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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

“I’ve seen enough. I don’t want to see any more” — Bruce Springsteen, “Cover Me”

When terrorists beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 and posted video of the killing online, I refused to look. I explained my reasoning in this space. To watch that video, I wrote, knowing it was staged specifically to fill me with revulsion and fear, would feel like cooperating with the monsters who killed him. It would make me an accomplice.

I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want that blood on my soul.

Not long after that column appeared, I did see Pearl die. The video of his killing showed up in my inbox, sent by a stranger. Before I even knew what was going on, a terrorist was on my computer screen holding up the head of this 38-year-old husband and expectant father.

And I learned a sobering truth about murder and media in the new millennium. Increasingly, the decision about what we will and will not see is not ours to make. Increasingly, we are at the mercy, not simply of murderous monsters, but also of our own friends, family and colleagues who act as their henchmen, forwarding, retweeting and reposting their grisly misdeeds as casually as neighbors in another age might have shared recipes over the back fence.

If there were ever any doubt about that, what happened last Wednesday morning on live local television in Roanoke, Virginia, just laid them to rest. It wasn’t just that former WDBJ news reporter Vester Lee Flanagan II shot and killed two former colleagues — news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward — as they interviewed local official Vicki Gardner, who was wounded but is expected to survive.

Wretched as it was, that kind of event is ordinary in America, the fabric of any given Wednesday. But Flanagan, who committed suicide as police closed in on him hours later, went well beyond the wretched ordinary. He filmed the murder with his cellphone, tweeted about it, posted the video on Facebook. For good measure, he faxed his manifesto to ABC News; it is said to be a 23-page rant in which Flanagan, who was black and gay, blames racism, homophobia, the Charleston massacre and micromanaging former bosses for sending him over the edge. He also expresses his dislike for whites, Latinos and blacks, and his admiration for the mass killers who shot up Columbine High and Virginia Tech.

In other words, he curated this murder, used tools of social media — and traditional media — to manage it like a PR campaign. In essence, he provided us his press kit. And while that bespeaks a deranged man’s incomprehensible narcissism, it also suggests a canny understanding of his target audience: us.

Indeed, within hours, the video of Flanagan’s atrocity was so ubiquitous online that Ella, one of my colleagues, posted that she was signing off for the day after being ambushed by it. She was, she wrote, just “being silly” with Facebook friends, and the next thing she knew, there was death, live on her screen. “I can’t stop crying. I wasn’t ready… What are we becoming?”

“The world,” wrote William Wordsworth, “is too much with us.” This was in 1806, 200 years before the first tweets and Facebook postings. Yet the poet’s words seem to capture something true about our time, when we live cheek by jowl online, connected to one another in ways he could never have imagined, and some people post murder porn like a new music video, as if it has never occurred to them that not everyone will not want to see this — or can bear to do so.

You’d think you’d have a right to make that decision for yourself. But these days, apparently, that’s no longer your call to make.

This, then, is Vester Flanagan’s perverse triumph. He has made witnesses of us all.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: WDBJ reporter Alison Parker (L) is pictured interviewing Vicki Gardner before a gun is fired at her in this still image from video posted to the Facebook account of Bryce Williams, in Moneta, Virginia, August 26, 2015. REUTERS/via Facebook/Handout via Reuters

A Week That Was Disastrous For Trump, Miraculous For Biden

Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he was elected president, according to a blockbuster report published by the New York Times on Sunday.

The Times report also found that Trump is millions of dollars in debt, incurred through a series of failed business ventures — a fact that runs counter to Trump's self-made image as a successful businessman. Trump has also used his financial failings to avoid paying taxes, the report found.

The president has resisted revealing his financial information since the start of his first presidential campaign, despite promising otherwise. "I would certainly show tax returns if it was necessary," Trump told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in 2015. Yet for five years, the president has failed to produce the documents.The president paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, and paid another $750 in 2017, according to the report. And in 2014, Trump paid zero dollars in taxes.

Conservatives including Trump often suggest that undocumented immigrants take advantages of government services without contributing their fair share. Throughout his first term, Trump has repeatedly cast blame on immigrants and suggested they post an economic burden to U.S. taxpayers.

"Our current immigration system costs America's taxpayers many billions of dollars a year," Trump claimed in 2017 during his first presidential address to Congress.

That claim does not hold up to scrutiny. In reality, undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes every year. In 1996, the Internal Revenue Service created a program for non-citizens who work in the U.S. to report their income. Non-citizens who do not have a Social Security Number — including undocumented immigrants — are able to file taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN. According to the IRS, 4.4 million people paid taxes using an ITIN in 2015, totaling $23.6 billion in tax revenue.

This raises the question: why would undocumented immigrants pay U.S. taxes if they are unauthorized to live in the country? Immigrants often choose to pay taxes in order to demonstrate "good moral character" when applying for legal residence or citizenship, according to the National Immigration Law Center. Undocumented immigrants who fail to pay their taxes risk deportation.

"Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, paid an estimated $328 billion in state, federal, and local taxes in 2014 alone," Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell Law School, told the American Independent Foundation. "It is outrageous that the average undocumented immigrant in the United States pays more in federal income taxes than the President did in 2016."

This contrast is especially ironic given Trump's tendency to deride unauthorized immigrants as irresponsible lawbreakers. Trump has a tendency to respond to criticism with projection — when accused, he accuses others of the same thing.

"Yes, undocumented immigrants are helping fund the very system that detain and deport us," journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is undocumented, tweeted in 2019.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.