Later On

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Archive for May 30th, 2019

It’s Getting Worse: The IRS Now Audits Poor Americans at About the Same Rate as the Top 1%

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It makes no sense (except, of course, to the GOP). Paul Kiel reports in ProPublica:

Every year, the IRS, starved of funds after years of budget cuts, loses hundreds more agents to retirement. And every year, the news gets better for the rich — especially those prone to go bold on their taxes. According to data released by the IRS last week, millionaires in 2018 were about 80% less likely to be audited than they were in 2011.

But poor taxpayers continue to bear the brunt of the IRS’ remaining force. As we reported last year, Americans who receive the earned income tax credit, one of the country’s largest anti-poverty programs, are audited at a higher rate than all but the richest taxpayers. The new data shows that the trend has only grown stronger.

Audits of the rich continue to plunge while those of the poor hold steady, and the two audit rates are converging. Last year, the top 1% of taxpayers by income were audited at a rate of 1.56%. EITC recipients, who typically have annual income under $20,000, were audited at 1.41%.

Part of the reason is ease. Audits of EITC recipients are largely automated and far less complicated.

“While the wealthy now have an open invitation to cheat, low-income taxpayers are receiving heightened scrutiny because they can be audited far more easily. All it takes is a letter instead of a team of investigators and lawyers,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

“We have two tax systems in this country,” he said, “and nothing illustrates that better than the IRS ignoring wealthy tax cheats while penalizing low-income workers over small mistakes.”

In a statement, IRS spokesman Dean Patterson acknowledged that the sharp decline in audits of the wealthy is due to the agency having lost so many skilled auditors. And he didn’t dispute that pursuing the poor is just easier.

Because EITC audits are largely conducted through the mail by lower-level employees from a central location, they are “less burdensome for taxpayers than in-person audits as they mail in their documentation and don’t have to take time out of the workday,” Patterson said.

“Correspondence audits are also the most efficient use of IRS’ limited examination resources.”

In April, Wyden, citing ProPublica’s reporting, asked IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to deliver a plan to address the agency’s disproportionate focus on auditing the poor. The deadline has passed, but Wyden’s office said the senator still expects a response. The IRS did not comment on the delay.

The agency audited 382,000 recipients of the EITC in 2018, accounting for 43% of all audits of individuals last year. When we mapped the estimated audit rates for every county in America, the counties with the highest audit rates were poor, rural, mostly African American and in the South, a reflection of the high number of EITC claims there.

Natassia Smick and her husband were among those unlucky 382,000 households. We wrote about them last year. They live outside Los Angeles and saw their entire refund frozen in February 2018. For a couple who earned about $33,000 in 2017, that $7,300 refund was big money ($2,000 of it stemmed from the EITC). When it didn’t come, Smick said she had to abandon plans for catching up with her credit card debt.

After Smick sent in all her supporting documents, it took until this May to get a final answer from the IRS. Fourteen months after it all started, the IRS said it agreed Smick and her husband were due about $7,000, she said. But the agency disagreed on the remaining $350, because it couldn’t verify her husband’s employment for part of the year. Smick said the IRS was wrong to hold back the $350, but she couldn’t afford to contest it and further delay the $7,000. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 12:17 pm

New evidence suggests census citizenship question was crafted to benefit white Republicans

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Tara Bahrampour reports in the Washington Post:

Just weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, new evidence emerged Thursday suggesting the question was crafted specifically to give an electoral advantage to white Republicans.

The evidence was found in the files of the prominent Republican redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller after his death in August. It reveals that Hofeller “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,’ ” and that Trump administration officials purposely obscured Hofeller’s role in court proceedings, lawyers for plaintiffs challenging the question wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman. Furman was one of three federal judges who ruled against the question this year.

The letter drew on new information discovered on hard drives belonging to Hofeller, which were found accidentally by Hofeller’s estranged daughter. Stephanie Hofeller Lizon then shared them with the organization Common Cause for a gerrymandering lawsuit it is pursuing in North Carolina.

The files show that Hofeller concluded in a 2015 study that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting, and then pushed the idea with the Trump administration in 2017, according to the letter to Furman.

The evidence contradicts sworn testimony by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s expert adviser A. Mark Neuman and senior Justice Department official John Gore, as well as other testimony by defendants, the letter said.

The Commerce and Justice departments did not respond to questions about the new information.

It is unclear whether there is a way for lawyers challenging the citizenship question to get the new information to the Supreme Court, which will decide the case by the term’s end next month. Evidence in the case concluded with oral arguments April 23, when the conservative majority seemed inclined to side with the government.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in district court Thursday morning for “sanctions and any other relief the court deems appropriate, because of apparently untruthful testimony” by Trump administration officials in the earlier trials, said Dale Ho, who argued the case at the Supreme Court on behalf of the ACLU.

“We started at the district court because that where the misrepresentations were made,” he said. “We’re evaluating what other options would be appropriate.”

The ACLU also asked the court to allow previously redacted testimony from Neuman to be made public. On Thursday, Furman ordered that the government must provide a response by 10 a.m. Friday and called a hearing on the matter for Wednesday.

The new information indicates that blueprints for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census predated the Trump administration, but Donald Trump’s election allowed them to become a reality, Ho said.

“It just shows that there was a long-standing plan to weaponize the census to dilute minority voting power to try to forestall the electoral effects of the demographic changes that this country is undergoing,” he said.

Ho said sanctions could include fines imposed on witnesses or the government, a reopening of the case or an amendment of the final judgment to account for new evidence.

The population count from the decennial census is used to allocate $800 billion a year in federal funding and determine congressional representation and redistricting. Opponents of the citizenship question have argued that it will suppress response to the survey among immigrant communities, resulting in an undercount in the areas where they live.

Hofeller’s files also reveal that in August 2017, he helped ghostwrite a draft Department of Justice letter to the Commerce Department requesting a citizenship question and coming up with a rationale — to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said. He then gave this letter to Gore, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, in October 2017, they said.

The gen­esis of that request and the rationale behind it were key questions in trials challenging the question. Ross initially had told Congress that the request was initiated by the Justice Department in a December 2017 letter, but administration documents released in the case later indicated that it came at Ross’s urging, starting months earlier. Census and voting rights experts have said the question is not needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department letter “bears striking similarities to Dr. Hofeller’s 2015 study, stating that a citizenship question on the Census was essential to advantaging Republicans and white voters,” the letter to Furman said. It added: “Based on this new evidence, it appears that both Neuman and Gore falsely testified about the genesis of DOJ’s request to Commerce in ways that obscured the pretextual character of the request.”

Critics of the question blasted the administration after the news broke. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 11:01 am

A visual history of American public libraries

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Here’s a fascinating, long-scroll visual read by Ariel Aberg-Riger. Definitely worth the click.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 8:40 am

Former Republican Federal Prosecutors Speak Out Against President Trump’s Obstruction of Justice

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The Daily 202 in the Washington Post notes:

The video features Donald Ayer, Paul Rosenzweig, and Jeffrey Harris. Ayer served as the deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. Rosenzweig was a senior counsel to Starr and deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. Harris served as deputy associate attorney general under Ronald Reagan and was a principal assistant to Rudy Giuliani when he was in the Justice Department.

The three are among the more than 1,000 former prosecutorswho have signed onto a statement asserting that Mueller’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against Trump if he wasn’t the president.

“These veterans of the Reagan and Bush Administrations are reminding us that the law applies the same to everyone, even the president,” said Chris Truax, a spokesman for Republicans for the Rule of Law, which produced the video in partnership with Protect Democracy, a nonprofit whose charge is to hold the executive branch accountable. “Republicans and all Americans need to listen.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 8:26 am

1979 outbreak of breast enlargement in Italian children

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Michael Greger MD writes at NutritionFacts.org:

In 1979, an epidemic of breast enlargement was noted in Italian children. Poultry or veal was suspected, given that estrogens “may be fed to farm animals to accelerate their weight gain.” “After this episode, the European Union banned the application/use of anabolic growth promoters in agriculture,” as well as the importation of American meat from animals injected with drugs like Zeranol, sold as “Ralgro Magnum.”

Zeranol, one of the most potent known endocrine disrupters, is 100,000 times more estrogenic than the plastics chemical, BPA, for example, and is the subject of my video Zeranol Use in Meat and Breast Cancer. “Zeranol constitutes a special case among potential endocrine disrupters, because Zeranol, in contrast to all other oestrogenic ‘endocrine disrupting’ chemicals, is present in human food because it is deliberately used in the production of consumer products. Furthermore, Zeranol is designed to be a potent, fairly persistent, [estrogen] whereas the [estrogenic] properties of the chemicals that are considered potential endocrine disrupters is accidental.”

If you drip blood from a cow implanted with the drug onto human breast cancer cells in a petri dish, you can double the cancer growth rate. We don’t drink blood, though, but preliminary data showed that muscle extracts—that is, meat extracts—also stimulated breast cancer cell proliferation.

Furthermore, Zeranol may cause the transformation of normal breast cells into cancer cells in the first place. Zeranol-containing blood from implanted cattle “was capable of transforming the human normal breast epithelial cell line” into breast cancer cells within 21 days.

“[O]bese individuals may be at greater risk of developing zeranol-induced breast cancer,” since they already have high levels of leptin, which is a hormone produced by fat cells that can itself promote breast cancer growth. And, Zeranol exposure can greatly enhance this growth-promoting action. “This result also suggests that Z[eranol] may be more harmful to obese breast cancer patients than to normal weight breast cancer patients in terms of breast cancer development.”

“In conclusion, because the synthetic and the natural hormones, used as anabolic growth promoters in meat production, are by far the most potent hormones found in human food,” we should really be testing people, especially children, before and after eating this meat. It amazes me this hasn’t been done, and, until it has, we have no idea what kind of threat they may pose, though the fact that Zeranol is as potent as estradiol (the primary sex steroid in women) and DES should concern us. DES is another synthetic estrogen that was marketed to pregnant women until 1971 when it was shown to cause vaginal cancers in the daughters. But few know it was also usedin meat.

“In the absence of effective federal regulation, the meat industry uses hundreds of animal feed additives…with little or no concern about the carcinogenic and other toxic effects of dietary residues of these additives. Illustratively, after decades of misleading assurances of the safety of diethylstilbestrol (DES) and its use as a growth-promoting animal-feed additive, the United States finally banned its use in 1979 some 40 years after it was first shown to be carcinogenic. The meat industry then promptly switched to other [potentially] carcinogenic additives,” such as Zeranol.

When girls started dying from vaginal cancer, DES-treated meat was banned in Europe. However, “misleading assurances…including the deliberate suppression of residue data, managed to delay a U.S. ban on DES” in the meat supply for eight years.

Today, “[v]irtually the entire U.S. population consumes, without any warning, labeling, or information, unknown and unpredictable amounts of hormonal residues in meat products over a lifetime.” If all hormonal and other carcinogenic feed additives aren’t banned immediately, the least we should have is “explicit labeling requirements of use and of [hormone] residue levels in all meat products, including milk and eggs.”


Isn’t the DES story amazing? I had no idea it was used in meat production. Check out Illegal Drugs in Chicken Feathers for more on Big Pharma on Big Farms.

The most dangerous additive used in the meat industry is antibiotics, though. See, for example:

Continue reading. Full list is at the link, plus a list of foods that offer protection.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 8:22 am

“Best healthcare system in the world” suffers another blow: Cardiologists at UNC Chapel Hill medical center wouldn’t send their children there

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Ellen Gabler reports in the NY Times:

Tasha and Thomas Jones sat beside their 2-year-old daughter as she lay in intensive care at North Carolina Children’s Hospital. Skylar had just come out of heart surgery and should recover well, her parents were told. But that night, she flatlined. Doctors and nurses swarmed around her, performing chest compressions for nearly an hour before putting the little girl on life support.

Five days later, in June 2016, the hospital’s pediatric cardiologists gathered one floor below for what became a wrenching discussion. Patients with complex conditions had been dying at higher-than-expected rates in past years, some of the doctors suspected. Now, even children like Skylar, undergoing less risky surgeries, seemed to fare poorly.

The cardiologists pressed their division chief about what was happening at the hospital, part of the respected University of North Carolina medical center in Chapel Hill, while struggling to decide if they should continue to send patients to UNC for heart surgery.

Dr. Blair Robinson Cardiologist

I ask myself, ‘Would I have my children have surgery here?’

In the past, I’d always felt like the answer was ‘yes’ for something simple. …

But now when I look myself in the mirror, and what’s gone on the past month, I can’t say that. And if I can’t say it for my kids — and that should be our group discussion — if we can’t all look ourselves in the mirror and think we’re doing the right thing, then we need to change what we’re doing.

That March, a newborn had died after muscles supporting a valve in his heart appeared to have been damaged during surgery. At least two patients undergoing low-risk surgeries had recently experienced complications. In May, a baby girl with a complex heart condition died two weeks after her operation. Two days later, Skylar went in for surgery.

In the doctors’ meeting, the chief of pediatric cardiology, Dr. Timothy Hoffman, was blunt. “It’s a nightmare right now,” he said. “We are in crisis, and everyone is aware of that.”

That comment and others — captured in secret audio recordings provided to The New York Times — offer a rare, unfiltered look inside a medical institution as physicians weighed their ethical obligations to patients while their bosses also worried about harming the surgical program.

In meetings in 2016 and 2017, all nine cardiologists expressed concerns about the program’s performance. The head of the hospital and other leaders there were alarmed as well, according to the recordings. The cardiologists — who diagnose and treat heart conditions but don’t perform surgeries — could not pinpoint what might be going wrong in an intertwined system involving surgeons, anesthesiologists, intensive care doctors and support staff. But they discussed everything from inadequate resources to misgivings about the chief pediatric cardiac surgeon to whether the hospital was taking on patients it wasn’t equipped to handle. Several doctors began referring more children elsewhere for surgery.

[Listen to key moments from the recordings.]

The heart specialists had been asking to review the institution’s mortality statistics for cardiac surgery — information that most other hospitals make public — but said they had not been able to get it for several years. Last month, after repeated requests from The Times, UNC released limited data showing that for four years through June 2017, it had a higher death rate than nearly all of the 82 institutions nationwide that do publicly report.

UNC Health Care defends the surgery program, describing it as “very strong” today and citing its most recent data to support that. It denies any past problems affecting patient care. “We determined,” said Dr. Benny Joyner, chief of critical care at the children’s hospital, that “there is nothing here that is systematic, or systemic that would lead us to be concerned about the performance of operations on children that are high-risk, low-risk, no-risk.”

Other administrators, in a joint interview, said there was “a dysfunctional group” in 2016 that sowed mistrust, creating “team culture issues.” Lisa Schiller, a spokeswoman, said in a statement, “They were handled appropriately, and today we have new team members.” UNC cited leadership changes — most taking effect in 2017 or 2018, including the appointment of a new chief surgeon last year — to help improve the dynamics.

The turmoil at UNC underscores concerns about the quality and consistency of care provided by dozens of pediatric heart surgery programs across the country. Each year in the United States about 40,000 babies are born with heart defects; about 10,000 are likely to need surgery or other procedures before their first birthday.

The best outcomes for patients with complex heart problems correlate with hospitals that perform a high volume of surgeries — several hundred a year — studies show. But a proliferation of the surgery programs has made it difficult for many institutions, including UNC, to reach those numbers: The North Carolina hospital does about 100 to 150 a year. Lower numbers can leave surgeons and staff at some hospitals with insufficient experience and resources to achieve better results, researchers have found. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 8:06 am

8-year-old girl lays down dynamite drum track to Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times”

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 7:40 am

Posted in Music, Video

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