April 11, 2014

Don't start dreaming about what you'll spend your IRS refund on just yet; several taxpayers are saying that their refunds are being seized by the government to cover the old debts of relatives.

The Washington Post shares the story of Mary Grice, a Maryland resident who had both her state and federal refunds intercepted due to an alleged debt from dozens of years ago. Her father died in 1960, and Mary's mother and four siblings received survivor benefits from Social Security to help pay for everyday living expenses. Social Security now says that in 1977, it overpaid a member of the Grice family (they don't know who), and Mary was tapped to pay the price. "It was a shock," she said. "What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can't prove I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus."

How did this happen? In 2011, a sentence was added to the farm bill that lifted a 10-year statute of limitations on the government collecting old debts, and the hunt for money owed began in earnest. This summer, the Social Security Administration will go into overdrive, tracking down more than 400,000 taxpayers who, as a group, owe $714 million in debts more than a decade old.

Grice was finally able to get close to $1,500 of her refund back, after The Post inquired about her case. Although the Treasury said she owned $2,996, they initially held onto her combined refunds of $4,462. Read more about Grice and other people affected by this policy at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

10:35 a.m. ET

The Secret Service agent credited with saving former President Ronald Reagan's life died Friday at age 85. Retired agent Jerry Parr died Friday of congestive heart failure, according to his wife, Carolyn, , The New York Times reports.

When John W. Hinckley Jr. opened fire on Reagan on March 30, 1981, Parr shoved him into a limousine, jumped in on top of him, and instructed the driver to take off.

"When he was about probably six or seven feet from the car, I heard these shots," Parr said in 2013. "I sort of knew what they were, and I'd been waiting for them all of my career, in a way. That's what every agent waits for, is that."

When Parr saw Reagan was spitting up blood from a bullet that struck him, he diverted the car to the hospital, where the president underwent surgery and returned to work 12 days later.

"Jerry was not only one of the finest Secret Service agents to ever serve this country, but one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever known," Reagan's widow, Nancy, told CNN on Friday. "He was humble but strong, reserved but confident, and blessed with a great sense of humor. It is no wonder that he and my husband got along so well." Julie Kliegman

Gun Violence
8:17 a.m. ET

President Obama flew to Roseburg, Oregon, on Friday to address families grieving from the Oct. 1 Umpqua Community College shooting, when a gunman killed nine people.

"I've got some very strong feelings about this because when you talk to these families, you're reminded that this could be happening to your child, or your mom, or your dad, or your relative, or your friend," he said. "And so we're going to have to come together as a country to see how we can prevent these issues from taking place."

Obama met with about 40 people at Roseburg High School for an hour before making his public statement.

"It wasn't a discussion, it was a hug," one woman described the meeting to The Oregonian.

Some gun rights advocates protested Obama's presence in Roseburg with demonstrations at the airport and in front of the school. Julie Kliegman

7:49 a.m. ET
John Gress/Getty Images

Despite repeatedly denying he was interested in the position, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is reportedly considering a run for House speaker, legislators told CNN on Friday. He said he's "thinking and praying on it," according to Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah).

Mitt Romney, who tapped Ryan as his 2012 presidential running mate, is one of many urging him to put his name in to replace John Boenher (R-Ohio) after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) shocked Congress by dropping out of the race Thursday.

"I wouldn't presume to tell Paul what to do, but I do know that he is a man of ideas who is driven to see them applied for the public good," Romney said in a statement. "Every politician tries to convince people that they are that kind of leader; almost none are — Paul is."

Leaving Capitol Hill on Friday, Paul declined fill in reporters on his chances of entering the race.

"Sorry guys, I'm just going to go," he told reporters. "The Packers are at home. They're going to beat the Rams and cover the spread." Julie Kliegman

Only in America
October 9, 2015

Officials in Blount County, Tennessee, considered a resolution asking God to "pass us by in His coming wrath" over the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage and "not destroy us as He did Sodom and Gomorrah." The resolution pledged that county residents would defy the court ruling. A motion to hear the resolution was rejected by a vote of 10-5, as angry residents booed and yelled, "Cowards!" The Week Staff

refugee crisis
October 9, 2015

Mohamed, 27, was fleeing from Syria on a boat with 50 other people when he woke up one morning to find the boat's engine had fallen off, leaving him and his fellow migrants helplessly adrift at sea. Mohamed, however, was carrying a pair of iPhones he planned to pawn, and when he unwrapped one he realized he had a signal — and a chance to save their lives. He texted his cousin Danya, who lives in Hawaii, and Danya was able to get in touch with the Greek coast guard, who in turn found the refugee boat based on coordinates Mohamed was able to pull up on an app.

While the story is miraculous on many accounts, Mohamed is not the first refugee to find his life depending on the signal of an iPhone:

Data coverage is a lifeline for migrants. Though aid workers stemming the crisis of Syrian migration are yet to officially classify it as such, technology has been recognized by those on the ground as a necessity on par with food and warm clothing. Migrants need phones to help navigate between bus stations once they reach land, aid workers say.

Paul Donohoe, press manager at the International Rescue Committee, said the mobile phone has also become a “fundamental” tool in surviving the harrowing water-crossing from Turkey to Greece, which has claimed almost 3,000 lives in 2015 alone, according to the U.N. Human Rights Council. (Some half a million migrants have tried their luck this year, by the same study.) Donohoe, who recently traveled to Lesbos, said Greek coast guard employees have been overwhelmed with calls from migrants stranded at sea and using the communication service WhatsApp. [The Huffington Post]

The Huffington Post recreated the iMessage conversation between Mohamed and his cousin Danya, which you can watch below. For the rest of the story, visit The Huffington Post. Jeva Lange

October 9, 2015

Earlier this week, Facebook announced it's testing "Reactions," a set of six emoji-based buttons that will allow users the long overdue ability to respond to content in a more emotionally sensitive way. On Friday, USA Today, clearly feeling the buzz around the impending debut, decided to give the emoji a test run on its own front page:

That's right, in case you were unsure how to feel about the day's news, Friday's edition of the paper uses the emoji to provide handy emotional cues, like a sad face next to a story about a stabbing, an angry face next to an article about Russia's misdirected missiles, and a big wow face next to an item about Kevin McCarthy's decision to drop out of the race for House speaker.

AdWeek reached out to USA Today Editor-in-Chief David Callaway for a little more information behind the editorial decision:

Was there any concern about these emojis seeming too flippant next to serious content like the stabbing or Syria?
Yes, of course there was discussion about being too flippant.

Whose decision was it to use the emojis? Was there much debate among the editorial team?
My feeling (as editor-in-chief) is that a billion FB users may soon start using these to share stories—all kinds of stories—which of course is Facebook's intention. Social media and its icons are becoming a dominant form of communication in our world. We wanted to show what they would be like if transferred to print. [AdWeek]

Head over to AdWeek to read the rest of the interview. Stephanie Talmadge

For those who have everything
October 9, 2015

"People love lounging in hammocks, and people love soaking in hot tubs, and finally the two have become one," said Andrew Liszewski at Gizmodo. The Hydro Hammock ($1,495) is a sling built for two that holds 50 gallons of hot, bubbling water. A full setup includes a pump, a portable water heater, and all the hardware required to turn the hammock into a hot tub, though you'll need to find a pair of "extremely large and strong trees" to string it up between. If you can afford the whole kit, "you may never feel stressed ever again." The Week Staff

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