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Tax Scams Make Sensational News But Media Fails To Mention Adjusting Withholding To Reduce/Eliminate Refund

March 13, 2015 Crime, Economy, Featured, Media, Taxes Comments Off on Tax Scams Make Sensational News But Media Fails To Mention Adjusting Withholding To Reduce/Eliminate Refund
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I’ve circled the three places on KMOV’s home page where “Tax Cheats” stories appeared

When we watch television (vs Netflix, etc) it’s usually CBS — KMOV 4.1 here — unfortunately their promos on tax scams/cheats seem nonstop. Wednesday morning I checked local news sources for similar reports. KMOV had 3 mentions on their homepage, the others didn’t — but many had stories from this month:

These stories are designed to frighten you into worrying about someone steeling your refund — you go to file and someone else has already filed a return for you — taking your refund.  Meanwhile, commercials for auto dealers talk about using your refund as a down payment — some will even double it.  So a $3,000 refund becomes a $6,000 down payment.

Many get excited by a big refund — the bigger the better. The ideal, however, is little or no refund. Why? If you get a huge refund it means you’ve lent the federal & state governments your money interest-free.  A $7800 refund means you could’ve had another $15 in your pocket every week — $65/month.  I know some people use their refund as a savings plan, if so, put that amount into a savings plan every pay period rather than letting Uncle Sam hold it. In savings it’ll earn interest and should an emergency arise  — like car trouble — you can access your money.

You want your withholding set so you get little to nothing back at tax time. You can use the IRS’s Withholding Calculator to determine how your W-4 should be completed.

If you get a big annual tax refund you are leaving yourself vulnerable to fraud.

— Steve Patterson

 

A Look At Property Damage On West Florissant

Following the late evening announcement on Monday November 24, 2014 of the grand jury’s decision to not indict former officer Darren Wilson, we saw destruction far worse than we had in August. After the QT was torched on the night of Sunday August 10th I began the process of photographing every building along W. Florissant starting at the railroad tracks in Jennings to Pershall Rd next to I-270.  I recently returned to photograph the recent damage, allowing me to show you before & after photos.

We’ll start on the south end and work our way north.

Ferguson:

9163 W. Florissant, just north of McDonald's, in August
9163 W. Florissant, just north of McDonald’s, in August. Click image to view map.
The front now
November 28th
The building was very deep
The building was very deep
Side-facing storefronts now
Side-facing storefronts now
HealSTL was located in the last space
HealSTL was located in the last space
And now
And now
Sam's Meat Market 9241 W Florissant
Sam’s Meat Market 9241 W Florissant on August 11th
August 16th
August 16th
November 28th
November 28th
Public Storage at 9291 W. Florissant in August
Public Storage office at 9291 W. Florissant in August
November 28th
November 28th

Dellwood:

Hunan Chop Suey at 9806 W. Florissant on August 18th
Hunan Chop Suey at 9806 W. Florissant on August 18th
November 28th
November 28th
Title Max at 9814 W Florissant in August
Title Max at 9814 W Florissant in August
November 28th
November 28th
The Fashion R Boutique at 9844 W. Florissant in August
The Fashion R Boutique at 9844 W. Florissant in August
November 28th
November 28th
O'Reily Auto Parts on August 19th
O’Reily Auto Parts on August 19th
November 28th
November 28th
The Autozone at 10am on August 11th, the morning after the QT was burned
The AutoZone at 10am on August 11th, the morning after the QT was burned. Windows were broken here.
The AutoZone at 9947 W. Florissant in Dellwood was one of many businesses burned following the grand jury decision.   Photo date: August 19, 2014
More than a week later, on August 19th, the broken windows are boarded.
The same AutoZone on Friday November 28th
The same AutoZone on Friday November 28th
Prime Beauty Supply at 1475 Chambers at W. Florissant
Prime Beauty Supply at 1475 Chambers at W. Florissant in August
On November 20th they had boarded their windows
On November 20th they had boarded their windows
A week later
A week later
AutoBuyCredit at 10250 W. Florissant in August
AutoBuyCredit at 10250 W. Florissant in August
Their car lot in August
Their car lot in August
A total of 16 cars were destroyed in November
A total of 16 cars were destroyed in November
I don't seem to have a good before of the Conoco station at 10280 W. Florissant, just north of the car lot.
I don’t seem to have a good before of the Conoco station at 10280 W. Florissant, just north of the car lot.

Much more damage in Dellwood. I doubt all will be rebuilt. The adjacent residential housing is nice, but it may not stay that way if the commercial district doesn’t come back.

— Steve Patterson

 

Experts & Public Question McCulloch’s Grand Jury Process

A week ago the world learned the grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.

It was a big Monday night for St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch. Stepping to the lectern, with the eyes of the country fixed firmly on Ferguson, McCulloch used his moment in the spotlight to deliver an odd, extended ramble before finally declaring that no charges would be filed against police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. As we think about the subsequent outrage, feast on images of the looting and fires, and pore over the damage assessments and arrest counts, it is worth taking a moment to talk about the road to this ruinous place and the ways in which McCulloch’s decisions exacerbated the problem. (The Independent Grand Jury That Wasn’t: The Ferguson prosecutor’s bizarre, self-justifying press conference revealed his own influence.)

Well, in some parts of the world it was already Tuesday, because it was nearly 8:30pm (CST) Monday night when Bob McCulloch finally said:

AFTER THEIR EXHAUSTIVE REVIEW, THE GRAND JURY DELIBERATED AND MADE THEIR FINAL DECISION. THEY DETERMINED THAT NO PROBABLE CAUSE EXISTS TO FILE ANY CHARGES AGAINST OFFICER WILSON AND RETURN A NO TRUE ON EACH OF THE FIVE INDICTMENTS.

It has been dark outside for hours at this point, it’s no wonder the night played out the way it did. This should’ve been scheduled for 8am, not 8pm.

McCulloch did this knowing that this protest movement, when enflamed, can take on a very different nocturnal character. In the turbulent days and nights of August, when Ferguson was placed forever on the map of the world’s struggles, police authorities came to distinguish between day protests, which were multi-generational and invariably peaceful, and night protests, which were younger and much more unpredictable. Further, McCulloch decided to deliver this inflammatory news at night when national intelligence about outside agitators’ plans to infiltrate Ferguson when the decision is announced was so harrowing it helped influence Gov. Jay Nixon to preemptively declare a State of Emergency and conduct a press conference where the Governor rattled his sabre like invading hordes were descending on Missouri. (The fire Bob McCulloch started

From a New York Times editorial:

The St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who in August shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, would have generated widespread anger and disappointment in any case. But the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who is widely viewed in the minority community as being in the pockets of the police, made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way. 

First, he refused to step aside in favor of a special prosecutor who could have been appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri. He further undermined public confidence by taking a highly unorthodox approach to the grand jury proceeding. Instead of conducting an investigation and then presenting the case and a recommendation of charges to the grand jury, his office shifted its job to the grand jury. It made no recommendation on whether to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but left it to the jurors to wade through masses of evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson for Mr. Brown’s killing. (The Meaning of the Ferguson Riots)

Aside from the poor timing of the decision, the months long process was a farce. At the beginning of November I said:

If McCulloch wanted an indictment he’d have handled the case differently, this has been an elaborate act to give the appearance of due diligence while guaranteeing no indictment. (McCulloch’s Process Guarantees No Indictment)

In the last week many in legal & law enforcement professions have combed through the thousands of pages of documents, including former prosecutor Nancy Grace:

Look, do you know how many times I have sided against a cop? Never. But to me, this is bigger than a badge. And I don’t like speaking out against a cop, but this doesn’t add up.

Here her reaction in the video below:

Direct link to above video on CNN here. Another quote from the above:

The grand jurors are like sheep, they’re babes in the woods. The prosecutor’s duty is to seek the truth. I am telling you that the prosecutors, if they want an indictment, they will get an indictment.

This is related to the 1985 comment by then chief judge of New York, Sol Wachtler, that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if he/she wants.  Ironically, a few years later the Republican judge was indicted, convicted and sentence to 15 months in prison, see The Judge Who Coined “Indict a Ham Sandwich” Was Himself Indicted. McCulloch didn’t want an indictment, he just wanted the appearance of justice.

Back to the grand jury…

On MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out how prosecutors gave the grand jury a copy of a 1979 Missouri law that was ruled unconstitutional nearly 30 years earlier, in 1985!

The assistant prosecutors misled the grand jury on the law. At the conclusion of the almost 22 minute segment Lawrence O’Donnell said:

With prosecutors like this, Darren Wilson never really needed a defense lawyer. 

The other part is Darren Wilson was allowed to testify for 4 hours without cross examination from the prosecutors.  Civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom:

So many missed opportunities for cross examination of Wilson. Should have been a grueling session, not the tea party the transcript shows. (see A prominent legal expert eviscerates the Darren Wilson prosecution, in 8 tweets)

A long-time personal friend, an attorney, posted the following on Facebook:

Being a lawyer, I thought I might post some analysis of the grand jury process in the Darren Wilson matter. My grave concern over the conduct of this matter is the prosecutor effectively tried to make it look like a “jury” trial was conducted, without actually bringing the charges against Wilson to cause this to occur. His attempts to demonstrate an exhaustive introduction of physical and witness offered evidence (of the type you typically don’t see at grand jury proceedings) as well as a seeming lack of partisanship only reinforce his attempt to short circuit the normal process and obtain a desired result in a politically sensitive matter. He clearly must have known what he was doing as a grand jury hearing and a jury trial bear little resemblance, despite the common name. A grand jury has no power to convict, only to recommend that a defendant stand trial (subject to due process protections). A regular “petit” jury trial is a constitutionally protected, complicated process that is designed to maximize the likelihood of a fair result, taking into account the challenges associated with individual citizens rendering the verdict. In a jury trial, a judge presides to ensure that the lawyers behave appropriately and to minimize the possibility that a jury is unfairly biased by evidence they are not competent to disregard or qualify (knowing that jurors are often swayed by emotion and subject to clouded reasoning); the judge uses a body of law called the “rules of evidence”, developed over centuries in order to minimize problems caused by the nature of the human participants in the process. A jury trial is inherently and intentionally a partisan battle (mediated by the judge) in which the prosecution and defense vigorously attempt to prove their case, allowing the jury to watch the sausage being made and inform their opinion; cross-examination of the other side’s witnesses is a crucial aspect of exposing lies, bias, ignorance, or other factors that might make that witnesses’ testimony unreliable. A jury trial is typical open to the victims, the families, the public and the press, the openness being crucial to avoiding corruption (or the appearance of corruption) as well as shining a light on the process in order to maximize its integrity. And, a jury trial is subject to appeal so that any errors made by the judge or the other parties in the conduct of the trial can be reviewed by other senior judges, outside of the realm of politics, and overturned if they posed the possibility of impermissibly biasing the verdict. The rules governing a jury trial are certainly not perfect in concept or execution but they have been put into place over generations in order to avoid precisely what happened at the “grand” jury trial of Darren Wilson, an informal procedure closed to the public, not mediated by a judge, not governed by the rules of evidence, not partisan in nature, containing no cross examination and the exposures that typically are made through that process, and not subject to appeal to a higher court. The prosecutor, in his current position for I think 23 years, clearly has to understand the failings of the highly unusual process he conducted but obviously tried to make it appear that Darren Wilson had been effectively tried and acquitted. While there is nothing illegal associated with the prosecutor’s actions as he is elected to oversee the grand jury and determinations if charges are to be brought, the underlying complaints of the protestors about the abuse of power of law enforcement and the distortions of the criminal justice system against minorities are only reinforced and made more manifest by the actions of this prosecutor, in my relatively well-informed opinion.

The problems started on August 9th, with the how the Ferguson Police handled the case:

From the reams of grand jury testimony and police evidence, here are some key points that, if this case had gone to trial, could have been highlighted by prosecutors (not including the witnesses who appeared to contradict Wilson’s testimony): 

  1. Wilson washed away blood evidence.
  2. The first officer to interview Wilson failed to take any notes.
  3. Investigators failed to measure the likely distance between Brown and Wilson.
  4. Investigators did not test Wilson’s gun for fingerprints.
  5. Wilson did not immediately turn his weapon over to investigators after killing Brown.
  6. An initial interview with investigators was delayed while Wilson traveled to the hospital with his superiors.
  7. Wilson’s initial interview with the detective conflicts with information given in later testimony.

Source: Ferguson Grand Jury Evidence Reveals Mistakes, Holes In Investigation

More from lawyer Sunny Hostin:

Justice hasn’t been done in the death of Michael Brown. A special prosecutor needs to be appointed to bring charges against Darren Wilson so we can see in a normal jury trial overseen by a judge if a jury will convict or acquit.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers: The US War On Drugs Is A Failure; Drug Policy Lecture/Panel Friday

October 8, 2014 Crime, Drug Policy, Events/Meetings, Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Readers: The US War On Drugs Is A Failure; Drug Policy Lecture/Panel Friday
Dr. Hart will be in St. Louis Friday
Dr. Hart will be in St. Louis Friday

In the poll last week readers overwhelmingly felt our ‘War on Drugs’ is a failure, here are the results:

Q: Currently, the US ‘War on Drugs’ is…

  1. a failure 98 [89.09%]
  2. neither a success or failure 9 [8.18%]
  3. Unsure/No Opinion 3 [2.73%]
  4. a success 0 [0%]

Why does this matter? Because police continue wasting resources raiding homes growing okra. Thankfully more and more people, like businessman Richard Branson, are calling for an end to this failed war.

Friday a leading researcher on drugs, Carl Hart Ph.D.,  will be in St. Louis. Dr. Hart will meet with leaders and activists in Ferguson and participate in two public events at Washington University. Having watched his Ted Talk a few times now, watched his congressional testimony, I look forward to seeing him in person. I’ve not read his book High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society.

Dr. Carl Hart Lecture: Demystifying the Science of Drug Addiction: Neuroscience, Self-discovery, Race, and U.S. Drug Policy

Date:  October 10, 2014 – 11:00am – 12:00pm
Location:  Anheuser-Busch Hall Moot Courtroom, Room 310

Join the Chancellor’s Graduate Fellows as we welcome Carl Hart, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, Columbia University and 2014 winner of the PEN/E O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

Dr. Carl Hart Keynote Group Discussion & Panel

Date:  October 10, 2014 – 2:00pm – 5:00pm
Location:  Umrath Lounge, Umrath Hall

Panel and Group Discussion, 2 to 3:30pm
Book Signing & Reception, 3:30 to 5pm

Panel Moderator:
Ken Freedland, Ph.D. – Panel Moderator
Professor of Psychiatry
Washington University

Panel Participants:

  • Carl Hart, Ph.D.Professor of Psychology & PsychiatryColumbia University
  • David Patterson, Ph.D.Assistant Professor of Social WorkWashington University
  • Rumi Price, Ph.D.Professor of PsychiatryWashington University
  • Juliette IacovinoPh.D. Candidate, PsychologyWashington University
  • Mario OrtegaPh.D. Candidate, NeurosciencesWashington University

Click here for a campus map.

I now agree with a majority of Americans that possession of all drugs should be decriminalized, see the study here. This was not easy for me, I came of age at the time First Lady Nancy Reagan was encouraging everyone to “just say no.” We’ve learned a lot in the last 30-40 years, we need to apply this knowledge to our policies.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

Readers: Body Cameras For Local Police Worth The Expense

October 2, 2014 Crime, Politics/Policy 2 Comments

In the poll last week readers overwhelmingly indicated they believe body cameras for local police are worth the expense, here are the results:

Q: Are body cameras for local police worth the expense?

  1. Yes 67 [72.83%]
  2. Maybe 13 [14.13%]
  3. No 9 [9.78%]
  4. Unsure/No Opinion 3 [3.26%]

With so many jurisdictions and police departments we’ll likely see a patchwork. One August 20th now suburb voted to equip their officers with cameras:

The Ellisville City Council unanimously approved Wednesday night buying body cameras for each of the city’s 24 officers at a cost of $7,500.

Police Chief Tom Felgate said he thought of making the proposal a year ago. “It’s for the protection of the officers,” said Felgate, who also said the body cameras will likely reduce complaints from violators. (stltoday)

Last month the issue was debated within City Hall:

The cost to outfit the city’s police force with body cameras will come with a price tag of $1.2 million — and that’s just the start.

Richard Gray, the city’s public safety director, told an aldermanic committee on Tuesday morning that the department would need an additional $500,000 to cover labor and maintenance costs, plus an increase in the department’s annual budget of about $800,000 to $900,000 for replacement and maintenance costs. (stltoday)

The police union is speaking up:

The police union said it must agree to any policy covering body cameras before a policy is adopted.

“They can’t employ this equipment without violating the union contract they signed,” said Jeff Roorda with the St. Louis Police Officers Association.

Union representatives told News 4 police and the union must forge an agreement on what the recordings will be used for before any decision is made on whether to use body cameras. (KMOV)

Over the weekend a Ferguson officer was shot in the arm, but the camera wasn’t turned on. Other departments have a way to deal with this:

There’s also an important feature called the pre-event video buffer.

The camera, always on, records half-minute clips. If nothing happens, the piece is erased and the camera starts over. But if an officer spots something and hits the record button, the previous 30 seconds is preserved at the beginning of the recording. (San Francisco Gate)

I’ve not seen any mention of this 30 second buffer in local news reporters.

Further reading:

Hopefully we’ll see more use of body cameras and a reduction of force, citizen complaints.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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