“The IRS desperately needs to put together an easier-to-use, simpler way for people to file their taxes and access benefits free of charge. Accomplishing that, of course, is easier said than done. The IRS has been underfunded for decades and does not have sufficient in-house technical expertise to build a free file system on its own.”
“The actual work of doing your taxes mostly involves rifling through various IRS forms you get in the mail. There are W-2s listing your wages, 1099s showing miscellaneous income like from one-off gigs, etc. The main advantage of TurboTax is that it can import these forms automatically and spare you this step.
But here’s the thing about the forms: The IRS gets them, too. When Vox Media sent me a W-2 telling me how much it paid me in 2020, it sent an identical one to the IRS. When my bank sent me a 1099 telling my wife and me how much interest we earned on our savings account in 2020, it also sent one to the IRS. If I’m not itemizing deductions (like 70 percent of taxpayers), the IRS has all the information it needs to calculate my taxes, send me a filled-out return, and let me either send it right back to the IRS if I’m comfortable with their version or else do my taxes by hand if I prefer.
This isn’t a purely hypothetical proposal. Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Chile, and Spain already offer ”pre-populated returns” to their citizens. California experimented with a version called ReadyReturn before it was shut down under pressure from H&R Block and Intuit.”
“Congress needs to authorize more funding for the IRS.”
“The Senate parliamentarian on Thursday dealt Democrats a disappointing blow in the fight for the $15 minimum wage, ruling that it can’t be included in a Covid-19 relief package if lawmakers want to use budget reconciliation.
That decision likely means that the $15 minimum wage is effectively dead — for now.”
“Sanders, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and other Democrats also floated the idea of establishing a tax penalty that incentivizes large corporations to pay their workers a $15 minimum wage and gives small businesses a tax credit for doing so. That change wouldn’t set a new federal standard for the minimum wage, but it could help nudge businesses into offering their employees better pay. Schumer, too, had offered his backing for a plan that dings corporations that don’t raise their wages. But over the weekend, Democrats determined the idea is a no-go for now.
Ultimately, Democrats may have to consider a potential compromise with Republicans to advance any type of standalone change to the minimum wage. Thus far, five Republicans — led by Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) — have backed legislation that would increase the minimum wage to $10 by 2025, a change that would also be tied to immigration enforcement. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), too, has introduced a bill that would require a $15 minimum wage at companies that make $1 billion or more in annual revenues.”
“To some extent, Silicon Valley is doing nothing unusual. 2020 is by far the most expensive election cycle, adjusted for inflation — costing more than twice as much as the runner-up, the 2016 race. But the new money reflects how Silicon Valley is increasingly turning its financial power into political power that could persist after Election Day.”
“It’s illegal to move to Georgia temporarily just to vote in an election and then leave. Georgia state officials are strongly urging prospective out-of-state voters to stay home, warning them they’ll face steep penalties if they vote fraudulently.”
“When I asked public health experts how the United States had reached 200,000 coronavirus deaths, several of them cited the misinformation coming from the White House and President Donald Trump himself.
The president has questioned the efficacy of masks, hyped unproven treatments, and continues to promise a vaccine before experts and the drug companies themselves believe it will actually be ready. That lack of clear and accurate communication has now extended to Trump’s own Covid-19 diagnosis, with his doctors seemingly obfuscating the details of the president’s condition. They have outright acknowledged downplaying the seriousness of his symptoms, and the treatment Trump is receiving does not entirely comport with the sunny prognosis advanced by the White House.
The effect of all of these communications failures is diffuse and uncertain. But we do know this much, according to new Cornell University research: The president of the United States was the loudest megaphone for Covid-19 misinformation during the first few months of the pandemic.
The researchers examined more than 1.1 million English-language articles published between January 1 and May 26 in traditional media outlets (retrieved through LexisNexis) that included some Covid-19 misinformation. They represented about 3 percent of the 38 million total articles published about the pandemic in that time.
Of those million-plus articles with misinformation, about 38 percent of them featured Donald Trump and some specific kind of misleading claim of which the president is fond, or a general reference to his penchant for spreading false information.
Trump’s influence is not just reflected in the amount of misleading information, but also the content of it — even if he wasn’t directly the source. Of the various types of misinformation identified by the Cornell study, “miracle cures” are by far the most common. The president has touted, without evidence, the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine and said he’d taken a course himself.”
“In an unprecedented health care emergency, Americans needed clear and accurate information from their federal government. Instead, President Trump has sowed discord and doubt and disinformation, making it harder for the country to contain Covid-19.”
“Trump’s business model, which goes something like this: Launch several businesses, many of which hemorrhage millions of dollars each year, and use the publicity from those businesses to make money on personal branding. The latter is highly profitable, earning Trump $427.4 million between 2004-2018. The losses from the former—his hotels and resorts for instance—are then used to largely offset his tax liability.
The Times’ report does erode the savvy businessman brand Trump has sought to cultivate for himself, both commercially and as a candidate for office. The president is not necessarily the astute entrepreneur he claims to be, though he may be uniquely skilled at making money by wasting money. His most high-profile business successes—his golf courses—have reportedly lost $315 million since 2000. The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., just opened in 2016, has already lost $55 million, both numbers according to the Times.
Losing money for a living is certainly an unorthodox business model, but that doesn’t make it illegal.
Trump’s deductions don’t stop there, however. There’s also the $9.7 million tax credit Trump claimed to renovate the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C., which would later become the aforementioned Trump hotel. That fell under the historic preservation tax clause, an entirely legal tax incentive meant to encourage the redevelopment of old structures.
It could be legally problematic, or just another revealing symptom of U.S. tax law, that Trump has claimed millions of dollars in unspecified consulting fees on various business projects, which typically amounted to 20 percent of his income, according to the Times. Ivanka Trump was allegedly the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars in such consulting fees. The president also declared $1.4 billion in business losses in 2008 and 2009. An IRS audit is ongoing.”
“Our tax code, which Bishop-Henchman says was written in the style of a “phone book,” is replete with overly complex rules and regulations meant to influence the public’s economic behavior. Former Vice President Joe Biden is no stranger to this. “I have nothing against Amazon,” he wrote in June of 2019, “but no company pulling in billions of dollars of profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers. We need to reward work, not just wealth.” The tech behemoth paid no federal taxes in 2018 after making use of legal tax incentives established by Congress, of which Biden was a member for 36 years. For example, Amazon invested $22.6 billion in research and development in 2017, something the legislature hopes will spur job creation and economic growth.”
“Lebanon’s political system is the product of a decades-old power-sharing arrangement among leaders of Lebanon’s 18 religious sects, the most important being the Sunni and Shia Muslims and Maronite Christians.”
“It has helped mediate sectarian conflict, forced leaders to build consent among their constituencies, and prevented the heavy centralization of power that plunged much of the Arab world into dictatorship.
But this particular medicine has side effects. Political elites have used their positions to bleed the economy dry and monopolize control over public institutions. Parliament and many cabinets have been filled with some of the same faces for decades. The speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, has occupied the post since 1992. As members of the traditional ruling class age or die out, their sons often replace them, meaning politics has become a family business for the Gemayels, Hariris, Aouns, and Jumblatts, to name a few.
Many politicians have amassed great wealth by taking cuts of public contracts, facilitating bureaucratic processes, or directly siphoning public funds. Public servants are appointed by sect rather than on merit, and national loyalty competes with and often loses out to sectarian loyalty.
This has undermined civic life and turned politics into a zero-sum sectarian competition rather than a policy debate. Questions as mundane as where to build a waste incinerator or how to reform public utilities, for example, take on sectarian dimensions over who gets what.
Why, then, do people not simply vote this rotten elite out?
For one, they have played on sectarian insecurities to perpetuate distrust among the population, casting themselves as saviors of their community. Attempts to unseat a particular leader are quickly seen as attacks on the sect itself, leading to a rallying effect around said leader regardless of their performance.”
“The political class has also skillfully used the state to provide constituents with jobs, financial support, and other privileges. And, of course, where persuasion fails there is always coercion. Parties routinely harass and intimidate those who seek reform or even dare to criticize their leaders.
All factions are complicit to some degree, but one in particular presents an altogether more difficult problem: Hezbollah.”
“Hezbollah maintains a formidable militia with direct support from Iran. It has turned Lebanon and its Shia community into the base of its “resistance” project of open-ended conflict with Israel and the West.
Hezbollah runs a state-within-a-state, complete with a military, security forces, and infrastructure; at the same time, it has penetrated Lebanon’s institutions through politics or by cultivating powerful allies. The Lebanese military lacks the will and ability to disarm Hezbollah. Those who present a serious challenge to its armed status are intimidated or killed.”
“Attempts to constrain its military arm are violently repressed. In May 2008, for example, a cabinet decision to dismantle the militia’s independent telecommunications infrastructure was met with a military takeover of much of Beirut. Hezbollah has also been implicated in a string of assassinations of political rivals, most recently through a United Nations tribunal that convicted Salim Ayyash of complicity in the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.”
“Rolling electric power blackouts afflicted as many as 2 million California residents last week as a heat wave gripped the Golden State. (It’s apparently eased up for now.) At the center of the problem is that power demand peaks as overheated people turn up their air conditioning in the late afternoon just as solar power supplies cut off as the sun goes down. In addition, output from California’s wind farms was erratic. Currently, about 33 percent of California’s electricity comes from renewable sources as mandated by state law. Until this summer, California utilities and grid operators were able to purchase extra electricity from other states, but the current heat wave stretches from Texas to Oregon so there was little to none available to make up for California’s power shortage.”
“Completely ignored in the reporting is that California has been shutting down a huge source of safe, reliable, always-on, non-carbon dioxide–emitting, climate-friendly electricity—that is, nuclear power. In 2013, state regulators forced the closing of the San Onofre nuclear power plant that supplied electricity to 1.4 million households. By 2025, California regulators plan to close down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant that can supply electricity to 3 million households.
The problem of climate change, along with the blackouts resulting from the inherent vagaries of wind and solar power, are an indication that California should not only keep its nuclear power plants running but also build many more of them.”