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Mon, 18 Feb 2019 11:19:57 +0000
Seven centrist British lawmakers have split away from the U.K.’s Labour Party over a variety of issues, including Labour’s failure to take a firm stance on Brexit.
The members of Parliament--Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey--announced their decision on Monday. They have formed a new alliance called the Independent Group and are urging other lawmakers to join them.
“Our primary duty as members of Parliament is to put the best interests of our constituents and our country first. Yet like so many others, we believe that none of today's political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country,” the group’s statement reads. “Our aim is to pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century in the party's interests.”
Brexit is by no means the only reason for the split, although the seven all back the idea of a second referendum on the issue. As Umunna said in a press conference, “In the end, we’re not going to change the arithmetic in Parliament on what happens with Brexit.” (Labour still has 255 members left in Parliament.)
One big trigger for the split was the anti-Semitism that has repeatedly manifested in the far left of the Labour Party, and with which party leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly been linked. Berger, who is Jewish, has been repeatedly monstered on social media by Corbyn fans.
At their press conference, the parliamentarians said the Labour Party used to be a “broad church,” but the hard left had taken over.
“Labour now pursues policies that would weaken our national security; accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country; has failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives' approach; is passive in circumstances of international humanitarian distress; is hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilize the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives,” their statement read.
Corbyn has long been seen as antagonistic toward the EU, on the basis that it would supposedly stymie his plans for renationalizing parts of the British economy. He nominally opposed Brexit during the referendum campaign, but with no visible enthusiasm.
The U.K. is currently sliding toward a “no-deal” Brexit, but Corbyn has so far refused to back the idea of a second referendum on the issue. This is despite the fact that party members last year voted to keep that option on the table.
“I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945,” Corbyn said in a statement.
The question now is whether, in the increasingly likely event of a general election, the new Independent Group would take away the votes that could see Labour taking power. Polling last week suggested that Labour and Theresa May’s Conservative Party were neck-and-neck, but also that many people don’t like the direction either party has taken, with 40% being open to the idea of a new political party.
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Mon, 18 Feb 2019 11:00:20 +0000
Presidents’ Day is a federal holiday that was originally created to honor the nation’s first president, George Washington. The day, which now honors all U.S. presidents, happens every third Monday in February.
Because Presidents’ Day is a federal holiday, generally speaking, schools are not open on Monday, and neither are many government institutions. But plenty of stores sure are; it’s a huge sale day for consumer retail. Trash pickup in your area may also be impacted by Presidents’ Day and running on an alternate schedule.
Here’s what is open and closed on Presidents’ Day 2019:
Are FedEx and UPS packages or mail delivered on Presidents’ Day?
The United States Postal Service, like other nonessential government agencies and public schools, is not open on Presidents’ Day. That means there is no USPS mail delivery on Monday.
Delivery options vary with other shipping services. FedEx operates most of its delivery services on Presidents’ Day, including FedEx Ground and Home Delivery. Check here to see if your preferred service options will be available Monday. UPS does not observe Presidents’ Day, which means UPS will make deliveries on Monday.
Is the stock market open on Monday?
Financial and bond markets, including Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange, are closed on Monday.
Are banks open on Presidents’ Day?
Most banks are closed on Monday, though TD Bank branches are open normal business hours. All ATMs will still work, of course, if you happen to need cash.
What is open?
While federal agencies are closed on Monday, stores sure aren’t. Presidents’ Day sales are notorious for good deals offered to wise shoppers that venture out (especially if they have the day off from work, too). So if you’re in the market to buy a new car or get a deal on new furniture, see whether your favorite retailers, including auto dealers, have a Presidents’ Day sale offer.
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Mon, 18 Feb 2019 10:41:39 +0000
U.K.’s Labour Party Has Ruptured as 7 Lawmakers Defect Over Brexit Stalemate
New Zealand just became the latest country to announce plans for a digital tax on Internet giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Speaking at a weekly news conference, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she and her cabinet had agreed to release a discussion document on the issue, adding that the country’s current tax system was “not fair in the way it treats individual taxpayers, and how it treats multinationals.”
With this announcement, New Zealand joins a growing list of countries specifically targeting multinational online companies. France, Austria, the U.K., Spain, and Italy are all pressing forward with a digital tax at the national level following the EU’s failure to agree one that would cover the whole bloc. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is also hoping its members will be able to agree to a unified policy, while India has announced plans for a digital services tax, and Australia is considering it.
New Zealand’s proposed tax would claim about 2% or 3% of the revenue overseas online companies make in the country. That would bring in between NZ$30 million ($20.6 million) and NZ$80 million ($55 million), according to Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
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Mon, 18 Feb 2019 10:20:39 +0000
What Is Open (and Closed) on Presidents’ Day 2019
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declined to say whether he nominated Donald Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize, while praising the U.S. President for "decisive" efforts to resolve the problems of a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Abe, who has worked hard to build a personal rapport with Trump, walked a fine line during a parliamentary committee meeting Monday when asked about Trump's claim from Friday that the Japanese leader had put his name forward for the prize. "I am not saying it's not true," he told an opposition lawmaker, adding that the Nobel committee doesn't reveal nominations and he would refrain from commenting.
Abe praised Trump for his diplomacy with North Korea and helping to protect Japan, which relies on the U.S. military for its defense. "President Trump has acted decisively toward resolving the issues of the North Korean nuclear and missile problems," Abe said.
Abe was one of the first world leaders to embrace Trump after the 2016 presidential election. Even though surveys in Japan show high public disapproval of Trump, there has been no major backlash to Trump's plans to visit Japan again this year, while such visits have touched off protests in places such as the U.K.
Abe's efforts to build one-on-one ties with Trump have shown their limits. Japan was forced to accept bilateral trade talks with the U.S. after Trump threatened tariffs on its vital auto industry. The U.S. Commerce Department has delivered a report to Trump on the security implications of auto imports, without making its findings public.
In a speech on border security in the White House's Rose Garden on Friday, Trump said Abe had shown him a copy of a five-page letter he sent to "the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize." The president was responding to a question on progress made since last year's historic summit with North Korea. The Asahi newspaper of Japan said the nomination had been made after a request from the U.S.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is pushing to improve ties with North Korea, weighed in Monday, saying through a spokesman that Trump deserved the prize.
"The president has repeatedly emphasized that President Trump's leadership and decisiveness have played a crucial role in establishing peace on the Korean peninsula, so it is President Moon's belief that he well deserves the Nobel Peace Prize," Kim Eui-keum, said at a briefing Monday.
The two Koreas remain technically at war and between them station about 1 million soldiers near their border.
Trump is planning to have a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi Feb. 27-28 after an unprecedented meeting last year. Their June discussions in Singapore led to a joint statement on North Korea's denuclearization but the words have not led to concrete steps to roll back Pyongyang's atomic ambitions.
The Hanoi meeting brings both the promise of a less-dangerous North Korea and the potential peril of a weak deal that leaves Japan exposed to Kim's weapons of mass destruction.
Abe said Trump raised Japan's concerns about its citizens abducted decades ago by North Korea when he met Kim. Abe also told parliament he will do everything possible to work with Trump to resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile problems as well as the abduction issue.
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Mon, 18 Feb 2019 10:12:27 +0000
New Zealand Wants to Tax Online Giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon
China's space ambitions are shifting into a higher orbit.
Following its successful and world-beating trip to the far side of the moon, China is preparing to build a solar power station in space, as the world's No. 2 economy strives to burnish its superpower credentials. With an $8 billion annual budget for its space program, second only to the U.S., China is seeking to compete with its rival for economic, military and technological dominance.
Scientists have already started construction of an experimental base in the western Chinese city Chongqing. Initially, they plan to develop a smaller power station in the stratosphere between 2021 and 2025, a 1 megawatt-level solar facility in space by 2030, and eventually larger generators, according to the state-backed Science and Technology Daily.
Here's what China's been doing in space:
The nation's space scientists successfully landed a lunar probe on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3, capping a series of missions and giving a boost to China's ambitions. Landing on the unexplored region will enable Chang'e-4, the rover named after the mythical Moon Goddess, to better study the moon because of the lack of electromagnetic interference from Earth. The vehicle is equipped with a low-frequency radio spectrometer to help scientists understand "how the earliest stars were ignited and how our cosmos emerged from darkness after the Big Bang," according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.
Reminiscent of the 2015 science fiction film "The Martian" starring Matt Damon, China's lunar mission is also testing if the barren moon can support life. Pictures sent back from Chang'e-4 last month showed the first green leaf from cotton seeds nine days after the experiment was initiated, according to Chongqing University, which led the biological project. The test load on the mission carried cotton, canola, potato, yeast and fruit fly.
China has more such missions in the pipeline. Four more versions of the Chang'e probe are in the offing, with at least two of them planned for a landing on the moon's south pole, according to Wu Yanhua, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration. The agency will also explore setting up a research base on the moon. A Mars probe is likely by the end of this decade.
China aims to build its own space station around 2022. Dubbed Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, it will have a core module and two other modules for experiments, altogether weighing 66 tonnes and able to carry three people, with a designed life cycle of at least 10 years. The facility would be used for scientific research in a dozen areas including biology, physics and material sciences.
President Xi Jinping has loosened the government's monopoly on space launches, fueling the formation of small domestic companies with dreams of challenging companies such as Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. The startups are receiving funding from China-based venture capitalists and private equity investors and can also rely on the expertise of rocket scientists from China's space program.
Taking its rivalry with the U.S. to the heavens, China is spending at least $9 billion to build a navigation system and cut its dependence on the American-owned GPS -- whose satellites beam location data used by smartphones, car navigation systems, the microchip in your dog's neck and guided missiles. And, all those satellites are controlled by the U.S. Air Force, making the Chinese government uncomfortable. So, it has developed an alternative called the Beidou Navigation System, which eventually will provide positioning accuracies of 1 meter (3 feet) or less with use of a ground support system.
The Asian power is developing sophisticated space capabilities such as "satellite inspection and repair" and clearing up orbiting junk -- "at least some of which could also function" as weapons against U.S. satellites, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said this month. China's Foreign Ministry has said the U.S. allegations were "groundless."
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Mon, 18 Feb 2019 10:00:10 +0000
Trump Says Japan’s Shinzo Abe Nominated Him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Abe Won’t Confirm It
Facebook must not be allowed to act like a “digital gangster,” an influential committee of British lawmakers has said in a report that calls for the company to be more heavily regulated. Facebook has responded by saying it is “open to meaningful regulation” regarding disinformation and privacy.
The report about online disinformation and “fake news” was published Monday by the U.K. Parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee.
The committee investigated the subject for a year and a half, at one point forming an unprecedented “Grand Committee” with lawmakers from eight other countries: Canada, Brazil, France, Ireland, Argentina, Singapore, Belgium and Latvia. The Cambridge Analytica scandal broke during the investigation, adding much fuel to its fire.
The outcome? According to the report’s conclusions, it’s time to end the era of self-regulation and voluntary codes of practice for tech companies like Facebook, and to introduce a compulsory code of ethics with an independent regulator to enforce it.
That means making the tech companies legally liable for “harmful and illegal content” on their platforms, with “large fines” for non-compliance.
“Among the countless innocuous postings of celebrations and holiday snaps, some malicious forces use Facebook to threaten and harass others, to publish revenge porn, to disseminate hate speech and propaganda of all kinds, and to influence elections and democratic processes--much of which Facebook, and other social media companies, are either unable or unwilling to prevent,” the report read. “We need to apply widely-accepted democratic principles to ensure their application in the digital age.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not do himself or his company any favors by repeatedly refusing to testify before the DCMS committee. Frustrated and offended by his absence, the committee took the extraordinary step last November of seizing internal Facebook emails from a businessman who obtained the documents in a lawsuit against Facebook, and who happened to be travelling with them in the U.K.
In its report, the committee noted that the emails showed Facebook was “willing to override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data to some app developers, to charge high prices in advertising to some developers, for the exchange of that data, and to starve some developers... of that data, thereby causing them to lose their business.” This meant the company had “at the very least” breached a privacy-related consent order with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, it said.
The U.K.’s antitrust regulator should investigate Facebook, the committee urged, adding: “Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like 'digital gangsters' in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law.”
“The big tech companies must not be allowed to expand exponentially, without constraint or proper regulatory oversight. But only governments and the law are powerful enough to contain them. The legislative tools already exist,” the report read. “They must now be applied to digital activity, using tools such as privacy laws, data protection legislation, antitrust and competition law. If companies become monopolies they can be broken up, in whatever sector.”
In response, Facebook public policy manager Karim Palant said the company was “open to meaningful regulation,” and also supports “effective privacy legislation that holds companies to high standards in their use of data and transparency for users.” He added: “We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorized, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for seven years... While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago.”
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Sun, 17 Feb 2019 19:30:44 +0000
China Aiming to Establish a Power Station in Space by 2025
Many Americans can look forward to an extra day off this month and plenty of sales, thanks to Presidents Day, which falls on Feb. 18 this year.
What is Presidents Day and why do we celebrate it?
The federal holiday, which was established by Congress in 1885, started as a celebration of founding father and first U.S. President George Washington’s birthday. Washington’s birthday was first recognized only as a holiday in Washington, D.C., but was later expanded to the rest of the country. The first president was born in Virginia on Feb. 22, 1732.
Why is Presidents Day always on a Monday?
Americans used to celebrate the holiday on Feb. 22 each year, but that changed in 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The bill went into effect a year and a half later in 1971, and recognized various holidays to be observed on Mondays, ensuring several long weekends for workers throughout the year. Presidents Day in particular began to be celebrated on the third Monday of February.
Along with Washington’s birthday, the new law would also establish Monday holidays for Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day (now recognized by some cities, states, and universities as Indigenous Peoples Day), and Veterans Day.
How did celebrations of Presidents Day evolve?
The shift from celebrating Washington’s birthday to observing the holiday as Presidents Day eventually led people to believe the new date meant to celebrate both Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday also fell in February. Eventually, advertisers began using the three-day weekend as an opportunity to push shopping sales and bargains, according to History.com.
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Sat, 16 Feb 2019 20:00:44 +0000
Deemed a ‘Digital Gangster’ by the U.K., Facebook Now Says It’s ‘Open to Meaningful Regulation’
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South African fans of U.S.-branded hot, glazed doughnuts with a gulp of coffee are about to see one well-known choice disappear.
The company that owns Dunkin' Brands Group Inc.'s local Dunkin' Donuts chain has applied for voluntary liquidation of the unit. South African leisure company Grand Parade Investments Ltd., which ran the stores as a franchisee since late 2016, is also closing down its Baskin-Robbins ice cream stores, another Dunkin' chain.
The opening of Dunkin' Donuts in South Africa followed other U.S. chains such as Yum! Brands Inc.'s Pizza Hut and Starbucks Corp. seeking to tap consumer demand for popular U.S. fast food. Grand Parade said in 2016 that it wanted to have 290 Dunkin' stores in South Africa in 10 years, and purchased the rights to expand the brand into six more countries in the region. It now has 11 stores, all in the Cape Town area, according to its website, and five Baskin-Robbins locations.
Grand Parade made the decision after making a push to focus on its Burger King restaurants and an unsuccessful effort to sell the two unprofitable brands, the Cape Town-based company said Friday in a statement.
Grand Parade rose 1 percent to 2.89 rand as of 1:49 p.m in Johannesburg, paring its decline this year to 7.7 percent.
For consumers who still want a morning dose of American coffee and donuts, there's still Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., with 16 local stores spread across the Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban areas.
Sat, 16 Feb 2019 19:00:40 +0000
Why Presidents Day Is a Federal Holiday and Other Facts
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A government shutdown that lasted 35 days did not get U.S. President Donald Trump the $5.7 billion he wants for a wall on the Mexico border. In the wake of a deal that re-opened the government temporarily, White House aides said that if Democrats wouldn't support a wall Trump might bypass Congress entirely by declaring a national emergency. When congressional negotiators reached a compromise longer-term deal that also didn't give him the wall money he wanted, Trump said that he would sign the bill but accompany it with an emergency declaration, which he did on Friday. It's an idea that's drawn opposition from some Republicans as well as Democrats.
1. What exactly is a national emergency?
It's a declaration by the president that gives him special, temporary power to deal with a crisis. In the past, most such invocations have been related to foreign policy, like prosecuting a war or responding to a global trade threat. International concerns explain most of the 28 currently active national emergencies. On a few occasions, however, presidents have used emergency declarations to further their domestic policy goals.
2. How would an emergency declaration help Trump?
In theory, it would let him redirect federal money allocated for other purposes and use it to at least get construction started on the wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico. Under the law governing the Pentagon, for instance, if the president declares a national emergency, the defense secretary is allowed to redirect money from military construction funds for projects "necessary" to support the deployment of U.S. armed forces. Or the defense secretary could terminate or defer the construction of Army civil works projects and apply those funds to "authorized civil works, military construction, and civil defense projects that are essential to the national defense." Another option that's been discussed: shifting funds from a disaster-spending bill passed by Congress that includes $13.9 billion in not-yet-spent money.
3. Would that free up enough money to build the wall?
The president's request for $5.7 billion in wall funding represents more than half of the $10.3 billion appropriated for military construction this year and would mean sidelining politically popular projects. That could particularly hit military families, with the government slated to spend $1.6 billion of that budget on family housing, $352 million for medical facilities, and $267 million on educational facilities.
4. Does this really qualify as an emergency?
There's a case to be made that it's entirely up to the president to decide whether it does or not. Emergencies have been declared during crises large (the Civil War, the Great Depression, the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks) and small (remember the 1970 postal strike?). In 1976, Congress adopted a law giving the president broad authority to declare a national emergency. But the law, passed as part of a sweeping set of legislation designed to restrain presidential powers after the Watergate scandal, also demands that the president invoke specific statutory authority for emergency actions.
5. Would an emergency declaration be challenged?
Count on it. Congressional Democrats have already said they would mount a court challenge to any use of emergency authority. The Congressional Research Service, in a Jan. 10 report, said invoking a national emergency for this purpose “would raise a variety of novel legal issues,” including whether Trump is addressing a problem that really "requires use of the armed forces" and whether the planned wall would really “support such use of the armed forces.” During the initial shutdown, Trump said both that he has “the absolute right to do it," but acknowledged that the final decision would likely be up to the Supreme Court.
6. What's happened in previous fights?
Courts have limited the president's emergency powers before, including in a 1952 Supreme Court decision in which the high court said President Harry Truman could not use an emergency declaration to seize steel factories to ensure production during the Korean War. But since laws governing emergency authority have changed, some experts say it would be difficult to predict how the case would be viewed by the current Supreme Court, in which Republican-appointed justices hold the majority.
Sat, 16 Feb 2019 18:00:12 +0000
South African Burger King Owner Dumps Dunkin’ Donuts
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The use of fake news stories for political disinformation has become a major concern for governments around the world in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded Russia used false news reports, spread through social media, to try to sway voters. Writing these stories still needed someone to sit behind a keyboard.
Now OpenAI, a non-profit artificial intelligence research group in San Francisco, has unveiled a machine learning algorithm that can generate coherent text, including fake news articles, after being given just a small sample to build on. The algorithm can be tuned to imitate the writing style of the sample text.
Here's an example of the system at work that OpenAI provided. The system was only given the first two sentences, which were written by a human:
A train carriage containing controlled nuclear materials was stolen in Cincinnati today. Its whereabouts are unknown.
And this is the rest of the news article that the AI wrote, with no human guidance:
The incident occurred on the downtown train line, which runs from Covington and Ashland stations.
In an email to Ohio news outlets, the U.S. Department of Energy said it is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to find the thief.
“The theft of this nuclear material will have significant negative consequences on public and environmental health, our workforce and the economy of our nation,” said Tom Hicks, the U.S. Energy Secretary, in a statement. “Our top priority is to secure the theft and ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
The stolen material was taken from the University of Cincinnati’s Research Triangle Park nuclear research site, according to a news release from Department officials.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not immediately release any information.
According to the release, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Security is leading that team’s investigation.
“The safety of people, the environment and the nation’s nuclear stockpile is our highest priority,” Hicks said. “We will get to the bottom of this and make no excuses.
Because of its potential to be misused for creating disinformation, OpenAI said it had chosen not to make the most powerful versions of its algorithm available for public use nor was it publishing the source code and training data used to create the software.
Sat, 16 Feb 2019 17:00:39 +0000
What a National Emergency Might Do for Trump’s Border Wall
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The U.S. Treasury Department is defending the declining numbers of tax refunds being issued so far this year, saying that taxpayers already saw the benefits of the new tax law in their paychecks.
The number of tax refunds issued so far fell nearly 16 percent to 11.4 million, compared with 13.5 million at the same point in the tax filing season last year, according to Treasury data published on Thursday. The average amount of those refunds dropped to $1,949, compared with $2,135 in 2018.
"Most people are seeing the benefits of the tax cut in larger paychecks throughout the year, instead of tax refunds that are the result of people overpaying the government," the Treasury said in a statement. "Smaller refunds mean that people are withholding appropriately based on their tax liability, which is positive news for taxpayers."
The data, which reflects the first two weeks of the filing season, has been a sore point for some taxpayers who discovered that their refund is smaller than last year as a result of the late-2017 tax overhaul, which altered available deductions and credits and revised withholding tables.
In some cases, taxpayers who were counting on a refund found they owed the government instead.
The IRS has been off to a slow start this filing season after a 35-day government shutdown left the agency with a fraction of its staff just before the filing season launched Jan. 28.
Taxpayers, too, have been slower to file this year. The IRS has received about 7 percent fewer returns at this point in the filing season compared with a year ago.
The IRS is urging taxpayers who unexpectedly owe money to pay what they can if they can't cover the whole liability at once. The agency has payment plan options for people in that situation. The IRS has also waived some penalties for those who didn't have enough withheld out of their paycheck during the year.