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Archive for May 23rd, 2019

TurboTax Uses A “Military Discount” to Trick Troops Into Paying to File Their Taxes

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Corporations really are unethical and greedy. We need a government that actually monitors and regulates them and punishes bad behavior. Justin Elliott and Kengo Tsutsumi report in ProPublica:

In patriotism-drenched promotions, press releases and tweets, TurboTax promotes special deals for military service members, promising to help them file their taxes online for free or at a discount.

Yet some service members who’ve filed by going to the TurboTax Military landing page told ProPublica they were charged as much as $150 — even though, under a deal with the government, service members making under $66,000 are supposed to be able to file on TurboTax for free.

Liz Zimmerman is a mother of two teenage daughters and a toddler who lives with her husband, a Navy chief petty officer, in Bettendorf, Iowa, just across the river from the Rock Island military facility. When Zimmerman went to do her taxes this year, she Googled “tax preparation military free” and, she recalled in an interview, TurboTax was the first link that popped up, promising “free military taxes.” She clicked and came to the site emblazoned with miniature American flags.

But when Zimmerman got to the end of the process, TurboTax charged her $60, even though the family makes under the $66,000 income threshold to file for free. “I’ve got a kid in braces and I’ve got a kid in preschool; $60 is half a week’s worth of groceries,” she said. “Who needs date night this month? At least I filed my taxes.”

In the commercial version of TurboTax that includes the “military discount,” customers are charged based on the tax forms they file. The Zimmermans used a form to claim a retirement savings credit that TurboTax required a paid upgrade to file. If they’d started from the TurboTax Free File landing page instead of the military page, they would have been able to file for free.

Like many other tax prep companies, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, participates in the Free File program with the IRS, under which the industry offers most Americans free tax filing. In return, the IRS agrees not to create its own free filing system that would compete with the companies. But few of those who are eligible use the program, in part because the companies aggressively market paid versions, often misleading customers. We’ve documented how Intuit had deliberately made its Free File version difficult to find, including by hiding it from search engines.

In a statement, Intuit spokesman Rick Heineman said, “Intuit has long supported active-military and veterans, both in filing their taxes and in their communities, overseas, and in the Intuit workplace.” He added: “Intuit is proud to support active military, including the millions of men and women in uniform who have filed their tax returns completely free using TurboTax.”

To find TurboTax’s Free File landing page, service members typically have to go through the IRS website. TurboTax Military, by contrast, is promoted on the company’s home page and elsewhere. Starting through the Military landing page directs many users to paid products even when they are eligible to get the same service for no cost using the Free File edition.

An Intuit press release this year announced “TurboTax Offers Free Filing for Military E1- E5” — but refers users to TurboTax Military and does not mention the actual Free File option. (E1-E5 refers to military pay grades.) It was promoted on the company’s Twitter feed with a smiling picture of a woman wearing fatigues outside her suburban home. Google searches for “TurboTax military,” “TurboTax for soldiers” and “TurboTax for troops” all produce top results sending users to the TurboTax Military page.

That site offers a “military discount.” Some service members can use it to file for free, depending on their pay grade and tax situation. Others are informed — only after inputting their tax data — that they will have to pay.

In one instance, Petty Officer Laurell, a hospital corpsman in the Navy who didn’t want his full name used, was charged even though he makes under $66,000. TurboTax charged Laurell $95 this year and $100 last year, his receipts show.

“I am upset and troubled that TurboTax would intentionally mislead members of the military,” said Laurell, who has been in the service for a decade.

Using receipts, tax returns and other documentation, we verified the accounts from four service members who were charged by TurboTax even though they were eligible to use Free File. They include an Army second lieutenant, a Navy hospital corpsman and a Navy yeoman.

The New York regulator investigating TurboTax is also examining the military issue, according to a person familiar with the probe.

Active-duty members of the military get greater access to Free File products than other taxpayers. All Americans who make under $66,000 can use products offered by one of 12 participating companies in the program. But each company then imposes additional, sometimes confusing eligibility requirements based on income, age and location. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 1:51 pm

Trump mission to destroy US government continues to make progress: USDA researchers quit in droves as Trump administration plans relocation

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Is he doing all this to curry favor with Putin?

Ben Guarino reports in the Washington Post:

A plan to move Agriculture Department researchers out of Washington has thrown two small but influential science agencies into upheaval. Federal employees at the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) have quit in unusually large numbers since August, when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he would relocate the offices.

ERS leadership has been conducting final site visits this week of candidate locations, and an “announcement Friday is very likely,” said Peter Winch, an organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents ERS workers.

USDA declined to say when it will announce the new location for the agencies. “We don’t undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to improve performance and the services these agencies provide,” Perdue told The Washington Post in a statement.

Perdue presented his idea as a money-saving plan that will move scientists closer to “stakeholders” and “customers” such as farmers. ERS is a statistical agency that provides research for lawmakers; NIFA funds hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural research each year. Each office employs between 200 and 250 people, based on employee estimates. During the Obama administration, NIFA had about 400 workers and ERS had 300.

Former Agriculture Department officials, members of Congress and leaders in the agricultural community have warned that the relocation will weaken the agencies and reduce their influence.

The plan faces several obstacles. The USDA’s inspector general is investigating whether Perdue has the legal authority to relocate the agencies. The House Appropriations Committee’s draft bill of agricultural appropriations for fiscal year 2020, released Wednesday, prohibits the department from using funds for relocations outside the capital area.

A USDA document known as the “stay-go” list, acquired by The Washington Post, describes 76 positions at ERS that would remain in Washington. All other employees would be assigned to the new site, though the document mentions “planned attrition.” The USDA declined to explain this phrase, and a USDA spokesman said in March that the department has “no assumptions at all about attrition.”

“Morale is pretty poor,” said an ERS economist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The economist recently calculated resignation rates at the agency: ERS averaged about one non-retirement departure per month during fiscal years 2016 through 2018. Since October, that rate has doubled, the employee said. On a single day at the end of April, six people quit ERS.

Economist Brian Stacy left ERS in February for a job at the World Bank. Stacy, an economist who studied the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly known as food stamps, wrote in his resignation letter that moving out of the the D.C. area for work would be “extraordinarily difficult for my family.”

The recent political pressure on ERS “seemed to fit a pattern,” Stacy told The Post, citing President Trump’s 2019 budget request that would have cut the agency’s funding by half. “Right after that, along came the relocation and this reorganization . . . I couldn’t help in the back of my mind to think that we were somehow being singled out.”

Trump’s budget for 2020 would also slash funds for ERS research, particularly in nutrition and rural health. ERS is part of the Research, Education and Economics division, which is the USDA’s science arm and is overseen by a chief scientist. Perdue has said he would like to move ERS into the office of the chief economist, a political branch of the Agriculture Department.

More than 130 sites across the country sent proposals to USDA to host the agencies. Candidate sites were evaluated based on distance from the capital and other criteria, such as whether they have direct daily flights to the D.C. area.

In March, Perdue announced 68 “middle list” candidates. On May 3, he said that Kansas City, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, and the state of Indiana were the final contenders, with St. Louis and Madison, Wis. as alternates.

Scientific and agricultural organizations, including the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the American Statistical Association, the National Sustainable Agriculture CoalitionAssociation of Public and Land-grant Universitiesand the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, criticized the decision to move the two organizations hundreds of miles.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) expressed disappointment that none of the finalist locations were within the National Capital Region, where the USDA already owns office buildings. A more distant relocation “will disrupt the important work carried out by the ERS and NIFA and undermine morale,” Hoyer said in a statement.

On May 9, employees at ERS voted 138 to 4 to unionize. Workers at NIFA will hold a vote in June. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 11:34 am

New findings on cholesterol that contradict old recommendations

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 9:58 am

IRS Commissioner Who Is Charged with Releasing Trump Tax Returns Profits from Trump-Branded Property

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Caroline Zhang reports more conflicts of interest in the Trump administration:

President Trump’s hand-picked IRS Commissioner, Charles Rettig, earns as much as $1 million in rental income from the Trump-branded properties he co-owns while facing demands from Congress to release Trump’s tax returns. The IRS has already missed more than one deadline set by the House Ways and Means Committee to turn over Trump’s tax returns. (Rettig has stated that he will decide whether or not to release the tax returns, under the supervision of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.)

When Trump nominated Rettig to lead the IRS in February 2018, Rettig initially failed to disclose that the Hawaii real estate he owned was at a Trump-branded property. He bought a 50 percent interest in two units at Trump International Waikiki in 2006 ahead of the building’s completion in 2009. It is likely that Trump profited off of his future-IRS commissioner’s purchase; although the Trump Organization does not own the Waikiki property, its branding deal gave it a 10 percent share of total pre-sales.

Records indicate Rettig is definitely making money from this purchase: on his financial disclosure, he reported an income between $100,000 and $1 million in rent and/or royalties from the units. The two one-bedroom condos are valued around $1.2 million each, according to Hawaii property records. President Trump also made a promotional appearance at the property in 2017 ahead of a diplomatic trip.

Rettig’s financial interest at Trump-branded property raises serious ethics questions as the president continues to fight to keep his tax returns secret. The public has a strong interest in seeing the president’s tax returns to understand whether he is using the White House to further his own bottom line. The fact that Trump’s IRS Commissioner is entangled in the president’s business interests means we have to ask whether Rettig’s decision on releasing the president’s tax returns is based on the public interest or his own financial interests.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 9:48 am

Winner of best caption contest

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 9:36 am

Posted in Daily life

Barrister & Mann Reserve soap with a badger brush: Worked like a charm

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In a comment on my shave two days ago, John Perry mentioned that Will of Barrister & Mann specifically recommends using a synthetic shaving brush with Reserve soap (which, I note, has a consistency when wet that is quite distinct from other soaps). Perry pointed me to this video:

I haven’t yet watched the video, but I will. In the meantime, after the so-so lather of day before yesterday (with a badger brush) and the great lather yesterday (with a synthetic brush), I tried again with a badger brush, the Sabini silvertip pictured, and was more careful about adding water.

Perry notes that he starts with a somewhat wetter brush, but my habit is to shake the brush well so that it’s merely damp and add water only if needed. So I did that, and I discovered that I immediately had to add water, and two more additions were needed. This acts like a soap that contains clay, only perhaps a little more so.

I still am leery of starting with a wet brush, but given how quickly I had to add water and how much I added, my fears are doubtless overblown. And—most important—I got a very fine lather. So the problem I had was not enough water and perhaps as a result insufficient loading.

Still, I would say that the synthetic brush yesterday worked better than the silvertip brush today, so I probably will use only synthetics with this soap from now on. (I don’t know of any soaps offhand where a silvertip brush works better than a synthetic.)

Three passes with the Fatip Testina Gentile left the face totally smooth, and a splash of Lavanda finished the job. I look forward to the day.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 9:03 am

Posted in Shaving

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