ProPublica doesn't have a smoking gun, but the journalism advocacy organization has pretty solid circumstantial evidence that Intuit, the maker of popular tax filing software TurboTax, is behind a seemingly grassroots effort to thwart a proposal for the IRS to offer pre-filed tax returns, or return-free filing.
The idea behind return-free filing is that the IRS would basically do your taxes for you, filling in the blanks based on information it already has from banks and employers. Taxpayers would get the pre-filed documents and either correct any errors and return them, use the information to file their own tax returns, or just ignore the pre-filed return and go about their normal business. Depending on how you feel about the IRS, this is either creepy or a godsend.
ProPublica is on the godsend side: "Return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes," says ProPublica's Liz Day. Intuit, not surprisingly, is against the idea, since — as it explained in a filing with the SEC — free, easy tax-filing options "may cause us to lose customers and revenue."
Intuit has every right to make that case — and it spent $2.6 million on lobbying in 2013, including against return-free filing proposals in Congress, to make it. But the methods it is employing, according to ProPublica, look pretty shady: Hiring PR firms, either directly or through the trade group the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), to urge community leaders and nonprofits to put their moral authority to work in service of stopping return-free filing.
ProPublica spoke with several such community leaders, including a rabbi and a state NAACP president, who wrote public letters against the proposals after receiving misleading form letters from acquaintances they either didn't realize were lobbyists or didn't know were representing Intuit.
Day also spoke with an Oregon nonprofit director, Angela Martin, who asked enough questions to intuit who was behind the push, researched return-free filing, then wrote in support of the proposal. "You get one or two prominent nonprofits to use their name, and busy advocates will extend trust and say sure, us too," Martin explained to ProPublica. If you aren't too exhausted after filing your tax returns by today's deadline — or, especially, if you are exhausted — read the entire article at ProPublica. Peter Weber
Sarah Sanders says it is 'highly inappropriate' to question John Kelly because he's a 4-star general
The White House on Friday called it "highly inappropriate" to question Chief of Staff John Kelly's mischaracterization of Rep. Frederica Wilson's (D-Fla.) 2015 speech at the dedication of a new FBI building. In addition to skewering Wilson for sharing the details of a phone call between President Trump and the widow of a U.S. service member killed in Niger on Thursday, Kelly claimed Wilson once "talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for" the FBI building. In a video from the dedication surfaced by the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday, Wilson takes credit for naming the building but does not claim to have secured its funding.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained that Wilson "also had quite a few comments that day that weren't part of that speech and weren't part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there."
"[Kelly] was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money," a reporter pressed.
"If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that's up to you," Sanders said. "But I think that, if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate." Jeva Lange
Huckabee doubles down on the lies and says it's "highly inappropriate" to disagree with a Marine 4 Star General. pic.twitter.com/OiVHSeHP1d
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) October 20, 2017
Conditions in the United States are driving more people than ever to seek refugee status in Canada, Reuters reports. More than 15,000 people have crossed the border illegally this year alone, Reuters says, citing data through late October. That's in comparison to a total of 10,370 asylum claims made in Canada during the entirety of 2013.
Interestingly, many of those asylum-seekers told Reuters that they had been living in the U.S. legally, and would have considered staying if not for the Trump administration's recent immigration crackdown and forceful rhetoric. A transcript of one asylum hearing from January, in which a Syrian refugee expressed fears about the new U.S. government, showed a tribunal member saying, "That seems to be playing out as you have feared, and today on the news I know that President Trump has suspended the Syrian refugee program. You have provided, in my view, a reasonable explanation of your failure to claim in the U.S."
Lawyers working the refugee cases told Reuters that members of the tribunals who interview asylum-seekers have "grown more sympathetic toward people who have spent time in the United States." Sixty-nine percent of the claims filed by border-crossers that were processed between March and September of this year were accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board, higher than the overall acceptance rate for all types of refugee claims in Canada last year.
Much of the recent influx is said to be taking place at the Quebec/New York crossing, and the Canadian military has set up a temporary tent encampment in response. Right-wing, anti-migrant Canadian groups, however, are staging rallies against upticks in immigration, prompting Canadians to worry that such displays "set back the cause of tolerance a couple of years." Watch scenes from one such rally below, or read more at Reuters. The Week Staff
Tense scenes Quebec City. Antifa confront La Meute supporter pic.twitter.com/am2UGFOAAD
— Jonathan Montpetit (@jonmontpetit) August 20, 2017
A 1992 law set a deadline of Oct. 26, 2017, for the president to decide whether or not to unseal the 3,600 top-secret files about the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. The decision, then, falls on President Trump to determine if the documents should be made public. Alternately, he could seal them away if he certifies that they would cause "an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations [that] outweighs the public interest in disclosure," BuzzFeed News reports.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has introduced a House bill urging Trump to allow the documents about the 1963 assassination to be released. "Obviously it's hard for me to believe that there wasn't a certain amount of complicity in all this development," said Jones. "I don't know about the second shooter, I still have questions about whether there was a second shooter or not, I think maybe there could have been, I don't know. This might help me find out. But I do think there were people behind [shooter Lee Harvey] Oswald, I have no question about that."
In the Senate, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sponsored a bill that mirrored Jones'. It is cosponsored by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) who said: "Americans have the right to know what our government knows."
In the spring, Judge John R. Tunheim, the former chairman of the Assassination Records Review Board, said he knew of "no bombshells" in the papers. Murphy added: "I will say this: This collection is really interesting as a snapshot of the Cold War." Read more about Congress' effort to make the papers public at BuzzFeed News and more about what could be in the documents at The Dallas Morning News. Jeva Lange
Let's get this said right off: Dadybones Puff Ball Phone Case ($35) "isn't designed for this world." Sure, it's easy to fall for. Created by artist Lola Abbey, whose pom-pom placement skills are "exceptional," it's a portable rainbow that you'll love looking at and that other people will love looking at, too. But the pom-poms are glued to a cheap plastic case, they make an iPhone so fat that you can no longer fit it in a pocket, and after a few weeks of shedding confetti, the case also starts shedding pom-poms. Is it worth all that trouble? Not really, but it "does seem like a piece of art."
Starwatchers are saying that this year's Orionid meteor shower, which will be at peak visibility this weekend, is set to be particularly dazzling because it'll coincide with low levels of moonlight. The Orionids are actually left-behind fragments of Halley's Comet, which won't be visible from Earth until 2061 (its last appearance was in 1986).
Viewers in the eastern and southwestern U.S. will have the clearest skies for meteor-watching; between midnight and dawn is when the meteors will be flying the fastest. EarthSky estimates that people living in places with low light pollution could see up to 10 to 15 meteors per hour, as the Orionid meteor shower is one of the fastest and brightest we can see from Earth because its trajectory hits the planet almost head-on. Fortunately for us, the meteors are small enough that they burn up in Earth's atmosphere before they can make contact with ground.
A Mississippi school district is removing To Kill A Mockingbird from its curriculum because it 'makes people uncomfortable'
A Mississippi school district has removed Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird from its eighth-grade curriculum because it "makes people uncomfortable." The book is a harrowing tale of racial injustice in a 1950's Southern town. James LaRue of the American Library Association objected to the removal, saying that the "classic" novel "makes us uncomfortable because it talks about things that matter."
A recently concluded study by the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., as well as government task force Lab @ DC found that the use of body-worn cameras by police officers had no significant effect on use of force, NPR reports. Body cameras similarly had little impact on the occurrence of citizen complaints. The results are a disappointment to both law enforcement and community activists who were hopeful that the technology would help increase police accountability and transparency.
Lab @ DC, a group within D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D)'s administration that uses science to shape policy, partnered with the MPD to randomly assign cameras to about 2,600 officers, allowing rigorous comparison between those with cameras and those without. The study — the most robust and long-running on the subject to date — found that there was no indication that officers outfitted with cameras acted any differently, used less force, or received fewer citizen complaints.
The news doesn't come as a surprise to everyone; technology and social justice experts like Harlan Yu point out that most footage of violent police encounters comes from bystanders' cell phones anyway. An officer-worn body camera could thus be redundant in the age of smartphones and connectivity. However, Metropolitan Chief of Police Peter Newsham says that D.C.'s body cameras aren't going anywhere for now: "I think it's really important for legitimacy for the police department when we say something, to be able to back it up with a real-world view that others can see."