April 15, 2014

Budget cuts and additional responsibilities are hitting the Internal Revenue Service hard, and there are fewer agents auditing returns than at any time since the 1980s, The Associated Press reports. If that's the case, what are your chances of getting audited?

According to the The Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham, pretty slim. Ingraham dug through annual IRS reports, and found that last year was the first time audit rates fell below 1 percent since 2006. Rates were at their highest in the 1980s, when more than 2 percent of taxpayers were audited.

Ingraham went on to explain that audit rates differ by income, and while the IRS does not provide consistent income breakdowns of the data over time, the likelihood of being audited in 2013 was 0.88 percent if your income was less than $200,000, 3.26 percent for incomes above $200,000, and 10.85 percent for people earning more than $1 million per year.

The final result is that you're roughly half as likely to get audited in 2014 as you were in 1980, but twice as likely as you were in 2000. (Ingraham has a nice chart of the audit rates.) As long as you at least appear to be on the up and up, chances are you'll escape a dreaded audit.

"We keep going after the people who look like the worst of the bad guys," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the AP. "But there are going to be some people that we could catch, either in terms of collecting the revenue from them or prosecuting them, that we're not going to catch." Catherine Garcia

12:42 p.m. ET

Geologists have discovered hundreds of networks of mysterious caves in Brazil that they believe were dug by an enormous prehistoric animal of some kind, such as a giant sloth or giant armadillo, Discover reports. "I'd never seen anything like it before," said Amilcar Adamy, who first stumbled upon a burrow in 2010.

The caves were clearly not formed by any natural geological process — and besides, the walls are covered in gigantic claw marks. Another geologist, Heinrich Frank, separately discovered "paleoburrows," including one that was four-feet-wide and an estimated 250-feet-long. Once he began looking for the tunnels, they turned up everywhere. "In these burrows, sometimes you get the feeling that there's some creature waiting around the next curve — that's how much it feels like a prehistoric animal den," said Frank. He's found more than 1,500 just in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Frank added: "There's no geological process in the world that produces long tunnels with a circular or elliptical cross-section, which branch and rise and fall, with claw marks on the walls. I've [also] seen dozens of caves that have inorganic origins, and in these cases, it's very clear that digging animals had no role in their creation."

The mystery deepened in 2015, when Adamy found a paleoburrow with branches totaling 2,000 feet in length and shafts that were originally six feet tall by three to five feet wide. "This wasn't made by one or two individuals," said Adamy. "It was made by many, over generations." Now there are other burrows that are estimated to be 3,000 feet in length.

But why so big? Modern armadillos in Brazil are only 65 to 90 pounds and burrow 16-inch diameter holes that are 20 feet long. "What would dig one five feet wide and 250 feet long?" Frank wondered. "There's no explanation — not predators, not climate, not humidity. I really don't know."

And then there is the fact that there were North American giant sloths and giant armadillos, but there are no known paleoburrows in the United States. But that, too, could just be a matter of time. As Greg McDonald, a Bureau of Land Management paleontologist, told Discover: "The fact that we don't have them here could simply be that we've overlooked them."

Jeva Lange

11:56 a.m. ET
Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images

Aside from his well-documented struggle to put on a poncho during President Trump's inauguration, former President George W. Bush has kept a pretty low profile about the event. But recently, three unnamed sources spilled the beans to New York Magazine about what Bush was allegedly really thinking while he had his poncho draped over his head.

As Bush was leaving Trump's inauguration, three different people reported they heard Bush say: "That was some weird sh-t."

Bush's spokesman declined to comment, and Bush has not publicly addressed his thoughts on Trump's speech about "American carnage" and America's return to "winning again — winning like never before." Becca Stanek

11:10 a.m. ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained reports of Russia's election meddling "are fictional, illusory, and provocations, lies" during a panel Thursday moderated by CNBC. When asked explicitly if Russia interfered — as U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded it has — Putin dismissed the allegations as falsehoods used for "domestic American politics" that "different political forces" employ to "consolidate their positions."

"'Watch my lips: No,'" said Putin, paraphrasing former President George H.W. Bush to assert his denial. Putin insisted Russia sees the U.S. "as a great power with which we want to establish good partnership relations."

As Putin doubled down on his dissent, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee convened Thursday morning for its first public hearing on Russia's influence on the U.S. presidential election. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) outlined how Russia "sought to diminish and undermine our trust in the American media by blurring our faith in what is true and what is not" by inserting trolls and botnets to push out false information intended to influence the election outcome.

"This is not innuendo, or false allegations. This is not fake news. This is actually what happened to us," said Warner, outright declaring that Putin "ordered a deliberate campaign, carefully constructed to undermine our election."

At the hearing Thursday, the Senate seeks to "determine if there is an actual fire." "But so far, there is a great, great deal of smoke," Warner said, referring to evidence of Russian meddling. Becca Stanek

10:43 a.m. ET

A 5-year-old North Carolina girl named Caitlin Miller was suspended for one day last week for playing with a stick she and her friends on the playground pretended was a gun. Caitlin's friends were playing queen and princess, and Caitlin, as the royal guard, picked up a stick so she could fend off imaginary attackers.

When teachers observed the game, they intervened. "One minute she's playing with her friends and the next her teachers are dragging her to the principal's office," said the girl's mother, Brandy Miller. "She's confused. Nobody explained anything to her." Caitlin's suspension note claimed she was "threatening to shoot and kill other students," a charge Caitlin says is not true.

Still, the school district stood by the suspension, commenting in a statement that it will "not tolerate assaults, threats, or harassment from any student." Watch Caitlin explain what happened — and see a picture of the stick in question — in the local news report below. Bonnie Kristian

10:41 a.m. ET

President Trump has been smarting ever since the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus helped crush the GOP health-care bill last week, claiming it looked too similar to ObamaCare. On Thursday, the president made himself abundantly clear: The Democrats are the enemy, but so too are more than two dozen Freedom Caucus members if they continue to oppose him:

The Freedom Caucus does not respond well to threats. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) hit back at Trump on Twitter:

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who often aligns with the Freedom Caucus, also mocked Trump for the threat:

Of the 435-member House, there are 193 Democrats and approximately 32 Freedom Caucus-aligned conservatives, equaling a potential Trump-opposing block of 225 votes. As NBC News' Bradd Jaffy wonders: "What's [Trump's] strategy in attacking everyone here?" Jeva Lange

10:30 a.m. ET

If you would prefer a President Pence to a President Trump — an alluring prospect to many anti-Trump social conservatives, as well as a majority of Democrats per recent polling — the 25th Amendment might sound like just the ticket. It provides that if the president is deemed "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," Congress can pull some strings to produce our new President Pence.

Such a removal sans impeachment process has been repeatedly proposed in recent weeks, but, as Politico explains, this hope is not grounded in reality:

In the 50 years since the 25th Amendment was ratified, it's been used twice to fill a vice presidential vacancy: when Gerald Ford replaced the disgraced Spiro Agnew in October 1973, and when Nelson Rockefeller replaced Ford in 1974. And on six occasions, the president has invoked the 25th Amendment to (very temporarily) designate his veep as acting president, always during routine medical procedures like a colonoscopy. But it's never been invoked when the president himself was non compos ...

The notion that Pence and a Cabinet majority will look at Trump's next tweets or telephonic fulminations and decide he's not fit for the job is beyond absurdity. ... In the midst of a shooting war in Vietnam, and a Cold War on constant simmer, Nixon was often abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, leading to stretches of incoherence and irrationality. No one around him even raised the specter of invoking the 25th Amendment. [Politico]

Read the rest of Politico's rationale here. Bonnie Kristian

10:17 a.m. ET

57-year-old NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson broke the record for the most spacewalks ever performed by a woman when she ventured out of the International Space Station on Thursday. Whitson, who The Associated Press noted is "the world's oldest and most experienced spacewoman," has now completed eight spacewalks, surpassing former space station resident Sunita Williams' record of 50 hours and 40 minutes of spacewalking time.

Whitson also holds the record for the most time a woman has ever spent in space, as she's now up to more than 500 days away from Earth. Whitson departed for her third space station trip in November to set up a docking port for commercial crew ships being developed by Boeing and SpaceX. She is slated to return in June.

Catch a glimpse of Whitson's Thursday morning spacewalk below. Becca Stanek

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