The Economy Hub
With Michael Hiltzik
Intuit finally backs down--all the way down--in its TurboTax fiasco

Intuit, the maker of the popular TurboTax software program, has finally gotten the message that when you've outraged a large portion of your customer base, responding with half-measures doesn't work.

The company announced Wednesday that it will roll back the changes it made in TurboTax this year that effectively made the program more expensive for many filers, and will cancel the changes for next year. This year's users who have been forced to upgrade their TurboTax version to complete their taxes can now upgrade from within their program for free, rather than waiting until they file their returns and applying for a rebate. Intuit is communicating its decision by email to registered TurboTax buyers.

"These past couple of weeks have not been our finest hour," Intuit CEO Brad Smith says in a video posted on the company's website.  

The only remaining question is what took them so long? 

As we've reported, users of this year's TurboTax Deluxe edition, which sells for a list price of...

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Measles: How legislators can end 'personal belief' waivers on vaccination

If there's a silver lining in the ongoing outbreak of measles linked to infected and unvaccinated visitors to Disneyland during the holidays, it's that the crisis may spur state lawmakers to reverse the trend expanding exemptions from mandatory childhood immunizations.

Two public health experts have just weighed in with a timely look at the legislative landscape and lawmakers' options. Y. Tony Yang of George Mason University and Ross. D. Silverman of Indiana University, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., report that until recently, legislative initiatives across the country have tended toward expanding exemptions from vaccination mandates.

The tightening-up process has already begun they find, albeit slowly, sometimes by increasing the "rigor of the documentation and filing process" required before parents can opt out of vaccinations for their children.

"This is the loudest discussion of the issues I've heard in quite some time," Silverman told me. "A couple of years...

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The Disneyland measles crisis: how to make negligent parents pay

The continuing and spreading outbreak of measles traced originally to visitors to Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure park revives the questions of who should be held responsible, and how they should be made to pay for the injury and illness they've caused. 

Here's one suggestion, offered Thursday by science writer Alex Berezow in a USA Today op-ed: "Parents who do not vaccinate their children should go to jail." That may be an extreme remedy, but Berezow's notion that non-vaccinating parents should shoulder the responsibility for their actions is widely shared among legal experts and bioethicists. 

As the Los Angeles Times has documented, California has experienced an alarming increase in "personal belief" exemptions allowing unvaccinated children to attend public and private schools, and a parallel decrease in immunization rates among kindergartners in many communities.

Most alarmingly, the trends often are associated not with low-income neighborhoods, where the cost of a...

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Obamacare poll: Most still know little about it; few want it repealed

Several aspects of public opinion on the Affordable Care Act have remained unchanging virtually since its inception: most people don't know what it does or how it affects them personally, but when asked about it in the most general terms they say they're against it.

The resulting confusion has been consistently exploited by the law's political opponents, who continue to call for repeal of the whole law, even though that's favored by a minority of Americans. Even fewer think that will happen or that the Republican Party has offered a serious alternative to the law. 

The latest report from the Kaiser Family Foundation's tracking poll on the ACA reinforces those conclusions and offers some new findings. KFF's latest telephone survey was conducted during the third week of January among 1,503 adults. Some key charts from the survey are reproduced below. All the results can be found here

As before, the key finding from the survey is that the vast majority of Americans aren't familiar with...

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Jenny McCarthy: anti-vaxxer, public menace

To provide context to the ongoing outbreak of measles linked to visits to Disneyland and the influence of the anti-vaccination movement, science writer Seth Mnookin revisits the saga of one of the most celebrated anti-vaxxers, starlet Jenny McCarthy. 

Mnookin's reporting on McCarthy comes from his indispensable 2012 book "The Panic Virus," which examines the myth of a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, its origin in a bogus study by notorious British fraud Andrew Wakefield, and its spread by credulous news and entertainment figures. He posted the chapter on McCarthy on the PLoS blog's website in 2013, when ABC gave her a fresh new platform by naming her to the cast of the talk show "The View."

The measles outbreak is now up to 87 cases, of which 50 are linked to Disneyland visits. Of the 42 patients whose vaccination status is known, 37 were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. Second-order infections are now turning up--patients who were exposed to...

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SkyMall's bankruptcy had less to do with its absurd catalog than you think

On the surface, the bankruptcy of SkyMall seems to be easily explained and none too surprising.

The publisher of those seat-back catalogs brimming with useless crapola thumbed through by millions of air passengers, SkyMall ostensibly became the victim of changes in air travel and retailing. The more time that passengers aloft could spend on their smartphones and iPads, it's said, the less they needed to while away the hours poring over catalogs filled with Garden Yetis and snow jackets for dogs.

Any product that struck their fancy could be acquired upon landing from Amazon or another online retailer, often for less. Given that almost no one knows anyone who actually bought a product out of the SkyMall catalog -- other than the occasional news writer desperate for cheap clickbait -- bankruptcy loomed as its preordained fate. 

For a brief moment, SkyMall looked like a good idea. The company was founded in 1989 by accountant Robert Worsley, whose brainstorm was to offer air travelers...

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