IRS tells taxpayers to hold off




On Feb. 3, 2023, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) told taxpayers who received special tax payments or refunds in 2022 from the state in which they reside to wait on filing their federal taxes until additional guidance was provided.

In 2022, over 20 states provided a one-time state refund to deliver relief related to the pandemic and its associated consequences. The 2023 tax season started on Jan. 23; however, the IRS had not defined if the state refunds should be considered taxable income on federal tax returns.

The recommendation applies mainly to states like California, which offered a Middle-Class Tax Refund that aided over 31 million taxpayers and their dependents. Other states that sent rebates to taxpayers after they stated having budget surpluses were also advised to hold off on filing taxes.

Each state that offered its constituents a relief refund had different rules and regulations for that process which made it harder to determine what is taxable on the federal level.

There is ample reason to believe many of these payments are not taxable for federal income tax purposes. If the taxpayer received a tax benefit in an earlier year or received aid under general welfare, then that refund is not taxable. Other refunds given by the states are normally includable in income for federal income tax purposes. This includes any disbursements from states provided as compensation to workers.

According to the statement put out by the IRS on Feb. 10–regarding guidance on state tax payments to help taxpayers, in the interest of sound tax administration and other factors–taxpayers in many states won’t need to report these special tax payments on their 2022 federal tax returns.

Out of the states that provided relief, Michigan was not among them in 2022. “This is not an issue for Michigan taxpayers,” said Tina Rolling, an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Alma College.

The IRS determined that a refund from the state for the promotion of the general welfare or as a disaster relief payment may be excludable from income for federal tax purposes under the General Welfare Doctrine or as a Qualified Disaster Relief Payment. For example, a refund related to the outgoing pandemic would not be federally taxed.

Although the IRS’s statement to hold off on filing taxes does not affect Michigan taxpayers, tax season is underway. Here is some general information to aid in the process of filing taxes:

The IRS is responsible for determining what income is taxable or not taxable. Taxes provide proceeds for federal, local and state governments to fund vital services like law enforcement and public works that benefit all citizens who could not provide such services for themselves.

Those who need to file taxes but choose not to, are likely to receive consequences from the IRS. Those consequences include penalties, fines, interest or more severe measures. Those who fail to file taxes on time are likely to encounter a Failure to File Penalty. The penalty for failing to file is 5% of the unpaid tax liability for each month the return is late, and up to 25% of total unpaid taxes.

There is no penalty for failing to file taxes if a refund is due; however, there is a possibility of losing that refund. There is a limited time period to claim a refund.

Deadliest earthquake occurs in Turkey and Syria in over 20 years




On Feb. 6, a seven-point- eight magnitude earthquake has left at least 35,000 people dead. The epicenter of the earthquakeoccurred near the Turkey-Syrian border and the unusually high six-point-seven, seven-point-five and six-point-zero magnitudeaftershocks occurred just hours after the initial quake, further increasing the death toll.

On the Richter Scale, a measurement of the strength of earthquakes, a seven-point- eight magnitude earthquake is considered to be major, causing damages to most buildings, as well as obviously being a threat to the people in the area.

The earthquake occurred along the East Anatolian Fault, similar to the San Andreas fault in California in that it is a “strike-slip or transform fault,” meaning that “two plates  past each other,” said Professor Borrello, Chair of Environmental Studies at Alma College.

For the East Anatolian Fault, earthquakes of this magnitude are fairly rare. Since 1970, there have only been three earthquakes with a magnitude of six or more.

In a strike-slip fault, “solid rocks are pushing up against each other across a vertical fault line, building stress until one finally slips in a horizontal motion, releasing a tremendous amount of strain that can trigger an earthquake,” said Gloria Dickie of Reuters.

Furthermore, this earthquake, which was only made worse by the fact that the rupture occurred close to the surface, proved to be that much more deadly because of lax building codes.

“Turkey’s construction codes meet current earthquake-engineering standards, at least on paper, but they are too rarely enforced, explaining why thousands of buildings toppled over or pancaked down onto the people inside,” said NPR.

Additionally, “Turkish justice officials targeted more than 130 people allegedly involved in shoddy and illegal construction methods,” said NPR.

“Skirting building codes for profit [(to save money)] is a common act. In Florida a few years ago, there was a luxury apartment building that collapsed due to this. Also, when California had the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1994 Northridge quake, it was discovered that some structures buckled that shouldn’t have,” said Borrello.

While rescue efforts continue in Turkey and Syria, in other cases, these efforts can be prevented by the effects of climate change, further exacerbating the damages felt by devastating natural disasters.

For example, “In early August, 2022, China experienced a devastating earthquake at about the same time a climate-related series of storms [and] flooding was happening. This prevented rescue efforts and no doubt led to more deaths and displacement,” said Borrello.

Furthermore, “[W]ildfires that have been burning our Western U.S. are climate related. The intensity and devastation exceed what would be predicted without climate change,” said Borrello.

“Even earthquakes and volcanoes, which are supposed to be caused by internal forces isolated from climate effects, are impacted by climate change when rescue operations are hindered by climate-related events,” said Borrello.

With Syria already being a war-torn country, when one considers the effects of climate change, the skirting of building codes and unprecedented earthquakes, these terrible situations are only made that much worse.

Classified documents found in the home of former Vice President



On Jan. 16, former Vice President Mike Pence requested a group of lawyers to investigate his private residence in Indiana after classified documents were found in the Delaware home of President Joe Biden. Pence’s lawyers indeed found documents in the former Vice President’s safe that contained sensitive or classified information.

Mike Pence’s counsel, Greg Jacob, took the necessary steps to notify the National Archives of Pence’s possession of the documents. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Justice requested immediate access to the documents, to which Mike Pence agreed.

“The discovery of classified documents in the homes [and] private offices of Mike Pence and Joe Biden reflect both a lack ofappropriate care and attention to the handling of classified material and the significant problem of over-classifying materials,” said Derick Hulme, Arthur L. Russell Professor of Political Science and Nationally Competitive Scholarship Advisor at Alma College.

“Mike Pence and Joe Biden had the highest levels of security clearance, which enabled them to see the most sensitive materials. However, it’s always important that only those individuals with appropriate security clearances have access to particularly important documents,” said Hulme.

Dr. Hulme has been a vital part of Alma College since his career at the institution began in 1992. He serves as an expert in the school’s Model UN program and international law, along with an array of issues within the political science, foreign affairs and law spectrum.

“The Presidential Records Act (PRA), a response to President Nixon’s attempted destruction of presidential materials, is vital to efforts to sustain a democratic, transparent and responsive government. The PRA enshrined the concept that all materials generated during a presidential administration in fact were owned by the American people, not by elected officials,” said Hulme.

“The discovery of classified documents in homes, especially the homes of current non active figures, presents a significant national security risk.,” said Adam Deeter (’25). “While current President Biden is cleared to view documents of top secret and classified nature it is bad practice to allow documents to leave secure areas. These are documents with enormous national security implications and if they were to fall into the hands of enemies of the state our entire country would be put in grave danger.”

“In regard to the Mike Pence situation, it is simply inexcusable. To allow a non- active governmental figure what is essentially unauthorized access to top secret documents concerning the safety of our nation puts the citizens in what can potentially be [a dangerous situation],” said Deeter.

On Jan. 19, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collected the documents from Pence’s home. Since then, the four boxes containing the documents in question were reviewed by Pence’s attorney and are in the process of being sealed and delivered to the National Archives in Washington, DC.

American Teacher Act first step towards fair pay



On Dec. 14, 2022, a new act was introduced in the United States Congress by Representative Frederica Wilson, a Democrat from Florida. 

The American Teacher Act, which was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor, promotes the increase of wages for American teachers. The legislation was also drafted by the nonprofit organization, Teacher Salary Project, which strives to assist teachers in becoming financially viable. 

This act is a response to the current nationwide teacher shortage and decreasing morale of educators. If passed, the American Teacher Act could lead to an income of $60,000 a year. This is about a $20,000 increase from what public school educators are typically paid. 

“Having a minimum wage of $60,000 is just the beginning of paying teachers what they are worth. Teachers are critical to our nation’s future,” said Dr. Peggy Yates who serves as an Assistant Professor and Director of Special Education Teacher Preparation at Alma College. 

Dr. Yates has 25 years of teaching experience and acts as Vice President of the Alma Public School Board of Education. 

“Raising the base pay is a step in the right direction, but so much more can be done to promote the importance of the profession across the nation,” said Yates.

“Of course, doing something about the teacher shortage in our country is critical right now, and the American Teacher Act is an important step in creating a better future for teachers and students alike,” said Katie Rooney, an Alma College alumna who graduated in 2022. 

“Ultimately, I think the passing of the American Teacher Act would be a humongous leap forward in treating teachers like the invaluable humans they are,” said Rooney. Rooney also recently began her career as an elementary school teacher. 

“Education is power, and teachers place that into the hands of our country’s future citizens – parents, politicians, influencers, innovators, etc… We should be paying teachers a comfortable living wage at the very least, and there is no reason teachers should have another stressor on our already overfilling plates,” said Rooney. 

“As a second-year teacher, I make around $41,500 per year. I am constantly being told I am lucky to even make this much, while at the same time, I struggle to make ends meet and pay my bills,” said Jessica Headlee, a 2020 Alma College alum. 

“This is a huge reason why I have two other jobs on top of my job as a teacher. I face disparaging burnout, financial struggles, loss of family time and lack of sleep every day because my career simply does not pay teachers what we are worth,” said Headlee.

“ There is a huge disparity here as you can see. It is clear that teachers are not valued as professionals since we are hardly paid as such.” 

“Another benefit I hope for is that, if the American Teacher Act passes, hopefully, we will draw more qualified candidates into the field of teaching,” said Headlee. “I am aware of multiple teaching positions that have had to be filled by long-term substitute teachers. Is this really what is best for our students?”

“I think if this act were to pass, it would definitely shine [a] light on the profession and encourage people in America, especially college students, to consider going into teaching,” said Raegan Stambaugh (’23), an Alma College student in the process of her first semester as a student teacher.

“This bill would help to send a message and prove that teachers are a valued part of society,” said Stambaugh.

One thing many hope to see is how much further the income can be raised. “$60,000 will not go very far in bigger cities such as New York or San Francisco. It would be nice if they could even set the salary even higher,” said Stambaugh.

Whichever trajectory this new act will take, the surrounding conversation is certainly a step in the right direction.

McCarthy elected Speaker of the House



Following a historic 15 rounds of voting and negotiations with other members of his party, California Republican Kevin McCarthy secured the position of speaker of the United States House of Representatives over New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries. 

In the first round of voting, 19 House Republicans cast their vote for Republicans other than McCarthy. In the second round of voting, the same 19 Republicans opposed McCarthy, voting instead for Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio. 

While Jordan, a founding member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, worked to convince the 19 voters to support McCarthy instead, on the third round of voting, the same 19 voters and one additional Republican voted for Jordan. 

In the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds of voting, the same 20 Republicans voted for Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, with one additional member voting “present.” 

In the seventh through 11th rounds of voting, 20 Republicans withheld their support for McCarthy, and one voted “present.” Colorado Representative Ken Buck did not vote in rounds nine through 11. 

By the 14th round, all but six of the 21 Republican voters, who had initially opposed McCarthy or voted “present” had changed their votes. 

In the 15th round, the final six Republicans voted “present,” lowering the number of votes necessary for McCarthy to win.

Benjamin Peterson, Lecturer of Political Science and History watched televised coverage of the process. “As a political spectacle it was really quite amazing,” said Peterson. “I spent more time watching C-SPAN that week than ever before.” 

“The freedom that news reporters had to film whatever they wanted during the debate really highlighted the drama because you could see negotiations taking place in real time,” said Peterson. 

“. . . When McCarthy convinced Gaetz to change his vote to ‘present’ — and thus allow his nomination to move forward by changing the number of people voting for a candidate — was really one of the most striking things I have ever seen,” said Peterson. “It really brought home that these were real people in an extremely fluid and stressful situation.”

“. . . The balance of power and lack of bipartisanship in Washington ensures that . . . only the minimum will get done in Congress until 2024 anyway. I suspect if the Republicans had a chance of passing major legislation this session, they would have been a lot more willing to compromise,” said Peterson. 

“The anti-McCarthy faction made a calculation of risks and rewards and weakening McCarthy to gain more leverage ended up making good sense as their agenda will stall in the Senate anyway,” said Peterson. 

Like Peterson, Political Science major, Ryan Claypool (’23) kept up with the election process.

“As a political science student and political consultant, I regularly keep up with our government institutions and its processes,” said Claypool. “My first political volunteer work was with John James (MI-10) who gave a passionate nominating speech on McCarthy’s behalf for the seventh ballot.” 

“The small bloc of ultraconservative members has discredited the beginning works of a GOP legislative agenda which will leave them with less pull in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate in conference committees or the White House,” said Claypool.

Republicans divided as Trump announces 2024 presidential run



On November 15, former president Donald Trump announced from the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida that he would be running for president in the 2024 election. 

The announcement came just weeks after the 2022 midterm elections, in which many candidates endorsed by the former president lost. Democrats retained control of the Senate. 

“America’s comeback starts right now,” said Trump during his announcement speech. “Your country is being destroyed before your eyes.” 

As he made his campaign announcement, Trump was joined at his Florida home by members of his family as well as some of his most prominent supporters: political operative Roger Stone, former California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. 

One notable exception from this group was the former president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who later announced her plans to step away from politics. 

“I do not plan to be involved in politics,” said Ivanka Trump in a statement following Trump’s campaign announcement. “While I will always love and support my father, going forward I will do so outside the political arena.” 

Some notable Republicans like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney have voiced their opposition, while others such as South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds have yet to say if they plan to back the former president. Many wonder just how much support Trump has lost from other members of the party. 

During his announcement, Trump went on to assure his audience that, if elected in the 2024 election, he would repeal President Joe Biden’s initiatives regarding immigration and climate change. 

As a political science major, Adam Short (’24) has made it a priority to keep up with the news of Trump’s campaign announcement. 

“It came as no surprise to me that Trump would be running for president again in 2024. I knew shortly after his loss in 2020 that he would likely run again, especially when his supporters encouraged it so much,” said Short. 

Short personally opposes the idea of another Trump presidency. “From my own personal standpoint, I am afraid of the changes that would be made under another four years of President Trump,” said Short. 

Despite Short’s own opinion about Trump, through his education at Alma College, he feels like he can better understand opposing views. 

“Republican leadership is notorious for stripping away the laws that protect me, however, my experiences as a political science major ha ve also changed many of my opinions as well,” said Short. 

“There was a time when I would have felt much more angry at Trump’s rerunning for president,” said Short. “I have gained a deeper understanding for why others do see themselves represented in Trump and why it is important to our democracy for a fair presidential election to ensue.”

Short is not sure if Trump will have a chance at winning the election in 2024, but he is curious to see what the upcoming election might do to the Republican party as a whole.

“It is hard to say whether or not Trump will be reelected in 2024 . . . I am highly interested in how Trump will fare against other non-MAGA Republicans. Ron Desantis, the governor of Florida . . . has a strong foundation for his own presidential campaign,” said Short. “To my knowledge, he has not yet announced he will be running in 2024, however Desantis and other non-MAGA Republicans have an uphill battle against Trump and MAGA.”

“It is curious to see the slowly increasing divide between Republicans and MAGA Republicans. Trump only increases this divide when denouncing Republicans, even his own previous Vice President, when they do not support him,” said Short. “He may be hurting his future campaign by attacking members of his own party.”

Club Q shooting in Colorado




Approximately ten minutes before Midnight on Nov. 19, 2022, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich allegedly opened fire inside Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, CO. At 11:56 PM, the Colorado Springs Police received a 911 call, and within six minutes, Aldrich had been subdued and taken into custody. 

Richard M. Fierro, a retired Army Major, worked with Thomas James to restrain the gunman shortly after the second round of shots could be heard within the club. Before police arrived at the scene, five people were killed and 17 were injured. Of the 17 injured, seven were hospitalized and have since been released from medical care. 

The five victims consisted of two bartenders and three club attendees – Ashley Paugh, Kelly Loving and Raymond Green Vance. Vance was the boyfriend of Fierro’s daughter who was at Club Q to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Daniel Davis Aston and Derrick Rump were bartenders working the night of the shooting. 

In the wake of this tragedy, many people online are comparing this event to the Pulse Nightclub shooting that occurred in 2016 in Orlando FL. Club Q, like Pulse, was a center for queer community in Colorado Springs. The community is currently handling the loss of these five people as well as an important space that provided safety and belonging for LGBTQ+ people. 

“Mass shootings like this show that it is okay to shoot people because you don’t like them,” said Emma Adams (25’), DEI Chair for Phi Sigma Sigma. “I think most queer folk always have a sense of fear that they will not be accepted or that they will fall victim to hate crimes just for being who they are. Events like this just increase that fear,” said Adams. 

“Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and laws embolden hateful people to do hateful things,” said Kia Blysniuk (24’), Diversity and Inclusion Chair for Kappa Iota. Many connections are being drawn between hate crimes like these and the rise of anti-queer rhetoric across the United States. “I believe this sort of thing sets a precedent for similarly hateful people to do similar things.” said Blysniuk.

“I heard about it the way I think most people hear news these days, through social media. I think in this specific instance it was an out of context TikTok I looked further into,” said Blysniuk.

Many folks learned of the shooting through social media and through TikTok, then researched news articles from there. 

“I first heard about the shooting at Club Q immediately after worship that Sunday morning. I saw it on social media and immediately looked up news articles to see what was happening,” said Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy, Associate Protestant Chaplain at Alma College. 

“Violence in our country has become too frequent and that violence affects BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities the most,” said Rev. Pekich-Bundy. Learning about this shooting was heartbreaking for many, but violence against queer folks and people of color has so heavily normalized that people are not shocked to hear of hate crimes like this. “I was saddened, angry, and upset by the shooting, but unfortunately not surprised because these acts of senseless violence happen too often,” said Rev. Pekich-Bundy.

“I will say I am infuriated that there are still so many mass shootings in the United States and that the number keeps going up,” said Adams. Queer folks across the country have been affected by news of this shooting, many dealing with the burden of handling news of another shooting. 

“The way that this sort of thing has become the norm, media barely even covers shootings anymore. Real action has to be taken,” said Blysniuk.

The fight against climate change – activism or acts of aggression?


Just over a month ago on Oct.14, two members of the climate activist group Just Stop Oil threw two cans of tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s painting “Sunflowers” in the National Gallery in London.

Before the two activists were arrested for their actions, they were seen gluing their hands to the wall below the statue and giving a thought-provoking speech.

“What is worth more, art or life?” said Phoebe Plummer, one of the activists. “Is it worth more than food, more than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?

“The cost-of-living crisis is part of the cost-of-oil crisis,” said Plummer. “Fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”

While stunts such as these may seem radical and impulsive, their actions were very much thought out and planned, all in the hopes of generating headlines – the painting was not even damaged.

Beforehand, the activists had “checked in advance that the work was glazed, so the soupy splattering would cause no damage and could simply be wiped away,” said Alex Marshall of the New York Times.

While this was probably one of Just Stop Oil’s most visible and memorable acts to help start conversations surrounding climate change, this is not the first time they have pulled a stunt like this. In fact, actions such as these have been going on for months.

Just Stop Oil, a group that “seeks to stop oil and gas extraction in Britain,” said Marshall, has had their glued hands under famous works of art as far back as July.

They have also been seen putting up posters of a desolate landscape over John Constable’s “The Hay Wain,” as well as spray painting ‘No new oil’ beneath Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

The whole goal of Just Stop Oil is to bring attention to the very serious issue of climate change. No one can deny that what they are doing is ineffective in getting people to talk about climate issues, especially when the speeches that accompany their actions have powerful messages.

However, the conversations that are generated from their stunts may not always be the kind that the activists are going for.

Oftentimes, people are less likely to listen to another side of an argument when they perceive the other side as being radical, or at least out of the ordinary.

Actions such as Just Stop Oil’s may further polarize people on an already very polarizing topic by associating everyone who believes in climate change as wanting to deface famous works of art.

And while this is not the case, climate change deniers would look at the side that is throwing soup at works of art and probably think that they would not want to associate with people who are willing to do such things.

However, the issue is not so cut and dry. When it comes to climate change, it is easy for governments and organizations to ignore and silence the voice of the people and continue on practicing what they have always done instead of changing their actions for the environment.

While many people may be quick to dismiss such actions as Just Stop Oil’s, there are a lot worse things they could do than throw soup on a painting that can be simply wiped away.

When it comes to issues as serious as climate change, radical actions may be the only way to make people listen. It is a fine line, but it is one we must walk in order to effectively communicate what we want our earth to look like in the future.

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