earlier this week.
Don't know if this is something that would interest Thea, but if so she could stay with me for the week.
This biweekly column is sponsored by the Arlington Office of Emergency Management. The author of this post, Lauren Stienstra, is the Senior Manager for Research and Policy Development in the Arlington County Office of Emergency Management.
I took my first CPR class when I was 12. I was preparing to be a babysitter. I had taken classes, watched my neighbor’s kids, and was ready to finish my “résumé” and make some spending money. I loved it. In class, I liked learning how the body worked (and failed) and loved the idea that I could help save lives.
My stint in babysitting was brief — not because I was bored or particularly bad at it — but because it evolved into a summer job as a lifeguard, then a college job as an EMT, and eventually a career as an emergency manager here in Arlington. “Emergency Manager” was not my dream job as a 12-year-old, but the early exposure to the ideas and skills around emergencies started me down a path that would lead me to an incredibly fulfilling role and career in this community.
This was part of the motivation for launching a career development program that we’re calling “HERricane Arlington.” Not many women consider careers in public safety and we’re hoping to close some of those gaps. HERricane Arlington provides young women (ages 13-17) a chance to explore emergency management and allied fields through exciting activities and exercises. We’re trying to grow and support tomorrow’s public health nurses, meteorologists, and journalists to ensure that the future has a team that can handle hurricanes, derechos, and outbreaks.
So, if you know a girl who has ever wanted to learn how to use a fire extinguisher, wondered what to do after a tornado, or dreamed of being the journalist who reports the next big disaster, this could be the program they remember for the rest of their lives!
Why HERricane Arlington?
- Representation: Women are underrepresented in leadership positions in emergency management across the nation. They occupy 34% of staff-level positions and even fewer director-level ones.
- Employment: Public safety jobs in Virginia grew 15% over the past decade and are expected to keep growing (13% by 2020!) making this a great career choice for many young women.
- Empowerment: According to the United Nations Development Programme women are more likely to be victims of disaster, especially in regards to death, sexual violence, and loss of income. Equipping girls with disaster response skills will empower them to be able to help themselves and their communities after major incidents.
What is it, exactly?
HERricane Arlington is more than a weeklong camp, it’s a community. Graduates will be encouraged to continue to develop their skills through post-camp programming and mentoring throughout the following year.
Summer Camp: A jam-packed, week-long program exploring disaster response and leadership skills, including.
- Storm spotting
- Fire extinguisher training
The Aftermath: A series of monthly activities so graduates can continue to develop in the field of emergency management. Attend our activities, earn points, win prizes! Activities include:
- Ropes course
- Movie watch parties
- 24 hours of community service alongside EM professionals
Mentorship and Early Career Support: Graduates of HERricane Arlington will be offered mentorship as well as internship and volunteer opportunities to launch them into meaningful careers.
Join the Storm!
For more information and to apply, go to: ReadyArlington.com
This program is supported by a number of partners, including the American Red Cross as well as Arlington Public Schools. We’re also fortunate to be funded by many community donors.
This is better than Beyonce and that is saying A LOT.
J.K. Rowling and Piers Morgan Are Engaged In Spellbinding Twitter Duel, and Morgan's Son Made It Exponentially More Awkward
Two people you don't want to get into a twitter war with: Patton Oswalt and JK Rowling. Ever. You will lose. But seriously, the junior Morgan for the win!
J.K. Rowling's back at it again with the barrage of well-articulated rage Tweets, and her latest victim is the Piers Morgan. Poor Piers is having a particularly bad case of the Mondays. Might be time for someone to up and drink his lunch to numb some of the pain. Oh, and a word of friendly advice to our recent Rowling-roasted dude of the hour, Piers Morgan: don't go to the Twitter killing floor against a world-acclaimed wordsmith who has a notorious reputation for methodically, publicly, destroying Twitter aggressors that failed to fly under her radar. The odds are ever not in your favor when you're Rowling In the Deep, man. At least Morgan's son, Spencer pulled through at the end with a silencing, entirely unexpected slice of comedic relief.