Turbo Tax refunds to go out to the people they defrauded

Some time ago, the government made a deal with private tax preparation companies that they would not create their own tax preparation software that people could use to file their taxes for free (which would be the logical thing to do) and, in return the private companies would provide free tax preparation software to low income groups. But what the invaluable investigative journalistic outfit ProPublica discovered was that the private companies buried access to the free software so that almost no one could find them and, in addition, used fraudulent means to make people think they needed more expensive packages than they actually required.

State governments sued them and as a result, refunds are being issued to those thus defrauded.
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Trump keeps losing in court

Donald Trump talks big about being a winner but one place where he keeps losing is in the courts. He has been racking up an impressive series of legal defeats all over the place, starting with his numerous challenges to the validity of the 2020 election.

He has also been futilely suing the media and yesterday he lost yet another case.

A judge in New York has thrown out Donald Trump’s 2021 lawsuit accusing New York Times reporters of an “insidious plot” to obtain his tax records.

The former president has also been ordered to pay all attorneys’ fees and legal expenses the Times and its reporters had incurred. The lawsuit alleged that the newspaper sought out Trump’s niece Mary Trump and persuaded her “to smuggle the records out of her attorney’s office”.

The Daily Beast first reported the news. Donald Trump had also made claims against his niece, which have yet to be ruled on.

The Times’s 2018 Pulitzer-winning stories relied on information from Mary Trump to cast doubt on the ex-president’s claims that he was a self-made millionaire, showing that he inherited hundreds of millions through “dubious tax schemes”. The series also revealed a history of tax avoidance.

Last year, the former president also sued CNN, claiming defamation and seeking $475m in damages. In 2020, his re-election campaign also sued the New York Times and the Washington Post over opinion pieces linking him to Russian interference in the election. The cases against each newspaper were dismissed.

I hope that his devoted supporters who send him money begin to realize that it is all just going down the drain in lawyers fees to indulge his fantasies.

The GOP ignore these warning signs at their peril

Michigan is seen as a swing state but recently in both the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 mid-terms, the state has swung Democratic.

Across Michigan, which Trump lost by 2.8 points, voters have overwhelmingly rejected election denialism and embraced measures to expand voting access. Proposition 2, a ballot measure that established early voting and expanded absentee voting passed by 60%. Secretary of state Jocelyn Benson won her seat in a definitive race against Kristina Karamo, who spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, and voters in the state elected Dana Nessel as attorney general over Matthew DePerno, who led multiple unsuccessful legal challenges to the 2020 presidential election in Michigan.

But things were quite different in Hillsdale county, which remained a Republican stronghold in which “Karamo earned 66% of the vote and DePerno swept, nearly earning 70% of Hillsdale county voters in his election.” This county is also the home of Hillsdale College, a prominent conservative Christian college. (I was invited there during the height of the Intelligent Design controversy to debate ID proponents.)
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This testimony could be very damaging for Trump

Yesterday Lisa Birnbach, one of E. Jean Carroll’s friends, gave testimony at the trial about how Carroll had called her immediately after the alleged rape by Donald Trump. She described how Carroll had been hyperventilating as she described what Trump had done to her. She said that she had urged Carroll to go to the police because what had happened to her was rape but Carroll refused and asked her not to tell anyone about it and she had honored that request all these years.

Another woman described how Trump assaulted her on a plane.

The court also heard dramatic testimony from a businesswoman, Jessica Leeds, who said Trump grabbed her breast and attempted to put his hand up her skirt on a flight in 1979.

Leeds is one of two women the judge has ruled can give evidence about the former president’s alleged sexual assaults. She told the jury she was seated next to Trump on a flight to New York. After chatting for a while and eating dinner, he suddenly “decided to kiss me and grope me”.

“He was trying to kiss me. He was trying to pull me towards him. He was grabbing my breasts. It was like he had 40m hands.

“It was when he started putting his hand up my skirt, that gave me a jolt of strength.”

Leeds said she was able to pull away and fled to the back of the plane. She went public with her account of the alleged attack weeks before the 2016 presidential election, after Trump denied having sexually assaulted women.

Leeds said she saw Trump three years later, when she was volunteering at a Humane Society event.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘I remember you, you’re that cunt from the airplane,’” Leeds said. “It was like a bucket of cold water thrown over my head.”

There seems to be no limit to the amount of evidence revealing what a disgusting creep Trump is.

The news reports do not mention any cross examination by Trump’s lawyers of these two witnesses but the trial is still ongoing so maybe that will come later. Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina seems to be the bulldog type and has not shown himself to be subtle and sensitive. The two women are now 79 and 81 years old and subjecting elderly women to brutal cross-examinations may not play well with a jury.

Interestingly, the Leeds story with all its graphic details was prominently reported in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post as well. I would have thought they would downplay or even ignore it. I wonder what that says, if anything, about the state of the Trump-Murdoch alliance.

When South Africa came close to civil war

During the time that I was a student in Sri Lanka, South Africa was an apartheid state. Nelson Mandela was an iconic figure for us as a freedom fighter, along with Che Guevara, but he had been languishing in prison since 1962, his arrest reportedly facilitated by the CIA. (The US for a long time supported the apartheid state of South Africa while giving lip service to human rights.) White supremacy was so deeply entrenched that I thought it would never yield unless there was a violent uprising by the Black and colored population that would result in enormous bloodshed. I expected Mandela to die in prison. So the peaceful transition to a democracy that resulted in majority rule and Mandela being elected president was one of the big surprises that taught me that one should never discount the possibility of things turning out better than one might have realistically expected.

The architects of that transition were Mandela and F. W. de Klerk, the president of that apartheid regime. de Klerk had the foresight to see that apartheid had to end one way or the other and that it was better to be part of the transition than being forced out. He saw the writing on the wall more clearly than his white predecessor presidents and so he released Mandela from prison in 1990.
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Extraordinary developments in Haiti

Haiti has been going through a hell of a time in the recent past but especially since its former president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in 2021 and the prime minister Ariel Henry took power. The subsequent governments have been weak and as a result, armed gangs have started taking over in parts of the country, especially its capital Port-au-Prince, terrorizing he population.

People seem to have finally had enough and as a result vigilante groups of citizens have struck back at the gangs.
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Bringing back knobs and buttons for car controls

Unlike in similar countries, the pandemic brought some bad news on the roads for the US.

Unlike in most peer countries, American roadway deaths surged during the pandemic and have barely receded since. Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities recently hit their highest levels in 40 years, but U.S. transportation officials continue to ignore key contributing factors.

One of the causes for the increased accident rate may be the proliferation of touch screen controls that can lead to more distracted driving.

As I explained in a 2021 Slate article, the trend toward car touch screens has been a dangerous one for road safety. Those who drove in the 1990s will remember using buttons and knobs to change the radio or adjust the air conditioning without looking down from the steering wheel.

Despite their name, touch screens rely on a driver’s eyes as much as her fingers to navigate—and every second that she is looking at a screen is a second that she isn’t looking at the road ahead. Navigating through various levels of menus to reach a desired control can be particularly dangerous; one study by the AAA Foundation concluded that infotainment touch screens can distract a driver for up to 40 seconds, long enough to cover half a mile at 50 mph.

“The irony is that everyone basically accepts that it’s dangerous to use your phone while driving,” said Farah. “Yet no one complains about what we’re doing instead, which is fundamentally using an iPad while driving. If you’re paying between $40,000 and $300,000 for a car, you’re getting an iPad built onto the dashboard.”

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