A Month of Misfitting - March
March was an interesting one in Misfitsland...highlighted by the arrival of an adorable little baby girl for @danieltobin and his wife! Little V was so excited to get here that she simply couldn’t wait until she was done cooking, so she gave Mom and Dad a little scare by arriving early...but she is one tough little cookie, and she is getting stronger by the day!
We welcomed @Patriot_Musket as the first new Misfit in several months, and said goodbye to one other who shall remain nameless because once you leave like that you are dead to us. DEAD TO US!!! And we led a handful of outrageously funny #MisfitMischiefs to spice up Friday Night Twitter (tune in tonight, around 7:00…)
In total, the Misfits wrote 11 original pieces and our guests contributed 4 others. In addition, there were four #AskAlex’s and an #OldManYellsAtCloud. As always, some pieces drew more attention than others, so we’d like to count down the 10 most widely read and talked about pieces from the Month of March:
10) Ask Alex - March 3, March 10, March 17, March 24, March 31. Individually, then ranked as anywhere from the 6th to 15th most read pieces, but we will kick off the list by including them all together. We can’t possibly cover all of this nonsense in one paragraph, so you will just need to read this outrageousness when it comes out every Friday.
9) Guest contributor @RaymondWPS used Bill O’Reilly as an example to tackle the overuse of easy personal attacks at the cost of our own dignity in “Living in America.”
8) @danieltobin wrote “Obama Hurt the Cause of Illegal Immigrants” on the very last day of February, detailing the ways that the previous President set back the cause of those he claimed to help.
7) Just about one month later, after the hubbub of the new baby, Dan gave us “Conservatives in the Hands of an Angry Mob”, talking about the dangerous thinking on the right that gave us Trumpism and threatens to derail the GOP.
6) @LunaticRex didn’t like what he was hearing from some corners of Twitter, so he wrote a little Misfits Love Letter in “Friends in Low Place”. Don’t look now, but Rex has feelings!
5) When she wasn’t dishing out rock-solid life advice (caveat emptor), @VerumVulnero1 walked through the lies that we have been telling ourselves, and letting our politicians tell us, about healthcare for years, and reminded readers that “There Are No Free Rides.”
4) “Alex Hates Old People” is probably the most descriptive title we’ve ever had on a piece at MisfitsPolitics.com. Alex pulls no punches in this scathing takedown of the culture of entitlement rampant in older Americans.
3) Chelie made her debut as a Misfits Contributor with an eye-opening first-person account of the challenges involved in living with Type I Diabetes.
2) Musket’s debut Misfits piece, “You’re Solving the Wrong Problem”, goes a step further than Alex’s healthcare piece and hammers at some of the drivers of health care costs. Those drivers are, not surprisingly, different from the “problems” that Congress is trying to solve.
1) On the same day as Musket’s health care piece, @Molratty took on Al Franken’s idiocy specifically and the absurdity of Senate confirmation hearings more generally with “Theater of the Absurd”.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this month as much as we have, and we can’t wait to get started on April!
Ask Alex - March 31, 2017
Welcome back to "Ask Alex", where I answer all of your stupid questions with even dumber answers. Have a question you need answered? Tweet it, email it or submit it here and I will get to it (maybe) next week.
This week, we will be fielding questions about my co-Misfits, as well as doing your own taxes, my hypothetical grandparents and arranged marriages. Along the way, I tell you why your favorite movie is overrated, talk about people I know who share my name and hypothesize about Luke Skywalker’s sex life.
Submitted by: John Phipps
I noticed that no one makes fun of the fact that Mrs. Mo has the same first name (Mo) as her last (Mo). What's most appropriate, Mrs. Mo, Mrs. Mo Mo, and what would happen if We said - Mo.
That’s because we all learned a long time ago not to make fun of Mo! She’s, like, super mean…
Mo, the divine @molratty, answers to a lot of names, often because @2009superglide makes himself giggle by thinking of new names incorporating “Mo”. But, I’d suggest you just stick with Mo to be safe...or Ms. Ratty if ya’ nasty...
Really, I can’t see the name Mo Mo without thinking of Robert De Niro’s phenomenal “You fuckin’ momo!” from Casino, one of the great nonsensical insults in movie history. It takes a special kind of actor to deliver that line, and De Niro was obviously the guy to do it. Let it also serve as a reminder of what De Niro was in his Taxi Driver/Raging Bull/Goodfellas/Casino days, before he started making forty three different “Old Curmudgeon Comedies” because he needed a new beach house.
Actually, you know what? Stop, because I am going to deliver some really bad news to Gen Xers. I know, in my ongoing war between the young and the old, Gen Xers are on my team, and I don’t really want to go sowing any generational discord, but sometimes it is important to get big issues out on the table so we can discuss them. In that spirit, I’d like you to sit down while I let you in on an uncomfortable truth…
Goodfellas is overrated.
Now, now...settle down. I’m not insulting your childhood, or casting any aspersions on you as people, I am just clearing up a little misunderstanding that you’ve all had with each other for 25 years now. Just like Baby Boomers have somehow convinced themselves that Van Morrison was really fantastic, Gen Xers have grown to revere a movie too wrapped up in the auto-biographical revisionism of the protagonist, lacking in the scope and refinement of The Godfather or the glamour of Casino, but also falling short of capturing the sad tedium of day-to-day mob life found in The Sopranos. Not that it’s a bad movie, in fact it is certifiably good (and somehow lost Best Picture to Dances With Wolves)...it’s just not as good as a certain segment of the population (mostly men 35-50) remember it being.
Like, really, is it one of the 10 best movies of the 1990’s? I don’t think it is...just a quick inventory tells me that it wasn’t as good as The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Unforgiven, Braveheart, Casino, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, The Silence of the Lambs or True Romance. Even after that, there is another tier of movies that are just as good, or at least close: things like Jurassic Park, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, Trainspotting, Gladiator, Forrest Gump, The Usual Suspects. Just don’t try and sell me on garbage like Heat or Fight Club. Drivel…
Also, it is probably worth noting that I watched a lot of movies in college. There may have also been a stoner phase… I didn’t spend much time in the library, to be honest.
Submitted by: Anonymous
Do you do your own taxes? Can you help me with mine?
Well, since I am not a CPA, it would be wholly unethical for me to charge for my tax preparation services. And I don’t do shit like that for free, so you are out of luck on me as a tax helper.
I don’t do my own taxes, but I think that more people probably should. I don’t do mine because my husband’s firm (a sort-of family office) does them for us, and they are somewhat complicated by some specifics that I am not going to go into because they are none of your fucking business. (I'm kidding..."K1 Income" is boring even by my standards). I did mine before we were married, and I did ours for a couple of years before he joined this firm and his compensation got trickier. I do my sister’s for her, although she did more of it this year and will likely be able to do it by herself next year.
I think you should do your own because it’s not nearly as hard as it seems - TurboTax will walk you through it step-by-step - and because it gives you a better idea of how the whole process works. Do you really know how much you pay in federal, state and local taxes? Social Security and Medicare? It’s probably more than you think, and even when you get a tax refund, it is worth taking note of exactly how much you still had to pay...and the awkward fact that your “refund” is simply the returning of an interest free loan that the government absconded with during the year before.
So, true story...everyone’s favorite Californian Smokeshow, @tiffany1985b, did her own taxes this year because H&R Block did them last year and she felt like they were...um…”not worth their fees” (I’m being kind). Tiff fired up TurboTax, breezed through her return and found herself with a much larger refund than last year. Since it was in line with the refund she had gotten in the years before that, she decided to investigate last year’s return (prepared by H&R Block) to see what the difference was.
Turns out that the “professionals” has accidentally added an extra zero, ballooning her Interest Income by a factor of 10. Needless to say, this led to a pretty substantial overpayment of Federal Income Tax. Thankfully, she is still within the window in which her return can be amended, so she and her husband will get their appropriate return now, a year late. And Block filed the amendment for free, refunded fees, etc. Honestly, if it had been outside of the window to amend, Block likely would have made her whole because it was so obviously their mistake.
All of which is to highlight the following: just because you pay someone doesn’t mean they did it right! Even if you pay someone to do it, you should check your return against the source documents to both verify accuracy and to get an idea of how the whole return is prepared.
Oh, I have another story! My pretend family has super complicated tax issues, and their returns are all filed by a mid-sized firm here in Boston. In the first year that I was in Boston, I ran some documents over to them (I work for my pretend father and handle some stuff like this that is personally sensitive) and met the girl who had been newly assigned as the preparer. And she has THE SAME NAME AS ME. Which is a little weird, because my first name is pretty unusual for girls our age (she is like five years older than me) and my maiden name isn’t super common, either.
She, however, has her last name because it was her parents’ last name, not because her mother didn’t know her father well enough to spell his name properly on her birth certificate...those sorts of things only happen to me;-)
Submitted by: Timothy E. Miller
Is it true that you are secretly Darth Vader's Granddaughter?
This interview is over!!!
Since Darth Vader lived a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, this seems really unlikely. But, it does seem like his family tree is a bit of a mystery, so I suppose it is possible. I mean, we know that he had two children (Leia and Luke) and at least one grandchild (Ben Solo/Kylo Ren), but there is the distinct possibility that there are either other Solos that we haven’t been introduced to yet, or any number of Skywalkers floating around. I’d be pretty stunned if Rey (who I totally imagine myself being) isn’t somehow related to the rest of the crew...Star Wars isn’t an ambitious-enough story for her to be anything more than the most obvious thing.
More likely on the grandchild front, though, unless he’s gay, there almost have to be a bunch of little Luke’s running around, right? I mean, with Han Solo tied down to that insufferable, non-emoting Leia, Luke was the galaxy’s most eligible bachelor after the Battle of Endor. Good looking guy, famous, politically connected, probably rich from endorsements...Luke was likely pulling tail in every corner of the galaxy. On top of that, it doesn’t even matter whether or not Luke impressed the ladies, because he could just use the Jedi Mind Trick to nail anyone he wanted.
Wait...why didn’t every Jedi have a wife that looks like Kate Beckinsale? Don’t they, by definition, get the hottest chick on every planet? They’re as hot and famous as Justin Timberlake, but with The Mule’s powers of emotional control... (Next week on Jezebel “Love and The Force: Why All Jedi Sex is Rape”).
Just following the most logical course of events here, I’m guessing that, before he founded his new Jedi school, Luke laid an epic trail of pipe from Bespin to Yavin. You’re telling me that not one of those groupies didn’t “forget” to take her galactic birth control?
So, could my Mother have been one of Luke’s conquests? It seems pretty doubtful...if Luke came to Earth, he probably would have gone looking for chicks in Brazil, and even if he came to the U.S., I assume that he’d have hit LA, Miami, Las Vegas and New York long before he started looking for sturdy Midwesterners. And upon coming to Chicago, he probably never would have come anywhere near my Mother’s neck of the woods unless he had a thing for black women, in which case my Mother wouldn’t have struck his fancy.
I guess I can’t rule out that I am Darth Vader’s Granddaughter, but it seems pretty unlikely. Which is too bad...because that would be pretty awesome!
Submitted by: Sith Lord
Should people resort to arranged marriages that have a basis in mutual attraction?
OK...little weird to get a question from the Sith Lord that came in while I was writing the Star Wars answer above...but I’m not going to let that deter me.
I can actually make an argument for arranged marriages - that parents have a better, more objective view of what is good for their children in the long run than do young people - but basically the practice is a stupid means of selling women into effective slavery. It is a relic from times when women were seen as a burden whose sole purpose was in bearing and raising children, and therefore needed to come with a dowry that made her worthwhile for a man to marry.
In any society where a divorcing man has more rights and resources (credit, education, assets, legal protections, etc.) than a woman, which is true of most societies that practice arranged marriages, the woman is being sold into an irrevocable situation that may or may not be terrible. The guy can always get out of it.
But...I have a story…
I went to business school with an Indian guy named Ronak. Nice guy, and super smart, but he was an absolute nerd. He had been a programmer before, and he looked like it...really gangly, big head, bad teeth, socially kind of awkward. In January of our first year, we had a formal, which was the first whole-class event that we had with significant others. Ronak came with his wife, and lo and behold, she is one of the five most beautiful people that I have ever seen in person.
I’m not sure that there was an actual record-scratch when they entered, but it seemed like it. Here was Ronak, the nerdy, quietish IT guy, and it turns out that his wife is movie-star hot...tall, sultry, gorgeous smile, shiny black hair...like, almost impossibly attractive. Yada, yada, they never met until three weeks before they were married, which was a couple of years after his wealthy parents, in seeking a match for their British-educated, highly successful son had struck a marriage pact with the parents of another well-educated and remarkably beautiful young woman of the same age…
Since I talk to everyone about everything, I asked her about the weirdness of an arranged marriage a while after that. She admitted that she wasn’t wholly on board with the idea as a teenager, and was incredibly nervous to meet him, but was now very happy to have been married like that. She acknowledged that she probably wouldn’t have ever dated him on her own, but she trusted her parents to make a good match, and admitted that the things she probably valued at 20 were wholly different than the things she valued ten years later. And not surprisingly, her Mother anticipated the things that would be more important later in life - that he be a committed husband and father, that he value her and her ambitions, and that he want for bigger and better things that they knew in Mumbai.
I should acknowledge that she is not necessarily a normal subject of an arranged marriage. They live permanently in California now and she’s an analyst for an energy investment firm: she is hardly the trapped and dependent straw-woman I constructed above. But, they are, I think, the only people I know who were a purely arranged marriage, and it’s worked out really well for both of them. So, I should hedge my natural opposition to the institution.
Of course, then I Googled "Arranged Marriage Horror Stories" and now I want to light myself on fire...
Now that President Trump has apparently given up on Health Care Reform – I mean, it was a heck of an effort though, amirite? – he has turned his attention to tax reform. I expect that his efforts will be just as successful as his first foray into policy-making. So much winning!
Like most Republicans for the last 40 years, his tax plan is going to amount mostly to cutting taxes, which I am not going to take specific issue with. Also like most Republicans, he seems to conflate that with government downsizing and enjoy it a whole lot more than the part where you have to cut spending on defense and entitlements (you know, the actual downsizing of government).
Today, though, I’m not going to take on the President’s specific proposal, or even any alternatives offered by anyone else in Washington. Our tax code, you see, has deteriorated past the point of “reforming.” It’s a mess and it is far beyond saving by simply making a couple of changes to marginal rates and deduction limits. It is an overly long (but not as long as you’ve heard), overly complicated hodgepodge of special interests with incredibly high costs of compliance and enough opaqueness to obscure rational debate about the funding of government.
Start with the basic question that drives much of our political debate: who is or isn’t paying their fair share? There are three major problems with this question. First, as I noted in my rant against the elderly last week, it is hard to argue that anyone is paying their fair share in a world of perpetual deficits. Second, the very idea of “fair” is quite obviously subjective. And finally, the tax code is so complicated that it is hard to determine who actually pays what. We can’t even have a discussion on what is or isn’t fair because we can’t really even tell how much different taxpayers are paying.
Democrats like to claim that the rich don’t pay their fair share. They base this largely on the idea that our marginal rate structure, as outlined in the tax code, is “fair”, and that the wealthy are therefore cheating the tax code because they get all of the deductions. They’re not wrong about one thing: the wealthy do get almost all of the deductions. But the wealthy get all of the deductions precisely because marginal rates are so high. If I am in the 39% Federal Income Tax bracket, then the interest that I deduct for paying my mortgage is going to decrease my income tax bill by nearly forty cents for every dollar I pay. If I were in the 10% bracket, then not only would I likely have less interest to deduct, but I am only getting a $.10 benefit for every dollar of interest paid. You can’t give a tax deduction to someone who isn’t otherwise in line to pay that tax.
Republicans like to point out, accurately, that the rich pay more than their fair share, and in fact pay virtually all of the income taxes. At last count, the top 20% of earners (about 10% Americans) pay 84% of the income taxes. Five of every six dollars in Federal Income tax is paid by only 10% of the population!!! This, however, only tells a small portion of the story, as something like half of all workers pay more in payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare) than they do in Federal Income Taxes. Since those taxes have income caps, they cost low-income workers a higher portion of their overall income than they do high-income workers. Except, of course, for the supplemental Medicare taxes that are a part of Obamacare (and on and on it goes…)
Then there is the difference between those who are rich because they own a lot of stuff and those who are rich because they earn a lot of money. The former pay a substantially lower portion of their income in taxes than do the latter, despite the latter being the most productive members of society. Let’s also remember this brilliant piece of analysis by a witty, charming and devastatingly gorgeous writer who tackled the cost-of-living bias in our tax code.
What I am going to do, however, is propose “The AFB 2017 Comprehensive Personal Tax Code,” a new, simpler and substantially more “fair” personal income tax code (the corporate code is a bigger subject for another day). It will decrease compliance costs, close “loopholes” and dramatically reduce the incentive to seek out exotic tax shelters to avoid high marginal rates.
Important to keep in mind: I am tackling here only the subject of how government raises money, not how much it raises or how it spends that money. Since the Federal Government can run seemingly unlimited deficits, those are two wholly separate conversations. I’d rather we spend a lot less than we do, but I’m not addressing that here. I’m starting with the idea that the overall tax burden doesn’t change…it just gets recalculated. (I’m also sticking with the concept of an income tax, although I am not wholly opposed to a national sales tax in lieu of an income tax.)
Here, then, are 4 steps to a better tax code.
There is, of course, an obvious problem with all of this: every line of that however-many-pages tax code has a constituency, and repealing any of it leads to predictable outrage. There are big constituents, like charities and 401K providers, and there are small constituencies, like solar panel installers, but every single piece of that ridiculous code is written in to please someone. I get that, and I am not trying to pretend that the politics of this are at all feasible.
But c’mon, people…can’t we objectively look at this absurd tax code and recognize that we have a problem? And, more importantly, that our favorite deduction is a part of the problem? Would you feel better about losing your favorite deduction (for me it’s 401K contributions, Mortgage Interest and Charitable Giving) if you knew everyone else was, too?
Ultimately, the real problem with doing major tax reform is in telling voters that the government will no longer encourage the behaviors that those voters want encouraged. But I say we should do it. I’m willing to give up mine if you’re willing to give up yours!
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.