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Sunnyside graduate relished role on cheer team as she coped with anxiety, depression
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You would never guess that anything could be going wrong in Karicia Villafan’s life. Throughout high school, she dedicated her Fridays to cheering at football games, her Saturdays to helping at Special Olympics bowling, and her weekday afternoons to making signs for pep club. She served as a student leader and led by example. Her genuine and kind nature made her approachable to peers and the younger girls who she mentored on the cheer team.

The last thing you might suspect is that Villafan has anxiety and depression.

“You would just never think that she’s going through anything because she’s such a positive and peppy personality,” said Alejandra Ramos, cheer coach at Sunnyside High School. “For someone who’s dealing with those challenges, you just don’t see it in her every day.”

Villafan began suffering from anxiety during her sophomore year at Sunnyside. She was once walking around at a football game while looking at the hundreds of people around her and became extremely nervous.

“Sophomore year I really didn’t know what was going on,” Villafan said. “(I would ask myself) ‘What is this feeling?’ I just never knew what it was.”

During sophomore and junior year, Villafan experienced several panic attacks at school during lunch. She turned to her cheer coach for support since Ramos worked in the counseling center at Sunnyside High School. Ramos suggested that it might be anxiety and referred Villafan to the mental health counselor at school.

“It clicked in my head that maybe it’s social anxiety,” Villafan said. “But I’m super social and I love talking to people and I love meeting new people, so I didn’t know what was going on.”

At that same time, Villafan was working to establish her role on the cheer team. Freshman year, Villafan found herself on the sidelines at games and assemblies watching the rest of the team cheer. She had not memorized enough cheers and routines to perform yet.

“When I came in my freshman year, I was so shy,” she said. “Every time I talked, I would turn bright red. Now, I’m super proud of getting myself out there and becoming a super spirited person and people person.”

Villafan fought through her shyness and decided to make it a goal her sophomore year to perform with the cheer team. By senior year, she became a co-captain on the team and also served as business manager for the associated student body. She also made the cut for the winter cheer competition three years in a row.

“She is not a quitter. She worked super hard and would come to practices even when she wasn’t cheering yet,” Ramos said. “She shows up. You can count on Karicia, always.”

Mental health journey

Villafan wants to share about her mental health journey to help others.

She researched the symptoms she was experiencing and continued to meet with the counselor on campus. She developed tools to use when she felt like she was about to have a panic attack, like using fidget toys or establishing things to focus on.

“I think she knows and trusts the process,” said Ramos. “Sometimes the hardest part is getting a student to open up and really be able to figure out what’s causing the mental illness they’re struggling with. For (Villafan), I think she trusted the process and maybe she trusted me. That helped her at least be able to take that first step and say, ‘I need help.’ ”

Villafan experienced a decline in her mental health during the pandemic in her senior year and witnessed her peers experience similar feelings of anxiety. By then, Villafan knew she could find support from her parents, friends, cheer coach, associated student body adviser and mental health counselor.

“This year being stuck at home and doing Zoom classes online was super mentally draining,” she said. “I had a lot of depressive episodes and panic attacks. You would think that online school is so much easier, but it’s so much harder (to find the motivation) to go to class.”

Villafan continued with all her activities this past year while devoting the most time to cheer. This spring, she attended three games each week with football and basketball back-to-back due to delayed sports seasons. But even though she could juggle it all, Villafan knew it was time to ask for help again.

“One of the things that makes me feel good is that I believe she will now advocate for herself, and she recognizes the signs of, ‘Now I need help,’ ” said Ramos.

Villafan’s grandmother was an important figure in her life. Her grandmother was a source of support and helped her through some of her panic attacks. Villafan plans to pursue a career as a dental hygienist because of her grandmother’s encouragement.

“I remember my mom telling me that my grandma always thought I was going to be a dentist,” Villafan said. “She passed away my sophomore year and ever since then I felt like I had to pursue it, not just for her, but it sparked an interest when my mom told me that.”

She has been inspired by dentistry since she was growing up and used to play pretend dentist with her younger brother. Villafan plans to attend a local college in the fall.

She has a dream to help those experiencing homelessness as well. After noticing many people living outside her local Walmart, Villafan decided she wants to make a difference in their lives.

“I know it’s hard for people who are homeless to find a job because they need an address, so I want to give them an address,” she said. “You never know what anybody is going through, even if they are just in need of some stability.”

Harris tells Latin Americans the US can offer them hope

MEXICO CITY — Vice President Kamala Harris sought to assure poor and threatened populations of Latin America on Tuesday that the United States has “the capacity to give people a sense of hope” in the region so they can make better lives without fleeing to the U.S. border.

Harris closed her first foreign trip as vice president unapologetic for her decision not to visit the U.S.-Mexico border as part of her mission to address migration to the United States.

“If you want to address the needs of a people, you must meet those people, you must spend time with those people, because the only way you can actually fix the problem is to understand the problem,” she told a news conference before the flight to Washington.

Earlier she brushed off questions about her decision not to go to the border as part of her work to address the spike in migration, saying that while it was “legitimate” to be concerned about the situation there, it wouldn’t be addressed with a simple visit.

“It must be priority for us to understand why people leave,” she told the news conference. “I cannot say it enough. Most people don’t want to leave home.”

Harris engaged in two days of diplomacy in Guatemala and Mexico as part of the Biden administration’s effort to stem the flow of people into the U.S. She met with Guatemala’s and Mexico’s presidents to discuss economic investments and increased enforcement against trafficking, smuggling and corruption.

The increase in migration at the border has become one of the major challenges confronting Biden in the early months of his first term, with Republicans seizing on an issue they see as politically advantageous. Polls suggest Americans are less favorable toward Biden’s approach to immigration than they are toward his policies on the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’ve tried to make Harris the face of that immigration policy, charging she and Biden are ignoring the issue because both have yet to visit the southern border. Harris told reporters she was focused on “tangible” results “as opposed to grand gestures.”

Harris and her aides have sought to make clear that her mission was narrowly focused on finding diplomatic solutions to the problem at the border.

Without being asked to judge the result, she told the news conference: “Do I declare this trip a success? Yes I do. It is a success in terms of the pathway that is about progress. We have been successful in making progress.”

After her meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the administration announced a range of agreements brokered between the two governments, including a $130 million commitment over the next three years from the U.S. to support labor reforms in Mexico and loans to bolster southern Mexico’s economy.

The administration said the meeting produced an agreement to have an economic dialogue in September on trade, telecommunications and supply chains. And the two countries will also partner on human trafficking and economic programs addressing why people leave El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for the U.S.

Harris told López Obrador at the start of their meeting that the two nations are “embarking on a new era” and emphasized the longstanding “interdependence and interconnection” of the two nations.

Harris also met female entrepreneurs and held a roundtable with labor leaders in Mexico before heading back to Washington.

Her brief foray brought her first to Guatemala on Monday. While in Guatemala, she met President Alejandro Giammattei. To coincide with their meeting, the Biden administration announced a number of new commitments to combat trafficking, smuggling and corruption, as well as investments in economic development in the country.

But some Democrats criticized the vice president Monday when she delivered a direct message to those considering leaving their homes and making the often dangerous trek to the U.S. border: “Do not come.”

Her comments echoed those made by past U.S. officials as they’ve tried to dissuade migrants from seeking to cross the border, as the U.S. faces unprecedented numbers of attempted border crossings. Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York called her comments “disappointing” and noted that it is legal to seek asylum.

Harris declined to respond directly to the criticism when reporters asked, saying only: “I’m really clear: We have to deal with the root causes and that is my hope. Period.”

But the criticism from both Republicans and Democrats underscored the politically fraught nature of the assignment, and the difficulty Harris faces in finding success with an intractable challenge that’s only grown in recent months.

Illegal border crossings have increased steadily since April 2020, after Trump introduced pandemic-related powers to deny migrants the opportunity to seek asylum, but further accelerated under Biden. The new president quickly scrapped many of Trump’s hardline border policies — most notably the program that made asylum-seekers wait in Mexico, often in dangerous conditions, for court dates in U.S. immigration court.

U.S. border authorities encountered nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children in March, the highest on record. Overall, more than 170,000 encounters were reported on the border in April, the highest level in more than 20 years.

The numbers aren’t directly comparable because getting stopped under pandemic-related authorities carries no legal consequences, resulting in many repeat crossings.

ProPublica: Many of the uber-rich pay next to no income tax

WASHINGTON — The rich really are different from you and me: They’re better at dodging the tax collector.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011. Tesla founder Elon Musk’s income tax bill was zero in 2018. And financier George Soros went three straight years without paying federal income tax, according to a report Tuesday from the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

Overall, the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax — an average of 15.8% of adjusted gross income — than many ordinary workers do, once you include taxes for Social Security and Medicare, ProPublica found. Its findings are likely to heighten a national debate over the vast and widening inequality between the very wealthiest Americans and everyone else.

An anonymous source delivered to ProPublica reams of Internal Revenue Service data on the country’s wealthiest people, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. ProPublica compared the tax data it received with information available from other sources. It reported that “in every instance we were able to check — involving tax filings by more than 50 separate people — the details provided to ProPublica matched the information from other sources.’’

Using perfectly legal tax strategies, many of the uber-rich are able to shrink their federal tax bills to nothing or close to it.

A spokesman for Soros, who has supported higher taxes on the rich, told ProPublica that the billionaire had lost money on his investments from 2016 to 2018 and so did not owe federal income tax for those years. Musk responded to ProPublica’s initial request for comment with a punctuation mark — “?’’ — and did not answer detailed follow-up questions.

The federal tax code is meant to be progressive — that is, the rich pay a steadily higher tax rate on their income as it rises. And ProPublica found, in fact, that people earning between $2 million and $5 million a year paid an average of 27.5%, the highest of any group of taxpayers.

Above $5 million in income, though, tax rates fell: The top 0.001% of taxpayers — 1,400 people who reported income above

$69 million — paid 23%. And the 25 very richest people paid still less.

The wealthy can reduce their tax bills through the use of charitable donations or by avoiding wage income (which can be taxed at up to 37%) and benefiting instead mainly from investment income (usually taxed at 20%).

President Joe Biden, in seeking revenue to finance his spending plans, has proposed higher taxes on the wealthy. Biden wants to raise the top tax rate to 39.6% for people earning $400,000 a year or more in taxable income, estimated to be fewer than 2% of U.S. households. The top tax rate that workers pay on salaries and wages now is 37%.

Biden is proposing to nearly double the tax rate that high-earning Americans pay on profits from stocks and other investments. In addition, under his proposals, inherited capital gains would no longer be tax-free.

The president, whose proposals must be approved by Congress, would also raise taxes on corporations, which would affect wealthy investors who own corporate stocks.

ProPublica reported that the tax bills of the rich are especially low when compared with their soaring wealth — the value of their investment portfolios, real estate and other assets. People don’t have to pay tax on an increase in their wealth until they cash in and, say, sell their stock or home and realize the gains. Using calculations by Forbes magazine, ProPublica noted that the wealth of the 25 richest Americans collectively jumped by $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid $13.6 billion in federal income taxes over those years — equal to just 3.4% of the increase in their wealth.

Chuck Marr, a senior director at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, suggested that Biden’s proposals, which face fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress and from businesses, are “modest” given how much the wealthy have benefited in recent years and how comparatively little tax many of them pay.

“It always seems like the solutions are cast as radical when there’s less focus on the current situation being radical,’’ Marr said.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among others, have proposed taxing the wealth of the richest Americans, not just their income.

On Tuesday, Warren tweeted in response to the ProPublica report:

“Our tax system is rigged for billionaires who don’t make their fortunes through income, like working families do. The evidence is abundantly clear: it is time for a #WealthTax in America to make the ultra-rich finally pay their fair share.

Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a leading expert on financial inequality, says there are three ways to ensure that the wealthy pay more: Impose a direct tax on their wealth like the one Warren has proposed; tax the gains in their wealth, whether or not they cash in and realize a gain; or raise taxes on corporate profits.

ProPublica’s data “reveals that the country’s wealthiest, who have profited immensely during the pandemic, have not been paying their fair share of taxes,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who leads the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, said at the start of a hearing Tuesday on the IRS’ budget with Commissioner Charles Rettig.

Wyden has proposed legislation that would tighten enforcement of tax collection against wealthy individuals and corporations that use artifices and loopholes to skirt paying taxes. It also would eliminate the ability of high earners to defer paying taxes on capital gains until they are realized, so that wealth would be taxed the same way as wages.

For his part, Rettig said that the IRS is investigating the leak of the tax data to ProPublica and that any violations of law would be prosecuted. (ProPublica reported that it doesn’t know the identity of the source who provided the data.)

“We will find out about the ProPublica article,” Rettig said. “We have turned it over to the appropriate investigators, both external and internal.”

Now controlling the White House and Congress, Democrats are focusing on the tax gap — the hundreds of billions of dollars’ difference between what Americans owe the government in taxes and what they pay — and its connection to economic inequality. The top 10% of earners have accounted for most of that gap, experts say, by underreporting their liabilities, intentionally or not, as tax avoidance or as outright evasion.

The tax gap is under a spotlight as a potential source for recouping some revenue to help pay for Biden’s proposed spending on infrastructure, families and education. Democrats have been pushing the IRS to invigorate its enforcement of tax collection and make it fairer, by pursuing the big corporations and wealthy individuals who manage to game the system.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Wyden told Rettig that it’s wrong “how the wealthy always seem to skip out on their obligations.”

“You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being audited if you’re a partner in a partnership,” Wyden said.

Rettig responded, “We are outgunned.”

Democrats have argued that the tax gap has widened mainly because big U.S. corporations have parked revenue overseas and wealthy individuals have failed to pay their fair share. They assert that the IRS, long understaffed and underfunded, has tended to pursue taxpayers of modest means more aggressively than high-powered businesspeople and corporations.

The agency’s funding has been slashed about 20% since 2010. Biden’s new spending proposals include an extra $80 billion over 10 years to bolster IRS audits of upper-income individuals and corporations, with an eye toward recovering an estimated $700 billion.

Much of the gap comes from the use of overseas havens. The government loses between an estimated $40 billion and $120 billion a year from offshore tax evasion. Biden’s tax plan includes measures to stop corporations from stashing profits in countries with low tax rates. Last weekend, the Group of Seven wealthy democracies, which includes the United States, agreed to support a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15% to deter multinational companies from avoiding taxes by stashing profits in low-rate countries.

WIAA overturns some sanctions; fines Connell $1,000 following racist jeers at basketball game
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Connell High School’s girls basketball teams can compete in this week’s district tournaments and parents can attend games after the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association overturned sanctions stemming from racist jeers at a basketball game against Zillah.

The WIAA added other sanctions, including a $1,000 fine to be used by the school to promote good sportsmanship.

A video that surfaced online showed Connell students in the bleachers shouting racist language and making offensive gestures at Zillah High School basketball players during a game at the Connell gym on May 22.

Connell’s basketball teams can compete in this week’s district tournaments following the decision, although South Central Athletic Conference President Ty Kime said the 9-2 girls team declined to play for unspecified reasons.

The SCAC banned the Eagles’ basketball teams from competing in the postseason, and prohibited fans from attending home or away competitions for the remainder of the school year.

The WIAA granted an appeal, pointing to state laws prohibiting the penalties since there was no evidence the players or their parents contributed to the incident. The law says students can’t be penalized if they don’t violate the rules, and parents must have access to their child’s school-sponsored activities so long as they aren’t causing a disruption.

The WIAA’s executive committee issued additional penalties for Connell “in an attempt to protect the victims in the short term and to create long-term systemic change,” according to a release.

The new sanctions from the WIAA include required completion of the National Federation of State High School Associations Implicit Bias class — or equivalent — for every Connell High administrator and all participants, including coaches, before they can go to any postseason game.

The school was fined $1,000 and placed on a one-year probation.

The $1,000 fine must be used by the school, with league input, to develop “an SCAC League-wide Student Sportsmanship Conference that allows students from every high school in the league to attend and participate in student initiatives, with clearly stated outcomes that address sportsmanship, respect, and anti-bias behavior among the league.”