When I heard the story of an elderly man who had lain undiscovered in his flat for three years I wanted to know more about who he was.
It began with an urban horror story.
In June 2015 police in Edinburgh were called by a GP because an elderly patient named Henry Summers had not been seen for several years.
The police went to Henry’s address in Leith, one of the most densely populated areas in Scotland.
They went to the door of his top-floor flat on Easter Road and knocked but got no answer.
The police called a locksmith but he couldn’t open door because the hinges had fused as it hadn’t been opened for years.
When the police knocked the door down they found a mountain of mail in the hall and Henry Summers was inside, dead.
He had been dead for three years, undiscovered, because all of his bills were paid by direct debit.
The media were full of recrimination and finger pointing.
I used to work with old people and had seen this before. It’s easy to de-personalise older people.
We talk about parents and pensioners as if they are conversation-starters about social issues.
But the way someone dies isn’t a summary of their whole life.
Who was Henry Summers?
A year after his body was found, I wanted to find out who Henry Summers had been during his 80-something years of life.
My detective work was for a BBC Radio Scotland documentary and it began with the reports of the incident in the local papers.
Journalist John Connell had interviewed neighbours at the time the body was discovered.
They told him they had last seen Mr Summers three years earlier in 2012.
They saw him being stretchered out of his house into an ambulance.
He was wearing an oxygen mask and looked very grey.
The neighbours didn’t know that Henry had been discharged and returned to his home.
Later, one of the neighbours knocked on the door. He opened Henry’s letterbox and smelled what he assumed was food going bad.
They said Henry kept himself to himself but was very dapper, always wore a blue jacket and a flat cap and he used to whistle as he was coming up the stairs.
Then a twist: a man came forward and said that the man found dead in the flat in Easter Road could not possibly be Henry Summers.
Henry Summers of Easter Road was his father and had died and been cremated in 2012.
My Henry was 10 years younger than the man’s father.
This meant that two men with the exact same name had lived in the same street and died in the same year.
It sounds like an unfathomable coincidence – but it wasn’t.
Later, once we knew who Henry was, it would make perfect sense.
I went to Easter Road and asked in the local caf, the pub, newsagents.
The police wouldn’t release a photo of Henry so it was difficult to know if they were remembering our Henry.
Some people thought they’d seen him but he was variously reported as being in his 60s and his 90s.
Some said he stood at the bus stop every morning, caught the number 35 and then came back on it in the afternoon.
He bought milk and newspapers every day too but the shopkeepers had changed in the three years since he was last seen. He was a difficult man to find.
Funeral paid for
I had assumed that Henry had been forgotten and would have been buried by the city council.
Public health funerals often happen when a person has died alone and impoverished.
I was completely wrong.
In fact, Henry’s funeral had been organised and paid for and an obituary had been printed in the paper.
I wrote, via the crematorium, to the person who paid for the funeral but they wanted to remain anonymous.
I also assumed that Henry’s flat was rented, perhaps the landlord would know him, but Henry owned his flat outright.
He had bought it in 1970 and paid his mortgage off completely in just four years.
It was 1,500. Where on earth did he get that money from? Was he from a rich family?
I was stuck so I went on BBC Radio Scotland’s Kaye Adams programme to ask for information.
The documentary team were contacted on Facebook by people who thought they had seen a man matching his description in the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre.
He was there regularly, reading the paper, quite content, they said.
The number 35 stops there so it seemed credible.
In the meantime, I tried to trace the person who inherited Henry’s flat.
In Scotland, any property left intestate is dealt with by the National Ultimus Haeres Unit.
National Ultimus Haeres Unit
DEATHS REPORTED 01 JULY 2015
SUMMERS, Henry, d.o.b: 16/03/1929: place of birth: Leith, who resided at Flat 3F3, 300 Easter Road, Edinburgh , EH6 8JT and who died at Flat 3F3, 300 Easter Road, Edinburgh , EH6 8JT, on 24/06/2015. NUHU/113/15 – POSSIBLE RELATIVES TRACED
They list unclaimed property online so that any claims can be filed.
Henry’s flat had been claimed but they couldn’t tell us who the beneficiary was.
I contacted expert genealogist Dr Bruce Durie and using the Land Register and the census he solved the mystery of the two Henrys.
Our Henry was born in 1929 and had lived and worked in Leith all of his life.
He was an only child and lived with his parents, nursing his fragile mum until her death.
After that he moved from a flat in Thorntree Street just round the corner to the flat in Easter Road.
Here was the answer: Henry’s dad, one of nine children, was brought up at several addresses in Couper Street, Leith.
This street was populated almost entirely by households by the name of Summers.
Most of those families, probably relations, had children named Henry.
The name ‘Henry Summers’ was as much a part of Leith as rope and drink.
The only reason I didn’t know that was that Leith has changed so much over the past 40 years.
It is gentrified now, the docks have shut, the demographics changed and the vast Summers family have mostly left.
My Henry was a ships’ carpenter, according to his death certificate.
This was an extremely skilled job with a long apprenticeship. Henry’s family were labourers, so he had done well for himself.
They must have been very proud of him.
The mystery of the mortgage remained.
Maritime historian Dr Eric Graham speculated that Henry might have been a whaler or worked long haul.
Those ships would go around the world for months at a time and ships’ carpenters could be paid a lump sum at the end of the voyage.
His name was Harry
It was all guesswork but then our original radio programme was broadcast and suddenly Henry came alive again.
His old pals heard it and contacted us, or the newspapers carrying stories about him.
He wasn’t even known as Henry, everyone called him Harry.
Harry, it turned out, was a great laugh.
He was a Hibs fan, a brilliant carpenter and an angler.
His old gaffer told us Harry was plagued by a mysteriously intermittent case of lumbago, which only ever flared up when he couldn’t be bothered doing a particular job.
His work pal, Andy, contacted us.
They worked together at George Brown’s in Leith all the way through the 1970s.
Andy saw the obit in the paper and went to Harry’s funeral.
He said Harry was a gent.
In the 1940s and 1950s, when Harry first started work, men in the high trades would wear a shirt and tie underneath their overalls. Harry still did this in the mid-90s.
We heard that Harry was a good guy who didn’t like sexist jokes, which was unusual in the docks in the 70s.
Another old work pal, Robert, remembered that Harry would pop in to see the guys after he retired to regale them with his latest adventures.
Harry was a confirmed bachelor, an only son and came across as bit of a mummy’s boy, in a really nice way.
He was teetotaller when Robert knew him but their gaffer, Fred, told stories about Harry’s wilder days when they would all laugh and Harry would laugh along with them.
Fred was a whaler and Robert never heard them speaking about whaling together, so he thought Harry probably hadn’t done that. He didn’t think he had ever been abroad.
Assistant manager at George Brown and Sons, Steve McIntosh, knew him well.
Harry had retired in the late 90s and loved river fishing for trout.
He was off every weekend to the Tweed and Dalkeith.
Harry didn’t like drydocking the boats in winter or the rain, Steve said.
If Harry knew a boat was coming in and the weather was rotten, he’d call in sick with lumbago, an unusual condition for someone as active as Harry.
Very unusual in avid river fishermen.
Steve said they wouldn’t tell Harry the boat was coming in but Harry would have his revenge: if he knew they’d tricked him he’d call in sick the next day.
Despite this Harry was worth keeping on because he was so good at his job, extraordinarily skilled and meticulous.
It emerged that as well as the shipyard, he had been part of a team who “re-roped” the stage sets at the Churchill and Playhouse theatres in Edinburgh.
When Harry retired he used his bus pass to go anywhere – Galashiels, Berwick, Kirkcaldy.
The last time Robert saw Harry was in the St James shopping centre in Edinburgh city centre.
He was fit and active going for a bus. Robert asked him where he was going and Harry said he didn’t know.
He was going to jump on any bus and that would be his destination for the day.
Harry’s physiotherapist got in touch.
Rona ran an exercise group for people with heart conditions and Harry always stood at the back with the other guys.
They all started at the same time.
The group would go for an annual day out at the Botanic Gardens and she also remembers Harry at their Christmas Ceilidh.
When he stopped coming they were worried about him but Rona bumped into him and he explained he was having trouble with sore feet.
He never returned to the class but was spotted out and about, on the bus and at the bookies.
At the physio class Harry and another man would swap stories about the bookies, how lucky or unlucky they had been.
The mystery of the mortgage remained until we heard this. Harry was a gambler.
Maybe Harry just got lucky.
Trumps chief of staff Reince Priebus tells the feuding pair to end the palace intrigue after weeks of damaging infighting
White House aides Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner have met and agreed to bury the hatchet over their differences, a senior administration official said, in a bid to stop infighting that has distracted from Donald Trumps message.
Bannon, the presidents chief strategist, and Kushner, an influential adviser and Trumps son-in-law, met on Friday at the request of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus who told them that if they have any policy differences, they should air them internally, the official said.
The development at the presidents Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, came at the end of what has been a relatively smooth week for Trump.
Trump ordered airstrikes against Syrian targets that drew praise in many parts of the world and staged an error-free summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping, complete with his wife, Melania, wearing a red dress to symbolise the Chinese flag.
Priebus message to Bannon and Kushner was to stop with the palace intrigue and focus on the presidents agenda, the official told Reuters.
Both aides left having agreed that it was time to bury the hatchet and move forward, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Four former advisers to the president said Trump is accustomed to chaos in his decades-long career as a real estate developer but that even he has grown weary of the infighting.
Hes got a long fuse for that kind of thing, said one former adviser. I imagine he has gotten tired of this.
The White House dismissed persistent talk that Trump might be on the verge of a staff shakeup. The only thing we are shaking up is the way Washington operates as we push the presidents aggressive agenda forward, spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.
The Trump White House has been a hotbed of palace intrigue since he took office on Jan. 20. But the drama has intensified after the failed effort to get healthcare legislation approved by the House of Representatives and the rocky rollout of an executive order attempting to temporarily ban citizens of six Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.
Bannon, former chief of the conservative news organisation Breitbart News, has been at odds with Kushner and Gary Cohn, the head of the White House national economic council, an administration official and the four former advisers said.
The former Trump advisers said Kushner, husband of Trump daughter Ivanka Trump, is trying to tug the president into a more mainstream position, while Bannon is trying to keep aflame the nationalist fervor that carried Trump to his unexpected election victory in November.
Bannon is getting some of the blame for the administrations early stumbles because, one former adviser said, the president demands results.
In what was viewed as a sign of Bannons declining influence, he was removed from his seat on the national security council this week. Administration officials said this was done at the urging of national security adviser HR McMaster, with whom Bannon had clashed.
Some of the former Trump advisers said Priebus is at fault for not gaining control of the feuding and said Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, would be a candidate to replace him.
Priebus is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and bucked many in his party by putting the weight of the RNC behind Trump when it was clear he would be the partys presidential nominee. Reince is chief of staff, said a source familiar with the issue. Hes not going anywhere.
Republican strategist Charlie Black, who has known Trump for 30 years, said he did not think a shakeup was imminent and that Trumps White House reflects his traditional approach to running his business.
Hes always had a spokes-to-the-wheel management style, said Black. He wants people with differing views among the spokes.
So when this old photo with their EMO-haired older brother JD Scott popped up,Twitter lost its mind.
James Daniel Scotts existence has not exactly been a secret. Hes even starred alongside his bros in a you guessed it ahome improvement show. There was also a rumor swirling around that he was a magician, perhaps sparked by theCriss Angel aesthetic above.
Scott lives in Las Vegas, describes himself as an HGTV/Great American Country, Radio & Global Ambassador, has over 2 million Vine loops (R.I.P. Vine), is in fact not a magicianand has ditched the so-called Pete Wentz hair.
In fact, he looks more like this these days:
If youre thinking right about now that JD is your new favorite Brother, youre not alone. Buzzfeeds Matthew Broderick conducted a thought-provoking poll in 2015, askingWhich Property Brother is the best Property Brother?
JD was the clear favorite, garnering 68 percent of the 90 person vote.
ProBro 3, as weve decided to call him, appears to be in a relationship, but we cant help but fantasize about setting him up with fellow third sibling Elizabeth Olsen. Theyd have so much to talk about!
Keep rockin, JD Scott.
Palm Beach, Florida (CNN)The future of top White House staffers, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, is uncertain, as President Donald Trump is increasingly sending signals he is considering a major shakeup of his leading advisers.
Seat at the table
Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, a man who ran his private company — beholden to no one outside his family — with a healthy dose of chaos, has brought that same management style to the White House. It’s an approach that’s led to widespread palace intrigue and near constant backbiting by people who sit mere feet from each other in the West Wing.
The Wall Street-ers
The other guys’ guys
Since the first federal progressive income tax was introduced in 1913, most Americans have fairly assumed that, come mid-April, the more money you earn, the more money you pay.
But, oh boy, does it ever not work that way.
Examples of stupendously wealthy people paying hilariously low percentages of their income in taxes aren’t hard to track down. See, for example, Warren Buffet paying a lower tax rate than his secretary or Donald Trump paying an effective tax rate of 25% in 2005 far lower than the top marginal rate that year of 35% despite earning $150 million.
If the tax code had been designed by, say, a coalition of teachers, construction workers, and fry cooks, things might be different. Unfortunately, the laws determining who pays what and why are written by members of Congress, who, as of 2012, had a median net worth of just a wee bit over $1 million. From their perspective, it’s not hard to see that “How can I structure the tax code to make buying gas and going to the doctor a little more affordable?” might be a less pressing question than, say, “Should solid gold busts of Ayn Rand be deductible?”
To be sure, many rich people do pay more in taxes than middle- or working-class Americans, just less more than they might otherwise. And it’s hard to blame the wealthy for taking full advantage of a system designed to benefit them. Don’t hate the player, the saying goes, hate the game.
But the game, such as it is, is rigged (SAD!).
So while most of us prepare to part with around a third of our hard-earned cash trying to decide if it’s legal to write off as a business expense the $13.79 in tissues we bought to wipe away our tears, here are some of the rules that make it easier for the wealthy to play.
1. There’s a tax break for vacation homes.
Let’s say you live in a tiny apartment in a major American city, paying your landlord hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars a month to sleep in a glorified coat closet. You typically don’t get to write off your rent on your federal taxes.
But if you were among those privileged enough to have the means to buy a house or condo or downtown triplex with a sweet view, you would get to deduct the interest you’d pay on your mortgage.
“OK sure,” you might be thinking, “People who can buy houses are generally doing better financially than those who can’t, but there are a lot of homeowners in America, and I hope to be one someday.” And that’s true, so far as it goes.
If you’re really doing well, however, one house might not be enough. Sometimes you just have to spring for that little fixer-upper in the Poconos or that sprawling beach compound in the Outer Banks or that $90-million condo on 5th Avenue.
In that case, you get to deduct the interest on the mortgage for your second house too!
As far as tax breaks that favor the already-pretty-damn-favored are concerned, the second home deduction is, alas, one of the more egalitarian, as it advantages both the only-sort-of-rich and the ridiculously rich and you can only write off a total of $1.1 million in debt. Furthermore, the rule doesn’t apply if you’re so rich you just buy the house outright, nor does it apply to the third, fourth, ninth, and 12th homes owned by your average Gates, Bloombergs, and Zuckerbergs.
But the fact remains that taking out mortgages on more than one house gets you federal tax relief, while renting a studio apartment, mobile home, or infuriatingly twee tiny house doesn’t.
Thanks to the U.S. tax code, it owns to own.
2. If you’re rich enough to buy a yacht, you can probably write off a big chunk of it.
What makes a house a home? A cozy reading nook by the fire? Happy memories? The love and affection of all those you hold near and dear?
According to the U.S. tax code, if you can eat, sleep, and pee in it, it’s a home which means that this:
…counts as a home, making it eligible for the mortgage interest tax break.
Some politicians have tried to exempt yachts from the second home deduction in recent years. It hasn’t happened yet, partly because there are an absurd number of ways to get out of paying your full share of taxes on your yacht. Some states go out of their way to make superboats more affordable to your average Koch brother, DeVos sibling, or Soros quintuplet by capping the amount of sales tax you have to pay on them.
Even better, if you rent out your yacht to slightly less wealthy people some of the time, you can usually deduct the whole purchase price and some of the insurance and maintenance fees as a business expense.
Pretty sweet! You should probably get a yacht!
3. While people who earn high salaries pay more in income tax, many wealthy people make a lot of non-salary income, and that’s taxed at a lower rate.
If you’re a single person making $1 million in salary, you’re paying the top federal income tax rate which for 2016 means 39.6% on every dollar over $415,050. That’s way lower than it was in 1944, when the top rate was a whopping 94%. It’s even lower than just over 30 years ago during the early years of the Reagan administration, when the top earners were paying 50%. Still, it’s a solid chunk of change. Mercifully, for many super wealthy Americans, only a small portion of their annual income comes from working at an actual salaried job.
Enter capital gains!
The best part about already having a buttload of money is that your money can make you even more money. If you’re rich, you can take the cash you already have and invest it in stock, or real estate, or apps called Moob that deliver fish bones to elderly Methodists, or what have you. And the best part? The cash you make when your assets post a gain is taxed at a mere 15-20%. That means if your trust fund does well, or if your 15th home increases in value, you might pay a lower tax rate on that gain than a nurse’s aide pays on her $18/hour salary.
If that tax rate seems unfair, then you obviously haven’t heard about the Newtian Pository. It’s a philosophical concept I just made up that means “hahahahaha screw you and your ‘job’ that pays you a ‘barely living wage.’ If you want to get ahead in life, stop crying and own a landfill, or a Monet, or a bunch of Google, you dingbat!”
4. Rich people who own a lot of stock don’t have to pay taxes on it if it increases in value as long as they die before selling it.
This is called “step-up in basis,” one of those purposely complicated phrases used to obscure a pretty simple concept that would send poor people in the direction of the nearest flaming pitchfork store if anyone ever decided to, you know, actually explain it clearly.
So I’m gonna try to do that, by way of a totally hypothetical example.
Imagine you’re a hard-charging New York City real estate billionaire type “Ronald Bump,” let’s say. You buy 100,000 shares of stock at $1/share. To do this, you lay out $100,000 an entire life savings for some, but chump change to a member of the Bump dynasty.
Let’s say you, Ronald Bump, get lucky, and over the next 30 years, the stock increases in value to $100/share. Your $100,000 has magically become $10 million! If you sell it, you’d net a cool $9.9 million but you’d pay taxes on it (albeit at the previously mentioned, already ludicrously low capital gains rate), leaving you with a mere $7.4 million or thereabouts.
But let’s say you don’t sell, and one day, when you’re out grabbing a caviar bagel with gold leaf cream cheese, you get hit by a bus.
The bus really does a number on you, flattening your legs, rib cage, and most of your vital organs. Then, trying to determine the cause of the light whump that momentarily inconvenienced its passengers, the bus backs up, pancaking your head. Finally, seeing no cause for special concern, it speeds away, running you over a third time, knocking your body into a ditch to be eaten by crows.
How horrible. You’re dead now.
Because you’re dead, your son let’s call him Ronald Bump Jr. inherits your giant portfolio. When he sells it, he only has to pay taxes on any gains the investment makes beyond the $9.9 million regardless that the stock was originally purchased for just $100,000. He can go his merry way a full almost-$10 million richer, convinced of his own singular brilliance, free to hunt endangered mammals and approvingly reply to racists on Twitter with the comfort of a nest egg to make his economic anxiety disappear.
And the meritocracy triumphantly soldiers on.
The bottom line, if you hold stock until you die and pass it on to your kids, spouse, or golden retriever, neither you, nor they ever have to pay taxes on the value it accrued in your lifetime. Pretty sweet!
5. A lot of rich families don’t have to pay taxes on the money they pass on to their heirs, even though there’s a tax theoretically designed to make that happen.
To hear anti-tax advocates tell it, millions of hardworking Americans are subject to an evil “death tax,” whereupon soulless government brownshirts descend en masse to rip the family farm away from Junior not nine seconds after Ma and Pa’s untimely death in a freakish tumbleweed accident. It’s the sort of thing that gets decent people riled up, demanding answers and installing electric fencing around their property. How could Uncle Sam be so heartless? So cruel? So greedy?
The thing is, most Americans aren’t wealthy enough to be subjected to the “death tax” more properly known as the estate tax. If you leave a small retirement account, family home, or a couple of used toasters and $50 to your kids when you pass away, the IRS won’t send you an invoice.
The tax only applies to estates being passed down that are worth over $5.4 million. So unless Ma and Pa’s farmhouse looks like this:
You’re probably not going to see a tax on it.
Yes, super rich people your aforementioned Gates, Bloomberg and Zuckerberg dynasties do have to pay estate taxes, and thank Zod. And, yes, it’s good that middle class families don’t have to pay it. Meanwhile, lots of pretty rich people (albeit not Gates, Bloomberg, or Zuckerberg rich) are making out great under the current system, even as activists try to do away with the tax altogether, because the net worth limit for when the tax kicks in is so high that those families don’t have to pay anything at all either which allows dynastic wealth to keep on piling up.
As recently as 2004, the estate tax kicked in at $1.5 million. The current limit of $5.4 million is, frankly, a crap-ton of money to be able to pass down tax-free.
Even without such a high estate tax threshold, kids would be able to keep using the heirloom kitchen appliances long after their parents are gone.
Unfortunately, with the limit currently in the stratosphere, it also means that Junior can keep up the Kobe beef farm as he rides his platinum-hulled tractor into the sunset.
Considering all the deductions, loopholes, and advantages already in place, it’s sort of weird that Congress’ next priority is to reduce the tax burden on the wealthiest Americans even more.
After Republicans wrap up their will-they-or-won’t-they dance with the American Health Care Act, Congress plans to tackle “tax reform,” so-called because it “reforms” more money into the pockets of rich people. Among the proposed changes to the tax code: lowering the top income tax rate from 39.6% to 33%, lowering the corporate tax rate to 20%, and completely eliminating the estate tax.
But as we’ve seen numerous times these past few months, America doesn’t have to let it happen!
Calling your representatives worked to scuttle the first go-around of the AHCA, and it can work to put the kibosh on the current tax reform plan too.
It won’t be easy. But after helping kill a suspect federal law, and finishing and filing your taxes, you’ll definitely have earned a nice vacation.
May I suggest buying a yacht?”
Dave Min, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine and a former adviser to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), is jumping in the race to challenge Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.) in 2018.
This is a unique time in our history, Min said in a press release Wednesday. So much of what we value, what makes our communities in Orange County strong, and what makes America great is under attack. Congresswoman Mimi Walters is complicit in these attacks with her 100% support of Donald Trump and has proven herself deeply out of touch with residents in our communities.
Prior to teaching at UCI, Min served as the associate director for financial markets policy at the Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think tank.
Min is the second Democrat to announce a challenge to Walters, who has held the Orange County seat since 2015. Earlier this week, consumer advocate Katie Porterannounced her candidacy, accompanied by endorsements from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
Min, meanwhile, has drawn support from local leaders, including former Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang and former Irvine council member Mary Ann Gaido.
Eager to take back the House from GOP control, Democrats have their sights set on several Orange County seats. Although the region is a longtime conservative stronghold in mostly-blue California, the county voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election the first time the area sided with a Democrat since 1936.
So far, the race is shaping up to be a referendum on President Donald Trump, with both candidates citingWalters support for the presidents legislative agenda. Min also criticized Walters for not holding public town halls, a move that has also drawn complaints from her constituents.
While Porter has drawn national buzz for her high-profile endorsements and her role in the $25 billion mortgage settlement by Wall Street banks, Mins establishment credentials and potential demographic edge (Min is Korean-American, and Irvine is home to one of the nations largest Korean populations) make him a formidable contender.But either candidate likely faces a tough race against Walters, who was re-elected last fall with 59 percent of the vote.
With more than 18 months until Election Day, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is staying neutral for now.
Congressman Walters is very vulnerable this cycle, and her actions this year including voting with President Trumps agenda 100 percent of the time and supporting a disastrous repeal bill that would raise your costs and slap an age tax on older folks have further clarified how out-of-touch she is with her constituents, said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law. Its no surprise that there are very qualified candidates stepping up to provide the 45th District with the representation it deserves.