What We Read This Week: Our Investigative News Roundup
If You Can’t Find Dorian, Blame the New 5G Cellphone Networks
If you’ve been transfixed by the minute-by-minute tracking of Hurricane Dorian, thank a weather satellite. Data from weather satellites, weather stations and radar makes it possible for forecasters to use computer simulations to predict a hurricane’s path — and those predictions, though imperfect, help save lives. Yet, reports Salon, as forecasting technology continues to improve, it faces a big threat that could impede humanity’s ability to predict the path and intensity of category 5 hurricanes like Dorian: specifically, the onset of 5G cellular technology, the blazing-fast fifth-generation wireless cellular network that is being rolled out.
In May 2019, Neil Jacobs, the acting head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), testified before Capitol Hill that 5G wireless signals could seriously degrade forecasting accuracy. “This would degrade the forecast skill by up to 30%. If you look back in time to see when our forecast skill was roughly 30% less than it was today, it’s somewhere around 1980,” Jacobs said. “This would result in the reduction of hurricane track[ing] forecasts’ lead time by roughly two to three days.” A delay of two to three days could have a catastrophic effect on human life.
Still, these warnings haven’t swayed regulators nor the cell phone industry. In August, Sprint announced more cities would be added to its 5G rollout plan. AT&T already has 5G available to corporate customers in various cities. Verizon already offers 5G to customers and has plans to expand, too.
White America’s Real Debt to African-Americans
CityLab has uncovered a startling report from an even more startling source. It will end up costing the U.S. economy as much as $1 trillion between now and 2028 for the nation to maintain its longstanding black-white racial wealth gap, according to a report released this month from the global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company. If the gap widens, however, with white wealth growing at a faster rate than black wealth instead, it could end up costing the United States $1.5 trillion or 6% of GDP according to the firm. “Despite the progress black families have made in civic and economic life since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they face systemic and cumulative barriers on the road to wealth building due to discrimination, poverty, and a shortage of social connections,” reads the report, “as both mechanisms and results of racial economic inequity.” Crucial to understanding how to close that gap—such that it can actually be closed—is grappling with how it was created in the first place. The McKinsey report identifies four components that perpetuate this gap—family wealth, family income, family savings and community context (a community’s collective public and private assets). Black families have not been able to build wealth due to “unmet needs and obstacles” across these four dimensions.
How TurboTax Games the Tax Law and Sticks Poor People With the Bill
The 2017 tax overhaul vastly expanded the number of people who could file simplified tax returns, a boon to millions of Americans. But the new law directly threatened the lucrative business of Intuit, the maker of TurboTax. Although the company draws in customers with the promise of a “free” product, its fortunes depend on getting as many customers as possible to pay. It had been regularly charging $100 or more for returns that included itemized deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations. Under the new law, many wealthier taxpayers would no longer be filing that form, qualifying them to use the company’s free software. Intuit executives came up with a way to preserve the company’s hefty profit margins: It began charging more low-income people. Which ones? Individuals with disabilities, the unemployed and people who owe money on student loans, all of whom use tax forms that TurboTax previously included for free. The shift was described to ProPublica by two people familiar with the process.