The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why do we go through this every year?

Washington Post columnist Helaine Olin argues for a simplified tax filing procedure in the US:

Filing taxes is a time-consuming, bureaucratic chore that the Internal Revenue Service estimates will take the typical American 11 hours. Nationwide, that works out to some 6 billion lost hours a year, according to T.R. Reid, author of the 2017 book “A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System.”

The thing is, filing taxes just doesn’t have to be this hard. In 36 countries, the nation’s tax agency sends eligible residents a pre-filled return, and asks them to sign if they agree with the amount that’s indicated is owed or should be credited to them. Japan does this. So do Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and others. A 2018 German study found that the pre-filled forms raise tax compliance.

So why not us, you ask?

The short answer: the United States took the British penchant for time-wasting activities and dialed it to 11. The longer answer might have something to do with Intuit's $5.7 million lobbying effort over the past two years.

Leaving on a jet plane

Now that I'm more than two weeks past my second Pfizer jab, I'm heading to O'Hare tomorrow for the first time since January 2020. I remember back in September 2018 when I finally broke my longest-ever drought from flying of 221 days. Tomorrow will mark 481 days grounded.

But that's tomorrow. Today, I'm interested in the following:

And finally, Chicago's endangered piping plovers Monty and Rose have laid three eggs. We should see baby piping plovers in about four weeks.

Unmasked!

The CDC has changed its guidance on Covid-19. People who are fully vaccinated (that's me, 2 weeks as of today!) no longer need to wear masks in most places:

The advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes as welcome news to Americans who have tired of restrictions and marks a watershed moment in the pandemic. Masks ignited controversy in communities across the United States, symbolizing a bitter partisan divide over approaches to the pandemic and a badge of political affiliation.

Permission to stop using them now offers an incentive to the many millions who are still holding out on vaccination. As of Wednesday, about 154 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about one-third of the nation, some 117.6 million people, have been fully vaccinated.

In deference to local authorities, the C.D.C. said vaccinated Americans must continue to abide by existing state, local, or tribal laws and regulations, and follow local rules for businesses and workplaces. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or the second dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine series.

In related news, The Economist analyzed health records and now believes that between 7.1 and 12.7 million people have died from Covid-19, more than three times the official count. In some places, like Romania and Iran, "excess deaths are more than double the number officially put down to covid-19. In Egypt they are 13 times as big. In America the difference is 7.1%."

Bad faith and unfair dealing

The bankruptcy court for the Northern District of Texas has dismissed the National Rifle Association's bankruptcy petition as a sham meant to avoid the New York Attorney General's case against them:

"The question the Court is faced with is whether the existential threat facing the NRA is the type of threat that the Bankruptcy Code is meant to protect against. The Court believes it is not," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Harlin Hale wrote in a 38-page decision.

The group filed for bankruptcy in January at the direction of the NRA's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre — and unbeknownst to some of the organization's board of directors and top officials.

"What concerns the Court most though is the surreptitious manner in which Mr. LaPierre obtained and exercised authority to file bankruptcy for the NRA. Excluding so many people from the process of deciding to file for bankruptcy, including the vast majority of the board of directors, the chief financial officer, and the general counsel, is nothing less than shocking," the Northern District of Texas judge wrote.

Bankruptcy judges tend not to take a lot of bullshit. I'm pretty sure Judge Hale not only found the NRA's petition baldly disingenuous, but he probably also believed that the NRA chose to file in his court because Wayne LaPierre thought a court in Texas might have some sympathy for the gun-rights organization. Maybe Hale does; but that clearly didn't translate into sympathy for LaPierre.

Pass the popcorn.

Flyover territory

The four-year, $40m Navy Pier flyover finally opened this week after 7 years and $64m:

The $64 million flyover, started in 2014, was originally planned for a ribbon-cutting in 2018 but it was repeatedly delayed. The 1,750-foot-long, 16-foot-wide steel and concrete flyover goes from Ohio Street Beach to the south side of the Chicago River.

City officials have blamed prior delays both on issues with the Lake Shore Drive bridge and a delay in getting funding from the state during the budget crisis under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

With the substantial completion of the Flyover, built to keep pedestrians and bicyclists from being in conflict with auto traffic, the Lakefront Trail now runs, uninterrupted, from Hollywood Avenue to 71st Street, according to the city.

Block Club Chicago has photos.

The biggest budget increase came when engineers discovered that the original plan to tunnel through the southeast Lake Shore Drive bridge tower would have cut a load-bearing column. But like so much in Chicago, the biggest delay came from our incompetent and ideologically-blinkered former governor refusing to fund the state government for two years.

But hey, it's open now, so bikes and runners no longer take their lives into their hands crossing the off-ramp from Lake Shore Drive to Grand Avenue.

Beyond farcical in Arizona

A supporter of the XPOTUS has organized, with the help of the Arizona State Senate, a private hand-recount of Maricopa County's ballots. Apparently they're looking for bamboo fibers? Yeah, it's just as crazy as it sounds:

On the floor of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Sir Charles Barkley once dunked basketballs and Hulk Hogan wrestled King Kong Bundy, 46 tables are arrayed in neat rows, each with a Lazy Susan in the middle.

Seated at the tables are several dozen people, mostly Republicans, who spend hours watching ballots spin by, photographing them or inspecting them closely. They are counting them and checking to see if there is any sign they were flown in surreptitiously from South Korea. A few weeks ago they were holding them up to ultraviolet lights, looking for a watermark rumored to be a sign of fraud.

The 2.1 million ballots were already counted by Maricopa County election officials in November, validated in a partial hand recount and certified by Gov. Doug Ducey. Two extra audits confirmed no issues. No evidence of fraud sufficient to invalidate Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona and Maricopa County has been found.

Still, counters are being paid $15 an hour to scrutinize each ballot, examining folds and taking close-up photos looking for machine-marked ballots and bamboo fibers in the paper. The reason appears to be to test a conspiracy theory that a plane from South Korea delivered counterfeit ballots to the Phoenix airport shortly after the election.

When the recount started, the ballots were viewed under ultraviolet light to check for watermarks. A theory popular with QAnon followers has it that Trump secretly watermarked mail ballots to catch cheating.

Meanwhile, our named adversary, Russia, continues to disrupt our economy with impunity because people don't know how to do security.

Belgium invades France

With France and the UK sending naval vessels to the Isle of Jersey last week, it's only fitting that Belgium got into the historical reenactment game:

Apparently frustrated by a 200-year-old stone border marker, a Belgian farmer dug it out and moved it about seven feet into French territory, local officials told French news media, thus slightly enlarging his own land as well as the entire country of Belgium.

The stone markers, each believed to weigh between 300 and 600 pounds, were laid when the 390-mile border between France and what is now Belgium was established under the 1820 Treaty of Kortrijk.

It is unclear whether the farmer knew the significance of the stone, which has 1819 carved into its face.

The farmer could face criminal charges if he does not return the Franco-Belgian border to the correct location.

I also found it fascinating that France has clubs who walk the Belgian border looking for exactly these kinds of things. I wonder how many other borders in the world have changed slightly due to adverse possession by people who don't know they're invading the other country?

All the news that fits

Spring has gone on spring break this week, so while I find the weather pleasant and enjoyable, it still feels like mid-March. That makes it more palatable to remain indoors for lunch and catch up on these stories:

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, Australia has proposed starting cyber-security training in Kindergartens.

Lunchtime reading

Travel in the US just got slightly easier now that the Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline to get REAL ID cards to May 2023. Illinois just started making them a year ago, but you have to go to a Secretary of State office in person to get one. Due to Covid-19, the lines at those facilities often stretch to the next facility a few kilometers away.

Reading that made me happier than reading most of the following:

And finally, Ravinia has announced its schedule for this summer, starting on June 4th.

On this day...

May 5th has some history, and not just about a relatively minor battle in Mexico that most Mexicans don't even remember.

For example, two hundred years ago today, Napoleon died and The Guardian was born. I never knew about that coincidence. TIL.

And this morning, Facebook's Oversight Board upheld the social-media company's ban on the XPOTUS, at least for the next six months.

Also TIL that my main programming language, C#, commands 7% of the Internet's mind-share, making it the 4th most-popular programming language. Python, at 30%, is the most popular, because its ease of use (and ease of writing the most godawful spaghetti code imaginable) makes it the preferred language of non-programmers.

I'm glad to see that one of my most-hated languages, Scala, continues its plummet, now even less popular than Visual Basic and and VBA, two languages that should have died during the GWB presidency.