How the Maker of TurboTax Fought Free, Simple Tax Filing

From ProPublica:

Imagine filing your income taxes in five minutes — and for free. You’d open up a pre-filled return, see what the government thinks you owe, make any needed changes and be done. The miserable annual IRS shuffle, gone.

It’s already a reality in Denmark, Sweden and Spain. The government-prepared return would estimate your taxes using information your employer and bank already send it. Advocates say tens of millions of taxpayers could use such a system each year, saving them a collective $2 billion and 225 million hours in prep costs and time, according to one estimate.

The idea, known as “return-free filing,” would be a voluntary alternative to hiring a tax preparer or using commercial tax software. The concept has been around for decades and has been endorsed by both President Ronald Reagan and a campaigning President Obama.

“This is not some pie-in-the-sky that’s never been done before,” said William Gale, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “It’s doable, feasible, implementable, and at a relatively low cost.”

So why hasn’t it become a reality?

Well, for one thing, it doesn’t help that it’s been opposed for years by the company behind the most popular consumer tax software — Intuit, maker of TurboTax. Conservative tax activist Grover Norquist and an influential computer industry group also have fought return-free filing.

Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years — more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit’s disclosures pointedly note that the company “opposes IRS government tax preparation.”

Google Maps a Japanese Nuclear Ghost Town

From The Atlantic:

Two years after the the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, and the following tsunami and nuclear disaster, a large area around the failed Fukushima nuclear plant is still considered an exclusion zone. Namie, a small city just north of the nuclear power plant, was evacuated shortly after the quake, and its 21,000 townspeople have been unable to return since, leaving it a ghost town. At the invitation of local officials, Google recently deployed its camera-equipped vehicles to Namie to create a street view map of the deserted town so residents can see their abandoned homes, and the world can witness the remains of the disaster.

(via Poor Mojo)

Saying ‘Vagina’ During Biology Class Leads To Investigation Of Idaho Science Teacher

From Talking Points Memo:

Parents in Dietrich, Idaho, aren’t very happy with the way science teacher Tim McDaniel is teaching their children human anatomy.

That is to say, they’re unhappy that he is teaching them human anatomy at all.

In a formal complaint made against the 18-year Dietrich School veteran by at least four parents, McDaniel is chided for using the word “vagina” during a tenth-grade biology class on the human reproductive system.

Among other complaints submitted to the school: McDaniel explained the biology of an orgasm, taught students about STDs and birth control, and showed a clip from An Inconvenient Truth, which led to a discussion about climate change.

“I teach straight out of the textbook, I don’t include anything that the textbook doesn’t mention,” McDaniel told the Twin Falls Times-News. “But I give every student the option not attend this class when I teach on the reproductive system if they don’t feel comfortable with the material.”

Catholic Archbishop Says Alligator is a Fish

It’s so arbitrary. Even when I was little and believed in god I thought the no meat on Fridays was ridiculous. Being restricted to seafood only isn’t much of a sacrifice. Especially when you live near the ocean.

Is it OK to eat alligator on Fridays during Lent? That question isn’t just rhetorical in Louisiana, which has large populations of both Catholics and gators.

“Alligator’s such a natural for New Orleans,” says Jay Nix, owner of Parkway Bakery, which serves a mean alligator sausage po boy sandwich. “Alligator gumbo, jambalaya. I mean, it’s a wonder that alligator isn’t our mascot, you know?”

Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but seafood is allowed. Three years ago, when Jim Piculas was trying to settle a debate among his friends about whether gator qualified as seafood, he wrote a letter to the archbishop of New Orleans to ask.

His letter must have been pretty zealous, because not long after he wrote it, he got a response from Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond saying: “Yes, the alligator’s considered in the fish family, and I agree with you — God has created a magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana, and it is considered seafood.”