A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Monday, April 18, 2016


In honor of today's U.S. tax filing deadline, here are some interesting articles about taxes that I read in my free time while not doing taxes. I think a lot of this is inside baseball, so you may not find it interesting unless you are also a tax accountant, but I've put a "*" next to the top three articles if you don't want to read all of them.

Wondering why Tax Day is April 18th this year, when it's normally April 15th?  Click Here.

Procrastinators, rejoice - Everyone Files Their Taxes At the Last Minute

Depressing: IRS Service Dramatically Improves to Mediocre (Related: Abolishing the IRS is Stupid, so don't vote for Cruz: Cruz's Plan to Abolish the IRS Would Reward Cheaters*)

More Depressing: How The U.S. Tax System Disadvantages Racial Minorities*

Perspective: No One Ever Died From a Late Tax Return

Lighter "Tax News" from the Onion: Head of IRS Has a Personal Filing System to keep Track of Nation's Tax Returns

The Importance of Disclosure: Every Presidential Candidate Should Release Full Tax Returns (And some Good and Bad Ideas for Tax Plans from the candidates this year)

Taxes Are Important, and ARE About Fairness (and how we define fairness): A Financial Times Columnist...is Wrong*

Why Tariffs Are Bad (and Important): The Case of the Hidden Import Tax

Near and Dear to my SALT-y heart: A Closer Look At The State and Local Tax Deduction

Happy Tax Day! Go Forth and Spend your tax refund however you choose!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Step Off (Your Own Rameumptom)

Note: this post has been percolating in my mind for a few months, but I haven't yet found the right words to express the concepts I'm trying to convey. So I decided to post anyway, with the hope that you'll understand the spirit of the post, even if I poorly communicate it. 

"School of Rock," starring Jack Black and assorted adorable adolescents, is one of my favorite funny movies. In the movie, Black plays a faux-substitute teacher and out-of-work rock n' roll dreamer who drafts his class into his dream of winning a rock contest.  In one scene, Black and his class compose a song urging everyone to "step off" from bugging them about their lives.

I think of this song when people tell me unpleasant truths. We all have our preconceived notions about ourselves and the world, and when someone shatters those illusions, our first reaction can be to ignore them (both the truths and the person who told them). I can't remember where I first heard of the concept of "white privilege" or "male privilege" or just privilege in general, but I remember being faintly uncomfortable with it. It seemed like people were ascribing my success to something other than my hard work, and somehow blaming me for a system that I didn't control.

A lot of people who benefit from privilege (a) don't realize they benefit, and (b) don't like being told that they benefit from privilege. However, I think there's a good Mormon story that can help people understand privilege, and it's the story of the Zoramites and their Rameumptom (found in The Book of Mormon here). The Zoramites pray a very self righteous prayer, on a platform that they've built to literally put themselves above others, and they cast out the poor from among them. This is a very literal and egregious example of privilege - in this case consciously choosing to reject and think less of others just because of their wealth status.

Reading this, it's obvious to us that the Zoramites are so self-involved they don't even realize they're doing anything wrong. And they are none too happy when Alma and his missionary companions point this out to them. Indeed, "...[the rich Zoramites] were angry because of the word, for it did destroy their craft; therefore they would not harken unto the words" (Alma 35:3). In other words, because the preaching of Alma hurt them financially, the Zoramites were unwilling to change, or even listen to something that would disrupt the status quo.

Privilege is not always so clear cut. Sometimes it is difficult to see that we are standing on a Rameumptom that we did not construct, but that nonetheless gives us a step up on other people. I firmly believe that the antidote to privilege is the empathy and compassion that comes from living the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was reminded of this last week by President Linda Burton's talk, "I Was a Stranger." She shared so many beautiful thoughts, but I was really touched with her call to empathy. She encouraged us to ask ourselves the following question about those in distress: "What if their story were my story?"

I think this empathy is the goal of conversations about privilege. Privilege is not about punishment for those who benefit from the current system, rather it is about helping everyone understand the struggles of those who do not benefit from the current system, in insidious and sometimes very subtle ways. So, I hope that you won't be threatened by discussions of privilege in the future. Instead of telling that person to "step off" and treating this as an accusation about you, consider it an opportunity to step up to listen and learn someone else's story, and understand their challenges.

For a better discussion of privilege, see here.